Violent society? I blame those cannelloni recipes

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The Independent Online
"A Bomb outrage to have any influence on public opinion now must go beyond the intention of vengeance or terrorism. It must be purely destructive." (Conrad, The Secret Agent) According to the Washington Post, the Unabomber based his life (parcel-bombing scientists and aeroplanes) on The Secret Agent. The thriller writer John Grisham accuses the film Natural Born Killers of celebrat- ing, and therefore encouraging, murder. And teeny-boppers are supposedly succumbing to an onslaught of corruption in teeny-bopper magazines.

It's all bad news for writers. Soon they'll be forced to pay high insurance premiums, like US doctors, for all the lawsuits over malscrivening. Criminals will be asked what they've been reading lately, and the writers they mention will be publicly lambasted. They'll either go underground or disguise their identities. The only novels sold over the counter will be interactive computer programes, carefully screened by some Dangerous Influences Board for anything that might affect our moral health, and the reader will be held responsible for the content.

But how can we be so sure that people aren't spurred to commit murder and mayhem by reading a recipe for cannelloni, or an article on foreign travel, or even a John Grisham novel? I know I am.

DOUGLAS Hogg says it's safe to eat lamb. Well, he would, wouldn't he - he doesn't want us eating Hogg. Actually, the mere mention of lamb spleens and spines on hourly news broadcasts this week has put me off eating mammals for life.

Labour's total acceptance of the way the Government has handled the BSE crisis is weird. If ever an opposition party had an issue with a nice rounded handle on it, easy for carrying, it's the fact that the Tories have been blithely poisoning the populace for a decade. Labour MPs had their chance on the "last day of Parliament" (if only), when they could so easily have drowned Hogg out - he'd already lost his voice! - but instead they sat in respectful silence listening to the latest bullshit about meat. This has been the Labour Party's radical position from the start. Perhaps they're too busy thinking about their hair-dos and don'ts, and wondering what to do with those whacking great salaries, and Clare Short.

But at last I understand why everybody's so pro-Europe. We need those Europeans: when we're all gaga from CJD, they'll have to come and nurse us.

Teenage magazines, scorned by various grown-ups for being too racy, in fact reveal how innocent teenagers still are. The mags are really quite sweet. Of course they're also scary and angry, but from a quick look at the problem pages, it seems to me they're only playing at hopelessness, they haven't overdosed on it yet like the rest of us. With relentless good cheer solutions are offered to every teenager's notion of a problem. Life Hassles, Sex Worries, Body Fears, you name it, it's still solvable if you're under 20. One girl complained of a lump on her vagina. Answer: "It sounds like the lump could well be your clitoris."

There's a lot of self-harm. This turns out not to be masturbation but Princess Di stuff: "One day I started smashing my fist into a brick wall, fracturing my knuckles..." Apart from such fashionable behaviour, though, these mags could have been written in the Fifties. Conformism is their paramount aim, and it's all about clothes, nail polish and dates. One date that went wrong was described in detail under the sub-headings, "The Dodgy Drink ... The False Friend ... The Savage Attack ... The Fear of Infection." It could have been a Victorian pamphlet.

Nothing is better for you than snogging. Any other sexual activity is considered a bit iffy. This point was illustrated by an article on deflowerment: "Vicky, 16, lost her virginity when she was only 14 - and has regretted it ever since." The general feeling is that snogging should do. They make rather too much of snogging, in my opinion, even suggesting "potential snog days" in the horoscope section. Or, alternatively, days when you're "hot". I was, apparently, on the 12th.

Then there are the boys that feminism passed by. "Keith, 19, Surrey" says he likes "beast hunts": "We have an hour and a half to snog the ugliest girl possible. The girls are usually so thick they haven't got a clue that we're gagging behind their backs because they're so pig-ugly." A lesson in male sexuality, I guess, instantly followed by quizzes like "How deep is his Love?" and "Is your Body your buddy?" With titles such as Bliss and Sugar, jolly graphics and Day-Glo colours, it's really pretty amazing that the business of becoming horny, hairy and helpless can be handled with such hilarity.

My fave find was "How embarrassing!" letters from readers about embarrassing, mostly scatological, episodes in their young lives. In return for these confessions they get an Our Price voucher. Most are about mis-timed farts or walking around all day with a used sanitary towel stuck to the back of your jumper, but one seemed truly horrendous: "I was at the beach with my boyfriend ... when I suddenly realised I needed the loo ... I decided to swim off into deeper water ... I'd only just finished when my boyfriend swam over and asked what I'd been doing. I was about to make some excuse up when a giant brown lump floated past..."

Now that sounds like adolescence. At a similar age, full of youthful frolic and an amorphous understanding of etiquette, I decided to do an acrobatic trick for two girls I didn't know very well. After a sort of somersault I ended up rocking on my back with my feet tucked behind my head, an accomplishment of which I was quite proud. I was wearing a dress at the time, and no knickers. A terrible silence fell upon our little party. Upside-down with one's genitals in the air is what adolescence is really about. That's why all those little gymnasts in Atlanta are teenagers.