Monday, 25 February 2008

They Lied To Us.

The past week in the meatspace life of Pennyred has been spent guzzling pink drinks at goth parties, rolling in my own filth and trying to get a job. I feel a sinking sense of despair at the renewed realisation that we were all hopelessly lied to in our youth. Real life isn't the thick slice of fun pie we were led to believe. For example: kick and wail at the notion though I may, I am resoundingly a spoilt Blatcherite brat by inheritance: bright, white and middle-class, scholarship to a nice school, degree from an Eminent University, lots of drive and ambition, relatively supportive parents, neither stunningly unattractive nor a pneumatic blonde fem-bot, both of which happen to matter a lot if you're young, female and looking for work. In short, I've got everything going for me on paper, bar heteronormativity, mental equability and a Y chromosome, but we'll save that little rant for another day.
And yet, to my great surprise, I have as yet failed to be head-hunted for a top job in media, government or M16; I have as yet failed, in fact, to secure any employment whatsoever since being fired from the Shop Job of Doom. And somewhere deep in the saccharine-sticky recesses of my middle-class soul, something feels that this isn't quite fair. This isn't how it was supposed to go! They told us we would be okay if only we worked hard and tried to be pretty! They told us we'd be successful if we studied for the exams, wore the right shoes and had the right parents! They LIED to us!

This city is over-run with kids like me, thousands of us, stunned by the acrid complexity of the real world, weighed down by debt, overdrawn, underpaid, poorer than we've ever been, chasing the rag-ends of dreams we've been encouraged to entertain since birth. Smoking, drinking, guzzling vile chemicals and dicking around with one another's hearts, because it numbs the anxiety, gives us a break from the cruel meritocracy grinning back at us through the curtains of our shabby living-rooms. Begging anywhere for work experience, internships, trying to polish our shiny young faces and even shinier CVs until they glisten with desperation*, paying our way with insecure minimum-wage work that saps the soul and leaves us grubbing in our battered wallets for the coppers to make up tonight's beer.

This was supposed to be the future.

We are probably going to be fine. But it won't be soon, and it won't be in the way we were made to believe. We can't expect to win by playing along, but what else can we do? After all, they're the ones with the power. They've got the money and the guns and the government and God, they sign our paycheques, mark our exams and grade our various crawling efforts to please. What have we got to challenge that?

I'll tell you what we've got.

We have Art and Beauty and Love and Truth. We have a flourishing counterculture that's more alive than anything the mainstream has produced in the last twenty years. We have semiotic sorcerers and guerilla literary theorists. We have Chaos Majick. We have sexual deviancy. We have the talent and the information-delivery media to reprogramme the minds of Young Corporate Leaders and drive them, frothing, into the sea. We have memetic attacks and the vote. Most importantly, we have much better hair.

This was written by a good friend of mine over two years ago, when we were young, stupid and indulging in wildly intellectual drunken reprobation at said Eminent University. To it I shall now add:

Unlike you, we are truly hypertextual. We have the information and communications technology to entirely re-imagine the concept of socio-political power, and we are bright enough and brave enough to use it. We are multi-ethnic, multi-gendered, multi-talented and massively up for a fight, we are no longer frightened of your disapproval, and we have bombs.

Love and Squalour bombs.

Up yours, Mr Meritocracy. We're going to win this our own way.

NB: Pennyred is a CV-enhancing excercise written by a nice cardigan-wearing girl from Richmond who would vote Tory. If you have enjoyed the writing of Pennyred, why don't you mention this blog to your employer? Pennyred is available for children's parties, corporate events and layby buggerings, and is happy to receive payment via Visa, Switch, Sterling, Yen or Euros (no $US) although will accept services rendered, sexual favours or the blood of the innocent.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Hunter, Hellraisers and Viral Democracy...

Today is the third anniversary of the suicide of Hunter S Thompson. Rest in peace, you mad old bastard, and thanks for the dream. A brief digest of the press this week is enough to prove that this world was never meant for a rule stomping genius like you. ....


It's not often I'm driven to a book review by sheer annoyance. Oliver James' Affluenza, however - currently number three in the bestseller lists and rising - is such a staggering load of abysmal, dangerous rubbish that it was review or risk self-poisoning by paper sludge in an attempt to vent senseless rage at the book by chewing and eating it. Affluenza is a muddle of trite social 'observations' strung together by no more than a series of carefully chosen anecdotes, under-researched or unsupported at best, casually racist, misogynist, classist and breathtakingly anodine at worst.

