Starlust: love, hate and celebrity fantasies
Obscenity law stops fans thinking Aloud
Guest Column I first noticed Girls Aloud in my local Sainsbury’s. Lingering at the newsstand to scan the papers I registered their sustained PR campaign focused on crotch and upskirt shots.
No accident that. Not day after day, week after week. More like a set-up between paparazzi and popstars. That’s showbiz! And I support Girls Aloud’s right to stuff their privates in the face of the breakfasting public. Just as I uphold Madonna’s to advertise her wares with a promo photo of her licking a man’s arsehole. Or Eminem’s Superman vid in which he frolics with an accredited porn star, writhes on a sea of naked bods, assaults groupies and snarls, “put anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can't stand.” Or Snoop Dogg’s collaboration with porn mogul, Larry Flynt, for the hardcore vid, Doggystyle. Commented Flynt, "Like myself, Snoop has had to battle for his First Amendment rights to say what he wants."
But what happens when fans take such invitations literally? Step from the shadows and play mind games themselves?
That’s a theme I first explored some years back in the book Starlust: the secret life of fans - a compilation of interviews, fantasies, groupies' diaries, dream journals, and letters – to stars and between fans.
It caused a shock. Punky Adam Ant, who launched himself in SM leathers brandishing a bullwhip on stage was horrified to read this imagery played back (but better) through a fan’s fantasy. The rock writer, Greil Marcus, wrote that seen through Starlust, “The state of fandom… begins to seem at once like a disease and a marketplace of hysteria commercially promoted for sound commercial reasons: a commercially promoted disease.” Another reviewer shrilled, "There were some bits that were so sick I had to read them three times".
Some refused to believe these fans were real. Alleging I’d made it all up. Which was put to rest after a BBC documentary interviewed some of the fans in the book. Truth is always weirder – and scarier - than fiction.
Some of the material shocked even me. Especially the hostility shown by fans to stars. A recurring subtext of apparent devotion was resentment, even rage. Freud called it “ambivalence”: love bordering on hatred. Hence, the fan who imagined pop stars in acute pain and fantasized spanking Boy George. The Bowie fan who, frustrated in her plan to befriend Bowie, angrily thought of killing him, “Then at last he’ll be mine – like that guy that got JFK.” Or the scores of implied or explicit threats (some of them death threats) I found in the (usually unopened) fan letters addressed to stars.
These fans were not pathological. Just honestly exploring the contradictions inherent in fanhood. How else respond to the incessant invitations the celebritariat sends our way? We give these “intimate strangers” - the stars who populate our imaginations and conversations - so much. And what do they give in return? Why, the fuckers won’t even reply to our letters.
After Starlust the action moved to the Internet. I followed it there for a (still unfinished) sequel.
The first band with a major online fan presence was Hanson. Three cherubic boys, aged when they kicked off in 1991: eleven, nine and six. The Hanson gospel was spread fan to fan through thousands of chat groups, NGs and amateur sites. This allowed fans to create their own agenda:
“She traced her fingers along his rippling lower back muscles, and slid her small hands down the back of his loose jeans. until they rested on top of his round - What the hell???? my hands CANNOT be on top of Taylor Hanson's ASS right now!!!!! I can't believe this!!!! It sure is perfect though... She noticed the really small details, like how soft his cotton boxers felt, and how muscular yet round it was. I wonder what he feels like underneath these cute undies… She decided to find out…”
As erotic and disconcerting with suggestions of paedophilia and androgyny, were the Hanson fan art pinups posted on the Net.
Around this time too, an associated genre began to mainstream. This was hardcore fantasy about celebrities. Migrating onto the Internet, this became rampant on archive sites like asstr.org.
The motives were as subversive as erotic. Like the anti-authoritarian rants the Marquis de Sade inserted into his gargantuan orgies, these fantasies often derisively subvert the codes and phoney promises of the celebritariat. It makes perversely satisfying sense to read on asstr.org about the globally televised flagellation and dildo buggering of Britney Spears by Madonna on a chat show where both stars had been obliged to suck the host’s dick in close-up. Hadn’t we actually seen that somewhere? Maybe in our dreams? Soon at a screen near you!
Fantasy gets too close?
So, to Girls Aloud.
The Crown Prosecution Service is threatening to prosecute Darryn Walker, who posted a seven page fantasy, Girls (Scream) Aloud on asstr.org. This imagines the kidnap, rape, torture and murder of Cheryl, Nadine, Sarah, Nicola and Kimberley, with a finale in which their body parts end up on eBay. Nasty, no doubt. Unsettling. The blackest of black humour. But no more so than the works of de Sade, or the queer junkie ravings of William Burroughs, or Brett Easton’s American Psycho, which forensically itemises the thrills of a serial killer. All of which might be issued by a bespectacled librarian in a beige cardie.
The prosecution is being brought under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959. This same act, with its quaint formula, “to deprave and corrupt,” was laughed out of court in the 1960 Lady Chatterley case, made ridiculous in the 1971 Schoolkid’s Oz case, and was finally (we thought) buried under a ton of cum after the 1976 Linda Lovelace case.
But the New Labour control freaks are at it again. Trying to resuscitate this infamous and oppressive law by applying it to a new jurisdiction: the Internet.
And even more sinisterly: to your brain and my brain.
Because this is another example of “thought crimes” recklessly legislated against in the New Labour hyper surveillance society. After the sordid farce of criminalising “voyeurism”, the present Home Secretary - a politician so dim she referred on TV to Paul Francis Gadd as “Mr Glitter” - is dictating what it is permissible for us to think, daydream, dream, or fantasise.
New Labour apparently wants to control our minds. Whether it's "terrorist poetry" (where would "Red Shelley" have stood here?) or the mere viewing of certain categories of porn (viz Pete Townshend etc). But it's control-freakery that is more likely to "deprave and corrupt" the civic good and body politic than anything Darryn Walker might invent.
So why do our governors fret so about our fragile potential for depravity and corruption by the written word? What gives them the right? What gives them the nerve? What makes it so easy?
It's the absence of a written constitution that creates a sense that in the UK we have liberties on sufferance – as "subjects" rather than citizens. Rather than legally enforceable rights we have temporary freedoms - loaned us by the governing classes, case by case, for the time being, until an "emergency" or summat else crops up.
The resulting secretiveness and arrogance of the British State infantilises the population: we are all naughty kids, in a great big nursery.
Anywhere else in the Western world, and for any sane adult, Darryn Walker's musings would seem as fictional – as hyperbolic, as symbolic - as the "promise" of Girls Aloud singer, Sarah Harding flashing her bits at the paparazzi.
But I have the solution. Darryn Walker should turn his dark romance into a film script and offer it to Girls Aloud manager, Hilary Shaw. It'll be a smash hit! Madonna eat your pussy out! ®
Fred Vermorel is a writer and Professor of Communications.