Butt Plug and English-French Cross-Cultural Differences

It is a modern maxim that the fastest lane to success is exhibiting a provocative art work in such a way that it becomes a Chupa-Chups candy for the mass media to lick into a scandal.

Provocative art can be harming, like Pussy Riot‘s act that harmed the Church’s sham of being merciful and got the girls boxed in a nice Russian prison; harmful, like Pavlensky‘s nailing his scrotum to the Red Square; and harmless, like Paul McCarthy‘s inflatable sculptures with sexual connotations.

If the harming and harmful types pinch the nerve of a society in ways the society starts wriggling in agony, exposing its deep sores and chronic illnesses, the harmless kind allows the media to blow innocuous issues out of proportion, at a profit. It is safe, guarantees high ratings, and represents a great photo opportunity. This is the most recent case.

'Tree' By Paul McCarthy - Monumental Artwork At Place Vendome In Paris
Paul McCarthy’s Tree sculpture on the Place Vendôme. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

According to The Guardian, it is “McCarthy’s controversial sculpture, Tree,” that has provoked a right-wing backlash after it was installed in Place Vendome instead of the usual Christmas decoration.

You may wonder what can be controversial about a giant sex toy? An artwork that tests tolerance limits of the Religion of Peace (also known as Islam), would  be controversial. A sex toy is just a sex toy, even if it is a Hulk’s accessory.

Yet, there is controversy in the media coverage of this sculptural summit of human intelligence. Jonathan Jones, Guardian’s leading art critic, asks his audience with a good measure of condescension in his voice, “Why are Parisians being so prudish?”

He is proud the English have shown McCarthy’s phallic Pinocchio in front of Tate Modern without a whiff of public protest.

Paul McCarthy’s Blockhead, outside of the Tate Modern. Photograph: Alamy/Alamy

Jonathan Jones believes the English are such an elevated and sublime nation that they didn’t see the phallic meaning, and even if they saw it, they interpreted it as a dialogue with Walt Disney who might have added the long nose to Pinocchio’s face as a subconscious reference to the penis. He says, “…if you don’t see the phallus in the film, you won’t see it in the statue. The London crowds didn’t.” 


Dear Mr Jones, a more plausible explanation would have to address the possibility of the Global Warming driving Londoners massively blind (the effect previously attributed to intemperate masturbation). I can easily imagine how the English, in the usual English custom, take this setback in good humour, pretend nothing has happened, but sometimes tend to miss the point if it is visual.

The French sabotaged Paul McCarthy’s butt-plug “Tree” the other day, and now they are labelled myopic, bigoted and intolerant retards, far, I assume, inferior to the English, who according to Jonathan Jones, possess inordinate quantities of “…the underlying puritanism…, that stopped us noticing how filthy McCarthy’s Tate Modern sculpture really was”.

Paul McCarthy’s Tree after it was vandalised. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

Perhaps, the French see “the naked Emperor” for what it is, and have no fear to say it out loud, unlike the English, for whom maintaining the decorum of decency is more important than the truth?

Is it also the reason for the French to be much more willing to openly criticise poor service in, say, a restaurant, than the English, who are more likely to withdraw into the poker face state of I-am-halving-the-tips? Or is it just a cultural cliche?

If someone is so sublime that he takes a giant butt plug for Christmas tree, it is called visual agnosia, as in the Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It is a dangerous disorder requiring professional help: imagine the likely reversal, taking a Christmas tree for a sex toy. Santa Claus who shoots down the chimney and discovers the consequences of this mistake risks losing his sanity, along with tossing his milk and cookies.

I never support censorship, or public pressure on artists, but today I find myself on the vandals’ side. It is my firm belief this butt-plug art is as productive for human development as anal sex is conductive to making children.

If a French or English reader happens to stumble upon this post, I’d love to hear your opinion on each other. Is it just a cultural English snob who loves being seen in opposition to the French or something ancient that runs dark and deep?

If you are not French or English, just tell me if you play for the vandals or against them.

Send the link to your friends, let’s see which side they are on!


    1. Not necessarily. The sculptor is famous for using sex toys in his work, so interest in contemporary sculpture is enough to warrant knowledge that otherwise might be of little or no use )

  1. I think that this ‘piece of art’ came to life the moment the so called vandals pulled the plug. And why should they be the vandals and not McCarthy and the establishment who installed the monstrosity in the first place? I hope someone has filmed the process of its deflation ! Hats off to the vandal who is the real artist in this case, but whose name probably won’t make the headlines.

  2. This really is quite a challenge you have set… Can a sex toy parked in the center of Paris, (correction) giant sex toy of specific designation even for the most open-minded ones of us, be considered art? Is there a second, third meaning in it? We, Russians, always look for the false bottom, as you have described in one of your previous posts. Presumably, because of the long history of prison-culture, that has developed in Russian society through the ages: you always hope to find a rasp in each bread you break. So… is there any second meaning? You know, like in the philosophy of Diamond Chariot it is said: “…eat your scum and rape your mothers…” – and it is said in the most loving manner towards the whole humanity, because it is sacred, and there may be a situation when even such a wild thing may have its point. It’s not that I would share this point of view, just an example. So, is jumping around a square of one of the european cities waving your willie and clapping your hairy butt farting towards the pedestrians an act of art? I personally doubt it. But! Here is the second bottom – sorry for the pun. Taking into consideration the huuuuuge amount of shit exhibited in Paris in general and in Pompidou’s center in particular which already “officially” is accepted, determined, proclaimed – art – a nice butt-plug of a friendly color (I bet it’s made of ECO-friendly materials) can be a manifesto: eat this, you idiots, or take it up your butt! Well… naaah… still it’s just a sex toy. Maybe we should ask Tsereteli for a piece of advice?

    1. The big difference between a museum/gallery where I choose to go, and a public square where I happen to be is involuntary intrusion into my universe. I welcome many things, and believe all flowers should blossom. What I can’t accept is a butt plug shoved up my mental space when I didn’t ask for it, and didn’t have time to say “yes” or “no” )

      It is a moral rape, of sorts. The thought that such a rape is at the core of the daily entertainment dose provided by the mass media could be a big idea behind such a sculpture. But no, it is just a commercially profitable provocation of a very old man, obsessed with sex and toys from a very early age )

      As for Tsereteli… I think there’s more potential of having butt plugs stacked up in the matryoshka fashion, in traditional Russian colours, with the last one being a capsule containing vodka. You’d have multiple hidden layers, and even volumes in just one simple, souvenir quality artwork! ))

  3. How about a comment from a Canadian? The butt plug is hardly art. It just may well be the classic example of the emperor’s clothing, as you say.

        1. If it´s about the naked emperors clothing – it seems to be an attempt to tear away the clothing of the naked emperor and that´s rather difficult. And that´s different from showing, that he´s naked.
          Of course, this emperor is naked, but it wont´t help to deflate him.

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