Harriet Walker: Relax, pop's always been about sex

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The Independent Online

It's a long time since Frankie said "Relax" but, according to the music producer Mike Stock, modern-day "soft porn" pop is "sexualising" our youngsters, and he wouldn't feel comfortable watching one of Lady Gaga's videos with his mum. Splutter. Who would? Having sat through all nine minutes of her "Telephone" video with my own mother, I can aver that these are not designed to be watched with your folks. Her reactions ranged from genuine interest at Gaga's sunglasses (made from lit cigarettes) to eye-rolling at her scantily clad prison escapades and finally boredom. I don't like watching visceral wildlife documentaries with mum either, but that's not to say there's anything wrong with them.

I, too, wish Lady Gaga would accept that ripped tights are no substitute for trousers and pull on some slacks. It sometimes feels a bit much. But I say that as someone who wishes you didn't have to get your kit off to make an impression, rather than someone who thinks a bit of titillation is harmful to young minds. Pop music has always been about sex.

In 1957, Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, filmed only from the waist up lest his acutely mobile pelvis offended, corrupted or bewitched anyone in the audience. His signature gyrating is a chaste kiss compared with the bed-thrashing that features in Gaga's most recent video, but the outcry remains similarly disproportionate. Back then, prissy parents worried that their teenagers might get pregnant doing the Lindy Hop, but these days concerns about sexual awareness are more abstract: teenage pregnancies, online grooming, downright bad manners. Whatever its faults, surely pop can't be blamed for all of these.

My mum has plenty of foibles but I think I'm lucky that she doesn't suffer from the same Mary Whitehouse Syndrome that Stock does. It's reactions like his – he also expressed disappointment that the wholesome Miley Cyrus had begun to display "her maturing body" (thus winning my prize for Most Disturbing Phrase of the Week) – that make the situation worse. I'd take my mum's indifferent shrug over his clammy distaste any day. The way to deal with children being exposed to sex is not to cover their eyes and scream; instead, tackle it head on – act like it's daft, hyperbolic and irrelevant, and they'll be much less interested in it. Let Stephen King's Carrie be a warning to us all.

My eight-year-old niece likes Lady Gaga; she recently exhorted me to "take a ride on her disco stick". God only knows what she thinks that might be – some kind of hobby horse, perhaps. These are the lyrics that Stock takes such issue with; to a child's ear, they're in the same bracket of unfathomable sexual nonsense as a Carry On slidewhistle. They don't know that it's anything to get worked up about, so it's an adult's job not to indicate that there is. They'll be embarrassed at singing it at the top of their voices in Tesco soon enough.

A new twist on the maiden name

With the party poppers still ringing in our ears after last week's overturning of Prop 8, the actress Portia de Rossi has successfully petitioned a Los Angeles court to legally change her surname to "DeGeneres", that of her talk show host wife, Ellen. I don't deny anyone the right to take their spouse's name, but I can't help being surprised by the decision of this otherwise thoroughly modern missus.

Loads of people I know in heterosexual marriages haven't bothered changing their names and are fiercely proud of their decision. Not for them the letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Michael Smith – which imply wifey has taken her husband's first name as well as his last – or the gratuitous work email gushingly explaining the change on her business cards.

The trad lobby regularly complain that women who do decide to take their fella's name come under undue progressive pressure not to. I, and most other women I know, think you should just do whatever you want. Keep it, don't keep it, ask him to take yours. I know of more than one Sidebottom or Pratt who were only too keen to become a Jones.

But there's something else at play in the DeGeneres marriage, a relationship between two lovely blonde women that has been seedily scrutinised by some of the tackier tabloids over the years. A tradition seen by so many women as a creaky remnant of a crumbling male hegemony becomes, in the manicured hands of Portia and Ellen, the ultimate feminist statement. Why take a man's name when you can take a woman's?

Nuggets at breakfast time? Why not?

I'm glad I'm not the only one who flies into a rage when people tell me what I can and can't eat. The Ohio woman who attacked a McDonald's employee this week when told that her precious chicken nuggets weren't on the breakfast menu (and therefore weren't available) might have been up to her eyeballs on crystal meth as some have speculated, but she still had a point.

Beating someone up is rather extreme, but for an emporium whose very raison d'etre is greasy patties and reformed poultry to insist upon upholding mealtime mores is a little odd. It's hardly cordon bleu. Does it follow that the chef will be annoyed if I salt my chips or add barbecue sauce to my goujons? Add to this the fact that anyone who actually eats the breakfast menu at McDonald's is intrinsically weird, and you have a strong case for a shake-up chez Ronald.

I myself had a quarter pounder (with cheese, and fries, large) at 11am last Saturday. I'm not proud, but I see this as an acceptable brunch, rather than just a burger eaten unreasonably early. In an age of 24-hour drinking and internet shopping, you'd think there'd be nuggets available around the clock, made from genetically modified chickens born into a more dip-friendly shape.

I don't doubt that this woman's volatile disposition was born of having eaten too many readily available nuggets, but who are McDonald's to try and play the nanny at this late stage? They offered us salads and we refuse to order them; bring us our nuggets NOW.