Something squalid amidst the baked goods at Marks & Spencer

Am I the only one reeling at the fact that the venerable shop is selling ‘Porn Star Martinis’?

Lovely old Marks & Spencer. With their Cornish Pasties and their sensible underwear. The average Irish Times reader can stroll the aisles without any danger of encountering vulgar modernity. Right? (Other lovely old stores are available.)

Hang on! I can’t be the only person to reel at the news that the venerable shop flogs something called a “Porn Star Martini”.

Well, it used to anyway. A UK alcohol watchdog has ruled that M&S must change the name of their popular canned cocktail to something a little less horrible. The phrase “Passion Star Martini”, as it shall henceforth be called, references the inclusion of Passion Fruit without unambiguous associations to the world of “cuckold humiliation” and “eager slut wives” (I had to look these up, obviously).

It is surely no accident that Pornhub launched its supposedly high-end strand with a film from the former star of a teen series

Did I miss an entire year of meetings? You pop out to the shed and pornography becomes acceptable in polite discourse. If it’s acceptable next to the cottage loafs in Marks and Sparks then it’s surely acceptable in scout troops, bridge circles and Macra na Feirme.


A closer look at the ruling suggests that porn has not been banished from Marks quite yet. The Portman Group’s ruling on the cocktail was less to with impropriety than with the implicit suggestion that it might aid performance in the boudoir.

There is an agreed prohibition on alcohol merchandising that “suggests any association with sexual activity or sexual success”. It is, thus, still all right for the store to flog “Porn Star Sausage Rolls” or “Porn Star Lime Pickle”. Don’t rule it out.

‘Real life f**king’

The news comes a few weeks after a bizarre announcement from Pornhub. Trade papers more used to commenting on the latest from Universal or Paramount merrily carried reports on actor Bella Thorne's directorial debut for that grubby online enterprise. Her & Him stars "adult actors" Small Hands and Abella Danger in a tale of lust, obsession and everything else that appeals to the Kleenex-ready viewer.

Ms Thorne, who came to fame in the Disney series Shake it Up, introduced the jazz flick in a fantastically pompous to-camera monologue juiced up with inspirational guff. “We had real life f**king on set, which I had never shot before,” she says. “Also, this was my first short in general, so it was quite an interesting experience to have the first thing that I ever really fully directed have so much sex in it.”

The efforts to impose respectability on an inherently squalid genre would be hilarious if there weren’t so many grim associations. Pornhub launched the project as part of its – stop sniggering at the back – “Visionary Directors’ Series”. Hollywood’s overuse of the V-word in its promotional material has long been a subject of ridicule, but its employment to promote a series of Sherman Tank flicks explores new extremes of absurdity.

It is surely no accident that Pornhub launched its supposedly high-end strand with a film from the former star of a teen series. That queasy sense of transgression is just what they’re looking for. Is that visionary enough for you?

Negative aesthetics

We have been here before. It looked as if we’d learned our lesson.

Fifty years ago, as the turbulent 1960s moulted into the squalid 1970s, the porn industry made its first steps into mainstream culture. A lot of men in white leisure suits, taking the wrong lessons from the sexual revolution, argued that wife swapping would replace Monopoly and that pornographic films would win Oscars.

There is no odder story in popular culture than that of the mercifully brief surge in “porn chic”. After receiving idiotically positive reviews, the Mitchell brothers’ Behind the Green Door become the fourth highest grossing release in the US during 1972 (ahead of Cabaret and Deliverance). Nobody knows how many millions Deep Throat took in.

The likes of Truman Capote and Johnny Carson descended from their penthouses to pass their imprimatur onto these nasty projects. It would be stirring to report that the rampant abuse of female "porn stars" – notably Linda Lovelace, the doomed lead in Deep Throat – brought the craze to an end, but the demise was more to do with boredom and a realisation that masturbatory diversions wither in the sunlight. Are we really going back there?

The sheer ubiquity of porn in the digital age may guarantee its wider acceptance. You can’t wholly dismiss what you can’t wholly avoid.

It should be acknowledged that efforts to diversify the production of pornography – along with the health regulations that arrived in the aftermath of Aids – have lead to a less dangerous environment for its creators. But the aesthetic is still exploitative, abusive and alienating.

"We've all said that we are fighting pornography because we know what it is," the admirable Andrea Dworkin said. We know it to be many things. None of those things should be accommodated on the shelves of a middle-market grocer.