Monday, January 26, 2015

Page 3, Charlie Hebdo and the bare boobs of Angkor

Last week, The Sun pulled off what was widely regarded — through gritted teeth — as a PR masterstroke, by appearing to retire its venerable Page 3 feature (an attractive young lady with her breasts on display) and then, with all the brouhaha for and against still sounding in the air, bringing it back. But before the other media were forced to retract their obituaries, their coverage seemed to come up against the same sort of dilemmas and paradoxes that were exposed by all the Charlie Hebdo-related comment: essentially, if the key issue is whether it’s appropriate or not to depict something (Mohammed, boobs) you’re forced to take sides when you choose whether or not to depict it. Many of the papers and other news sources attempted to fudge the task by running pictures of former Page 3 stars such as Samantha Fox or Linda Lusardi, but choosing poses where they weren’t airing their areolae. This in turn raises further questions, since these more demure poses were still cheesecake shots for the gratification of the straight male gaze, which is apparently the whole problem with Page 3 — otherwise we’d have to infer that breasts per se were the problem, a profoundly anti-female stance that would probably have found favour with the Kouachi brothers, albeit maybe not with the sort of fervour that might have prompted them to shoot up an editorial meeting of The Sun. Because bare breasts when deployed in the cause of feminism — as in the case of Femen, say, are a good thing. Oh, hang on, maybe not.


In a parallel development, there has been outrage at the appearance of photos of topless women taken in and around the historic temples of Angkor in Cambodia; this is particularly controversial because what clothes they are wearing make them resemble apsara, cloud spirits of Hindu/Buddhist mythology. Apart from the fact that this is far from the first time such a scandal has erupted, observers have been quick to point out that Angkor is absolutely swimming in images of underclad females, in the form of the carvings on the temple walls, but that cuts no ice with Kerya Chau Sun of the Apsara Authority: “When you insult someone’s culture, it’s not art at all,” she says. Which is pretty lame as a code of aesthetics but I suppose it neatly encapsulates the thinking behind the campaigns against both Charlie Hebdo and Page 3. Although it does raise a further question: if it were art, would that make it OK?

1 comment:

Roberta Swipe said...

Angkor? I can't believe that's not Buddha.