The Sun's interview with violinist Nicola Benedetti was a masterclass in sexism

Why have words at all when you could use the space for derogatory comments and suggestive pictures?

Yesterday I stumbled across this "interview" with violinist Nicola Benedetti in the Scottish Sun, in which Matt Bendoris - ostensibly a grown man and not a fifteen year old Nuts columnist - gives a masterclass in female objectification.

In it, Bendoris tastefully focuses on Benedetti's appearance, not her music:

So I guess Nicola won’t be posing for the lads’ mags anytime soon. Pity, because she looks fit as a fiddle when we meet at Edinburgh’s plush Sheraton Hotel.

But Nicola doesn’t always take the bonniest photo — she’s beaky in pics sometimes, which is weird because in the flesh she’s an absolute knock-out.

The classical musician is wearing skinny jeans which show off her long legs. She’s also busty with a washboard flat tummy, tottering around 5ft 10in in her Dune platform wedges.

He also urges Benedetti's cellist boyfriend Leonard Elschenbroich to get her pregnant:

The one possession she never lets out of sight is her 1712 Earl Spencer Stradivarius — made by the legendary 18th Century Italian violin master Antonio Stradivari himself.

No wonder as it’s worth £2million and is on loan from American banker Jonathan Moulds.

Me: “Gie’s a shot.”

She gasps: “Absolutely not! No one gets to touch this baby.”

Talking of babies, she’d like those too.

Nicola says: “It’s eight years since I won Young Musician of the Year. In the next eight years I’d hope to be a better violinist and I’d like to have started a family. I’ll be in my early 30s so I would probably like a baby or two by then.”

Better get busy making sweet, sweet music, Leonard. Lucky boy...

After reading the article, I had a question for Mr Bendoris:

I guess there’s a certain skill in writing about a artist and focusing on their physical attributes instead of their art. It requires you to wilfully ignore all of that talent. Bendoris must have trained in the Sun’s cultural isolation chamber, watching endless streams of Big Brother repeats and reading nothing but his own previous columns. Two weeks later, he emerged sweating and crying, screaming “Art is dead”. He was ready.

It’s like interviewing David Hockney and writing about how long and thick his willy is, asking if viewers would enjoy "elitist" painting more if he’d tie a brush to his dick and shake it at a canvas. Except that wouldn’t actually happen cause, you know, every Sun reader knows willies are horrible - not like lovely boobies though, eh lads?

Why do they bother including words at all if they’re just pushing wank fantasy material? They’d get more suggestive pictures in without all that bloody text. There’s an irony in deriding classical music as "elitist" and then sexually objectifying one of its best modern proponents. It’s not the general public who are wrong for ignoring classical music; it’s Nicola Benedetti for arrogantly refusing to get her tits out and bringing it down to “their” level.

Bendoris’ retort was that he loved “folk who get outraged on someone else’s behalf” which is disingenuous. I’m personally outraged that someone would actually write this shit and try to sell it to me as news. I’m offended that a company thinks I am that stupid, misogynist and ignorant - and you should feel insulted, too. But you know, mostly I’m not offended. I’m just disappointed that in 2012 this passes for journalism and there are still numpties out there willing to defend it.

I don’t think most Sun readers are as lecherous and paleolithic as Matt Bendoris and his editor Simon Houston. I hope they vote with their wallet. Right, enough of this filth. Let’s have some nice classical music.

Alan Williamson is editor of Split Screen, where this post originally appeared. He tweets as @agbear.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti. Photograph: Getty Images
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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue