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?

The Rotting Fish

The problem with the politicians is that they are controlled by political correctness. The political establishment is determined to believe that Islam isn’t a stupid and violent ideology because many of those who practice Islam have brown skin.

To criticise some of the ridiculous and dangerous ideas in Islam – martyrdom, apostasy blah blah – is to criticise the beliefs of persons with brown skin. This is obviously racist.

Political correctness is killing us.

The attacks the Islamists launch will get worse and more frequent and more innocent humans will be murdered. The cowardly politicians, police, and local authorities in this country will blame everything from TV to fast-food and passing comets for the killers’ behaviour.

What these lunatics actually believe about the universe will never be the cause of their behaviour because the PC groupthink won’t allow it. Our “leaders” are not leaders.

This is the most terrifying quote I’ve ever heard about Islamist violence. It’s from Mr Obama, responding to the murder of James Foley by first refusing to accept that Islamic State is Islamic, and giving the world a beautiful example of the fish rotting from the head:

‘ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt…. we will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. May God bless and keep Jim’s memory. And may God bless the United States of America.’

It’s the stuff of nightmares…

The Conversion Con

The word ‘conversion’, when it refers to switching religion, is absurd and pretentious. It is absurd because the word connotes the changing of one thing into another via a complicated and technical process – and that is what makes it pretentious. Nothing complicated or technical happens.

I mean to say, take a second to consider the self-importance of this ‘process.’

A person has faith that the universe was created be an all-powerful and benevolent supernatural power: an actual being which exists independent of their mind. This could be a faith they have held for many years and have, perhaps, told other humans they ‘knew in their heart’ that God was real and speaking to them. Their internal, physiological sensations were considered ‘evidence’ of and for this ‘truth.’ Perhaps for many years they attended a particular place of worship and were an active member of their congregation – perhaps working in the community on behalf of their church or mosque.

Then – and the reasons for this choice are irrelevant – they decided to ‘convert’ to another religion. What actually happens? What does the convert actually do?

Well, they need to take ‘instruction’ in their new belief. For example, if an Anglican decides to ‘convert’ to Catholicism he might need to know about the transubstantiation and consubstantiation, for example. There will be differing points of theology to study, maybe, and – generally speaking – there will be certain ‘this is how we do things here’ lessons to learn. In short – the whole process is a piece of outward showmanship and internal self-delusion.

It matters not one jot how much ‘instruction’ the convert accepts, they cannot escape one simple, devastating fact. They have to stop believing in something they previously believed. Quite why this doesn’t seem to bother them I don’t know.

It might be because the absurdity of what they have done is masked by the technical implications in the word ‘conversion.’ They don’t say they have stopped believing in one religion and started believing in another, or that one belief has been dropped and another been taken up. That would suggest the dropping of their original belief was easy to do, that it had not much substance to begin with.

To know how ridiculous the notion of religious ‘conversion’ is, do what most thinking people do when testing an idea. Apply the idea to another situation and see if it looks stupid.

A Newcastle United fan is, for whatever reason, disenchanted by his club. He wishes to ‘convert’ from Newcastle United to Sunderland FC.

Perhaps he might need to visit Sunderland’s sacred ground, learn of the club’s history and its most famous players; the club’s victories and defeats and so on. Perhaps, after showing interest in these things, he is allowed to join the Sunderland supporters club and then is finally accepted into the Sunderland congregation. He has converted – all praise the beautiful game!

Has he ‘converted’? Would he describe himself as a ‘convert’? Would his former comrades in black and white call him a ‘convert’ do you think? He would be called a traitor to his faith, his religion, the cause – or whatever football fans call the emotional, loyalty-based trickery which the corporate clubs use to take their money.

(What I find hilarious is that there is no chance that a NUFC would ever go over to Sunderland. But a Newcastle FC loving Anglican could easily become a Catholic without fuss. Football or God – which is the stronger faith?)

Religious ‘conversion’ – that it happens and is called what it is – is all one needs to know about the tissue-thin ‘faith’ a person purports to have. That they can drop it, that they can take up a different version of it – or swap religions altogether – is absolute proof that many faith-holders are simply deluding themselves about what they believe and about how important it is in their lives. More importantly, that other faiths allow converts to come over means the faiths themselves are doing no more than fighting for market-share.

No doubt many faith-holders would bleat that the process is ‘painful’ or they ‘grappled with their conscience’ – or something similar because they wish to give the impression of an emotional or psychological struggle. Don’t believe a word of it. This sort of language is to give weight to what is no more than a ‘drop one, pick up another’ move. At its root, that is all that happens.

The religious know they are deluding themselves, they know how irrational what they believe is. The ceremonial song and dance routine, wrapped up in technical language like ‘conversion’ and prettified with peacock-feathers and fake struggle – is the way that the rest of us can see their ‘religious conviction’ for what it is.

 

 

Graceful Monstors

In the genre of horror fiction, many authors have touched upon the same subject matter and populated their works with similar characters. Serial-killers, Cop-killers, Child-killers: they have featured in hundreds of novels and films over the years. The same is true of Lovecraftian demons and spirits. Stories of haunting and possession are as old as history, and the deformed, shape-shifting and deceitful entities that are responsible for those haunting tales, have themselves featured many times across the work of authors whose lives have been separated by centuries. There appears to be nothing original under the sun.

Some writers do have an original take on an old story or character type, though. For example, in his novel, Cell, Stephen King has battalions of flesh eating zombies doing some nasty things to the population of Boston.  Zombie tales and movies tend to keep to a standard pattern: zombie eats you alive, you then become a zombie yourself, and you eat your mum or another dispensable support character. No explanation tends to be offered why the dead have decided to rise – or why they are so hungry – and the main plot of these stories revolves around the survival attempts of a few desperate groups of humans. Some of these elements are true of Cell, but there is one remarkable and original difference to King’s Zombies: they are alive.

The un-dead – or phoners, as King calls them – have received a mysterious signal through their mobiles which sends them violently insane. Their behaviour is similar to run-of-the-mill un-dead flesh-eaters from books and movies of the past, but only up to a point. King soon takes his readers away from the conventional as his story unfolds.

The movie Wolf Creek is another example of giving a tired format a decent revival. A serial killer, roaming at his leisure across Western Australia, kills tourists visiting the Wolf Creek meteorite crater. The psycho-is-chasing-you format has been done in dozens of movies – hundreds, more likely – though in this film we have a refreshing change. The psycho is a decent bloke. There are no funny facial ticks, no talking to voices in his head; the killer is played straight by John Jarrett, and is much scarier for it. Even at his most violent, Mick Taylor, Jarrett’s character, never falls into parody: Jarrett plays the part as if he was influenced by no other performance on stage or screen – a remarkable achievement, actually.

Wolf Creek has another piece of originality going for it: there is no double-take used by the director. This shock technique features in so many horror films that its effectiveness has been diluted. We all have seen this at work. The camera stands behind a scared character; they look left, and the camera looks with them. There is never a baddie to be seen. Then, they look right – again the camera follows to show the madman is nowhere around. And then – guess what – they look left again and the psycho’s face is inches from theirs. You never saw that coming.

Actually, there was a time when cinema audiences were scared to death by that now much over-used technique. The double-take was first used by director David Lean in his version of Great Expectations (1946). It was used to introduce Pip to Magwitch, and, famously, to introduce Magwitch to the audience. It worked brilliantly. So much so, less original directors still use it

Murderous psychopaths belong to no-one – they can’t be copyrighted, so there is no quality control in place. The same is true of all types of horror villain and monster. If you get lucky, you watch or read something that catches the attention because it breaks the normal way of telling that story or presenting those characters.

Richard Matheson’s Vampire novel, I am legend (1954) has a protagonist who is considered a terrorist – an outcast, because he is in a minority (a minority of one, as it happens) and the rest of the population of Los Angeles is a blood-sucker. The novel offers the theory that vampires are the next evolutionary step for mankind. This is better than presenting them as Satan’s disciples on earth, who avoid garlic and drink virgins’ blood. That version of vampires has been overdone.

But then vampires are the one of the most popular horror novel or movie creatures; it is not surprising there is so much pap printed on paper and celluloid about the fictional blood-suckers; but, there are writers who offer an intriguing and original take on this type of story.

Anne Rice is one of them. Her novel, Interview with the vampire, (1976) was a best-seller, and the first of eleven novels collectively known as The Vampire Chronicles. The series tells of the adventures of Lestat De Lioncourt, a French aristocrat and actor, who was kidnapped and turned into a vampire in 17th Century Paris.

Lestat is posh but penniless. He ventures into the big city with Nicholas, his companion to expand their horizons and make their fortune. Nicholas, a talented violinist, takes work in the orchestra pit of a theatre while Lestat, ever the show off, treads the boards. Life is perfect. They take-in the sumptuous city: the people; the wine; the food – they indulge their passions, but Lestat becomes un-easy at the sight of a curious white face in the audience each night. Someone is stalking him.

Rice offers a mix of Dickens blended with Dorian Gray. There is the overpopulated metropolis with the detritus-ridden underbelly, and slopping about upon its surface are the beautiful people; drowning in decadence and drunk on wine and passion.

Lestat, for all his foppish, Wildean extravagance, has a killer’s blood pumping through his veins. Before eloping to Paris, he killed a pack of wolves that had been slaughtering people from his home village. On horseback, with his beloved Mastiffs by his side, he hunted and killed them. Doing so cost him his horse and his dogs, but the starving villagers and their cattle had a chance to make it through a cruel winter. He was a hero, but the folly of setting off alone demonstrated his maverick side. It is that – along with his physical beauty – that captures the attention of Magnus, the vampire with the ghostly white face who has been stalking him.

It is here that Rice begins to deviate from the norm as far as tradition and popularity in vampire stories go. Vampires in her world are capable of love and passion, they are capable of guilt and sadness – they are monsters, they are un-dead – but why should that mean they must be mindless demons, automatically slaying any human they spot? Rice’s vampires choose how they behave. Too many times in horror fiction vampires are portrayed as being enslaved by the insatiable thirst for blood; they kill because of it. It’s their addiction and their food. Not so with Anne Rice.

The thirst is nothing more than a demonic craving, leading to madness if not slacked, but not required for continued existence. Her monsters are a human / spirit hybrid; the spirit element craves the blood, but the human side – the physical body – no longer requires nourishment. As her vampires age, slowly the thirst subsides until the ancient ones, those at least a thousand years old, no longer need it at all. And with age comes ever increasing powers.

Magnus is one of the ancient ones. He chooses Lestat as his heir after murdering hundreds of similar looking victims. Lestat has the perfect balance of beauty and aggression and Magnus, after taunting him in his dreams – calling him wolf-killer – takes him to his lair and turns him, and does so, much against Lestat’s will.

Rice’s hero continues his life, but as a vampire. He still visits his favourite places and enjoys the culture of the time. He is frequently found in the theatres, cafes and strolling along the banks of the Seine. The circumstances of his existence have changed, but his tastes, and his entire thinking mind, have not. It makes her characters far more engaging than the one-track-mind demons that meander from one virgin neck to another. It also demonstrates Rice’s skill as an author. A lead character needs to elicit sympathy from the readers of a novel or the audience of a movie. Rice’s Lestat is a mass murderer, and she still makes him engaging and sympathetic.

Play it straight and tell the truth, that is the safest way. It is too easy to make a murderer lose credibility by getting carried away with the killer’s dark side. Even a murderer has a sense of humour. John Jarret played it this way in Wolf Creek, but he’s not the only one to get the portrayal of a killer spot-on.

Harrison Ford did a similarly grand job in What lies Beneath (2000). He gives, possibly, his best performance as Dr. Norman Spencer, an academic who puts his research first. In one scene, Ford’s character is explaining to his wife how her death will bring him and her daughter closer together. It is clear he means it; he will look after his step-daughter, and provide the very best for her. As he explains this to his wife, he is filling the bath to drown her. It is the incongruity written into the scene, topped off with Ford’s delivery that gives the scene its power. Even allowing for Dr. Spencer’s insanity, he never once comes across as dangerous. He is a graceful monster. And where is it written that madness has to be dangerous? Who decided insanity must lead to murder?

One film comes to mind with a lead character so psychologically damaged that it is remarkable not a single member of the cast gets slaughtered; a movie with the most deranged protagonist: The King of Comedy (1983) is that film.

Robert de Niro plays the psychopath, Rupert Pupkin, a stand-up comedian with delusions (literally) of grandeur. It is one of the most disturbing movies I have seen. Not a single murder, hardly any violence, yet the impression left by this film lasts long in the mind. It is very uncomfortable viewing. It proves dead bodies and gore will always come second to a quality script and decent actors in the race to disturb an audience. To creep under the radar requires no trickery. It requires you pick the lock of their critical shields and slip inside using truth. This is why gore-sodden celluloid like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) will make an audience squirm, will make them jump, but will never get access to the place where humans are truly vulnerable.  Movies such as Saw and Hostel – and many others, of course – will try and batter their way in using boring tricks and double-takes.

Those blades are blunt.

A Different Coast

It is the dead of night

 The long dead look out towards

The new dead

Walking towards them

There is a soft heartbeat as the dead embrace

Those who are long dead

And those of the new dead

Walking towards them

They cry and they kiss

As they meet again

For the first and last time.

“Meeting” – Harold Pinter

 

 

I told my wife I was going for my usual stroll. My usual stroll was through the park and along through the cemetery, and then I’d loop back again and come back. The particulars of the walk are unimportant. I went that way because I liked the peace in the cemetery. There was never more than a few living people in there at one time, and it was easy to get some quiet.

Occasionally I would read some of the graves. I would read the names on the headstones and any inscription. I like history. Acknowledging those who lived here, long before I existed, seemed a correct thing to do for some reason. I’m unsure exactly why. I suppose those who are buried are the lucky ones – much luckier than those who are cremated. A headstone is a blue-plaque for the unknown.

One time, on my usual stroll, I stopped and sat on one of those slatted wooden benches they have in the cemetery. It’s got a brass plate screwed into it which says ‘In loving memory of William Brown – a real gentleman’, though I’ve never been able to find his headstone anywhere.

I sat down and took a sip from the flask that I carry. (A small, silver one – a present to myself – which slips in and out of the old inside pocket with agreeable ease and frequency.) I looked about, taking a minute. Then I saw something which held my attention. I was sat close to a small shed – not much more than a wooden box. It looked like a place where a gardener would keep some tools, or a wheelbarrow or something. Leaning against the side of it was one of those tall bins on wheels. What caught my attention was the message daubed on the front of it. The message was ‘No Hot Ashes’. I looked at it for several seconds, as if I was trying to decipher what it meant. I realised soon enough what it meant wasn’t what bothered me about it. That there was a rule which said a bin should have no hot ashes placed in it was clear enough. What bothered me was lurking just under the surface of my thoughts, and didn’t want to be uncovered. I know myself well enough. That message made me change my usual stroll for another one. I didn’t want to see that message again.

From then on, I took a different route for my stroll. I’d still go through the park, but rather than going through the cemetery, I’d turn towards the shops, dart along a footpath which lead to a set of steep steps up to the cliffs. There was a splendid walk to be had along the cliffs, so long as you could manage the climb up and I suppose not everyone could manage it. A quick snort from the old flask usually gave the required boost. It was worth the effort for the view.

Along the cliff-path were more of those slatted benches where you could sit and admire the view out to sea. The water would carry you out to where it touched the sky if you allowed it to. The view was as clear as that. You know what people say, that on a clear day you can ‘see forever’? The view was a bit like that.

I was sat on a bench, wondering how far the horizon was, when a man appeared at the top of the steep steps and strolled over. He sat down and caught his breath while dabbing his brow with a black handkerchief. I offered a polite nod – just an acknowledgment. It seemed the correct thing to do. Once he had his breath – and I knew he was going to do this – he decided to speak.

‘Takes it out of you,’ he said, slapping his lap. ‘Worth it, though. Look at that view.’ He looked at me. ‘Worth it?’

‘Always,’ I replied. ‘Better when it’s quiet like this, though: no dogs barking or running about the place.’

‘Absolutely,’ he said, looking out to sea again. He pinched his nose, sniffed, and slapped his lap. ‘Right,’ he said, standing up, ‘enjoy your day.’ With that he got up and carried on along the path which dipped slightly and within a moment or so took him out of view.

He was friendly enough, I thought. I admired the view for a few minutes longer, then set off the way the man had gone. I knew well enough where the path I was on would lead. It dropped slightly, stayed alongside the cliff-edge for about 100 yards, then turned away from the edge and dropped, steeper still, down to the normal world of traffic and shops and noise.

That night I woke up some time in the early hours, sweating a little, and trying to catch my breath. I rolled out of bed in something of a panic, and my wife woke up and wanted to know why I was kneeling on the floor, gasping for breath like I’d just run a marathon.

 

*

I explained I’d had a nightmare, that it was nothing to worry about. She persisted in telling me to get ‘looked at’ and make sure everything was okay. She acted worried, though for someone worried was calmed easily. I didn’t hold that against her – why should I? I’m not a romantic in any sense of the word.

She looked up something called ‘sleep apnea’ online and decided to become an expert in this topic, thinking that my little ‘moment’ of breathlessness was due to this condition. I pointed out that, if that were the case, then moments of breathlessness would happen most nights, but it had only happened once. She did agree I had a point.

I decided to get out the house and go for more walks. My wife didn’t want to come along but agreed exercise was a very good idea. It was always worth it.

The next afternoon I ventured out again and, after stopping at the newsagent to buy a discreet bottle of top-up for the old inside pocket, went up to the cliff-path by the way I had come down the other day. It wasn’t as steep as the steps, but still hard work; as always, the view was worth it.

The man I had spoken to briefly was sat on another bench, staring out to sea. I was huffing and puffing a bit, so decided to sit down next to him. He didn’t acknowledge me, though: he was concentrating on the horizon.

‘Dammed fine view, that,’ I said. Then he looked at me, expressionless, like he was in a trance brought on by the horizon.

‘Could I have a quick drop of the old you know what?’

‘Sorry?’ I said.

He nodded in the direction of my jacket.

I twigged what he was getting at. ‘Oh, right – yes!’ I took out the silver flask, unscrewed it, and offered it over. He took two good swallows then handed it back.

I quickly put it back in the old inside pocket.

‘Thanks,’ he said.

I nodded as if to say you’re welcome and was about to introduce myself – you know the thing, offer out the old fashioned handshake – when he got up, and quite calmly walked toward the edge and then walked right over without looking back.

For a moment I had to question if I’d seen what I knew I had seen. You know how your brain registers and event, but if it’s unexpected, the mind sort of suffers a delay in recognition? I’m no expert, but it was something like that. I hurried over to the edge and got as close as felt safe and peered over. It was a few perhaps a hundred feet to the rocks and water below, but there was no sign of him. He’d been wearing red trousers, which I thought would have been easy to spot, but there was nothing. My heart was thudding and I looked around quickly, wondering if anyone else saw him go over, but there was nobody about. I couldn’t hear even a dog barking in the distance.

I grabbed at my coat pockets, in a panic to find a phone, but there was only the familiar lump of the flask. I thought I had my phone with me, but obviously not. I was thinking I’m supposed to be phoning the bloody coastguard or someone now, but the way he calmly stepped over the edge made me think all was well about things. That might sound weird, but he was so calm about it.

I thought then that calling the coastguard was a waste of time in any case, because nobody hitting those rocks would survive. What would they do? There was actually a little bit of beach down below a person could get to, but the geography made things difficult, and it was a twenty minute walk to get back down the steps, then take the scenic route almost out of town before doubling back along the main beach; and even then things were fiddly because there was a walk across the rocks to get to the bit of hidden beach down below. I’d been all over the rock when I was a kid, but that was some time ago.

I didn’t know what to do. If I ignored it, I couldn’t tell my wife, but If I didn’t ignore it, I’d have to tell her. I decided I’d call the police and report the incident, explaining I didn’t call earlier because I had no phone on me at the time. This felt like a solid plan, so I made for home.

