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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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.

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.

Murder of the Soul

“..from top to bottom the whole system is a fraud, all of us knows it, labourers and capitalists alike, and all of us are consenting parties to it.”

 Henry Adams, 1838 – 1918

 Hierarchical structures are the support beams to the systems which are responsible for our financial, behavioural and ideological delusions. Some of these systems exist in the day to day world, they can be seen and heard, while others exist only in our heads, but are no less effective for that. Human beings are trained to obey masters, and while we obey those masters – some obvious, some invisible – we are failing ourselves.

One need only to glance at the way corprations, the Armed Forces, the Police, government departments and many other institutions are structured to see the system they have in place – hierarchy – is responsible for creating greed in the humans who toil within it. It is a mistake or laziness to believe hierarchies are natural and necessary. To come to see the truth of how hierarchies work, how they maintain themselves, requires one to unplug oneself from the Matrix. It is not always easy to do: some delusions offer security and comfort, and absolve one from the responsibility of acknowledging the horrors of the world; but to acknowledge the subtle oppression and manipulation which controls us is to make the first tentative steps toward freedom of mind.

There will be people who will argue that hierarchies exist to reward ‘hard-work’, ‘effort’, ‘commitment’, ‘dedication’ and ‘duty’. These naive and abstract labels would not exist without the basic human behaviour which makes them possible: obedience.

There will also be those who maintain the animal kingdom offers proof conclusive that hierarchies are natural and necessary. One usually hears mention of, say, Gorillas, in defence of hierarchies and how ‘pecking orders’ have been around for millennia and are, therefore, perfectly natural and necessary. Such arguments are laughable and those who make them prove their own argument false. It is language which offers such an argument, and it is the primitive species – such as Gorillas – which have no language, and therefore rely on primitive instinct to run their social group. Language makes hierarchies unnecessary. I have yet to see David Attenborough filming Gorillas, or Lions (or any other animal) offering bonuses and perks in return for obedience, or written warnings if they don’t get it.

Hierarchies within the animal kingdom exist for one reason only: basic survival of the living beings within the hierarchy.  The hierarchical structure for animals is redundant for the most part unless another group move closer. Only then is the Gorilla, as an example, required to do something, which is to say, have a fight for supremacy. The hierarchies humans belong to exist to allow the continuance of the hierarchy itself. It is a self-perpetuating monster. Humans, their thinking damaged by consumerism and greed, fail to see the true nature of the system that controls them.

A basic human hierarchy must create greed. In an office for example, a new starter may be called ‘an administrator’, and that title is understood to be the ‘first rung on the ladder’, and where there is a ladder there is something which needs to be climbed, because – just look around! – everyone else is doing it, and who wants to be the odd one out? (It’s worth mentioning that to write ‘everyone else is doing it’, is to touch upon one psychological phenomena of manipulation, explained by Robert Cialdini in his book: Influence: the psychology of persuasion. It is what he calls ‘social proof’ and it can be summed up thus: where all think alike, no one thinks very much.) An ‘administrator’ is tugged toward ‘working their way up’ or ‘getting on’ to keep their ego happy against their co-workers’ advancement. The claws of the hierarchy pierce the psyche here – and don’t let go.

When one makes the move from ‘administrator’ to the dizzy heights of ‘senior’ administrator, it is more than the job title which changes. On documents and emails, and name badges and things like that, the promoted person can inform those interested that they push paper in a ‘senior’ capacity, thereby giving other lowly ‘administrators’ something to look at to distinguish one paper pusher from another.

A visible difference is vital.

Visible perks – from a change in job title to a huge corner office – are as important as the private financial perks which are offered in return for obedience. (They may be more important, actually, but are certainly no less so; either way, the basis of advancement is obedience.)  I offer the following from someone who has been safely unplugged from the Matrix:

 ‘We have team spirit stamped upon our heads by managers whose noses are all the same shade of brown. And hardly do the managers work alone in their subjugation of the spirit, this assault on individuality; there are the managers’ obsequious lap-dogs – the senior administrators – with their slobbering mouths and hungry tongues. They whisper, gossip and report back, hoping to curry favour in return for a detestable brownie point, a faecal treat, peeled from the nose of their master and licked off the fingers with glee.’

