To my surprise this movie still stands up as a great horror film. Its power, wild kinetic energy and aura of rot and disgust are intact. Further surprTo my surprise this movie still stands up as a great horror film. Its power, wild kinetic energy and aura of rot and disgust are intact. Further surprises are found when watching it again after many years – there’s only one scene which has any blood in it, and there’s only one death-by-chainsaw in the whole movie. There’s no nudity, no swearing. Yet still the level of violence, physical and mental, is unremitting. This is the ur-text of slasher movies, and I think also for the torture porn we have been deluged with in recent years. (It’s recognised as the first movie to feature the Final Girl, the one who suffers but survives.)
So now I have to explain, if I hate all those slasher and torture porn movies, why The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is actually good. This will take the kind of fancy footwork Leatherface displays in the last amazing shot.
The answer is that TCSM is it, it’s pretty much all you ever need (should you need a high voltage film of terror in the first place). All the thousands of non-supernatural horror movies since 1974 have been riffs on this movie. Get a bunch of young people in a particular place and chop them up one by one. Make sure there are at least two hot young white women. (Essential.) That’s the plot. There are a handful of other non-supernatural horror movies of merit (The Fly, District 9, Calvaire) and they are the ones which aren’t riffs. So this is me saying – Dracula by Bram Stoker is a masterpiece, all the other vampire novels can be shredded (sorry Ann Rice). And this is true, unless you’re a genre fan. If you actually like the thousands of tiny variations of place, tone, character, ambience, costume, then you like your slasher or vampire or torture porn movies and novels, just like I like a lot of old blues, which are all variations on a single theme too. But for non-fans, all you need is the one good one.
What did Johann Sebastian Bach do with Goldberg? He wrote 30 variations on a theme for him. Goldberg didn’t say hey Johann, I only need one, thank you very much. He was glad to have all 30. He was a fan.
O UNHAPPY LEATHERFACE
Gunnar Hansen played Leatherface and his book is charm-charm-charming. His account reveals that the movie was made by a bunch of film students who were all trying to get some kind of career going, only one actor had any experience, and they basically made up how to do a movie as they went along. No props manager, no stuntmen, no health and safety advisor. This meant that the actors were flinging themselves about and accreting numerous minor injuries, and coming far too close to actual real whirring chainsaws, so that by the end of the 8 week shoot, in the 100-plus degree heat of Texas summer, they were beat, battered, bruised and abused and they never wanted to hear another word about chainsaws. They limped home!
The abuse didn’t stop there either – the movie, which none of them expected to do anything other than play a few Texas drive-ins, made let’s say between 50 and 100 million over the next 20 years, and they didn’t see any of that. Including Tobe Hooper, the director. So they had a horrible time making the movie, saw it become a top hit, and then got no pay for their pains. It’s one of many sad movie stories, all variations on another theme - the theme “what did we sign?”. This particular version features a company which was a front for the mafia. So, I guess, that’s where the money went.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The movie had several strokes of dumb luck which made it the thing of wonder it is. The only person to get a big career out of it was Tobe Hooper, the director, so was its brilliance down to him? Tobe or not Tobe, that is the question. The answer is that without the great cinematography, terrific musique concrete soundtrack, without Leatherface’s genius masks and unique character, and especially without the set design in the cannibal family home – all those mobiles and artworks made of bones, the furniture made of skeletons, the odd carcass lying around, sourced from the local unwittingly-generous Texas farmers and from one of the women whose day job was a veterinary assistant (the set stank to high heaven, what with the 100 degree heat, and the actors were in there for 16 hours a day) then of course, it would have been weird and watchable but not the unrelenting pit of stomach fall down an unsuspected manhole experience it is.
Leatherface is a nightmare. Gunnar was 6 feet 4 and they made him wear boots with three inch heels so he is enormous. But he moves fast, and he wears the horrible dried-human-face mask. And he doesn’t speak, except in pig-like squeals, very high pitched. Just when you are used to him as the lunatic chainsawyer, there’s a scene where he’s in the kitchen and he’s wearing a different dried-human-face mask, with make-up on it, and a wig of bountiful grey curls, and he’s puttering around with his apron on, and he’s MOTHER!
My other favourite scene is after Leatherface has grabbed and sledgehammered the first kid and meat-hooked and freezered the second kid, we see him go to the front window and draw the curtain, he looks out anxiously, right, left, right again, he’s very worried, sits down holding his head, very distressed – WHERE ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE COMING FROM? ARE THERE ANY MORE? He’s all on his own and he’s having to cope with a home invasion!
BANNED IN BRITAIN FOR YEARS
Undoubtedly the chef d’oeuvre in the movie’s menu of misery is the suffering of the main female character Sally played by Marilyn Burns. The second half of the movie is all about her running, screaming, jumping through windows, being recaptured, bound, gagged, nearly chainsawed, nearly being brained by Grandpa, running, running, with Leatherface in hot pursuit, screaming. You know, this is not King Lear. Dialogue is at a minimum. This movie is laying out the future of horror right here : the point of these movies is the detailed display of female suffering, "the necessary demise of the female" as my GR friend Jan Rice called it. That’s what we’re here for. The boys may die in horrible ways too (as they do here) but their deaths will take up little screen time. The camera wishes to linger on the bound and gagged and terrified female. So yes, these are sadistic, sexist, probably misogynistic movies. You can’t pretend otherwise, although critics have seen TCSM as a parody of the family or family values or as a comment on Vietnam or as vegetarian agitprop (meat is really murder!).
In the great documentary Video Nasties, there’s a clip of James Ferman, the head of the then British Board of Film Censors, saying why the movie was refused a certificate in Britain. It was according to him the unflinching focus on the suffering and agony of the young woman which takes up the last 25 minutes of the movie. In his opinion, this should not be permitted to be presented as entertainment. Well, naturally, all the movie buffs wrote him off as a stupid dinosaur – TCSM was shown at Cannes and bought by MoMA! It was art!
But maybe the old dinosaur from the 1980s had a point. Not that I’d want to go as far as to ban a movie showing 25 minutes of a female being tortured – I mean, what do you take me for? Banning a movie? That would be barbaric.
This book is neither fish nor fowl, ape nor apricot, neither a hawk nor a handsaw, but what it is is often quite aggravating. I had thought it would bThis book is neither fish nor fowl, ape nor apricot, neither a hawk nor a handsaw, but what it is is often quite aggravating. I had thought it would be a kind of absolute beginners guide to basic film ideas which is what I was after because although a movie fan I am, I am, all previous encounters with film theory have left me dismayed and in a state of mild-to-medium paralysis. With film theory I always end up more confused than before I started.
This book did not help that much. Probably not at all. I'm still an ignoramus, I can just drop a few names, that's all. This book doesn’t look advanced, i.e. for film students and theory geeks only, in fact it looks like it’s for me, with its 2 page lavishly illustrated entries on such stuff as Censorship, Poetic Realism, Blaxploitation, 3-D, Queer Cinema, and slightly more arcane stuff like Process Shots, Free Cinema, Persistence of Vision, Match Shots and the like. But this guy David Parkinson is clearly a geek and an early-film geek to boot, because for almost every entry we get
The diagonal tracking shots in Gionanni Pastrone’s Cabiria (1914) proved so influential in taking the viewer into the heart of the scene that so-called “Cabiria movements” came to feature in such diverse pictures as Yevgeni Bauer’s The Child of the Big City (1914) and William J Bowman’s all-but-forgotten The Second-in-Command (1915).
Despite the popularity of American features like Traffic in Souls (1913) and Damaged Goods (1914), and German Aufklarungsfilme or enlightenment films such as Hyenas of Lust (1919), early exploitation was strictly censored.
(I’m not even sure that last sentence makes sense – just because these movies were popular, why wouldn’t they still be censored? Anyway, I digress.)
These 100 ideas are strung together in a loosely chronological fashion, from e.g. No. 3 The Kinetoscope to No 100 CGI but even in Idea No 98 Mr Parkinson is still banging on about The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) and Intolerance (1916). All these very early films are important and even though you’ll never have even one tiny impulse to go and watch them, you need to know this!
The other thing is that the author lapses into quart-in-a-pint-pot technogibber at various moments :
Point of View shots soon acquired prospective and retrospective uses. Exploiting cross-cutting and eyeline matches, film-makers also devised continuing, discovered, delayed, multiple, open and forged perspectives.
I would have liked some explanation about all those perspectives but no such luck.
The shifting line between on- and off-screen space was also crucial to the mise en scene style perfected by the likes of Max Ophuls and Kenji Mizoguchi. But the master of off-screen technique was Yasijiro Ozu, who used off-centre framing to exploit an image’s centrifugal force to guide the viewer to the edges of the frame and the real world that existed beyond. In order to achieve this, he devised a fully circular film space around which he could construct alternative axes of action and this create totally new spatial contexts throughout a scene.
