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Ostatnia Nigella

Monday, June 17, 2013
This morning I woke up to terrible headlines about two British celebrities who actually deserve to be celebrities, an important art collector and a beloved television chef. Charles Saatchi is a successful businessman and patron of the arts and Nigella Lawson is a successful businesswoman and daughter of Lord Lawson. We are not talking the sort of accidental celebrities who are made by appearing on reality shows or taking their clothes off for Page 3.

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson are married, and the former was photographed appearing to throttle the latter and to tweak her nose as they sat outside a restaurant in London, arguing. Well, he was arguing; she apparently was trying to calm him down. And this being the UK, and they being celebrities, every national paper is running the story. Is Saatchi abusing Nigella? As stories go,  that's huge. The photos were released to the world on, ironically, Sunday.*

As Kathy Shaidle (don't click to Kathy if you are not a keen freedom-of-speecher) likes to say, the real story is in the comments, so I clicked to the Daily Mail for the vox populi. The vox populi was divided. Comments ranged from "Maybe he was just checking her glands" to "How dare the photographer take photos instead of step in to save the damsel in distress?" to... Actually, now that I think about it, the comments could be divided into "We should mind our own business" and "Saatchi is a wicked wife abuser."

I gave up on the comments before anyone said "If screaming, yelling and getting physical is their thing, they should save it for the bedroom" which was my second thought. My first thought was "Oh, poor Nigella! She's just putting up with it because she loves him and cares about her marriage." But my second thought was definitely in the realm of Choice C: "How awful for the other people at the restaurant."

As long-term readers know, I don't write much about marriage. I didn't like being married the first time, but I like being married now. However, I've only been married for four years, and that doesn't make me any kind of expert. But I do know that marriage depends on loyalty, and so if I get mad at B.A. for something, I'm not going to tell you. I'm not going to tell anyone. Well, I'm going to tell B.A., obviously, because I care enough. I'm here for the long haul and that means confrontation and reconciliation.

But the upshot is that I'm not going to write that much about my marriage because it is not just mine, it is B.A's. Also, I might make him look like an ass, and the worst non-criminal thing a wife can do is make her husband look like an ass in public. Meanwhile, the worst non-criminal thing a husband can do is humiliate his wife in public, which is what I think Charles Saatchi has done. The whole of the UK now thinks he thinks his wife is just property he can slap around.

I am confident B.A. would not mind me saying that physical violence does not play a role in our marriage. He might be a tad shocked to know that it plays a role in other people's marriages, and there are married couples out there who slap each other, grapple and occasionally throw things and laugh about it afterwards. And there are even some married couples would would think life would not be worth living if they didn't scream and yell and slap each other from time to time. It takes all kinds to make a world.

This dynamic is not the same thing as domestic abuse although I can imagine it could quickly turn into domestic abuse, and the minute one spouse says they are sick of scream-yell-slap, that should be an end to it.

I am not myself comfortable with violence-as-vehicle-of-sexual-expression, in part because I associate hitting with boxing and boxing with a code of honour. An honourable boxer hits people in the ring, never out of it, unless in self-defense, and you never, ever hit a girl a member of the opposite sex. Also, I know it is a supremely bad idea ever to hit someone whose first impulse is to hit back, e.g. a boxer in training, particularly when they are stronger and heavier than you, and men are usually stronger and heavier than you.

However, as I said, some married couples are okay with slapping, grappling and throwing things, and therefore [Update: if that is true], the rest of us should usually butt out---as long as they keep it behind closed doors. [Update: When it is public, then the public may certainly voice its displeasure, as the British public has certainly done today.]  Because that kind of consensual violence, cherubs, lurks in the murky shadows of the sexual realm, and not only should the public not see it, neither should the couple's children. [Update: B.A. is throwing all kinds of fits about this paragraph, just so you know.]

I notice that the British newspaper-reading public is always telling female celebrities to divorce their male celebrity husbands. Speaking as a Catholic and a former divorcee, I object to this. I think female celebrities should fight for their marriages and not give David or Wayne a chance to abandon them and their children for whatever brainless hussy managed to so fatally distract them for half an hour. Not only would such a capitulation be bad for the wives and their children, it would be certainly bad for David and Wayne, et alia, who would be eaten alive by brainless hussies until the money was gone and they were just pathetic and rather creepy old men in constant danger of hell. (Oh yeah. Hell.)

Meanwhile, it's up to Nigella to decide what she wants to do. If for whatever reason the shadowy corners of her sexual psyche enjoy the rough stuff meted out by her husband, then she is well in her legal rights to stick with him. If she's sick of it, then it's up to her to lay down the law or start divorce proceedings. But whichever she decides, I hope this couple calls an end to fighting in public. It's not dignified, and it puts other people off their lunch.

*Irony explained: Nigella is almost the Polish word for Sunday, niedziela.

Update: I am much more disturbed by reports that he says he doesn't like her food. The woman is a renowned chef, and spouses can hurt each other very much by belittling each other's proven accomplishments. I cannot see what he would gain from doing so. Surely he is a big enough man without having to diminish the woman in his life to feel even bigger?  I mean, he's Charles Saatchi. Hello.

Update 2: Fellow Catholic Cristina Odone weighs in. Normally I don't pay attention to celebrity gossip, but this is sort of the British equivalent of Guggenheim throttling Julia Child.

Update 3: After much vigorous debate, my husband B.A. weighs in here: "I think my major concern is that – prima facie – violence is bad.  Even if we can do “play” violence that genuinely causes no harm – because it is implicitly consensual and non-injurious – the default position should still be that violence is dangerous.  I can’t imagine any kind  of violence in the New Jerusalem: I conclude that violence as such is a post-lapsarian phenomenon.  So, when I hear that a man has been publicly violent to his wife and that she subsequently leaves in tears, my instinct is that something bad has happened – something which I might have been inclined to interrupt if I witnessed it.  Of course I could be wrong and find myself making a fool of myself by so concluding about any particular case.  But I think the default assumption in such a case is that harm is being done.  What, if any, mitigating assumptions might be justified – such as that the couple may find this kind of stuff fun in private – should take a back seat.  And this is precisely because that we have to have really  good reasons to think that any particular case of violence is “alright”.  That this was a man being  publiclyviolent to his visibly distressed wifevery strongly  suggests to me that something was probably wrong."

Update 4: I used to box. For almost a year, I was the only woman who trained at my gym. Men hit me (but usually pulled their punches). I hit them. It was not such a big deal. Therefore, I have a very nuanced philosophy about when physical force is okay and when it is not. I do not have as strong a sense as B.A. that "prima facie--violence is bad." But I agree that it is dangerous.

Update 5: Guardian columnist who thought Saatchi-Lawson event might not have been a case of domestic abuse eats words. I am not a Guardian columnist, so I don't have to worry about angry Guardian readers. I am, however, a Catholic Register columnist and have written a denunciation of Fifty Shades of Grey, of which over 70 million copies have been sold, mostly to women.