Barbie boys

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One day when I was nine the whole class was forced to choose between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. A 10- year-old girl of Athena-like dimensions had put the idea into our teacher's head as being a lively, participative, progressive sort of a thing to do. Ignorant of the dark undercurrents of playground threat and ostracism that a public avowal of such allegiances could bring about, Mr Dipre blithely called for a show of hands.

To my eternal shame I chose the Beatles. This was, you must understand, a purely political decision. Had there been a secret ballot conducted by the Electoral Reform Society, with all ballot papers destroyed immediately afterwards, I would have voted the way of my heart. But word had gone out from the tight-knit group of budding Sandie Shaws who controlled our lives that the Fab Four were the most wonderful, attractive, sexiest pop group ever. The Stones, by contrast, were ugly and tuneless. Voting for them risked denunciation and public humiliation of a kind that China was just then beginning to experience in the shape of the Cultural Revolution. Class leaders like Anne Marriott and Susan Shepherd had nothing to learn from Jiang Qing and the Red Guards. For more than three decades now I have felt that I owe Mick Jagger something.

The image of this moment of cowardice resurfaced this week on the news that the boy band Take That was to split up. I had been fuzzily aware of the phenomenon of groups of nice- looking, if slightly vacant, lads showing their chests to photographers. But now the grown-up successors to Anne and Sue, the female cultural elite, were telling us that Take That had been the Nineties equivalent of the Beatles, and this was aTragic Moment.

Mick, I said, for your sake I'm not going to swallow it this time. They were wrong in the Sixties, perhaps they're wrong now. Back then their argument was that they would rather go out with, snog with, marry a mop- headed, moon-faced Liverpudlian than a raddled, leering Londoner any day. So it was sex first, music afterwards.

Except it wasn't real sex at all, but its substitute, its alternative. For girls Paul McCartney was utterly safe. No matter how much they fancied him, they weren't in any danger. He'd escort them home, kiss them (on the lips!) and send them those sherbet sweets with hearts on. None of his hits were below the belt.

Even a 10-year-old, however, could tell that Mick's intentions were dishonourable. When he sang, his lips and tongue reached out to you. And when he danced, so did his crotch.

It seems to me that for all the choreographed bumping and grinding, all the little winks, Take That and their ilk are - like Paul - essentially about not doing it. Their open shirts serve to emphasise that their trousers are closed. They appeal to the Barbie in girls - they are animated Kens, perfectly formed above the line of their Versace knickers, smooth and featureless below. Just like the anatomically incorrect dolls of Take That which you can buy to lock your Pocahontas doll in sterile embrace.

History will, I believe, remember Take That for one reason only: they brought back the torso as an object of aesthetic appreciation. The torso was once very big, especially among the Greeks. But for 2,000 years, ever since the workshop of Praxiteles closed down because of invasion or slave revolt, torsos have featured only in murder cases - usually turning up in suitcases or plastic bags.

Now men are being tyrannised by these torsos. They feel that they, too, should possess pert little nipples, a tiny tantalising wisp of blond hair, exactly the right flesh-to-bone ratio and a nice taper to the waist. But what can they do about it? Trainer corsets for adolescent boys? Silicone implants for the wealthy teenager? Nipple training?

Oh I know, poetic justice and all that. The awful truth is that 30 years have elapsed and bloody Anne Marriott still holds the whip hand. Shape up or ship out.