The Pig Country

British and American TV are so rarely united, making it doubly surprising that there have been two stories in as many weeks relating to genitalia in the television cultures of both countries. Honestly, pigs might fly and the Old West will rise again before we see another coincidence like this.

Footage from The Conservative Party Conference

Footage from The Conservative Party Conference

On September 20th 20(and)15, British national newspaper The Daily Mail published extracts from an unauthorised biography of current Prime Minister David Cameron co-authored by passed-over former Deputy Conservative Party Chairman Michael Ashcroft. In them contained a story that as a student at Oxford University, Cameron had put ‘a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation ceremony for The Piers Gaveston Society (some paraphrasing of Groucho Marx’s famous ‘club’ quote is surely necessary here!). Remarkable as this allegation was for a sitting head-of-state – outside of Italy – it was not the first time such an idea had been nationally circulated. In 2011, British TV Renaissance man Charlie Brooker launched his modern-day answer to The Twilight Zone, a technology-fearing anthology made of speculative fiction called Black Mirror, the first instalment of which concerned a modern-day British Prime Minister blackmailed into having sex with a pig live on television to meet the ransom demands of a royal kidnapper. Like David Bowie after liquid water was discovered on Mars, Brooker was hounded by the press and social media following this story, asking him whether his television play was inspired by real rumours of which he had foreknowledge.

Brooker says he didn’t, which I for one believe wholeheartedly, namely because you don’t have to know the actual circumstances of such an act to imagine that it would be exactly the kind of thing a person of that background would do. I’m not convinced that the story – hashtagged ‘Piggate’ thus throwing agricultural livestock message boards into a state of disarray – is anything more than a revenge blow from an embittered ex-colleague but we know what absurd extremes the hazing rituals of fratboys at elite universities – on both sides of the Atlantic – can go to, and Cameron’s posh pillaging of the social contract as a university student has been well-documented. Even the most rudimentary scandalmonger could put a scenario like that together from Cameron’s backstory. Brooker, too, was trading off the fact that we as a nation could easily believe our Prime Minister was and has been capable of such things. My mentor in all things televisual Helen Wheatley observed that the morning after the Black Mirror episode ‘The National Anthem’ was first broadcast, it genuinely felt as if Cameron had fucked a pig the day before. It’s that vague aura of authenticity that both Brooker and Lord Ashcroft mined.

In the last couple of days, it has been reported that extras on the set of HBO’s reboot of the 1970s cult sci-fi western Westworld have been compelled to sign a consent form specifying numerous and elaborate acts of sexual contact and nudity, including the touching of each other’s genitals. Some extras apparently complained to their union SAG-AFTRA, who are currently investigating the matter. Those who know HBO (in the Biblical as well as the binge sense) won’t be surprised that one of its shows should contain such graphic content, but the concerned parties have different views about how bound (this is not a metaphor) supporting artists are to such demands contractually. I as a TV blogger (and potential future SAG-AFTRA member) am obviously fascinated by this story, but a lot of viewers I’m sure simply don’t want to know how the organic sausage is made. Great art and human exploitation have always gone hand-in-hand, and, to many, I’m sure this revelation makes Westworld seem like a far more interesting prospect than previously. Also, this seems the thin end of the wedge, providing everyone knows their rights and has the ability to pull out of the project at willy. Penis.

'While you're down there...'

‘While you’re down there…’

If there’s a theme here, it’s indecent exposure. Private parts have been unlawfully displayed in public. Whether it’s bestiality libel or union disputes, these kinds of stories are not for public consumption unless in fictional form. HBO needs to push boundaries on sexual representation to be challenging, while the inhuman behaviour of the Cameron-led Conservative government needs to be challenged for what it is, not what it represents satirically in some bizarre Animal Farm-like parallel reality. Piggate didn’t lend any credence to Black Mirror, rather the reverse. And sex acts and nudity on HBO is simply not a news item!

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