And so the final series of CBB is upon us and so the C-listers emerge from the woodwork (sorry Vinnie). In Boy George’s absence, it seems the producers went in search of another celebrity criminal and returned with ‘Madam to the stars’, Heidi Fleiss. I always think it’s dangerous to get overly worked up about popular culture: it can so easily get out of hand and result in good people losing their jobs (see Sachsgate which saw the highest ranking woman at the BBC resign); it also raises the abhorrent spectre of censorship and risks limiting progression.
On this occasion, however, I choose to make an exception. This is not about political correctness gone mad or personal offence caused; this is about glamorising the exploitation and trafficking of women. Within moments of entering the house, Fleiss boasted in relation to her escort service: “I sent them all over the world”.
Television, films, magazines, music – all these cultural elements have combined over the latter years of the twentieth century to desensitise the public to previously distasteful aspects of society: drugs, violence, sex. This is not necessarily a bad thing – women now have far more control over their own lives and bodies. However, the culture of celebrity these elements have given rise to continues to perpetuate the idea that there are some for whom the rules are different; not just in terms of the law but of social acceptance.
There is an ongoing and extremely complex social debate within the UK about the legalising prostitution. Legalisation is not the same as legitimisation, though undeniably it goes some way in that direction. The argument goes that just because they won’t be chucked in jail doesn’t mean that prostitutes will put it on their passports under profession: it will not be a socially legitimate occupation to admit to. See Holland. In this respect, popular culture has a far greater role to play in legitimising an activity than the law does.
Take the drug culture as an example: weed is now widely perceived as pretty harmless. Politicians admit to having done it at university and, far from ending their career, it makes them a bit more human. Cocaine has a dangerous glamour about it; it has become the drug of choice for the young and the rich. At the far end of the spectrum is heroin: not only are its addictive qualities terrifying, but it is associated with crime, violence and poverty – with a few notable rock and roll exceptions.
The same twisted logic seems to apply to the sex industry: strip clubs are ‘just a bit of fun’ for your average punter. If you’re rich enough high-class prostitution can be dangerous (especially if you get caught) but pretty cool if you can afford it. Meanwhile, the vast majority of prostitutes are caught up in an incredibly dangerous and damaging world that few would choose to delve into.
At great risk of sounding like a broken record, it is high time that the realities of the sex industry were laid bare (forgive me). The exploitation of men or women in such a way should be as unacceptable to society as it is the law. Whoever you are, whatever your income – it’s not OK to pay for sex: a position that is much denigrated by parading Charlie Sheen’s supplier in the guise of a glamorous rebel, on national television.