Young minds . . . and the dirty bits (in Aristophanes)
I am pretty much in agreement with the Mumsnet line that there is something truly ghastly about young kids and aggressively sexualised clothing... what on earth goes on inside the mind of someone who designs a padded bikini for a six year old or a pink T-shirt (size 18 months) with "Come up and see me sometime" blazoned across the front I really can't imagine.
But the David Cameron view, as reported on the radio and in the Guardian this morning, prequelling Reg Bailey's recommendations, that it should be BANNED (along with a whole raft of other things that are "inappropriate" for kids) is quite another matter. For one thing, how on earth is it going to work? It's all very well being strict on enforcing the 9 o-clock watershed, but when any self respecting 5 year old can use iPlayer on his/her computer, what exactly is the point. (And the rules for post watershed are pretty odd anyway. Our Pompeii documentary was a post-watershed programme -- and what young minds would that have corrupted?)
And just think of all those law suits and legal fees that will follow the disputes about whether this or that logo is too "sexualised" ... (the point about languages, as Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams showed us, is that it is posible to sexualise almost any phrase if you try hard enough.)
But anyway isn't the effect of a ban (or a brown paper bag around a lad's magazine) to make it more intriguing to the curious child, not less?
That's how it worked when I was 13 or so for the dirty bits in Aristophanes. (A photo of a recent production of Lysistrata is at the top of this post.. just to remind you of the bawdiness.)
Ok it took me about a year or so of reading this particular Greek comic poet at school to realise that the reason the line numbers apparently went from 1205 to 1210 in only 3 lines of verse was NOT to do with problematic and corrupt textual transmission -- but because some Victorian nanny-state editor had taken out a possibly corruptING couple of lines that were something to do with sex (or occasionally bottoms).
Their expurgation served to make them much more alluring. So, as soon as we got a chance, and we were up at the boys school, where they had a much bigger classical library (thanks to Dr Kennedy among others), we rushed to the unexpurgated version in some complete, not-for-kids, text and pored over it with the boys in a kind of academic version of "doctors and nurses". It was, of course, extremely good for our Greek...but that hadnt been the object of the expurgatory exercise.
Of course, you will object, sexualised clothing and sexualised images near schools are not the same thing as the naughty bits in an ancient Greek dramatist. In some ways they are not -- and in some ways they are. Both of them, in their different ways, are a nice illustration of the "BAN IT" culture that we have come to accept. If you dont like something, if you think -- even more --that its presence could harm young minds and bodies, then BAN IT -- as if that was effective, and the only strategy of change that there was. Surely, if we disapprove of such things, we are clever enough to devise other ways to discourage them (as at last that sensible report on drug use and abuse suggested this week).
Not every culture behaves in quite this way. When our children were young we often used to spend a week in the summer in a Greek village where there was a nice open air cinema, usually showing English/US films with Greek subtitles. There was no apparent interest in any form of 'classification', but many of them had '18' certificates over here. The under 10s in the village tended to sit on the front row, enjoying their Coke and icecreams, while some often up-front images of coupling and breasts and bums passed on the screen in front of them (accompanied by a dialogue they couldnt understand and subtitles many of them could not read). Maybe untold damage was being done to them. Who knows? But that was not the impression we got. In fact most of the younger ones were throughout much more interested in the icecream than the screen (on the principle that you have to begin to understand what is going on before you can be interested in it).
Greece isn't exactly a role model in modern Europe at the moment. But this may be something it has got right.