Charlie Hebdo Ate My Puppy

which is clearly not the case. Here is a picture of my ten week old puppy and she is zipping round our rented cottage like a pixie on amphetamines.

Puppy at rest. 5.5 kg and enjoying teddy bear #1

Charlie never so much as laid a tooth on the little creature. To accuse him of doing such a thing (as I implied in the title) is to cause Charlie grievous offense as Charlie is an animal lover and he used to regularly play with my puppy, who is quite the looker and is extremely well socialized, gentle and very playful, thanks to Charlie. In a sense I am way out of line accusing Charlie of puppy eating. I know the truth about Charlie. I know he is a good man, or I thought I did. And here I am flagrantly violating his ‘good’ name, and knowingly doing so, which is a low blow. The idea that I am free to spread lies about Charlie, to upset him with impunity, to ruin his life, simply because I have the power to do so is horrible. It is a monstrous act, especially because Charlie knows I write for a living, and I can sit here and fabricate things about him that might even sound credible. So I guess I am not free to do what I please. In fact I know Charlie spends his time rescuing animals and is a militant vegetarian. He believes deeply in animal rights. This of course adds hugely to the insult I am perpetrating on him if I were to write the Charlie Hebdo Puppy Eating Story. I think over the damage I am doing to his good name. I am attacking one of the pillars of his ethical stances. Its simply not on. I cant use my freedom to exploit another’s personal space, right to a good name, or in any other way hurt him, simply because I can. There is a core of natural rights belonging to Charlie Hebdo (and everyone else) that prevents him from being subject to my puppy eating accusations.

But then something happens in my long and warm friendship with Charlie. There is a room in his house I can never get into. Its always locked. I am a curious man. One day I find the key. Its filled with Nazi Paraphernalia.  I discover current membership cards for extreme far right organizations espousing xenophobic, racist political views. I make copies of the room and the cards and whatever else I can find just for the sake of having evidence. But it doesn’t matter. Deep down I am crushed. My bitter disappointment in my friend leads me to write a novel about him, this warm hearted charming fascist racist bigoted friend of mine. It sells five million copies and I am rescued from complete financial disaster.

But success is not without its suffering and its cost. Charlie sues me for defamation of character and loss of income (he lost his job after his party membership was revealed). Charlie and I are no longer speaking of course. He has put up his house for sale as he used to live near me. He wrote me a long bitter letter telling me what a terrible egomaniacal person I am and how little I care who I cause offense to so long as I can profit from the views of others. These views are private Charlie tells me. These views, Charlie says others have the right to uphold. After all, he says, he wasn’t hurting anyone holding these views. Millions hold these views. My novel sparks a huge debate. I didn’t actually think very much of my novel. I thought it was rushed and written with fire brigade emotions in my heart.

Oh, I forgot to mention the death threats. Charlie’s friends are going to kill me, my family, and my puppy. They are part of the same far-right groups Charlie was a part of. They nailed a dead cat to my door last night. Maybe Charlie had a right to his views. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.  Maybe I will survive this attempt on my life. Maybe the next time I write something, it will get me killed. I don’t know. I am not writing anything that is untrue. I am an enemy of extremism. I use my gifts to pillory the stupid, the bigoted and the downright dangerous. I cant help myself. Its who I am. I don’t discriminate between who I choose to satirise and those I exclude. After all Last time I wrote about Charlie Hebdo. And Charlie Hebdo was a long term friend of mine.

         

“100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing!”

The most important thing an arrogant person can learn

is the fact that always there is someone smarter and therefore more powerful than you. I remember recently ending a lengthy and complex relationship I had with Facebook mainly because of the overwhelmingly unreal atmosphere that pervades that medium of social interaction. It was addictive, exhausting, a realm for self promotion and bragging and ego driven arguments that lead nowhere, a place for product advertisement and sales and keeping in touch (a great strength of Facebook BTW), a vast fruitful data harvesting source for advertising, a system extensively monitored not only by Facebook employees, but also by the NSA, police and security services.  According to act.watchdog.net, a service I occasionally get emails from:

Facebook has been monitoring, tracking and interpreting our unposted notes, comments and statuses this entire time, using even what we don’t say as metadata to pass on to spy agencies like the NSA or advertisers from Groupon to Mastercard.

Choosing not to share is supposed to be what little still protects us from governments and corporations that can hack our emails, bug our phones and turn on our webcams without our knowledge”

 

The fact that billions of people use it really isn’t an argument for it being a good idea. What was once an excellent place for keeping in touch and exchanging information and discussion is now more a place to analyse statistics, study markets, develop social media plans and strategize – all masquerading as a place to meet people meaningfully. I have no idea why email is suddenly unfashionable or regarded as a tad passé.

