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'Write Dirty for Me'

The Tyee
Shannon Rupp
Slap the monkey? Slap the editor!

 Pierre Trudeau said famously that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation and, to this, let me add: that sentiment should go double for news media.

 Perhaps the worst thing to ever happen to journalism was the dawn of the confessional age. It's worse than media concentration. Worse than the corporatization of newsrooms. It's the evil that led me to turn down one of the few assignments I've ever turned down in my life and ruin my reputation as a writer willing to try her hand at anything.

 One of my favourite editors, at one of the best newspapers I've ever worked for, rang up recently looking for a piece on masturbation.

 "And you thought of me, WHY?" I shrieked. Among my friends I'm referred to variously as "Victorian," "guarded," "tight-lipped," and as someone who "plays her cards close to her vest."

 I don't discuss my private life, period. Oh, there are allusions to it, but only to very close friends. I am an advocate of an entirely unfashionable quality: discretion. I find reality shows embarrassing. Five minutes of Jerry Springer is enough to make me long for a shower.

 I loathe the sort of people who, at a get-to-know-you dinner party, launch into a discussion of their abortions. Or tell us that their partners are well-endowed. "That's TMI," I chirp, with my best hypocritical smile plastered on my face. Of course, people like this never know what that means: "Too much information," I add, with a meaningful look.

 I just don't want those images in my mind. Discuss it with a doctor, a therapist, or your closest friend, but for the sake of my appetite and your dignity, will you please stop broadcasting it to the world.

 'Bimbo Journalists'

 There's a line in the film Kissing Jessica Stein where the charmingly-repressed Jessica notes that she wouldn't discuss her foray into lesbianism with her shrink. "Oh no, it's too personal," she says. While her friend looks quizzical, I understood Jessica perfectly: it's the fundamental flaw in the counseling process. Who wants to relay the intimate details of one's life to a stranger, let alone put them in print?

 Like most professional, I'm happy to tell you all about everyone else, but unlike a growing legion of my colleagues, I haven't an ounce of exhibitionist in me. Something that's proving to be a career liability.

It was bad enough when the media exploited all the fools willing to go public about their nightmarish childhoods, failed relationships and empty sexual encounters, but in the last decade they've expected ink-stained-wretches to get into the act. And too many seem eager to comply.

For years, I've thought of these writers, collectively, as Bimbo Journalists. I even doubted some of them were real, since so much of their copy -- as several editors have found, to their chagrin -- is fiction. I was certain that one in particular was the invention of a satirical scribe because her name rhymed with the phrase, "intellectually barren." Imagine my surprise when I saw what I thought was a clever take on Cockney rhyming-slang being interviewed, in the flesh.

 Given that my views on these kinds of stories and the writers who pen them are well known, I was astounded that anyone would try to lure me into joining the pack.

 To be fair, The Editor Who Shall Remain Nameless wasn't crude. He tried a little foreplay before actually mentioning the subject he wanted me to cover. He flattered my research and writing skills, praised my wit and generally laid it on with a trowel. Incidentally: A honey-tongued editor always signals danger ahead.

 Being a reporter, I couldn't resist asking what he wanted the story to cover. As a freelancer, I, much like Molly Bloom, prefer to say yes. An attitude that has earned writers a reputation similar to that of the world's oldest profession. And it's well deserved.

 Different strokes

 Inevitably, once The Editor handed me the story idea, that train started speeding down the wrong track. I recalled a friend remarking that going to bed with one of the men in her life was a little like masturbating with accessories -- with weak batteries. It was a relief when she dumped him and I no longer had to spend parties not meeting his eyes.

 And then there's Woody Allen, of course: "Nothing wrong with masturbation, at least it's sex with someone you love." Although, his years in therapy coupled with his body of work suggest that he may not love himself all that much. However, it is clear he has a need to whack-off in public.

 But that's it. That's the extent of my thoughts on masturbation. I'm dry.

 So, I suggested the writer for the job was one of our more notorious colleagues who has collected cheques from national magazines for discussing all the minutiae of his (I must say, somewhat tawdry) life, including -- right on topic! -- his discovery, in middle-age, of masturbation.

 "No, that's too obvious. I want a woman writer. Someone with a lighter touch," said The Editor.

 Not to be toyed with

 Yes, it was often said that women had a lighter touch. And, it turned out, that it had to be a woman because The Editor wanted someone to investigate a store that specializes in women's sex toys.

 "So you want a consumer story?" I asked, suspiciously. Was he suggesting that I'd be expected to try out these gizmos and report back? Was this an advertiser? Sometimes, we refer to these advertorials as blow-jobs, but apparently this one was a wank-job.

 Would there be photos? Note to self: that's the last time I tell any editor I do yoga.

 "Well, I want good research," he said.

 I speculated on just what this ominous phrase might mean. Usually, it involves tracking down some literature, interviewing authorities and finding people, often through associations, who are willing to chat about their experiences.

 In this case, who am I gonna call: Wankers Anonymous?

 Say, maybe the sex addicts are prodigious slappers-of-the-monkey and don't they have an association...?

No. There was no way to do this story as anything but a kind of peeking through the bedroom keyhole. To which I say, eeeuuuwww. I don't want to read it, why would I volunteer to write it?

 Old fashioned

 As for the other approach, if I'm going to engage in that kind of writing, I intend to get paid the equivalent of what Anais Nin made for writing Delta of Venus AND do it under a pseudonym.

 To be clear, I don't care who is shtupping whom -- or what. As long as it's going on among consenting adults, it's fine by me. I just don't want to hear about it. (Yes, I know, this position raises the ire of animal rights advocates who argue that sheep really aren't in a position to "consent" but I don't have the space for rebuttal here.)

 Discussing the intimate details of one's life in public is just tacky. Passing it off as journalism suggests unsavoury things about readers and writers alike.

 However, discussing all the reasons one shouldn't be discussing one's private life in public is another thing altogether, as I told the editor to whom I pitched this piece. It's social commentary about the state of journalism, which has an honourable history in the trade. All-in-all, I think it's fair to say that, as a journalist, I like to maintain standards: I'm not a trendy exhibitionist but, in keeping with the tradition in my craft, I am an old-fashioned whore.

12 Dec 2005