How incredible it is,’ wrote Stephen Glover in last week’s Spectator’s Media studies, ‘and how depressing,’ that Richard Desmond might buy the Telegraph. He went on to paint a most unflattering picture of the minor media magnate, his main complaint being that Mr Desmond is a pornographer because he owns publications that print pornography.
I am rather relaxed about pornography. Some of it isn’t very nice, but then much that we entertain in our heads isn’t very nice and it is at least an open question how far expressing our imaginings, or enjoying their expression by others, makes us worse (or better) people, or alters us in any important way. The current fuss about Internet porn strikes me as hysterical.
Nor is the link clear between indulging the imagination and encouraging its being carried into effect. Watching sport on television seems to be for most of my countrymen a substitute for taking part in it rather than a spur to do so, and I rather thought that the complaint by conservatives about the modern media was that gawping at magazines and television programmes encouraged people to live their lives by proxy. Millions buy ready-made TV dinners so that they can watch cooking programmes without needing to leave the sofa to fix a meal. Catharsis was thought in Ancient Greece to serve more as a release than a reinforcement. What practical effect a video of lesbians wrestling on a tiger-skin rug might have upon all those heterosexual males who seem to crave such entertainment I have not the least idea, but my guess is that the effect is minimal, except on the tiger.
It sometimes seems that for the moral Right the appearance in the mass media of activities it approves of prompts the cry ‘Watching is a substitute for doing: we are becoming a nation of voyeurs!’, while the appearance of activities of which it disapproves prompts the cry ‘Horrors! They’ll all be wanting to try it at home!’
Pornography is not respectable — Mr Glover and I can agree on that — but I sense that he was making a more serious objection to Mr Desmond: that he is a force for bad.