 The military is one of the worst offenders when it comes to offering money and perks – along with gross pomp and ceremony – in return for the obedience which maintains its existence. A Private soldier is the military’s ‘administrator’ and will be paid more money – and maybe win the perk of private sleeping quarters – if he can make it to Lance-Corporal. Do consumer goods increase in value if one is a Lance -Corporal? Must a pay-rise be offered? Can not a human being whom other humans simply refer to as ‘Lance-Corporal’ survive on the wages of a private soldier? It must be possible, because one would have thought that is exactly what the Lance-Corporal did when he was a Private soldier. A Lance-Corporal is thrown a few extra financial scraps – the private perk – and gets to wear a V shaped piece of cloth on his arm – the visible perk. Some of the people who are still comfortably plugged into the Matrix will argue the extra money is offered because the newly promoted has additional responsibilities, and an increase in salary must reflect that. This point is meretricious. The promoted does not have ‘additional’ responsibilities; rather, the promoted has ‘different’ responsibilities. Not that this distinction matters, really, the question to ask is this: is it possible for a person newly promoted to carry out their new tasks in return for the same money and perks they received at their previous level within the hierarchy? The answer, without doubt, is yes. It is possible. Therefore, the system runs, not to reward, but to entice – to keep humans within it – and allow the subtle enslavement to continue. The same questions apply at the top of the military hierarchy – with the senior officers.

There must be reward for obedience because obedience murders individuality. The reward for selling one’s soul to the system of hierarchy is the opportunity of advancement within a system that needs to crush the soul to dust in order to self-perpetuate; and the money offered – and the value of the perks, combined – will always be less than the value of the labour and obedience offered in exchange for them. It has to be or the hierarchy will die. This is achieved, simply, by making people greedy by showing them the higher wages and perks available if they can only win that promotion.

The two hierarchies mentioned, corporate and military, are obvious examples; there are many others. Some of the others, I stated earlier, are invisible – existing only in our heads – but are still able to control our thinking, and, therefore, our behaviour.

These are the hierarchies to which we subscribe. The ‘property ladder’ is a perfect example of this type of hierarchy. Take a moment to ponder: what is the property ‘ladder’ made of? Is it wood? Is it aluminium? I mention these materials because I have seen ladders made of both. The ‘property ladder’ is an abstract notion which is designed to do one thing: manipulate as many people as possible into selling their homes every few years to buy something bigger (and bigger is better, isn’t it?), take on larger levels of debt (the bankers must laugh themselves to sleep each night), and increase their own dependence on their employment hierarchy of choice, because their debt to the bank needs to be met; therefore – you guessed it –  greater levels of obedience are required at work.

Don’t underestimate the use of the word ‘ladder’, either. One may hear the argument that the term, property ladder, is a convenient way to describe a harmless thing – people using free choice to choose where they live and in what type of property. If they can afford a more visibly impressive house, why not buy it? What’s the problem? The problem is the manipulative language which coerces people into doing it in the first place. How about referring to people on the property ‘path’, or the property ‘journey’? No, that would never do. ‘Ladder’ does the trick splendidly. As I stated before, where there is a ‘ladder’ there is something to climb; after all, what else are ladders for? And when those of us who are yet to be freed from the Matrix walk around and see these trappings of wealth, the cycle of greed and obedience is reinforced.

I have made several references to the film, The Matrix, and have done so because that film is the perfect metaphor for what I am describing: recognising the truth of the system, seeing the world as it really is, and, one hopes, starting to care a little about being treated like an irritating farm animal by the state.

Of course, the question remains: if what I say is true, what is to be done? Whatever the future holds for human beings, we control it; or, rather, we have the power to control it, but we – ordinary people – need to free our minds before we can free anything else.

When you are next sat in your car, stuck in traffic, becoming agitated because another driver has made you feel as if you must prove you are not as inadequate as you sub-consciously know you are by ‘cutting you up’, spare a thought for your fellow serf, and rather than wanting to become violent, instead, look at the thousands of obedient people sat in their obedience pods – all stuck in the same congestion – all travelling, heads down, to serve their hierarchy of choice.

A Ragged Review and an American Beauty

In the late 1980s Thames television made a documentary about a young chef whose restaurant – ‘Harvey’s’ –  in Wandsworth, London – was considered one of the best in the country. The head chef, Marco Pierre White, was only in his twenties but considered a genius. The man’s philosophy was simple: less really is more; let your ingredients speak for themselves and don’t clutter up your plate trying to be clever. One dish demonstrated this philosophy perfectly. His ‘panache of foie gras with pan fried sea scallops and carrots’ was exactly what it claimed to be – just three ingredients.

