Ever since Catherine The Great’s detractors tried to posthumously discredit her by spreading stories that she died shagging a horse, zoophilia has been the stickiest celebrity rumour to shake. Why are we so drawn to tales of barnyard bonking – even when they’re always absolute nonsense?
Our relationship with bestiality is a rum old thing. Of all the crimes we’ve deemed to be punishable by law, it is undeniably one of the ickiest. Yet, as David Cameron has shown us all too clearly this week, it’s also one of the funniest.
The rumour – which you’ll no doubt have heard by now – is this. The British prime minister David Cameron was allegedly photographed at university putting a part of his ‘private anatomy’ (read: ‘his dick’) into the ‘head of a dead pig’ (read: ‘a dead pig’s mouth’) as part of an initiation ceremony into Oxford’s exclusive Piers Gaveston dining society.
In essence: the PM got a blowie off a pig.
Defenders of Cameron were quick to rubbish the story (and, in certain cases, underplay the definite weirdness of sticking your dick in a dead pig), while detractors of Cameron were equally quick to revisit the stories about him opening up pork markets in Beijing and doing multi-million pound deals in pig semen.
But it doesn’t matter what anyone says about it. We are long past the point of no return. David Cameron will never again be able to give a public appearance without someone oinking in the crowd. He will never be able to send out a tweet without someone replying ‘u shag pigs’ within ten seconds. And if he’s ever photographed with a bacon sandwich from here on in, he will rue the day he ever chuckled at Ed Miliband’s misfortune.
Ol’ Dishface is not the first – nor will he be the last – to suffer this particular indignity. Animal shagging stories are rife among the rich and famous, each of them as implausible as the last.
So what’s our fascination with it? Why are we so keen to laugh at people sexing up our pets? Why are we so happy to bandy about the sorts of accusations that would ordinarily get us sued to high heaven? And why are we so keen to believe them – even when they are presented with absolutely no evidence?
If we were to say the words ‘Richard Gere’ to you, what would you think? What’s just popped into your head right now?
It’s a gerbil, right? A small, snuffling gerbil, slowly walking up a cardboard tube and into the expectant anus of celebrated Hollywood actor Richard Gere. Of course you are. Because that’s the story everyone knows. That Richard Gere stuffed a gerbil up his arse.
The rumour – if you don’t already know it – goes that Gere was admitted into hospital late one night, sometime back in the 1980s, complaining of abdominal pain and rectal bleeding. Scans showed the problem almost immediately. A gerbil, trapped inside his lower colon, the result of a weird sex game gone horribly awry, was scratching and biting at his bowel wall in an attempt to escape.
Depending on who you ask, this little consultation took place at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, St Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, a Canadian military facility in Victoria B.C. or an ER in Vancouver. The operating theatre itself must have had the capacity of Wembley Stadium in order to accommodate all of the surgeons, assistants, anaesthesiologists, scrub nurses and student doctors present for this extraction, because the number of people who reportedly saw it take place reaches into the thousands.
Gere has left this rumour unaddressed for nearly thirty years now. And as nature abhors a vacuum about as much as a gerbil does, it has been left to the public to fill in the gaps. All manner of extra detail was piled on. That Cindy Crawford was the one who held the cardboard tube in place. That the gerbil died in situ and couldn’t be removed in one piece, so had to be pulled out bone by bone. That everyone in the hospital knew who Richard Gere was, so everyone had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
All of it entirely fictional. There never been a recorded incident of any rodent being fished out of anyone’s arse – much less Richard Gere’s. And it’s not as if doctors are slouches when it comes to recording these things.
Moreover, ‘gerbilling’ stories actually have a rather inglorious past. They were first put about in the 80s – around the same time that the AIDS crisis was taking hold in the US – largely as a way of discrediting gay people as sexual deviants, who were undeserving of respect, sympathy or any basic rights. The gerbil story is the lighthearted face of a genuinely deadly homophobia.
Quite how Gere became the celebrity face of this urban legend isn’t known exactly. It’s likely something to do with his choice of roles in the late 70s and 80s. Gere played a gay victim of the Holocaust in the stage play Bent (the most prominent Hollywood actor of his day to take a leading gay role on Broadway); followed shortly by a sexually ambiguous role as a male escort in American Gigolo. The rumours about his sexuality spawned from that; they just happened to occur at a rather inauspicious (and inventive) moment in the gossip cycle.
