REVIEW / . . . As the priestess said to the Bushman

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
On This Morning (ITV) Richard and Judy hosted a 'White Voodoo Phone-in' and Satire hanged itself in despair. Dr Thesalonius De Prince was in the studio, ready to summon the spirit world for your assistance. At about midday he helped Jackie from County Armagh find her lost scissors, and appeared so perked up by his success that he promptly overreached himself, telling her that she would find a large sum of money in her coat pockets. 'If I had time I could show you levitation, how to be invisible' he said to Judy. My own spirits rose at this point but you know how tight the schedules are - they had to cut to the weather.

As shameless huckstery goes Thesalonius went a long way but I hope he watched Without Walls (C 4) last night because he still has lessons to learn from Dr Camille Paglia, high priestess of Utter Bunkum. In 'The Penis Unsheathed' Camille decided to get to grips with the male member, an object which she believes is 'shaping up to be the central metaphor of the gender crisis of the Nineties'. Dr Paglia likes making grand statements of this kind and appears to have liberated herself from such tedious niceties as evidence and proof.

Her odd staccato delivery suggests that she delivers her lines off the top of her head but the lines themselves suggest that they can't ever have been that close to a brain cell. Imagine a children's encyclopaedia with a sassy attitude and you get something of the Paglia flavour - the vaguest cultural generalisations yoked to a faith healer's flair for working the saps. Ask her for her academic credentials and she would probably refer you to a Vanity Fair publicity shot.

There were things you could glean from the programme - it was interesting, for example, to see that some art students still unconsciously shrink the model's tackle into conformity with classical convention and the clips from the film Dick (hundreds of still photographs of penises with comments from women on the soundtrack) were excellent. I also admired the reckless energy with which it tried to balance the books in terms of genital display - in 30 minutes enough dangling appendages passed before your eyes to make up for 40 years of polite suppression (some were tastefully drawn in charcoal, some apparently fitted out with floral bonnets). My money is on the programme to scoop this year's Right to Reply Videobox Challenge.

The rest of it was pretty limp though; familiar stuff about the representation of the penis in classical art and women's magazines plus those feeble old metaphors about skyscrapers and phalluses (skyscrapers are the product of New York zoning regulations, the invention of the elevator and the good old profit motive, not of architects staring down their trousers. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar). And Paglia's only original contribution, a novel thesis about male urination, was a retread; 'I have often said that this is one of the moments when young boys learn linearity, concentration, focus, projection'. What about getting it caught in your zip, Dr Paglia? What major social consequences follow from that?

If you are a connoisseur of human vanity some of this was quite entertaining but I shudder to contemplate how much you would have to drink before you could forgivably mistake it for an intellect at work.

40 Minutes (BBC 2) delivered a film which had to be coaxed to the finish line (it seemed to be going in circles at one point) but lingered in your mind after it had gone. Andrew, formerly a successful executive with a wife and child now describes himself as the Battersea Bushman, scavenging through skips to piece together a life. He threw his original one away, discontented with its skimpiness. Joanna Clinton Davis had contrived to salvage some of it in the form of an old school acquaintance Andrew had bullied and, more poignantly, a sheaf of childhood photographs, almost all solitary or formal. He now takes pleasure in restoring value to other people's rubbish but there are some things you can't repair.

Comments