Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Romeo and Juliet, or how Bill Shakspere was a vile smut merchant ...

(Above: can someone explain how Nureyev and Fonteyn ended up on the pond?)

But saying o'er what I have said before:
My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

Not seen the change of fourteen years?

Oh dear, don't say that famous Willm Shakspere was a pornographer, with pedophiliac tendencies. And worse still he lowered Juliet's age by a couple of years from the 16 years given to her in Arthur Brooke's 1562 poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.

The pond got to brooding about this after Geert Wilders began running around denouncing the prophet as a pedophile, without allowing for historical context or the behaviour of Catholic priests, or worse, the church covering up the behaviour of priests who needed help arising from the institutional expectations and abuse surrounding them

Now you probably won't hear Geert Wilders running around denouncing Bill as a vile filthy pervert and smut monger, because that sort of easy rhetoric comes in handy for his ideological war with the prophet's followers. But he could, if so inclined, claim Bill wasn't the foundation of English drama, but rather the foundation of all that's wrong on the full to overflowing intertubes.

You see it wasn't just a passing reference by Bill - he really hammers the plot point home:

 I'll lay fourteen of my teeth,-- 
And yet, to my teeth be it spoken, I have but four-- 
She is not fourteen. 
How long is it now To Lammas-tide? 
Lady Capulet: 
A fortnight and odd days. 
 Even or odd, of all days in the year, 
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen. 
Susan and she--God rest all Christian souls!-- 
Were of an age: well, Susan is with God; 
She was too good for me: but, as I said, 
On Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen; 
That shall she, marry; I remember it well. 
'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years; 
And she was wean'd,--I never shall forget it,-- 
Of all the days of the year, upon that day: 
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug, 
Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall; 
My lord and you were then at Mantua:-- 
Nay, I do bear a brain:--but, as I said, 
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple 
Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool, 
To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug! 

Okay, enough of the nipple and the dug and the wormwood already, you know the rest of the story.

While you have to read the text in a certain way to suggest that the couple went all the way, the silly girl's an EMO and ups and kills herself, and at such a young age too. So it's better to die young in love than spend a dull life occasionally rutting.

It seems a pretty important plot point to Bill. Perhaps he already had decided to make things easier for Franco Zeffirelli, who got around to casting Olivia Hussey when she was 17 (by golly Clare Danes was 17 too - remember the rule when casting a soap like Neighbours, cast up in age so a 17 year old can appeal to the aspirational 12-13 year olds. Which makes Bill's target audience ...?).

Of course it might not be a case of pedophilia, merely a celebration of the joys of underage sex. Since he doesn't have a beard, Romeo might well only be 15-17, and thus would escape the technical definition of pedophilia in its wiki here.

So let's hear it for Bill establishing the golden rule that if you fuck while young, you'll die young.

In the scheme of things, it's no big deal.  If you were an adult male in Elizabethan times, you were likely not to beat the average age of 47, and if you lived in London, you might hope for 35 if you were rich and could afford to avoid the rabble, or 25 years or so for the one penny groundlings loafing around in the pit. (here's a wiki for you on the subject).

The more interesting point is that a lot of people show an almost astonishing ignorance of past expressions of human sexuality, from the ancient Greeks (sssh, don't mention the Spartans or the island of Lesbos) right through to the present, and Wilders is just one of a tribe of knee-jerk in love with cant.

Which presents the perfect climate for a climate of hysteria to develop around sex.

Surely there's no better example of that hysteria than the views of Steven Biddulph, summarised exactly in Sexualisation of the young is becoming society's cancer, and if you don't get the message from that, try the sub-header, Our overtly sexual environment is generating depressed, lonely people.

Sexualisation is a cancer? Yep, it's Bill all over again. You're going to die young.

This was possibly written by a person who's never experienced cancer.

Truth to tell, the pond generally only feels depressed and lonely when reading Biddulph, who spends an inordinate amount of time explaining how we're all rooned, and we're all fucked, and twenty years ago it was different, and lordy lordy, let me do my chicken little imitation, and the sky is falling in, and what's that you say, Apulieus wrote a notorious book containing a story a woman having a fuck with an ass somewhere around 160 AD.

Well the ass is actually a man, Lucius who buggers up the witchcraft, and there's plenty of other naughtiness in the book (the wiki for The Golden Ass is here) ... but still ..

But let's not get into bestiality because the next thing you know Wilders and Biddulph will be having an anxiety attack about the way Titania really gets herself excited about Bottom and his ass head in A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

Go donkeys! Donkeys 1!

I guess the ultimate point is when you read the kind of desperate oneiric tirade that Biddulph delivers, you feel like saying to him, oh for the love of the long absent lord, why don't you just settle down and take a long shower (or maybe he's thinking the solution is that Spartan one, of dropping the weak child off on the slope of Mount Taygetus, and leaving them to die of exposure, and here's another wiki for you).

Here's how you know Biddulph is playing verbal games and dog-whistling to his base (got to sell those books, did we mention Finch Publishing?):

It's not just the young. Porn use is very high among adult men, including married men. It's possible that porn is filling a gap in our closeness and lovingness generally. We live in a society that is often too rushed for affection, for attunement between husband and wife, or parent and child. We are a cold culture. Consumer goods and food have replaced intimacy in our lives. 

Yes, there's the clue. It's possible that porn is filling a gap ...

Note the possible, then run with it and take it a mile (or a kilometre if you feel like pandering to the French).

It's also possible that people use porn responsibly and sensibly and in moderation and with due awareness of the silliness of the fake moans and artificiality of commercial porn, which is more than you can say for those addicted to alcohol, gambling (thanks channel 9 and the clubs of Australia), and the harder kinds of drugs.

As for consumer goods and food replacing intimacy in our lives, can we just scrub the ours?

It might be true of Biddulph, or it might be that he fancies himself and his partner as a glorious exception to his own rule, but who gave him the right to speak for the pond?

By golly if we want to read a racy story about a young girl making out with a young man, we'll keep on getting Bill off the shelf.

And what's this talk of food replacing intimacy? The pond can guarantee that a steady diet of gruel plays havoc with intimacy, while a decent dose of oysters (or lobsters, or anything else Henry Fielding proposed for Tom Jones can do wonders, especially if washed down with a fine French champagne with nicely refined beads for bubbles).

Is he proposing that if you live a life of poverty, without decent food, or the odd labour-saving device you'll have a rip-snorting sex life? Sorry, been there, done that. Doesn't work for the pond ...

Our earn-and-spend culture edges us towards seeing ourselves as a product.

And there's more half-baked equivocations. See how edges creeps into the game and wolf-whistles to the base?

Edges us towards seeing ourselves as a product.

Hmm, earn and spend on consumer goods and food. Is the pond seeing itself as nice things like garlic, or chilli, or are fruits, vegetables, fish and meat ruled out, and all we can do is see ourselves as a plasma screen? Or perhaps a toaster or a kettle?

Actually it's Biddulph that's edging us towards seeing ourselves as a product, because he needs that for his thesis.

We modify our bodies to compete better in the marketplace. 

Oh for the long absent lord's sake, go take a look at the jewellery and decorations on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

How's this for some pieces of Etruscan jewellery from early in the fifth century B.C., featuring gold and glass?

By golly I bet that original Etruscan owner was well-placed to compete in the marketplace.

Actually I shouldn't have mentioned that. The Metropolitan is totally addictive, way worse than porn and you can spend hours and hours looking at tasty ancient jewellery and stunning dresses. Go on, give it a go, here. If you dial up Egyptian jewellery, you only get near 10k hits in the results.

Sadly the sort of tosh that Biddulph delivers is the sort of stuff puritans have been rabbiting on about since, well since the Puritans headed off to the United States, and invented the internet so they could look at porn in the privacy of their dens (like a lot of Republicans and Christians seem to do).

You can pick it from the comments he attracted, all the cluck clucking and tut tutting from the wowsers and the Mother Grundys, with some recommending that parents pick up their children and flee to the nearest church, rather than helping them to cope with the perils of the modern world.

Advertising teaches our young to evaluate themselves merely by their looks. 

Uh huh. So only advertising teaches us that? Pity the poor pond, always a wallflower (as they used to say in Tamworth). If only someone had explained it was all the fault of advertising.

So what's the solution?

Unless we redirect ourselves to inner value - kindness, creativity, patience, loyalty, and passion - then we will have nothing to offer our young apart from our credit cards. 

Why it's sanctimonious meretricious meaningless jibber jabber.

Creativity? So what do we do about the likes of Francis Bacon, and his searing images? Or Nabokov's Lolita? Or that Shakspere chappie?

And so on and so forth through the list of "inner values", as if you can't display values in any other way.

What about paranoia and hysteria about sex and the sexualisation of the young, and what about tirades about how we're all doomed and we're all lonely and lost, and by the way here's a bonus pack of razorblades?

Surely we can offer those things along with our credit cards?

Now the pond doesn't want to diminish the significance of power imbalances, and the exploitation of the young by adults for their own vile purposes, whether in an institutional or domestic context. A tour of duty with Dominican nuns will help you understand that.

After all, these days people live a long time, and there's plenty of time for children to develop and understand the world, even if Biddulph seems to see everything through the lens of first world problems (yes, at last the pond has been able to mention first world problems!)

If we were talking about children down mines, or in sweatshops, as in Victorian days, or being encouraged to die in the mud of Flanders before coming of age, or performing tricks for Victorian gentlemen (or these days making sneakers for fat Australians or trawling over a garbage dump or living in a slum or being made to service Australian tourists off exploring the Thai sex industry), then we might talk about real depression.

A miserable life and an early death certainly tends to focus the mind.

In support of Biddulph's thesis, it's certainly true that members of the Hitler Youth - like the pope emeritus - weren't depressed and lonely. They were bright eyed and bushy tailed and beavered away to bring about a thousand year Reich (what, the pond has to pay how much into the Godwin's Law swear jar? And all we wanted to do was make a joke about the pope emeritus?)

Of course if any young person asks, the pond will always advise them to avoid priests of any kind, but especially those who think it's right to try to get through life without exploring and enjoying the intimacy with another person that comes through human sexuality in all its diverse and wondrous forms ...

There are many other things that the pond could pick a bone or a fight with Biddulph over, not least his tendency to sentimentalise and romanticise Victorian sexuality, as if we should all be back in the 1950s, enjoying only gentleness and softness and holding hands like a bunch of southern Baptist Christians (well it's certainly handy in tissue paper and toilet rolls).

But you know you can enjoy a hard fuck as well as a soft one, depending on the time, the place, the mood and the partner, and it might be handy if Biddulph could provide some detailed statistics for this kind of wild assertion: Little wonder we have one of the most depressed and lonely generations of young people ever.

Little wonder? You mean they read Biddulph regularly? Should we revive Hitler Youth, and give them a purpose? (oh okay here's the damn cash for the G'sL SJ)

It's one of the wonders of the ages that each older generation judges the new generation as an incipient or a definite fail, yet the world keeps ticking over (at least until climate change sorts out the ones who can make it off the mountain slope and take out Mad max)

Oh dear, now the pond is having nightmarish visions of Mel Gibson.

Can someone just stick Biddulph on the slope of Mount Taygetus so others can get on with enjoying life for the little time left to us in this vale of tears?

The only upside?

Well it beats writing about Janet "Dame Slap" Albrechtsen, doing over the Labor party one more time...

(Below: if you understand this xkcd cartoon, you are definitively a pervert. Which means you'll go off and geek at more xkcd here).


  1. It always makes me laugh when modern puritans chest beat over the sexualisation of children and the newfangled 'loss of childhood' and what about the 'good old days'. It's only in the last hundred years or so that childhood for most classes extended beyond primary school age.

    In mediaeval times, babies and children of the noble class were routinely betrothed, and expected to marry and consummate it upon reaching puberty (Henry VI was born when his mother was 13 and widowed for the *second* time), and in 1600 the Scottish assembly passed a law stipulating a minimum age of marriage (not always adhered to), 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy.

    Until 1908 in the UK, the age of criminal responsibility was seven (the last person under 18 to be executed in the UK was hanged in 1889).

    The first child labour law in the UK was passed in 1833, to prevent any person younger than nine from working in a factory (but not anywhere else), and at age 9-12, work a maximum nine hour day (12 hours for 13-18). In the late nineteenth century, laws were enacted to ENCOURAGE child labour in the colonies.

    I remember reading a tract written in the late nineteenth century that could have been written today if you inserted 'hoon cars', 'internet' and 'iphones' instead of... whatever teenagers stuffed around with back then, horses and buggies and competitive knitting, probably. Unfortunately, I can't remember much about it, and I can't find it to post a link.

    Personally, I wish I had been born in this century, I think life is much easier now than when I was a kid. The only decay in modern manners I have seen is that noone keeps their damn elbows off the table any more. Kids today, I don't know.

    I remember a joke told by the late Dave Allen: 'I heard an old lady moaning about the good old days. So I took away her pension card and shoved her grandson up a chimney.'

  2. Worth noting that for all the talk of our youth being depraved and over-sexed and 'what is the world coming to' and 'sexualisation of the young is becoming society's cancer', both teenage and under-18 pregnancy rates in the US are now at their lowest levels since the 1920s...


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