 

*

I told my wife excitedly what had happened. I left out no details. I’d seen this chap before, and that this time – after no more than a ‘hello’ – he just got up of the bench and walked calmly off the cliff edge! I told her I’d seen nothing like it and that he didn’t even hesitate – not for a moment did he hesitate! I thought she’d be somewhat more excited, but she just smiled and said, how terrible it was that someone would do that.

‘I’m going to call the police,’ I said.

My wife gave me one of those ‘good-for-you’ play punches in the shoulder and passed me the phone. I called them, but not on the emergency line, just the normal ‘report something’ line: the same line people use for reporting cats up trees, noisy neighbours or a stolen car or something. It wasn’t long before I was through all the ‘push one for whatever’ business. I started by telling them my name and address, and then got down to it. The police person didn’t seem in any kind of hurry. It was an older sounding voice, possibly male.

‘And they didn’t say anything? The man just jumped off the cliff?’

‘That’s right. Just like I said: we said hello, then he just got up and walked off. He didn’t jump, though. He just walked off. He just calmly stepped off the edge.’

‘And nobody else saw this? There was nobody around from whom you could have borrowed a phone. It was an emergency, after all.’

‘I get that but if there was nobody there, then what could I do?’

‘Are you sure there was nobody else there? Think about it. Are you sure there was nobody else there? Maybe you just didn’t see them?’

‘No,’ I said – although it made me think for a moment – ‘there was nobody else there. I would remember seeing them.’

There was just breathing down the line for a moment or two. Then the voice spoke again.

‘Maybe there was somebody else there, but you just forgot you spoke to them for five minutes?’

This made me scared for some reason. Who was on the other end of the phone?

‘Don’t be scared – just think about things. How did he know you had that flask on you?’

I started to feel a little dizzy, and the hairs on my arms were standing up. I quickly looked about but my wife had disappeared.

‘How do you know that?’ I asked. ‘How could you – ‘

‘Go back and do it again. But this time pay more attention.’

The line went dead.

 

*

I bought two small bottle of the old top-up at the shops and started up the steps. I’d walked the steps plenty of times but they were heavy going. The air was heavier this time. By the time I was at the top I was out of breath and needed to take a minute. I decided to sit for a minute and that’s when I saw him sat on the bench.

It was the same man, no mistake. He even wore the same red trousers. It was obviously him, but at the same time it obviously couldn’t have been him. I walked over and sat down. He didn’t look at me.

I got my breath a little more and spoke, but I didn’t look at him. For some reason I couldn’t do that yet.

‘Takes it out of you,’ I said. ‘Worth it, though. Look at that view.’ I looked at him then, but wished I hadn’t.

He was smiling, but had tears in his eyes.

‘I suppose you prefer things when they’re quite?’

‘Yes,’ I said. That’s all that came out.

He kept smiling and turned towards the water. ‘Who’s go is it? It’s your turn.’

I knew he was right.

The weather was good, there were no clouds in the sky and the sea was calm all the way to the horizon. There was a breeze, but the air was still warm.

You can’t fight the tide, you can only ride it as best you can, but there’s no stopping it. I stood up and left him on the bench and walked towards the edge, feeling the breeze and the warmth on my face. I peered over the edge and saw the waves breaking against the rocks far below. As the rocks rushed closer I knew I was smiling.

This never hurt for long.

A Man of Wealth and Taste

 

I’m now going to indulge in a spot of crazy speculation. I’m going to imagine there was in this country a national vote on the question of whether or not the Tories were a bunch of land-downing toffs who liked to snort cocaine through the hollowed-out finger-bones of their servants’ dead babies.

I think this question should be put to the country.

It would be interesting to look at the results. I’m going to be a snob and assume that a ‘yes’ vote might be concentrated in the North-East of the country. It’s not a shock that certain categories of person think the same way. There’s even a cliché to describe this: “birds of a feather flock together.”

Don’t they just.

The results of the EU vote show the cliché is probably true. Many of the Westminster/Media/Celebrity class wanted to remain in the EU. There was a clear ‘remain’ London bubble.

Who could forget Gary Lineker’s clever Tweet where he said ‘U Kip for a few hours….’?

