Viewed as the latest faux-pas by a French politician in the Silly Season’s ongoing Burkini debate, the comment of France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls that the Republic’s Britannia-like national symbol Marianne is a more accurate portrayal of Gallic freedom than an imposed veil because her breasts are bared has ignited another episode of controversy. Marianne ironically tends to be painted or sculpted with her head covered, and though the headgear is the Phrygian cap associated with 1789, a covered head is surely something France’s female Muslim population could relate to. But it is Marianne’s breasts that are the contentious issue here.
Perhaps the most famous artistic interpretation of Marianne is in Eugene Delacroix’s allegorical painting ‘Liberty Leading the People’ – and yes, her tits are out for les gars. Painted in 1830, it celebrates the July Revolution of the same year, which saw the overthrow of Charles X. One more revolution eighteen years later saw the forced abdication of his usurper, Louis-Philippe, and Marianne was invoked yet again. A familiar figure on the pre-Euro French coins the Centime and the Franc, Marianne also became something of a pop culture icon in the late twentieth century when the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve were used as models for her.
The bare-breasted version of Marianne was always favoured by radicals; it implied a wave of female emancipation that had relevance in 1789, when women had helped spark the uprising in the first place and were eventually rewarded with progressive legislation unique in Europe. The Napoleonic era saw the erosion of these hard-won civil rights, though Marianne herself remained a regular embodiment of liberated womanhood whenever the revolutionary spirit took hold of the country – as it frequently did throughout the nineteenth century.
The nation that popularised topless sunbathing clearly regards the bare breast in a different light to its old nudge-nudge wink-wink enemy on the other side of the Channel, though the French PM’s opinion has not chimed with some of his countrywomen. Female French historian Mathilde Larrere labelled Monsieur Valls’ comment as ‘moronic’, yet both points of view seem to reflect a wider debate regarding the naked breast that stretches way beyond France. If we put the endless contrasting attitudes towards public breast-feeding to one side, last weekend’s Go Topless Day in New York was a good example of the double standards surrounding that awful word, ‘empowering’.
This event is an annual occurrence staged on the nearest weekend to Women’s Equality Day and there was a parade featuring an abundance of exposed American bosoms. What happened next was utterly unpredictable and incredibly shocking. Lots of fully-clothed men brandishing mobile phones descended upon the parade and took photos and videos, the sick perverts! What on earth did the participants think was going to happen? As is usually the case with zealots, self-righteous conviction is blind to any contradictory opinion and everyone is expected to fall into line. The thought that some men catching sight of tits on display in the middle of the day might actually be turned on by the prospect served to sour the empowerment somewhat. But what is the real difference between baring all on a PC parade and doing likewise on page 3?
A glamour model who goes topless for a living and makes a healthy income through it is regarded as the plaything of wicked male lust, yet go topless for charity or to make some spurious point about exploitation and that is somehow morally superior. Both are down to personal choice, and both will inevitably attract the same male arousal, which doesn’t particular care about the context as long as a pair of boobs is out. It is naive and short-sighted to imagine this will never be a factor, whatever the reason behind the exposure. Marianne’s ample assets are not supposed to represent sexuality, but it’s hard not to envisage anticipatory excitement back in the 60s and 70s when Bardot and Deneuve were announced as models for France’s very own Lady Liberty. And anyone who has seen ‘Les Valseuses’, the glorious 1974 black comedy starring Gerard Depardieu, will realise that some men even get excited when they stumble upon breast-feeding. Fancy that!
GENE WILDER (1933-2016)
The death of Gene Wilder at the age of 83 yesterday is worth a mention, if only for the string of superlative cinematic comedies Wilder illuminated in a golden period from the late 60s to the late 70s. Rooted in the same great tradition of American Jewish humour as Woody Allen, Larry David and Mel Brooks, Wilder enjoyed his most fruitful on-screen era in collaboration with the latter. His film debut was a cameo in the far-from comedic 1967 drama, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, though he is so funny in the small role of Eugene Grizzard that it was obvious here was a great new talent with plenty of potential. He proved it in Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ the following year, playing Leo Bloom, the neurotic accountant with a Linus-like attachment to a blanket.
Between ‘The Producers’ and the full flowering of his creative partnership with Mel Brooks, he played Willy Wonka in the first movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and also made a memorable appearance as a man in love with a sheep in Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)’. Reunited with Brooks, he starred in arguably the director’s two greatest films, ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘Blazing Saddles’, both superb pastiches of two of Hollywood’s most enduring genres, Horror and The Western.
