Thursday, 10 October 2013

Downton Abbey versus Loaded Magazine: Give Me Downton!

A wide variety of things drop into the inbox – physical and digital – of a headteacher. In the last week, I have come across two things which, when placed next to each other, present such a dissonant combination that I can’t help commenting.

Last week, a parent kindly sent me a link to an article in the Daily Mail. Now, I don’t normally read the Mail, but this article ( was actually worth the attention. The former editor of Loaded magazine has examined the extent to which young people are victims of the porn industry, and he is horrified. The article also makes reference to neuroscience which seems to suggest that use of pornography is addictive, at least for some people, in the same way that some substances can be. According to the Channel 4 documentary, referred to by the article, young people are often bombarded by porn via social networking websites, so much so that it is hard for them to avoid tempting photographic links to porn on the internet.

And then, this week, I could hardly have missed the furore about the rape scene in Downton Abbey. This event, which with the exception of a very brief violent encounter involving a blow to the face, took place entirely behind closed doors, has attracted a sufficient number of complaints to be front page news. Remarkably the word rape hasn’t (yet) been used in the programme – the viewers were expected to infer it from bruising to the face, some ripped clothing (but no nudity at all) and evident emotional trauma.

How extraordinary a world it is that the routine exploitation of women in today’s pornography industry should attract so little comment, while a (fairly) serious examination of violence against women in history should be seen as such a bad thing (even when shown after 9pm). All exploitation and violence against women is profoundly wrong; pretending it didn’t happen in the past is as dangerous as pretending it isn’t happening now. It did, and it does. Talking about it, in families, and in school, is an essential part of giving young people a chance to develop healthy attitudes, including a moral disgust of exploitation.

I have no idea what the demographic profile is of the complainants to Ofcom. For my part, I have suggested that history lessons at our school make reference to this controversy as part of their  consideration of the way in which women have been poorly treated by cultures and ‘civilisations’ in the past, which should lead to a discussion of how women are dominated, or exploited, in today’s society. And I will expect pupils, male and female, to contribute honestly and forthrightly in these discussions.

I consider it remarkable that some should consider that hushing up wrongdoing in the past should be an appropriate way of educating young people, or pretending that 'bad things' didn't happen. How foolish it would be to say that films like Schindler’s List, and books like Charlotte Gray or The Boy in Striped Pyjamas should not make reference to the Holocaust, because it is distasteful. Of course they should: these are the mistakes of the past that we need to make sure our children do not repeat. That requires serious examination. The head-in-the-sand approach won’t work.