Censor us, shall we not revenge...
paraphrased from The Merchant of Venice.
The trouble with taking a break it leaves one with too many stories of global importance to catch up on. One of the stories missed last week was the creation of American artist Spencer Tunick's installation comprising thousands of people crossing a foot bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Leaving aside the logistical problems and the difficulty of persuading thousands of Geordies to expose their bits to the winds that blow up the Tyne estuary at the end of a journey that has brought them all the way from Siberia without encountering a decent sized hill or clump of trees, what fascinates about the story is that an American should come to stuffy, repressed old England to get people to parade in public without their kit. After all it is Americans who are obsessed with sex, only an American would assail total strangers in hotels with how he likes to smear peanut butter and jelly all over his partner, or make love in a bathtub full of dead fish (for the sake of balance I must point out here that the American women I have known show a much greater sense of decorum.)
America it seems has, like Biblical Judea, been afflicted with a number of plagues. Two of them, the plague of religiosity and the plague of shrinks, come into conflict on questions of sex and nudity. One says we must have sex with everybody we meet, they other that we must never ever get our kit off, not even in private. A lot of Americans, I believe, still drape a nightshirt-type-thingummy over their bodies and get undressed beneath that, lest a glimpse of their own naked flesh should inflame their lust.
It is time to dispel those old myths about English sexual repression, emotional constipation and fondness for physical discomfort. These things are not endemic throughout English society but are confined to the middle class. The working class have always unashamedly gone at it like rabbits, the aristocracy have gone at it with everything including rabbits, while the middle class, tortured with guilt and angst have almost become extinct, apart from a few bohemian dinosaurs like me. (This comes from both my Grandfathers, one damned by a marriage to an unbaptized heathen, the other proudly the black sheep of his family who turned away from the family woollen mill business and made his living as a bookie.) Had the middle class survived in great numbers they would surely have donned ridiculous red wigs and gone on a home grown version of the Ricky Lake show to talk about their peccadilloes.
Without an influential middle class to obsess about respectability and religion the English have now regressed to what we were in the time of Shakespeare, Dick Turpin and Tom Jones, boozy, licentious, freebooting scallywags who love a good time and will steal anything that is not nailed down. You've heard of the Scottish hero Rob Roy McGregor. The English equivalent is Rob Everyone Carruthers. (that's English scallies; i.e. loveable rogues BTW. American scallywags are very boring political creatures.)
So it is natural then that liberated Americans will look eastwards to their spiritual home while the repressed will stay at home and be respectable until their body clock tells them time is running out, at which point they will head for one of those Caribbean resorts that specialises in providing opportunities for adultery to those who are too uptight to book into the local motel with a hooker. With Americans it alway has to be the extreme.
You should all be proud of artists like Spencer Tunick and of your bodies. I would have been happy to bare my butt for his picture had the event been closer to home - and record for posterity the fact that for a man at the wrong end of his fifties I am still very pert in that department. After all if God had meant us to be ashamed of our bodies he would have caused us to be born wearing those nightshirt-type-thingummies that cover up our other-type-thingummies.
SAY IT ONCE, SAY IT LOUD, I'LL GO BARE ARSED AND PROUD.
FOOTNOTE: The English aristocracy in the eighteenth century showed themselves to be the most stupid people in the world. We owned America and Australia, two vast and enormously well resourced countries with great climates. We gave Australia to the criminals and America to the religious nuts and kept this cold, wet, overcrowded little island for ourselves. How stupid is that?