Almost Edgy

David Brent: Life on the Road

A David Brent movie was never going to work because the character isn’t worthy of a movie to begin with. Why would a documentary crew want to revisit the guy? In making a Brent movie, Gervais has detached the character from his original premise. In the television show Brent was part of an ensemble, the core of which was , Gareth and Tim, backed up by Dawn, Lee and later ‘the Swindon lot’: the television show happened to find Brent  at work there, the crew didn’t go to the paper-merchants because they’d heard of him. Half the point of The Office was Brent’s ridiculous behaviour, caused by him trying too hard to impress the documentary viewers while simultaneously trying too hard to get his staff to like him.

But Brent is not a bad guy, he’s actually a gentle character with no real malice. I saw him once described as ‘the boss from hell’ but the person who typed that possibly hadn’t seen the show. If they had they couldn’t have paid much attention. Brent is a properly realised character – he’s not a name given to an actor who’s paid to deliver the dialogue: he actually has an internal existence, he does things because of how he thinks. He doesn’t just do things ‘to be funny’.

His problems are several. Already mentioned, he wants too much to be liked; he is terrified of women and is awkward around them, especially those he considers attractive; and he is (slightly) detached from reality in the sense of not knowing what attempts at humour are appropriate in the – ahem! – ‘workplace’. Considered together, he appears to be suffering from a kind of arrested development. It’s this mild arrested development which is taken by Gervais for the movie and turned into a form a dementia, where Brent has literally lost his reason, if not his whole mind, but only when it suits the script.

The Office was a very safe comedy, it didn’t have any sort of dangerous ‘edge’. No minorities were offended in the making of the tv show. Only majorities had the piss taken out of them. Boring middle-management white-men and their weedy kiss-ass ‘team-leaders’ were the main butt of the jokes. Brent and Gareth were the two office idiots, and taking the piss out of white-men is perfectly acceptable.

The Politically Correct aspect to the TV show was sometimes painful to watch. I felt like I was being lectured by a know-it-all teacher. Consider the scene in which Brent is telling a stupid joke about ‘a black man’s cock’ and a chillaxed black man saunters over just as he’s about to get to the punchline, thus dropping Brent into yet another embarrassing situation because he can’t finish the joke. Gervais makes the black character so chillaxed that he’s not offended by the joke – but a white woman decides to be.

Do we need to have a white-woman – in a convenient close-up – ask why should it be only black people who are ‘offended’ by racism? It’s almost edgy; it’s one step away from stating that black people are not experts on racism just because they’re black – but Gervais doesn’t go there. He wants to lecture us, so has Jennifer, Brent’s boss, explain that jokes about large black cocks are based on racial stereotypes, and therefore very bad indeed. Did we not already know this? Brent didn’t because Gervais even has him offer the ‘it’s a compliment’ defence. He’s the middle-management white-man so obviously he’s clueless.

Wouldn’t the scene have been more interesting if the black guy had become ‘offended’ at a joke which wasn’t racist, and had to be lectured by ‘Jenny’ about how people who take offence at pretty much anything are a fucking menace to liberty?

I mean, if we’re going to have some social commentary disguised as fiction then why not give it some edge?

And Brent being unintentionally cruel in respect to ‘the disabled’ is actually very safe indeed. Even when he talks about ‘the wheelchair ones’ we know nobody is getting upset anywhere, because he’s not mocking the disabled. He’s just showing how stupid a man Brent is. The ‘more shocking’ Brent is, the safer he actually becomes because Brent only sounds as if he’s making fun of disabled people. We laugh at him, at how stupid he is. We can all take the piss out of the little manager-white-man.

In the television episodes Brent, at his most clueless, is only ever half a step away from reality. In the movie, however, he’s lost his mind on some things but seems quite sane on others so that one wonder if he’s playing at being sane – just acting that way to fit in with the office crowd – or whether his bouts of cluelessness are just a bit too convenient?

Would anyone who could hold down a job as a rep in a sales office really hire a tour bus he didn’t travel on, to take a backing band to venues and hotels so close together they all could have stayed at home and got the bus each morning? Brent can’t be that clueless, that deluded, but we’re meant to believe he is. Why has Brent lost his mind? What has happened to him?

And then there’s the songs.

They’re supposed to be awful and embarrassing, but they’re not really. They are amusing, but what stands out about them is that they are well-written, obviously by someone quite clever. It takes great skill to be that bad deliberately.

Gervais must know that people will know that, and will say to themselves ‘my isn’t he clever, he can write songs and sing and play, too!’ And yet to do it in a movie where he makes his most famous character partially fucking demented, and in doing so significantly less convincing, seems odd. Was the world aching to see more of Brent? Or was Gervais aching to show the world that, even though his eighties pop career didn’t take off, he was worthy of it because he’s a good songwriter?

The movie is amusing, but not that amusing. It seem more an exercise in ego.

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The Strangest of the Strange

What does it actually mean when a person says that so and so was ‘born into the wrong body’? I’ve heard the expression several times and, strangely, always on the topic of sex-change surgery, never any other topic.