Or poor Richard Bacon’s reaction-tweet: pouring his heart out that he feels so sad now, and the vote to leave was (not only) ‘small’ but ungrateful to eastern European immigrants. Perhaps it’s immigrants who deliver his cocaine? I have no idea.

That this category of person voted to Remain makes sense, and so does their reaction to losing the vote. The elitist always thinks he knows better than everyone else.

Consider the reaction of another Celebrity/Media/London (etc.) bubble-head: Damon Albarn. He told a massed gathering of proles that democracy had failed us because it was ill-informed. Ill informed?

Irony isn’t Albarn’s strong point.

What he means is he dislikes the result, and wishes it had gone the other way. But why not just say that, then? It’s the answer to that which is where the most interesting aspect to this vote is to be found.

In describing democracy as ill-informed, Albarn is hiding his real meaning. He means the 17 million humans who voted to leave the EU were ill-informed, but how can he possibly know this?

He can’t, and that’s the point. Who’s truly “ill informed” here?

(Perhaps Albarn was taught to read minds by Derren Brown?)

His attitude is stupendously arrogant: he has simply decided to believe the majority didn’t understand the complicated arguments. (Even Richard Bacon called the result ‘economically illiterate’. How would he know? He’s just repeating phrases he’s heard others use.)

We can all be snobs about this or that, and I’m no different in principle. However, I’m confident that, even at my most conceited, I wouldn’t be deluded enough to publicly write-off 17 million voters as idiots for voting the wrong way.

But what Damon Albarn and Richard Bacon Gary Lineker think is not shocking. Their conformist bubble-views are to be expected.

The celebrity who shocked me was Derren Brown.

He Tweeted support for a second referendum, here.

This is actually shocking because Derren Brown is so obviously intelligent and educated. In addition, he’s a (somewhat) outspoken atheist who has written about the importance of science as compared to superstition, and the importance of thinking rationally and using evidence. Yet here we have Mr Brown openly declaring his desire for a second referendum.

What is going on inside Derren Brown’s head?

Why is this rationalist failing to appreciate the basic principle of democracy?

Does he not see that counted and verified votes are significant empirical evidence for something?

The death of Diana revealed that millions of us are bleating-sheep under the human veneer; Facebook allowed millions of us to reveal that we’re over-grown children with “issues” who should never have been allowed to reproduce; and this EU vote has revealed that many “celebrities” are extraordinarily arrogant, and have their own inner-Stalin to deal with.

I would have expected these elitists to have kept this horrid side to their characters hidden, yet they seem happy for the world to know what they’re like under the rubber-skin.

I knew Derren Brown was creepy, but I always thought it was part of the act.

Picture: Derren Brown after debating a ‘Leaver’ on the EU question.

 

It’s Hip to be Square

Let’s get one thing clear, American Psycho is a comedy. That needs to be understood before you read it. It’s a comedy about yuppies and how empty-headed and shallow they are: it’s about how far too much money and far too little imagination can cause you to begin to shrink your world, until you live in such a self indulgent cocoon, you cannot even spot the raving, murdering lunatic in your midst. That is what Easton-Ellis is telling us: yes, yuppies are that shallow.

This is a well-constructed work because it causes the reader to suffer from the same syndrome that grips the minds of most of its characters – only in reverse.

We have the self-obsessed city-boys, interested in the correct clothing labels and getting reservations at the right restaurant, and us, the readers, obsessing over the violent scenes of rape and murder, and – both us and them – missing the point entirely. The violence and murder are simply incidental to the plot, they are not the point. They serve the same purpose as a piece of misdirection performed by an illusionist. Just as you look the wrong way, the conjurer pulls a stroke.

Patrick Bateman is as hilarious as he is twisted: a perfectly tanned, toned and attired Metro-Sexual killing machine, drowning with pleasure in the very selfish excess that he despises, and yet must conform to the rules of. He maintains the required trophy girlfriend and adheres religiously to the latest men’s fashion, has membership of the most exclusive fitness club, styles his hair with a surgeon’s precision and forces rats into the vaginas of his victims.

There’s no accounting for taste.

