Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Elegantly (Partially) Dressed Wednesday: A Naughty Nun

I'm pretty much fed up with people complaining about how offended they are. Especially those who insist that their religious beliefs should over-ride everyone's right to free speech because it's such an important part of their identity that... well, it just means a lot to them, okay? So respect them, or else.

So frequent has this become that it's pointless to even begin to log all the case of this special pleading - you probably remember such classics as the Mo Toons, Jerry Springer: the Opera, – more recently, there have been riots over the suggestion that there is no actual evidence that Rama and his monkey army built a South Asian version of the Giants Causeway, another cartoon of Muhammad as a dog and, guess what, Jesus given the same treatment. In Australia it's even reached the absurd levels of Christian and Muslim nutters dukeing it out in the courts.

The trouble with this whole process of taking offence is that there are so many ways in which it can be used to weaken everybody's rights. There are various arguments employed: sometimes it's racist to attack Islam (or AN Other Faith,) but attacking atheism is just fine; sometimes it's the argument that religion is a good thing so it should be beyond criticism; sometimes, and this is the one that silences a lot of good people, it's because religion is such a fundamental, ha, part of people's lives it's really important we mustn't seek to undermine their views because by doing this we're undermining the person.

This last is the most insidious, because it appeals to people's better natures; but really, it's amazing that these arguments don't attract more mockery and aggression. Because anyone who claims that believing in something, anything (could be in Jesus as our Lord, could be that Prince Philip is a god, could even be that Lenin was right) gives them the right to demand that everyone else modify their behaviour accordingly is a menace.

In such circumstances, it's best to pick your battles carefully. And I think I've found one that should be dear to all our hearts: the right to look at pictures of topless nuns: in this case, outside a former convent in Wales.

Tenby Town Council is urging planners to refuse permission for the sign which depicts a nun lifting her bodice.
They claim it is "disrespectful and inappropriate" for use outside the former St Teresa's Convent building.

This is the perfect summary of why this sort of thing is so wrong-headed. We need not detain ourselves with the absurdity of public representatives acting a sort of morality police to decide what is and is not, appropriate - impropriety is fun, besides – nor the obvious fact that it isn't a bodice she's lifting.

As for the disrespect, while it's quite right to respect individuals and the views they hold, no belief system as a whole has the right to respect; that only happens if you happen to believe in it yourself. In this case: yeah it's disrespectful, too bad. It's not going to harm any Catholics who see it and who happen to have a deep respect and affection for nuns (not all do, I gather). Note also the fact that the "offensiveness" is not severe that the British media can't reproduce the image to allow people to judge for themselves how grave the offence is.

There is a more fundamental reason for my concern, however. A prohibition on the display of naughty nuns undercuts one of the more deep-rooted, and fun, currents of Western thought. It is possible that the councillors were worried that the sign was a continuation of the British tradition of anti-Catholicism – this concern is as commendable as it is ignorant.

The belief that locking young ladies away in a repressive environment produces interesting effects long predates the Reformation, and all its attendant distrust of Popery. It is found in the writings of Boccaccio, it was a standard theme of reformers such as the Lollards and it cuts across the barriers of religion, nationality and class.

Without this prurient, lascivious, and wholly entertaining, attitude we would have been denied much of Gothic fiction, the more philosophically challenging passages of de Sade, the Decadents, as well as a fundamental part of the collective erotic imagination – and without that goodness knows where we would be. If you doubt me, try Googling "naughty nuns" or – and I did this purely to test my hypothesis out of courtesy for you – "Catholic schoolgirls" and you'll see what I mean.

It has helped such significant cultural figures as Edmund Curll, who published Venus in the Cloister or the Nun in her Smock, and who was hauled up before the courts for so doing; the Hell Fire club (members included Dashwood, Wilkes, Sandwich and Franklin); Pepys and Balzac. It would also appear that Nunsploitation is an entire cinematic sub-genre which may repay further investigation – if anyone can claim superior knowledge of this, do enlighten us.

Naughty nuns are a vital, and often neglected part of our heritage. Sadly, it seems that the developer has pussied out of this one. I am offended by this.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Quink said...

Your presbyterian disapproval is as strong as ever. Fine article, mind you.

I'm no expert on nunsploitation, but I've a vague recollection (from my teenage, dodgy goth days) that the band Christian Death had a topless nun on one of their records. If not, they certainly had a bloke dressed as Jesus injecting smack. Now, that's something that I can't imagine outside a Welsh hotel...

8:11 am  
Blogger dominic said...

Careful now.

2:37 pm  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Fine bosom that nun has. Now where can I see her nipples?

Puss

4:32 pm  
Blogger bill said...

The nipples are a sort of Holy Ghost, Puss. Theoretically tricky, but surely they must be there somewhere.

12:00 am  

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