Unnoticed Art

Sometimes art struggles, even very good art. It emerges from the source with pure intent, hopeful that it contains some value, some message or potential to provoke thought that can and will make a difference even as it’s shared as a passive act of promotion. But then it falters, it finds an audience that circles and murmurs, offering praise or disdain with a detached separation, happy to admire or dismiss but still unaffected by the work. If that was always the case then it’s even more tangible now. Take something like The Wire, universally praised, endlessly discussed and held up as a totemic awareness of the state of the communities depicted. Brandished as whip for scouring the guilty conscience and framing the villains of the piece. The real people speak, actors give lectures, the producer meets the President, the whole enterprise becomes a watchword for the injustice of a system which even in itself bows down to take a measure of blame when confronted with the representation of it’s own actions.

But then nothing. The real people speak and nothing, the actors give lectures and nothing, the producer meets the President and nothing, guilt is recognised and even in its clarity continues to be ignored. The issue at the heart of it, the driving force of it, the message of it is marginalised and all that’s left is the circling curiosity of the crowd. We all get to enjoy the purchase of awareness, we all get to know what the problems are and add the understanding to the inventory of our possessions. Another act of ownership made abstract from problems which no one ever admits their share in, at least not enough to do anything about them. It’s defeating and not at all unique. Almost every book, film, show, exhibition or talk which contains any form of unspoken plea for action and change becomes muted into an artefact to be hoarded. A prize for those who mistake interest for concern and awareness for understanding. All the while leaving the same handful, the same struggling few to actually work towards solutions.

That’s understandable in most. After all from such an absolute distance what can be gleaned from artistic enlightenment other than a rarefied sense of awareness? The message exists exactly because the separation makes the truth so incomprehensible and blurred never mind the limitations of waking up every day and facing a world which, even before understanding it, seems already to be defeating our better selves. For others though that explanation can’t exist, any more than whatever value they see in their own indifferent, or at least shallow, understanding. There are those who can act and don’t, those who should be driven and aren’t, those who should beat themselves for their own culpability but instead do nothing but smilingly nod at their guilt. I suppose, if nothing else, the good art creates a hammer to use against them. A reminder that, even though they fail through their own lack of effort, they were warned, they were shown and there is no excuse for what came next. That’s a familiar outcome though, not much more. Anger is already the currency we have, resentment is already the comfort and at least once it’d be good to see those underdog attempts at levelling the field replaced by a positive passion for what can be done and what is allowed to be done. Otherwise the art that attempts to translate loses value and what comes next will be beyond culture, for better or worse.

Share

Toxic Internet

Outrage about online abuse seems to be the erratically undulating fixation of the media and politicians at the moment. Whether you watch the display of professed outrage and think of cynical opportunism or earnest determination to moderate the social discourse moral indignation about such abuse remains an increasingly prominent feature of the commentariat and news cycle. Which is as it should be, really.

Our political (and social) landscape is a toxic place, abuse is ubiquitous and pretty much everyone who talks about pretty much anything is liable to find themselves on the receiving end of it. There’s no doubting either that as it’s fed into by sexism, racism, anti-semitism and general bigotry the force and prolificness of it ratchets up too. All the way to the point where someone like Jo Cox can be murdered while a hundred others, with minimal attention, put up with daily threats of violence and death, never mind the more routine insults and attacks. With that in mind it’d be nice to think that the voices of outrage which echo out the loudest were, as a rare show of society wide disgust, setting out a universal line in the sand which everyone could acknowledge and accept as one which we don’t want to cross. Unfortunately though there’s not much reason to believe that’s the case.

Instead the issue of abuse seems to be distilled into a commodity almost. Not by the victims, I’ll add that straight off, but by a wider political and media community which, in some cases, seems unable to simply condemn without trying to score some marginal profit or moral kudos off of it all.

Online abuse, online threats of violence and general hostility are societal issues. They effect everyone to one degree or another. There’s no opinion so mundane, no act so bland and innocuous that mentioning them on Twitter won’t result in some form of hostility from one corner or another. If you use Twitter, or any other social media platform, you probably know that already. Insults and threats are made mundane with the prevailing attitude being that you either suck it up or give up. The lazy response to any complaints usually being that ‘it is what it is’, a judgement commonly delivered by the perpetrators themselves. Work through the disparate demographics of social media and you can see the abuse build up too as racism, sexism and bigotry are all met with the same shrugging acceptance by people who usually aren’t in a position to be a victim of any of them.

