Responsibility Breeds Content

By Blacker, Terence | The Independent (London, England), September 29, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Responsibility Breeds Content


Blacker, Terence, The Independent (London, England)


UNTIL RECENTLY, I had always thought that the only interesting thing about Will Carling was that his thighs are said to be so massive that he is physically unable to cross his legs. The rest - his rugby playing, his somewhat accident-prone love-life, his surprising career as a management guru, his iffy relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales - seemed relatively predictable and tedious, but those legs, and the way they made apparently normal women go all quiet and glassy-eyed, reminded you that, in spite of our obsession with the subject, female sexual desire still remains a profound mystery.

But now Will has done something so perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times that it is almost as intriguing as his physical deformity. The break-up with his blonde of the moment was apparently precipitated by her reading an early draft on his computer of an article expensively commissioned by a Sunday newspaper. In it, she discovered that references to her, and presumably their baby, were written in the past tense; this seemed oddly significant. It turned out that her lover had been working on the public account of his desertion before he got around to breaking the news to her. Even in the golden age of the celebrity confessional, this sense of priorities, putting the serialisation before the dumping it describes, represents something of a first.

Vulgar? Insensitive? Crass? Of course, but in 1998 it could be said that the need to express your private pain to as many people as possible is an essential part of public life. Without descending to the popular tabloids, the casual reader of the weekend press was able to share details of Des Lynam's adultery, Margaret Cook's insights into the infidelity of her ex-husband, the Foreign Secretary, and more than he or she would normally want to know about the rift between Anne Robinson and her daughter over something she had written earlier.

For reasons which may have to do with pre-millennial panic or simply the dullness of most people's sex lives, we live in a voyeuristic, masturbatory culture where public figures eagerly enact our fantasies and desires, acts of betrayal and misery, rather as Sam the barman in the sitcom Cheers used to sleep with women on behalf of Norm, Cliff and the other sad sacks who hung out at his bar.

But there's more to the Carling story than an emotionally confused male making money out of the unhappiness he has caused.

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