Wilder then formed another creative partnership that spanned four successful films, this time with Richard Pryor, movies that served to transcend Pryor’s cult popularity and turn him into a box-office star. By the early 90s, however, the work dried up and the last twenty years of Wilder’s life were spent absent from the medium that made him, which was a tragic loss for the big screen. I mourn his passing in that he was one of the few actors – Peter Sellers being another – who made me laugh whenever I saw his face; he didn’t even have to say a line, for his impish countenance simply possessed a quality that was imbued with anticipatory laughter on the part of the audience; when he appeared in a movie, you knew he was going to cheer you up, and that’s a very special gift. I can’t pay him a greater compliment than that.
© The Editor
9 thoughts on “VIVE LA MAMELLE”
I don’t really get tits. (Surprise, surprise.)
They have a purpose – feeding babies. I don’t understand how they are sexual in any way – except maybe for the woman herself when her nipples may be aroused. Men’s fascination with them is, I believe, one aspect of the way men try to control women. Put them in a bra and make ’em perky for the lads don’t want them slipping into their armpits, now do we?), or get ‘ em out for the lads, cover them up or expose them and we’ll make you self-conscious and we’ll descend on you like rabid wolves.
A woman should be able to do whatever she likes with her own body – cover it, expose it. Just imagine if the reverse situation applied and men were oggled purely for penis size, shape or colour – and were forced to either reveal it or expose it, depending on the culture. I can think of many men who would be unhappy, either one way or another (there being some who can’t wait to whack it out because they think it’s impressive and others at the other end of the spectrum).
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Always been a leg man myself, to be honest. I agree a woman should be able to do what she likes with whatever anatomical areas she regards as worthy of promotion; but there does seem to be contradiction where context is concerned at times.
I’m not uniquely a leg-man, more a ‘below-the-waist-man’, as even a well-turned thigh or ankle can always be outshone by a spectacular posterior. (Does that make me closet-gay, I wonder ?)
I agree with Windsock that ladies’ chest impediments are fundamentally functional, despite their secondary purpose of arousal being a useful attribute, but they often tend to add far more allure and promise than they can actually deliver (most of the time).
From my early eye-straining feasts on French Med beaches around 1970, when it was about the only available place to see unclothed lady-breast-flesh other than the City Varieties in Leeds, it is now so common that even the most hetero of blokes hardly give them a second glance (or they don’t give them a second glance hardly, fnaar, fnaar). If adult women want to expose any parts of their bodies, that’s their decision, just as it’s then my decision whether or not to observe their choice – we’re all grown-ups and that’s freedom, neither of us should be damaged by the process.
Having also sampled many no-clothing beaches, what’s the big deal about tits ? Indeed, what’s the big deal about nudism ? It’s how we’re all made. If anyone wants to let it all hang out, male or female, that’s OK by me, I’m neither interested nor embarrassed by it – I might even join them (but others may need to get quite close to confirm it).
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I only ever saw panto at the City Varieties, though I heard that venerable institution did dip into the striptease end of the theatrical experience back in the saucy 60s, when ‘The Good Old Days’ evidently wasn’t enough to pay the rent. Was a mac required, I wonder?
In the mid-60s, along with 3 or 4 other 15-year-old school-chums, we once rather pretentiously rented a box for one of the City Varieties’ mid-week afternoon stripper-sessions – and yes, a number of grubby gannex gaberdines, complete with mysterious movements, were quite evident in the thinly-attended stalls below.
Imagine our surprise when, shortly after one quite ‘mature’ stripper had finished her gyrating act of disrobing, the rear door to our box opened, to reveal the self-same stripper, clad now in nothing more than a translucent gown, coming up to visit the bunch of lads who had just greeted her accomplished performance with such enthusiasm. To say we were all speechless would be incorrect, but we all suddenly became incoherent, mumbling nincompoops in the presence of one whose bodily charms we had just visually enjoyed more remotely, despite her probably sharing an age with some of our mothers. Oh, those happy educational days of our youth !
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Now, that anecdote reminds me of one in the late, great Keith Waterhouse’s memoirs, when he recalled losing the power of speech when confronted by the legendary striptease artiste Phyllis Dixie. Bugger internet porn. That sounds like the best education a boy could wish for!
I’ve always wanted to post this and now is my chance!
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And I had no idea the Mael brothers were such dedicated ornithologists!
The so-called erogenous zones have been in flux throughout history. It has always depended on what the clothing of the era or region insisted should remain covered or, conversely, could be revealed.
A glimpse of stocking was once shocking in the West, but bare arms and (somewhat) décolleté necklines were OK. On another continent, a bare midriff was OK, but sleeves were elbow-length and the skirt was floor-length. I lived in an African country where bare-breasted women feeding their children was commonplace but, at the time, trousers for women were banned and their skirts had to reach well below the knee.
There was a time when men wore short tunics and leg-hugging lower garments, the better to show off their physique. In the 15th and 16th centuries, an exaggerated cod-piece was popular. Nowadays, men’s underwear adverts have to minimise the bulge, for fear that someone will complain.
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