With the lads' mag porn furore ending on a bum note, there are seemingly only plaudits for the barenaked ladies converging on high streets around FCUK stores. Even the Daily Mail - holder of the moral highground - called the 'Sketch to Store' campaign, which launched last month, "clever", whilst gushing about the "edgy" fashion brand and (of course) the celebrity launch party.
The FCUK campaign features nude (mostly female) models who strut their stuff, and their prepubescent-like waxed genitalia, under illustrator Jo Bird's sketched-on outfits.
The concept is nothing like the sexualised front covers of Zoo and Nuts, but it fulfils the same purpose: objectification, consumerisation ... control ... sales. And, until the lads' mags modesty deal comes into effect, both ply their trade in the public space - it's not something you can opt out of. That's the bigger picture here: Everywhere you look, someone is demanding your money in exchange for tits, tat and trinkets. Even if you're not buying, you still have to take their view of the world. And a very homogenised view it is, too.
The fight for eye-space is convoluted. PM Cameron wants to lock-down child pornography online, with much referencing of the paedo porn habits of convicted child murderers Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell. Along those lines - whether it's a faultless argument or not - Object and UK Feminista (Lose the Lads' Mags) can reasonably call for the end of easy-access porn that normalises sexual exploitation, abuse and violence.
Arguably, we need to be less affronted by sexualised images - because what the FCUK campaign portrays is nothing more than most people visualise in their heads anyway. (The difference, of course, is that what you imagine - if you can keep it in your head and not, say, in your internet browser - causes no offence, threat or distaste). We'd also do well to distance ourselves from our weariness with undersized/airbrushed models because a.) our body insecurities have been well bred into us, but it's time to make peace with green-eyed sisterhood and sexuality. And b.) money talks; the economic angle holds more weight in a system that lives and breathes the mighty dollar.
The day I saw the naked beavers outside the FCUK store in Oxford Circus, I was fresh from seeing a much hairier bush at the Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery nearby - technically brilliant, hypnotic and not offensive, if two-a-penny in art. Is that the hypocritical dividing line? If we remove the overt sexualisation from an image and call it middle class - because it's Art, baby - we can have our thrills with impunity, as many philandering artists have done? Yet some feel threatened or saddened by the porno party going on on newsagents' shelves, with an increasing number of calls to ban this, that or the other.
Obviously choice is a factor - I chose to go and look at the hairy mary. I didn't choose to have a fanny in my face on Argyll Street. Still, you can't always get what you want: I don't like everything you have to say, and vice versa. But with this monopolisation of the high street, and the underground, and pretty much every facet of daily life, I risk whiplash if I subscribe to the "don't like it, don't look" school of uncritical laissez faire.
What appears in the public space, sponsored by brands, governments and the media, is about control by them of your thoughts, actions and aspirations. How we choose to reflect ourselves (and the FCUK imagery is just that; a reflection of all of us, in thrall to capitalism) is an endorsement of the society we have, or want to have.
Those who argue that women taking offence at sexualised images of the body perfect/pouty need to relax (or, more usually, "get laid") have clearly never been the object of unwanted sleaze in the streets, or worse. Sadly, I don't think this will change anytime soon - the West is a sexualised landscape where we're schooled (by the sponsors) to think we should be looking at, talking about, having or paying for sex and its merchandise tie-ins pretty much 24/7. We're also schooled, through the media/advertiser pincer movement, to see women - when we're not ignoring them - as visual and sexual objects; something to fulfil a need. Your need.
Anyway, the FCUK campaign features naked men (or man, possibly), too - yet more unblemished, glossy, oh-so-boring, perfectly proportioned body types. Surely that's offensive? While I enjoyed visiting the Portrait Awards at the NPG, as I do every year, I was left cold by the safeness of it all. The same images crop up every year - hyperreal, jaw-droppingly executed - but with nothing new to say about life, art or the human condition. Mark Ravenhill may well agree.
It's no shock that the Sketch to Store campaign is a carefully curated exhibition. It's not about reality or insight; it's about sales and commodifying you, me and everyone we know. You want to look like that, is the sales message; you want that lifestyle, attention, perfection, never-ending youth, that ... watch (or whatever). Because if you didn't, you'd say something, or refuse to buy it - yet instead we seem to have mass complicity in the consumer dream. It's the same consumer dream that makes us all commodities, and sells our data, and tracks our smartphones, and sells it all back to us in a never-ending orgy of BUY NOW. Neat.
It's also the same dream/nightmare - through its unceasing objectification of us all, that normalises abuse, sexual violence and the downright death of respect we show each other. There's a timely example on Twitter right now, with calls for a report abuse button in the wake of rape threats - rape threats! - against women who hold an opinion.
The other universal response to shutting down debate is that "you have too much time on your hands" if you sweat the small stuff. Yet all of this should be debated. It isn't down to one group, one gender or one political system to decide what we look at, nor to manipulate our responses, or manufacture fear and loathing, but there's very little diversity to our public dialogue. Instead, the Twittersphere shows the public - consumers - becoming literate on and conversant with brands and ad campaigns, in a way that once we might have talked about the weather and books. Or politics. There's little dispute, just a collective global thumbs up to the creative genius of it all.
You can choose to see commentary about Sketch to Store as filler content between the headlines and the sport - which it is. But all of those slices of visual propaganda - seen and debated or not - are part of the mechanism which keeps us stuck in the moment, never moving forward. But, mostly spending. Still - who gives a fcuk, right?