Monday 4 January 2010

What's He On About?

I'm a fan of Alasdair Gray (he of Lanark and the brilliant short story 'Five Letters from an Eastern Empire', among others), but one of his recent statements has me puzzled. In a review for the excellent Scottish writer Agnes Owens' The Complete Novellas, he says that "prospective readers should not be repelled by the semi-pornographic cover design." I'd seen the cover when I first read that, and couldn't see what he was on about, but assumed that perhaps there was something nastier on the spine or back. But now that I've got my copy, I still don't know what he is banging on about.

A girl with an iPod and a young boy without a shirt surely don't come anywhere near being semi-pornographic, even under the most elastic definition of the term.

The photo is a detail from 'Bybysitter' by Julie Blackmon, one of her 'Domestic Vacations' series. While these aren't exactly my cup of tea, I do like the way she's created images of suburban family life that look like the sort of pseudo-lifelike reconstructions you might find in some far-future museum of anthropology.


Matthew Adams said...

JRSM, this is the first time you have completely disgusted me. I thought this blog was about caustic critiques on covers, not a porn site. That cover is clearly pornographic. Just look at that girl's slender thumb as she caresses the ipod wheel thingy, bringing it to a climax symbolised by the wild winds lashing the trees in the background painting. The young boy stares longingly into the erotic vase, an obvious vagina substitute if ever I saw one. This is porn of the worst variety: metaphorical porn!

I am going to need another shower.


(show more please)

Anonymous said...

Maybe your buddy Alasdair is a pedophile and little boys without shirts turn him on?

What a stupid thing to say, honestly.

I guess that early Iconography of the Vigin nursing a naked baby Jesus would be triple-X. When did naked little kids become so bad?

If any of you saw my parent's baby photo albums of me, you would be shoked!

JRSM said...

You have made me snigger out loud, which caused my boss to ask me what I was reading, which led to some half-baked lies. Everybody's ruining everybody's morals around here.

AverillB said...

The photo may be a detail from a Julie Blackmon photo but I see the designers have taken a bit of license with the painting on the wall (aside, of course from mirroring the image). Is there something in the stories that prompted the designer to do that?

JRSM said...

Good question--I will report back when I've read all the novellas.

Brian Busby said...

That Gray is as wonderful a designer as he is a writer makes his comment even more mysterious. Could it be that with his fine eye he's seeing something we're not? Or, Gray being Gray, is he having us on?

Anonymous said...

I'm back to look at that picture again.

Maybe he's talking about the "elbow butt" in the picture. Remember, in grade school, when you tried to make a butt out of every crease on your body? The bellybutton was also commonly smushed up to mimic a vagina.

The boy clearly has an elbow butt showing.

That qualifies as porn in Iraq, right?

Ben said...

In Gray's defense, the way the image has been cropped by the cover designers does leave it looking a little odd - it could easily be interpreted as a near-naked woman taking a picture of a naked kid, which, if not exactly "semi-pornographic", could be seen as a somewhat misguided cover choice.

Or maybe Gray is just making some kind of vague, over-general point about the prevalent use of female flesh to sell books?

Or maybe - as is often the case when good writers say odd things in newspaper/magazine articles - an editor has carelessly chopped/changed a few words, obscuring his original meaning?

Kevin said...

I like Ben's theory. Gray might not recognize the iPod and think it's a camera.

JRSM said...

Yes, I think Ben's cracked it!

Bob Fingerman said...

Some creeps—and that's the only word that seems fit—associate any image of children without some or all of their clothes as automatically pornographic. These are the same twisted prigs who have mothers arrested for taking pictures of their tots in the bath. It's these types who have the dirtiest minds and see filth in everything. Look at the kerfuffle going on about airport security in the UK:

Really? People are going to find these images (that look like faceless clay effigies) arousing? Really? Really will they? And how are these perverts going to get the body scans of under-18 passengers? Is someone in airport security going to flog them online?

Sorry to rant, but much as I find pedophiles to be among the most disgusting people alive, people who see porn in everything they see also set my blood boiling.

JRSM said...

My dad has written a lot of science books for children, one of which was about X-rays. Each right=hand page had a drawing on i that, when held up to the light, showed the skeleton (printed on the following left-hand page). One picture, a simple sketch of a boy, was fine here in Australia, but for the US edition his nipples were removed, for the sort of demented reasons you can imagine.

Brian Busby said...

I'm reminded that a high school girlfriend had a poster of David Lee Roth in mesh shirt, chained to a fence.


Not to worry. All was made wholesome by some poor artist entrusted with airbrushing out his nipples.

A great surprise to her when I took off my shirt, I can assure you.