Women can't get enough of death and blazing implants

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The Independent Online

We women are slippery creatures. On the one hand, we regularly vote the works of Jane Austen to be the most transformative and transcendental literature known to mankind, and queue in our thousands to weep before the beauty of Monet's water lilies.

We women are slippery creatures. On the one hand, we regularly vote the works of Jane Austen to be the most transformative and transcendental literature known to mankind, and queue in our thousands to weep before the beauty of Monet's water lilies.

On the other, from infancy onwards we slaver over any pot-boiling penny-dreadful type of entertainment that depicts the heartless abuse of homeless orphans, brother-on-sister incest, Catholic priests who ravish innocent maidens, and porn starlets on the rampage. My feverish imagination would be several degrees cooler without an upbringing that included Mandy magazine, The Thorn Birds, and Shirley Conran's seminal work Lace.

Jane Austen knew this female weakness only too well, making Northanger Abbey a stiletto-sharp satire of the early 19th-century vogue for gothic horror. A century later, society women flocked to the Théâtre du Grand Guignol in Paris, which stunned and revolted its audiences to their immense satisfaction with its bloodcurdling repertoire of insanity, perversion, murder, rape and mutilation. Success was measured by the number of the audience who fainted, and women were particularly eager to see members of their own sex vilely assaulted. The actress Paula Maxa became the Guignol's own Bernhardt and was variously shot, strangled, poisoned, raped, stabbed, guillotined and disembowelled on stage. Fast forward another century and British women are slavering in front of the gladiatorial bitch-fest that is Footballers' Wives.

People often say of Shakespeare that if he were alive today he'd be writing for EastEnders. I doubt it. But if Paula Maxa was knocking about nowadays she would most definitely be humping an Earls Park player, before catching necrotising fasciitis and being consigned to the homicidal ministrations of Nurse Dunkley.

Footballers' Wives kicked off its new season with storylines that involved rape, domestic violence and Christian fundamentalists trying to "cure" a homosexual player. I am not sure that anything will compete with Chardonnay's implants catching fire in the first series, or the birth of Jackie Pascoe's hermaphrodite baby. However, the smothering of Conrad's and Amber's infant son, who is in reality Tanya's infant son by the deceased club chairman Frank Laslett, by Amber's spoilt pug Krishna - keep up at the back of the class! - bodes well for the future.

Watching Footballers' Wives requires the female aptitude for multi-tasking as you will need to follow 20 spiralling plot-lines simultaneously, while phoning your best friend to say, "I can't believe Tanya was buffing her nails as they cut her open for the Caesarean!"

Nobody thumps anyone in Footballers' Wives when they can simply administer a debilitating potion to your suntan oil. How true of any girls' dorm. I once asked a group of wholesome-looking professional women to tell me the most vindictive thing they had done to a female enemy. The answers included: printing up tarts' cards with the foe's mobile number and distributing them around Soho; peeing into a loathed housemate's shampoo bottle; putting citric acid in a colleague's eye-drops and rubbing chilli oil on to a rival's G-string.

So I was hardly surprised to see that Thursday's episode of Footballers' Wives was written by a woman. Shed Productions, which makes the programme, includes three women among its four founder members, and has just been floated with a valuation of £44m. Those ladies clearly knew that no one ever became poor by underestimating the female viewer's appetite for rank sensationalism. But there's a fine line between titillation and genuine disgust. In Thursday's Footballers' Wives, the one truly stomach-turning scene involved the traducing of a girl who had had consensual sex with three players before being raped by another. The parallel with high-profile, real-life events was too close for comfort, and the contempt of the footballers only too plausible.

When the Théâtre du Grand Guignol closed in 1962 its director said, "We could never compete with Buchenwald. Before the war, everyone believed that what happened on stage was purely imaginary; now we know that these things - and worse - are possible."

I suggest that the Shed team sticks to its early menu of flambéed breasts and pooch pie. Though as yet these seem far-fetched - even for the Beckhams.

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