Introduction: Who Owns the Writer Owns the Words

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“Time speeds along the straights, slows at the corners and scrapes against the kerbs. Unknown destinations broaden the mind. Brakes scream where they must.”

 

Under the Counterculture represents a collection of articles by Leon Horton originally published by International Times  Literary Heist  Erotic Review  and the Beat Generation websites Empty Mirror and Beatdom along with new material and pieces of interest culled from other “sources.” It is a celebration of leftfield thinking, from the past until completion, from music, literature, art and philosophy… science, sexual politics, drugs and technology. Mad ideas and strange truths from underground – back projected from the past passing through too late present to strobe lit epileptic future.

If you’re not living at the edge,  you’re living too late.

And you’re taking up too much space.

 

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PR, Propaganda and the Press (Part 1): Faking Bad

By Leon Horton

 “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.” (1)

Edward L. Bernays, PR guru (1891-1995)

Vile comments, outright lies, slanderous character assassinations… where would we be without Donald Trump and his ranting midnight tweets? Still in the land of make-believe, if you ask me. So President 45 likes to rail against fake news when he’s not creating it, so what? The powers that be have been doing that since the invention of the printing press. Mainstream media is having a right old time of it selling us on the dangers of fake news proliferating across social media and the internet: “Untrue, untrue, read all about it”, the headlines cry, like bullshit was something new. And the politicians are boiling in their think-tanks: “It’s an outrage! Something must be done! Fake news is a threat to democracy!”

There’s just one problem with this moral outrage: it’s PR spinning myths on behalf of the mythmakers. News reporting is in freefall. The old guard politicians have been caught, to use tabloid vernacular, with their pants down. For too long the media and the “powers that be” have remained complacent about their position of trust and their ownership of control of the lines of communication. Bloated spiders squatting at the centre of their webs, gorging themselves on lies, half-truths and spurious claims, the occupying powers are fat and scant of purpose. So they do what any glutton does when beleaguered: they keep on eating – biting the hand that feeds them with all the stained teeth PR can wield.

The relationship between public relations and the so-called free press is difficult to assess: the blurred line between real news and the self-serving spin of commercial concerns and political agendas is as old as – dare I say it – the Sermon on the Mount. From its accepted origins in the US in the 1920s, PR has extended its dirty, manipulating fingers from the whiskey-sodden ad agencies of Madison Avenue into almost every aspect of our daily lives: telling us how to behave, what to think, what to accept as truth. That many of us recognize when we are being seduced by PR – by its bright trinkets, baubles and dross – brings no comfort when you consider even the most trusted quarters of mainstream media are not only dazzled themselves but are complicit in it.

Toxic

In these days of disparity, of massive social, political and religious upheavals, of escalating wars and serious environmental issues, we are ever more reliant on the media to explain the times we live in and the problems we face. But this is the age of twenty-four-hour media coverage, of cross-platform access, where journalists and commentators are under increasing pressure to find material to fill the headlines; often at the expense of serious investigative reporting. As a result, hungry media outlets – even the good old BBC – are forced to turn to unreliable suppliers. And that’s when the PR companies knock on the the door, selling their pre-cooked ready-meals.

In their 1985 book PR: How the Public Relations Industry Writes the News, authors Jeff and Marie Blyskal write:

“PR people know how the press thinks. Thus they are able to tailor their publicity so that journalists will listen and cover it. As a result much of the news you read in newspapers and magazines or watch on television and hear on radio is heavily influenced by public relations people. Whole sections of the news are virtually owned by PR…. Unfortunately, ‘news’ hatched up by a PR person and a journalist working together looks much like real news dug up by enterprising journalists working independently. The public thus does not know which news stories and journalists are playing servant to PR.” (2)

But this is nothing new. Consider what Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais say in their 1955 book Labors Untold Story: “One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the pre-eminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinion, and, if you did, you know beforehand it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.’” (3)

He knew it, and we know it: the public relations industry and the mainstream media are virtually indistinguishable. But while most of us are adept enough at spotting damage-limitation and blatant spin when we see it splashed across the headlines, to blithely accept this as the norm is to give credence to the lie that it is a relationship based on collaboration and not corruption. To truly understand the toxic nature of this dangerous marriage, we need to return to a time before propaganda became a dirty word…

cigs

New York, 1929. At a time when women smoking in public was seen as unladylike and associated with prostitutes, thirty New York debutantes parade along Fifth Avenue, openly smoking Lucky Strikes cigarettes in an act of defiance and emancipation. Journalists are informed that the cigarettes are “torches of freedom” – that this is women’s liberation in action – and the story is picked up by newspapers all over the United States. Within days, women everywhere are taking to the streets and lighting up.