I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about, and maybe if I saw these movies by Ozu I’d see straight away, but this is too compressed. Still, an awful lot of hard work has gone into this book, and there are great nuggets to be unearthed. Like
Two-hour pictures now contain upwards of 2000 shots, compared to 300-500 over 90 minutes in the studio era… the average shot lengths halving from four to two seconds between LA Confidential (1997) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004).
And you can’t beat insights like
The average feature contains around 40 minutes of music. However, some have none at all.
Aw, sorry, David Parkinson. Sometimes you lead with your chin.
The grisly irony of Smile is that it descended into general frowning unhappiness in early 1967 as Brian Wilson realised he had no idea what he was doi The grisly irony of Smile is that it descended into general frowning unhappiness in early 1967 as Brian Wilson realised he had no idea what he was doing with his modularity run rampant and everyone thought he’d gone round the bend; the tiresomeness of Smile is that it has such an anguished yet hopeful back story (and lo! it was completed by Big Brian 37 years later, proving that autumn is just as nice as spring and it’s never too late to have a fling - throw away your walking frames and shimmy like your sister Kate etc etc). The irony and the tiresomeness tempt all the music critics to jaw on about all this cultural portentousness and fill up their volumes with tales of Mephistopheles Mike Love, Beelzebub Murray Wilson, Lucifer Phil Spector and the other damned detestable devils who tormented the poor adult child genius Brian Wilson and made him eat many burgers. This present teeny tome is the worst and most aggravating of the Smilefests I have come across. Its only redeeming quality is the the inconspicuous distance between the back and front covers. Mr Sanchez chooses to pay almost no attention to the music of Smile itself, which funnily enough, I hoped was going to loom large in a book about Smile. Fortunately the beauty and thrill of Smile itself can never be dimmed by the piles of smilery like this. The music is utterly wonderful and this book is extremely not required. ...more
Defenders of Bob Dylan say – as I do to my profoundly sceptical daughter – well, okay, he does have a funny way of singing (“it’s not singing, it’s talking in a singsong voice – maybe that was singing in the 1960s but people have improved since then” says Georgia) – yes, well, let’s not argue – but he wrote these great songs – listen to the words!
Well, don’t listen to ALL the words, please, because Bob’s internal quality checker quite often goes on the blink - you can be enjoying a great song and suddenly a real cringer of a line whaps you when you least expect it.
We’re not going to wag a digit at Bob’s early ultra-earnest stuff, which he didn’t even officially record:
If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!
- it would be in poor taste, Bob was just the same as any other high school poet until 1962 when he started to be able to write social commentary which didn’t sound embarrassing, and he was on a roll for two straight years, but he couldn’t keep up with the finger-pointin’, his finger just got so tired, so he decided his great subject was the phoniness of American life, the chaos of modernity (to give it a non-Holden Caulfield gloss) and this led him to become Very Poetical – ditching the reportage (“Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen, she was 51 years old and gave birth to ten children”) for something a whole lot more significant with a big S
Crimson flames tied through my ears Rollin’ high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads Using ideas as my maps “We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I Proud ’neath heated brow Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now
or, the following year
The lamppost stands with folded arms Its iron claws attached To curbs ’neath holes where babies wail Though it shadows metal badge All and all can only fall With a crashing but meaningless blow No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden
I think we’re back to the Promising High School Student again, but these horrible lapses come on albums which also contained To Ramona, Subterranean Homesick Blues and Love Minus Zero/No Limit, and a lot of other wonderful stuff. I’m just being mean here.
If Modern Life is Chaos then meaning is abandoned, you can write absolutely anything, who cares – a whole lot of Bob’s stuff is like that, and suffers accordingly
The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits To Jezebel the nun she violently knits A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits At the head of the chamber of commerce
Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley With his pointed shoes and his bells Speaking to some French girl Who says she knows me well And I would send a message To find out if she’s talked But the post office has been stolen And the mailbox is locked
It's really doggerel. But, as it happened, Bob found a brilliant new sound and some great musicians to help him put out his anti-message in 65 to 67, ending up with a lot of delightful whimsy in the famous Basement Tapes – new deluxe version out soon!
The next 50 years have been fairly patchy. Occasionally he takes up an actual subject (Hurricane, George Jackson) but mostly it’s Life is Chaos or, increasingly, These Women will be the Death of Me. It’s not a nice thing to say, but the awful bust-up with Sara did re-energise Bob’s songs. The remarkable outpouring of viciousness in Idiot Wind starts with a weird and fairly silly first verse
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me I can’t help it if I’m lucky
Bob explained that if he put that in first, he could then be as insulting as he wanted (“you’re an idiot, babe, it’s a wonder you can even feed yourself”) because he was “in character”. This is surely a terrible reason to start one of your greatest songs with a daft verse.
A few years later Christianity of the ranting variety gave him a whole new subject. The songs and the energy of the gospel period were good, his voice was probably never better (listen to “When He Returns”) but many times the lyrics make these songs unlistenable :
Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots
Adulterers in churches and pornography in the schools You got gangsters in power and lawbreakers making rules Spiritual advisors and gurus to guide your every move Instant inner peace and every step you take has got to be approved
When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
(Answer : “Tomorrow, Bob, or maybe next Monday, I’m kind of busy this week.”)
After the apocalypse faded, Bob went right back to songs about chaos and meaninglessness
The cat’s in the well, the horse is going bumpety bump The cat’s in the well, and the horse is going bumpety bump Back alley Sally is doing the American jump
And has stayed that way pretty much since, although with a whole new songwriting technique – Songwriter as Diligent Magpie. This is where Bob raids the vast reservoir of old Americana (blues & hillbilly music before the 1940s, 19th and early 20th century poets and novelists, the more obscure the better) and rearranges and stitches and nips and tucks until
My pulse is runnin’ through my palm–the sharp hills are rising from The yellow fields with twisted oaks that groan Won’t you meet me out in the moonlight alone?
She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand She says, “You can’t repeat the past.” I say, “You can’t? What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can.”
Okay, I have now demonstrated Bob sometimes writes less than brilliant lyrics. A guy like that (there is no other guy like that) gets over-praised (e.g. by the French Academy or the American Academy of Arts and Letters
"For more than 50 years, defying categorization in a culture beguiled by categories, Bob Dylan has probed and prodded our psyches, recording and then changing our world and our lives through poetry made manifest in song – creating relationships that we never imagined could exist between words, emotions and ideas"
and knee-jerkily dismissed as overrated by bewildered 17 year olds. Ah well. The lamp-post still stands with folded arms and Shakespeare’s still in the alley and I'm in trouble with the tombstone blues. ...more
This book is an antidote to the other stuff I have currently lumbered myself with – an uninspiring novel (so far) which I had been looking forward toThis book is an antidote to the other stuff I have currently lumbered myself with – an uninspiring novel (so far) which I had been looking forward to and now don’t understand why; a turgid study of English folk music (I’m on a mission to reread all the essential books on that so it’s a must); and a horribly written academic book about the horrible subject of torture porn movies (it’s the only book on the subject).
Yes, the title of this book is rather pass the sick bag please. It was actually a present to Georgia who was 18 recently (imagine that!).
But now, a warning. Innocent leafers-through in bookshops should be aware that at many points during this book their eyes may spontaneously gush forth with founts of unaccustomed boohooing, so have a hankie or three at the ready. It is because we are not ready to be ambushed by joy in public places.
My own favourites were the three utterly scruffy goofy insanely-grinning Irish kids from Leinster, a dog which can’t work out what to do with a very unexpected frog in a pool in Yarmouth, Maine, a young couple on a street in Buenos Aires (it says they’re dancing, but I don’t know about that), a girl wrapped up warm in the autumn chill with a great wicker basket, she’s passing a castle and down a lane of trees in Ile-de France, a woman in Bihar carrying some huge bowl on her head in a red and orange sari (how many women through the world carry stuff on their heads, millions it seems), three nuns playing volleyball in Arequipa Peru, they got their full nun costumes on but they’re having such a great time, they don’t care, volleyball is now part of their religion, an old woman in a field wearing an enormous industrial-sized protective apron laughing her head off (it says “while harvesting sugar beets”) (I don’t know why old women smiling and laughing should always make such great photos), a woman resting her head on her horse’s neck with her eyes closed, you can tell she really loves that horse ...
Well, I could go on. You get the picture. All these photos and more can summon forth strange emotion.
I found the old woman. Here she is, a little diminished but still wonderful.
There wasn’t any porn but there was a lot of torture involved in reading this book. Man, those academics, huh? Prevaricating, tergiversating, cavillinThere wasn’t any porn but there was a lot of torture involved in reading this book. Man, those academics, huh? Prevaricating, tergiversating, cavilling, equivocating, evading, hedging, tacking, jiving, beating around the bush, soft shoe shuffling, anything to avoid telling us what they think in plain terms.