Gere continues to ignore the rumour to this day, only claiming once in passing that he never reads the press but was vaguely aware of something involving ‘a hamster’. It may genuinely not bother him, but the fact remains: whether he cares about it or not, the gerbil will now always be a part of him.
Though the Richard Gerbil and David Hameron stories amount to little more than whispers, there is a slight – but significant – difference between the two.
You see, whereas everyone was fully prepared to believe that Richard Gere had his hoop torn to ribbons by a frightened gerbil on the strength of nothing other than second-hand stories, with Cameron there has been talk of a photo.
Of course, the existence of said photo is only rumoured too as far as anyone knows. No-one except the original source is claiming to have seen it first-hand. But does the vague promise of some physical proof of an interspecies indiscretion make any difference to the strength of this type of rumour?
Maybe you know the one about Debbie McGee and the Alsatian? The story about how, somewhere, deep in the depths of a certain tabloid’s archives, there sits a cache of photographs of the lovely Debbie McGee locked in carnal embrace with a canine.
It’s more of a media in-joke than the Richard Gere story, but it’s one of the better-known ones. Subtle references to it litter the many thousands of words that have been written about Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee in the national press, and there’s no shortage of journalists who’ll tell you they’ve seen the actual snaps (or know someone who has).
The reason that this particular story has taken hold (above any of the other equally far-fetched celebrity dog-sex rumours) is because of the existence of these fabled photos. But how true can that be? Is there anything about this story we can know for certain?
Well, kind of. Yes.
First of all, if any journalist is claiming to have a copy of a Debbie-Does-Doggy picture, then they are currently in breach of British law. Ever since the Extreme Pornography Act of 2008 came into force, it has been a criminal offence to possess any image which “portrays in an explicit and realistic way any of the extreme acts set out in section 63(7)” – of which bestiality is one.
Journalists are not exempt from this law, and no amount of Pete Townshend-type “But it’s my job!”-ing will get them off the hook.
However, it would be completely legitimate and legal for a newspaper’s lawyers to be in possession of such an image (provided that they kept it secure) as they are permitted to retain evidence to resist any unfair libel claims. It is not outside the realms of hypothetical possibility therefore that – were such an alleged set of pictures to exist – that they would be kept in a vault somewhere, accessible only on strict legal necessity.
Were a lawyer to show any of those pictures to a member of the general public, they’d risk falling foul of the law (for publishing obscene material). So if a journalist doesn’t have it, and a lawyer can’t show it, the only way to get an authoritative answer on the matter is to ask someone involved with the actual photography. And there’s no chance of Paul Daniels ever admitting that such pictures exists, is there?
Erm, actually. There is. In his autobiography, Under No Illusion, Paul Daniels has – rather surprisingly – confirmed the photos’ existence. But it’s not what you think. He ‘explains’ why some people might be under the impression that pictures exist of his wife enjoying intercourse with a dog, thus:
“Ken had ‘dirty pictures’ of Debbie. These weren’t just dirty, these were disgusting. My face must have been a picture and then I looked up to see him in convulsions. I don’t know who had done the job and, now that I am into computers, I know you can do magical things with images, but on these you really couldn’t see the join. Having doctored the images using photos from God knows where, they had then taken the trouble to transfer them to Polaroids. I could’ve killed him. I guess he got me back for leaving inflatable sex sheep in his bed on the honeymoon night. It was his Welsh origins, you see.”
Leaving aside for one moment the gruesome premise of having a friend who thinks that giving you photos of your wife-to-be being violated by a dog makes for a suitable wedding gift, the timing of this explanation just about checks out.
Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee got married in 1988, which also happens to be the year that the software we now know as Adobe Photoshop came into being. Digital image manipulation was in still in its infancy, and it would have been extremely expensive, but it is potentially feasible that this was done, as Paul says, with computers.
If that’s the case, then it is perfectly legal to own a computer generated image which intimates a certain ‘connection’ with a beloved pet – provided that it doesn’t accurately or explicitly detail the extreme act. And if what we’re talking about is the sort of amateur attempts that many internet humorists have made to mock up fake pictures of this imagined tryst (the type one could easily find with a few well-chosen words on Google, say) then we can safely conclude that this rumour is nothing but mischievous silliness.
