Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No more heroes

One of the echoes that I hear in Coetzee's Slow Man involves the novel's hero, Paul Rayment, whose name reminds me of Paul Raymond, a sort of English Hugh Hefner. I hear the echo but ignore it, assuming that it is accidental. But I started to wonder whether I was missing something when I saw this story in the Telegraph, which refers to Raymond as a "hero."

So what did he do that was so heroic? There's this:
For all his manifest faults and unappealing characteristics, I began to see him as an unexpectedly heroic figure. There was something admirable about the dogged yet stylish way in which he challenged the authorities and the old, often hypocritical assumptions. His first major brush with controversy came in April 1958 when he opened the Revuebar, located in the heart of Soho, an area traditionally associated with the commercial exploitation of sex. Among Britain’s first strip-clubs, it cunningly sidestepped the rules on nudes having to remain static. Raymond did so by making the Revuebar a private members’ club instead of a conventional theatre. Since the delights of striptease had hitherto been almost inaccessible, his club attracted a sizeable membership list before it had even opened.
and this:
Through his battle with the authorities, which continued for well over a decade, Raymond played a pivotal but largely unacknowledged role in the erosion of stifling censorship and the establishment of the so-called ‘Permissive Society’ in Britain during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Motivated by commercial self-interest that masqueraded as staunch libertarian principle, he challenged the police, judiciary and press. Successive court cases, one of which could have led to him being gaoled, enabled him to push the skin trade — be it strip-shows, magazines or theatre shows — from the margins into the mainstream.
And, finally, this:
Nor is there any denying the courage with which he faced his adversaries.

Nowhere was this more apparent than during an 18-month period when he found himself the target of an extortion plot, involving what appeared to be the IRA, who set fire to his house, sabotaged his wife’s car and threatened to kill his family. Using the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to obtain closed police files that contained transcripts of tapped telephone conversations between Raymond and the plotters. “This is your executioner speaking…,” ran one of many threatening messages left for him. Raymond’s ability to emerge from such a terrifying experience with his sanity and sense of humour intact was a testament to his impressive resilience.
I'm glad he wasn't killed by the IRA, but I don't think this is enough to make him a hero.

Commercial self-interest is not the motive of a hero, and the sex industry is surely not the career-choice of heroes either. Depending on what exactly is meant by the expression, the permissive society may or may not be a good thing, but I don't think we can count Raymond as a social reformer.

He doesn't belong in this song, which (also inappropriately) makes me think of Hot Pockets:

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