It’s a world of its own. It’s the ugliest and most stilted, most inelegant, most cramped prose you will ever read. Here are two examples. The whole book is like this :
Morality is a means of elucidating how torture porn centralises interdependency rather than nihilism. This interpretation of Torture Porn both essentialises gender and supports a dichotomous vision of gendered power. Such argumentation intimates that gender conflict is natural and unavoidable, which is one reason that these paradigms have been rejected by numerous third-wave feminists.
That is not to suggest that torture porn’s depictions of castration simply gainsay hegemonic suppositions about gendered violence
THAT SAID, 100% RESPECT TO THIS AUTHOR
Dreadful language aside, I have total respect for Steve Jones of Northumbria University.
He has written not just an analysis (which is what I was expecting) but a DEFENCE of what most people would consider indefensible. And he has walked the walk – the movies this guy has seen! I hadn’t heard of 70% of them. (“In Carver , Inside , 2001 Maniacs , and The Book of Revelation , male genitals are mutilated without any provocation at all.” – wow, who else could write that with confidence? )
You would have to pay most people to watch these movies, and then pay for the therapy they would then need, but Steve appears to have seen ‘em all. He has plunged to the depths of degradation and retained his sanity.
Or has he? Maybe he is just a little bit mad:
Because it is a social interaction that entails deliberately exploiting power, torture is inherently a moral issue. (p58)
No, Steve, because torture is TORTURE, torture is an inherently moral issue! I don’t understand why anyone would write that sentence.
ACTUALLY, STEVE, I GOTTA COME RIGHT OUT AND SAY IT : THE ARGUMENT OF THIS BOOK IS COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS
But it will take me some time to explain why. So, for the few of you who are interested in one of the most lurid strands of modern popular Western culture, I will try to summarise Steve’s arguments.
INTRODUCTION : WHAT IS TORTURE PORN?
Defining torture porn is, according to Steve, difficult. This is because it’s not a category, as such, it’s an insult, used by people who disapprove of the thing they’re referring to. It’s a case of I know it when I see it, and Hostel is it. The term first began to appear after Saw and Hostel in 2003. He says
The vast majority of torture porn’s detractors have failed to adequately engage with the subgenre’s content.
‘Torture porn’ misrepresents the films themselves then, but the label has also been utilised to incriminate the subgenre’s filmmakers and fans. Derogatory responses remain remarkably consistent, despite the genre’s continual evolution
The analysis will demonstrate that torture porn is not constituted by mindless sadism…. these films are more complex than has so far been accounted for in the vast majority of responses to the subgenre.
Torture porn’s men are customarily presumed to be sexually violent agents who victimise women. This supposition again stems from a lack of detailed engagement with the films themselves. There is, for example, far less nudity and sexual violence in films that have been dubbed ‘torture porn’ than the label connotes.
BE MORE SPECIFIC – WHAT MOVIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Torture porn initially gained attention from the mainstream press due to its relative success in the multiplex
The stuff he is talking about is mainstream extreme-horror, so your Saws and Hostels, Wolf Creek, Wrong Turn, remakes of I Spit on your Grave and The Hills have Eyes - multiplex horror, as he says.
But - there’s a whole OTHER world out there. There are 100s of extreme horror movies which wouldn’t get within 100 miles of your local multiplex because they would never get a certificate.
WAY, WAY BEYOND HOLLYWOOD
Steve says that the critics have been lazy, ignorant or venal in their hounding of “torture porn” movies – they have either not noticed the entire genre of what he calls “hardcore horror” or have chosen to ignore it because , since it is never encountered in a multiplex, it’s beneath notice.
Hardcore horror films befit many of the accusations inappropriately levelled at torture porn, demonstrating how inapt it is that torture porn has been scapegoated
In regard to this unseen-by-non-fans world of hardcore horror, here’s one of Steve’s many classic lines:
Slow Torture Puke Chamber’s forced-abortion necrophilic-pederasty is especially offensive
THE CASE AGAINST TORTURE PORN
Poster for Hostel Part II
Eli Roth (director) commented :
Any time people see women in a horror film they say, 'Oh, these girls are just pieces of meat.' And, literally, in Hostel Part II, that's exactly what they are. They are the bait, they are the meat, they are the grist for the mill. So I thought it was actually a really smart poster ... and really, really disgusting! I love it.
Back to Steve :
First, some objectors claim that torture porn is constituted by violence, nudity, and rape. Second, violence is read as pornographic. Third, the ‘porn’ in ‘torture porn’ is interpreted as a synonym for ‘worthless’. Since the films are allegedly preoccupied only with ‘endless displays of violence’, they are dismissed as throwaway, immoral entertainment. Finally, it is proposed that the films are consumed as violent fetish pornography: that viewers are sexually aroused by torture porn’s horror imagery.
Six adjectives regularly used to describe these movies:
THESE CRITICS ARE SUFFERING FROM GENERATIONAL NARCISISM
First, horror tends to be marketed primarily towards young adults. Second, pundits frequently respond more favourably to horror they saw in their youth than to horror they encounter later in life. This certainly elucidates why there have been few positive responses to torture porn in print media, while younger online reviewers, ‘are significantly more enthusiastic’ about the subgenre.
So, the critics of Saw and Hostel are old farts. (“These new torture porn movies are awful, remember the great old days of Cannibal Holocaust and Driller Killer?”)
MORAL UNEASE : OUR GUARD DOGS ARE ASLEEP
Steve mentions that earlier banned films like Cannibal Holocaust or I Spit on your Grave from the 1970s are now allowed to be released uncut on dvd.
Rather than perceiving this trend as evidence that films once considered worthy of banning lose their propensity to shock over time, torture porn’s opponents have characterised these shifts as confirming that horror films are more violent than they once were, and that censorial bodies have become too liberal
THE CRITICS ARE JUST WRONG
Steve’s defence of torture porn movies goes like this :
Quantitative analysis of torture porn’s content will be employed to evince that sexual violence is nowhere near as widespread in torture porn as the subgenre’s detractors have propounded. Torture porn does not simply entail ‘luxuriating in the sight of another human being’s suffering’, as numerous detractors have claimed. The characters’ struggles advance torture porn’s narratives. Such battling involves physical violence (torture), but it also shifts the characters’ positions relative to one another. Physical brutality reifies the characters’ symbolic grappling for control. The characters’ initial relationships are unmoored by violence, resulting in role-slippages…. Torture porn’s violence does not fix power. Rather, torture porn films depict the contestation of power.
BUT WHAT ABOUT MISOGYNY? DO THESE FILMS HATE WOMEN?
torture porn filmmakers are routinely charged with misogyny. Reviewers recurrently assert that the subgenre’s violence is ‘directed primarily against women’…. [that the films] specifically centre on men victimising women. Many of torture porn’s detractors replicate these complaints rather than engaging with filmic content, taking this well-established discursive correlation between porn, horror, and misogyny for granted.
Here are some facts and figures to contradict that.
In the 45 films that have been referred to by three or more major International English language publications as ‘torture porn’ (at the time of writing), 244 males and 108 females are killed. 293 male characters and 144 female characters are severely injured. More than twice the number of males than females die or are injured in these films.
206 incidents of males harming females are nearly equalled by 155 occasions of females harming males. Furthermore, these figures are dwarfed by 351 instances of males harming other males. Patently, torture porn is not as skewed towards men harming women as disparagers have suggested.
THE PENNY BEGAN TO DROP
In the middle if the chapter defending torture porn movies from the charge of hating women, a big penny dropped.
However, that is not to say that Penance is plainly misogynistic. ‘Misogyny’ denotes hatred for women, but also implies a bias: that men are not also represented negatively (otherwise the representations would be ‘misanthropic’ rather than ‘misogynistic’).
So, if movies portray the suffering of women in great detail, but the movies clearly show the perps to be evil, and not to be emulated, then they aren’t misogynistic.
Penance ’s plot-synopsis sounds irredeemably misogynistic. In practice, the film is unpleasant, yet the narrative is directed towards vilifying Geeves’s sexual violence rather than ogling Amelia’s terror.
Murder-Set-Pieces does not promote sexual torture, since the film’s horror derives from the Photographer’s sexual cruelty, and is intertwined with his other unacceptable traits. Murder-Set-Pieces is ‘extreme’ insofar as the representations contravene social taboos regarding flagrant displays of misogyny in culture. The filmmakers rely on viewers understanding that misogyny is anathema in order to manufacture shock. Consequently, Murder-Set- Pieces implicitly endorses the idea that misogyny is objectionable, despite its antagonists’ behaviour. Murder-Set- Pieces ’s ‘extremity’ is contingent on the norm that is infringed: if misogyny and representations of sexual violence were acceptable, its imagery would fail to shock
I can’t agree – this is like a great big get-out-of-jail-free card. It means NO horror films can ever be called misogynistic. The director can say well, I am showing what women-hating serial killers really do, I am, of course, not endorsing their behaviour, what do you take me for?
Everyone could say that, even Satoru Ogura, the director of Guinea Pig. (IMDB plot summary : A group of guys capture a young girl with the intent of hurting her. They torture her in many ways, from beating her to putting a sharp piece…. Etc etc)
Even the movies which portray untrammelled male superiority and triumphant violence against women, like August Underground, Tumbling Doll of Flesh, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Murder-Set-Pieces, oh, so many) will be said to be ironic, like Swift’s Modest Proposal. This is the defence usually put up for American Psycho. Or maybe not ironic, maybe some form of protest.
The prosecution points out that the audience is having their cake and eating it – they get to enjoy the anti-female gore and they get to feel that they are part of the exposure, dissection and criticism of misogyny.
Steve argues strongly throughout that all these movies are telling morally complex stories with political resonances….
Torture porn’s drama organically involves audiences in moral contemplation. The subgenre’s narratives provoke such cogitation because the characters face emotionally challenging situations in which their intuitive responses clash with moral reasoning
The consensus is that torture porn comments on the War on Terror: encompassing 21st century terrorism, 9/11, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the Bush Administration’s torture sanctions. Critically invested readings of torture porn’s significance have developed from such linkages, and so the allegory interpretation constitutes an important branch of ‘torture porn’ discourse
Steve also finds merit in the bleakness of these movies. They portray a landscape where justice is rarely done, where the bad guys triumph or where everyone dies. Much of this book is taken up with discussions of the moral ambiguities in these movies. Critics say that these movies simply revel in gore and pain for the sadistic gaze of their giggling teenage fanboys. Steve gets into the intricacies of how in many of these movies the tortured person becomes the torturer or the witnesses become morally compromised, and what all.
Torture porn narratives are not ‘morally duplicitous’ or ‘morally degraded’ as numerous reviewers have professed, but neither are they one-dimensional moral propaganda. Torture porn dramatises difficult ethical questions: is it ever necessary to take another person’s life? To what extent does self-preservation outweigh one’s obligation to others? What pressure could lead one to knowingly commit immoral acts?
LET’S HAVE A LAUGH WITH ANOTHER CLASSIC LINE
From p 68
his admittance that ‘I usually have the biggest boner on set when we’re shooting gore stuff’ is detrimental to Roth’s case for Hostel ’s cultural worth
WHAT DO THE FANS SAY?
Since torture porn has been widely presented as irredeemable, horror fans may feel compelled to condemn torture porn in order to defend the horror genre and horror fandom itself against detractors’ accusations.
But the soi-disant gorehounds don’t actually care much about any of this high falutin justification. They’re happy to revel in their gross taste for violence and pain. Check out this Goodreads author J A Saare
She reviews extreme horror movies on youtube and finally, after many questions, she put up a video which asked the question : Why do people want to watch sick twisted movies?
I summarise a few of the points she makes :
I am a devoted wife & mother, average girl, I have an obsession with horror, I don’t want people to be murdered & don’t want to torture anyone.
Extreme horror is like the thrill from a switchback ride, for fans. Us fans just like this stuff.
I do not see anything to be offended by these movies – if you don’t like them, don’t see them. You have a responsibility not to watch stuff which will offend you. Leave us gorehounds to our own fun. It’s a matter of taste.
In one of her videos she reviews Grotesque and comments: “if you enjoy gore and sick demented stuff then I’m sure you’ll enjoy Grotesque” – she apologises about the brevity of this particular video review because there’s a kids’ birthday party going on and she has to go and look after them. You can hear little kids playing hide & seek and counting down in another room.
So some regular people just happen to enjoy watching torture and the gory deaths of young women (the victim of choice).
Here’s another example. A review of one of the most notorious hardcore horror torture porn movies, August Underground Mordum, from www.atrocitiescinema.com :
Rarely, if ever, has this reviewer been truly "disgusted" by a film...but "Mordum" certainly comes close to doing just that. It's gritty, dark, gloomy, and totally disgusting. I can't, in good conscience, say that you'll "like" this film, but I still strongly recommend it. In fact, I think it represents the state-of-the-art in cinematic depravity and gore (for the sake of depravity and gore). So often on this site, we horror fans try to find subtext or social critique in the films we so love, if only to help distance ourselves from the sheer ickiness to which we constantly and instinctually expose ourselves. With "Mordum", that isn't possible. To watch this film is to be an "accomplice" of sorts. To view "Mordum" is to look into the eye of disease. To experience "Mordum" is to experience the very meaning of "extreme horror", and for that reason, I give it my highest possible recommendation. However, be forewarned that you will never be the same again. It's powerfully sick stuff, and it really does make you feel dirty, but it's for those very reasons that it's such a supremely effective and satisfying horror film.
Although I don’t agree with Steve Jones, and I positively hate his dry and painful prose style, this is a crucial book about a significant subject. Are modern Western people becoming morally unmoored? Are we becoming more like our 18th century counterparts, who queued round the block to see something like the drawing and quartering of Robert Francois Damiens? Are the hundreds of torture porn movies being churned out each year part of a rising sea of misogyny which is breaking over the levees in many parts of the cultural landscape? Do these horror movies bring us the truth about human beings, all else being hopeful propaganda? If moral philosophy is your thing, maybe you’d like to put Immanuel Kant to one side and consider BAD MEAT
I HAVE COME TO LOOK MOURNFULLY AT YOU FOR MINUTES ON END
Shami Chakrabarti is a tiny woman, it’s hard to tell from the tv screen but I’d say about 8 or I HAVE COME TO LOOK MOURNFULLY AT YOU FOR MINUTES ON END
Shami Chakrabarti is a tiny woman, it’s hard to tell from the tv screen but I’d say about 8 or 9 inches tall, maybe 10, and she is intensely irritating, she’s the Tinkerbell of Human Rights, always zooming and buzzing around and chucking the dust of moral obligation in your face – that sounds like fun, but she has no sense of humour, so imagine a glowering Tinkerbell with a copy of the European Convention on Human Rights under her arm.
In this book she is writing about some of the most gripping and fearful events of the past 15 years, and many exciting legal battles, but she does it in the dullest way possible. Which makes this a very worthy, lawyerly, and almost completely dispiriting read. For non-British readers, Shami is the boss of Liberty, The Organisation Formerly Known As the Council for Civil Liberties & is perpetually locked in battle with the British Government who – whether Conservative or Labour – are constantly trying to degrade British citizen’s liberties, privacy and personal integrity in the name of security and the ongoing war with jihadis.
YOU AND YOUR FLOOKING HUMAN RIGHTS!
British people are mostly driven quite mad by Human Rights because they live in a land where 99.9% of them are perfectly secure and never come into contact with any government ministry more threatening than HM Revenue and Customs, so this means the only time they see human rights legislation in action is in a case like that of Abu Qatada.
Using more colourful language than is her wont, Shami says
The case of Abu Qatada still haunts me like a stalker ex-boyfriend. Everywhere I go, the time that it took to get the ranty cleric out of the country is put to me as a classic example of “human rights madness”.
So, this guy is Jordanian but came to Britain in 1993 and claimed political asylum, which was granted. Nine years later he was arrested as a suspected member of al Qaeda and aiding and abetting terrorists. He was detained without charge for four years. under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The British Government did not want to or could not put him on trial in Britain, they wanted to deport him to Jordan, where that government wished to put him on trial, but he claimed that he would be subject to torture if he was sent back there. So, under the European Convention on Human Rights, the British government couldn’t deport him.
This is what drove the British public crazy, and the British rabid attack dog press headlined the whole sorry saga for years. The public couldn’t care less whether Mr Qatada got tortured or not, they just wanted him out of the country, and they saw their own democratically elected government powerless to deport him.
But this is where Shami pops up and reminds us that torture is serious. Oh, it is? Hmph, I’d kind of forgotten that. The whole saga kept rolling on – he was released and rearrested several times over the next few years, it was a really tortuous legal epic. For instance, the question became not that Qatada himself would be tortured, but that evidence obtained through torture on other persons would be used against him. On that point, in 2009, the one of the Law Lords (at that point Britain’s supreme court) said "There is in my opinion no authority for a rule that...the risk of the use of evidence obtained by torture necessarily amounts to a flagrant denial of justice". (I.e. sling the bugger out).
Finally the case made it to the European Court of Human Rights and they reverted to the previous position, that Qatada couldn’t be deported as he himself might be tortured.
We note that in all of this saga all the authorities agree that the Jordanian government routinely uses torture. Is this insulting to Jordan? Or were they saying sure, yes, we torture people, don’t you? Come on, we know you do!
The British government then got a swear-on-my-mother’s-grave promise from the Jordanian government that they would not torture Mr Qatada. In writing. That wasn’t good enough for the courts.
Finally finally, Mr Qatada himself broke the deadlock and said that if the Jordanians promised that they wouldn’t torture him or use torture-derived evidence in court he would return. So in July 2013 he did. And David Cameron and home secretary Theresa May danced a little jig around the dining table in 10 Downing Street.
