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A classical education is clearly not required by the Met.*

While London looks increasingly like a city under martial law it is nice to see the Met still have time for pursuing nonsenses as well as going round looking like characters from some post-apocalyptic FPS game…

There were no complaints from the public when a Mayfair gallery exhibited a dramatic modern rendering of the ancient Greek myth of Leda and the swan in its window.

But the sensitive souls of the Metropolitan Police took a different view when they spotted Derrick Santini’s photograph of a naked woman being ravished by the bird.

Personally I quite like the picture and I think it’s a bit more “artistic” than “ravished”.

An officer took exception as he passed the Scream gallery in Bruton Street on a bus. He alerted colleagues and two uniformed officers from Harrow arrived to demand the work be removed.

“Alerted”? I mean this morning a copper in Leeds on his way into work spotted and then alerted his colleagues and then apprehended a double murder suspect. That’s “alerted”. And why two coppers? I dunno though in the current climate of Olympic and Jubilee paranoia I guess it’s lucky they didn’t send a SWAT team.

Jag Mehta, sales director at the gallery owned by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood’s sons Tyrone and Jamie, said: “We asked them what the problem was and they said it suggested we condoned bestiality, which they said was an arrestable offence. The show, Metamorphosis, had been running for a month and was really well received.”

Now that is the nub of it is it not? Bestiality is illegal though to be fair I’ve always tended to see it as it’s own punishment. But is “condoning bestiality” or indeed condoning anything actually illegal. Or did the cops just take offence and make it up? Like when they made-up a death penalty for being a Brazilian electrician in South London?

The final day of the exhibition was on Saturday and the gallery was taking down the artworks when police arrived. Ms Mehta pointed out that for prim Victorians, the myth of how Zeus, in the form of a swan, raped young Leda and produced Helen of Troy, was an acceptable form of erotica. But the explanation that the picture was based on a legend that had inspired countless generations of artists failed to cut the mustard with the police, she said.

They didn’t know anything about the myth. They stood there and didn’t leave until we took the piece down. They asked us whether we had had complaints and we said quite the contrary. Lots of people were intrigued by it.

As I said I rather like it. What is this about, really? I suspect at some level the cops were acting due to the our old friend – the absurd and illiberal Violent and Extreme Pornography Act. To summarize. This act potentially makes almost any image deemed pornographic potentially illegal. Everything from an old copy of the Sun (with Sam Fox aged sixteen back when that was legal) to this rather famous example of Japanese art**. Yes, it is retroactive and yes it applies to paintings or drawings or CGI as well. It is not just victimless thought crime (though it is) but it’s a also a strict liability which means that if a court decides it is Frankie Vaughn or could be construed as such you’ll be taken up the Gary Glitter.

It is understood that the incident was not recorded by police as a crime.

Because it wasn’t one. Or shouldn’t be. God knows. The law doesn’t.

*Or even a passing aquaintance with English law or Peel’s Principles of Policing. Or a Terry Pratchett Watch book.

**A peculiarity here is that this image would be regarded as very naughty by the Japanese due to the depiction of pubic hair. In comparison here it would appear now that a shaven woman is more likely to get you into trouble for making the image look child-like. Yes, an image seen to be of a child regardless of the model’s actual age can be illegal. Yes, the actual age of the model is no defence. And neither is the purpose for which the image exists. Here is a theoretical example. Let’s imagine my wife (33 – but still sometimes gets IDed for buying wine which like nude modelling is an 18+ thing) and I take some foxy piccies of her in the buff. I have potentially committed a child pornography offence even if it is entirely for private purposes. Of course if this photo-shoot ends with us having sex that is OK but filming or photographing it might be illegal if it was deemed by a court as a representation of a minor. The fact that this was an entirely consensual act between a married couple for their own fun with no intent to sell this is as kiddie-porn would not be a defense. This is strict liability recall.


  1. john in cheshire says:

    The Met’s actions sound just like the Gestapo. Or the SS. Maybe that’s their role model; they certainly like their uniforms – even if the make them look like robocop.

  2. JuliaM says:

    So, while one off-duty copper was catching the man there was a nation-wide manhunt for as a suspect in a double murder, his Met colleagues were making arses of themselves.

    It’s like they have to put the Laws of Policing in balance, or something….

  3. Henry Crun says:

    Someone somewhere is just playing a cruel joke on us all. They are aren’t they?

    Either that or Kafka was a time traveller who came to Britain 2012, went back to his own time and wrote books that no-one would ever believe.

  4. zack says:

    john: The Met’s actions sound just like the Gestapo. Or the SS
    Now now, lets be fair – the Nazi’s were very found of art.

