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Weekend Links 26/10/14: Culpability, Cletus + culture

“The truth behind America’s most famous gay-hate murder” by Julie Bindel.

“I spoke to Waters, who has since retired from the police, having seen him praise The Book of Matt on social media. “I believe to this day that McKinney and Henderson were trying to find Matthew’s house so they could steal his drugs. It was fairly well known in the Laramie community that McKinney wouldn’t be one that was striking out of a sense of homophobia. Some of the officers I worked with had caught him in a sexual act with another man, so it didn’t fit – none of that made any sense.”

But when Matthew’s friends Walt Boulden and Alex Trout heard of the attack they rushed to the hospital. They contacted the Associated Press and a number of local gay organisations that same day. Boulden, a 46-year-old college instructor who says he was the last person to talk to Matthew before he met McKinney and Henderson, linked the attack to Wyoming legislature’s failure to pass a hate-crimes bill. Boulden later said the assault was identified as a hate crime by a policeman.

Stephen Jimenez is an award-winning journalist and gay man. So why has he put such time and effort into attempting to prove that Matthew’s murder was not a hate crime, especially as it has seen him accused of being an ally to the rightwing Christian fundamentalists who deny the reality of homophobia?

“The view was that homophobic rednecks walked into a bar and saw an obviously gay man with money and targeted him and beat him to death for that reason,” says Jimenez. “But that isn’t what happened. Nothing in this book takes away from the iniquity and brutality of the crime or the culpability of his murderers, but we owe Matthew and other young men like him the truth.”

“Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For” by Michael Mark Cohen.

“First of all, everyone knows that saying anything overtly racist in front of strangers is totally taboo. So the inhibitions to participation in this insane activity are already pretty great. Even so, most of these kids are not new to conversations about race; the majority of them are students of color, including loads of junior college transfers, student parents, vets, and a smattering of white kids, mostly freshmen. Of course some are just scared of speaking in front of so many people, no matter what the topic.

So I cajole a few of them into “Cracker” and “Red Neck.” We can usually get to “Hillbilly” or “Trailer Trash” or “White Trash,” possibly even “Peckerwood,” before folks recognize the “Cletus the slack-jawed yokel” pattern of class discrimination here. And being that we are at a top ranked west coast university, not only do we all share basic middle class aspirations, but we can feel pretty safe in the fact that there are no “Red Necks” here to insult.”

“David Fincher’s Gone Girl and the Yuppies in Peril Sub-Genre.” by Tristan Eldritch.

“In his self-conscious horror pastiche/homage Cabin in the Wood, Joss Whedon lampooned the slasher movie audience’s sadistic appetite for watching pretty, vacant young things terrorized and hacked up. The movie presents this generic convention as a seasonal sacrificial ritual, designed to pacify Lovecraftian elder-gods. After Fatal Attraction, Hollywood’s eldritch gods – or any rate, its ticket-buying public – wanted to see picture perfect yuppies put through the ringer. As Dominic Curry points out, the cycle largely bifurcated into erotic thrillers and _____ from Hell movies. In the latter category, there was a Nanny from Hell (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle), a Flatmate/Tenant from Hell (Single White Female, Pacific Heights), a Secretary from Hell (The Temp), various Lolita temptresses from Hell (The Crush/Poison Ivy), and on, and on. I guess that in between the Cold War and War on Terror, we needed something to be frightened of; in the absence of clearly defined ideological threats, people from ordinary walks of life Who Happen to Be Psychopaths from Hell! had to fill the gap. Don’t let them into your home! The appetite for yuppie suffering had its watershed in 1992, the year that saw the release of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female, and Unlawful Entry. I maintain a certain nostalgic fondness for these torrid, schlocky entertainments. They were so pervasive when I was growing up that some aspect of my view of the adult world almost felt like it was filtered through their cinematic world of exquisite kitchens and open plan apartments – this gleaming, aspirational world which was always threatened by the incursion of sexual temptation and psychopathic peril.”

“The Grisly, All-American Appeal of Serial Killers” by Julie Beck.

“If you were to carefully calibrate your fear of being murdered according to statistics, you should be 12 times as afraid of your family members as of serial killers. Less than one percent of murders in any given year are committed by serial killers, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report on serial murder; in 2012, 12.5 percent of murders were committed by victims’ family members.

Sadly, tales of domestic violence zoom in and out of the news so frequently that they rarely capture the public’s attention, and when they do, they don’t hold it for long. Meanwhile, Gacy’s story, along with those of other serial killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and David Berkowitz, are remembered even decades later: They’re so well-known that we continue to hear casual references to them in pop culture. For example, in Katy Perry’s recent song “Dark Horse,” Juicy J raps, “She’ll eat your heart out/like Jeffrey Dahmer.” Dahmer, who was known for cannibalizing his victims, committed his crimes between 1978 and 1991, and was killed in prison in 1994, nearly 20 years before “Dark Horse” was released.

Juicy J can drop that tasteless reference and know it will be understood because serial killers are “still very much a part of our culture,” Penman says.”

