Nude art is ‘soft porn for the elite’, Cambridge classics Professor Mary Beard warns in a BBC2 documentary apparently contrived to make men feel bad about looking at naked bodies.
According to The Times (of London):
The academic said she still adored looking at masterpieces such as Titian’s Venus of Urbino, in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, but believed that people should challenge themselves to consider the circumstances of their creation.
“I think western art has centred on a sexualised version of the female body more than other cultures,” she said in an interview with Radio Times. “And I think it’s about opening our eyes to it and saying, ‘What is this? Is this really soft porn for the elite, dressed up in a classical guise?”
Most Renaissance nudes were commissioned by men to be enjoyed by men, she noted. “Where does that leave the female viewer? One of the things we are trying to say is, ‘On what terms can I enjoy looking at a naked woman whose image was drawn and painted, let’s imagine, for the pleasure of the male customer?’”
Men taking pleasure at the sight of the naked female form? No shit, Michelangelo.
Beard’s point, it seems to me, is at once epically banal and fantastically bossy.
The story so far: Caitlin Moran (yes, all right: I know lots of you claim never to have heard of her, but she’s a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic and one of our most fluent and entertaining columnists) has been fighting a war to clean up the social media site you never use, Twitter.
And now, Caitlin’s essay has been retweeted in a “put that in your pipe and smoke it, evil, right-wing Caitlin-doubters!” way by celebrity comedian David Baddiel, and celebrity comedian Dom Joly. And quite soon, I think we can fairly safely guarantee, it will also have been retweeted by celebrity astronomer Brian Cox, celebrity mathematician Simon Singh, celebrity Times whimsyist Hugo Rifkind, celebrity lefty and occasional scriptwriter Graham Linehan, et al. Why? Because they’re all part of the same great big self-affirmatory gang of the impeccably liberal-left-leaning luvviehood, is why. Once you become a part of this gang, it’s great because you never have to worry about saying the wrong thing on any issue ever again. You know what to think on “climate change”, because all you have to do is check what fellow club member Marcus Brigstocke thinks. You know what to think about bees and neonicotinoids because of what Vivienne Westwood says. You know what to think about fracking because Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon and Chrissie Hynde’s daughter don’t like it. Etc.
What’s really irksome about Howard, though, is the mind-numbing, soul-sapping conventionalism of his politics. You just know that the first day he went to the subsidised bar on his economics degree course at the University of the West of England (Bristol Poly, in old money, I believe), he got handed the usual Middle-Class Student ****er’s starter pack marked ‘This is what you think’. There’ll have been a long section on how bad racism is, probably the worst crime in the world; one on Tories (‘tossers’); others on Israel and Palestine, the great recession (all the fault of greedy bankers and tax-dodging corporations, basically), the environment (v.v important!!), and so on. And young Russell will have gone, ‘Hey, I like the sound of this. It means not only can I spend the rest of my life feeling morally superior over all the scumbags who don’t agree with the Middle-Class Student ****er’s starter pack but also that I’ll never have to use a single one of my brain cells ever again.’
This morning – not as a trolling gesture, but in all sincerity – I invited my old mucker Caitlin to join in my Twitter campaign to #keeptwittertasteless (or #keeptweetstastless – I can’t decide which is better). The point I was trying to make is a serious one: that if you genuinely believe in freedom of speech, then an inevitable part of that freedom is the freedom to offend, be it Guardian hacks writing disobligingly about transvestites, or ungallant louts insulting Mary Beard’s looks, or Caitlin’s AIDS quips. After all, one person’s flip, daringly near-the-knuckle, mini-rebellion against our stifling culture of PC is another person’s dire, report-worthy offence. And since it’s all a matter of opinion, where do you draw the line? Who decides what is and isn’t “appropriate”? (Direct threats of violence are, of course, another matter. But those were already proscribed by the law long before Caitlin and her pals began their Twitter clean up campaign)