So the Jordanians put Mr Qatada on trial for plotting against the government and last month he was acquitted. Maybe it was because they couldn’t present all that lovely damning torture-derived evidence. Shami would say – well, this is the rule of law in operation. That’s what it’s for. Equality before the law means that whether you’re a much loved peer of the realm or a much hated Jordanian cleric you get the same deal. But people are inclined to want to shoot from the hip. They would deport, intern and in some cases execute without a qualm. This is why I myself am opposed to the death penalty. Horrors like Ted Bundy, Ian Brady, Myra Hindley, Gary Ridgway or John Wayne Gacy should fry for sure, no question. But the police make mistakes. If Britain still had the death penalty in the 1970s the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six would have been hung. Evidence which proved their innocence would have been unearthed years later.
We need Human Rights organisations to irritate, cajole, remind and goad us.
YOU SAY TORTURE, I SAY ENHANCED INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES (LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF)
Everywhere Shami goes she’s beset by people who say hey, I know you, you’re what’s it now, no don’t tell me, er, Swami Chocolate Boxy, is that it? Always going on about human rights for terrorists! Well, let me ask you a question – suppose you knew there was a nuclear bomb ticking away in London but you didn’t know where, and you got the guy who knew where it was in a room, wouldn’t you apply a little pressure to get the information? Just a little bit of torture to save the lives of millions?
This is what the War on Terror was capable of doing to lawyers. It could turn stupid ones into yes men for corner-cutting and cruelty and clever ones into the architects of increasingly byzantine processes with which to conceal or even legitimize barbarism.
Democratic states that launder their torture are no better than the tyrannies they conspire with.
Here’s an example of where Shami and Liberty lose me. Most of this world is not democratic. The West believes that it is. Shami comes along with her many examples of state misbehavior and punctures that belief. In the USA there are a lot of people who believe their own government to be tyrannical. In Britain we have a picture of our own government – during the Northern Irish Troubles and during the post-9/11 jihadi period, i.e. now, setting aside the notion of human rights, equality before the law, due process, no torture, etc , whenever they feel particularly pressured. So – where does this all leave us? In the dark, groping about, is where.
This is a somewhat boringly written short book about a whole bunch of essential stuff. I didn't enjoy it but I think I'm a very very very slightly better person now.
Shami Chakrabarti has come to harsh all governmental mellow....more
First there was Reading with Oprah, a totally delightful, brainy and funny book about the famous book club and what it did to America - RECOMMENDED -First there was Reading with Oprah, a totally delightful, brainy and funny book about the famous book club and what it did to America - RECOMMENDED - then there was Live Nude Girl, a self-regarding but cool memoir about being an artist's model - also RECOMMENDED - and thirdly there was For You, For You, I am Trilling These Songs, which was autobiographical essays, in which the self-regard was cranked up to 10 and became bang bang bang on the ceiling "Miss Rooney? Can you turn down your self-regard? I can't hardly think down here!" bang bang - and now here is this novel which is yet more autobiography about KR's life on the staff of Senator Dick Durbin at the time Barack Obama was junior Illinois senator and running for Prez. She never mentions any of these names, it's all "the junior senator", "the senior senator", "the chief of staff". That in itself is tiresome - don't do that, just give them fictitious names already.
Anyway, this is as dull as the ditchwater even other ditchwater won't talk to because it's too boring. If there ever was a plot in this novel it came too late to save me. I died in the cruel pathless desert from not caring about the day-by-day intricacies and compromises of senatorial campaigning. I couldn't give a rat's arse.
Keep young and beautiful It's your duty to be beautiful Keep young and beautiful If you want to be loved, dah-dah-dah-dah
Don't failAdvice to women, 1933:
Keep young and beautiful It's your duty to be beautiful Keep young and beautiful If you want to be loved, dah-dah-dah-dah
Don't fail to do your stuff With a little powder and a puff Keep young and beautiful If you want to be loved
If you're wise, exercise all the fat off Take it off, off of here, off of there When you're seen anywhere with your hat off Have a permanent wave in your hair
Take care of all those charms And you'll always be in someone's arms Keep young and beautiful If you want to be loved
Advice to women 1963 :
Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up. Soon he will open the door. Don't think because there's a ring on your finger, You needn't try any more
For wives should always be lovers, too. Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you. I'm warning you.
Day after day, there are girls at the office, And men will always be men. Don't send him off with your hair still in curlers. You may not see him again.
Shirley Jackson was born in 1916 and died at the age of 48 from a heart attack brought on by obesity. She didn’t keep young and beautiful and she didn’t fix her make-up or comb her hair a great deal, and our author is keen that you know about these transgressions – never have I read a biography which has such a fascinated horror in its subject’s outward appearance :
A woman who wore no make-up, rarely combed her hair, and gave a clear impression she had put all personal physical vanity behind her
At the time, Shirley was overweight, as usual, but far from enormous. She had not yet begun – as she would later – to let herself go.
She was fat, she wore no make-up, and her hair was held straight back from her face with a rubber band. The face itself, with its square jaw and heavy jowls, was severe, almost masculine in its lines. It was an arresting face, a face that radiated intelligence, but it was not a pretty one
Shirley got married to the one and only love of her life and this excellent no-nonsense biography is almost as much about him as it is about her.
SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN FAT BUT HE WAS A NIGHTMARE
Stanley Hyman was a total nightmare in every way except one – he was her biggest fan, thought she was a genius, never stopped being in awe of her, praised her to the skies everywhere he went. That sounds pretty supportive, right? What female writer wouldn’t want to be married to a guy like that? He was one of those Saul Bellow types – loud, boorish, militantly atheistic Jewish (which freaked her wasp parents right out) intellectuals who read everything, eat everything, drink everything, know everything, party every night, and of course want to sleep with everyone. He was a college lecturer. He had advanced views. He was homely but exciting.
LIFE WITH STANLEY
His advanced views did not extend to the marital sphere. He had very exacting views on the duties of a wife.
Her department : all cooking, shopping, chauffeuring, cleaning, child and pet care. (Shirley had many many cats).
His department : making sure she kept up her departments; thinking great thoughts; chasing young women; playing poker with the boys.
We used to think What kind of dope is she? She’s the one making money, and so brilliant, and she’s saying “Yes, Stanley” and shivering over everything he said.
For anybody other than Shirley, Stanley would have been absolutely impossible to live with. I remember sort of resenting the fact that she would comply with outrageous demands he made.
Oh, what could be so bad? I hear he was never violent. True, but what about a life like this:
A neighbour was out on his porch and saw Shirley, hugely pregnant, struggling up Prospect Street, carrying mail, newspapers and two bags of groceries. He was about to go down and offer a hand when Stanley burst out of the house and ran down the street to meet her. But to Fred Welling’s horror, instead of relieving her, Stanley carefully removed the mail from her hand and trotted back up the street. Shirley, still clutching her bags, continued to trudge up the street.
A friend commented:
I’m not sure she minded. She was so used to Stanley doing things like that.
Shirley : Whenever I am very mad at Stanley, I go into his study and move one of his ashtrays a quarter of an inch to one side.
Note : there was always a room in each house they lived in called Stanley’s study. Not one called Shirley’s study, even though she was the best selling author.
Both she and Stanley were able to stay up later than anyone, drink more, play more games [poker, bridge and Monopoly were the big ones], yet still get more work done. And Shirley was also running a house, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, handling the kids, scurrying around to serve Stanley. “Shirley!” he would bellow from his study. “I have no ink in my pen!”
Not to mention the perpetual hanky panky.
Stanley was a steamroller. He’d try something with every woman, every which way. He wasn’t seducing women so much as knocking them down with heavy blows.
Judy Oppenheimer gives us to understand that most of these liaisons happened in Stanley’s imagination, but still.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BRITAIN AND AMERICA
When Stanley got a job at Bennington College in Vermont they moved from an apartment in NYC to a FOURTEEN ROOM HOUSE in Bennington which they rented for $50 a month which the internet tells me is the equivalent of $730 now, i.e. amazingly cheap. I have never been in a house with fourteen rooms! Unless you count the stately homes of England. America – it’s a crazy place!
SHIRLEY WASN’T SO PERFECT EITHER
No, quite so! Apart from neglecting her appearance, she was a poor 14-room-mansion-keeper.
Her own house was the filthiest place I have ever seen, rolls of dust. I remember once at a party getting tired and trying to fall asleep on Shirley’s couch – the smell of cat pee would wake you up, it was incredible. And in the refrigerator, nasty little jars of stuff that had been there for three months, mould on top.
THEY ENTERTAINED ALL THE TIME
In the midst of producing four kids, six novels, umpteen short stories, memoirs, a book on witchcraft, etc etc, and the cooking cleaning, etc, they threw house parties night after night. Even reading about this stuff makes me feel tired.
A WAY OF LIFE
They smoked and they ate and they drank – they both said “We want to live this way.” The doctor implored them to lose weight. They just said “We know we’re going to die at the age of 50 – and we’re going to live this way.”
