Terence Blacker: In the grip of slavering prurience

Newspapers vie with one another to convince their readers that this tawdry, trivial stuff is somehow important

Share
Related Topics

Let us be daring and assume, just for the hell of it, that it does not terribly matter which footballer went to bed with a former Miss Wales. Maybe, in a spirit of reckless free-thinking, we can briefly look beyond the lawyers, the pundits, the politicians and the rent-a-gob moralists as they debate the urgent matter of this famous bunk-up, to consider the position of the great British public.

We are all gossips and bogglers now. The moment has arrived when tatty, tabloid values – the primacy of scandal above all else – have enjoyed their ultimate triumph. The kiss 'n' tell, the hidden camera and microphone, the paraphernalia of sheet-sniffing journalism have stepped out of the shadows and into cultural respectability.

It is very British, this combination of slavering prurience with bogus moral superiority but at least, in the past, we had the grace to be embarrassed about it. Sensible, grown-up people might sneak a peep at a Sunday rag story about a footballer caught with his trousers down. Now that the same sort of story is deemed a matter of national interest, they gather around that great virtual water-cooler, Twitter, and gleefully exchange the latest rumours and names.

Because the freedom to gossip has become a human right, it is strangely unashamed. If I happened to spot, late one night in my local town, that famous marital adventurer Mike Chaud-Lapin checking into Ye Olde Goat Hotel with a former Miss Norfolk, and I then scurried around to tell all and sundry what I had seen, few people would think my behaviour was dignified or seemly.

Repeat the same process on a national level and with better-known people, and suddenly I would be doing something noble and brave. Great abstract notions – privacy, integrity, the public's right to know – would be invoked. Apparently sane politicians, lawyers and journalists would give interviews in which they would argue that knowing exactly what Mr Chaud-Lapin did with the former Miss Norfolk was a fundamental freedom of every true Briton. It would become headline news, a national obsession.

Beneath it all, though, would be the same base instinct: a hunger for gossip. It is behind the specious argument that, because Sir Fred Goodwin was a banker (and a high-ranking hate figure), knowing about an alleged affair was a matter of such urgent national importance that a peer – admittedly, a Liberal Democrat no one had heard of – could use parliamentary privilege to unmask him. It is behind the more important debates over the limits to privacy, the legal obligations of internet providers, the balance between the right of a public figure to keep an affair secret and that of a lover to cash in. It is in the background when the usual chorus of the sanctimonious complain about the morals of those in public life, as if there is something new in the privileged behaving badly.

The biggest question, though, is the one that seldom gets asked. Where does it come from, this addiction to gossip? It seems that our culture, having been fed on reality TV, where exposure is entertainment, and then nurtured on an obsession with fame and the famous, has become a Peeping Tom without us even noticing.

The press has played its part, too. Edgily aware that the internet, where there is no such thing as shame, was feeding the public hunger for scandal, newspapers have descended to the same level, vying with one another to convince their readers – and perhaps even themselves – that this tawdry, trivial stuff is somehow important.

The debate is now a perfect combination of all that is least attractive in contemporary Britain: a furtive interest in sex, a bogus and self-important moral argument, and mass bullying of individuals through the press and the internet. In the end, the famous people who tried to keep their indiscretions private will be named and humiliated in the traditional 21st-century manner. The champions of a meaningless freedom will triumph. And the insatiable public lust for rumour, scandal and gossip will search for new targets.



terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific