Belfast Telegraph

Why hide tabloids but let children watch Beyonce?

By Gail Walker

The decision by Tesco and Waitrose to cover up tabloids which feature "sexualised pictures of young women" on the front pages has been applauded by pressure groups like Child Eyes and No More Page 3 as some kind of victory for women.

Mmm, perhaps. But it seems more like congratulating ourselves about wiping the nose of a patient dying from pneumonia.

The truth is that much of our popular culture is founded upon "sexualised pictures of young women". But, of course, they aren't as easy a target as tabloids catering to a largely working class audience.

If you're really worried about your kids seeing boobs and bums then don't let them watch Strictly. Skimpy dresses, barely-there knickers, leery crotch-shots - it's enough to have Tracey (21) from Clapham blushing with envy and/or disgust. Turn over to X-Factor and you'll get a show that shakes more booties than Clarks.

Or let Junior watch a pop video where - unless you're Adele or Taylor Swift - it's mandatory for a female singer to look like a street walker. And if you're a male to have loads of "bitches" and "hos" shaking their moneymaker in your (nearly always smug) face.

So why is Tracey (21) from Clapham (36-22-34) such a corrupting influence on our young and Beyonce such an inspiration? Could it be because Tracey smiles from a 40p fish and chip paper and Beyonce pouts in a hugely expensive video?

As they say, context is everything.

And let's be honest - some tabloids are being targeted because of what they are, but the "quality" papers have their titillation, too. We know the drill. Miley? Rihanna? Long thought pieces about "sexualised pictures of young women" complete with the aforementioned "SPYW". Hold pages 4,5,6,7 and 8 in the culture section, with a little teaser on the front page sidebar. All good, clean intellectual fun.

But tabloids? So grubby. Such a danger to society.

Or perhaps your soft porn is of a middle brow taste? That is, it's easier to pretend that it's something else. No, it's not porn, it's, er, fashion. Abbey Clancy's new lingerie collection for a high street chain? It will get more coverage than the Chancellor's autumn statement. Then there's the red carpet shots of stars - leggy Angelina, daring Jennifer, sexy Keira - and not forgetting Liz and "that dress". Are these not "sexualised pictures of young women". Is a boob dressed by Karl Lagerfield really any less dangerous than one nearly covered by Ann Summer's finest?

Never mind the tabloids, if you're really worried about Junior's eyes being out on stalks don't leave any women's mags lying around. Just because the bikinied women are footballers' wives frolicking in the waters of St Tropez doesn't make the photos suitable for young eyes. Money doesn't desexualise everything. A semi-naked Katie Price is a semi-naked Katie Price - regardless of her relationship difficulties. And when Junior tears his eyes away from her breasts, he'll see a raft of brightly coloured coverlines screaming about child abuse, incest and murder - all "real-life" too.

The truly worrying aspect of the great tabloid cover-up is that it represents the thin end of a very dubious wedge. Why is an image of Tracey so upsetting compared with headlines about an ISIS mass beheading or hundreds of schoolgirls going missing or the vileness of Pick Up Artists, or OAPs being beaten to death or serial killers? What's truly more injurious to childhood innocence - Tracey's embonpoint or pictures of the wreckage of an airline blown apart in the sky, with a teddy bear among the debris? To take this to its logical conclusion, a picture may be worth a thousand words but there are thousands upon thousands of words in a newspaper. Why shouldn't children be protected from all of those?

Because it would be a nonsense - that's why. Every newspaper would be kept under the counter and sold in a brown paper bag. And that would be absurd. It would also censor the child from the world, making a fool of him or her. In the same way, a 40p tabloid has Tracey - and news about politics, the economy and world affairs, too.

Newspapers make hundreds of judgment calls every day. You've no idea the horrors you were spared during the Troubles, because you never saw them. Just as now, photos of crash scenes, the seriously ill and dying, and, yes, the beautiful, are all carefully vetted. Most papers abide by their own strict house style.

Tracey and her ilk are a mildly offensive anachronism. But in a world of real horrors, real evil, real corruption, they're not the worst. But dealing with those would be far too messy.

Follow me on Twitter @GWalker9

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