To give James his due, he starts off with a fairly sound piece of reasoning - human beings in the west have come to see themselves as 'personality commodities', and behave accordingly, resulting in massive increases in depression, anxiety and emotional ill-health. This is all keyed in to what James, in a stunning feat of tautology, terms 'Selfish Capitalism'. From there, however, it's all downhill: the first chapter is used to introduce the weary underlying metaphor of the entire 546 page tome, namely that one can become 'infected' by Selfish Capitalism and by personal commodification, henceforth referred to, in almost every churning paragraph of the
book, as the 'Affluenza Virus', or simply 'The Virus'.

This, to me, smacks of an author who liked 'The Matrix' trilogy a little too much (even 'Revolutions'). James' reasoning, however, fails to reach even the limited levels of subtlety commanded by the Wachowski brothers, not to mention that the fight scenes aren't half so cool. The sizzling hero, moreover, leaves much to be desired: James himself is an obtrusive prescence, cropping up everywhere, 'like an itinerant Marie Curie...triumphantly clutching vaccines which immunise us against the Virus, phials of tactics for making the best of the very bad job the world has become'. Oh yes, Oliver, thrust those tactic-phials deep into our sick and trembling 21st-century souls: only you can save us.

Within the first few pages, James comes out with such gems as:

'Whilst poverty fosters survival materialism, it does not result in illness'. (Been to Africa at all, Oliver?)

'women are more materialistic in their preferences when choosing a partner'. (Not explained, not supported, just plonked there as the given background to a series of paragraphs on how the grabbiness of the girls on Sex and the City can be put down to physiology).

Comparing a New York Banker to Chet, the amiable Nigerian taxi driver who had driven James to the meeting -'his apartment was big enough to fit a whole family of Chets'. Yes, because all African descendants like to live in huge, tribe like families, and can be reduced to the same cheery, poverty-stricken archetype. Of course.

I'm really not making this stuff up. All of James 'evidence' is anecdotal. Some unsourced statistics are peppered around the place, but in vague and generalised terms, such as when he declares that, at one Oxford college, one in three female students claims to have been seriously eating disordered at one point in her life, and one in ten is currently suffering. The college, Mr James, was University College, Oxford, and I know exactly how easy that statistic is to find, because I myself used it in a last-minute addendum to an article for my student paper about 6 months before your book went to press. Must try harder.

Now let's talk more about what James thinks about women:

'Do not deceive yourself about the reasons you are returning to work. Do you really need the money? Can you not live in a cheaper house or cut down on your outgoings? The authenticity, vivacity and playfulness of small children is hugely rewarding, a much greater boon than any number of promotions or pay rises...'

'Women who divorce or separate are often more depressed after doing so, even if they were with a truly vile man...before you divorce the father of your child, see a therapist and check what you are bringing to the feast.'

'If you have a daughter who is already showing signs of being a high-flyer, discourage academic prize-hunting and engage with her authentic interests'

[Susan is a talented, high-flying and wealthy advertising executive, interviewed about her self-starting skills]. 'When I made the obvious point, that a relationship in which she might find herself depending on a man must have been rather daunting....' - yes, because all successful women will come to depend on one man eventually, if they want to be truly fulfilled, won't they? Ta for clearing that one up.

What sets the teeth on edge about Oliver James' absurd generalisations on the state of feminism today isn't his casual dismissal, nor the way in which, in a book whose premise is to stop people seeing themselves as commodities, he persists in treating women as base-line baking-tins whose primary purpose is to squeeze out babies. No, it's simply the way he spouts all this humourless, gender-reductionist rubbish so patronisingly and self-importantly, as if he were the first person ever to have thought of this, and wouldn't we all be so much happier if we just listened to him?

Homosexual men and women do not exist in James' fantasy world, and nor do bisexuals, poly- or trans-sexuals, or, indeed, anyone who doesn't see marriage as the ultimate goal in life -his 'four types of marriage', which takes up much of Affluenza's 'women and relationships' section, is good for a giggle. Just don't let it stick between your teeth. When not being casually misogynist in a roundabout advocation of a return to fifties' gender-stratification, James' solutions are primitivist, reductivist, and based purely on observations of one set of people: the white, monied middle-classes. How this book is meant to be the 'sizzling reality check' claimed by its promotional material remains arcane.

