Situated on the Spanish island of Majorca, Magaluf is no stranger to the British media. As an increasingly popular holiday destination, the town has in recent years been dubbed a one-stop spot for drinking, dancing, and deplorable sex acts. These acts, so the stories go, are most often conducted in bars and nightclubs, and are almost entirely the doing of young, working-class British girls who are desperate for free drinks. Video footage of a teenage girl performing sex acts on 24 men during a bar crawl was posted on Facebook yesterday. Today, this image is found festering on the cover of our national newspapers, on our Twitter feeds, and in our minds – though it is worrying to think that any of the above are indicative of any real thought whatsoever.
There is a sense of irony in writing for a national newspaper about how the media has given little thought to the ways in which telling a particular story may serve to further disenfranchise the individual about whom it is written. But the idea that something so heinous (posting photos and videos online of a person engaging in a sex act without that person’s consent) can be transformed into something even more heinous (pinning those same photos to the cover of a national newspaper) clearly requires comment.
This is ‘slut shaming’ in its most pernicious form, and it is worryingly intended as a source of shock entertainment. Like its televised forms – ‘What Happens in Kavos’, ‘Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents’ – the story gracing some newspapers today explicitly invites and encourages a class-based mockery which specifically, but not exclusively, denigrates women. This latest slut shame, like many of its predecessors, makes a point of pointing out particular features of individuals who engage in (sometimes, but not always sexual) acts that are deemed socially inappropriate, and does so precisely in order to discredit them. The ‘slut shame’ game underpins the point at which person + gender + socioeconomic status + assumed motives + sex act = big news.
It is worrying that much of this ‘big news’ has chosen not to question the facts of this particular case, and specifically, whether or not the individuals involved in this Shagaluf ‘sex game’ were able to give reasonable consent to take part. It is not my intention here to make broad-brush statements about the politics of sexuality, or to criticise individual choices regarding sex which fall out of line with what is deemed acceptable by the ever-thoughtful moral guides who post on Twitter. However, the fact that there exists an institutional culture in Magaluf which may encourage – or indeed coerce – individuals to take part in games which revolve around sex, whilst simultaneously encouraging them to drink copious amounts of alcohol, requires immediate attention. And the fact that this issue has been sidelined by the national ‘shaming’ of the ‘slut’ does not come as a surprise – but it is nevertheless horrific.
The issue of consent is further relevant here because it seems quite clear that when a person engages in a sex act in a public place they do not automatically consent to have this act recorded or distributed in any way, shape, or form. It is also worth stating that even when a person engages in a sex act and does consent to have this act recorded and/or distributed, they do not automatically consent to the distribution of such material beyond those parameters to which consent has already been given. And yet while ‘revenge porn’ has been called out by Chris Grayling this week as something that needs to be tackled, today the latest example of the same problem trends – not only on our news feeds but in our newspapers – as a disgrace to the British public.
Well, I’m disgraced too. I’m disgraced that mainstream media has given no thought whatsoever to its latest individual target. In case it needs clarifying, emphasising and discrediting individual acts prevents a crucial conversation about Magaluf’s ‘club culture’ from taking place. What’s more, it diverts public attention away from the critical issue of consent as it applies to image distribution in the digital age. This wider issue is not going to go away, but the current slut shame will soon be old news, that is to everyone except the girl involved - taking another individual casualty while doing absolutely nothing to address the wider social issues.