Speaking of power and its uses, I have been reading a lot about Leon Trotsky lately – Robert Service’s biography is wooden at times but still a compelling read. Another guy much smarter than me.  A brilliant mind and a brilliant writer, also a ruthless character. Someone who could destroy one in an argument (he referred to Stalin once as a ‘dull grey nonentity’) – a Chris Hitchens without all the the alcohol and smoking and extreme rightward drift.

Generally speaking most literary artists, be they poets or writers of fiction or playwrights, tend towards having, for various reasons that are well established, enormous egos and diva-esque complexes. on the positive side they also are sincere people with passionately held beliefs about how things might be changed for the better for humanity, the incredible suffering of humanity or animals or poverty or the endless injustices that we call ordinary life, (which is really not so ordinary at all). Most of them wisely channel their passions and their beliefs into their work without making the disastrous choice of turning superb writing into propaganda for one political viewpoint. It’s interesting to reflect that of those who do turn to politics, few if any of them have made any real change by involving themselves in any form of party politics, by writing political tracts, or indeed, involving themselves directly in door to door political activity, attending meeting, working on campaigns, writing policy and speeches. Writers are too idealistic; it’s why they tend towards cynicism. They are also too cerebral by and large to have good political instincts, especially regarding people, and finally, if they do give their minds and hearts to politics, they aren’t really writers any more. They are political activists or politicians. My aforementioned Trotsky is more known as a political activist and thinker than a literary artist, gifts he had in abundance. It’s an inescapable fact that while remaining deeply and passionately attuned to the world as it actually is; artists need to keep a distance from politics to do art. When they do turn to politics, their work in these parties, or campaigns tends to embitter them, mostly due to the fact that whatever campaign they are involved in are usually corrupt or corrupting, involves the inevitable betrayal of core beliefs, or worse, involves the ruthless use of the talents of those working for the good of the cause in order that an elite few can actually get into power. Embitterment, disillusionment usually follows these people afterwards. I can remember my own bitter experiences of being deeply involved in the Catholic Church (a very political institution), how young men (in my case) were deluded into thinking they were sacrificing for the good, that the ludicrous belief systems and doctrines of the church were really and actually divine revelations, and that one will get ones just reward in the afterlife. This is not so different to the poets and writers down through history, from Wordsworth’s unhappy experiences in France, to Coleridge’s experiments in alternate lifestyles to Shelley’s bizarre political communal living, all striving to find an outlet for their deeply held passionate idealisms for a better world. But it never works. Whatever the poetic style or literary inclination, particularly when younger, a writer tends to be used by politicians, abused and when no longer useful, thrown away by those wiser and older than them to give their campaign a certain credibility and honour even. It’s a mark of distinction if you have a gifted poet or writer on your ticket as a staffer or as a speech writer or as an editor. Your speeches are better for it, your publicity excellent, and there is an endless pool of creativity for you to draw from, so long as the artist you have working for you continues to believe in your particular credos. The trouble starts when the writer begins to see through the bullshit. Then the political party is in real trouble. Writers tend not to forget, and history is replete with top notch novels and plays and poems and stories by writers who were lied to and had their ideals betrayed. Politicians beware: If you are lucky enough to have an artist on your staff, do not betray your writers. You may live to regret it.

If you lie to me, I will hurt you

 