What's even worse is that Affluenza is remarkably easy to read, which means that this banal piece of social propaganda will be gobbled up by commuters and stressed middle-class homemakers across the country. Apparently, James is already planning a sequel. Yes, that sound of rumbling, squelching and distant blasphemy is Hunter Thompson turning in his grave.


Elsewhere in the travesty that was once the British press, the Guardian, in a move that was either sheer PR genius, tit-itching stupidity or some sick hybrid of the two, saw fit to launch a blog by the clueless son of an in-house travel writer, detailing his plans for his gap-year trip to the colonies the young, dumb middle-class swilling fields of India and Thailand, for booze, birds and other horizon-expanding pursuits. 'Cliches', declares Max Gogarty, 'exist for a reason.' The comments make excellent reading, and, much to my gurning delight, the poor boy has already made it into the Wikipedia entry on nepotism. Great to see that press hypocrisy is alive and well upon this most auspicious of Wednesday afternoons, even though other Guardian employees have risibly tried to defend the kid by comparing his situation to the Cultural Revolution. I'd feel a little more sorry for darling Maxie if he had anything to say, or enough wit and self-effacing panache to say nothing with style. But this is bland, content-free garbage, and fair play to the CiF commentators who brought this shocking editorial decision to book. Max Gogarty has justifiably become an internet 'virus'.

Daddy has stepped in
now, of course, but too late to stop the wave of mostly reasoned vituperation from commentators within the Guardian network and beyond. Rafael Behr bewails, in response to poor Maxie's plight (according to his father, 'he has said that he doesn't like the media world now. He doesn't want to go into it any more.'):

'The web is no community. It is brilliant for some things. It does information, misinformation, entertainment and commerce. It does freedom. But one thing it doesn't do is democracy'

In fact, this is a perfect of example of hyper-democracy in its purest form: the power of the people in an age where the mainstream free press is anything but. Barely twenty-four hours after this 19 year old's self-satisfied Great Sneer diary is launched, hyperspace is ablaze with voices of denunciation, and the piece is pulled.

Forget 'affluenza', this is real modern Viral politics at work: the potential of the internet to spread information and and rouse response to hypocrisy, nepotism and patent class privilege. The press may not be free, but between us we've got the power to bring truth and reason to the offices and boardrooms of the rich and privileged. There's magic in that. Perhaps Saint Hunter would have been proud, after all.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Porn: what is it good for?

If you just threw up a little bit in your mouth, you're not the only one. Go and swill out, then keep reading. Images like the one on the left use the conceits of violent pornography - in this case, gang rape - to sell everything from clothes to cars to washing powder. Violent pornography has become part of our cultural language.
But is censorship the answer?A recent article of mine on The F Word in response to the new UK porn laws laid down by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2008 generated a surprising amount of controversy. In brief, the government wants to ban various forms of 'extreme' pornography, including bestiality, necrophilia and some 'snuff' porn. I argued that censorship is not the answer, nor will it do anything to reduce the harm violent and extreme pornography does to some individuals' sexual and personal development; I argued that censorship will drive the industry further underground, making it more racy and enticing and generating an unsafe working environment for those involved in producing 'extreme' pornography. I mentioned that there is little extant evidence to suggest that 'extreme' pornography leads directly to extreme sexual violence. I was declared naive and gullible by 'Radical' feminists and anti-porn sexists alike, claiming that pornography is harmful, hateful and extremely socially damaging. I must protest at this, and not merely because noone who has read the synopsis briefs for SlutBus 4 and A Filthy Little Cocksucking Whore Named Marilyn for research purposes will ever ever be quite so naive again. I never claimed that violent pornography was not damaging. Violent pornography is unquestionably, incontrovertibly damaging, and as a feminist against censorship I am achingly aware of that fact. I merely happen to believe that porn censorship is not the answer, and that the Bill currently on the Commons table will do fat, shiny nothing in a bag for women's liberation.

Do I believe that violent porn directly causes sexual violence? No. Do I believe that banning it and driving it underground will do any good to anyone? Absolutely not. Do I believe that physically and emotionally violent pornography is symptomatic of an endemic social paradigm wherein masculine power and cruelty is eroticised, and that this paradigm leads to sexual violence amongst many, many other atrocities? Hell yes. Yes, I do.

