Imagine a movie about pirates. Imagine that in the course of the movie the sea-faring rotters kidnap a pretty lady and tie her to their mast.
Imagine that the lady’s bodice has been quite literally ripped.
If you wish to imagine that a whip becomes involved, I am certainly not going to stop you.
Most men would, I think, find that scene a little bit sexy; some men would certainly find it very sexy indeed. As, indeed, would some women.
We could also discuss the psycho-sexual situation if the pirate were a lady, the bodice were a frilly shirt and the captive was Orlando Bloom.
Goodies being menaced by baddies, and doubtless rescued by other goodies, is part of the stock-in-trade of swashbuckling adventures. So, indeed, is mild eroticism. A puritan might say that if even one man enjoys watching Errol Flynn rip Olivia de Havilland’s bodice then the film is pornographic and shouldn’t be allowed. A very, very strict puritan might say that it is better to preemptively close all movie houses rather then risk one man being improperly excited. On the other hand, some perfectly sensible sex maniacs might abstain from pirate movies for the same reason that some perfectly sensible alcoholics stay away from pubs.
“I find pirate movies sexy and I don’t think that’s good for me. Not harmful to you; not harmful to him; but possibly harmful to me. One Corinthians Eight.”
Now let us suppose that someone takes a freeze frame of the offending scene, blows it up to A3 and hangs it on their bedroom wall. You might think they were particularly interested in that particular image. For some reason.
Let’s further suppose someone publishes a coffee table book which contains nothing but stills from pirate movies in which ladies of varying degrees of prettiness are menaced by pirates of equally variable levels of butchness.
You might suspect that purchasers of the book were interested in something other than Mild Peril and Action Sequences.
You might think that up and down the country, quite a few men would be swashing their buckles.
And you might or might not think that mattered.
I have absolutely no idea what a bodice is. I suppose it is an old-fashioned word for bra?
When I was a child, I played with stuffed toys until I was rather too old for them. My second favourite was a penguin. My favourite was...not a penguin.
Percy Penguin still lives on a shelf in my front room. The other one...doesn’t
My parents were card-carrying Labour-voting Guardian-purchasing lefties who would have eaten Muesli and Tofu if such strange foodstuffs had reached the shelves of the East Barnet Co-Operative Stores. I was not allowed to play with toy guns or toy soldiers or watch war movies. But I was allowed to own that particular stuffed toy. The one that is not a penguin.
My sister recently gave me a box file of papers that she found while clearing out Mum’s house. There were a number of photos of a disconcertingly cute waif in an East Barnet School uniform and a number of picture postcards with illegible handwriting on the back.
At the bottom of the box was a small enamel broach that I mist have obtained by collecting ten labels and sending them, along with a stamped addressed envelope, to the manufacturer of Robertson’s Marmalade.
The character on the broach is not a penguin either.
Suppose I display the Robertsons marmalade badge in my front room, alongside my Tufty Club badge, my Blackpool Golden Mile badge and my I’ve Been On the Corkscrew At Alton Towers badge.
You would probably think that what you were looking at was a collection of badges.
But suppose I added to the display my collection of Robertsons’ Marmalade plaster figurines. I have about twenty of them and they are no longer worth an awful lot of money. You might start to suspect that something not entirely wholesome was going on in my head. If I included the rag doll who is quite definitely not a penguin, and six or seven other rag dolls of similar design, your suspicions would be entirely confirmed.
People sometimes ask me why I have a piece of artwork by comic-book artist Dave Sim on display in my front room.
The only way I can respond to that question is to say “I wrote a sixty page book about Cerebus the Aardvark. Dave Sim thought it was quite good.”
The same people sometimes ask me what my current thinking is about religion and whether I have moved on from my youthful involvement in the UCCF and if I am going to embrace Islam.
The only way I can respond to that question is to say “I wrote a four hundred page book about Jesus. Whether Jesus thought it was any good or not I couldn’t say.”
I am not sure if I have any actual in the required sense opinions about Cerebus the Aadvark ot Saint Mark’s Gospel. I am not sure if I have any opions about Sir Kier Starmer, Liz Truss or Richard Dawkins.
What I do have is opinions on particular texts.
A display of Robertson’s Jam figures and rag-dolls is a text. So is a collection of photographs of pirates. So is a signed picture of an aardvark.
You can’t say what the toy, or the poster or the photo, irreducibly means. You have to talk about what the person who put up the poster meant by it; and what other people might reasonably understand it to mean.
In a word: exegesis.
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