I’ve never heard a fat person say they were ‘born into the wrong body’, or the parents of a child racked with cancer.

Is it possible to be ‘born into the wrong body’?

I think it is impossible.

The expression presupposes that consciousness can exist independent of the brain. There is no reason to think this is true, though there are many reasons to hope it is true.

The topic of sex-change surgery is not a religious or spiritual topic, yet the idea a person could be born into the wrong body probably reveals more about the person who says it than it does about the person who wants the surgery.

Society is where the problem is. Every person who has ever been born, whether transgender, or disabled – or anything else – was born exactly as they were ‘meant’ to be born; which is to say they are a product of their genes, their DNA, and not everyone born will fit into a little societal box, ready for labelling.

A teenage boy who says he’d be happier being a girl might well be right. He could easily be much happier after all the surgery and the rest, and I would hope he was. But a simple point needs to be made. That the boy would be happier as a girl doesn’t mean he is biologically faulty. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with him; the reason he might feel different is that society creates boxes for people and somebody who doesn’t fit is said to be ‘different’ but this is really a euphemism for ‘faulty’. The only thing ‘faulty’ in this context is the logic behind the idea.

Children should not be given this surgery. Let them wait until they are adults. Some men don’t realise they are gay until their thirties, for example. All through their teens and twenties they think they’re heterosexual, then realise they were wrong about that.

Imagine the teenage boy who thinks he shoud be a girl, has the surgery in his teens, then realises in his thirties he was wrong about that, and realises nature had things right all along.

The idea of being ‘born’ into the correct body is garbage; the idea of the ‘wrong’ body assumes more than the God-created soul-making machinery in the soul-packing factory exists, it assumes that equipment is malfunctioning.

Think about it.

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NOTE: ‘The right to be ourselves’ means something other than what it says. Being ourselves isn’t a right. We have no choice but to be ourselves, because we cannot ‘be’ anyone else. I wonder what Theroux really means? We all have the ‘right’ to demand surgery to make us happier? I can’t read his mind, alas.

With One Look

Fair is my Love and cruel as she is fair;
Her brow-shades frown, although her eyes are sunny.
Her smiles are lightning, though her pride despair,
And her disdains are gall, her favours honey:
A modest maid, deck’d with a blush of honour,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, design’d a Saint above.
Chastity and Beauty, which were deadly foes,
Live reconcilèd friends within her brow;
And had she Pity to conjoin with those,
Then who had heard the plaints I utter now?
For had she not been fair, and thus unkind,
My Muse had slept, and none had known my mind.
-Samuel Daniel

 

 

Recently, I wrote a little retrospective appreciation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It. It seemed timely since it had been thirty years since the book was published, and it’s a “fan favourite” as some people say. When I was re-reading the piece I stopped and stared at this short passage:

Many of us enjoy regressing to childhood. We look at pictures and video from when we were kids and indulge our sadomasochistic side by going to the “school reunion”. Childhood is idealised in our memory and children, especially babies, are cooed at and fawned over. This might be why so many of us are wet and feeble weaklings when we grow up. The Romans, not fond of children, thinking them rather gross and needy creatures, used childhood as the time to train and prepare for adulthood, without the cooing and fawning. Who would argue Roman men weren’t made of “sterner stuff” than us males are today?

The problem was that, seven days prior to forwarding the piece, I had myself attended a “school reunion”. I had seen the advertisement on a popular “social media” site and thought it was something I wouldn’t be going to. I did think a lot about this, changing my mind each day, depending on my mood. I saw a school-friend in the supermarket and asked him about it. Would he be going? Phil barely thought before answering.

‘No mate, I’m not going to that. Why would anyone want to go back to all those feelings of inferiority?’

I knew this was just what I wanted to hear, so I jumped on it, not really remembering what I’d written about It, but probably having it in mind somewhere.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s it exactly. It’s like regression. Who’d want to go back to that? All the cliques, and the social complexes…no thanks.’

I was pleased to have found a kindred spirit, someone about whom I could think and whose name I could use when telling my subconscious mind that no, it wasn’t only me, I wasn’t a pathetic wimp, I was an intelligent adult who didn’t need to “do” reunions. I even managed to tell myself that it wasn’t a “reunion” to begin with because there had been no “union” in the first place; therefore – and goodness me! – what a lot of low-brow nonsense it all was.

My inner snob timed its rescue perfectly.

I didn’t want to go because I was scared of what others thought of me while I was school, and scared of what they might think of me now. There was nothing concrete to this fear, it was just a fear, sat in the gut, spinning and twisting. I first thought it was a “guy thing” and that these fears had their root in the not only hair-raising, but terrifying things many teenage boys are duly terrified by; namely, teenage girls. But I didn’t think that was precise enough. I fiddled with the idea an all-boys school would have been an easier place to be, then realised that such were the joys of being a teenage boy, a single-sex school would have made nothing easier, then or later. It remains my unshakeable belief that the greatest joy to be had from being a teenage boy comes from knowing it has to be done only once. I didn’t find an answer I liked.

