Mark Jankovich (2001) locates the emergence of Playboy in the 1950s in relation to a middle-brow culture of a new post-war petit bourgeoisie, which is defined against the transgressive excesses of an elite avant-garde on the one hand, and the puritanism of traditional forms of middle-brow culture on the other. In doing so, he emphasizes, as did Bourdieu, the ways in which taste operates as a means to establish and maintain distinctions in class status, which themselves work to legitimize other forms of class inequality. Class distinctions operate not simply as a binary division between bourgeois (upper-class) and popular (working-class) tastes in the well-known categories of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, but also between different fractions of the middle classes, where the struggles over taste are often most acute. The artists and intellectuals in this class are rich in ‘cultural capital’, if not in economic power, and have the confidence to challenge established aesthetic and ethical codes through avant-garde experimentation or appropriations of low culture. The traditional petit bourgeoisie (lower middle class) meanwhile have neither the economic nor the cultural capital to give authority to their tastes and a strong incentive to aspire to ‘respectability’ to differentiate themselves from the lower classes in their quest for social status. Their cultural anxiety is also manifest in their relationship to their bodies, which has none of the ‘ease’ that characterizes the upper and lower classes.

However, in Bourdieu’s analysis, one of the most significant changes of the post-war period has been the rise of a ‘new’ petit bourgeoisie who are employed in media-related jobs such as fashion, advertising, public relations and, of course, television. They seek to establish their cultural credibility by defining themselves against this ‘old-fashioned’ lower middle-class respectability and instead embracing ‘an ethic of fun’ in an attempt to appear modern and sophisticated (Jankovich 2001: 6). This involves not ‘wild abandon’, but the ‘calculated hedonism’ identified by Mike Featherstone (1991a: 171) as characteristic of the ‘cultural intermediaries’ of contemporary consumer culture. Mark Jankovich, drawing on Bourdieu and Featherstone, explains how this affects their approach to sexuality.

The new petit bourgeoisie displays its distinction from the old through its ‘liberated sexuality’, but it is a ‘liberation’ that is only ever achieved through education, discipline and intense self-surveillance. The ‘liberation’ of the body from its ‘repression’ is therefore experienced simultaneously as the rediscovery of a natural self and as the enactment of a carefully controlled performance. It is both a liberation from alienation and a whole new mode of alienation.

(Jankovich 2001: 6)

This new class formation is responsible for the rise of the therapeutic society and its plethora of ‘expert’ guides on lifestyle and how to educate the self and discipline the body. It is also responsible, in its effort to distinguish itself from the ‘old’ petit bourgeoisie through negation, for ‘a whole series of political movements and practices which are defined as alternative (health, environment) or oppositional (non-sexist, anti-racist)’ (Jankovich 2001: 7).

Television can be understood as middle-brow culture par excellence. In its short history its approach to sexual representation can be seen to have moved from being defined entirely by the puritan restraint of the traditional petit bourgeoisie to a mixed schedule that also offers a range of more sexually explicit genres. The extremes of avant-garde sexual transgression or the low pornographic ‘grotesque’ of hard core are, largely, excluded except as heavily censored topics for documentary investigation. Soft­core pornography and carnivalesque celebrations of sexual excess are relegated to the low status margins of the schedules. The programmes that have taken up a central place are those that offer ‘lifestyle’ guidance in the factual and fictional genres, which simultaneously offer ‘fun’ entertainment while educating the audience in the appro­priate ‘performance’ of the sexualized self. Examples from fiction include soap opera ‘issues’ as sex education, nineteenth-century literary adaptations that focus on the social etiquette and erotic appeal of their characters, or contemporary ‘quality’ drama, such as Six Feet Under (HBO 2001—) or Queer as Folk (Channel 4 1999), that explore transgressive sexual identities of various kinds. In factual genres, ordinary people have become subject to voyeuristic, sexualized display in the new popular docusoap formats of the 1990s: the investigations of sexual lifestyles such as Adult Lives (BBC2 1999), Sex Life (Channel 5 1998) or Sex Bomb (Channel 4 1998), all series about changing attitudes to sex, or the series Real Sex (HBO), in which people reveal what turns them on. In reality game shows, such as Wife Swap (Channel 4 2003-) or Temptation Island (Sky One 2001—), people are subject to intense ethical scrutiny of how they conduct their relationships. More explicitly pedagogic expert guidance is provided by sex education formats, such as Sex Tips for Girls (Channel 4 2002) or The Truth about Gay Sex (Channel 4 2002). The mixture of purposes is balanced in different ways for different spaces in the schedule. The educational purpose comes to the fore on

terrestrial prime-time, while sexual pleasure is prioritized in more marginal spaces late at night or on cable.

