Margaret Thatcher. Pornography. Perhaps not words that you would commonly associate with one another. However, a number of novelists writing about the impact of Thatcherism in the 1980s used changing notions of pornography at that time as a window into wider social and economic developments. Find out more with Antony Mullen at this free public lecture in the Senate Suite, Durham Castle, on 14th February at 17.30. [Edit: A podcast of this lecture is now available.]
This paper considers why 1980s British fiction turned to pornography in order to explore Thatcherism’s contradictions. First I will discuss why pornography is a significant, but overlooked, context to return to in rethinking Thatcher’s Britain. Not only did a more market-orientated economy drive changes in the way porn was produced and consumed, but it was also a period in which new debates about porn were opening up in feminist and queer theory. This happened despite Thatcher’s call for a return to Victorian values, such as self-restraint. Then, focusing on Martin Amis’ Money: A Suicide Note (1984) and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library (1988), I will map out fiction’s response to this cultural change. Ultimately what we see in these novels, and in fiction more widely, is an attempt to use pornography as a means of exposing an ostensible contradiction in Thatcherism: namely, between the idea of the free individual on the one hand and Thatcher’s rejection of “the permissive society” on the other.
Antony Mullen is founder of the Thatcher Network, which bring together researchers from different academic disciplines with an interest in Margaret Thatcher, Thatcherism and the Conservative Party. Learn more about the challenges and reasons for looking at Margaret Thatcher’s legacy in popular culture in this interview with READ.