This was big news in its day. Except that it wasn’t. It was completely fabricated. The debutantes were, in fact, models hired by publicist Edward Bernays – who, in turn, had been hired by George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, to increase sales of cigarettes. The event is regarded by many as the moment that launched a whole new industry: public realtions. That the press had been fooled by this publicity stunt received little complaint – tempered, no doubt, by increased newspaper and magazine sales – and from that day forward the writing was on the wall.

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Born in Vienna in 1891, Edward Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and used his uncle’s reputation and theories of psychoanalysis to develop his own reputation as a thinker and theorist. Bernays described himself as a psychoanalyst to troubled corporations, and he furthered this image by authoring several books on the subject, including Crystallizing Public Opinion and Propaganda. He defined his profession as akin to that of a “practicing social scientist whose competence is like that of the industrial engineer, the management engineer, or the investment counsellor in their respective fields.” (4)

In his 1928 work Propaganda, Bernays sets out his mandate:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country…. We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.” (5)

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With the rise of the Nazis and their appropriation of propaganda techniques in the 1930s, it isn’t clear if Bernays came to regret his words, but even by the politics of the 1920s they make for uncomfortable reading: “In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” (6) Bernays was by no means the first practitioner of PR techniques, but within the industry itself he is often considered the godfather.

Today, PR is a multi-billion dollar communications medium in its own right – a vast empire of control, answerable to no one.

In the introduction to John Stauber and Sheldon Ramptons 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You (Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry), journalist and editor Mark Dowie writes:

“The modern ‘account’ managed by a PR/advertising giant can now package a global campaign that includes a strategic blend of ‘paid media’ (advertising) and ‘free media’ (public relations). Add to that some of the other standard services offered by most PR firms – including ‘crisis management’, industrial espionage, organized censorship and infiltration of civic and political groups – and you have a formidable combination of persuasive techniques available to large corporations and anyone else who can afford to hire the services of a PR firm.” (7)

How, then, did PR, with its cache of tried and tested methods for creating pseudo-events, manufacturing free publicity and managing public image, manage to bleed from the adverts selling us cigarettes and mouthwash into the editorials of so-called hard news? How have journalists allowed this to happen? The truth is PR hasn’t merely leaked into the news: it has saturated it. And if journalists themselves can’t tell the difference, then what hope is there for the rest of us? Surely, that’s the real story.

[To be continued]

Source Notes

(1) Bernays, Edward L, “Propaganda”, (Routledge, New York, 1928), pages 47-48.

(2) Blyskal, Jeff and Marie, “PR: How the Public Relations Industry Writes the News”, (New York: William Morrow & Co, 1985), page 28.

(3) Boyer, Richard O, and Morais, Herbert M, “Labors Untold Story”, (Cameron Associates, New York, 1955).

(4) Bernays, Edward L, Public Relations”, (University of Oklahoma Press, 1957), page 4.

(5) Bernays, Edward L, “Propaganda”, (Routledge, New York, 1928), page 9.

(6) ibid.

(7) Dowie, Mark, Torches of Liberty”, introduction in Stauber, John and Rampton, Sheldon, “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry”, (Common Courage Press, 1995), page 3.

 

Bred For War: Animals at Arms

By Leon Horton

Since time immemorial man has used other species to fight his battles. From Hannibal and his elephants crossing the Alps to ambush the Romans during the Second Punic War, to the doomed horse-mounted Light Brigade charging entrenched Russian artillery in the Crimean, animals have long been unwitting conscripts in our ever more determined efforts to wipe each other from the planet. In this technological age of remote-piloted drones and wire-guided missiles, we might be forgiven for thinking that animals have finally earned an honorable discharge from the horrors of the battlefield. The truth, sadly, is a horse of a different colour…

We all know of the role horses have played throughout the history of warfare (there must be a statue in almost every city across the globe to commemorate the fact), but who among us knows about the use of bat bombs, nuclear chickens or terrorist-seeking gerbils? And if you think that sounds crazy, what about snake grenades, surveillance squirrels and remote-controlled sharks?  If it wasn’t true, you’d have to make it up. But make it up is what the men in white lab coats continue to do, and what sounds like the stuff of fiction – of Hollywood at play – is more often military hardware.

It’s nothing new, of course. Much has been written about Hannibal and his use of elephants, but few people know of his serpentine naval tactics. In 190 BCE, while working as a mercenary for Prusias I of Bithynia (in modern day Turkey), Hannibal was engaged in a battle at sea against Eumenes II, king of Pergamum. Hopelessly outnumbered by the approaching Pergumese fleet, Hannibal had to think outside of the box.

Confident of impending victory, what Eumenes didn’t know was that Hannibal had ordered his men to collect as many poisonous snakes as they could find and load them into thousands of clay jars. When the enemy was close enough, the jars were hurled like grenades – smashing on the ships’ decks and releasing their venomous payload among Eumenes’ terrified sailors. The result: pandemonium. The outcome: glory for the Carthaginian underdog. Hannibal, it seems, had a knack for biological warfare.

The Dogs of War

History is littered with the military use of animals, both as beasts of burden and as weapons of war; but it is to the technological age that we must look to find the most bizarre, not to say ill-conceived, attempts to militarize other species for our own ill-gotten gains. Even man’s best friend, the faithful and ever loyal canine, could not escape the call to arms.

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Dogs, like horses, have been drafted into the armed forces since they were first domesticated. History records that the ancient Greeks, Romans and Celts all used them, and their use was manifold: as scouts, couriers and sentry guards they were unsurpassed; as front-line warriors they were indispensable, proving their bravery time and again. But all that is as nothing, when you consider how the Russians ill-treated their four-legged friends.

During World War II, the Soviet Union attempted to use dogs to fight German tanks. Dogs with explosive packs strapped to their backs were trained, Pavlov-fashion, to seek food under tanks; where they were then detonated. In the battlefield, however, many of the dogs – who had been trained using stationary tanks in a fuel-saving measure – quite sensibly refused to engage moving machinery under heavy artillery fire and, terrified, ran back to their masters… with devastating consequences. The Soviets claimed the program had helped destroy over 300 tanks, but whose tanks remains a mystery.

Bombs in the Belfry

Not to be outdone by their Soviet allies – and with the atomic bomb still on the drawing board – the US government was coming up with its own far-fetched ideas. After their air force had been decimated at Pearl Harbor, the White House was desperate to find an effective way to attack Japanese cities – desperate enough to listen to dental surgeon Doctor Lytle S. Adams, who proposed that Mexican bats could be turned into small incendiary devices and dropped behind enemy lines from planes.

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Adams suggested strapping small bombs to Mexican bats, which can carry three times their own body weight, loading them into cage-like shells and dropping them over designated targets. The bats, he theorized, could be released from the shells mid-drop and, following their instincts, would find their way into factories and other buildings where they would rest until the poor things exploded. Since Japanese buildings were built primarily from bamboo and paper, the resulting fires would be devastating.

The government took the idea seriously enough to invest an estimated $2 million, and despite an initial setback (the exploding critters set fire to the Air Force base at Carlsbad, New Mexico) the project looked set to go after they successfully destroyed a mock-up of a Japanese city. Ultimately, however, with the atomic clock ticking, the government turned their hopes and fears towards Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.

Doctor Adams continued to lament the death of his pet project, insisting that his bat bombs would have caused just as much structural damage as the dropping of two atomic bombs, but with less cost to human life – a bold assertion, but little comfort to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Rodent Roll Call

Rodents are extremely intelligent creatures, but not so clever as to dodge the draft. Since World War II, when the British Special Operations Executive filled dead rats with plastic explosives, in the hope that the enemy would shovel them into factory furnaces, causing them to explode, many species of rodents have received their call up papers.

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Although the exploding rat idea was canned on the grounds that it was impractical, that didn’t stop MI5, the UK’s counter-intelligence service, proposing the use of live rodents when it came to airport security measures. During the 1970s, when the hijacking of planes was fast becoming a serious global concern, the organisation considered employing a team of trained gerbils to sniff out potential terrorists before they could board.

According to Sir Stephen Lander, MI5’s former director, the Israelis had already put the idea into practice at Tel Aviv airport. It must have looked bonkers, but the gerbils, with their keen sense of smell, were installed at security checks – where they could detect high levels of adrenaline in passengers and bring it to the attention of guards by pressing a lever.

The idea was never implemented in UK airports, and the Israelis abandoned the system after it was discovered that gerbils couldn’t discern between a sweaty would-be hijacker and someone who was just scared of flying; or, for that matter, terrified of rodents.

