Guest-blog: SIMON BESTWICK

Today’s guest blogger, Simon Bestwick, writes horror fiction and the odd bit of crime, and wonders in spare moments if there’s any connection to the fact that he lives in Lancashire.  He’s the author of a novel, Tide Of Souls (Abaddon Books), and two collections, A Hazy Shade Of Winter (Ash-Tree Press) and Pictures Of The Dark (Gray Friar Press).  Most recently he’s had stories published in The End Of The Line (Solaris Books) and Never Again (Gray Friar), and his novella Angels Of The Silences is due out shortly from Pendragon Press.  There will also be a chapbook out from Spectral Press, which is edited by a certain tattooed gentleman of your acquaintance.  Ideally he’d like to con somebody into paying him to write for a living, as it’s so much better than a proper job.

Here, Simon has a rant about the horror of the new culture of ‘fame and celebrity’, especially in the light of such reality TV programmes as X-Factor and Big Brother.

—()—

Finally came up with a guest blog, thanks to a grumpy comment (Grumpy? Me? I’m never grumpy! =D – Ed) on Facebook by this blog’s discerning and tattooed proprietor (thanks for that, Mr Marshall-Jones, as well as for the space to pontificate):

‘Is it just me, or has civilisation become so enamoured of crassness and stupidity that it appears to promote them as positive virtues?’

And the answer, for me, came back: yes.

Julie Burchill is, if nothing else, an infallible barometer of cultural sickness.  Whether it’s Thatcherism, the Iraq War or chav culture (and there’s a fucking oxymoron, but we’ll get to that), the rule holds true- if she likes it, it’s usually a very, very bad idea.

And Burchill loves her reality TV.  It’s democratic, you see.  It gives everyone a chance to be famous, not just the clever or talented.  Creates opportunities for those who’d have none.

Yeah, right.

What’s this got to do with reality TV?  Well, that’s not hard to work out.  But has it got anything to do with writing?

Bear with me.

I’m not saying reality TV, on its own, is causing the collapse of civilisation.  It’s just one symptom of a deeply sick society.

That’s if we can still say we live in a society, which Wikipedia (OK, so I’m lazy) defines as ‘a group of people related to each other through persistent relations such as social status, roles and social networks’?  Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing.  We’re only just starting to see the full, appalling implications of that statement play out now, as chav ‘culture’ (I said we’d get to that) crawls out of the slime.

Quick disclaimer: when I say ‘chav’, I do not mean: poor people, single mothers, kids in tracksuit bottoms or baseball caps, or those who simply happen to be members of the ‘underclass’.  Chav is a state of mind.  Or lack of one.

I’m talking about vicious, pig-ignorant little gobshites that act like fucking beasts and hurl abuse at anyone who looks different.  The ones you’re afraid to say a word against for fear of murderous violence.  The cowardly scumbags who kicked Sophie Lancaster to death for looking different, and their twenty-odd friends who watched, laughed and took pictures on their fucking camera-phones.  Another symptom, another product of a fucked-up culture, lawless and authoritarian all at once, consumed in voyeurism and distraction – victims too, yes, but that doesn’t take away the fear countless people live in because of them.

Still, they’re another set of ready-made scapegoats when we need a change from immigrants.

Crassness and stupidity?  If only they were the worst. Callousness, indifference to suffering- that’s a virtue too.  Don’t believe me?  Just bring up immigration or benefits as a topic and listen to the cretinous, lizard-brained fucks brainwashed by the Sun and Mail flaunting it as a badge of maturity.

Want more?  Ignorance, wilful ignorance, staying wrapped in a little bubble of knowing no better but choosing to know no better- that’s considered a virtue now.  To any sane human being, it should be an abomination.

Speak no ill of the dead and all that, but I detested Jade Goody.  Not because she was ignorant, because she was wilfully ignorant.  Any time someone challenged her ill-informed, bigoted views with anything as silly as facts, what happened?  They were shouted down in a blizzard of screeched abuse.

Definition time again.  What’s ‘fame’?  Ah… if you punch it into Google, there isn’t a definition of the term in sight.  At the top of the list of hits on the search engine, you’ll see the IMDB listing for the movie.  Not that I have any objection to stuff that evokes the image of women in leotards and woolly leg-warmers (get back to the point- Ed.)

