Just the tits by Barbara Nadel

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Referring to the recent News of the World scandal here in old blighty, esteemed Geordie comedian Sarah Millican remarked that in future people would freely own up to reading tabloid newspapers just ‘for the tits’. This is in complete contrast to how things have been in the past. People enamoured of newspaper pictures of scantily dressed young women would routinely say that they read publications like the News of the World (NoW) and The Sun not because of said unclothed women, but because they liked the editorials and the stories. Most people, especially men, would judiciously try and avoid ‘the tits’.

However, at a stroke, all that could change. It makes sense. After all what would you own up to? Reading a story based around the plundered data from a dead soldier’s phone or drooling over someone called ‘Danielle’s’ tits? I’m a heterosexual woman and I’d go for the tits every time. But then maybe, until recently, I was in the minority.

The way the ‘gossip’ ( I won’t call it journalism) industry in this country has developed in recent years is not what anyone could really call healthy. Why, after all, would I want to know whether or not some Z list celeb has cellulite on her bum? Why would I want that part of her body highlighted in the fuzzy long lens photograph of her on the front of a magazine? Why, when I have my own cellulite to deal with, would I give a toss?

To be fair, the whole celeb thing is probably the least worrying aspect of this whole affair. Celebrities have been of interest to the rest of humanity since time immemorial. I imagine Helen of Troy was probably stalked by unscrupulous artists wanting to paint a quick picture of her while she wasn’t looking. Public interest goes with fame and, while I don’t think we should see inside every celebrity handbag, posing pouch or nappy, I do think that at least those press ‘victims’ are well remunerated for their pain. Joe Public isn’t, even if some members of  Joe’s gang seem to be very keen to get the more salacious details of their lives into print.

There are entire publications now dedicated to ‘real life’ stories written by ‘real people’. Typical fodder includes accounts of horrendous suffering due to illness, domestic violence, plastic surgery gone wrong and disturbing psychic visions of the late Princess Diana. Grisly accounts of how now deceased children met their maker abound as do harrowing tales of sexual abuse. Amusing though titles like ’25 stone sister sits on men’s faces for money’ may be, it’s all a bit unsavoury isn’t it? The truth is, that ‘yes it is’. But the further truth is that we’re all far too used to this sort of thing to notice.

I am not a person who believes in censorship, nor am I one who wishes to get the NoW and it’s ilk off the hook. But what psychologists call the ‘latitude of acceptance’ for stories that ended up including the phone records of dead soldiers and murder victims has been widening rapidly. Back in the 1980s we had the Princess Diana watching frenzy. ‘Look!’ the headlines would shriek at us, ‘She’s going to the gym! She looks a bit tired!’ Just like ‘us’! God, I was bored to tears by that! But a lot of people weren’t. A lot of people found that fascinating and wanted more. It was ‘reality’ and soon we had other celebrities indulging in reality too. ‘Look! There goes Mariah Carey! And guess what? She’s got a bum too! Look, she can eat, just like us!’ It was only a question of time before ‘we’ wanted a piece of the action ourselves.

‘Reality’ magazines and shows like The Jeremy Kyle Show became just part of people’s lives. Truly appalling behaviour began to get you on TV and all sorts of wife beaters, anti social kids and truly misguided people who needed help came out of the woodwork for Joe Public’s entertainment.

How long is the jump between an account of some thick head beating his girlfriend to a pulp because he has ‘issues’ and the plundering of a dead soldier’s mobile phone calls? It’s such a sort distance it can barely be measured. I say throw the book at all of those responsible for hacking phones, causing misery and breaking the law. But like Sarah Millican I call on the British people to curb their enthusiasm for the goriest of gory details and get back, if such things please you, to the tits (or in my case, a nice photograph of Johnny Depp).

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