There’s a stock character in comedy who mixes public censoriousness with a more laviscious nature. So, a teacher confiscates a porn magazine and slips it into his briefcase; a policeman raids a club and takes lapdancers away for strip searches. Newspapers are famed for episodes of such hypocrisy. A notorious example is when the Daily Star printed a story that condemned Brass Eye‘s piss-taking episode on hysterical reactions to paedophilia and ran it next to a large photo of an underage Charlotte Church, along with leering lines like “she’s a big girl now” and “[she's] looking chest swell”.
Press coverage of teenage sexuality – for all its moralising – often becomes that which it condemns. So, today the Daily Mail has a report on a pregnant 15-year-old who was modelling in underwear at 12. The Mail reporter, one Paul Sims, informs us that the photos of the pre-pubescent girl were taken in “provocative adult pose[s]” and inspired “a deluge of twisted emails from ‘strange men’”. Creepy stuff. Here’s what’s also creepy, though: after saying the photos sexualised the kid and helped to perverts to get their rocks off, the Mail actually prints them. Why? Who, aside from a broader audience of the aforementioned perverts, gains anything from seeing them? I mean, I’m all for newspapers sourcing their data but that’s just weird.
Weird, yes, but consistent with the Mail’s odd policies in illustrating stories. There was the occasion when a schoolgirl was abused by a careers adviser, who told her to wear a longer skirt; claimed she “looked like a slut” and derided her for having cellulite. The Mail reported this, and included a sinister close-up of the schoolgirl’s thigh to prove the “cellulite” was a birthmark. I mean, why? Which demented sceptic needed confirmation?
The endless, leering photo-essays on the daughters of celebrities are gruesome. If you saw a bloke taking pictures of your children while they frolicked in the sea you’d kick his ass back to the midlands, would you not? Reporting affairs between teachers and pupils isn’t sinister per se but I’ve found it curious that they report on every single episode. Lesbian relationships are given special prominence. The habit of printing beautiful young women celebrating their exam results – which, in fairness, is true of many other papers – has become a running joke. It’s a measure of how open this secret has become that a public school has been enticing journalists to its festivities with promises of “absolutely beyootiful girls” who “take a good picture”. Nudge nudge. Wink wink. Say no more.
The hypocrisy of this behaviour is evident. Hacks rail against the sexualisation of kids while, er – sexualising kids. They issue vociferous condemnation of paedophiles while givings pervs material. The weirdness of this, however, transcends mere hypocrisy. If I found some of these pictures on someone’s hard drive I must admit I’d be suspicious. When somebody prints them in their newspaper I’m no less doubtful. “Won’t somebody think of the children!” Helen Lovejoy cried. What kind of thoughts does the Mail imagine their reportage will inspire?