This week, I thought I’d write about the massive furore concerning Hozier’s appearance at an event that, in 2003, the US National Organisation of Women described as a “soft-core porn infomercial”.
Offering reminders of Robin Thicke in that notorious video for Blurred Lines, the Bray star performed his tune fully clothed while various young models pranced around in their undies. Why wasn't Hozier in his undies? Why wasn't Ed Sheeran in his undies?
True, the onanists who jiggle along to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show are not crying out for glimpses of the chaps’ tighty whities. All the more reason to interrupt their rhythm, surely. Oh, the hairy, sub-folk warbler was going to be in some metaphorical soup for this.
Well, what do you know? In the hours following Hozier's appearance at Earls Court, furore came there almost none. Crickets echoed through Twitter Gulch. The tabloids made Sid James faces and cackled about what lucky boys the lads were. It seemed as if porn culture really had triumphed.
Eventually, this paper's Anthea McTeirnan rose to question the singer’s baffling decision to attend this queasy combination of trade fair and striptease joint. Much of the comments trough was taken up with suggestions that she was being a grumpy killjoy. Oh, those awful women's libbers!
What the hell is going on here? We have come to accept that sexual politics have advanced since the grim days of the 1970s. When feminists pelted Bob Hope, a Republican of the old school, with flour at the 1970 Miss World competition they started a process that ended with beauty pageants being exiled to satellite channels broadcast from former Soviet republics. (Except for the strange case of the Rose of Tralee).
It requires Jesuitical casuistry of the sharpest level to divine any moral distinction between Miss World and the Victoria’s Secret Show. That the models are being paid millions of dollars does nothing to lessen the skewed gender dynamics of the knickers event. (Note that, though Mr Sheeran and Mr Hozier-Byrne were largely covered, female entertainers such as Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift were nearly as naked as the models.)
Flogging fetish wear
Whereas the contestants in those early beauty pageants competed merely for fame, the Victoria’s Secret models are flogging modified fetish wear for a company accused of sexualising teenagers. Last year, the firm’s Pink line, aimed at younger people, carried slogans such as “call me” and “feeling lucky”.
Does all this make the Victoria’s Secret show worse than Miss World? Can it be better? Perhaps the sociological whirl that brought us raunch culture is about to sweep beauty pageants into “empowerment” territory. We certainly seem to be back at the stage where – like those 1970s rock singers who hung out at the Playboy Mansion – stars appear willing to accept soft-core as a groovy part of the glamorous life.
Let us not pretend that the Victoria’s Secret jamboree is merely a fashion show. You don’t see the lads’ pages making lewd comments about the Givenchy collection at Paris fashion week.
The visual syntax of the top shelf is being used to flog knickers to men desperate for last-minute Christmas gifts. From the show’s first broadcast on network television in 2001, both feminists and conservatives railed at the naked commercialism and naked, well, nakedness.
The situation is made that bit more puzzling by the knowledge that Hozier is very much on board with the feminist project. The likes of Bob Hope were, at least, consistent in their commitment to the sexual politics of the Pleistocene cave. In his song To Be Alone, the musician sings: "Never feel too good in crowds/ with folks around/ when they're playing the anthems of rape culture loud/ crude and proud."
Let us be clear. We are not drawing an unbroken line between the Victoria’s Secret aesthetic and rape culture, but, in this song, Hozier makes it clear he understands how a wider cultural unpleasantness provides mulch in which misogyny can thrive.
The general lack of outrage does, however, suggest that the above objections are now largely viewed as the preserve of cranks. What was the use of McTeirnan and I mimeographing all those leaflets in the 1980s? Why did we bother learning the lyrics to all those Billy Bragg songs? It looks as if Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt and the rest of the raunch merchants were just biding their time for a later, successful counter-insurgency.
Oh well. I suppose a man named “Hozier” was always likely to say “yes” to a event flogging tights and stockings. You can construct the rest of the puns yourself.