The cult of Pippa Middleton’s bum

Don’t get angry at magazines for writing about Philippa’s bottom – we’re the ones who read the stuff

"So bot's happened to perky Pippa?" chortled the Daily Star this morning, next to a photo of the most famous bottom in the world. Just the bottom. On its own. We don't need a face, or eyes, or a person attached to it. This is the arse that rules the world – or our popular culture, anyway.

It seems that P-Middy's derrière has achieved iconic status after appearing at the royal wedding – so much so, that the lady, the human being with a soul, to whom it belongs is becoming somewhat dehumanised. Pippa Middleton, a person most of us hadn't heard of before 29 April, has skyrocketed into the celebrity stratosphere – then nosedived into obscurity, with only her rear end remaining visible. It's strange how the cult of the Middleton rump has come about, but there it is; we don't get to choose these things.

"Fans fear Her Royal Hotness Pippa Middleton is in danger of losing her biggest ass-et," burbles Nigel Pauley in the Star, accompanied by two enormous photos of the buttocks belonging to the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. Apparently, "the posh totty is losing her famous botty", much to the chagrin of her (or its) fans. Horrors!

I know, I know. This is just the Daily Star. Why am I bothering? It's like fisking the Beano. Except I think it would be wrong to think this iconification of an arse is confined to the "male gaze" of tabloid papers.

"It's all about PIPPA," gurgles Heat magazine. "She's naughty, she's a man magnet and she's got THAT bum! DRESSES IN LOO ROLL! BOOZY PARTIES! CLOSET CHAV!" Inside, we learn that "P-Middy" loves her VODKA and she dances in her BRA. Breathless stuff. And then there's what seems to me a slightly stalkery turn at the end of the four-page article: "We think we're in love with you. Welcome to Heat." Oh. Welcome to the Hotel California, P-Middy.

Grazia has also developed a bit of a girl-crush on Pippa M, it would seem. "May we just take the opportunity to congratulate you on your unparalleled hotness," it warbles this week, accompanied by 20 (twenty) pictures of Prince William's sister-in-law. It's like looking at a teenager's bedroom. By the time I'd wearily trawled through Now magazine, it was becoming a fairly familiar tale.

In whispers, "a close pal" was conveniently sharing secrets about her private life, and there were pictures of people called Jecca and Kitty, about whom we are supposed to care. Look magazine splutters on about how she is "torn between two men", according to a "source", and gives tips on how to "get Pippa's buns". Good God. Is this what it's come to? A whole person's life boiled down to their bum?

But they're doing this for a reason. As I've said before, it's easy and wrong to dismiss this kind of celebrity candyfloss as being worthless, or somehow deserving of scorn or contempt, as being beneath us. It isn't – because it's what we want to read about. Time was when you had to guess what your readers wanted: now web searches will tell you what they want, and what you've got to give them. The SEO expert Malcolm Coles shows how the Daily Mail, inter alia, has hoovered up web searches for the phrase "Pippa Middleton's arse" without telling their readers their naughty little secret.**

I don't know whether to laugh or cry sometimes. I think let's laugh. Laugh at the madness. Laugh at the way in which a bum at a wedding has turned us all into drooling Neanderthals. Laugh at the scampering among the newspapers and celebrity mags to capture this interest while it's still fresh.

And laugh, too, at how soon it will all fade away, I suppose. In the meantime, just marvel at the madness.

** Needless to say, I know my readers, you bright things. You're one step ahead of me already and have worked out that I am a disgusting hypocrite. I can sense the fingers shuffling over the keyboards already. "Aha!" you type, with an assiduous flourish. "You're just doing the same yourself, Baxter, you knavish cueball. The only reason you've written this piece yourself is to get a bit of the Middleton bum love, hoping to attract frenzied onanists to your outpourings."

** May I defend myself? I am aware that this may potentially be an unfortunate and unwelcome side effect of this discussion, but I can hardly talk about the Cult of Pippa's Arse without, well, talking about what it is I'm talking about, can I? I anticipate your valid criticism and take it very much on board, but it really does give me no pleasure to be the beneficiary of such searches. If anything, it makes my already heavy heart just a little heavier.

** And there: with one bound, I am free.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.