Restraint requires confidence.

If The Rag were served to me on a plate then I could believe that the chef really knew what he was doing, for The Rag has but three ingredients: prose, poetry and art.

Issue 5 – Winter/Spring 2013 comes with a cover featuring a bloodied rendition of Carlos the Jackal: the blood around the mouth suggestive of his taste for it – though there’s more going on inside his head if you look closely. In another picture there is a human figure, cuddling a rabbit, though the figure is sporting a wolf’s head; another human figure, this time with a cheetah’s head, is doing the same.

The notion that a human has, perhaps, his savagery restrained by societal expectations, while just under the respectable surface there is lust, blood-lust and a truly carnivorous sexual desire, is one which could well be suggested here; though perhaps such an interpretation is too close to the surface meaning of those mentioned images to have much worth.

There is no fuss to this magazine – no unnecessary garnish. After Carlos’s cover, there’s a contents and credits page, then we are into the work – the main ingredients.

The first bite offered is a story, Momemto Mori, written by Stefanie Demas, and if the first bite seduces the taste buds, then one knows the dish is right. So what can one say about Memento Mori?

It is a remarkable piece of work. The narrator is a complicated creation. Innocent, charming – and therefore probably friendly; intelligent, intuitive and utterly, hopelessly – yet beautifully – deranged.

Our narrator is driving to a funeral home to steal a body and spirit it away to secluded spot for sex. However, grim and ghoulish this is not. And it is that which makes the story so wonderful. It must be no easy task to have a narrator describe sexual feelings towards corpses and have that narrator sound quite so reasonable.

‘I was five years old when I remember seeing death for the first time,’ we’re told. ‘I knew even then I was interested.’

We’re given a scene in which the young narrator watches a bird hop about before being set upon and quickly killed by a cat, and this sight captivates her and there begins a healthy interest in death.

The narrator seems to have rare access to those considerations of beauty reserved for the high-brow and the aesthete, but with reservations:

‘I will not say that it was beautiful. Beautiful wouldn’t be the wrong word, necessarily, but it would give you the wrong idea about me.’

Could that wrong idea be the notion that our narrator’s interest is purely aesthetic? That could be the case because her interest is definitely physical. Here we have a synthesis, a merger between the low and the high, the closed-eye humming to classical music while the fingers get sticky.

Death, to this narrator, however, is more than an aphrodisiac.

When considering a corpse one might see the sinking of the cheeks or the new prominence of the bones as the signs of a person transforming into a cadaver – the new physical status: the first stage on a journey which sees a person’s atoms return to the universe.

‘I could see that his shoulder blades had begun to form themselves into wings.’

In that we have the aesthetic, the optimistic and the deranged – all brought together in a simple, beautiful line.

I don’t much care if this is an example of Demas showing her own art through her character, or – as a student of Stanislavsky could appreciate – a form of method-writing, either way it is beautiful. Death: the invisible chrysalis.

Of course, ultimately, there is no hope for this narrator. No reader could sympathise with one who harbours such exotic tastes, so removed as they are from regular experience. Such people are disturbed. Or are they?

Consider the following:

‘What about the widow who kisses her husband’s waxy face, clenches his frigid hands, as he lies in his cushioned box? How do we define that kiss, those touches? As love. As nothing unusual. And never, never would we call it by that name. How can we name-call and persecute when the distinctions are so shaky?’

This is clever because it sounds exactly like a person who has thought about their tastes and wondered what they might say under questioning. What we have here is the tip of a philosophical iceberg, a logical argument. And who can argue with the logic? Step by logical step we can unravel the argument for ourselves. Doing this leaves us unsettled because we are forced to answer a new formulation of ‘the paradox of the heap’ – and who can answer that?

It is some feat of creativity to have a narrator who is a rarefied aesthete; gentle; logical; and also one we can sympathise with. Yes, this is a caring narrator. The evidence is in the prose.

While driving to her final destination, her cargo stowed in the back of a stolen hearse, our narrator is passed by trucks on the highway:

‘The trucks sounded like whales as we passed them in the night. With the radio off, we could hear that their deep rumbles were accompanied by low, mournful cries – a searching call through the dark ocean expanse. My heart wanted to break for those trucks, my eyes wanted to cry for them. Whom had they lost? Whom did they need to find?’

