Must Be a UK Thang

In one of the silliest articles I’ve ever seen at the Guardian, Natasha Walter claims that sex and porn are difficult to write about. But I would suspect that this is one of those first person confessionals secretly disguised as a generalization-laden argument. For one thing, there’s nary a mention of the following words in Walter’s article: “penis,” “bukkake,” “vagina,” “ass,” “naughty bits,” “sperm” and “condom.” The article also makes the following claims:

“Pornography may not quite be part of mainstream culture, but it certainly makes its presence felt.” Hey, Natasha, stayed at a Ramada Inn lately? Beyond the grand selection of porn on the teevee, you can always count on the couple banging away in the next room. If that isn’t a sign that sex is inseparable from mainstream culture, I don’t know what is.

“But many people still feel a deep unease about the growth of pornography – about the way people within the business are exploited, and about the ways in which consumers find their imaginations colonised by a very particular and very narrow view of invulnerable sexuality.” Many people, eh? Care to name some names? Care to cite some examples? Come on, Natasha. I dare you to stand by your generalization.

“Yet most writers who take on the subject of pornography are men, and for them it is usual to adopt a pretty breezy, often humorous view of the way that pornography works.” I don’t know, Susie Bright’s pretty breezy and takes erotica seriously.

“these male writers”: You’ve only quoted Adam Thirwell! He speaks for all men and all erotica?

“But [men] shy away from communicating any moral outrage about the subject.” I don’t know. Steve Almond seems pretty outraged about human urges and what is represented beneath the sexuality.

“Perhaps that is the most important thing that we can ask of a novelist, that they should be emotionally alive as they respond to the emotionless world that is pornography.” Better to be emotionally dead when making jejune arguments about the evils of porn found in…literary novels? Huh?


  1. Excellent close reading in this post. I like that kind of analysis, calling out a writer on what they mean by their vague attributions. Edward Said made particularly egregious use of vague language. That kind of writing serves to function as a kind of code, letting the writer get away with all kinds of outrageous assertions without ever having to be explicit. Good work.

  2. I think you make some good points – she does indeed make a lot of vague generalisations. While not a complete defence, I believe she was indeed writing mostly of the culture of the UK and extrapolating it in general. I think a lot of journalists now forget that they will be read by a global audience. In the UK there is a certain uncomfortable barrier when talking about sex and porn in a public context. “People” just don’t discuss “those type of things.” I mean, the “no sex, please, we’re British” idea is a stereotype – but it’s a stereotype based somewhat on the truth that British (and especially English) do shy away from public discussion of private or controversial subjects. These leads to a repression of some things like open talk of sexuality and erotica (not as repressed as in America – but in a similar vein.) The UK still has their silly antiquated pornography laws – certain videos and magazines can only be purchased in dark-lit “adult” shops on a dodgy street. Some films are still technically illegal. There’s a lot of exploitation of both sex workers and sex buyers – especially in London.
    So I imagine she had some of these things in mind when she wrote the piece.

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