It’s the ubiquity of this sort of thing that makes the mainstream discussion of abuse seem hollow really. There’s not a trace of doubt that the attacks on people like Diane Abbott and Laura Kuenssberg should be acknowledged and condemned but there’s plenty of doubt to be had about the way it’s done. With the former it’s often half-hearted and laced with sniggering disdain, with the latter it seems almost directly fuelled by political point scoring against a political left which is imagined to be far more coherent than it is. In neither case is it approached as the sort of society wide issue that it is. Some of the loudest voices of complaint seem to infinitely prefer recognisable totems for their outrage to genuine efforts against something which is increasingly universal in it’s effects.

It’s an instinct, I think, which has become inherent to the media and politics these days. Real moral outrage is consistently subjugated to individual narratives. You can see the same happening in the US with almost every declaration Trump makes – like his recent NFL nonsense. What started with a protest against the treatment of black Americans has ended with Il Douche picking more or less personal fights with people he doesn’t like and the mainstream opposition gleefully ‘taking a knee’ against him without any real awareness or interest in what made Colin Kaepernick do it in the first place. With both issues the narratives have increasingly become ones about a small cast of individuals rather than real, society wide problems. Something I’m pretty certain that none of the oft cited, recognisable, victims would want never mind it being of actual use in confronting the issues at hand.

As things stand now, as the mainstream narrative appears to be playing out, this story has a long way to run. By myopically framing arguments about online abuse with individuals who are quite clearly classified in the reporting as members of one ‘side’ or another there’s no room for anything to be solved. The perpetrators get a constant free pass to justify their actions by their objections to the individual. With a shrug of ‘I know it’s not right’ there’s always a ‘but…’ allowed to follow it up. A completely hollow defence, no doubt, but still one which has been allowed to fester into being. And while commentators eagerly lay the blame for the abuse on the faction that they don’t belong too it’s always set up as an adversarial fight – whose bigots are worse, whose death threats merit more column inches, whose Trolls are nastier. A line you can only really push if you yourself are safely out of the groups likely to be effected. Whereas what we really need is a wider acknowledgement and blanket condemnation of the realities of abusive behaviour. Not because it’s reached a recognisable name but because it reaches millions of people, repeatedly, every day. And in all it’s forms, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic and broadly bigoted it’s a problem for all of us. Not a story we need to be told about any given politician, journalist, celebrity or sportsperson.

Share

A Connection, I Suppose

This body politic is infected
broken down by a pathogen that’s half self aware
half selfish
insidious in nature
consuming in scope
and proud to say it’ll get us
before any other disease will
a form of connection
I suppose

This country’s economic ghetto
is under the thumb
held in stasis by a financial Cosa Nostra
maintaining order through exploitation
and tradition through corruption
with ageing Dons counting cash
assuring the hungry that it only gets worse
when new gangs arrive
holding us safe from invasion,
only to kill us themselves
a form of connection
I suppose

This home and castle
has a Lord
claiming Prima Nocta
to fuck us
and calling it Right
because who put up the walls that keep the enemy out?
Who swings the sword against the outsider
even before we’ve heard their name
or had a chance to know why they came
attention drawn away
by cap doffing obedience
to Regal right
a form of connection
I suppose

This story has no ending
not the way it’s told
the dulcit tones just carry on
until the body’s cold
always reassuring
that the teller’s got it right
always disavowing
any poor, unknown insight
It’s words are getting louder
it’s silences obscure
and the chance of thinking round it
ain’t quite there any more
a form of connection
I suppose

But we still have one reminder
of what we were and are
beneath all of the diseases
and Mafiosi power
we’re the one’s who live life
not the ones who say it loud,
not the ones who run it
or build walls
and steal crowns
and sooner rather than later
the body will react
locals will stop paying dues
all that bowing we’ll retract
we’ll find the final fullstop
start on another page
and all of those connections
will be from a dying age

Share

Be Fucked

Be fucked and wander on mate
your future isn’t near
your past is grey and dying
for your present no one cares

They said that you’re important
the focus of the world
but the image that they’re selling
isn’t anyone’s but theirs

So be fucked and wander on mate
though it gets no better there
at least you’ll have the feeling
that at last someone might care

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Share

Technical Error

Donald Trump without his wig and fake tan

Sergei shook his head, trying to rattle out the incessant thud of the Techno soundtrack that was, for no good reason, blasting out to shake the foundations of the warehouse. It didn’t work.

