Did you know that Peter Wyngarde once released an album? Actually, before we go on, perhaps I should ask if you remember who Peter Wyngarde is? If the answer is 'no', then ask your parents or, more likely, grandparents. To cut a long story short, back in those halcyon days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when ITC used to churn out a seemingly endless series of action/adventure TV shows, Wyngarde was the flamboyant star of not one, but two of these: Department S
and Jason King
. He portrayed the same character - the eponymous Jason King - in both. King was one of those typical of the era heroes - a cravat and velvet jacket wearing novelist with a handlebar moustache who tooled around swinging London and various country estates thwarting the schemes of nefarious villains. But getting back to the point, at the height of his fame, in 1970, Wyngarde was persuaded to record an album. A very peculiar album, with the following as its most notorious track:
Not surprisingly, the album was withdrawn from sale after only a week. It was reissued in the early 1990s, under the title When Sex Leers its Inquisitive Head
, and is still available. Clearly, a song about rape can now be regarded as 'ironic', rather than provoking outrage as it did in those unreconstructedly sexist 1970s I have to confess, that I remain conflicted with regard to the song. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I first came across it. Nevertheless, despite being offensive on several levels, (not just sexist, but racist as well), I couldn't help but laugh. The whole thing is so ludicrous and camp, I really can't believe that it wasn't conceived as an ill-judged joke.
The fact that the track 'Rape' apparently caused sufficient offence in the early 1970s to get the whole album withdrawn is fascinating. Anybody who lived through the era, or has had any exposure to popular culture of the time, will, like me, doubtless recall that attitudes toward rape seemed very different back then. Male characters in sitcoms would sometimes joke about it whilst the female characters would go misty-eyed and sigh wistfully at the prospect of being 'raped' by some attractive male character. There was an underlying assumption amongst many men that 'rape' was a fantasy enjoyed by many women - that they secretly harboured the desire to be forcibly abducted by a man before giving way to his rampant sexual desire. Indeed, in some circles it was seen as a badge of masculinity to force oneself on a reluctant woman. After all, back then 'no' meant 'yes' and we all knew that they really wanted to be ravished.
All of which, I hope, puts the song into some kind of context. There is another aspect to bear in mind: whilst Wyngarde was built up by the media as some kind of suave and sophisticated ladies' man, these credentials were severely dented when, in the mid-1970s, he was arrested for soliciting young men for sex in public toilets, thereby making public what had been openly known in showbiz circles for years, that Wyngarde was homosexual. Which raises the question, bearing in mind heterosexual attitudes to rape at the time, whether Wyngarde, as a gay man, actually realised just how potentially offensive 'Rape' was to women?
Now, whilst I'd like to believe that nowadays we have more enlightened attitudes toward the seriousness of sexual assault and that something like this wouldn't be released now, I still hear things like Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' being played on the radio. Whilst it might not be an ode to rape, lyrics like "I'm tired of these blurred lines, you know you want it" could be interpreted otherwise. While 'Blurred Lines' hides behind its supposed 'irony', Wyngarde's 'Rape' at least had the decency to be up front with its offensiveness.
Labels: Celebrity Cretins, Nostalgic Naughtiness