ANOTHER CREEPY ANECDOTE
She would come to New York with him and we’d go to lunch, maybe four or five times a year And he would encourage her to eat, urge food on her. Thick cream pies. She was very fat, maybe 250 pounds. I had to watch him stuffing her like a goose.
“The Lottery”, published in The New Yorker in June 1948, was the literary equivalent of “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis.
Nothing in the magazine before or since would provoke such an unprecedented outpouring of fury, horror, rage, disgust and intense fascination.
SJ : The number of people who expected Mrs Hutchinson to win a Bendix washer at the end would amaze you.
MY STRUGGLE WITH THE WORLD’S GREATEST LIVING NOVELIST ™
When I checked how many Roth books I’ve read I was shocked. Portnoy’s Complaint – okay, it was MY STRUGGLE WITH THE WORLD’S GREATEST LIVING NOVELIST ™
When I checked how many Roth books I’ve read I was shocked. Portnoy’s Complaint – okay, it was allegedly quite naughty, so yeah, I read that. Operation Shylock – okay, that one is brilliant, and may be the source of the problem. It persuaded me that this guy was actually great. Intoxicated with hilarious Jewish self-parody, I swandived into the rest of it. But then came a blow to the head and a solid one to the body – American Pastoral, what nonsense, and Sabbath’s Theater, o what bombastic trying-to-shock-us drivel…. And still people that I actually know in real life, never mind those critics chorusing like The Supremes to the tune of Baby Love
Philip Roth, oo Philip Roth We love you ooo ooo Philip Roth You’re one of the really good guys We are crying out our eyes Cause you deserve the Nobel Prize Philip Philip Philip oooo!
kept pressing Roth upon me, in the manner of the French waiter serving Mr Creosote in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life – just one leetle after-dinner novel, it’s verrrrry short, go onnn…. So I read also The Dying Animal and got the usual offensive stuff – a Goodreader whose name shamefully I cannot recall summed up the entire work of Philip Roth in FIVE WORDS, in a throwaway comment, this is brilliant : Meanwhile, back at the penis… that’s it. All of Philip Roth’s work in five words. Meanwhile back at the penis. So after the horrible Dying Animal, goodbye Philip? No, I was again persuaded to give Nemesis a go – and hey, it was really good! Damn you to hell, Roth. Stop messing with me! And so, heck, one last shake of this dice – Everyman.
FANFARE : ENTER PENIS STAGE LEFT
Everyman trundles mopily along whining and blathering about old age and its miseries for 107 pages and the penis hardly gets a mention. Okay, good. Let’s keep it that way. But no, here it is on page 108 and it has the same miraculous powers over young women as it does in previous Roth books. If Roth novels bear any relation to reality, the word should go out to all middle-aged guys : go to New York immediately, 19 year old girls are gagging to shag you. As Daniel Barenboim is with his baton, so shall you be with your penis. All you have to do is turn up in a Manhattan office. Any one will do. Okay, fortunately the penis doesn’t stick around too long. Then it’s back to more moaning and moping.
O MY GOD I’M OLD AND UGLY AND ILL AND I’M GONNA DIE ALONE AND IN PAIN
That could be the subtitle of this mercifully short novel. Sample sentence:
The worst of being unbearably alone was that you had to bear it – either that or you were sunk.
When our author attempts less prosaic prose it makes the reader cringe somewhat :
From the age of ten she’d been like that – a pure and sensible girl, besmirched only by her unstinting generosity, harmlessly hiding from unhappiness by blotting out the faults of everyone dear to her and by overloving love. Baling forgiveness as though it were so much hay.
We could spend hours on what is so bad about that passage, but – overloving love? Baling forgiveness?
SO, ER, I HAVEN’T REALLY BEEN LISTENING, WHAT DID YOU SAY THIS NOVEL IS ABOUT?
Impotently putting up with the physical deterioration and the terminal sadness and the waiting and waiting for nothing.
This book is so depressing that I had to read this one at the same time to prevent me from spiralling down into despair.
You may have heard of the titlThis book is so depressing that I had to read this one at the same time to prevent me from spiralling down into despair.
You may have heard of the title essay, which is funny and deservedly famous. But in the second essay the floor suddenly drops away and we’re falling into the vile pit of misogyny. The second essay is called “The Longest war” and is about men hating, silencing, injuring and killing women.
When they’re not actually raping & killing & trolling, men make movies in which men torture women to death, movies which some other men ban and others enjoy. Here's a few interesting titles (there are sooooooo many more)
Rebecca Solnit lays this all on the line in this series of essays. But - maybe by sheer will power, she manages to end on an optimistic note, which I was very grateful for. She says that at least this is all known about & made public now; and the genie of feminism can’t be put back in the bottle, and even though the road is 1000 miles long
the woman walking down it isn’t at mile one. I don’t know how far she has to go, but I know she’s not going backward, despite it all – and she’s not walking alone.
Here's a little bit of good news from Britain : we have begun to jail men who threaten rape.
Labour MP Stella Creasy tells of ordeal as Twitter troll is jailed for 18 weeks
STELLA Creasy has described feeling "frightened" and "terrified" as a result of a hate campaign by a Twitter troll who was today jailed for 18 weeks.
Delivery driver Peter Nunn bombarded Stella Creasy with menacing messages including threats to rape her.
Nunn, 33, used social media for a series of vile statements after Ms Creasy supported a bid to put Austen on the bank note.
The campaign was launched by feminist Caroline Criado-Perez, a court heard.
She was also a target of threats from Nunn, City of London Magistrates' Court was told.
He retweeted one sickening message to the Walthamstow MP, which read: "You better watch your back, I'm going to rape you at 8pm and put the video all over."
Ms Creasy told 5 News Tonight: "I can't pretend that it hasn't had an impact on me. Of course it makes you much more wary of strangers, it makes you frightened, it makes you terrified because somebody has fixated on you and wants to cause you suffering and pain.
Nunn, from Bristol, was found guilty at an earlier hearing of sending indecent, obscene and menacing messages by a public electronic network between July 28 and August 5 last year.
Jailing him for 18 weeks today, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe dismissed Nunn's defence that the messages were meant to be satirical.
She said: "This was extreme language with substantial threats to Ms Creasy.
I do not accept that this was free speech and jokes," she added.
Earlier the judge had remarked: "I can't see that this is anything other than grossly offensive and menacing.
"I am told that a lot of people joke about rape, I don't know if I'm sure that this is a common form of humour in any form of media." ...more
In 1972 a total of 498 people were killed in Northern Ireland, which had a small population of around 1.5 million. It was a very violent place. The toIn 1972 a total of 498 people were killed in Northern Ireland, which had a small population of around 1.5 million. It was a very violent place. The total body count of The Troubles is 3,739 between 1966 and 2012 (but the murders have not been in double figures since 2004.) Now – can anyone tell me how many people have died in Iraq’s complex internal wars since 2003? Is anyone counting? And that’s just one example. How long have you got?
Really, as civil wars go, it was not much to write home about. The United Nations estimated casualties of the Sri Lankan civil war as somewhere between 80 and 100,000 killed between 1982 and 2009. Now that’s what you call a civil war.
In May 1981 a British soldier shot Julie Livingstone in the head with a plastic bullet. He alleged he was shooting at rioters. She died the following day. She was 14.
In the same month a rioting crowd began throwing stones at a passing milk lorry. The lorry crashed into a lamppost and the driver and his son, Desmond Guiney, were killed. Desmond was 14 too.
Julie was Catholic, Desmond was Protestant. That’s what you could call fearful symmetry.
THE TWO MINORITIES
People make out Irish politics were complex. Not really. The big reason for this low-level civil war was plain to see. If you consider Ireland as one country, the Protestants are a minority (maybe 20%). But the country was chopped up in 1922, and in Northern Ireland, a province of Great Britain, the Protestants are the majority (60%).
The Protestants wanted to keep being the majority, thank you very much, and the Catholics wanted Northern Ireland to re-join the Republic of Ireland so they could be in the majority. And it wasn’t just a whimsical notion either, it was a fight to get the hands of the strangler off their throats. There’s no doubt the Catholics were viciously denied every possible social and human right between 1922 and, well, the outbreak of peace in 2004. They were denied housing, jobs, votes, decent treatment by the police and courts, you name it. They had been kept down for so long. Well, isn't democracy the rule of the majority? If so, Northern Ireland 1922-2004 was intensely democratic.
Not so surprising that when the top shot off the kettle it went with a bang.
THE HUNGER STRIKE
The gruesome story of the Troubles never became boring because each side had a flair for original or striking twists. The hunger strikes were really something. For politicians, it was like being trapped in a horror film, only it was real. Here’s how it got to be that way. Imagine this.
