“It’s just a bit of fun”. Sexual repression and the bizarre breast obsession of the British tabloid press.

A typical Sun front page

“It was just a joke”. How many times have you heard that and thought, “No, it isn’t”. The Sun, a paper well-known to all of us for Page 3, gossip and sports coverage, is a paper that claims to be “fun”. “It’s just a bit of a larf, love” and “Can’t you take a joke” are trotted out by those who defend The Sun’s breast fixation and trashy news stories. In amongst such trash, one will find “The Sun says” leader column, which is The Sun’s version of the truth along with stories of Muslims doing horrible things to people.  The fact that Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists do horrible things to others is ignored to advance a weak nationalistic thesis, which is invariably based on cultural relativism.

The Sun, like many of the tabloid papers, is possibly one of the best examples of the Spectacle. It is a paper that denies the existence of reality and ignores the lived experience. It pushes a very right-wing agenda that is supported by its use of distractions: bare breasts being one such distraction, the  celebrity gossip being another. Well, it’s something to talk about at work. Innit? “Did you see the bird on Page 3 today? Phwoar”! While this is happening, your rights in the workplace are being stolen from you as your attention is diverted to the tits on Page 3.

The Sun is no friend of the working class, the elderly, the poor, women, minority ethnic groups, the disabled, LGBT, in fact, anyone who doesn’t conform. Its gossip stories are peppered with nationalistic garbage about “our boys” and “Europe: why we should get out”. If you don’t agree with The Sun, then you must be a pinko or just a po-faced misery-guts and a sexual prude to boot.

The Torygraph’s Ed West used to work for Nuts.

But what nation, other than Britain, has such a juvenile obsession with bare breasts? I can think of no other, certainly there are no countries that have daily newspapers that publish pictures of naked breasts for the titillation of their male readers. Normally, you’d have to buy a specialist magazine for that. It isn’t just The Sun either, The Daily Star, Nuts, ZooLoaded and all the other lads mags do it too. I once found a copy of Nuts that had pages of bare breasts that had been detached from their owners. It was as if to suggest that women don’t deserve to have faces, personalities or thoughts of their own; they are objects to gaze upon.  This week’s edition has a section titled “Assess my breasts”. Again, there are no faces, just tits.

The tabloids and lads mags value women for one thing: their breasts. Should a woman complain about any of this, she is labelled a “lesbian” or similar. If a man should complain, their masculinity is questioned. “What? Don’t you like women”, asks the avid Nuts reader. Yes, I like women, I just don’t objectify them, I value them for their intellect, their sense of humour and their company. Such things are alien to these men. Those  men who regularly read lads mags and The Sun, not only have masculinity mediated to them, their relationship with women often tends to be pretty strained. They see women, not as equals or fellow human beings but as people to serve their carnal needs and to cook for them.

The Sun and Nuts’ preoccupation with breasts, reveals an undercurrent of sexual repression and suppression. While blokes are gawping at the bare breasts on Page 3, Britain’s attitude to sex remains curiously prudish. Even the act of sexual intercourse is mediated by these press titans. “Can you do it like Brad and Angelina? The Sun will show you how” and “Mr So and So confesses that he does it 50 times a day and it still isn’t enough” are two of the ways in which people are made to feel inadequate about themselves and therefore they don’t feel confident enough to challenge the authorities that keep them in their place.

Wilhelm Reich wrote in The Mass Psychology of Fascism,

The suppression of the gratification of primitive material needs has a result different from that of the suppression of the gratification of the sexual needs. The former incites rebellion. The latter, however—by repressing the sexual needs and by becoming anchored as moralistic defense—paralyzes the rebellion against either kind of suppression. More than that, the inhibition of rebellion itself is unconscious. The conscious mind of the average unpolitical individual does not even show a trace of it.
The result of this process is fear of freedom, and a conservative, reactionary mentality. Sexual repression aids political reaction not only through this process which makes the mass individual passive and unpolitical but also by creating in his structure an interest in actively supporting the authoritarian order. The suppression of natural sexual gratification leads to various kinds of substitute gratifications. Natural aggression, for example, becomes brutal sadism which then is an essential mass-psychological factor in imperialistic wars.

Is this what we’re witnessing in Britain?  Before The Sun came along, there were no bare breasts in any of the tabloid papers. Naked breasts, along with other parts of the anatomy, could only be found in top shelf magazines or the pages of H&E or National Geographic. Now some would say we live in a liberated age and no longer stiff upper-lipped about our sexual habits. But nothing could be further from the truth. So let’s talk about sex. “You what”? [fnarr, fnarr!]… see what I mean?

Wake up, Britain!

Already there is talk of a war with Iran, yet there are those who, while gazing at pictures of bare breasts, who would repeat the whole nonsense that “We’ve lost our way and need to show the enemy that we mean business”. These men would also claim that we live in a “free country” but ask them what they mean by this and all you’ll get is a mouthful of nonsense about “muzzies” and “commies”. They may even start spouting garbage about Churchill, ignorant of the fact that he sent troops in to shoot miners at Tonypandy or dispatched warships to the Mersey and the Humber.

It was The Sun that perpetuated the lies about Hillsborough for 23 years. The people of Merseyside woke up to the reality of The Sun, it’s time the rest of the country did the same. And the lads mags? The same goes for them too.

Finally, here’s the Artist Taxi Driver from last year talking about The Sun.

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Filed under History, History & Memory, Media, News Corporation, propaganda, Racism, Sexism, Tory press, Yellow journalism

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