Why we’re quitting the sexy A-Levels pictures business
A-Level results day in the British press traditionally means two things: choruses of moaning about grade inflation and dumbing-down, and wall-to-wall pictures of attractive blonde girls jumping in the air. These are seemingly the only kind of picture most papers illustrate these stories with, because apparently non-attractive girls and all boys don’t take exams.
For the past few years, a small group of us have run a very silly blog called Sexy A-Levels, collating and mocking these pictures according to the level of their adherence to the formula. (The Platonic ideal being the following elements, in this order: 1) Blonde 2) Twins 3) Going to Oxbridge 4) Leaping for joy 5) Holding aloft their results 6) In low-cut tops). Anyway, over the past few years the blog started to become quite popular, and sort of A Thing on Twitter. People started asking us what plans we had this year. And so naturally we decided to stop doing it.
In the time we’ve been running it, we couldn’t help noticing that most media outlets remained totally unchanged in their skeevy coverage. Also, as the blog got passed around the journos of Twitter, some of the papers have started being knowing and arch in their skeeviness. “Look!” they seemed to be saying, “We’re being ironically appalling. Aren’t we adorable?” The impression is that this is now regarded as a great, nudge-nudge British tradition up there with the rude seaside postcard – something, as Steven Baxter says in the New Statesman, “comfortable, familiar, a nice old pair of slippers”.
Naturally, our failure to overturn the entrenched patriarchal edifice of the entire corporate media via the medium of a joke Tumblr is profoundly disheartening to us, in ways we cannot fully express through GIFs alone.
The reason for the continuing hegemony of bouncing blondes is that, like a lot of vaguely unsettling things that lurk around the fringes of tradition, this thing has become a feedback loop. It isn’t simply something that newspapers do in isolation. They’re fed by news agencies, who only submit the kind of pictures they think news publishers want; the photographers only take pictures they think their agencies are looking for; and, as Chris Cook noted in the FT last year, many schools pick and choose their most “beyootiful girls” to pimp out to the hacks and snappers. (Which, for what it’s worth, definitely seems like the least just-a-harmless-bit-of-fun aspect of this whole shooting match.)
So it goes, right? Nobody is shocked, shocked by all this. It is totally How Stuff Works. But for us, it began to feel like giving it a name and making it all a big jolly media in-joke only ended up reinforcing that feedback loop – what originated as a piss-take started to feel like it had just become a pro bono branding exercise for the whole sweaty-palmed business.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that, from both sides, people didn’t always quite get that it was a joke (probably our fault, not theirs). People would send us emails and lose their tempers about it. And we kind of understood why. Because… well, they were kind of right. We don’t know if there’s such a thing as “glorifying through contempt”, but if there is, we might have just done it.
Also people were linking to the site saying things like “lovely knockers on here”, and oh god.
More importantly, we realised that we were now all quite old and had all become terribly important and busy people in the intervening years, and that spending our time collating pictures of eighteen year old girls for a joke that even we were struggle to justify was perhaps, in the words of the great man, no way to run a ballroom.
Essentially, we had a collective mid-life crisis of conscience and started over-thinking stuff in an outstandingly po-faced way.
The site was never much more than dicking about; a relic of the time when virtually every passing thought merited setting up a single-serving Tumblr to record it (it is still totally that time by the way). But at the heart of this one-joke website was the tiniest, serious core of fundamental truth: this weird institutional turn-on that Fleet Street feel for a particular type of soft, young female flesh is something we all pay a subtle psychic toll for. Now you’d be right to point out the psychic toll we pay is vastly smaller than that which we pay for all the other sexist rubbish in the world, and also there’s ACTUAL WARS, but that’s not really the point. It still felt all enabley.
So we called it quits. The idea’s out there, anyway – the hashtag #sexyalevels will most likely live on longer than the blog was ever going to. And maybe, just maybe, a picture editor somewhere will feel a slightly bigger twinge of shame when picking their favourites from the incoming firehose of jumping girls pictures (no they won’t).Tagged in: #sexyalevels, a-level results, clearing, Results day, university
Recent Posts on Notebook
- The Road to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc - Majorca 70.3 Ironman
- The Retail Ready People project means the future of the high street is in your hands
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
- Justin Webb on the medical advances in tackling heart disease
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter