the ‘top shelf’ campaign
If, like me, you had to sit uncomfortably through a talk about the birds and the bees during your teens, delivered by an equally uncomfortable pastor or youth leader, you may very well have been confronted by the admirable but seemingly over ambitious vow of Job 31.1: ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman.’
We can’t be sure he kept this vow. But we can be sure that he’d face a serious challenge to it, if he entered an average 21st-century newsagent or petrol station.
Since the launch of the shamelessly self-styled ‘blokes mag’ Loaded in 1996, scantily clad women have been increasingly over-exposed on the covers of many copycat titles.
We are now confronted with images – often carefully positioned at the till, as well as on display stands – that demean women and trip a man’s mind.
However, help could be on the way. In the 1960s, Mary Whitehouse began her campaign against inappropriate TV programming, founding the National Viewers and Listeners Association in 1965. In the 1980s, Clare Short waged a war against ‘Page 3’.
Now it’s the turn of the Labour MP for Crosby, Claire Curtis-Thomas, who has no qualms, as the Independent reported, about being associated with the two ladies above. This week, under the Ten Minute Rule, she presented her ‘Regulation and Display of Sexually Explicit Material Bill’ – otherwise known as ‘the top-shelf campaign’.
Weekly magazines such as Nuts and Zoo should, she argues, be dispatched to the top-shelf. So far, they have avoided the ‘pornographic’ label by showing no nudity below the waist (despite revealing, on average, over 70 topless shots per issue – more than Playboy).
And the advice they offer their readers is so ‘explicit’ that Mrs Curtis-Thomas was warned that if she quoted from them, she’d be expelled from the Commons for a week. Proof enough, you’d hope, that they shouldn’t be so in your face (or your children’s) when you’ve just popped in for a paper.
Such publications trade on ‘eye level’ titillation; they need it to drive their sales. So, if the Bill were to gain support and the magazines were forced from immediate view, it may signal the beginning of their end. And that’s something that most men should applaud just as heartily as most women. For not all of us have the patience, let alone the fortitude, of Job.