If we try the word famous, we get:

‘Having a widespread reputation, usually of a favorable nature; renowned; celebrated: a famous writer.’ (Ha!)

Fame was about recognition for achievement.  Robert De Niro is famous for being a great actor.  William Shakespeare is famous for having been a great writer.  Get the idea?

But fame is now an end in itself, nothing more.  Jade Goody wasn’t unique- there are a million more like her out there.  She was a mediocrity elevated by reality TV to a household name- in the final analysis, deserving as much pity as she did contempt.

Oh, they made her famous.  But famous for what?  She was just one who got chewed up and spat out by the ever-hungry machine that provides distraction and entertainment without (god forbid) inducing anything that resembles thought.  Just one of the unending line of suckers offering themselves up as human sacrifices to the malignant pagan idols of Simon Cowell, Davina McCall and Jeremy Kyle.

How many have done so who might otherwise, given encouragement and guidance, have read a book or two, acquired some knowledge, broadened their horizons and genuinely made something of themselves, achieved something of real benefit?  Because that’s not encouraged anymore.  As the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens, everything depends on keeping the burgeoning ranks of the have-nots happily, wilfully ignorant.

And god forbid you should let politics into your life or anything.  Public services are about to be slashed to the bone, driving the UK deeper into recession, and most people’s idea of democracy is picking the winner on the fucking X-Factor.  Debates and choices over trivia, the illusion of freedom, while civil liberties are stripped away under the guise of ‘protecting’ us.  On the one hand, we’re sleepwalking into a police state; on the other, the very fabric of what creates a community is being rotted away by those who appoint themselves its guardians.

Rome is burning, and we’re fiddling while it does.

And that brings me to the real fear.  I can handle the concept of my own death.  I know that will happen one day.  But what’s scaring me now is that the very civilisation I grew up in is dying, devolving into a new kind of barbarism, complete with Playstations and plasma screen TVs.  One where everything I do as a writer will be meaningless, either because books are burned or unpublishable if they fail to toe the line, or because no fucker bothers reading anymore

I want to ‘believe in better’.  I want to believe there’s a way back.  I don’t want to believe we’re on a one-way trip to that kind of world.

But I fear it.

And at the heart of it, what’s horror about, if not the fragility of everything we love?  Our ‘control’ of the world around us is largely illusory, either as individuals or as a species.  Whatever you value can be taken from you in a heartbeat, by accident or malice or blind chance.

But being a writer is about spinning flax into gold- turning those dreads and terrors into something else.  Into art.

Why write?

Because I need to.

Because I’ve got no choice.

Because if I act out my worst fears and dreads on the printed page, then maybe, just maybe, they won’t come true in real life.

Because good writing is a shock to the system, a jolt- the axe, as Franz Kafka said, that smashes the frozen sea within us- and maybe- again, just maybe- something I write will actually do some good.  Nudge the course of maybe one life towards a better path.

And most of all, perhaps, because when I write, even when I’m really writing about how little control any of us have over anything, I can tell myself I’m at least in charge of this– this page, these words.  This moment.

—()—

Nothing like a fiery rant to start the day off!! Thanks to Simon for writing this – it’s something that I (and many others) have strong feelings about, especially considering, in my case, where I used to live and where I find myself now. Plus I have often lamented the turgid  state of a typical Saturday night’s television for a long time, sounding like a younger version of Victor Meldrew. Glad to know I am not the only one…

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20 Responses to “Guest-blog: SIMON BESTWICK”

  1. I couldn’t agree more, especially about Jade flippin Goody. What I don’t understand, when watching X Factor or whatever, is why I’m supposed to care about these people?

  2. Very timely, as the big publishers unveil their appalling Christmas list of ghost-written celebrity ‘autobiographies’, Justin Bieber among them. Justin Bieber? He’s 16, for God’s sake! What the hell is the dramatic pinnacle of the book going to be – the day his balls dropped?