The question of whether pornography directly causes or does not cause sexual violence somewhat evades the real issue. The reason that pornography is such a sticky problem, the reason that many feminists hate and fear pornography, is the same reason that many in the pro-patriarchal sphere are willing to go to the wire to defend it: mainstream, heterosexual pornography as it is mass-produced by western society holds up an accurate mirror to the violently misogynist world in which we are living.

Let me repeat that for the confused or post-orgasmic: the fact of pornography itself, however ‘extreme’, is not socially harmful, but the messages inherent in most western pornography, never mind the ‘extreme’ end, re-enforce social paradigms of sexual inequality, male sexual subjectivity and violence against women. When I say that ‘the quality of most porn is dreadful’, this is what I’m talking about.

You are what you jerk off to.

In this pornographic world, inequality and injustice are eroticised. Power and dominance, for the most part of men over women, are eroticised. The exercise of that dominance in cruel, violent or humiliating ways is eroticised, and when something is eroticised in the mainstream to this extent, it becomes normalised.

What isn't extant in porn is almost as critical as what is - to whit, respect, tenderness, human emotion, sensitivity. I'm with Jensen in conceding that there are economic as well as ideological reasons for this, namely that most pornography is bought by men as aids to masturbation, and on-screen emotion tends, it is posited, to detract from the salient pleasures of self-stroking. Some form of psychological kick has to replace that tenderness or affection as a narrative hook - hence the introduction of cruelty and violence into the remit of Joe Average Mustachioed Porn Director. I’m not yet proposing radical tenderness as a social strategy, not least because it would put paid to my favourite hobby of sitting in smoking rooms, drinking vile coffee and hating things. But I'm behind the radfems in noting that its total erasure from pornography is worrying, to say the least: pornography leached of mature emotional responsiveness is often (indeed, usually) the first illicit means of educating young men about sex. For almost half the population, violent or objectifying pornography is now the cultural blueprint for sexual relations. What does that mean for gender politics, and what are our options other than to lash out at the offending material?

If patriarchal culture, where rape and gender-fascism are facts of life, is the disease, then the many forms of porn are the oozing, blood-crusted pustules that cluster in the tenderest crevices of the diseased body. Like children, we attack the sores with nails and teeth, ignoring the fact that the body itself is sick to death. By scratching at the pustules, we will only drive the rot deeper.

Corpse-fucking and the state...

So what is the government's response? How are our politicians working to root out the infection from our feverish, sickening gender paradigms? Let's let’s look again at that government bill. One of the first types of pornography that’s forbidden is ‘[images of any] act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse’ – that is, necrophilia. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but necrophiliacs are a very small and specialised sect of the fetish community. There will never be enough necrophiliac porn, just as there will never be a large enough necrophiliac culture, to normalise corpse-fucking as a social paradigm. And frankly, if that’s your kink and you can excise it by watching badly made-up zombies shag each other on telly, then fair enough. So why is it that pornography that appears to show necrophilia – a very rare and totally illegal practice that doesn’t really have much of a social discourse – is NOT okay, whereas pornography that shows live women appearing to be raped, humiliated and beaten to within an inch or their lives is totally fine?

Let’s grit our teeth and face this one: it’s fine on television because it’s normalised in society. Maggoty, squelchy grave-diving turns the stomachs of our politicians, and yes, I’m a kink-friendly, accommodating anarcho-buddhist with not much sympathy for the meat of the body, but I can see why that might be. The bill covers necrophilia, bestiality, 'snuff' movies and severe injury to the sexual organs. Rape, all other sexual violence, extreme female submission, double- and triple-penetration, humiliation, sexual cruelty – all of this fails even to make it into the draft bill, because it’s been normalised in western society. Not only that, but in a neo-liberal capitalist system there could be no question of banning this type pornography, because such an action would by now mean outlawing nearly all heterosexual porn. And porn generates more revenue than the entire British film industry, minus many of the overheads. Not only is banning violent porn not the answer – it’s not even the question yet.

Censorship of 'extreme' pornography will not solve the problem of sexual violence and gender fascism eating away at the bones of progressive western culture. Instead, we need the courage to look into that mirror and respond appropriately to what we see there. Whether disgust, direct action or bland acceptance, our reaction to these images determines who we are, and who we will become as a society.