I have real difficulty seeing what the reason for the furore around the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s latest movie. Martin Sheen has come out in opposition to it. Naomi Woolf had come out in the Guardian calling Bigelow the latest Leni Riefenstahl, and the torture scenes themselves are rather tame in real terms compared to what really went on. There is no justification for torture expressed in this film. On the other hand there is no pornographic lingering on the inhuman brutality meted out to the prisoners. Over and over again the torture victims are told that if they lie to their torturers, their torturers will hurt them, a horrifying thought, and even more horrifying to endure. Rest assured also this is not a film that will leave you riveted to your seat in unspeakable horror – its not a horror movie. It is clever,  extremely entertaining, well paced, and the writing is top notch. The acting too, is simply wonderful. Bigelow deserves a best director Oscar, and it is a big snub she didn’t get it. What is depicted in the movie is what the CIA was ordered to do, that being to get the information by any means necessary. When watching the movie itself we only get snippets of the unspeakable physical and psychological horror endured by the prisoners, before they were disappeared or executed or in some cases returned to their families to tell stories about how they were tortured by persons unknown in locations unknown for time periods unknown with no evidence whatever to support their claims. It’s not without significance that the various conventions, Geneva or otherwise, expressly forbid torture. Aside from the enormous stupidity of using torture, an unreliable means of getting hard evidence, the information one does get is legally useless and therefore has what one might call a questionable actionable status to it. One needs to amass a sheaf of corroborations before it emerges into the light of any degree of credibility. Torture is about power. It’s about the torturer, in this case – the state, telling its enemy- in this case the prisoners, we have absolute power. You will give us everything, the contents of your mind, your emotions, and when you have given us everything, then we will allow you to die, maybe. Torture is an act of terrorism. In a war on terrorism this surely is the greatest of ironies. Torture creates a hatred that will last from one generation to the next. It is never forgotten and never forgiven. Bigelow does not come down in favour of torture. To think that from this film is to hugely underestimate an enormously skilled and intelligent artist who is telling a story, not recreating history, or trying to make a kind of propaganda movie. Basically it is a revenge story, and the ruthlessness by which revenge is exacted in the mafia style hit on the Bin Laden compound at the end is truly appalling. Before you make up your own mind, go see it. Bigelow’s interest in powers structures and the military goes a long way back. Let’s hope her next movie is even better than this one.

Dread of Death, and Sex

This post was published to Oran Ryan at 22:18:47 23/09/2012

Dread of Death, and Sex

Account Oran Ryan

Judge Dredd (the Movie), beautifully shot, wonderfully plotted, faithfully rendered, very well acted, filled with grim accuracy about a future world after the bomb drops, is a thoroughly good film, and much better than the first Dredd film, which I also enjoyed immensely, despite the many bad reviews it got. Shot in 3D and starring Karl Urban, Lena Headey, and Olivia Thirlby, it makes for compulsive viewing, especially for me. I have a long passionate thirty-eight year relationship with the Judge. I collected the 2001 comics lovingly and stored them, week after week in a shoe box under my bed, fascinated at the Judges journey through Mega City One and across the Cursed Earth. I lived for those editions, until they migrated into larger comics that cost me the huge sum of fifty pence. I remember the MacDonalds city, General Blood n’ Guts and saw Dredd as the only source of sanity in an increasingly insane world. I loved the uniform, the lawgiver, the anonymous cool fearless grim self assurance of Dredd, and the fact that there was a law, a source of justice, something that I replaced later with reason and logic. I clearly remember the first edition of 2000 AD, the comic which eventually brought out the Judge (issue 2 or 3). The most attractive feature of 2000 AD was actually Dan Dare, not Dredd. I also remember a comic strip called Strontium Dog in the magazine which I also thought fascinating. This was a terrible loveless post apocalyptic world, a world at the end of its tether, where governments had failed and the control of the populace in a city of nearly a billion devolves to fascistic judges who dispense summary justice in situ. Urban is wonderful in this role, and the camera, like Thirlby (a well regarded and Heady

lingers and loves every moment of this hyper violent futuristic thriller. Bodies explode, heads implode, and people are skinned alive, bullets spin through the air and tear open faces and teeth blast like shrapnel across the room. Limbs are blown off and bodies chopped up. The body count is amazing. This is a film that luxuriates in the gore it causes, and not a single death is inessential to the plot. In fact the horror, torment, misery, hopelessness, rule of crime and the vicious bloodshed is shot and shown as beautiful. As I watched this movie, I reflected on how impossible it would be to watch for instance a box office movie hit as this one is, that luxuriated on sex as this one does on violence, how controversial it would be to show glorious orgasms rather than exploding heads and skinnings, that perhaps the sheer number of plots and movies, excellent films, that show this level of violence, almost as if because we are in some way blocked towards connectedness, sexual or otherwise to the other, we seek release in the explosive force of bloodshed. After all power is sexy. We see the judge in leather, strapped down in uniform, with an anonymous helmet. Accompanying him we see a stunning young rookie judge in tight clothing. The sexual tension is palpable, and it adds to the thrill of seeing them kill and hold people’s lives in their hands. Interestingly enough, the use of the death penalty, something I have never agreed with, is to my mind shown here in all its utter futility. The fact that the judges hold the power of the death penalty over them does not in any way stop the murderous gang members from killing. Actually it doesn’t help that this is basically one great big police state: there is no trial, no jury, no weighing of evidence, forensic or otherwise. Once they kill, they know they are going to be executed. Thus there is no chance for a reprieve. They are forever on the wrong side of the law. And Judge Dredd is the law. Fascinating stuff: Fascism, great acting, great cinematography, good plot, gore, and tight leather clothes. Can’t wait for the next one.