His circle of co-accused are just as lacking in any sort of meaningful mental programming, treating the New York they live in as one huge private boys’ club, with membership relying on ticking certain financial and fashion based boxes on an ongoing basis. Most of the men in this work are successful, rich and stupid, and that is the point. A second point – which feeds the previous one – is that they never step out of the world in which they consume space, therefore never catch a glimpse of their own vulgarity, and, consequently, are unable to change for the better or want to. They are the small, obnoxious building blocks, whom together, make the impenetrable wall of arrogance and snobbery that protects their false, built-on-sand world.

Even between themselves, in packs of their own kind, these men are only half aware of each other. Do they even know who each other really is? They all have adopted the habit of addressing each other by their surnames, at least a large majority of the time. This is not so worrying until a particular character is introduced, and he starts referring to Bateman by the wrong surname. Why should this be worrying? Because Bateman responds to the surname as if it were correct, unable, due to the particular etiquette at work in their society, to offer a correction. This small, comical component offers to the reader some very disturbing questions about – if you will – the depths of their shallowness. When Bateman addresses an acquaintance, does he use the correct name himself? Are they just humouring him, shackled by the same etiquette? Is any of the group of friends Bateman surrounds himself with the people he thinks they are?

This question is thrust at the reader, when after killing Paul Allen, a man he has been obsessing over for sometime, Bateman learns that the same man has been seen in a restaurant in London. This is a confirmed sighting because Bateman is told by his victim’s dinner guest. So who on earth has he killed?

This particularly gruesome murder offers Easton-Ellis the chance to have another subtle kick at the world he is ripping to pieces. The killing happens in Allen’s own plush apartment. Upon returning to clean up the mess, Bateman – armed with a surgical mask to cope with the smell – has a brief conversation with a real estate agent who is re-selling the expensive property. The agent spots the surgical mask, and Bateman spots the mysteriously clean apartment. Their brief exchange involves the agent saying she doesn’t want any trouble and that Bateman should just go. So he does, walking away from the scene of his crime utterly bewildered, his fragile mind ever more confused.

It is exchanges like this that allow us to wonder if Bateman has actually been created by the world he lives in. Is the “greed is good” culture causing his psychosis? What could happen to a person’s view of what’s acceptable, when that person lives in world which lacks substance and any shred of morality; a world where even murders can be cleaned up if there’s a possibility of profit? Is Bateman the ultimate avenger for the self-indulgence of the slick-haired city boys and their air-head women? It’s possible, though I believe that Easton-Ellis lets Bateman loose on this world because he simply thinks they deserve it.

It was people of this kind that Brett Easton-Ellis was mixing with during the second half of the Eighties; he saw their world from the inside, the celebrity and credibility of being a writer allowing him rare access. He has stated that the time spent mixing with New York’s yuppie elite convinced him that they were the sort of people he would hate to be like; though they certainly left a lasting impression on the man, and this work demonstrates that impression.

He didn’t like them much.

I said this book is a comedy, and so it is. Consider this scene. Finally snapping and deciding to kill a chap whose attentions our psycho is sick of, he strides into the men’s room to confront his intended victim, his black-gloved hands ready to strangle the life out of this irritating man. As Bateman’s hands grip the man’s throat, the victim starts to smile, feeling the first stirrings of sexual desire. The victim is secretly gay (and must enjoy his own dark pleasures behind closed doors, it’s implied, if strangulation turns him on), and Bateman’s hands gripping his throat confirm Bateman must be as well. At last, the façade is dropped, now they can be together!

The comedy runs throughout this book. A urinal cake, taken from a men’s room, coated in chocolate, and then offered as a present, provides hilarity as the trophy girlfriend attempts to eat it. Bateman dropping his veil of normality and telling people directly what violent acts he’d love to perform on them (no-one really listens to each other, so he gets away with it), whilst the empty heads just nod along, paying no attention. Yeah, yeah, man. Sounds good, let’s touch base, oblivious that Bateman is telling them he wants to dig out their eyes.

The laughs are there, just so long as you don’t allow yourself to be tricked into paying too much attention to the violence. There’s plenty of it, and most is incredibly graphic, but it’s there to catch your eye – to keep you from the seeing reality: just like the soulless drones that populate the book can’t see it either. They’re too busy obsessing about designer labels to be able to.