    But in all seriousness, I admit to being a bit torn on this; on one hand I do think that a local community(and only the community – the federal/national government shouldn’t be in be involved in these things [excepting laws like false advertising]) should have some say about acceptable displays/advertisements in public area’s (I’m mean, I know what Time Square is like today, and I definitely prefer that to what it was before it was cleaned up); on the other, there were no complaints by the public for however long it was up, and I hardly find that painting offensive.

    In the end, I guess I come down on the side of ‘this was an over reaction’.

    That said, if the pornography law that you talked about is as bad as you say it is, then yes, it should be repealed.

  5. Nick says:

    Thanks for the link. It is a remarkable case because it is actually one of the examples we used of artwork that could be targeted by poor drafting of the extreme porn law. But we didn’t really know if it was likely or possible until this happened! Now all we need is someone to be charged with possession of “extreme images” extracted from the film Casino Royale and all our more Kafka-esque predictions will have been proven correct.

    I doubt many of the MPs that voted for the law can even remember it now, or how much extra work it has generated for the police!

  6. [...] Counting Cats have also commented on this story. This entry was posted in Articles and tagged art, extreme image, extreme porn, leda, met police, myth, swan. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Book launch: Policing Sex [...]

  7. RAB says:

    Inspector Morse… The Lost episode.

    “And where the bloody hell have you been till now Lewis? You know we have seven murders to solve, and we’re only 40 minutes in, minus the commercial breaks?”

    “Got a right result this morning Sir! Me and Constable Figgis were walking down past the Ashmolean, cos the location manager loves it so much, when we spotted a right bit of filth in that new Art Gallery. There it was bold as brass, right in the window, a woman havin it off with a Swan. Can you believe it?”

    “Yes I can Lewis you idiot. It’s representation of the Classical myth, Leda and the Swan. The rape of Leda by the God Zeus in the guise of a Swan, that resulted in the birth of helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the Ancient world. Did they teach you nothing at school Lewis?”

    “No not a lot Sir no, just enough to become a Sargeant in the Oxford Police. But filth is filth no matter how old it is. The owner’s in the Interview room now, do you want a word?”

  8. David Gillies says:

    Strict liability offences are completely counter to Common Law and should be abolished. Where is mens rea?

  9. Lynne says:

    Swan porn is obviously something we should all be concerned about and on the alert for. They’ll be after Marc Bolan next, you mark my words. And plod will no doubt be confronting the Vintners and Dyers about their royal charter permitting them to up swans, in public, in the plain view of chiiiiildren, on the Thames.

    I suppose displaying an image of Danaë’s shower of gold in a position where it could corrupt public morals would be a major no-no for Met plod too. Can’t allow toff’s porn classical Greek mythology to warp the minds of all those innocent chavs, rioters, muggers and gangstas now can we?

    As for the title of this post – clearly an education of any kind is not a requirement for recruiting rozzers these days.

  10. JuliaM says:

    “Now that is the nub of it is it not? Bestiality is illegal though to be fair I’ve always tended to see it as it’s own punishment. But is “condoning bestiality” or indeed condoning anything actually illegal.”

    Blimey, the police are going to be busy in rugby clubs then..!

  11. Mr Ed says:

    That swan doesn’t look like a cob to me, is this lesbian bestiality? Would that make a difference? But is to ‘condone’ (says who?) bestiality ‘to incite’ in law? Incitement to commit an indictable offence is a very serious offence, but it would be a brave person these days to tell State thugs, er…. police, that they might benefit from seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.

    These police remind me of a story Victor Suvorov relayed as to why the Soviet Internal Troops were recruited from Central Asian Republics, the alleged reason ‘… Because they are known for their obedience, stupidly and cruelty. They do everything they are asked without thinking, and are especially mean towards Russians…’. Cynics might say change ‘Russians’ to ‘English’ and you see the plan…

  12. Talwin says:

    The rather agreeable aspect of the lady, a la missionary, has me thinking, lucky swan.

  13. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    Thank god they are not in Paris to see this shocking nudity.

    Welcome to the Iran of the West where the government decides what’s ‘nice’

    They’ll be sticking missiles on private property without even asking the owners permission next….

  14. Ian B says:

    As is my catchphrase, the only sensible answer is to abolish all the censorship laws imposed on us during and since the Victorian cultural revolution. And that means answering every “But what about X?” question with “allow everything, including that”.

    If X is itself illegal, such as raping a child, then it is impossible to photograph it without breaking the law. It is not illegal (is it?) to publish a photo of somebody being murdered. It is illegal to murder somebody. That is how the law should work.

    If somebody wants to draw a picture of a child being raped, let them. Nobody stops us drawing pictures of people being murdered, after all.

    Without such an absolutist, consistent position, then all “allow this, but not that” arguments crumble into failure. It comes down to an argument about what is acceptable, or what is obscene, or what is offensive, and it simply one subjective value judgement against another.

    We already allow many things that others find disgusting and grotesque. If Gordon Brown attempting to smile is allowed on Youtube where kids can see it, it is hard to justify an attractive woman romping with a swan. I know which one of the two would have given me nightmares as a child, and it sure isn’t the swanophilia.

    Seriously. State censorship needs to go. All of it. Not some of it. Not this, not that, not this other thing. All of it.

  15. Edward Lud says:

    This is state-approved art. Or, in fact, state-disapproved art. Just as Hitler approved of Wagner but deplored jazz, or Ken Livingstone obtained that statue of a limbless pregnant woman for the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square. If there is a distinction with the brutes of 20th century goose-stepping totalitarianism, it is that the British police, as the paramilitary arm of the prodnose state, need little high level direction; they know what they can get away with, what actions will be deemed acceptable, condoned, smiled upon.

  16. NickM says:

    Some interesting and amusing comments. I shall certainly never listen to that Marc Bolan song quite the same way again. I do fear though that we shall rise up the ranking (or should that be wankings) for “swan porn” on Google.

    I agree absolutely with IanB (up to a point – later…) as to the total removal of censorship. Not only is his principle right here but it is the only practical way for many reasons not least the fact that if the internet has taught us anything it is that porn is so multifarious that it is utterly undefinable. I agree particularly (an have previously stated myself) that the production of the image or video or whatever is secondary to what is done. If it’s a kid being raped then it’s exhibit A for the prosecution and the ownership of the image is not in and of itself a crime. Certainly the same seems to be applied to gangs of kids who video beating someone up and sharing it via facebook.

    But I think he is wrong about the Victorians or at least overly simplistic. Note in the OP what the sales manager of the gallery said about Victorians and Leda & her feathered friend. The Rev Charles Dodgson photographed kids in the nip and was admitted to the best houses. Victorian social mores were different but it isn’t on a sliding scale from Puritanism to the 120 Days of Sodom. It was different and difficult to understand from where we are now. I think that would work vice-versa too of course. Things change in all sorts of ways. Not linearly but in all sorts of directions.

  17. NickM says:

    PS. I should have mentioned RAB. A brilliant pastiche. I’ve got a photo somewhere of myself gurning with my arm around a statue of a bull on the Asian side of the Bosphorus (my firs time in Asia). To think this is happening on a continent named for a lady ravished by a bull!

  18. Talwin says:

    ……….and what about that Boticelli Venus? Her having to start off life in shellfish: and we complain about the shortage of beds in NHS hospitals.

    Makes you think.

  19. NickM says:

    “Makes you think.”

    about spearing the bearded clam perchance?

  20. Ian B says:

    Nick, I wasn’t really trying to describe Victorian social mores. As you know I’ve spent a lot of time studying that kind of thing, and I ought to write a post about it some time. The reason I mentioned the Victorians is that it was they who introduced the concept of using the State to conrol sexuality- Obscene Publiations Act, Obscene Displays Act, Gross Indecency law, divers anti-prostitution legislation etc etc etc.

    My general schtick is that the Victorian Era represents a transformation of the British national character so great as to constitute a cultural revolution, and the transformation of sexual attitudes was central to that. It is that era that burdened us with the Big State- not just on sex, but across the board. It’s that era we have to understand in order to reverse our current disastrous predicament as subjects of an uncontrolled, sprawling and, in many respects, insane State.

    The key thing really is the Victorian paradigm of sexuality as synonymous with corruption. It’s still very much with us, and undergoing a revival, largely due to the reformation of it by the Radical Feminists. It has to be deconstructed. To do that, it has to be understood, historically. I will try and get my arse into gear and do a proper post to explicate what I’m trying to get at.

  21. [...] I’m not sure I can add anything to what has already been said over at the Raccoon Arms or Counting Cats on this rampant stupidity –  not only from the police, but the Labour government that [...]

  22. NickM says:

    OK then look forward to it. But sex and corruption go much further back than Queen Victoria. And you are still talking in the language of grand narratives – their language. Sheesh, you even said deconstruct ;-)

  23. Thornavis says:

    I’m not sure we need to over analyse this, it’s simply a matter of the police, who have always been stupid and intolerant, being given freedom of action by politicians, particularly Labour ones who have also always largely been stupid and intolerant. As the great British public seem to have no interest in civil liberties, indeed seem positively averse to them, then it can only continue and probably get worse.