“The Cynicism Industry” by John Steppling.

“The neutral reception of culture denies the real concrete reality of the culture industry. Heinz Steinert wrote: “It (culture industry)is a form of domination that reaches deep into what people know about society and world. It is domination not by fear and repression in the first place but by subtly determining what and how we know about the world. Its center is the cult of the factual.” It is a cultural production of commodified knowledge, whose appeal is always to the authority of statistical or measured proofs. Popularity is often taken as if it occurs in a vacuum. If a film is hard to see because distribution is limited, it already is marked as underground or difficult. The entire structure of *entertainment* is involved in creating audience attitude. As technology now increasingly allows a mastery of access … one can view a film whenever one likes on his computer or even cell phone, the audience is provided with a sense of specialness. Of ownership. I’ve written before about the sense of being an insider. A peak behind the scenes of the making of a popular film or TV show invites the audience to feel unique and privileged. Steinert calls this a “false privilege”. The rise of *reality TV shows* is another form of this insider construct. The specialness is linked, in an oddly contradictory way, to identification with other privileged shoppers of cultural product. There is the manufacture of a sense of ‘belonging’.

The audience today is encouraged to perceive their attention as empowerment. The advertisers and network and studio want them to view their product. Neilsen ratings are published throughout the season, box office figures are published, and marketing targets the public by appealing to their wisdom, by critiquing their profile, their particular market niche. All of this shapes how the individual sees the narrative, or artwork. It is not all that different from the appeal of astrology columns or click bait polls that posit if YOU were a Western movie, which one would you be?”

ABV #42: Record-keeping, kings + knowing

“Luke Harding and the spy as editor” by Giovanni Tiso.

“I was writing a chapter on the NSA’s close, and largely hidden, relationship with Silicon Valley. I wrote that Snowden’s revelations had damaged US tech companies and their bottom line. Something odd happened. The paragraph I had just written began to self-delete. The cursor moved rapidly from the left, gobbling text. I watched my words vanish.

- Luke Harding

It’s a wonderful image, that of a paragraph deleting itself in the act of being written. That it belonged to a book about spies and surveillance only adds to the frisson, like when Amazon deleted copies of a book from thousands of its customers’ Kindles without so much as a warning or an explanation, and the book in question turned out to be George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I believe that’s where the phrase ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’ originally comes from.

It’s ironic. Of course it is. The problem is what to do with all this irony. Luke Harding did his best to appear unfazed by it, and started leaving messages in the text which made him sound like a passive-aggressive flatmate whose food keeps disappearing.

Good morning. I don’t mind you reading my manuscript – you’re doing so already – but I’d be grateful if you don’t delete it. Thank you.

What is so disarming about this story and others like it is the absurdly quotidian nature of these encounters. The spy nowadays sits at a desk, petulantly deleting paragraphs in which you talk about them directly (such was the case with Harding’s book). The spied-upon in turn has nowhere to run – there is nowhere to run – and starts leaving his own bitter little messages, like post-it notes on a fridge. Yet I confess that conversation interests me more than the urgent and topical content of Harding’s book. The spy who deletes. The writer who writes back.

What is also tritely, exhaustingly ironic, in the context of the NSA revelations and every political thriller since Enemy of the State, is that users of social media effectively write their own surveillance reports. ‘Subject got up and consumed hearty organic breakfast.’ ‘Subject expressed unsavoury political views after reading article in the morning’s paper.’ Tweet-length entries in a drab chronicle of life beyond the cyber-curtain. And on top of that, we secret-police one another. ‘I remember that thing you said two years ago, in fact, I have kept a record of it.’ It’s all filed in a myriad archives, and yours and mine can be just as sinister as those that belong to the NSA, Google or Facebook.”

“The Gone-Away World” by Nick Harkaway.

“In the distant past, in what might be described as the Golden Days of War, the business of wreaking havoc on your neighbours (these being the only people you could logistically expect to wreak havoc upon) was uncomplicated . You – the King – pointed at the next-door country and said, ‘I want me one of those!’ Your vassals – stalwart fellows selected for heft and musculature rather than brain – said, ‘Yes, my liege,’ or sometimes, ‘What’s in it for me?’ but broadly speaking they rode off and burned, pillaged, slaughtered and hacked until either you were richer by a few hundred square miles of forest and farmland, or you were rudely arrested by heathens from the other side who wanted a word in your shell-like ear about cross-border aggression. It was a personal thing, and there was little doubt about who was responsible for kicking it off, because that person was to be found in the nicest room of a big stone house wearing a very expensive hat.

Modern war is distinguished by the fact that all the participants are ostensibly unwilling. We are swept towards one another like colonies of heavily armed penguins on an ice floe. Every speech on the subject given by any involved party begins by deploring even the idea of war. A war here would not be legal or useful. It is not necessary or appropriate. It must be avoided. Immediately following this proud declamation comes a series of circumlocutions, circumventions and rhetorico-circumambulations which make it clear that we will go to war, but not really, because we don’t want to and aren’t allowed to, so what we’re doing is in fact some kind of hyper-violent peace in which people will die. We are going to un-war.”