It seems to me teenage girls realise the power they have over teenage boys too late to make the best use of it. This is lucky for the boys. I wonder what school would be like for fifteen and sixteen year-old boys if the girls realised the power they have, and what they can do to those boys, with one look.

(And what can they do? Imagine the mind of a forty year-old woman in the head of a fifteen year-old girl and you’ll get the idea. One actually shudders at the thought.)

The girls have an opportunity, narrow in time, to assert their natural dominance, and they should take it, because it doesn’t take us boys long to catch up. When we’re fifteen or sixteen, we might inwardly howl that we like girls, we just wish we could talk to one; by the time we’re eighteen or nineteen, we’re complaining that although we like girls, we could never eat a whole one.

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Two Wrong Wings

It was interesting listening to Peter Hitchens and Ken Livingstone discuss Fidel Castro. Their brief discussion strongly suggested that people will see clearly what they are looking for. Mr Livingstone’s and Mr Hitchens’s views might be the rehearsed, stock responses demanded by their political religions, but which of the gentleman is the more deceived?

Dictators get a ‘bad press’ because the public live in a condition of mass denial.

Hitler, Stalin, Castro – pick any one you want: none of these human beings could have had their way without the help of their own civil services and tens of thousands of humans helping them. Why do we make a fetish out of the pyramid’s top stone?

Having your genitals punctured doesn’t sound like fun, and the person that actually *did it* is no doubt less than a gentleman, but was that person Castro himself?

If the local council force you to knock down your garage because it lurched an inch too far to the left, do you blame the Theresa May ‘regime’? Do you think Mrs May even knows you exist?

It’s easy to imagine a person being tortured in prison while the dictator is told by his courtiers and flatterers that nothing of the kind is going on.

Here’s a fact many persons dislike for some reason: bureaucracy brings out a person’s inner sadist. The mask of anonymity allows may people to be themselves.

Dictators get blamed for everything that happens, yet they can’t possibly be responsible for everything which happens, and that means many others are in possession of the wickedness attributed to the leader. It is humans generally which are naturally bloodthirsty and cruel, not only the recognisable figureheads we’ve all learned to hate.

It’s easy for us to look at humans like Castro and Stalin and the rest and point our fingers and say ‘monster’. This is the denial in action.

There’s no such thing as ‘monsters’. It’s more comfortable for us to pretend we are not imperfectly evolved, savage animals, because to accept this fact means we might be more like Stalin and Castro than is comfortable to know. Most of us will never have the circumstances to draw the characteristics out of us.

If we want to be honest we should begin by being honest with ourselves. Which is more likely, that Castro was ‘inhuman’ and a ‘monster’, or that he did what people do when they have absolute power, or something close to it?

I’m always amused when the next human is described as a monster, be that human a famous dictator or a killer on trial. There are so many monsters one hears about: Brady and Hindley; Huntley; Hitler; Stalin; Mao; loads of tanned, sweaty blokes wearing sunglasses and medals running rape-factories down in Latin and South America; all those IRA torturers and the other lot from the other side who ripped each others’ teeth out with pliars: apparently these people were ‘psychopaths’ or something else.

So long as they’re never described as ‘human beings’ we’ll all be okay and can maintain our delusion that these dictators and killers are exceptional. They are not.

The paradox the religious talk themselves into is darkly amusing on this. They demand we are created, yet argue that without God, belief and so on, humans would suddenly drop their morals and behave like savage animals. They do this while rejecting the theory which shows humans are barely civilised animals. Evolution via natural selection.

It is not a world of men, Machine.

Some of us really – and I mean really – dislike the idea that we exist due to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology and a few hundred million years of imperfect evolution. Religion has lied to us, and we pass that lie down the generations by continuing to think we are created, not evolved, that we are seperate from nature, that we are not actually *animals*. On the materialist world view (that’ll be the one that’s almost certainly true) there are no ‘monsters’ – there are only human animals, naked apes. Most of us have our natures under control.

Who will state that, given the freedom of behaviour that comes with dictatorship and absolute power, they wouldn’t knock-off at least one opponent by easy-memo or give the nod to the bloke in the corner?

Or would nobody knock-off an enemy behind the chemical sheds because they’d be too busy being ‘shocked’ when they heard swear words to find the time?

Most people are preening, posing, paw-licking prats who refuse to see themselves for what they are.

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Virtus Maximus

That Fidel and his comrades overthrew Batista was a beautiful thing. Who would not think so? I’m not talking about the ‘regime’ which came after. Fidel might have been Cuban by birth, but he was Roman by nature.