What skill, yet again, it takes to synthesise the sympathetic with the gently deranged. One wants to kiss the narrator on the cheek, to stroke her hair. How could anyone have anything but affection for such a kindly soul?

Before reading this story I was reading Mailer’s Fire on The Moon; today I have just started Philip Knightley’s biography of Kim Philby, and after that I have the collected works of Nathanael West. But now my reading is disturbed. Now I want more from Stafanie Demas. I want more from this American Beauty.

And what skill it takes the editors of this magazine to select ingredients such as these and to let those ingredients speak for themselves.

I’ve given The Rag five stars.

Michelin would have given them three.

The Non Miracle

I have had the experience of watching two children born, and while the experience is interesting, to have it twice is probably twice as many times as a fellow should have it. I mean to say – and this has been said many times before – there really isn’t much for the man to do, and the event seems best left in the hands of the womenfolk.

What was certainly agreeable about the two births I’ve witnessed was that they took place in the labour-rooms on the maternity wards of hospitals. This is where the next generation should be born. Not being a cretin, I don’t consider conception, gestation – and certainly not the birth itself – as ‘miracles’ or any sort of spiritual occurrence. I confess to being irritated by those who do. As would be expected of someone with my crusty, old fashioned views (I am elderly 41 year old) I’ve no time for the sandal-wearing vegetarians who want ‘baby’ (where’s definite article?) to be born at home in a birthing-pool filled with natural yoghurt while dad – naked himself, obviously – offers bowls of lentil-soup to his mother and his wife’s lesbian ‘birthing-partner’. If common sense prevailed the father would at his club sinking a few snifters with the chaps, or at least down the pub with the boys.

The first of the births witnessed by me brought with it auditory hallucinations of crying babies which lasted for several days after my son’s entrance into the world. The first occurred in the labour room prior to his appearance. The midwife had suggested the female might want to stand up (a gravitational ‘helping hand’) for a few moments. She duly did, and as she did so I looked sharply over my right shoulder, into the opposite corner of the room, for the source of the crying. I had heard it as clearly as I heard the midwife’s voice. Before the little one made his entrance, I turned – it was almost an automatic reflex action – several times, looking for the crying baby in the empty corner of the room. The mind does play some odd tricks. Here’s another one: we had been told that the female was carrying a girl and we had told friends and family what we were expecting. After his entrance I looked at my son thinking ‘Aw, how cute, a girl with testicles…’ It took several moments to realise a girl with testicles was actually a boy.

The little one had been home for a few days when – with the female out of the house – I heard loud crying coming from the (there’s the definite article) baby’s room. I took the stairs two at a time, muttering to myself ‘okay, okay – give me a second’ while the crying got louder, and I opened the door to find the room in darkness and silence. The little chap hadn’t stirred at all. I had been convinced the crying was real; so certain, in fact, that the darkness and the silence rendered me speechless for a few moments. I have no idea if these odd hallucinations were due to some part of my mind being anxious about something, but by the time the second one was due I was laying in the labour-room sucking on the gas and air that was freely available from above the bed.

Legitimate Political Violence

Imagine the six counties, Devon, Cornwall , Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire were not part of England, but were occupied by France, governed by Paris, and policed by M. Gendarme.

I’m confident many Englishmen would find that arrangement disagreeable, and not all of them would be skinheads, blackshirts or Sun readers.

Further imagine that, when the natives got a bit miffed at the behaviour of the frog fuzz, the Foreign Legion were despatched to kick in a few doors and crack a few heads. You get the idea.

Would you support a group of Englishmen organising themselves into a secret resistance, the task of which was to carry out specific, targeted assassination of French police, soldiers and politicians in an attempt to try to force the French withdrawal from those six counties?

You might or you might not support that, but if you didn’t agree that such an organisation’s methods and aim were at least legitimate then I’d worry about your mind.

(I mean to say, you’d have to argue the French Resistance was an illegitimate organisation and the Nazis were legitimate in their occupation. Or that Boudicea should have ‘assimilated’ into Roman culture. If you have no ‘line in the sand’ then you wish to be a slave.)

