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.
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.
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…