One of the most unlikely rodent tales to hit the headlines came about in 2007, when Sky News – take it or leave it – reported that Iranian police had arrested 14 squirrels on suspicion of spying.

Citing the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNC), Sky claimed the squirrels were rounded up near the Iranian border and found to be kitted out with surveillance equipment, quoting the Iranian national police chief as saying “I have heard about it, but I do not have precise information.” A UK Foreign Office source dismissed the claim as “nuts”.

Nuclear Fried Chicken

The cold war brought with it a whole raft of further bizarre attempts to use animals for military and espionage purposes. During the 1950s, the British government, fearful that West Germany might one day be overrun by Warsaw Pact forces from the east, initiated the Blue Peacock Project.

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The plan was simple: to bury nuclear bombs in the ground, at strategic points along the North German Plain, for possible detonation later should the Soviets ever invade. Just one problem: the primitive electronic devices used in nuclear devices at that time were considered to be unreliable in frozen ground, and so an alternative had to be found.

Some of the brightest minds in Britain were tasked with finding a way of insulating the bombs. Working around the clock, discarding one idea after another, scientists eventually came up with the solution: chickens. Yes, that’s right: chickens. Simply keep a chicken inside the bomb, they said, with enough food and water to last out the German winter, and it will generate enough bio-genetic body heat to keep the bomb functional.

The British never went through with the plan, not because it was plainly ridiculous, but only because they feared the diplomatic implications of nuclear fallout on allied territory. The story was thought to be an April Fool’s joke until it was declassified in 2004. A spokesperson for the UK National Archives was reported as saying: “It does seem like an April Fool, but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes.”

Kittens in the Kremlin

Anyone who has ever owned a cat will tell you they don’t take orders, but the CIA was clearly ignorant of that fact when, in 1961, they instigated Operation Acoustic Kitty. The idea to medically modify moggies, at an estimated cost of $15 million, came about when America’s secret service realized that cats see better in the dark than humans.

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If there was a better way to spy on Russian embassies, the CIA were blind to it, and so contracted the services of Animal Behaviour Enterprises (ABE) and their facilities at the IQ Zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Bob Bailey, general manager of ABE, had previously worked on the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program and seemed the logical choice to lead up the research. “We never found an animal we couldn’t train” he told the Smithsonian.

According to Bailey, the unfortunate cat was surgically implanted with a microphone in its cochlea (inner ear), which was connected to a battery and transmitter in its ribcage. “We found that we could condition the cat to listen to voices,” Bailey was quoted as saying. “We have no idea how we did it. But we found that the cat would more and more listen to people’s voices, and listen less to other things.”

The cat’s movements could be directed with ultrasonic sound, but it had a tendency to wander off when hungry – prompting further surgery. Finally, after five years of research and intensive training, the cat was deemed ready for its first field test and was driven to a Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington DC, where it was released from a parked van across the road.

No amount of research or development could have predicted what happened next. According to ex-CIA official Jeffrey T Richelson in his book The Wizards of Langley, the cat dutifully padded off on its first mission… and was run over by a taxi. The project was declared a feline failure and cancelled in 1967, but it only came to light when the relevant documents were declassified in 2001. Cats, they revealed, couldn’t catch a cold war.

 Navy Seals

Many modern attempts to train animals as weapons or tools of war have failed on land and in the air, but in the water there have been several successful stories.

Dating back to the 1960s, the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has been instrumental in training seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins for military service – most successfully with the Californian sea lion and the bottlenose dolphin.

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Both species, with their superlative underwater vision and agility, can be trained to perform a variety of tasks: to spot enemy swimmers; to alert nearby crew to the intruders’ presence; and, in the dolphins’ case, to detect and retrieve underwater mines. Sea lions can even attach a clamp to a swimmer’s leg, restraining the enemy from going any further, before deploying a floating buoy. These animals’ ability to dive to great depths also enables them to help with tagging and recovering objects from the seabed.

Arguably, the most disturbing use of dolphins came about during the Vietnam War under the United States’ Swimmer Nullification Program. Initially, dolphins were trained to seek out Vietcong divers, tear off their facemasks and air tubes, and drag them back to the navy for interrogation. They were so successful at this that the order was given to arm the dolphins by attaching knives to their snouts. They could then swim headlong at the enemy and drive the knives into them, killing them at source.

