“Do you know what I do now? my old teacher asked, giving me a kind of self-pleasuring wink. “I watch MTV. Does that shock you? Do you ever watch MTV?”
“Now and again,” I said.
“My daughter watched MTV. It was her religion. That’s where she got all her ideas from. I realise now it formed her far more than I did. MTV is all about images. The music is incidental. Once upon a time images were created for churches, now they’re created for MTV. So why go on painting? Images are marketing tools now. Is that why I paint? So that some marketing executive can use my pictures to sell hair products or car insurance? I saw an ad that used the Mona Lisa to advertise a sanitary towel. In Italy of all places. Because even Italy can’t bear to think of itself as old fashioned. Do you know I sometimes imagine Bin Laden sitting in his cave watching MTV. And then I feel like I understand him. I sympathise with his anger and his hatred of the West. I feel like he and I could be friends. Except he doesn’t drink. Do you know what I think? And I’m going to get into trouble for saying this.” He beckoned to me to lean forward over the table and when I had done so spoke through theatrically cupped hands in a hoarse whisper. “The emancipation of women has led to a world that’s interested in nothing but a narcissistic notion of pleasure.” He sat back with some satisfaction in his chair “Is that what women wanted all along? More pleasure?” He lifted his glass. “I propose a toast. To the Taliban and Bin Laden,” he said loudly, monitoring out of the corner of his eye the response elicited by his words in the bar.