Campaigners protesting against Page 3 in 2012. Photo: Getty
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The “return” of Page 3: the Sun revels in the chance to make women with opinions look stupid

For one riotous day, women got to live in a world where in a small but symbolic way our bodies weren’t put on display as consumables.

The purpose of Page 3 is to humiliate, chasten and bully women. That was true when the Sun mocked Clare Short as “fat and jealous” for her campaign to end the nation’s favourite current affairs softcore feature. It was true when the Sun ran those needling, nasty “News in Briefs” boxes alongside the models, urging readers to chortle at the idea that a woman might simultaneously have symmetrical mammary tissue and a thought in her head.

It was true when I worked in a supermarket, sitting in the canteen holding my breath while the man on the table with me rustled over Page 3 – would he flick straight past it today, or would I sit there picking at my crisps and yanking awkwardly at the hem of my tabard, while he studied the curves and smiled his satisfaction that they were there on show for him? It was true when I worked in a pub, where the punters didn’t even bother to take their pleasure quietly, but would debate the merits of the aureola over lunchtime pints then send me for something from the bottom shelf so they could have a look at my bum.

It is true today, when the Sun gloatingly reveals – with all the moral intelligence and disarming wit of a small child grinning at you with cornflake-coated teeth and saying, “Fooled you! I didn’t really brush my teeth!” – that it’s not actually axing Page 3 after all. It’s impossible to know whether this is a deliberate stunt or a clumsy retreat, although the fact that the axing was initially reported by the Sun’s sister paper the Times means that it was definitely something. In any case, Sun PR head Dylan Sharpe was having a fine time of it on Twitter this morning, shooting the winking image of Nicola, 22, from Bournemouth at Harriet Harman and other perceived enemies of Page 3 – because what after all is Page 3 for, if not rubbing in the faces of women who’ve annoyed you by speaking out of turn?

What a joke, though. For one riotous, rumspringa day, women got to live in a world where in a small but symbolic way our bodies weren’t put on display as consumables. Sure, there was still the porn to deal with, and all the pornified advertising, and the magazines with their pictures of gleaming dead-eyed do-nothing beauty, and the paparazzi shots of the demi-famous in bikinis that appear regularly in the Sun anyway, but there was no more Page 3. That particular ritual of feminine submission – lips parted in a receptive smile, hair lightly tousled, breasts bare and available – was done for. (And please, don’t try the line that this is about the models “celebrating female sexuality”. One of the things about sexuality is that it encompasses things people do because they feel good. If the models were turned on, they wouldn’t need paying.)

And what in any case is stopping the Sun from making the call to end Page 3? As a feature, it’s tired and tawdry, stranded between the routine extremity of the degradations on offer online and a public increasingly unwilling to accept that it’s just normal to put female flesh on sale. Aggrieved men deprived of their daily dose of nipple can cry “censorship” all they like, but this was never about putting the press through the approval of any government agency. Editors decide not to publish things all the time. That’s what editing is. The No More Page 3 campaign has always been about asking – politely, kindly – if the Sun’s editor wouldn’t just consider that this one regular has run its course, and perhaps it’s time to start treating women as people worthy of coverage for more than our relative perkiness and willingness to go topless.

Such a small thing to ask after all. But it means so much to the men who need it: every day in newsprint, they can find the confirmation that women exist not to speak and not to act, but merely to be in placid service of male libido. That’s why the Sun won’t give Page 3 up easily. That’s why the tense-jawed male columnists all tumbled out their bag of clichés yesterday, squeezing together something about Charlie Hebdo and that Orwell essay about saucy postcards to reach the conclusion that – goodness – the right to print pictures of tits is one of the most sacred aspects of English free speech, and doubtless what the drafters of Magna Carta really had in mind.

For men who want women to be soft, pliable and wank-overable, giving up Page 3 really is too much to ask. And that’s why the Sun won’t let it go without exploiting it right to the very last gasp as a way to make women look stupid. Maybe we are. Stupid to think it was worth asking nicely. Stupid to think that if we were respectful and considered, we might get respect and consideration in reply. We have so much to fight for, and when the Sun finally gives up on its idiot daily pantomime of woman-as-shag-toy, it will only be the start.

 

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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