If that wasn’t murderous enough for the Marines, what happened next was truly sadistic. This time hypodermic syringes filled with pressurised carbon dioxide were fastened to the dolphins’ snouts. Any diver injected with this would ‘blow up’ like a balloon and burst. In all, 40 Vietcong were said to have died in this manner, but the Marines’ sympathies lay more with the two US divers who suffered the same fate by mistake.

In 1976 a partially declassified CIA document revealed that the Soviet Union was also conducting research into dolphins: training them to carry explosives towards enemy warships where they could be remote detonated – turning them into suicide bombers. The program was officially abandoned due to lack of funds, but marine mammals continue to be used for military purposes to this day. In 2003, sea lions and dolphins were sent to the Persian Gulf to protect U.S. and British warships during the Iraq War.

 Jaws 2, Enemy nil

As if there wasn’t enough death in the water, in March 2006 New Scientist reported on a bizarre project funded by the US Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create remote-controlled sharks. In a move reminiscent of a Bond villain, scientists at Boston University, led by biologist Jelle Atema, implanted neural electrodes into the brains of dogfish sharks. The implants stimulated the sharks’ sense of smell with an electrical current, fooling the poor animal into believing a source of food was nearby. This, in effect, allowed the scientists to steer the sharks where they wanted.

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The experiment – one of a number around the world to receive ethical approval to develop implants that can manipulate animal behaviour – was developed to improve our understanding of how animals interact with their environment, and to help further research into human paralysis. Controversially, however, the Pentagon was already looking further out to sea at the military potential of this scientific breakthrough, with DARPA at the helm.  According to New Scientist, DARPA, armed with a $600,000 grant, was “aiming to exploit sharks’ natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails.”

It won’t be all plain sailing, mind you, as the magazine reported: “As wild predators, it is very easy to exhaust them, and this will place strict limits on how long the researchers can control their movements in any one session without harming them. Despite this limitation, though, remote-controlled sharks do have advantages that robotic underwater surveillance vehicles just cannot match: they are silent, and they power themselves”.

It remains debatable what the Pentagon has in mind for remote-controlled sharks, but a bomb with a nasty bite is a safe bet.

Soldiering on…

It has been difficult to write this article without a sense of irreverence, since much it is so outlandish it belongs in a Hollywood movie. But our ability to find new ways of killing each other, and our willingness to use other species in order to do so, in an age where technology affords us the ability to wage war without committing soldiers to the field, it seems doubly perverse that we continue to press-gang animals into doing our dirty work.

 

 

The Singing Detective re-evaluation

(UK 1986 415m) DVD1/2 Ten cents a dance, fella p John Harris, Kenith Trodd d Jon Amiel w Dennis Potter ph Ken Westbury ed Bill Wright, Sue Wyatt m Stanley Myers art Jim Clay Michael Gambon (Philip Marlow), Patrick Malahide (Mark Binney), Alison Steadman (Lili), Joanne Whalley (Nurse Mills), David Ryall (Mr Hall), Ron Cook (1st mysterious man), George Rossi (2nd mysterious man), […]

via 40. The Singing Detective (1986) — Wonders in the Dark

The Freaks’ Roll Call

By Leon Horton

‘Deviant: adjective & noun. Adjective: that deviates from the normal, especially with reference to sexual practices. Noun: a deviant person or thing.’

– The Oxford English Dictionary

‘Have you taken up transvestism? I’d no idea our marriage teetered on the edge of fashion.’

– What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton (playwright) 1933-1967

Freaks image #1
Artwork by Stephen James

For my 18th birthday, in 1986, I was given what most would consider some unusual coming-of-age presents: a wooden hatstand, a crystal whisky decanter, a book on the occult… My extended family are an odd bunch at the best of times, but of all the gifts I unwrapped that day, the most bizarre – the only one I still possess – was the one my aunt gave me: A Dictionary of Mental Health by Richard B Fisher. What that says about me, I don’t know, but they say people give gifts they want themselves, so…

It is admittedly a fascinating book: a guide through the twin mind fields of psychiatry and psychology – a mostly balanced study for its time – and one of the most useful dictionaries I’ve ever owned. Not that I’m neurotic or a hypochondriac, but over the years A Dictionary of Mental Health has saved me countless hours on psychiatrists’ couches. Thanks to that oft-thumbed paperback, I know I’m neither neurotic nor hypochondriac, I don’t have dipsomania and I can’t claim to be suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. I am, however, according to the dictates of this dictionary, a sexual deviant.