Castro had himself a tyranny. It is justified, certainly, to say that, although it’s probably a good thing for all of us not to gaze into the abyss for too long. On tyranny, one thinks of a passage from ‘An Open Letter to Fidel Castro’ by Norman Mailer:

“We live in a country very different from Cuba. We have had a tyranny here, but it did not have the features of Batista; it was a tyranny one breathed but could not define; it was felt as no more than a slow deadening of the best of our possibilities, a tension we could not name which was the sum of our frustrations. [..] By law we had a free press; almost no one spoke his thoughts. By custom we had a free ballot; was there ever a choice? [..] In silence we gave you our support. You were aiding us, you were giving us psychic ammunition, you were aiding us in that desperate silent struggle we have been fighting with sick dead hearts against the cold insidious cancer of the power that governs us, you were giving us new blood to fight our mass communications, our police, our secret police, our corporations, our empty politicians, our clergymen, our editors, our cold frightened bewildered bullies who govern a machine made out of people they no longer understand, you were giving us hope they would not always win. That is why America persecuted you.”

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Fighting the Inevitable

Many of us thinks that the ‘I’ they use to refer to themselves is separate from their physical self, and perhaps takes the form of a little person who sits inside our head, looking through our eyes the way Captain Kirk looks through the screens of the Enterprise. Those who think this way are likely to be mistaken, but the mistake is a common one, and many people make it without knowing they’re doing so.

Many persons are more religious than they realise.

A person said to me recently, on the topic of what some call ‘gender reassignment’, that some of us are ‘born into the wrong body’. This is a common expression, used by persons to explain what causes a person to want to change their gender.

The idea that a person can be ‘born into the wrong body’ is physically, chemically, biologically, and philosophically illiterate. What makes the expression an interesting one has nothing to do with the ‘truth’ it contains, but rather what the expression presupposes.

The following isn’t perfect, but it will do. Imagine a factory, in which bodies are on a conveyor belt: robot arms insert the conscious mind into each head. Now imagine a fault in the celestial software which makes the belt lurch forward, throwing the bodies out of synch to their mind-inserting arms, and what is presupposed becomes clear.

Persons are not ‘born into’ their bodies at all. It is impossible, therefore, for a person to have been born into the wrong body. Every person is as nature ‘intended’.

(I marked the word out because I’m aware that ‘intention’ presupposes agency – which is obviously nonsense – but the expression is another good example of how our thoughts are saturated with the idea that consciousness can exist without the brain.)

Under ‘born into the wrong body’ is that very idea – that consciousness can exist without the brain.

What is under that idea?

Under that is the belief that we survive death.

And what is under that?

Under that, motivating everything else, is the fear of death.

Could it be that, a person can make a ‘throwaway’ remark on a topic about gender surgery, and what motivates it is a fear of death – something we weren’t talking about?

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Trumpton

On the morning we knew that Mr Donald Trump had won the election, I overheard part of a conversation on the bus, going to work.

An amusing woman was talking to her friend about the American election result. She claimed to be “shocked” that a sexist, misogynist (etc.) had won the election, and wasn’t it a tragedy Obama wasn’t going for a third term?

(This was what amused me the most that morning, until I read – a few moments after she’d said this – Philip Larkin describe Christmas shopping as the ‘conversion of one’s indifference to others to active hatred’, a comment so sweetly sour I thought it hilarious.)

The woman’s comment seemed to exemplify two problems.

One was the parroting of the media-line that Trump is a (insert bad word here) which he might be, but since when was stating the obvious worth doing?

The other, and the worrying thing about the Trump circus, is that nobody seems to want to acknowledge that no person is actually one-dimensional, nobody is asking ‘can he really be that bad?’ ‘Is he playing to the gallery?’ Obedience to the media is more that repeating its line, it’s refusing to think or question that line for yourself. Silence, then, is obedience.

This is a question of safe seats.

Consider some of the “safe seats” in our small country. In some parts of the north-east, say, a three-legged donkey would be duly elected so long as it had a red-rosette pinned to it. We the people are to blame for the third-raters who get into office.

Trump and Billary is what happens when the majority of voters are witless Kardashian fans who don’t care about who rules over them.

This latest “choice” shows America has become one huge safe-seat.

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Gay Cakes and the Whiff of Something Else…

That the ‘gay cake’ business found its way into a courtroom to begin with is an outrage to reason: one showing how rotted our national mind has become thanks to the thought-cancer of political correctness.

Alright, Mr Lee might be a total hoodwinker, but are the bakers any better?

I don’t think Mr Lee was asking the bakers to agree. That the bakers disagreed with the message is irrelevant. Their disagreement with the message did not prevent them from making the cake.

How do I know this to be true?

They could have made the cake without agreeing. Publishers publish things all the time without necessarily agreeing with their contributors.

Their refusal to make the cake might be more revealing than they realise. Indeed, their refusal to make the cake suggests they don’t really believe in God.

One assumes the bakers consider God to be an actual agent – a thinking being – who feels a great deal of love and is capable of forgiveness and so on.

One also assumes they believe God has the powers many have attributed to Him over time: the power to see-all and know-all, etc.. These are fair and reasonable assumptions. Indeed, this should be the least of it.

So why did they choose not to make the cake?

Surely to goodness, given what they claim to believe about the universe, they could have chosen to believe God would understand why they made the cake, would know they disagreed with it and that their principles remained unshaken, and been duly understanding and forgiving.

Is it possible the bakers were motivated by something else, and were using their “conscience” as cover for it?