“Home” by Holly Herndon (/K回IRO) and Metahaven.

Weeknotes, 19/10/14

This week has been mostly uneventful. I finally signed my student loan agreement with an unavoidable sense of impending dooooom. I’ve started so I’m finishing but it’s expensive. I’ve been working through the materials, and there are three weeks until my first assignment deadline. The course = 4 assignments for 50%, a final exam for 50%.

Started transcribing my Improving Reality notes (and realised the videos are up). Slogged out a bundle of writing work, stacked pomodoros sat at a dining table with my dad & my brother. Website housekeeping. Hyper-alert nostalgia walks. Flowers that’ve been planted since I stood there last.

Site Spotlight: Kate Belgrave

“This site is mainly a collection of interviews with people who rely on public services and who have fought as their services have been privatised and eroded.

Since 2010, the site has focused on the public service cuts made by the coalition government, and on privatisation. Have published articles on these topics at the Guardian, newleftproject, Open Democracy, False Economy, and the New Statesman. Recent joint film made with the Daily Mirror on the fight to save the Independent Living Fund is here.

I also work part time for the False Economy site.

Contact me

You can use the contact form below or contact me on:

kate AT katebelgrave DOT com

To those in positions of *power*: please note that I’m an NUJ member and retain a lawyer. Both have proved helpful.”

- Kate Belgrave

ABV #41: Rhetoric, rights + retinas

“Vice: We’ve Been Had, and We Let It Happen” by Alexandra Molotkow.

“As a teenager, I took a generous view of McInnes’s language, figuring it was all in jest and that his rhetoric worked like a power drill that sometimes got away from him. I’d assumed that McInnes was basically right-thinking—we tend to remake our idols in ways that reinforce our values—which was, of course, incredibly silly and naive. At some point I realized, as many of us did, that you can’t take someone’s convictions for granted; also, that the distinction between irreverence and bile is meaningless when the intention is to piss people off. In revisiting some of the allowances I made for him, I came to realize how messed up some of my own habits of thought had been.

Part of the reason McInnes kicked around so long is that, in 2003, implying that trans women weren’t “really” women was still tolerated as a matter of opinion; the word “faggot” was still a discouraged, but acknowledged part of schoolyard parlance; and using racial slurs with the caveat that you weren’t “really” racist was thought of, at least by some, as something other than racism. What Vice got away with 10 years ago, under the banner of “irreverence,” is now, thankfully, completely unacceptable. In a way, Vice at its worst did exactly what it was supposed to: demonstrate the ugliness inherent in counterculture, making it obvious that as much ignorance and prejudice was coiled at its centre—and more insidiously, since liberals tend to think of themselves as liberal. Vice helped to raise a generation, and then gave it an attitude to reject.”

∞ “On Liberty” by Shami Chakrabarti.

“Rules in the form of human rights and the rule of law prevent majority rule descending into that of the mob and today’s democracy from becoming tomorrow’s dictatorship.

One question that people put to me up and down the country time and again is: ‘Isn’t there too much talk about rights and not enough about responsibilities?’ As I have chosen social responsibility as a way of life, this can be an emotionally tough question. However, if I stop to think about it for a minute, it is far less tricky intellectually. The modern world is highly regulated by a multitude of obligations. Criminal law and civil and administrative duties govern every aspect of our lives. So it hardly seems excessive that our elected representatives who govern us owe us a small bag of duties as well. This means respecting our freedoms and accepting a few obligations to create a society and infrastructure in which we are protected from each other. This is a positive responsibility on the state to protect the rights and freedoms of the people and not merely a negative restraint. It requires effective criminal law and its enforcement, effective access to justice and the protection of the individual from overweening bureaucracy and the vulnerable from the physically and materially powerful in society.

What are these fundamental rights, rules and values that some find so difficult to stomach? What are the freedoms too often described as alien, unworkable or old-fashioned? This so-called ‘criminals’ charter’ protects all of us. It provides our right to life and not to be tortured, enslaved or thrown into arbitrary detention. It guarantees the right to a fair trial and respect for our private and family lives. Freedoms of conscience, speech and association are enshrined and, most importantly of all, equal treatment under the law for everyone, no matter how rich or poor, privileged or disenfranchised. These concepts reflect the idea that as human beings we are precious individuals and inherently social creatures rubbing along together in democratic society – a term referred to often in the Convention. These ideas are neither selfish individualism nor the ‘political correctness’ that some label them, seeking to diminish their worth. Rather they provide safeguards for every civil and political sphere of our lives, from the intimate area of private thoughts and family life through to speech, expression and association with others. This includes friendly, faith-based, family, trade union, neighbourhood and political relationships and all the bonds that make our society.

The late great Lord Tom Bingham, perhaps the finest judge of recent times, asked:
“Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any of them un-British? There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.””

“Eyes of Hitchcock” by kogonada, via V Renée at NoFilmSchool.