  3. Charlotte Says:

    Simon: reading this was like reading something coming from my own hand. I despise celebrity ‘culture’ [I even feel dirty using the word ‘culture’ and ‘celebrity’ in the same sentence]. I too couldn’t stand Jade ‘East Angular’ Goody and I can tell you, there are several other people I’d quite like to be removed from the public eye: Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole, Katie FUCKING Price and her sham husband….the list is not exhaustive [but my fingers are].

    Every day I go to the shop and see a plethora of gaudy magazines filled with ‘news’ such as ‘I can’t live without him” says Cheryl’ or ‘If we have a baby things will be okay says Depressed WAG’. When did it become acceptable to air one’s dirty laundry in public?! This isn’t news this is sensationalist reporting used to make those drudgeons in society feel better about their own wasted lives.

    Sorry, I’ve gone on too long here, but Simon, thank you for penning something so emotive to me.

  4. Freaking brilliant post. Why do folk worship at the feet of these worthless, shallow people, who seem to think the only thing worth achieving in life is a good photo or the next Versace dress? And not only that – but think having such ridiculous ‘values’ makes them somehow superior?

    Morons.

    But, you know, gotta go. You’re making me think, and I hear that’s not fashionable anymore. 😦

  5. simonkurtunsworth Says:

    Yep, agree with all of this, but would urge Mr Bestwick to calm down slightly, as embollisms of the brain are not a pretty sight. Perhaps the best defence against it is to think and act (and bring our children up, if we have them, to think and act) in ways that give the lie to the excesses of our current culture? Dunno. Just a thought.

  6. Charlotte Says:

    By the way, I have just realised I made up a word here – ‘drudgeons’. But I think it’s a good word and I think you all know what it should mean!

  7. I love the word drudgeons. If it didn’t exist before, it should have. 🙂

  8. This feels like despising pigs for living in muddy little pens.
    I’ve had more than my fair share of chav encounters, but doesn’t anyone feel sorry for them at all? Isn’t anyone here grateful that they can read and write, were born into a better society than the chavs were?

    • Don’t worry, Tony, I am gateful for the good education I received and the upbringing I got, but I, like many others, am saddened by the idea that people now think it ‘uncool’ to be intellligent and well-read – that anything that smacks of being interested in the world around you is somehow ‘unhip’ that some people consider it worth beating you up for it…

      I am slso saddened by the fact that it increasingly appears that the instant gratification society the media seem to have created has sawned a generation who think that everything is theirs by right, and not earned through hard work and elbow grease… and that fame itself has been devalued to such an extent that doing anything worthwhile (whatever that may be) seems pointless…

      But hey ho….

    • Charlotte Says:

      Well yes and no. I was born into a low income [later to become single parent] household. My mother grew up on a council estate and left school with no qualifications. Didn’t stop her from instilling in me manners, and teaching me to read before I started school (something I am eternally grateful for). A lot of parents nowadays leave the media to teach their children, instead of making the effort themselves. It was from this bakcground that I was taught that nothing ever happened if I didn’t get up off my arse and do it myself.

      Also, I would say that ‘chavs’ in this society have more chances to live better than those in other countries [not all, and I’m not trying to cause more issues by saying this here]. We may well moan about our NHS but at least we have free access to medical help, cheaper prescriptions, access to free education and the right to free speech [a curse for some one might say].

      Some of these people could help themselves, if only they were more willing to open their eyes and ears and use some braincells. I pity them, I don’t hate them. But I do despise the propensity for trash media to promote values such as those outlines in vehemence by Simon above.

  9. ‘I’m talking about vicious, pig-ignorant little gobshites that act like fucking beasts and hurl abuse at anyone who looks different. The ones you’re afraid to say a word against for fear of murderous violence. The cowardly scumbags who kicked Sophie Lancaster to death for looking different, and their twenty-odd friends who watched, laughed and took pictures on their fucking camera-phones. Another symptom, another product of a fucked-up culture, lawless and authoritarian all at once, consumed in voyeurism and distraction – victims too, yes, but that doesn’t take away the fear countless people live in because of them.

    Still, they’re another set of ready-made scapegoats when we need a change from immigrants.’

    Well said, Simon. And silence is the worst response to bullying.

  10. Thanks, everybody, not least Simon Marshall-Jones for the use of his blog!

    Tree- absolutely.