This question is fair and reasonable.

In his Mail on Sunday column, Peter Hitchens takes a certain position on this case. His column is here.

Mr Hitchens also mentions Israel in this column.

Look at the colour of Mr Hitchens’s position in reply to those who criticise Israel with more enthusiasm than they criticise other countries for similar violence.

Mr Hitchens says these Israel critics are / might be, motivated by a dislike of Jews.

Apply that logic here.

(I mean, for heaven’s sake, a Christian who secretly doesn’t believe isn’t that weird an idea. I can read no minds, but consider Andrew Sullivan, no doubt a fine gentleman and an interesting person. Does he give anyone else the impression he is significantly unafraid of God?)

Had the bakers used the brains they were at least born with (or actually believed what they claimed to believe) they could have disarmed Mr Lee without a shot being fired. Their all-knowing God might not have understood this, but Sun Tzu would have.

These Christian bakers, thanks to their paw-licking, posing and preening, have done more than make themselves look like idiots: their tactical incompetence has resulted in yet more ground being won by the enemy.

They might not have meant to do that, but they did.

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You’re My Next Victim – Stephen King’s It

Late one night Stephen King woke me up. I was perhaps nine or ten. At first I had no idea I was lying awake, then – when I realised I was staring into darkness – I realised I had no idea why I was awake. I heard soft chuckling – just a gentle laughter in the darkness – that I couldn’t place in space. It could have been coming from under my bed. I lay still for several moments, a little nervous, wondering if I had heard what I thought I’d heard.

Then I heard it again.

I got out of bed and put an ear to my door, hearing nothing. I opened it and walked out onto the dark landing. I saw my parents’ bedroom light was on so went in to ask if either of them had heard the chuckling. My mother wasn’t there, but my dad was sat up reading It, and it was his laughing which had woke me up. He said he was laughing because the scene he was reading had some kids who were squatted down lighting each other’s farts. I told him his chuckling had woke me up and that it was a little creepy hearing giggling in the darkness, but it was alright now I knew what was going on. I went back to bed and slept without trouble. That was the first time Stephen King disturbed my sleep.

I didn’t know then that the scene in which those bullies light their farts – and it certainly is funny – is followed by a wonderful scene in which a twelve year old boy, Patrick Hockstetter, is half murdered by a swarm of flying leeches. One leech pierces his eyelid and sucks the eyeball until it collapses, and another lands on his tongue, sucks blood until it’s bloated, and then explodes in his mouth. Young Mr Hockstetter passes out as he’s dragged into the sewers by the entity called It, and he awakens only when, in the dark somewhere under the city, the creature begins to eat him. That might be gross, but here’s the thing: Patrick Hockstetter had it coming.

Stephen King’s It was published in September 1986. Thirty years later many fan-polls and blogs still cite the book as either his best or the fans’ favourite. Sometimes fans confuse a writer’s best work with their favourite work from that writer. Defining a writer’s “best” work is trickier than it sounds. It is probably not King’s best work, but it’s one which has its popularity secured by a collection of characters the reader easily sympathises with. The depth to which King thinks his characters into existence is remarkable.

Consider this for instance. Claudette Sanders – the first character mentioned in King’s Under the Dome – is taking a flying lesson, paid for by her wealthy husband, Andy. We are told of her that, although not exactly spoiled, she “had undeniably expensive tastes which, lucky man, Andy seemed to have no trouble satisfying.” At the end of the next page (page two) the control panel of the plane dies, and eight lines of prose later, Claudette’s body parts are falling on Chester’s Mill. Here’s a character created to be killed to open the novel, but King still gives her a whiff of backstory when he mentions her “expensive tastes”. Such a small detail begins to show the character’s character. Yet by the end of page three she’s dead. This is mildly extraordinary. We are forced to ask ourselves, if King thinks this much about a character who doesn’t last even two full-pages of prose, to what extent did King think about his Loser’s Club of kids?

Each of the seven children he creates to battle the entity are losers for different reasons. Bill stutters; Richie can’t keep his mouth shut, and has what might now be called “hyperactivity disorder” – or some other similar nonsense. Ben is fat and a loner; Eddie is the wimpy kid; Stan is Jewish; Beverly is poor and Mike is black. All these circumstances make the kids unpopular in 1958, not part of the “in” crowd at school. This is something which most of us can relate to, either by not having been one of the cool-kids, or remembering some unfortunate kid whose mum sent him in wearing Hi-tech trainers. (When I was a young teenager wearing Hi-techs was more or less a death sentence. Some parents are criminally fucking stupid. And here’s a darker thought: perhaps some parents secretly hate their children?) Thus we recognise something of our past selves in the kids King creates to face the creature. The Loser’s Club has something for everyone’s memory.

Many of us enjoy the regressing to childhood. We look at pictures and video from when we were kids and indulge our sadomasochistic side by going to the “school reunion”. Childhood is idealised in our memory and children, especially babies, are cooed at and fawned over.  This might be why so many of us are wet and feeble weaklings when we grow up. The Romans, not fond of children, thinking them rather gross and needy creatures, used childhood as the time to train and prepare for adulthood, without the cooing and fawning. Who would argue Roman men weren’t made of “sterner stuff” than us males are today?

Although we have a tale in which children are murdered and eaten, the book is pitched at the place where most adults are vulnerable: in our desire for nostalgia and our moist-eyed attitude to childhood. We can be pulled into the novel, let’s say, by Ben falling in love with Beverley Marsh because he sees her ankle bracelet, but we don’t need to understand what he feels precisely; to understand the ache in his belly  we need only to have some memory of our own for comparison.

It’s too easy to decide that King – or part of him at any rate – is to be found in the character of Bill Denbrough. King would have been the same age as the Losers in 1958, and Denbrough is the character who becomes a horror writer, his books inspired by his childhood experiences. Perhaps the Denbrough / King thing is too obvious on purpose? If King – allowing the nostalgia power to work on him as well as through him – puts himself in the book, perhaps he’s split between Bill and Richie. Bill stutters – so can’t express himself properly, while Richie expresses himself too well, yet hides behind characters who find expression through the voices Richie uses throughout.

Bill and Richie, working together, go to the House on Neibolt Street to kill It with Bill’s father’s gun. While in the basement, the creature comes down the stairs to get them in the form of the werewolf from the 1957 movie I was a Teenage Werewolf. Richie has recently seen this movie and it made an impression on him. It made an impression on King, too. Writing in Danse Macabre, King talks of the film and mentions the change from boy to monster. ‘For a high school or junior high school kid watching the transformation for the first time,’ King says, ‘this was baaad shit.’ He then points out the basics of the matter: the unfortunate teenage boy

grows hair all over his face, produces long fangs, and begins to drool a substance that looks suspiciously like Burma-Shave. He peeks at a girl doing exercises on the balance beam all by herself in the gymnasium, and one imagines him smelling like a randy polecat who just rolled in a nice fresh pile of coyote shit.

(For completeness, that teenage girl in the gymnasium was a twenty-two year old woman called Dawn Richard – a Playboy centrefold.)

Richie and Ben might be confronted by a werewolf because that represents what they’re most scared of at that time, yet the werewolf – the one from the movie, and the one in the novel, because the one in the novel is the one from the movie – symbolises something else: a fear of puberty and the sexual awakening which turns pleasant little boys into ravenous monsters. (Beverly – the only girl in the gang – recounts how It appeared to her as spurts of blood from the plughole in the bathroom. This is what she’s most afraid of, perhaps, for similar reasons to Bill and Richie; or because once her father knows she’s bleeding, he might want to take their relationship to the next level.) These fears are wrapped into a colourful package of classic American popular culture – the monsters from the movies – and might be dismissed for that reason as nostalgia for King, or for Americans generally of a certain age, but those hooks are universal, they lurk under the surface and will pierce the psyche somewhere of anyone old enough to read the book. (The cover of Detective Comics 671 has Batman protecting a screaming woman while surrounded by Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and the Werewolf – all monsters used by It – and that issue, from February 1994, was not aimed at people who were kids in 1955. Perhaps it’s fair to assume that teenage boys, from different eras, have the same preoccupations?)

The novel is pitched directly at the child you once were. In that way, it’s a shameless pitch, and too much of the book force-feeds us on the topic of “the magic of childhood”. This isn’t a vague term, interchangeable with “the best days of your life”, or something similar. King’s childhood magic is exactly that: a force which is somehow aware of the kids and uses them (and helps them) to battle the ancient entity under the city.

For example, Beverly – hiding from the boys lighting their farts, yet watching them closely – is attacked by one of the leeches which punches holes in Patrick Hockstetter. Beverly is the crack-shot of the gang; she’s armed with a Bulleye – a catapult which fires ball bearings. She loads it, aims at the leech she’s just pulled off her arm, and as soon as the metal ball leaves the pouch, she knows she’s missed her target.

But then she saw the ball-bearing curve. It happened in a split second, but the impression was very clear: it had curved. It struck the flying thing and splattered it to mush. There was a shower of yellowish droplets which pattered on the path.

The power the creature has is worth wondering about. It seems to have omnipotence and omniscience when it needs it, but these powers fail It when it suits King. Does the creature have powers or not? Two scenes with the Bullseye allow the reader to wonder.

Patrick Hockstetter is a child-psychopath, easily the most demented character in the book. His dementia means he isn’t scared of anything and this lack of fear makes things tricky when It comes out of hiding after sending the flying leeches. Hockstetter sees the creature come out from behind a junked car. He notices that

its face was running like wax. Sometimes it began to harden and look like something – or someone – and then it would start to run again, as if it couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be.

