We need a U-turn in Lovers' Lane

Voyeurism is the great contemporary vice; we love to watch and nothing can now be concealed
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The Independent Online

There are times when one has to feel sorry for our busy, harassed leaders. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, they are obliged to traipse along behind a global bully, taking us into a war no sane person wants while, on the home front, moral standards are slipping day by day.

There are times when one has to feel sorry for our busy, harassed leaders. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, they are obliged to traipse along behind a global bully, taking us into a war no sane person wants while, on the home front, moral standards are slipping day by day.

We have entered an age of trashy, casual hedonism in which mild decadence is all the rage. We spend more than we can afford, running up debts for the future. Buying and selling property, with the dream of making a quick killing in return for no work, has become a middle-class obsession. Personal relations have become restless, fretful, often disturbed by an itch for change and variety. A sort of easy exhibitionism is now so accepted that when a member of the celebrity circus, recently separated, can pose in underwear and complain that her husband was sometimes unenthusiastic about sex, as Zoe Ball did this week, no one is in the least surprised or shocked.

All this must be rather alarming for the more morally rigorous of our leaders. They have tried to go along with the mood of the times, relaxing the licensing laws in pubs, pandering to financial greed by encouraging the growth of casinos, but nothing, they have discovered, is quite enough for the thousands of people who are simply bored and want to behave badly.

Most recent attempts to curb antisocial activity have backfired. When Tony Blair suggested that yobs should pay for their yobbery with an trip to the nearest cash-point machine, he was ridiculed. The Home Office's attempts to make parents accountable for what their children do has scarcely been more successful.

Yet now, bravely, David Blunkett and Hilary Benn are taking on the greatest challenge of all; addressing the question of sexual behaviour and the law with ambitious new legislation. Many of the changes proposed in the Sexual Offences Bill, particularly those concerning rape, gay sex and the protection of children, are sensible acts of modernisation, but unfortunately the Government has not been content to leave it there.

Under the new law, sex in a field, in the glade of a wood, on a beach or in car will be illegal. Punishment for peeping-tom activities will be sharpened up. Without wishing to be too old-fashioned about this, I cannot help wondering whether these are areas into which Blunkett and Benn should really be poking their noses. The whole Lovers' Lane experience – misted-up windows, creaking shock-absorbers, cramp and back-ache, the gearstick problem – is surely an essential part of life in a motorised age.

While liberal-minded members of the Government might allow their teenage children to bring a special friend home for the night, most households are less sophisticated. Thousands, maybe millions, of young people have depended on the car for their early education and experience in this area. Years later, by the cruelly circular nature of romantic life, they may even find themselves back in Lovers' Lane, not hiding from parents this time but from their spouse. The Home Office may disapprove of this kind of behaviour, but to put it outside the law seems a touch prim, particularly when sex in lavatory cubicle is deemed to be acceptably private.

According to David Blunkett, the thinking behind the new bill is that it reflects changes in society and in attitudes to sex. Is he serious? Has he been told what is being shown on TV these days? Hour after hour of late-night viewing is devoted precisely to the kind of activity of which he disapproves so much, from leering documentaries about randy boys and girls on frantic, drunken multi-partner binges in Ibiza to the secret camerawork of reality TV. Far from requiring more privacy in this area, societal attitudes seem alarmingly enthusiastic about sex as a spectator sport. When, during the last Big Brother series, one of the girl contestants disappeared under the duvet and busied herself about the person of a male housemate, she was doing on TV what will now presumably be illegal should it take place in private on the back seat of a car.

Voyeurism is the great contemporary vice; we love to watch and, thanks to the marvels of the new technology, little or nothing can now be concealed from the public gaze. Celebrities, canoodling or in a state of undress while on a holiday, can now expect to be exposed in the press - "papped", as it's called. The new obsession with security has accelerated the rate at which security cameras are watching us as we go about our business – last year, a security firm estimated that an inhabitant of New York will be secretly filmed on average between 73 and 75 times a day. In the area of CCTV, Big Brother and Peeping Tom are working together.

Lay off couples in cars, I say. At least they are taking the trouble to go out to enjoy themselves rather than sitting at home watching the latest TV show, made by exhibitionists for voyeurs.

terblacker@aol.com

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