IRA prisoners, hundreds of whom were behind bars in the Maze prison, (more IRA members inside prison than outside!), had long insisted that they were political prisoners and/or prisoners of war, and not criminals. The British government shilly-shallied about the issue. At first, to avoid trouble, they did grant “political status” to these prisoners, but then they changed their mind – by 1976 they could stomach it no more, they craved to stop coddling the murderous scum, so they decided to phase out the special privileges and make the IRA wear ordinary prison uniforms and carry out ordinary prison work.
Republican prisoners were determined to fight to maintain their special political status. So they decided to refuse to wear prison uniform. Prison officers would beat these guys, and in retaliation, the IRA began systematically killing off-duty prison officers (ten in 1979 alone).
The prisoners were refused any clothing if they refused to wear the uniforms. They were given a blanket and a mattress. By 1978 there were 300 such prisoners “on the blanket”. It was a classic battle of male egos. The problem for the prisoners was that no one much cared if they were naked. Their campaign went on for 18 months and got nowhere. So they hit on the idea of refusing to wash. Thus began the next phase, the dirty protest. They refused to leave their cells at all, either for food or to have a shower or, crucially, to empty their chamber pots:
leaving prison officers to empty the chamber pots. The clashes this led to meant that excrement and urine literally became weapons in the war between prisoners and prison officers. … Soon the protest was escalated again, prisoners spreading their excrement on the walls. As conditions reached dangerous levels, with maggot infestations and threat of disease, the prison authorities forcibly removed prisoners to allow their cells to be steam-cleaned with special equipment, (and) forcible baths, shaves and haircuts of protesting prisoners.
The British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason, wrote :
The image of prisoners naked in their cells with nothing for company but their own filth is undeniably potent, and it was being trumpeted round the world. But despite the adverse publicity I couldn’t give in. To do so would give the IRA its biggest victory in years. It would mean the abandonment of…the rule of law.
Then things went up another gear – seven prisoners went on hunger strike in October 1980. The IRA leadership was dismayed – they didn’t want any more of this, but they were not in control of their own members in prison. By now Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, and she said:
I want this to be utterly clear – the government will never concede political status to the hungerstrikers or to any others convicted of criminal offences.
The first hungerstrike quickly collapsed in confusion. The second one began on 1st March 1981. The first prisoner to refuse food was Bobby Sands. He was 27.
It's worth noting here that the Suffragettes, in the 1910s, also went on prison hungerstrike. They were force-fed. The government decided they would not do that with the Irish prisoners. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher said :
If Mr Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide, that was his choice.
Then things went up another gear. A Nationalist MP died in Northern Ireland, and the IRA had the brilliant idea of putting up Bobby Sands as the candidate for the by-election. On 9 April 1981, when he was already losing his sight and was very ill, he was elected as Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
He died on 5th May.
The other hungerstrikers weren’t far behind. Seven days after Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes died, 9 days after him came Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on the same day, 18 days later, Joe McDonnell, and so on…. Ten men, all in their mid-20s, dying of starvation one after another, between May and August. It was so gruesome.
How did it end? The families of the 13 other hungerstrikers, the ones who hadn’t yet died, insisted they stop – they were terrified, they were out of their minds, they knew the British government didn’t care a hoot, and the prisoners eventually listened to their families and stopped.
The authors sum it up :
There could have been no more definitive display of political motivation than the spectacle of ten men giving their lives in an awesome display of self-sacrifice and dedication. It was possible to view this as outlandish fanaticism, and many did; but it was not possible to claim that there were indistinguishable from ordinary criminals.
NUN'S MEN AND MONKS' WOMEN
There are some amazing quotes in this book. Here are two about the IRA. The first is from the Rev Dr Ian Paisley, who recently died. A very remarkable man. He was always good for a soundbite. This is him in 1994 :
Are we going to agree to a partnership with the IRA men of blood who have slain our loved ones, destroyed our country, burned our churches, tortured our people, and now demand that we should become slaves in a country fit only for nuns’ men and monks’ women to live in? We cannot bow the knee to these traitors in Whitehall, nor to those offspring of the Vatican who walk the corrupted corridors of power.
Here’s another from John Hume, a Catholic nationalist politician :
The IRA are more Irish than the rest of us, they believe. They are the pure master race of Irish. They are the keepers of the holy grail of the nation. That deep-seated attitude, married to their method, has all the hallmarks of undiluted fascism. They have all the other hallmarks of the fascist – the scapegoat – the Brits are to blame for everything, even their own atrocities!
You probably know this already, but 13 years after the first quote, Reverend Paisley became First Minister of Northern Ireland with none other than Martin McGuinness, former military leader of the IRA, as Deputy First Minister.
After all the horrors, the body parts, the misery, the existential hardcore never-surrender-never, never, the mutual slayings, the undisguised hatreds, the story winds its way into something which might, if you tilt it backwards and hold it up to the sun, be mistaken for peace by a myopic man without his glasses on. At least, when I go to London these days, I don’t have to worry about the IRA blowing me up randomly.* There’s some other people who’ve taken over that position now.
This is a great sober account of a little war in a little place. Really nothing much to bother about. Just a little normal sorrow, just some ordinary pity. Only 3,739 dead people. There’s probably more than that in two days in Syria or the Congo.
*Last fatal bombing in mainland Britain by the IRA : 1996. ...more
I once had a great idea for a movie. The camera would pick up on two people walking down the street, they would encounter a third person, then the camI once had a great idea for a movie. The camera would pick up on two people walking down the street, they would encounter a third person, then the camera would follow the third person, until they in turn went home and then the camera would drop that person and hop on to their sister or family dog (cool!), and follow the dog or the sister, and so on, there would be no narrative as such, but a whole skein of interrelationships would be displayed, the very stuff of LIFE ITSELF, fascinating banality. Then I found Richard Linklater had already made this film in 1991, it’s called Slacker, so I hurried to rent it, and I thought it SUCKED wasn't quite what I was after and was hugely tedious, unlike the rest of the human race who have it pegged as a MINOR CLASSIC.
Happy are the Happy (tagline : 1 novel. 18 people. 18 lives. Infinite combinations) does something not dissimilar to Slacker & it starts off really well with its ten-page monologues and then just like Slacker it gradually squelches until all that is left is this kind of smear all over the pavement, which people walk around.
The proper grown-up reviews say that eagle-eyed readers will be figuring out all the relationships between these 18 characters as they go along and many surprising connections and revelations will ensue, little readerly lightbulbs going off in the brain, pop pop popop! Yeah well, I’m sure that is what should happen, but I’m so lazy. After a while I couldn’t be arsed. Let’s see, is Chantal Audouin the girlfriend of Robert Toscano or is she his secret daughter by Paola Suares? Or just the hat check girl at the Cavern who later became Cilla Black and scored a number one with Anyone who Had a Heart? Aw, who cares.
The first five or so monologues had me chortling a little bit, who wouldn’t chortle over the family disaster of having a son who becomes convinced that he’s Celine Dion, that’s actually quite funny. But eventually it became a bunch of old people rabbitting about funerals and chemotherapy and many (many) irritating personal quirks were displayed and tiresome irritable conversations recounted. (Newsflash : old people are just like caricatures of old people.)
On the plus side, it didn’t take too long to read.
I like the perviness of the origin of the 1964 Brazilian soufflé The Girl from Ipanema. Tom Jobim and Vincent de Moraes had taken up residence in theI like the perviness of the origin of the 1964 Brazilian soufflé The Girl from Ipanema. Tom Jobim and Vincent de Moraes had taken up residence in the Veloso bar overlooking the road to the beach in Ipanema. They'd sit there all day, getting hammered. They noticed this one girl. Every day she’d go to school, all neat in her uniform, come back from school, still neat and cute, then half an hour later, same girl but in a bikini sauntering down to the beach. Wow. 15 years old. What lechers. Jobim said “When we saw this girl, we’d stop drinking. This was important.”
Anyway, long story short, they all became friends, and a few years later Jobim was best man at her wedding. Ah, how cute. Later Jobim said they had a fight with the American lyricist Norman Gimbel who said you can’t say Ipanema, that word does not exist. But Jobim explained you have to say Ipanema.
Some of these 40 songs are not that great – You’re the Top ("you’re Mickey Mouse, you’re cellophane!" – gee, thanks – and – My Favourite Things? Surely they are mistaking hideously unforgettable for great), or You Send Me, or I Fall to Pieces, but most are. Some you get clobbered with immediately by the original version, (Tracks of my Tears, Satisfaction, A Whiter Shade of Pale – which is, definitely, about the various stages of drunkenness, nothing else, end of mystery), but in most cases the original got eclipsed – who recalls the Gwen MacCrae version of Always on my Mind or The Kingston Trio’s First Time Ever I Saw your Face? Sometimes you hear the song and find your way back to the original. I thought Fever was by Peggy Lee (and she did write this verse
Romeo loved Juliet, Juliet she felt the same When he put his arms around her, he said "Julie baby you're my flame" Thou givest fever, when we kisseth, fever with thy flaming youth Fever - I'm afire, fever - yea, I burn forsooth
But it was Little Willie John who first did it 2 years before in 1956.
