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Mike Parkers thoughts, Zone Magazine


Mike Parker, Zone columnist gave his thoughts on the Mapplethorpe affair in April 1998

Just what is it with West Midlands Police?

Not content with merely having more fabricated evidence stacked up against them than Deirdre's boyfriend in Corrie, they are also going out of their way to prove themselves to be about as bright as pig shit when it comes to matters sexual. Their latest little escapade - seizing and destroying a book of Robert Mapplethorpe photos from the University of Central England in Brum - was the PR equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot, before stuffing it in your mouth.

For those that missed the story (and it was spattered across the national papers in undisguised sniggering tones), the local Plods forcibly entered a student's house one moming and confiscated part of her degree project. copies she'd taken of the pages of a Mapplethorpe book. Not content with that, the boys in blue then raided the University library, seized the offending original, demanded its destruction, and then took the University Vice-Chancellor. Dr Peter Knight, in for questioning, pending charges. This particular book has been freely available in bookshops for the past six years - indeed, LICE promptly went out and bought another copy, thus boosting the Mapplethorpe estate profits, which can hardly have been the aim of our brave law enforcers.

The late, and utterly great, Robert Mapplethorpe was an artist of undeniable talent. His monochrome photography fell mainly into two categories - men, often naked and sometimes having sex, and flowers. His focus on the shape and tone of both was remarkable, extracting from the human form and pert lilies alike a silky beauty and fluid eroticism. If WMP find such dignified images so offensive, why the fuck aren't they out impounding the garish, dayglo photos of dehumanised slabs of meat pouting out from every newsagent's top shelf, or the tabloid papers, seen by millions of kids on a daily basis? The fact that they are charging around on their moral high horses while spending vast sums of your and my taxes in the process only makes the whole joke even more hollow.

Would that this episode were a one-off, a rare example of our local constabulary's inability to get to grips with the world as it is in 1998, not 1958. Sad to say, but it's not. Yeah, wow, great, we may get a few pretty coppers posing for the cameras with a drag queen at Pride, but it doesn't seem to mean that they have the first clue about queer life or identity. A few years ago, WMP set up a six month gay liaison project, aimed to improve relations between us and them. I had the dubious fortune to interview the nominated liaison officer, although I was only allowed to speak to him in the presence of his supervisor, who insisted on answering every question on his behalf. He was so obviously trying to trot out the right lines without meaning them at all, stuttering over the words "gay community" as if he were talking about aliens from Planet Zanussi. As I was escorted from Lloyd House, WMP HQ, by the liaison officer and his boss, the supervisor was momentarily distracted and, for the first and only time, the liaison bloke was able to whisper something to me unheard. "Come and find me on my beat," he sidemouthed to me, "I'll tell you the real story"

The real story became all too apparent. During the liaison project, when they were attempting to show (or at least be seen to show) some understanding in our direction, they still found time and resources one night to send dozens of officers into a local gay sauna, arresting blokes whose only crime was to seek a bit of consenting human contact behind locked doors on a winter's day. The project ended after six months and was abandoned on the pretext that there wasn't sufficient gay-specific crime to warrant its continuation. You try telling that to the hundreds of local men and women who have been queer-bashed and harassed solely on the grounds of their sexuality.

Even today, while old ladies shelter behind multiple locks, terrified of going out, the police can often be found patrolling known cruising grounds instead of offering a bit of public reassurance on the streets. I walk my dog every day in one of Brum's best known cruising parks, and lately there have been coppers by the ton in the place - in vans, on horseback, on foot, staking out rhododendron bushes as if they were harbouring Mafia bosses. The fact that they are now mirroring practices seen in Nazi German and apartheid South Africa in demanding the destruction of literature they deem offensive comes as a sad, but unsurprising, postscript. To those of us lucky enough to live in the West Midlands, it seems that the long arm of the law is busily covering it's eyes to the reality of the world. If it's not up its own arse, that is. Mapplethorpe would be proud.

Contributed by: Midland Zone, 10

Click here to read the full interview with this contributor