In case you hadn’t heard, XXX by La Fura at the Riverside Studios in London is attracting a modicum of media interest. This is because XXX gives journos and editors full public interest immunity to talk dirty about anal sex, gang rape, fellatio, sodomy, bestiality, S&M and copraphilia.
You know: all the stuff the average Daily Mail man in the sheet takes immense pleasure in being disgusted by when he reads the unexpurgated and graphic report about how disgusting it is.
Before I go any further, let me declare my interest: I am La Fura’s publicist. However, I’m not writing this to boost the show’s profile or sales because (a) coverage has already reached saturation point and (b) it’s sold out anyway.
I’m actually writing because XXX has shocked me. Yes, I found it shocking. Not because of any of the sexual (mal)practices depicted so graphically (it’s all fairly standard fare where I come from down in Gloucester) but because of something that William Burdett Coutts, the promoter (hence my client), said to me at the press night.
He quietly congratulated me (a) on setting up the highly photogenic and media-friendly “Stop this Filth” protest outside the venue, and (b) on conceiving and planting the story about a couple so inflamed by the on-stage action that they had oral sex in the back row of the theatre.
He said it was fantastic PR. I agreed and told him I had nothing to do with it. He does not believe me. Things have come to a pretty pass when not even your own client will take what you say at face value.
It’s my own fault. In the past I’ve told people I’ve had nothing to do with all sorts of spontaneous activity that got splashed across the papers.
In many cases (near-death chainsaw accidents, lost scorpions in TV studios, parrots that say “f**k” and bite actors’ ears, tap-dancing dogs, fortune tellers with plastic pigs) that contention may not have been entirely honest.
But these days the media is less credulous and more cautious and placing good stories in the right papers requires a lot more guile. (Don’t expect me to tell you what kind of guile).
So the blow job and the demo (I didn’t do either, honest): it’s worth noting these are spontaneous illustrations of some thing that more publicists should devote study to engineering.
They are such good stories that they take the product (in this case XXX but it could be baked beans) out of its natural media ghetto (stuffy old arts and cultural pages) and into the news agenda.
Once there previously unimagined millions read about it and every single individual becomes a viral ambassador for the show, the product, the service, whatever it is. Within days, it has been discussed in every pub in the land.
You can say that extrapolating from XXX into a wider commercial context is fallacious because this is extreme sex, sex sells papers and everybody enjoys talking about sex.
True to a point – but XXX made it into the newspapers not because it was about sex but because there was a story to the show and the situation. Without a story, it would just be porn.
There was a time when it was easy to invent the stories and persuade the papers that the fictions you cooked up were fact. These days, you have to find the stories – real stories. Or let the press find the stories for themselves.
Strange days: honest publicists and a press teetering on the edge of integrity.