Ah, well. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

Published in 1980, at a time when the right-wing tabloid press casually associated homosexuals with paedophiles, when casual racism was mainstream comedy, when mental wellbeing meant “pull your bloody socks up”, A Dictionary of Mental Health helpfully lists the main areas of sexual deviancy (or paraphilia as it is also called) as:

  • Bestiality (no argument)
  • Exhibitionism (only when I’m drunk)
  • Fetishism (I don’t know, does the smell of wild garlic count?)
  • Frigidity and impotence (only when I’m drunk)
  • Homosexuality (even in my sleep)
  • Masturbation (even in my sleep)
  • Paedophilia (again, no argument)
  • Sadomasochism (not even in my sleep)
  • Trans-sexuality and transvestism (whatever floats your boat)

Perhaps voyeurism, necrophilia and – oh, I don’t know – frottage weren’t nominated that year, but there it is, in a golden envelope: I am a pervert of many colours. It feels unnerving that in my formative years, when I was coming to terms with and exploring my sexuality, the psychiatric world could pigeonhole me alongside paedophilia and bestiality (which A Dictionary of Mental Health laughingly describes as “said to occur frequently amongst boys in farming communities”). It’s a Freudian slap in the face – and there’s a dirty old man with a lot to answer for. Just because you fancied your mum, Sigmund, doesn’t mean we all do. Besides, I grew up in a farming community and I can assure you…

Freaks imag #2
Artwork by Stephen James

To define sexual deviancy it is, of course, necessary to provide a definition of sexual normalcy, and again A Dictionary… comes through with a description so ridiculous it is neither accurate nor helpful: “sexual activity which sub-serves reproduction”. This accounts for the inclusion of masturbation on the list, which makes perverts of us all, but excludes the possibility of, say, a transvestite satisfactorily impregnating their wife or partner. And since when was failing to get it up a form of deviancy? We all have our off days.

To classify sexual deviancy as any form of sexual activity not intended to produce a baby is to miss a fundamental point: sex is – or at least should be – something to be enjoyed, and not merely a biological duty. Moreover, to define sexual deviancy in purely clinical terms fails to take account of both perceived cultural differences and changes in public opinion. Public perceptions have often resulted in changes in attitude long before psychiatry and/or psychology and the law have woken up in bed together with no idea of how they got there. Besides which, “sexual deviancy” is a pejorative term often used interchangeably with “perversion” – and to deviate from something is not to pervert it, anymore than to travel into town on the bus is to abuse the train.

In fairness to Mr Fisher and his dictionary, he does point out that many textbooks on psychiatry rightly regard any such association as unjustified, and goes on to say “to describe any [italics mine] sexual practices as perverse… is a mischievous holdover from the intensely moralistic psychology enshrined by Freud and his followers.” Perhaps I should be a little more forgiving in my treatment of A Dictionary of Mental Health. After all, times have indeed changed and 1980 was a long time ago – wasn’t it?

In 2012, the psychiatric world finally caught up with the assumed zeitgeist when a study by clinical psychologist James Cantor, “Is Homosexuality a Paraphilia? The Evidence For and Against”, conveniently discovered that while homosexuality shared certain features with other paraphilias, they appeared to differ on “sex ratio, fraternal birth order, handedness, IQ and cognitive profile, and neuro-anatomy.” Or, to put it country simple, I’m more likely to:

  • Get more sex (excellent)
  • Be the first born (I am)
  • Be left-handed (I am)
  • Be more intelligent (I’ve got a masters, fuck you)
  • Have a different brain structure to your run-of the mill deviant (well, I did take a lot of acid in the 90s)

As a result of his findings, Cantor suggested treating homosexuality as distinct from other sexual deviancy categories (which I guess is a roundabout way of saying “sorry, we fucked up again”), but regarded his own conclusions as “quite tentative” given the current limited understanding of paraphilias.

Ah, well. Psychiatry is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

These days sexual deviancy is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as “the experience of sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations or individuals.” Hmm. Well, maybe. This broader definition conveniently sidesteps the lack of consensus as to the difference between unusual sexual desires and what we might call deviancy, but again fails to address what that difference is. We’ve come a long way, true, but it seems we’re only halfway there.

So there it is: almost fifty years after homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK, I am, in one psychiatric category at least, off the deviancy list. I can only live in hope for some sort of apology to follow.

The rest of you freaks will just have to wait your turn.