The building was full to capacity now, the stands erected around the walls heaving with stern faced government apparatchiks, some vaguely nodding along to the music, others taking long draws from red-embered cigarettes or swigging from glasses of vodka. He recognised a few of the faces present, Generals, politicians, even a strangely orange toned man who could, perhaps, have passed for that guy off of the TV, the bombastic American with the bad catch phrases. Although all he could see of him was a small strip of gaudy flesh and petulant looking eyes, framed by layers of luxuriant winter furs and an oversized ushanka. No matter, Sergei didn’t keep up with celebrity culture anyway so his interest was limited and his commander had told him not to look too closely into the crowd. He was here to work after all, not gawp.

A few metres from him his opponent for the day was limbering up on the opposite side of the ring, showily flexing his muscles for the audience. A pointless display given the exoskeleton he was wearing, a series of cables, metal plates and pistons that encased half of his body. It was technology that would do the work, not the man inside it, they were just there to make a token gesture towards thought and give a name for the records to list as winner or loser. He’d noticed that the American fighters always enjoyed their showmanship though. This one no less than the others, his back piece even had the stars and stripes emblazoned on it, an American Eagle engraved on his steel shoulder pad, a weak spot perhaps given the circuitry that might lay beneath.

For his part Sergei is more practical, his commander doesn’t appreciate showmanship, he appreciated winners so a small Russian flag decal on his shoulder was the only concession to style he wore. The rest of his suit was just a bulky mix of wiring and armour plating. More than the American had on his, a point to remember when the fight started.

There were a few more minutes of posturing to endure, as the Yankee, a compact man, slight but densely built, played to his small but vocal contingent of compatriots in the audience. Sergei just stared at him, content not to have to feign his already real indifference. The foreigner had a look of All-American healthiness about him, side-parted brown hair and energetic brown eyes drawn straight from a commercial. Still, not someone to underestimate, when these fights took place everyone sent their best. The stranger would, at least, be military but probably special forces too, or Navy Seals, or drawn from one of those unnamed divisions who lived and died without ever passing through the paper trails of military bureaucracy. Looking clean didn’t mean he wouldn’t fight dirty. But then so would Sergei.

Eventually the showboating ended and, as the mumbled conversations of the crowd came to a trickling end, the anthems started playing. The Star-Spangled Banner first, a concession to the visitors and silently endured by the largely Russian audience, although out of the corner of his eye Sergei could still see the orange skinned man nodding his head in a poor attempt to match the tune. Next his own anthem played, voices around the warehouse dutifully belting out or miming their way through in a necessary show of patriotic fervour. He kept his own mouth shut for the duration, he didn’t know the words after all and as long as he looked suitably intense nobody would challenge him for focusing on the fight ahead, not even President Putin, who was bound to be somewhere in the crowd.

Formalities over a bell rings and the crowd stirs itself into a frenzy, ready to see some blood spilt. The American explodes out of his corner, mechanically augmented fists launching straight into a flurry of blows aimed at Sergei’s head. They hurt, they send him reeling, staggering backwards towards a steel ring rope that offers no give. No matter, he expects to take hits and where they bounce off of his body armour the shock absorbers do their job, where they connect with flesh he feels the adrenaline rush warding off the pain. The visitor gets to have his way for a whole minute, long enough for him to show himself and his intentions, long enough for Sergei to read him and know how he’ll behave. Only once satisfied with his gleaned intel does he launch his counter attack, punches and kicks sending his opponent flying as the force of technologically amplified blows take their toll. His fists focus on the gaudy shoulder decorations, the eagle etched out in gold. With the suits they both wear it’s hard to guess if there’s anything important underneath, he knows where his own precious circuitry is concealed but not his opponents. It’s a good focal point though, it’s worth a try and with surprising ease the metal starts to buckle. He can see that his opponent feels it too as a look of shock washes over his face. A soldier shouldn’t be shocked, not in a fight like this, but his suit is letting him down Sergei guesses, showing signs of damage too early, too easily. Hardly cause for sympathy but he notes it nonetheless as he continues his onslaught.

