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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Second thoughts from the sex trailblazers

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One Direction's fans are so besotted that they'll pay $2000 for the chance to see their idols and scream at them. Photo / AP
One Direction's fans are so besotted that they'll pay $2000 for the chance to see their idols and scream at them. Photo / AP

Tuesday's Dominion Post was a rewarding read for aficionados of irony.

Occupying a fair chunk of the front page was a photo story revealing that the hysteria over the boy band One Direction - five lads who make Justin Bieber look like Brad Thorn - has reached the stage that two $93.50 tickets to their sold-out Wellington show next month fetched $2000 in a Trade Me bidding war.

The story quoted a Guardian concert reviewer's description of the deafening, primal howl generated by One Direction's audience as "the hive-mind battle cry of teenage girls scenting boy-flesh".

Buried inside was a seven paragraph report on 73-year-old feminist Germaine Greer's appearance at the Wellington Writers and Readers Festival, during which she despaired of the growth of a "paedophiliac culture" obsessed with celebrity and sex.

You could argue the Post's treatment of the two stories proved Greer's point, but that was merely the tip of an ironic iceberg.

This is, after all, the same Germaine Greer who in 2003 produced a book called The Boy, which a Guardian critic described as 200 pages of "succulent teenage male beauty".

It was either the same critic, or the Guardian requires its contributors to write like Vladimir Nabokov in his Lolita phase.

Greer claimed the book was "an attempt to address modern women's apparent indifference to the teenage boy as a sexual object, and to advance women's reclamation of their capacity for a right to visual pleasure".

Which is an academic's way of saying that women have as much right to be titillated by pornography as men. That's indisputable, but it seems at odds with her complaint that men prefer "girls on the internet, girls you don't have to talk to" to real women. It might also seem curious that a feminist should advocate treating boys as sex objects but, unlike some of the sisterhood, Greer has never seen feminism as incompatible with an enthusiasm for the recreational potential of the male gender.

As a younger woman she was happy to describe herself as a "supergroupie" and admitted that she strayed from the path of fidelity seven times during her three-week marriage to a carpenter.

Appearing on an Australian talk show, she abandoned the pretence that her interest in teenage boys was entirely aesthetic: "The recharge time is remarkably short, which is a good thing if what you want is a high level of excitement."

Reading the transcript of the interview it's easy to imagine the drool hanging off her lower lip.

It's anyone's guess how Greer would reconcile this carry-on with her denunciation of "paedophiliac culture".

Perhaps she'd take cover behind the dictum that the ability to hold contradictory ideas simultaneously is the hallmark of a sophisticated mind, or just point to her long and distinguished career as a contrarian and shit-stirrer.

Speaking of sex and celebrity, how fitting that the Dom Post's front page also featured a photo of Madonna, a pointer to a story in which she bemoans the lot of a single mum superstar.

She worries about her children being exposed to unsuitable lyrics when they listen to pop music, yet her new album contains tracks such as Gang Bang and I F****d Up.

Madonna has been a leading driver of celebrity mania and the sexualisation of pop culture of which Greer complains. Like a Virgin (1984), which announced her arrival as a cultural phenomenon and telegraphed her intention to push the sexual envelope, was widely interpreted as a paean to promiscuity, notably by Quentin Tarantino in his first film, Reservoir Dogs.

Although Madonna coyly begged to differ, she rather gave the game away with her rendition of it at the first MTV Video Music Awards, rolling around in a wedding dress and humping the floor, a performance she described as "the most blatant sexual thing I'd ever done on TV".

Yet just three years earlier the J. Geils Band had a huge hit with Centrefold, a song about a guy's anguish at coming across photos of his high school crush ("she was pure like snowflakes no one could ever stain") in a girly magazine: "My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold: my angel is the centrefold."

Compared to what is standard today, the Centrefold video seems like a charming relic from a long-gone age of innocence. Even back then only ultra-protective parents would have minded their daughters being in it.

We've come a long way in a short time and in their different fashions Greer and Madonna blazed the trail. If Greer now has misgivings about where it's all going to end up, well, it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind.

- NZ Herald

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