It says only ‘hello and goodbye’ to Patrick in a “bubbling voice”, yet Beverley hears her father say ‘hello and goodbye’. On the surface we understand this. Al Marsh is the person (thing) she is most afraid of (and had Beverly seen what had happened, not just heard it, she would have seen her father drag him off.) But this small scene actually poses problems for the novel’s logic. The creature can’t settle on what image to appear as to Hockstetter because it’s getting nothing from Hockstetter. It seems to be trying to “get a reading” but Patrick’s mind is blank of fears. Now on the novel’s logic, had Mike Hanlon been hiding with Beverly he would have heard It squawk ‘hello and goodbye’ like the giant bird; Richie would have heard the words in the sound of a werewolf’s snarl. So either It can broadcast on all frequencies or it relies on its victims to interpret one signal. Yet if it relies on its victims to interpret one signal, why is It bothering to shape-shift ‘as if it couldn’t make up its mind’? It implies the creature’s shapeshifting runs on some sort of evolved instinct – like an animal changing its colouring to suit the surroundings. This poses questions about the creature’s will, and therefore its abilities. What seems a way of demonstrating just how deranged Hockstetter is, actually dilutes the horror a little because it suggests the creature is simply feeding, rather than being actively wicked. We can get all gooey when the lion tears the baby antelope apart, but we don’t think the lion is doing anything bad. Yet we’re told It uses the tactic of appearing as whatever its victim is scared of deliberately. The fear is what ‘salts the meat’ for the entity. King seems to want things all ways, here.

Another curious scene with the Bullseye occurs back in the house on Neibolt street. The kids are there, armed with the silver-slugs they have made, to confront and kill It. Beverley almost wastes one silver-slug on a rat before Bill roars at her not to fire.

‘It wanted me to shoot at it,’ Beverly said in a faint voice. ‘Use up half our ammunition on it.’

    ‘Yes,’ Bill said. ‘It’s l-l-like the FBI training r-range at Quh-Quh-Quantico, in a w-w-way. They seh-send y-you down this f-f-hake street and pop up tuh-targets. If you shuh-shoot any honest citizens ih-instead of just cruh-crooks, you l-lose puh hoints.’

 This makes surface sense. But this scene, like the one in the junkyard with the leeches, poses questions about the will of the creature. The children believe the silver will kill the monster because that’s what the movies and comics say, and it seems the creature is damaged by what the children believe. Once It knows it’s the werewolf which scares them, it takes on the appearance of the werewolf, but also the monster’s weaknesses. Doing this strongly implies a lack of choice on the part of the creature. This scene is like a portal into the novel’s subtext. The novel’s creature is forced to have weaknesses because the novel’s subtext is that the fears the children have are of their own making, and are strong enough to manifest into reality: fear of bigger kids, of bullies; fear of illness and of monsters from the movies; fear of coming sexuality and the perils of puberty.

This is best shown when Beverly pulls back the Bullseye to fire, knowing very well she’s out of ammo. The creature believes they have another slug because the Losers act as if they do, yet a few pages before the creature was trying to get them to waste ammo on a rat, seemingly knowing what they were armed with.

Here the subtext actually breaches the surface into the action. (Another example is when It chases Mike Hanlon at the derelict ironworks: why doesn’t it morph into a smaller bird, or anything else small enough to get into the smoke-stack Mike hides in? One can only assume it doesn’t because it can’t. This is partially explained on page 990, when, from It’s point of view, we’re told that ‘all living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit. For the first time It realised that perhaps Its ability to change Its shapes might work against It as well as for It.’)

One has to ask if the creature has the ability to change shapes when it chooses to do so or not? If yes, why doesn’t it do so? If no, then this really is where a portal into the subtext could actually be a rip in the dimension between the fiction and its subtext. One must remember that the characters do not know they are characters in a novel.

Most kids are scared of spiders and many adults remain scared of them. So when the empowered kids get under the city and discover the thing’s form – the closest approximation to its real form the human mind can see – is a giant spider, there isn’t much shock in that. Indeed, the spider’s appearance was foreshadowed. On page 404, there’s this exchange between Beverly and her mother, discussing the spider she pretended she saw when the blood spurted from her bathroom sink. She asks her mother if she had seen the spider, and her mother replies

‘I didn’t see any spider. I wish we could afford a little new linoleum for that bathroom floor.’ She glanced at the sky, which was blue and cloudless. ‘They say if you kill a spider it brings rain. You didn’t kill it, did you?’

    ‘No,’ Beverly said. ‘I didn’t kill it.’

It’s a nice touch that King has the mother note the sky is blue and cloudless before she worries about rain. The exchange clearly foreshadows hundreds of pages (and thirty years in time) later when the grownups think they kill the spider and downtown Derry is destroyed in a downpour, flooding the place and destroying the standpipe. The spider is again foreshadowed just prior to Mike Hanlon meeting the Losers for the first time during the scene in which Henry Bowers (possessed by It, as are the adults such as Beverly’s dad and Eddie’s mother) chases him. This drives Hanlon to the Losers, where he becomes their final member and they attack the Bowers gang in The Apocalyptic Rockfight. While chasing Mike, Henry throws a cherry-bomb (an extraordinarily dangerous firework banned in 1966) and in panic, Hanlon scales a fence and Henry follows; he stops on the way up to order his cronies to keep going, and was ‘hung there like a bloated poisonous spider in human shape.’ It’s a safe bet that if you’re not actually scared of spiders, you probably won’t be picking them up and stroking them like you would a puppy. Spiders are a scare catch-all. Spiders lay eggs, and King’s spider lays plenty.