I would support such an organisation, and am forced to accept that political violence can be legitimate. Legitimacy depends on what is done why. In the above scenario, the aim and the method are legitimate, hard as that is to accept, but both could easily not be.

If such an English resistance took to blowing up French civilians then it would lose its legitimacy because killing the innocent, the non-combatant – actually targeting civilians – strips all the moral force from the action. Such persons are outside the chain of command which supports the occupation. Even though the aim would remain a legitimate one, the method would not be. Only the fanatic, or the lunatic, thinks the ‘end justifies the means’.

Many persons will say they won’t be told what to think, yet many will accept being told what to think when the topic is patriotism, the armed forces, or questions about a person’s ‘loyalties’. The orthodoxy tells you what to think, takes it for granted you will obey, and public opinion quickly snarls and snaps at those who don’t follow the groupthink line. (My ‘line in the sand’ is actually drawn on the inside of my forehead; this makes me sound very accepting of state power, almost a friend of it who will put up with rather a lot, while refusing it entry to the piece of territory it wants more than any other, thereby making me its enemy.) To claim the right and freedom to decide 100% of your own opinions, even when the question is about patriotism or loyalty to ‘your country,’ can leave the claimant in an exposed position. It is a price worth paying for the only (genuine) freedom a person will ever get.

The state can force itself on you in many ways. It’s quite true that an Englishman’s home is his castle until the state takes it from him via compulsory purchase. It’s quite possible for a person to change their citizenship (or the state’s ownership papers) for a replacement citizenship, but there is no way a person can renounce their citizenship, or even gently hand it back. The citizen is the property of the state, and if one is to talk about ‘freedom’ then the question ‘freedom to do what?’ presents itself.

Legal Blasphemy

There are persons who say they support ‘freedom of speech’ so long as the speech contains no ‘incitement to violence’. This is interesting. This is how The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘incitement’:

 The action of inciting or rousing to action; an urging, spurring, or setting on; instigation, stimulation. Also, the condition of being incited

One simple point is this. Just because ‘the law says’ ‘incitement’ is a real thing with a real effect doesn’t make that true in reality. Sometimes – and I hope this doesn’t shock or distress anyone – the state makes laws for the benefit of it, not the citizen.

Given the definition, those who claim to support freedom of speech, so long as the speech doesn’t incite violence, are refusing to support a prime minister’s rousing wartime speech designed to urge, spur or stimulate the population of fighting age to violence in the defence of the country. I’m sure that no true Englishman (after thinking about it) would agree that’s what he actually meant. He would probably say he supports freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t incite criminal violence. In doing so he opens up another debate entirely, one which might contain some ironies at the expense of that Englishman.

What I’m interested in is whether there is a causal aspect to incitement. If there’s not, then why might there be laws about incitement, and why might intelligent persons risk sounding silly when they say they support freedom of speech with qualifications?

If you ‘support’ freedom of speech, but not if it does such and such, then you don’t support freedom of speech, you support limited speech. It’s true that your qualification is a minor one, but it’s there: it changes what was a principle into a soggy relativistic lettuce.

If there’s no causal question, it means that a person, though they might be ‘urged’ or ‘spurred’ or ‘roused’ to do something – or whatever word you want to use – are not ‘made’ or ‘compelled’ or ‘forced’ to do it. There is a simple conclusion, then, that if a person is not forced to do the violence, they must have chosen to do the violence, and they chose to do it, then what’s the problem with incitement? On this logic, incitement is no more than giving someone an idea, and yet there are laws against this? Are intelligent persons saying they support freedom of speech so long as the speech doesn’t give anybody ideas about violence? That would be absurd. Nobody would be able to watch Tarantino movies because the violence in them would give some viewers ‘ideas’ about violence.

I’ll sum up my position. I think a person should be able to speak or write anything – no matter if it’s racist or ‘offensive’ or calls for violence – without having the law being involved. Such a person could be publicly ridiculed, slow-clapped or suffer massive career damage and other consequences, and perhaps rightly so, but I can’t accept the idea that certain thoughts should be illegal. That is totalitarian. It is grotesque. There is no such thing as incitement. Even the most persuasive language doesn’t ‘make’ a person act, the person acts because they want to. The persuasive speaker does not do magic to the person’s mind or their power to choose. The person could hear the persuasive language urging him to beat-up the Jew, the black or the immigrant, or whoever, and respond to the persuader by saying ‘No.’ If the speech, persuasive or not (and how do you measure that?) doesn’t ‘make’ a person act, then you have a situation where certain thoughts are just illegal and mustn’t be expressed, even though they don’t cause bad things to happen. This is legal blasphemy – another grotesque idea loved by crypto-nasty state-worshippers everywhere.