Soon there are sparks, the audible groan of servos seizing up and the soon to be defeated enemy, or at least competitor, starts to collapse in on himself, his suit becoming little more than an encumbrance. It shouldn’t be this easy, it’s never this easy, but it is and there’s no point in second guessing it. Sergei takes a step back, fist raised to deliver a decisive blow to the American’s head, not a killing blow, not intentionally at least, but one to knock him out of the fight and avoid the ignominy of being stuck in an inert and broken suit. There’s laughter from the crowd although looking round with attempted subtlety he can see that the maybe-celebrity has revealed himself and is screaming with rage, hat thrown off, scarf slipped down. He’d heard that the man had gotten into politics, perhaps that explained the invite, another irrelevance though, Sergei didn’t watch the news much.

The final punch knocks the other fighter out, smoke starting to curl from his exosuit where circuits have fried themselves and motors burnt out. He’ll live, which is good, even if the crowd does prefer a more final ending. The American is stuck squatting, his jammed suit fixing him in position and his eyes closed as the dark fug of unconsciousness saves him from embarrassment. Sergei raises a fist in a minor show of celebration, although he doesn’t feel that it was much of a victory. Too easy, too quick, a poor competition and poor entertainment although no one can blame him for that. Casting an eye down he can see, to his amused surprise, a small plate screwed in to the rolled back metal of his fallen opponents shoulder pad – ‘Made in China’. It doesn’t explain much, he’s fought Chinese contestants before, their technology has never failed them but then he doesn’t pay much attention to the machinations of international trade and politics, there may be a game here played well beyond his pay grade.

His commander is in the ring too now, a heavy hand slapping imperceptibally on his plated back.

“Come on, time to shake hands.”

Sergei lets himself be led away to a hastily assembled line of dignitaries. Generals, politicians, well dressed others of undefined importance, and at the end of the line President Putin and the orange man. The latter still whispering with frustration in the ear of a nearby bodyguard whose expression remains a model of professional indifference.

The Russians in the line nod approvingly at him, or even smile. Even if the fight wasn’t the best they seem amused by it, happy to have observed a spectacle even if it wasn’t as impressive as the clashes they’re used to. Even Putin, when his turn comes seems to flash a half smile at him, not something that he’s ever seen before. Only the orange man, who to Sergei’s surprise is announced to him as the President of the USA by his whispering commander, breaks from the formal mood of satisfaction. He’s ranting, even as he shakes the victor’s hand with a limp grip. Sergei doesn’t react, he’s trained not to and by the sound of it the man doesn’t think he speaks English, unaware of his vague grasp of the language gained from a distant childhood spent consuming American films and TV.

“He didn’t really win, this result is all wrong.” Letting his hand go the American goes on, talking over his head to the assembled officials, some of whom seem to be suppressing smirks.

“I know our boys, they’re the best, it’s just that guy – I should have known when they told me his grandma was Canadian, I did know. I told them he wouldn’t fight right, I told them I knew about this fighting stuff, everyone knows that, just ask them, they say I’m the best coach there is. I could have been a fighter too, I was, I just don’t talk about it, I’m too modest, that’s what all of my friends say, but I could have beaten this guy. Look at him, he’s nothing, He’s weak, not like me, everyone knows I’m strong, and I’m an older guy but I could have gone ten rounds with him. And I’ll tell people that, tell them I would have won, and we’ll deal with that loser later. People believe me, they know how good I am, they won’t buy this because it’s just wrong, Vladimir, it’s just wrong wrong wrong.”

Sergei feels a hand pulling him away, his commander. He lets himself be led as the American’s bodyguard tries in vain to guide his ward away too, gently trying to lead him away from Putin and his cohort who seem to be struggling ever harder not to laugh. It doesn’t work, as the President stands his ground, stubbornly continuing his defence as a translator desperately tries to keep up converting it into mostly incomprehensible Russian. He’s glad to be taken away, back to the lockers where engineers start to swarm around him unscrewing his armour and plugging it into various computers for the post fight analysis. It’s only back here that he can relax a little, free of the obligations of being on show.

His commander is leaning against the wall watching the process, a cigarette slowly dying on his lips.

“Sir, permission to speak?”

The officer nods, rheumy eyes inattentive.

“Was that really the President of the USA?”

An engineer stifles a snigger.

“It was. Not impressed?”

“Do you think he noticed that his wig was falling off?”

His commander pauses for a second to stub the tail end of his cigarette out against the wall.

“I doubt it, he didn’t notice when he signed Texas over to us, he just kept telling people about how he could run faster than President Putin, if he wanted to. I don’t think he pays much attention.

Sergei nods and shakes off the last piece of his disassembled exosuit, glad as always that no one expects him to pay attention to politics.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America (free on Kindle until 6/2/2017!) – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Share