Bryan Ferry’s campy version of These Foolish Things
The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations Oh, how the ghost of you clings These foolish things remind me of you
First daffodils and long excited cables And candlelight on little corner tables And still my heart has wings These foolish things remind me of you
is good, but Hutch’s original, which I finally found, from 1936 is a thing of wonder – a more cut-glass British upper class accent you never did hear in your life, exactly right for this beautiful list song.
I always like hearing about the sometimes random and cobbled-together origins of these famous songs – wee Georgie Harrison is recording Something during the Let it Be sessions:
GH: Something in the way she moves… what could it be, Paul? Attracts me like…
Lennon: Just say whatever comes into your head each time…
GH : Attracts me like a pomegranate.
Now there’s an example of a great song with a really dreadful lyric. No midnight trains sighing for George.
Anyhow, for all pophounds like myself, this collection of articles from the Independent on Sunday is a cool addition for your top pop shelf.
It’s a big ask to write a 260 page commentary on one of the gospels, hacking through the vast linguistic and exegetical undeVIRGIN BIRTH? PROBABLY NOT
It’s a big ask to write a 260 page commentary on one of the gospels, hacking through the vast linguistic and exegetical undergrowth to drag something comprehensible into the 21st century. GB Caird is so light on interpretation of some difficult passages that you suspect he’s using his editorial brief (“keep it short and clear for the laymen, professor”) as a get out of jail free card. But I probably wouldn’t have read a 500 page commentary.
The gospel itself takes up 35 pages in my Bible. A lot happens in those 35 pages. A whole lot.
In his introduction GBC is up front : much as all the miraculous healings and castings out of devils might boggle many modern minds, there’s just no getting away from them.
We have to allow for the possibility that the stories about Jesus have undergone some legendary accretion in the process of transmission, but sober criticism cannot get behind the gospel record to a plain, commonplace tale, devoid of the miraculous and the supernatural.
You can see our prof would like Luke’s version of Jesus to be, well, less magical if he had a vote in the matter
Luke has sometimes been taken to task for emphasising the physical nature of the resurrection, since it is in his gospel alone that the risen Jesus eats and drinks with his disciples
and when he sees a chance of dismissing the Virgin Birth (which only Luke and Matthew mention) he does :
there is little doubt that the Lucan genealogy was compiled by someone who believed Jesus was the son of Joseph… there are two reasons for believing that in the original Judean tradition Joseph was regarded as the father of Jesus.
Moving on to the meaning of Jesus, he slips and slides somewhat :
Luke sees the ministry of Jesus from baptism to ascension as the working out of a drama of world redemption… it was nothing less than the restoration of men and women to their proper dignity as children of God
Theology is full of that sort of windy orotundity – he doesn’t spell out what a “drama of world redemption” is when it’s at home. Unless this is it:
those who took this to mean liberation from Rome were to be disappointed, for Jesus had in mind a campaign against more virulent and closer enemies. He was concerned with the demonic powers which held the whole of human life in thrall, exercising their authority through physical, mental and moral illness…
And here’s a big place where some modern readers of Luke will run up against a brick wall. What Jesus does in the gospel of Luke is he goes about casting out devils and healing people. There’s no doubt that Luke and his audience and those of whom Luke write all accepted the objective existence of demons, which inhabit certain individuals, and cause the person to suffer innumerable illnesses. There’s a case of obvious epilepsy ascribed to devils, another case which sounds like schizophrenia, and other physical illnesses – all ascribed to actual literal devils, which Jesus commands to leave the victim’s body. When they leave the person gets well. In one weird story, the there are many devils in one poor guy and Jesus commands them to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs, which the devils then cause to rush off a cliff into a lake and drown. So this is a very very pre-scientific world; and we have a problem with it.
Do we accept this world on its own terms? Or do we re-interpret the concept of devils medically, or metaphorically? If we start on this path of re-interpreting Biblical stories – demystifying, demythologising, desupernaturalising – where do we stop? The Virgin Birth is clearly a metaphor, lifted from misunderstood Old Testament prophesy. Is the stilling of the storm a parable which got mistaken for a miracle story? It works as a parable. Some advanced theologians were talking back in the 60s about the Resurrection itself being a metaphor!
RAISING THE ACTUAL LITERAL DEAD
Luke chapter 7 v 12-15
Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.
GBC shrinks from this story and the similar one about raising Jairus’s daughter – you can, he seems to say, accept Jesus as a healer, but as a raiser of the dead? You can imagine him wriggling uncomfortably in his study:
There is, of course, no way of proving to the satisfaction of a sceptic that the people concerned were in fact dead, and not just in a cataleptic trance which Jesus was able to recognise; but there can be no doubt about the conviction of the early Church that Jesus had reclaimed to life those whom others had declared dead.
Hmm – a bit of a weaselly phrase – “those whom others had declared dead” – maybe these “others” were idiots. But if these were two cases of not-dead-but-in-a-cataleptic-trace, there must have been an awful lot of premature burial in 1st century Israel. So I’d say dead they were.
Raising dead people and casting out devils. Do Christians accept that all this literally happened? Do they still believe in devils? Well, some do and some don’t. There’s a whole wide range of Christian belief. Maybe some Christians shy away from the more lurid magical aspects of Jesus’ ministry and turn instead to his moral teaching. When we do that we find some really odd statements. I haven’t got 500 pages either so I’ll mention just a few, I realise you have other things to do with your day.
SOME ODD STATEMENTS OF JESUS
Chapter 6 V27-35
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
This is a famous (and very beautiful) passage. The question here is – are we to take this literally? If so, no one has ever been able to follow this teaching, and if they have tried, they have gone bankrupt within weeks, or been put in an institution, such as a prison, for being a traitor. Would this have been the right approach to Hitler? When he came around asking for the Sudetenland, should we have said sure, and take the Carpathian mountains too while you’re about it? When Putin annexed the Crime should we have said, here, have eastern Ukraine as well? How about ISIS aka Islamic State? Are we to love them, because they surely are the enemies of the West? Should we let them smite us as they would dearly love to? This teaching of Jesus is absolute pacifism and Christians have universally ignored it, except Quakers and a few sects of whom we no longer hear because they’ve been obliterated.
Okay, so if we don’t take this literally, how should we? GBC says :
To those who believe in standing up for their individual or national rights this teaching has always seemed idealistic, if not actually immoral. But those who are concerned with the victory of the kingdom of God over the kingdom of Satan can see that it is the only realism. He who retaliates thinks that he is manfully resisting aggression; in fact, he is making an unconditional surrender to evil. Where before there was one under the control of evil, now there are two. Evil propagates by contagion. It can be contained and defeated only when hatred, insult and injury are absorbed and neutralised by love.
I just don’t follow this & would have liked the prof to explain more. Maybe he would have been able to convert me to pacifism. But we have no time & so have to move on.
Chapter 8 19-21
Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
Chapter 9 v 59-60
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
Two more examples where it’s difficult to know how literally Jesus (or Luke) was intending his words to be taken.
And this is I think the continual problem with the Gospels – ambiguity. For instance, what is the Kingdom of God which Jesus preaches about continually? Is it here already or is it to be established in this world in the future (“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” says Jesus), or is it a spiritual kingdom?
There’s a terrific lack of clarity about what’s going on in the story of Jesus as presented in the gospels, the very documents which you think might have been inspired to lay out clearly the meaning of Christ. The Crucifixion is the culmination of the intensely dramatic Passion narrative with which all four gospels conclude. All leads up to this, the killing of Christ. (When you look at the accounts of the Resurrection, they’re almost cursory, got over with in a page or so. I find that really strange.) And the death of Christ is continually foreshadowed and predicted, all through the gospels. But as to WHY the plan was always that Jesus had to die, the gospel writers are silent, except to say that his death fulfilled the prophecies. It’s St Paul who attempts to figure out why God sent his son to earth in the full knowledge that human beings would kill him, yet that would be in some way essential to the whole enterprise. So why did Jesus have to die? Instead of answers to that, we have theories – an entire branch of theology in fact – we have the substitutionary atonement concept, the moral influence theory, Jesus as ransom paid for the salvation of humanity (paid to who?), Jesus as sacrificial scapegoat – how strange that the main point of Christ’s work on earth is so profoundly disputed.
I think one of the thoughts which keeps me coming back to Christian theology is the idea that Christianity is either extremely complex or that it’s actually terminally confused. I think that the other two main monotheist religions, Islam and Judaism, are very simple in comparison (I’m sure some Muslims and Jews may wish to dispute that!). But I think the average Muslim and Jew would be able to give a pretty good account of what their religion means. Not so the Christian. Within five minutes they’d be wrestling with concepts like redemption and atonement, and if you mention the Trinity their poor brains might explode.
Ah well. As the lovely old American hymn says
Farther along we’ll know all about it, Farther along, we’ll understand why, Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine, We’ll understand it all by and bye