Where ‘fun’ is to the fore the programmes are more likely to be addressed to a commercially defined ‘youth’ audience. We might call them the ‘new, new petit bourgeoisie’, the children of the generation studied by Bourdieu in the 1970s. Having grown up in a culture saturated with sexualized display and with an experience of television less dominated by the public service emphasis on ‘improvement’, they are at ease with the exhibitionist potential of ‘infotainment’. This market has been developed most fully by the Murdoch-owned satellite company BSkyB on Sky One, in such series as the holiday resort Uncovered series that began with Ibiza Uncovered (1997). The ‘uncut’ video version cover blurb says: ‘From the series that shocked the nation, Ibiza Uncut strips naked the island that offers sun, fun, sex and much more. Re-live the exploits of Jay and his 18-30s crew, the wild and raunchy “Manumission” night club.’ Both this series and the equally popular terrestrial copy of the format, Club Reps (ITV 2002—), target the 16-34 audience with the carnivalesque excesses of their peer group on holiday. In the face of competition for this audience it was reported in the industry press that ‘Channel chiefs have called for more, longer running “tits and bums” style programming to appeal to younger, post-pub viewers’ (Robertson 2001). Temptation Island (Sky One 2001), a six-part series bought from the Murdoch-owned US network company Fox, aired on Sky One in the UK but was subsequently shown on late night Channel 4 as well. It used the same ‘holiday’ formula as the docusoaps but this time run as a Big Brother (Channel 4 2000-) style game. Three couples are taken to live on a tropical island, then separated and tempted into infidelity over a period of weeks by 26 single contestants. It has the same ‘will they, won’ t they’ narrative drive of Big Brother but with the added frisson of betrayal, and flesh, revealed. Both these pro­grammes dramatize the recurring sexual anxieties of the young but in the marginal, satellite version it is mixed with a more pornographic appeal.

This voyeuristic relation to ordinary people’s sexual relationships gives some indica­tion of the degree to which sexualized performance and display for the camera have ceased to be the preserve of a class of women who were quite other to ‘respectable’ people. Nor is there such a clear divide between the respectable audience for documentary and the despised ‘dirty mac’ brigade of sad misfit men that formed the stereotyped consumers of commercial pornography until relatively recently. For pro­ducers, performers and consumers of what might be termed television ‘docuporn’ the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ have been transgressed. Yet British (and USA) television is still primarily soft core, even at the margins, despite a court ruling in the US reaffirming the rights of cable companies to show what they want when they want (Backstein 2001: 304).

The continuing relevance of this distinction is examined by Laura Kertz (2002), who argues that the boundary between soft core and hard core needs to be understood not as a moral boundary that will eventually disappear as audiences become more liberated, but as a marketing category. Hard core caters for more specialized tastes.

Soft core is characterized by indirectness, working to reduce the anxiety people feel at watching arousing sexual imagery by wrapping it in extraneous ‘noise’ and misleading ‘headers’ whose function is to reassure people who are ambivalent about their reasons for watching (Kertz 2002: 1-9). Hard core is characterized by directness, by explicit appeals to specific desires that consumers have to ask for (over the counter, on a pay – per-view menu, using keywords on the Internet) (ibid.: 10-12). But, Kertz argues, both hard core and soft core co-exist within a larger consumer culture (ibid.: 19). Just as many consumers move across these divisions, so does the displayed content. In Kertz’s view, the division between soft and hard core is a function not of the social regulation of taste or legality or normalization but of the regulative power of markets. Although hard core is ‘considered the province of artists, academics and the truly depraved – those generally perceived as above or below morality’ (ibid.: 20), in fact hard core is defined by its specialist appeal. It uses the soft core mainstream to advertise. In my view, however, this sets up a false dichotomy. Markets for pornography are based on distinctions in taste that have developed as a result of moral discourses and the political power to establish them as norms.