People talk about a ‘change of mind’ because they heard this or read that. I understand this. It’s a conversational convenience, a habit of mind and language use, but if people really thought about the process of ‘changing their mind’ they would realise the mind doesn’t change, as such, it discovers it agrees with something it didn’t know it agreed with. And if the thoughts are already there when a writer writes himself to a ‘change of mind’ there is every reason to believe the idea, thought and so on, was already in the head of the person who finds he agrees with the persuasive speaker. His mind wasn’t changed: he just realised he thought something he didn’t know he thought.

If people said that they ‘think something else’ instead of saying they’ve ‘changed their mind’ they would be quicker to see this point.

Goodbye Rick: The Kneeling Dead

It’s got to be Rick who gets his head smashed in. Well, okay – it doesn’t have to be him.

The first thing which is weird after the The Walking Dead season finale is that Glenn is actually the safest member of the group. The producers already messed about with him with  the fake-death thing from earlier in the season, and they removed his name from the credits to play with us some more.So to mess with Glenn again might seem a little lame.

Also, Glenn is the character who gets killed by Negan in the comics, so it would be too obvious to make it him who gets battered.

How to think about the likely victim?

First, if it’s not a major character, then what’s the point, right? A supporting character’s death doesn’t justify the off-season wait to find out who it was, and it would irritate the fans to wait that long for a minor character be revealed as dead. So logic requires it’s a major name.

So who are classed as major names? I’d say – and in order of majorness:

Rick, Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl, Eugene, Morgan, Sasha, Rosita, Gabriel, Tara, Aaron.

It’s an order which can be argued about, but no matter.

Okay, so does long-term character or series regular mean the same as major character? I think not, so the list becomes:

Rick, Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl.

I’ve alread discounted Glenn, so the list becomes:

Rick, Daryl, Carol, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl.

But Carol isn’t there because she’s off with Morgan, getting shot, so the list becomes:

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl.

Now, who of those could die without the viewers caring too much? Abraham. So that leaves:

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Carl.

At a push, Carl could die without too much uproar: he’s already tainted goods in anycase because of his eye, so I don’t see the audience caring too much if it were him. So that leaves:

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie.

If Negan wanted to show he was a real evil shit, he’d kill a kid or a woman; if Carl’s discounted, that leaves Maggie. But why would Negan kill the most vulnerable of them? Surely he’d want to weaken their group by taking out a strong member? He wants to make sure they know he’s now in charge. That leaves:

Rick and Daryl.

The best way to assert your authority is by killing the enemy leader. That leaves…..

Rick is the character to die.

He’s the least likely because everyone would consider him the safest.

Spolia Opima Baby.

 

Is Daryl Dixon dead?

I’m betting that he’s not dead. I think this is a safe bet, but there’s still a chance he might be. Why is it likely he’s not dead?

Because Daryl is one of the show’s most popular characters is one reason. It’s also the main reason, actually. I mean to say, if the producers didn’t have the nerve to kill off Glenn, then they won’t have the nerve to kill off Daryl, right?

Well, here’s the thing. The producers pulled a stroke when they made us think Glenn was getting his guts munched, so doesn’t that mean they’ve used-up that trick? Why would they risk making the audience groan by pulling the same stunt? So maybe he will be dead come the season finale?

Why didn’t we get to see to whom the shooter was talking when he said ‘You’ll be alright’ under a black screen? Was he talking to Daryl, telling him his wound isn’t all that serious, or was he talking to Rosita, letting he know that she’s not getting shot because a bunch of outlaw men can make use of her? Or was he talking to the others tied and gagged and sat down?

We’ve got to go back to the Governor cutting Hershel’s head off to get a death of a lead character which is actually shocking. Since Hershel, they’ve just been surprising. That’s not the same thing at all.

I don’t like this ‘an episode a week’ crap. Netflix needs to buy The Walking Dead from AMC so we can sweat an entire season on one lazy Saturday. I know AMC wouldn’t sell it – I’m just annoyed at having to wait.