That said, Daniels does rather brush over the fact that the pictures were somehow expertly transferred onto Polaroid film (and really does make a point of saying that there is no possible way to see the join) but there you have it. An explanation of sorts as to why so many people think Debbie McGee may appear to have once fucked a dog on film. It was actually just an elaborate prank.
Thankfully, as interspecies sex is a big, hilarious joke to Paul (as evidenced by the riotous pre-wedding prank he happily admitted to playing on Ken) he surely won’t mind us discussing any of this. After all, if Paul himself is to be believed, it was partly his fault that those pictures of his wife got faked in the first place.
Thanks in advance, Paul!
Now we’re here. September 2015. The birth of a brand new rumour. David Cameron: Pig Fucker.
As a story, it’s not as sexually transgressive as Richard Gerbil or Doggie McGee (not often you can say that about skull-fucking a beast of the field, but these are strange times) so how will this all play out for Cameron?
You don’t have to be a keen political analyst to have figured out that – in much the same way that David Mellor will forever be remembered as having got his rocks off in a Chelsea kit; or that Sarah Ferguson liked to have her toes sucked – the mental image of David Cameron balls deep in a dead hog’s gob really does have that indefinable quality of ‘stickiness’.
Legally, he’s pretty safe. Bestiality laws apply only to living animals, and necrophilia laws only apply to humans – so you can fuck a dead animal until your eyes go pop and there’s not a damn thing the law can do about it. (The obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman has given a fully comprehensive rundown of the legality of Cameron’s alleged actions here.)
If photos do emerge, provided that he remained flaccid throughout (the “my penis was just resting in that pig’s mouth” defence) then nothing of what has been described sounds like it constitutes a piece of criminal pornography either.
So this isn’t a question of illegality. It’s simply a question of taste. And though Debrett’s hasn’t taken an official line on the specific activity of shagging a dead pig at a dinner soiree (as far as we know), we feel pretty confident in saying that it’s about as poor taste a stunt as you can pull.
In which case then, why do we find this so funny? Why aren’t we appalled? When Jeffrey Dahmer fucked a skull, nobody laughed. Why should it be any different for David Cameron?
There’s actually a pretty compelling reason for it. Academics at the Univeristy of Colarado-Boulder, Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren, have looked into something they call the Benign Violation Theory. Having looked specifically at jokes about people having sex with dead animals (a dead chicken in their example) they came to the conclusion that if the violation in the scenario is psychologically distant enough for us to find it harmless, then we will find a humour in it. If the violation resonates with us at some level however, then our feelings of disgust will trump it.
The humour-horror balance with bestiality is about 50/50. The idea of actually slipping a pig a length (or stuffing a gerbil in your rectum, or taking pictures of your wife being mounted by a mutt) is so utterly implausible to so many people that most feel totally comfortable joking about it. If you happen to be capable of considering any of those circumstances seriously for a couple of seconds though, you’ll quickly find yourself becoming very queasy indeed.
Because we enjoy a mental distance from these things, we can laugh. As soon as there’s any humanity in it, it becomes grim. This could explain, in part, why some variations of the Richard Gerbil story allow the gerbil to survive – because some people find the idea of an innocent creature being killed too hard to enjoy. It stops the violation being benign; it stops the story being funny.
This impulse would also explain why, when you learn that the gerbil story has its roots in the homophobic sentiments of the AIDS crisis, you might not have found the story to be quite so funny. The violation becomes more human, more personal; feelings of disgust win out.
The fact that celebrities and politicians enjoy a social standing and economic advantage that distances them from the average Joe means that we find it even easier again to laugh at them.
Alongside Richard Gere and David Cameron, you might have felt comparatively sorry for Debbie McGee to be at the centre of such an unpleasant rumour. It seems a little unfair for such a story to be pinned to a magician’s assistant, however glamorous she may be. A Hollywood star or a world leader though? Fuck ‘em. Comes with the territory.
Fundamentally though it is their lack of humanity that makes it funny to us, not ours. We’re not laughing because we’re cruel. We’re laughing because we find it impossible to relate to them. Their lives, their alleged actions – they’re all so far removed from common experience that we can’t help but find it amusing.
All of which means that if you know someone who doesn’t find this whole thing incredibly funny, then they’re almost definitely a pigfucker.