Margaret Thatcher and Pornography

The late 1970s and 1980s saw a boom in the production and consumption of pornography. Like other areas of the economy, pornography was benefiting from the freedoms of the market under Margaret Thatcher. Yet the Prime Minister also spoke against a sexually permissive society and called for a return to Victorian moral values. Antony Mullen looks at the literary novelists who took on the controversy of porn, to expose the contradictions of Thatcherism.

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.

Read more about Antony Mullen’s research into Margaret Thatcher and her influence in fiction in this interview with READ.

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