Ben saw something new: a trail of eggs. Each was black and rough-shelled, perhaps as big as an ostrich-egg. A waxy light shone from within them. Ben realised they were semi-transparent; he could see black shapes moving inside.

He has Ben stamp on them and kill the spidery things inside as they squeal while trying to escape. In 1986, this image should have been familiar to horror fans. One month before King published It, James Cameron released Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien from 1979. In one early scene from Aliens, Ripley is talking to a collection of suits who have been trying to get her to justify detonating her ship. She tells them ‘Kane who went into that ship said he saw thousands of eggs there. Thousands.’ Nobody who has seen Alien will forget those eggs, and the spidery, face-hugger things which come out of them. The imagery in Aliens – the humans strung-up, ready to be hosts for the face-huggers; the semi-transparent eggs with something inside; the deadly female creature which lays them – are all repeated in It when the Losers chase the spider, and who would argue the Queen in Aliens isn’t a little spider-like? Even Bill’s wife, Audra, is strung-up in the spider’s web, a morsel to be eaten later, just like the colonists found by the Marines in Aliens. This isn’t a coincidence.

Like the alien Queen in Aliens, King makes his monster female, and there’s something nauseating about that image: a female spider laying eggs. Alien and Aliens tap into this directly with the idea of a human being a host for another living thing; though in King’s novel the spider doesn’t use humans as hosts – and only eats its victims because its victims expect it to – there’s a connection the films share with the novel, and the similar imagery is striking. Entire papers could be written on our fear of spiders and the identical images which the novel shares with the two horror films.

The story is a “coming-of-age” tale and nostalgia trip buried under popular horror wrapped in classic American pop-culture and movie history. The journey, from child to adolescent and then to “grownup” is a hard and depressing one: full of fear which sits in a belly which aches for different reasons. The battle the children have under the city, in the tunnels, is an important one, and those dark, scary tunnels are important, but the most important tunnel in the story is on the surface: the tunnel between the children’s library and the adult library. This tunnel is mentioned several times, and after the destruction of Derry, explodes for a reason which is not explained, leaving both libraries as separate buildings. It is suggested that the trip from child to adult is always going to be a hard one, with no shortcuts:

if you wanted to get from the Children’s Library to the adult library, you had to walk outside to do it. And if it was cold, or raining, or snowing, you had to put on your coat.

There’s no escape for any child; there’s no easy path from kid to grownup, and the truth is that while we happily skip about as a kid, telling everyone we’re doing fine and hoping they believe it, there’s terror going under the surface.

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A Toasted Mind

Peter Hitchens thinks cannabis is a dangerous drug which could make those who use it violent. He might be right about that. There should be an enquiry. Who wouldn’t want one?

The desire to die seems to me to be one of the most interesting things about many of these attacks. Why don’t we focus more on this desire? Do we consider the doer’s death incidental?

The IRA didn’t have this tendency. IRA murderers wanted to remain alive to organise more death and plant more bombs. Were many or most or some of the IRA mass-killers on drugs?

If they were not, then it is clear acts of mass violence and murder are possible *without* the killer being made unhinged by chemicals, thus posing the question how relevant is the drug-use in some of the latest lunatics’ behaviour? Maybe it’s very relevant. Maybe it’s not.

If many of the IRA were on drugs, then those IRA persons are strong evidence that one can be a deranged lunatic who is happy to murder and torture without wanting to die themselves.

Suicide is a serious business. To want to die is to want something which runs counter to hundreds of millions of years of evolution and natural selection. What could make a person happy to die?

A person might be happy to die because they think that, after their death, they will continue to be alive. On a religious worldview, killing yourself is no more than jumping a stream.

The murders these maniacs do is one thing, but that they all seem to be happy to die is possibly more important because there’s no mystery to humans being violent.

Why should a person, whose mind is affected by drugs (or ideology or both) become violent and want to hurt others?

Why is violence what surfaces, instead of a desire to go brass-rubbing or flower-arranging?

Could it be that the drugs don’t make a person violent? Might the drugs allow the latent violence to surface? (This is not a distinction without a difference.)

Human beings are animals: evolved creatures like any other. We are naturally savage and violent. It is civilisation which is unnatural. Good manners and central-heating don’t grow under rocks.

Stanley Milgram showed just how easy it is to get us to hurt others. It takes almost no effort to get humans to press other humans’ arms down on electrified plates, or flick switches to administer electric shocks.

(I challenge any ‘believer’ to read Milgram’s famous work on obedience to authority. It explains how the Nuremberg defence is, er, a genuine defence…The book will ruin the life of whoever reads it by completely destroying their romanticism about ‘evil’. And once ‘evil’ goes then its opposite follows…)

Violence is natural in humans.  Milgram showed we become torturers with shocking ease.

Willingness to die is the interesting thing about these attacks.

Why did the IRA have no suicide policy?