Why are newspapers so full of filth and wrong information when it comes to sex?
Owing to the necessities of its very nature (salacious) a newspaper constantly struggles with a restlessness that isn’t immediately recognised as innate and is often mistaken for genuine innovation. seen in the context of the multitude of meanings that erupt the moment one opens a newspaper, it is this restlessness, this knowing without really knowing, we end up with every time we stare down the deep Beckettian void in the heart and mind of the modern newspaper reader.
If you think I am bullshitting, you are right. in newspapers, sex and bullshit go hand in hand. Fact is sex and sleaze is now widely recognised as an important desk in any respectable and family-oriented newsroom. every page has ample scope for sex. Page one is reserved for sex of the freak show kind: basically news that shocks us: Two-year-old girl raped; man, 80, married 18th time, becomes father; Grandma gets surgery, gifts grandpa her virginity; Shanghai sells more sex dolls than sanitary napkins, etc.
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Page two onwards, sex gets less shocking. It becomes clinical and criminal. We read of sex in crime and medicine. We read about rape and sex education. The world pages are dedicated to sex of the scientific and salacious nature: technological breakthroughs in fertility and how latest research shows that two of every three women is bisexual and how four out of every four men would want that ratio to be three out of three.
I have not collated facts personally or done any physical research, but I think it’s fair to assume that on any given day a newspaper is most likely to have at least two to three stories on sex and as a rule of thumb the stories will have conflicting moral stands which essentially exploit the sex-is-sin complex and strengthen it in the process.
One story says this is the best time to find one’s true love; another story says every fifth married man cheats on his wife. how can the best time to find true love also be the time when most people are cheating on their partners? On page four, one reads about a seminar decrying plastic surgery and on page five there is a story on the five top plastic surgeons in Bandra.
Sometimes, when I feel bored or low or in need of some laughs, I pick up a well-known afternoon tabloid and go through its column on sex problems. Most writers are male and nine times out of ten the men are either too scared to masturbate or cannot control their habit. I don’t laugh at the problems, I laugh at the answers. to the novice the doctor says it’s okay to be with yourself every once in a while, to score a century one must be good at the nets; to the rabid the doctor advises caution: too much net practice may wear you out.
A few months back, a highly suspicious scientific finding was published in almost all national dailies, with page one display in the serious papers. The purpose of the study was to find out why women tell their husbands that their child looks like him. The reason, according to the study, was to convince the dad of the child’s paternity and secure their future. Not one letter was published the next day questioning the scientific basis of the study or the misogynistic leanings of the newspapers. how should a family of four with two middle school children react to such stories?
The reader is bound to feel neurotic. how do you reconcile two opposing moral positions without coming across as completely shallow and superfluous? Words like fling, scandal, adultery, womanising, etc have lost their moral rigidity in the same way as words like kindness, marriage, sacrifice, gratitude, duty, etc have lost theirs. The only moral truths on which there is seldom any conflict in popular media are corporate truths, the proof of which is provided on a quarterly basis by the markets.
Over the years, I have developed a theory: most newspaper editors do not get enough action. Funnily enough, the only lesson I learnt in journalism school from my professor (who was a veteran edit page hand) was that people who have sex in their mind don’t have it in the right place. When I walked into my first newspaper job and attended a news meeting, I put two and two together. One of the high points of my stint there had been to walk into a shop, buy a sex toy and write about it.
When I was in school, it was believed that a good newspaper is like a society talking to itself; a good newspaper today, in my opinion, is like a society having sex with itself. I am not against writing on sex; I am only opposed to bad writing, especially of the form that celebrates the new openness as an excuse to write anything about sex, quoting anyone from a sexologist to a school girl depending on the personal curiosity of the correspondent.
When I was growing up, there was a problem with sex: some of us grew up thinking sex is a sin. every generation suffers from it and (depending on individual resilience) passes it on to the next all the time hoping they do not make the mistakes their parents did because their parents did not bring them up the way their grandparents brought their parents up. Sex is still a sin, but the message from the medium is sharper: sex is sin; sin is fun.
Alas, politics for the sake of politics and sex for the sake of sex is not the same as art for the sake of art or writing for the sake of writing, which is why I think newspapers devote so much space to sex and politics: if sex and politics are no longer cheap, what will the poor public do for its daily fix?
Mayank Tewari is a writer.