I remember innocence... wasn't that something to do with embroidery?

To acknowledge depravity presupposes what celebrity television denies - that sexual dignity exists
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The Independent Online

Which would you say is worse, what's unfolding in Iraq or what's happening with Jordan? Both were discussed with chilling incision in this newspaper last week. Iraq by the philosopher John Gray in an article entitled The Road to Hell. Jordan by the Independent columnist Terence Blacker. In a piece full of foreboding, Blacker eyed the ongoing Jordan situation and concluded that there was reason to be scared, very scared, if the much-implanted celebrity in question - yes, I'm sorry, that Jordan - had indeed become a role model for women in their teens and twenties.

Which would you say is worse, what's unfolding in Iraq or what's happening with Jordan? Both were discussed with chilling incision in this newspaper last week. Iraq by the philosopher John Gray in an article entitled The Road to Hell. Jordan by the Independent columnist Terence Blacker. In a piece full of foreboding, Blacker eyed the ongoing Jordan situation and concluded that there was reason to be scared, very scared, if the much-implanted celebrity in question - yes, I'm sorry, that Jordan - had indeed become a role model for women in their teens and twenties.

Myself, I'd seen it coming. Whether Baroness Warnock was among the 36,000 readers who bought Being Jordan in the first few days of its publication, I have no way of ascertaining. Nor whether she joined the queue several thousand strong outside a bookshop in Brent Cross to get the authoress to autograph her memoirs. It is likely that Baroness Warnock has not read a single word more of Jordan's prose than Jordan has read of hers.

But the Baroness was vocal on Jordan's behalf several months ago, when the latter was firming up her readership in a clearing in the Australian jungle. Not wishing to appear stuffy - though I would have thought that stuffiness, as a professor of ethics, is what she's for - Baroness Warnock joined other women of intellectual distinction in praising Jordan for independent-mindedness vis-à-vis the size and constituent materials of her breasts, candour vis-à-vis her sexual relations with men, womanly ingenuity vis-à-vis her quest to win I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here, and exemplary resolution vis-à-vis making herself more rich and famous than she already was. Thus ethics in our time: do as you would do to. And thus morality: if it earns, it must be good.

The manner in which celebrity demeans all that comes within its ambit (including, it would seem, feminism and the academy) is deserving of a socio-psychological study of its own, always assuming there's a socio-psychologist out there who is familiar with the verb "demean". In the meantime I reckon we could do worse than purloin the language of indignation employed by philosophers when they survey the wreckage of American policy on Iraq.

No dread of appearing old fashioned, out of it or confined within an ivory tower, inhibits Professor Gray. He calls an inhumanity an inhumanity, and a debasement a debasement. He is not alone in saying it but he says it well: that the Americans have come to see the people of Iraq as "virtually subhuman", in proof whereof he cites the parading of Iraqi prisoners naked in front of American women soldiers, on dog leads, with women's underwear on their heads, and understands this as not just any old humiliation but a systematic assault on their "identity and values". You locate the prisoner's locus of shame - in this instance very different from your own - and you outrage it.

In war, it seems, we can say what we cannot say in peace. In war we become moralists again. We acknowledge the existence of depravity. We allow that men can demean and be demeaned, and we recognise the powerful part that sex plays in that process. We take it as axiomatic that of all the ways open to us to render another person inhuman, affronting his sexual dignity is one of the most effective. Which in itself presupposes what celebrity-driven television denies - that sexual dignity exists.

There was a dramatic passage in ITV's excellent William and Mary the other week, in which William's older daughter embarked on an erotic adventure which was both necessary to her and demeaning of her. The way such a thing can take you in those contrary directions was wonderfully written and acted. But what struck me about it particularly was the sadness it released. The girl's younger sister wept for she knew not what - her being marooned by her sister's actions, her being left alone at the end of her own childhood, the fracturing of the idyll of the family, and in some way, too, the loss not simply of her sibling's innocence but of innocence in general.

Sex in the age of Jordan and the thousands who will waste their lives trying to emulate her is ignorant of itself. To be reminded that it has the power to capsize us, that it shares a home with our deepest emotions, and is as soon the cause for regret and sorrow as it is the occasion for greed and gossip, was like being locked away for an afternoon with your granny's photo album. Sadness - God yes, I remember that. Innocence ... innocence ... wasn't that something to do with embroidery?

There is, of course, in pantomime and other forms of clowning a place for actions which invigorate by demeaning. When I first caught sight of Jordan's disfigurements I wondered if she intended herself to be a species of clown, an embodiment of the grotesque, a carnival figure who turns everything upside down for a brief fly-sprung hour, making us long for excesses we know we can't afford, before the clock strikes and brings us back to normality. And if liberation through the hyperbolic-grotesque body of a clown was what those girls were queuing for in Brent Cross, I beg their pardons. But clowns aren't role models. Clowns are role-reversal warnings. They do low that we might glimpse high. And something tells me that that wasn't quite where Jordan's readers were going.

As for my opening question - which is worse, Jordan (to borrow her name for a tendency) or Iraq - I am unable to decide. Both attest to our limitless capacity for low behaviour. Why it is that we are shy of moral judgements in relation to the one, when our outrage knows no bounds in relation to the other, I don't know. But human beings cannot function except critically, and it is possible we have chosen to attack our culture through its foreign policy because we have grown inured to its domestic grossness.

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