November 29th, 2006


Inner bitch, meet inner bastard!

The other day I got asked to write something for Zoo magazine, and started browsing through their site to get an idea of what they were about. It's the Franco-Dutch-German Zoo, by the way, not the British one, a boob-heavy downmarket lad mag. Although, actually, both magazines feature a lot of naked women, just with a slightly different semiology. Anyway, I came across an interesting interview with Nobuyoshi Araki which begins:

"Araki says a woman's face should speak of her inner bitch, and he believes he has always had a knack for drawing that out. Among the 27 Japanese women who pose for him in this issue of Zoo are those who have elevated bitchiness to an art form. "Japanese women are so good at that!" affirms Araki. And then there are others who located their inner bitch only after Araki got through to them."

I could sort of see what Araki was saying -- being sexy is often about making our most primitive and selfish needs utterly legible. It reminded me of something I wrote two years ago, blogging my way through my sex partners in a piece called the joy of sex:

"After Zoe," I wrote, "I went a bit crazy. It all becomes a blur. I was a kid in a candystore. I discovered that girls like bastards, and began to resemble one. I came back from Paris to London with a French attitude to pursuit and seduction... I could have three girlfriends at a time if I wanted to. I became 'Alfie', I became a sort of intellectual Benny Hill."

I've drifted in and out of touch with my inner bastard. You can hear it in my records. There are "bastard" songs like "How Do You Find My Sister?" (the anti-hero pimps his own sister out to increasingly powerful politicians) and "Professor Shaftenberg" (this dubious academic is "sponsored by Lufthansa to screw the pants off Japanese girls" -- and have lunch with Araki when he's done). Then there are "husbandly" songs like "Rhetoric" and "Permagasm", songs of endless love for, and commitment to, the women they address.

I seem to have been most, well, animal in my sex life during the couple of years surrounding my 30th and 40th birthdays, which co-incided with the arrival of the nineties and of the noughties. Perhaps becoming a "playa" was simply the best way I could find to dissipate "pre-millenial tension", or perhaps I went through two consecutive midlife crises. Perhaps I was just getting away with stuff while I still could. While I was still attractive enough to lure accomplices into my bed.

Of course, looking back at this bastardy, I don't approve at all. I utter the world's largest "tsk" at the man with the world's largest tusk, engaged in the world's oldest -- and most pleasurable -- task. I find dismissive phrases, as long as his ramrod-hard rampant prong, to condemn him. "Stop that, young man!" I call down the decades (they have a hollow echo) with the voice of Saint Augustine. "What you're doing is silly and bad! It's nothing more than phatic, phallic consumerist self-assertion! It's Dionysus in the throne of Apollo! It's moronic 90s lad culture! It's repressive desublimation, the kind Saint Herbert of Marcuse warned us about in his Fourth Epistle to the Californians!" The bastard doesn't listen, of course. His glazed masturbator's eyes are fixed on the next threesome, the next splash of sperm.

Of course, what's worst about your inner bastard is that he hurts people. But wait, they're not just any people, they're bitches, right? The insensitivity is already written into the contract. You've located your inner bastard and you're riding his cock horse all the way to Banbury Cross. But the vampire's victim is a vamp -- a raunch feminist who's learned to be on very good terms with her inner bitch. Who wants it all because she knows she's worth it. Or as Zoo magazine puts it, of Araki's tied-up inner bitches showing their innards to the camera:

"Every woman pictured here is powerful and independent with a deliberate, steely sexiness designed to please themselves. It's as if they're saying: the hell with the male gaze. Araki of course, is the exception."

Do I believe that these powerful independent women are really saying "the hell with the male gaze"? Only if every man deeply in touch with his own inner bastard is added to the list of exceptions. In other words, frankly, no. Here's Araki's male gaze talking:

"The day a woman doesn't want to be looked at is the beginning of her demise. When that happens, she should be left alone... You know, sex is a woman's greatest weapon. No matter what they choose to do in life. Even Noda, she started out looking all proper and formal and inside of three minutes her face seemed ready for sex. That's always the definitive moment, and why the camera exists at all, as far as I'm concerned."

There speaks a man comfortable with his inner bastard. It reminds me of poet Tamar Yoseloff, interviewed in a documentary about me called "Amongst Women Only", made during one of my "bastard periods" (my first -- or was my first one in 1968, when I learned I could get round my mother's severe side by rolling my eyes and saying something funny?), saying "Nick loves women. That's the problem. He loves all women."

"Every week I get stacks of letters from women who INSIST on being photographed," says Araki the animal, as Zoo confides that women "travel from all over just to see him and stand (or sprawl) before his lens":

"I love them, they're all so adorable. Even the older ones with nipples like karinto (brown-sugar crackers) and cesarian stitches across their bellies... I fall in love all the time and to me, all female bodies are beautiful. I love them for their bodies and an affair can last a couple of weeks...and then the next one comes along."

It seems to me that bitchery and bastardy are mutually-reinforcing and contextual. Not only do we get the partners we deserve -- and in a sense create the partners we deserve -- but exactly the same person can be a beau one minute, a bastard the next. Only the perceptions -- and therefore the words -- change. I've lived just such transitions. They can be tragic, life-changing. I once -- suddenly, out of the blue -- smacked a girl in the face, a girl I adored, a girl I'd never shared a single discordant moment with up until that moment. I immediately knew that she would hate me forever from that moment on. "You're going to hate me forever now," I said. "I'm not," she said. But she did. And in the terrible, soul-destroying split that followed, she transformed from angel to bitch, and I turned from beau to bastard. But the funny thing is, neither of us really changed one iota.