    Nev- I too spat my coffee out laughing at your post. Thanks for that!

    Ali- Don’t think for goodness sake, it puts lines on your face. Or something. 😉

    Simon KU- (there are getting to be way too many Simons around here!) Embolism threat level has been downgraded to green. Whenever the pressure builds I just decant it via a good rant. I’d probably have an embolism if I didn’t…

    Ally B- Thanks, and very true.

    Tony- what Simon M-J said. I get quite tired of people claiming that not liking chavs is about snobbery- it’s not. And I did ackowledge that such people are victims themselves, products of a social environment. The people my anger is directed towards are the ones who have no interest in learning anything or improving their lives, but would rather wallow in their own bigotry and hatred of the unfamiliar.

    Charlotte- absolutely. Thanks to you particularly for your response; always nice when you know you’ve hit a chord!

  11. Simon, I agree strongly with the core of what you’re saying. The best way to see what working-class people are doing, in great numbers, to fight the destruction of our public sector jobs and services is to join your regional anti-cuts campaign and start getting your friends and workmates on board. I marched with roughly 5,000 people in Birmingham on Sunday in almost non-stop rain, and the Spending Review hasn’t even happened yet. Once it does the protests will be uncontrollable, and won’t be ‘chavs’ who try and clamp down on it.

    Speaking of which, if you identify ‘chavs’ not by their clothing, music taste or idiom but by their wilful ignorance and vicious stupidity, maybe you need another word. To me that’s a bit like saying that ‘rockers’ aren’t people who like heavy metal, they’re bicycle-chain wielding gangs who terrorise villages. It’s a metonymy: making a part define the whole. I think the Murdoch press demonises ‘chavs’ not because they are racist, but because they are not racist enough.

    There is a huge problem with the decline in political and cultural awareness driven by changes in working conditions, the decline in trade union membership and the forced blankness of the media, as well as the corrosive influence of the internet. But identifying ‘chavs’ as the core outcome strikes me as both too selective and slightly off target.

    Trotsky’s ‘transitional method’ involves working with the consciousness that people have and developing that, not standing back and condemning them as irredeemable. We’re getting far more engagement from chavs on anti-cuts stalls in Acocks Green than we are from the middle class – while young people in heavy metal T-shirts, I’m sad to say, seem far more inclined to march past with their eyes fixed on the horizon.

    As I’ve said before, Jade Goody has probably saved thousands of lives by raising awareness of the need for cervical cancer screening. Attendance for screening among young women rose dramatically in the months following her death. That’s not a role she chose or enjoyed, but historically it’s the role she had. The most unlikely people have potential that a crisis can bring out.

  12. Just a footnote – it’s pretty clear that ‘chav’ is a new term for that Victorian folk devil, the ‘undeserving poor’ whose existence justifies attacks on the welfare state. They get pregnant just to claim child benefit! They’re unemployed because they’d rather scrounge than work! They like rap because they have no culture of their own!

    It all reminds me of what the tabloids were saying about ‘punks’ in the 1970s. And no, I don’t think English rap artists like Mike Skinner will be thought of in future as the Joe Strummers or John Lydons of their time. But it’s wrong to insist that no potential and no meaning is visible there. We took jazz, blues, reggae, soul, rock and other musical genres from the USA – why does rap have to be considered an alien intrusion?

    And why do we have sneering middle-aged white musicians like the Hamsters stepping into the shoes of Clapton by claiming that modern ‘R&B’ is ‘chav music’? What happened to the multicultural musical perspective our parents (or some of them) took for granted?

  13. P.S. Simon, I’m not trying to undermine your very strong overall point about cultural and political erosion, just to add some further nuances to the perspective. And I’ve got the bends after a major work deadline and some crap I’ll explain offline (which as you know is where I always long to be, though its bleak and cruel environment has me currently exiled in cyberspace like a Scot in California).

  14. You can tell I was suffering from lack of sleep – how did I manage to attribute reggae to the USA? It came from the Carribean, and perhaps specifically from Jamaica. Sorry!

    • I am so tired, what with all I have been doing lately, that I didn’t even notice the wrong attribution…. plus I have been battling misspellings all day, which is fairly unusual for me… I desperately need a holiday, I think… LOL

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