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Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Absolute Darling: Verbosity and Abuse Californian style

Don’t judge a book by its cover people say, and I would add, or its reviews, for My Absolute Darling, the story of a survivalist who abuses and berates his fourteen year old daughter, Julia, or Turtle as she is nicknamed, in equal measure, has been praised to the heavens. In particular by Stephen King, who declared it a ‘masterpiece’ comparable to Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, after which, the literary world seemingly fell over itself in order to queue up and lavish further glory on this, Gabriel Tallent’s, first novel.

That isn’t to say that My Absolute Darling is unworthy of the praise and the hype, but that it is flawed and falls far short of being the masterpiece that Stephen King seems to think it is.  Set in a remote, coastal woodlands in northern California, where a verbose survivalist called Martyn lives in a rambling house that has seen better days. Living with Martyn is his gun-savvy, tough, wood-wise daughter and alcoholic father, making My Absolute Daring a tale of simmering hatreds, love, jealousy, and sexual violence that occasionally crosses over into actual, physical violence. In the background nature mirrors real life by being as brutal and indifference to the suffering of the creatures that exist in its world. 

At the centre of this world is Turtle, the books sullen heroine, who, when not being raped by her father, spends her time cleaning guns, of which she has several, wandering naked through the woods at night, or being subjected to Nietzschean tests of her will and strength by her controlling and Sadean father. Examples include being forced to do pull-ups from a beam in the ceiling while her father holds a razor-sharp knife between her legs, meaning that should she try to lower herself to the ground before the task was completed that she would be impaled on the blade.

On another occasion, in one of the novels genuinely tense and gripping scenes, Turtle is coerced into shooting a coin directly out of the fingers of a ten year old girl that her father has brought home with him. The little girl holds the coin at arms length as Turtle finally gives into her father’s wishes and pulls the trigger…

But for all the books successes, there are many flaws and appallingly banal sequences, not least in the dialogue spoken by some of the books key characters, which not only seem contrived but undermine the book’s many strengths. This is most notable in some of speeches by Martyn, the abusive father. For example:

“The temperate may rise six degrees in the coming decades, and that’s not just ‘rising temperature,’that’s a cataclysm. You think we can, stop that? People don’t believe in obesity, and that they can see in the fucking mirror. They can’t take care of their own goddamn bodies. How many people because their hearts are grimy with plaque, do you think? A lot. What is it —— seventy percent of all Americans are over-weight? Half of those are obese? And do you think - can this person, this average American, take care of anything? No. Fuck no. So the natural world, which they cannot see for all their roads and gas stations and schools and jails, the fucking natural world, which is more important and more beautiful than anything this average American has ever seen or understood in his whole fucking life, the natural world is going to die, and we’re going to let it die, and there’s no way we can save it. Fuck.”

“Optimism?”

“Optimism, hell,”…

Martyn continues in this vein for another 200 or so words just in that paragraph and there are several more before he pauses for breath. Yet this environmental ranting is as nothing to that of two teenage boys, Brett and Jacob, from the school year above Turtle, who she encounters camping in the woods near her home on one of her nocturnal wanderings.

“I told Brett the whole story over the phone-he was pissed! He was like, ‘I miss everything!’ - I told him how we were washed out to sea and how it was like making furious love to a clash of orgiastic rhinos in a swimming pool filled with broken glass, and how you made a fire by staring balefully down into the reflective bottom of an aluminium can until your immense force of will was concentrated and magnified by the parabolic mirror into a white-hot spark of pure Turtle rage that could light anything on fire, even the hearts of unwary high schoolers.”

Or 

“We could farm mealworms,” Jacob says, warming to the idea, “in our Styrofoam deserts. They can subsist entirely on plastic. I can see us now: farming our mealworms by day, and by night reading Plato aloud to one another beneath the constellations of a foreign sky, accompanied by the vast grind of an entire continent of plastic bottles churning in the current and by the ethereal whisperings of grocery bags saltating across the mounded plastic dunes.”

Teenage dialogue is regarded as literary kryptonite for writers and the interminable eco-twaddle between Jacob and Brett makes me feel that Gabriel Tallent was exposed to a lethal dose around the time that he wrote My Absolute Darling as it not only destroys the brooding menace of earlier scenes but, in the context of two teenage boys, is not so much Stranger Things but just strange in that no one speaks like that.

Tallent also sets up interesting subplots early on in the story around Turtle and then just lets them disappear. In one, Anna her teacher, tries to befriend her and reaches out to Turtle by asking her to help, or put in a supportive word, to new girl Rilke who is being bullied. Yet, despite Turtle doing the opposite and briefly being shown joining in with the bullying, this interesting storyline is not developed. Nor disappointingly, is the relationship with Anna her teacher, as she effectively vanishes after this scene until the end of the novel when her reappearance seems perfunctory and staged.

Most disappointingly of all is Martyn, the abusive father, as no real attempt is made to explore or really question his behaviour or indeed why he is being so abusive or even what drives him? Turtles mother is hinted to have killed herself after discovering that he is abusing their daughter, but there is no timeline of the abuse so it becomes difficult to contextualise it within the story. Nor is Martyn’s violence, or his random acts like arriving home with a ten year old girl in tow who he later rapes, an act that triggers the books climatic ending, really believable. For such a strong, controlling character they seem almost too out of control.

