So Alain de Botton thinks we need a new kind of porn. Well I've got a few ideas for him
After a week in Cornwall with no phone reception, on the train home, it suddenly returns. Oh, the pleasure!
Like Salt'n'Pepa , Alain de Botton wants to talk about sex. Whether he likes to talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be, I can't say for certain, because what De Botton (pictured) really likes to do is to philosophise about sex and for some of us less philosophical types, it can be a little tricky to understand what, exactly, he is saying at all.
Last week, an email arrived: "Philosopher Alain de Botton to launch a new kind of porn ," screamed the subject line. Thrilled, I swiftly clicked on the email. Disappointed, I saw there were no photos. Only, it transpired, a manifesto of sorts in which De Botton philosophically rallies with a clenched fist (around what, I could not possibly say).
For those who believe that philosophy is, by and large, little more than stating the obvious with extra jazz hands, De Botton's porn manifesto will not persuade them otherwise. Similarly, to those who see De Botton as a precious philosopher with little connection to the real world, again, you should brace yourselves for your opinions to remain utterly unchanged.
"If we have reached porn saturation point, and porn is everywhere, what next for porn?" De Botton heavy-breathes. The answer, he believes, is porn that doesn't "ask us to leave behind our ethics, our aesthetic sense and our intelligence when we contemplate it", suggesting, I think, that what De Botton really wants is hotter porn stars. Also, Alain, if you are stroking your chin while "contemplating" porn, you are stroking the wrong part of your anatomy.
It takes a man in possession of a particularly elastic brain to make the leap from thinking "the world is awash with porn" to suggesting that the solution is to create "better porn" or, to put it less qualitatively, more porn. But then, De Botton is the man who, just two weeks ago, published a book entitled How To Think More About Sex , an activity – and I think I can speak for the human race here – in which nobody needs any assistance.
"Ideally, porn would excite our lust in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature – in which people were being witty, for instance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever," he writes, sounding very much like a priggish little boy insisting to the school bully that actually – pushing his spectacles back upon his nose – being clever is really, really cool, you know.
Now, to be fair, different people find different things sexy and so now we know what turns De Botton on, not that many of us ever asked. However, it is hard to believe that a man as notoriously thin-skinned as De Botton has the self-detachment and humility to accommodate for tastes different from his own. (And speaking of that thin skin, Alain, if you don't leave a screedish comment on the Guardian website of the sort you sent the New York Times critic who disliked one of your tomes , I will be insulted.)
While Alain busies himself presumably making movies featuring semi-clothed nymphs being kind to Swiss philosophers, I shall discuss this conveniently publicity-grabbing topic which he so keenly proposes. He is correct: the world is "awash with porn", although I'm not sure if one can just blame the internet. As Bill Hicks pointed out some decades ago, if, according to the supreme court's definition, pornography is "any act that has no artistic value and causes sexual thoughts", quite a lot of advertising verges on pornography: wear this deodorant and women will try to gang bang you! Go to this gym and your sex life will be amazing! Chew this gum and you'll have a threesome!
Sexual imagery and suggestions of sexual invitations are so ubiquitous that, far from being excited by them, a common response to their appearance is to channel hop: "Oh look, here's that advert again in which the couple are about to shag over instant coffee. I wonder what's on BBC2?"
De Botton, in his weird little way, is right: we do need a new kind of porn. But not the kind of porn he thinks (people being kind to each other? The Playboy Mansion ain't on Sesame Street, Alain.) If pornography tantalises with promise of the long-desired and the breaking of social taboos, then sex, in all its overuse and ubiquity, ain't so pornographic these days. This, Alain, is a selection of real modern-day turn-ons:
1. Getting phone reception
You've spent a week in Cornwall and it's been lovely, sure – but there's been no bloody phone reception! Gah! But then, on the train back home, it suddenly returns. Oh, the pleasure… Porn rating: XX
2. An exciting email has arrived!
You are in the most boring meeting of all time so, naturally, you are fiddling with your smartphone under the table. But woe! No one is emailing you! And then, suddenly, someone does. Yes! Yes! Oh, yes!