Howard Jacobson: What secrets of womanhood are revealed when you buy a giant flat-screen television

If ever there was an argument for ignorance of the times we live in, Trinny and Susannah are it
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The Independent Online

It's possible I imagined it but I'm pretty sure a couple of little snot-noses laughed at me in a lift the other day when they saw me texting at the speed of one letter every three floors. "Join the 21st century, old man," I thought I heard one say as she got out. Once upon a time I'd have run after her and given her a piece of my mind. Something along the lines of: "If I had a concave stomach the texture of corrugated cardboard and the colour of an overcooked sirloin, which I had to hold together with a safety-pin, I'd keep my opinions to myself, sister."

But you don't do that any more. You don't chase, you don't admonish, you don't show so much as a pinprick of displeasure. Make eye contact with a three-year-old and he'll pull a knife on you.

So I did the next best thing and heeded her advice. I joined the 21st century. I bought a flat-screened television. Don't ask me what kind. Not plasma, that's all I know. LSD, I think the salesman called it. As skinny as an after-dinner mint - "Waffer thin", in the words of John Cleese's ingratiating French waiter - and so big the people in the house across the road can watch it with me.

Nice for them, but is the picture too startling for my own viewing comfort? I've done the calculations: measured the screen diagonally, multiplied it by the length of my room and divided that by the number of years I've needed reading glasses, then pushed my chair as far back as it will go without being on the street. So I oughtn't to go blind for a while. And there's an upside: it hurts so much to watch I'll probably stop watching altogether. Could that be technology's revenge on culture for trivialising its advances - to build televisions of such dazzling complexity and scale that eventually we will all turn off?

As for the immediate advantages, well it's true the tosh is somehow transformed. Depth of picture, subtlety of lighting, hitherto unnoticed nuances of feelings passing across the faces of actors you wouldn't previously have hired to play Santa - even Ant and Dec possessed suddenly comic dexterousness. Lulled into thinking all telly was wonderful after all, I stayed in one night last week and watched Trinny and Susannah.

I'd like to say I don't know who Trinny and Susannah are. If ever there was an argument for ignorance of the times we live in, Trinny and Susannah are it. But I do know who they are. Mesmerised by their uppity defilements of English womanhood, I have on occasions watched them turn perfectly pleasant ladies with quiet dispositions and modest dress sense into lewd and foul-mouthed slatterns with whom the poxiest Wolverhampton streetwalker wouldn't want to be seen out.

Then, they rebranded women via their wardrobes. Now, they're doing something to another series-load of gullibles that necessitates the word "undress". So how many programmes do we now have with nakedness, nudity, or undressing in their titles? A thousand-inch screen can perform miracles, but the one thing it cannot do is lend gravitas to an industry drowning in soft-core salaciousness.

The first to allow cameras into their underthings were a charming and intelligent couple with much on their minds: ailing parent, autistic children, the ageing of their own minds and bodies, the usual relational disparities and discrepancies, not excluding the fact that she is a foot taller than he is - in other words, the solemn cares of life. Enter the flaxen harpies with their cure for all humanity's ills - shorter skirts, tighter trousers, bulges, cleavages, pubic hair, boobies, and whatever else their low Ann Summers mindset means by sexiness.

Sexiness! You can be lying on your deathbed with your eyes rolling in your head and a tube extending from every organ and Trinny and Susannah will be looking at ways of making you more sexy. We have, of course, gone so far along this route that it is impossible now, without sounding like the Pope, to insist that sexiness is not always, if ever, a desirable property. It is not out of primness that I say this. Quite the opposite. The eroticisation of society does not bother me so long as it takes the erotic seriously. Eros and Thanatos. Love and death. Let's go for them. But sexiness is now so milk and water, so compromised by its associations with the smut of telly and teenage culture, so Trinnified and Susannahsaturated, that it is emptied of sex altogether. That's to say sex serious, sex in its place and season, sex for which, if you mean anything by it at all, you will be willing to risk your reason.

You know a person has no instinct for sex as a force when they use the word "boobs". You want to demean a woman? Talk about her "boobs". Or go even further and do as Trinny - or is it Susannah? - does, and actually manhandle the "boobs" in question, push 'em out, lift 'em up, make 'em spin, make 'em glow, make 'em sing. "Come to my woman's breasts," says Lady Macbeth. Change that to "Come to my woman's boobs" and that's the play fucked.

God knows, the body will be subjected to enough shocks and humiliations before we're through without our having to add "boobs" to the list.

As for the women who accede to these indignities, it's hard to decide whether they inspire anger or sorrow. Either way, it takes nothing from the indecency of the Trinny and Susannah makeover that there are thousands more willing victims out there. Soon, every woman who feels life's sadness pressing on her will think the answer is having her nipple tweaked by Susannah, or is it Trinny?

And then there are the furry kitten-skin handcuffs which the grubby girls deposit on the sad stooges' pillows as inducements to you know what. Reader, we do not mince words in this column. We call a spade a spade and torture torture. Who is to say whether being tied to a stake and having someone flay you alive will make you happier? Who is to say what makes any of us happier? But if you're going to go there, go there. I believe, with the great French philosopher Georges Bataille, that eroticism is fearful and the only way to come close to its truth is "to tremble".

And there's the real crime of Trinny and Susannah undressed - no matter how big your screen, they shrink sex to nothing, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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