Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Sex sells, but is it time to let The Sun set on Page 3?

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch

In the ruins of Pompeii, in the late 1770s, archeologists found a breast. What they found, in fact, was the space left by the body of a woman without much on.

But when they tried to make a mould of it, all they got, according to Mary Beard in her book, Pompeii, was a breast. So Nihil sub sole novum, as the Romans might tell us (There's nothing new under the sun).

Or nothing much new in The Sun. For what you see on the most famous newspaper page in the world is what you'd see on murals in Pompeii.

Four-and-a-half million is about two-thirds of the daily readership of a newspaper which is still the world's 10th most popular paper.

Four-and-a-half million is quite a lot more than the 64,305 people who signed a petition for a group called No More Page 3. But the 64,305 people who did sign it may well have cheered up.

On Sunday night, a woman sent Rupert Murdoch a tweet saying: "we are all so over Page 3". And Murdoch tweeted back. "Page three so last century. You maybe [sic] right."

This might have been a surprise to the editor of The Sun, who had to give his reasons for Page 3 to Lord Justice Leveson.

Page 3 was "meant to represent a youth and freshness," he said, and to celebrate "natural beauty". What he didn't say was that Page 3 is in The Sun because it's an easy way to make cash.

Rich people don't get rich by being nice. Rupert Murdoch has had Page 3 in The Sun for 42 years, because it has made him an awful lot of money. He'll only take it out if he thinks taking it out will make him more.

Porn – like sugar, or alcohol – is a drug. Once you've had a taste, you want more.

When Hello! was launched in 1988, we didn't know we'd had a gap in our lives. After it was published, we did. We realised what had been wrong: not enough of us had been looking at photos of women without many clothes on.

Before, we hadn't really bothered to look at photos of women in their bikinis. Now we could do it for quite big chunks of our time.

So much of our time, in fact, that the newspaper websites which published a lot of these photos got more readers (if you can call people who look at pictures 'readers') than any other newspaper websites in the world.

These websites even made money. They made money by making sure a woman's body wasn't just something to stir an appetite, or cheer a bloke up; they made money by making sure a woman's body was something for other women to judge.

If you walk down the street, you can see that women are getting fatter. But if you're on telly, or in a magazine, you can't look like the women you see when you walk down the street. You have to have a nice figure and a smooth face and nice teeth and nice hair.

The editor of The Sun was, at least in one way, right when he appeared before Lord Justice Leveson. There is, indeed, something "innocuous" about Page 3.

It makes you think of a more innocent world: of saucy seaside humour and Carry On. It makes you think of a world before mass plastic surgery and internet porn.

Some of us would be quite a lot happier if newspapers made money without selling sex. But sex will always be with us.

Vivamus et amemus (as they said in Pompeii): let us live and let us love. But, please, let's not feed any more orgies of self-hatred.

And, particularly, when the profits of those orgies go to men.

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