  24. northern oik says:

    I can’t help thinking the gallery were being a bit silly putting it in the front window.Just because you can,doesn’t mean you should.Having said that,it doesn’t look like it would be out of place in an athena poster shop.I wonder how many venus de milo bird baths the cops passed on the way to the gallery.

    Also -I’d quite like to stop imagining NickMs wife now – any tips appreciated..

  25. Penseivat says:

    Rest assured that this sort of incident will not happen again. Under the proposals by David Cameron’s mate, Tom Winsor, all new recruits for the Police will be required to have at least 3 ‘A’ level GCEs in order to gain their £19,000 salary. Hopefully one of the subjects will be in Art – the other two will probably Meeja Studies and Home Economics!

  26. Bill Sticker says:

    Perhaps the officer in question was objecting to the whole Swan upmanship of it all…

    I’ll get me coat.. Sorry, couldn’t resist a bad pun.

  27. mark says:

    A lot of horribly conventional people born after 1970, think that they are actuallynbeing revolutionary in expressing approval for sexual promiscuity.

    What is it that we want from sex?

    Just saying that everyone should be able to make their own choice isntnenough, because the only thing that matters is our moral opinions.

    theproblem with certeinty isnthat we dont question ourselves

  28. Thornavis says:

    Do what ? If the only thing that matters is our moral opinions then we are exercising choice, unless you can show that moral opinions are invariably or even usually objective.
    What does that have to do with this anyway ?

  29. NickM says:

    I honestly don’t know what you are driving at. Please explain.

  30. mark says:

    In the present, prudishness is more likely to be a thought out moral choice, because it is contrary to prevailing trends and that, at least, is good.
    The idea of choice is dangerous unless we constantly question what we are doing.

    Though to be honest, I was pretty drunk when I wrote that comment so not really too sure what I was saying at the end there. Just a collection of words I thought went well together, no doubt.

  31. Thornavis says:

    I’m not at all sure that prudishness is contrary to modern trends, maybe to the trends of forty years ago when I was young but things are swinging back now, as Ian B would tell you. We wouldn’t have oppressive anti pornography laws and coppers doing a good impression of a fifties vice squad otherwise. Which is partly what this swan business is about and partly about stupidity and a lack of understanding of the place in western culture of these kinds of images.

  32. NickM says:

    I suspected you were a little worse for wear. Thanks for clearing it up. Your view seems to hint at endorsing counter-culture for the hell of it though I take your point that it is harder to swim up the stream.

    I don’t think it is as simple as a 1D pendulum. It moves in many directions. As I hinted in the OP it’s more complicated. Victorians would see images of naked children (inc photos) as “innocent” now they are seen as the mark of Satan. The last few yars have seen a remarkable shift into liberalism by both society and government on sexual acts whilst at the same time increasing pressure has been exerted by both society (or at least the Dail Mail) against the depiction of said sexual acts. The complexity of all this is why I sometimes get infuriated with IanB’s grand narrative of puritanism.

  33. Thornavis says:


    Yes I’d agree with that, although like any period of change when you’re living through it it’s not easy to tell wood from trees, so what appears now to be a mixed up time of liberalism and reaction may appear much more uni-directional with hindsight. I think there could be parallels here with the period between about 1790 and 1840, particularly the earlier part of that time with its mixture of debauchery and repression. I’d also agree with you about grand narratives, of any kind not just puritanism.

  34. NickM says:

    Well, all periods are periods of change. Heraklitus and all that jazz! (should be a band!)

    Yeah, well, as I’ve said to Ian more than once I regard the grand narrative as the tool of the bad guy. Ever notice how they over simplify. That is their appeal – especially to the youthful and idealistic. That’s kinda what I mean by “physics envy”. Physics is the way it is and makes abstractions work because of the fundamental (read “simple”) nature of its field. I mean if you believe in individuals and free-will you simply can’t write down equations for it the same way you can for electrons in a semi-conductor. And saying things like “The ’60s was a phase-transition in society” is meaningless but sounds almost scientific. But it isn’t like that. The thermodynamic triple point of water is a consequence of the laws of the Universe. A young garage mechanic from Memphis, TN picking up a guitar is not. Neither was Mary Quant raising hem-lines or any number of other things.

  35. [...] with the technology to filter or block… Well anything. A while back I posted the image of Leda ravished by the Zeus in swan form. I honestly couldn’t see that as porn as such. The Met told the gallery though that it was. [...]

  36. [...] Counting Cats have also commented on this story. This entry was posted in Events. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Book launch: Policing Sex [...]

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