Close to the end of February, I am now posting the second entry this year to reflect onTake 2 posts from the preceding month. As previously mentioned, the aim of composing the news is to interrupt the otherwise unending sequence of increasingly fictitious stories in the media. Fictitious not as in literally untrue; but because with each extension in the mediating sequence – one image/tweet/blog/comment/feature leading to another and another, the sequence itself is further divorced from reality. Accordingly, I am working on a form of writing which is derivative but consciously so – its content derived from material available online, with this freely available material reconfigured in the attempt to reinstate featured individuals in their human being. My intention is that the last word shall go to the common humanity in which each of these stories has its origins, restoring the arc from the general to the particular and disrupting the tendency to flatten human experience in that unending sequence of mediating phenomena. The form is indeed contradictory: the essential drawn down from an even higher level of derivatives; so too is the content. Thus the most recent post, ‘The Two Oscars’, purports to underline the similarities between the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius and the drama of Oscars-night in Hollywood; but the real aim is to pull them apart – to distinguish between reality and fantasy by juxtaposing them. In one way or another, all my posts aim to use more writing (rather than less) to arrest the mediating sequence of intangibles and make my chosen stories tangible again. But this is not a voluntaristic quest for something existential. It is prompted by the belief that there is a shared reality – social reality, beyond the partial aspects of it which come variously to the fore, depending on which part of the world you are in and what part it plays in the global distribution of roles and responsibilities. Thus my hope is that Take 2 comes from the point-of-view of the totality. Conversely, it is addressed to anyone who dares to view particular events from just this universal frame of mind.
They would have to de-Afrikaans-ise the plot: Reeva, maybe. But no characters with surnames sounding even a little like Mein Kampf. Similarly, to the rest of the world ‘Waterkloof’ could be Dutch for lavatory, so the accused, when granted bail, must reside instead in his uncle’s house in Beverley Hills or perhaps even the Bois de Boulogne. Replace Pretoria with Paris or L.A. and there’s no need for that oddly metallic accent. (To the unfamiliar ear, each, sharp sentence seems to leaves a trace of blood in the mouth.) Re-located and only partially re-written, the Pistorius case would surely be an Oscar-winning drama: Daniel Day Lewis will have amputated at least one leg in preparation for the part; on opening night, Anne Hathaway will keep up the nipple count; and of course Blade Runner himself would feel right at home here in Hollywood. But only a jury can decide whether this fantasy film should be named after Truman Capote’s ‘factual novel’: In Cold Blood.
As he began his prepared response to Moody’s downgrading of Britain’s credit status, the left-hand side of the Chancellor’s upper lip ballooned briefly outwards. For less than a second, but long enough to suggest the lip curling snarl required of the George Osborne stereotype. Mr Darcy morphing into a ripped and torn face by Francis Bacon, the artist – that’s the combination of arrogance and barely suppressed violence which the Rt Hon and his policies epitomise in the mind’s eye of those who see themselves as left-wing. But this is more figment than real figure; ditto the ‘neo-liberalism’ which anti-Osbornes love to hate. For the cameras, Gorgeous George was lined up against rows of leather-bound books, as if he really were a Regency rake resting in the library before making another descent into the Hellfire Club. But the camera-eye caught the frightened look in his: wide-open, pleading to be believed – at the very moment when Britain has lost some of its financial credibility. Similarly, as Osborne rattled through his statement, ostensibly a restatement of Cabinet confidence, the microphone picked up a recurring protestation which can only mean its opposite: ‘this is a clear message’; ‘the ratings agency is clear’; ‘we are clear’; ‘let’s be clear’. This much is clear: despite the patina of arrogance – it hardly matters whether he acquired it among the Eton Rifles – the Chancellor’s stance is riddled with confusion and uncertainty.
Two charismatic leaders making waves in the Italian general election campaign. Silvio Berlusconi, survivalist extraordinaire, his teeth crooked from having ground down so many opponents. Filmed on the campaign trail, every physical move he makes, looks like a calculation. Bolstered in a sleek (Boss?) suit, his 76-year-old frame cannot but count the cost. Dyed black hair, slicked back and patted down; artificial colouring in his alligator face. As if there’s always a flesh-coloured ladies’ stocking over his head. Who would be wooed by this armed robber? But there are crowds of disaffected, elderly voters (ex-Christian Democrats, ex-Socialists), ready to be embraced once more by the Great Seducer (Berlusconi’s nickname from his early days as a cruise ship crooner). Meanwhile sprightly, 64-year-old Beppe Grillo stomps the stage, declaiming and gesticulating extravagantly. Pumped up in a puffa jacket, a mane of silver hair, carefully cut a la Richard Branson, ‘Grillini’ – the satirist turned activist – is a stand-out stand-up for honesty and anti-corruption (Martin Bell meets Billy Connolly). Whereas Berlusconi pitched himself to Business first and foremost (at the End of the Cold War, unalloyed Business in place of degraded Ideology), Grillo is a self-declared populist whose starting point is The People versus Politicians. But anti-politics is what they have in common. Berlusconi began as the businessman outside a corrupt political elite, before his own chequered career served to redefine ‘politics’ as post-ideological politicking. Now Grillini carries on where Berlcusoni left off. According to his own party rules, Grillo’s conviction for manslaughter following a traffic accident in 1980, prevents him from standing as a candidate. So a vote for his Five Star Movement is also a vote against candidacy, a mark against political representation in toto. His major contribution to the Italian political calendar is V-Day: V for Vaffanculo (‘fuck off’). Though he has since backtracked, he even joked about Rome’s politicians being bombed by Al Qaeda. For all their contrasting mannerisms, Grillo is son of Silvio, the erstwhile anti-political candidate.
Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag. A huge carcass of a story about contaminated meat only gives rise – like steam from a horse on the run – to pure farce. Hence the UK Environment Secretary who is shocked, ‘absolutely shocked’ (soon to be revealed: the Horror, the Horror of his spotty underpants). Hence medallion man with mutton chop sideburns, name of Peter Boddy (you couldn’t…), shut down by the Food Standards Agency for piling the horses high in his Todmorden, West Yorkshire abattoir – though that’s exactly what he is licensed to do. Absolute mare-der over Lancashire school kids eating stable pie instead of cottage. Better than letting them eat cake, I say, which will surely lead to obesity. Banging on about anti-inflammatory horse pills which may now have entered the human food chain. But this last Shock! Horror! is not even new – never mind headline news. Bute was long ago passed to humans, since doctors occasionally give it to arthritis sufferers, i.e. people not horses; and you’d have to eat 500 eight ounce Shergar-burgers a day, to ingest the full, human dosage. Supermarkets nag, nag, nagged into eternal vigilance. On a laid-back Sunday morning (‘feels like Sunday mo-or-ning’), when one, ruffle-haired spokesman feels like re-la-axing enough to admit they didn’t test for horsemeat – ‘why would we? We don’t test for hedgehog either’ – the television interviewer immediately wants to know how food safety can be assured. Your response was not carefully coiffed, please spray the airwaves with your mounting concern. Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag. Nagging doubts about the way we live transposed to a gnawing problem with horsemeat. In the process, all semblance of substance slaughtered.
It’s not how they look – Chris, a cleaned-up version ofToy Story’s Stinky Pete; and Vicky, surely a model for the Boden Senior Range (if they had one). They each share the same contempt for the person the other has become; and this is most clearly discernible – audible rather than visible – in the taped, private telephone conversation made public during court hearings against divorcees Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce (charged with perverting the course of justice re: previous conviction for speeding on the M11). He speaks to her in the rhythm that politicians habitually use when addressing the public nowadays. ‘There/is/no/point/in/going/any/further’. Which is to say (though of course this is not what he/they actually say): I want to you to know that I am separating this out. Into small pieces. So that you can un-der-stand. E-ven you. But even the former minister and ex-MP is still man enough, sufficiently human, to fail in this contemptuously mechanical performance. He continues: ‘All I am saying is that I am going to tell them the truth which is of course that I…a-absolutely deny that [indecipherable because Pryce interjects]’. Huhne cannot bring himself simply to say: I did not. Instead he uses a formula that puts him at one step removed: ‘I…a-absolutely deny that [indecipherable]’. Even then he falters between the ‘I’ and ‘absolutely’. If he were a musician we’d say he’s late coming in, and then he fluffs the note. Conscious that it is a performance, he trips up at the key moment. Whereas Pryce’s showing is all the more theatrical because she does not appear to be performing at all. Her side of their exchanges is anything but rehearsed. It is declamatory, exclamatory. She supplies interjection, intervention, interrogation. Hook lines in the key of spontaneous outburst.‘Who are you going to deny this to?’ ‘Do you not remember?’ ‘Swear to me’. ‘It’s my reputation’. ‘What do I say now?’ This last, a mocking reprise of the very idea that she will take any more directions from him. Soon afterwards Huhne hangs up. But not before she has given voice to a caricature of private life, strictly divorced from the concerns and criteria of public deliberation; while the calculated manner of his performance reveals a man locked in to a travesty of public life, cynical of whoever’s being addressed. On this hearing, public and private are close to irreconcilable.
School-age children rapping his name to the beat of a djembe drum (djembe meaning ‘everyone gather together in peace’: life imitating spin – but better), arriving in Timbuktu to a rapturous reception President Hollande may even have considered crowd-surfing – launching himself off the gunmetal plane and into the shifting dunes of desert peoples below. It surely was his School of Rock moment: Hollande had come to congratulate French troops and soldiers from neighbouring African countries for liberating northern Mali; he clearly relished this ‘very emotional’ day. Stiffening slightly in the presence of the military, loosening his gait in the midst of the African crowd (they’re so loose-limbed, y’know), Hollande is congratulating himself…..for taking on the colours of his surroundings. He feels like the Lizard King; he’s more like a chameleon. In response to keywords – terrorist, Islamist, linked-to-Al-Qaeda; keen to be seen to be decisive, the president of France launched an invasion force without thinking about how to get it out again. In search of a shared national experience, Hollande has plunged the tricolour back into the long-running conflict between the Malian mainstream and increasingly Islamicised Tuareg rebels (not many Tuaregs among the Timbuktu welcome party: liberating the town led to looting their shops) – a conflict inherent in the way the colonial power manipulated its exit from North Africa in the 1960s. Half a century later, Hollande comes back with nothing that would serve to fix the region and/or bring its peoples together. He is only saying: we want you to be able to dress in colourful clothes and play that twangy guitar music which we love so much. French foreign policy as if all the world’s a world music festival. Climbing back onto the plane to fly south to Bamako, the president brushes desert dust off his sleeve. But the consequences of Western intervention are not so readily dismissed. As Neil Kinnock came to regret hectoring a Labour crowd ‘Are y’all right? Are y’all right?’ at the climax of his 1992 general election campaign, Hollande will have to face the discord from his big gig in Mali.