The way that television now functions to advertise hard core pornography is well illustrated by a series on the pornography business, Sex and Shopping (Channel 5 1998-2001). The series was structured around the boundary between soft and hard core, offering British audiences glimpses of sexual material they had been unable to view on television before. Its production values and style were noticeably ‘trashy’; that is, low budget and oriented to pleasure rather than education. A handful of interviews with sex shop entrepreneurs, edited into brief sound bites, were intercut with location shots of sex shops and their merchandise from inside and out, and images from porn magazines and videos that exemplify the topic under discussion. These provide the ‘sexually explicit scenes’ that viewers were warned of (or promised) in the introduction to the programme. Its first graphic extols us to ‘Turn off or turn on’ to ‘Sex sex sex’ in bright neon letters, over a montage of sexual imagery and accompanied by brassy stripper-type music. It was clear from the start that this ‘frank look at the global pornography business’ was intended to arouse sexually as well as to inform. For a British audience it provides tantalizing glimpses of the hard core porn available legally in Europe or illegally in Soho. ‘What do you get for your money?’, asks a breezy voice­over from Davina McCall (now famous for hosting the Big Brother shows). ‘Seventy – two minutes of tape. 15 blow jobs, 14 scenes of vaginal sex, 13 anal, 12 come shots and an orgy from the eight performers involved. Not bad for £20 even if the quality left something to be desired.’

Its documentary format distinguished it from straight pornography, however. A legitimating journalistic intention motivated the investigation: the programme con­tested British laws censoring hard core. Two academic experts, both anti-censorship (Tom Dewes Matthews and Bill Thompson), made brief appearances decrying the effects of censorship on the British porn business. The ‘noise’ of journalistic purpose, calling into question the domestic laws on pornography, and the cheeky ‘header’ warning/enticing viewers to ‘turn off or turn on’ failed, however, to assuage viewer anxiety. Despite its late night slot Sex and Shopping attracted numerous complaints to the ITC and BSC in its first season, several of which were upheld, forcing them to be re-edited for the repeats. The BSC declared that six of the programmes included scenes that were ‘unacceptable for broadcast at any time’ because they showed the female sex organs in detail and the reality of what was taking place, including sexual intercourse (BSC 1999). The way that regulatory boundaries help to promote sexually explicit material to new audiences is demonstrated several times over in this example. The programme used censorship laws as an excuse to show hard core material to a mass – market audience so they would know what was available if they asked for it. Channel 5 used the announcement of the BSC’s censure to launch the next series, thereby pro­moting not only the programme but also its own brand identity as a channel. As a new channel with low viewing figures, it deliberately stepped over the soft core line as a strategy to innovate in a crowded market place and thereby attract audiences. Sex and Shopping did a lot to establish Channel 5 in the minds of its potential viewers as a broadcaster of sleaze, which it is now so keen to leave behind, despite its non­judgemental, ‘journalistic’ gloss.

Presenting their anti-censorship campaign as a feminist goal provided further legit­imation for Sex and Shopping. The series included a hagiography of a German woman entrepreneur, Beatte Uhse, who is dubbed the ‘Queen Mother of Porn’. Her status as a feminist heroine is secured in several ways. As a pilot in the war, she is pictured in her flying helmet, evoking memories of those other female heroines of early aviation. Her business began as an illegal, mail-order contraceptive and advice service for unmarried women, making her a post-war Marie Stopes counteracting the suffering women experienced as a result of their ignorance about sex. Her £100 million turnover is offered as a role model for younger women entrepreneurs who aspire to her economic success. Women are presented as where the future of the sex industry is heading and now the biggest growth market, with Europe leading the way. As one of the sex shop entrepreneurs interviewed for the programme says of his business, ‘Everything is chan­ging at a pace unknown before. We have to run to stay up with the market.’ The involvement of women in the sex industry and the way in which anti-censorship femi­nist discourses have been used to legitimize pornography is taken up further in Chapter 6, which looks at documentaries on the sex industry. The next section of this chapter considers the ways in which women’s access as consumers of pornography has been enabled by this development and by the availability of soft-core pornography on television.