If anything, My Absolute Darling, reminded me most of another Stephen King endorsed novel, The Fireman by Joe Hill, which was published in 2016. Joe Hill is, ironically, a pseudonym for Joseph Hillstrom King, one of Stephen King’s sons. I say this because the The Fireman is full of lengthy environmental diatribes and politically motivated speeches which, like Brett and Jacob's eco rants, often seemed more about re-enforcing the authors prejudices than moving the story forward.

That said, the similarities between the two novels stop there and My Absolute Darling has much to recommend and an interesting, strong heroine in Turtle, though she needs to find some friends who can speak properly.

My Absolute Darling
4th Estate, London 2017
(An imprint of Harper Collins)
Hardback, 417 pages
£12.99


© Nigel Wingrove 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Finding the Words to match the Deeds

The only problem with writing an anonymous book about incest and, in this case, the author’s abuse and multiple rapes by her father over nearly twenty years, is that a question mark will forever hang over the book. Did she? Did he? The authors validity is conveyed only by her words and not by her deeds or the verdict of a court and as such the reader has to judge whether what they are reading is true, in which case The Incest Diary is a deeply disturbing description of child abuse. If not, then this book is an appalling attempt to eroticise and exploit child abuse for financial gain and having just finished reading this book I have no idea which verdict is correct?

What makes The Incest Diary truly disturbing is not just the subject matter, but its brutal eroticism and the authors honest depictions of the sex she suffered, endured and, unsettlingly, often enjoyed at the hands of her father. However, if this is fiction, then those descriptions become perilously close to pornography.

From the opening pages onwards the author relates to her father in graphic terms. That she “wanted and didn’t want him to come in and fuck me” and that when her father wanted her; “I felt his eyes on my shoulders and neck, on my legs, my breasts, and my hips” and that she held her body differently when she knew he was looking. 

It is this mix of desire and revulsion that lies at the heart of the book and the anonymous authors cathartic journey, which for some reviewers have made the book a disquieting mix of almost pedophiliac porn and, in that the abused victim admits to often enjoying and desiring the abuse, an abusers validation of underage sex. For others this is a searingly heartfelt and brutally honest description of being sexually abused from the age of three to twenty one by ones own father and as such who are we to judge how the victim describes it?

Stripped bare of any excess, this is a short and succinct memoir, yet it is also profoundly shocking one as well. For example; describing being tied naked to a chair and left in a cupboard she relates “my father tied me up in the closet and face-fucked me until he came in my mouth and I vomited up the semen”.  Or, perhaps more shockingly still, “I liked the feel of his flesh rubbing my flesh. Putting his cock into me was pure pain until my body was big enough, which wasn’t until I was a teenager, I remember being afraid it would hurt the way it has before - like being torn, split in two, blood everywhere, but suddenly it didn’t. My body was finally big enough; I was wet, too.”

The daughter is to her mother the other woman, and to the daughter her mother is the other woman. Each taking their man away from the other while destroying each other in the process. When the author finally spoke out about her abuse and rape her father denied everything, her family and friends sided with him while denying her. In the end she recanted to save her family and, at twenty one, slept for her father for the last time.

She ends by describing her relationships with men now; her ex husband, quiet, calm, loving and gentle but not particularly sexual, who after twelve years she divorces. And her lovers, including one who uses a picture of the nine-year old author as a bookmark - “He tells me that he imagines me as a little girl when he has sex with me …. that he masturbates to that photo”…

If this book is fiction then it is shameful because it exploits all the real victims of abuse in order to sell, and if it real then it is an horrific reminder of just how awful human sexual desire can be without morality or restraint.

The Incest Diary 
Anonymous
132 pages
£12.99 - Hardcover edition
Bloomsbury Publishing 2107

© Nigel Wingrove 2017


Monday, September 4, 2017

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! - PART 3: THE GREAT SHUTTENING

In the days immediately following the events at Charlottesville, and before the dust had really settled there were some on the Alt-Right describing it as the Alt-Right’s Munich Putsch moment. The day, on November 9th 1923, that Hitler, hoping to emulate the previous years march on Rome when Mussolini had been able to intimidate the Italian prime minister Luigi Facta  and Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel to stand down in order to avoid civil war and thus handover the reigns of power over to him and his National Fascist Party (NFP). However, Hitler, unlike Mussolini who had some 30,000 armed men to back him up, marched on Munich with just 2000 men and was confronted by armed police who shot and killed 16 of  them, causing chaos and his supporters to disperse . Hitler was arrested two days later, and would, on reflection, resolve to win power by legitimate means - eventually being elected Chancellor ten years later in March 1933.

Charlottesville was not Munich 1923, it was not even close, but it was nevertheless a defining moment in the evolution both of the contemporary far right and of how it is perceived, supported, opposed and accommodated, by the people, the media, the internet and the state. So in that sense the Munich analogy is not completely wrong…

…After the putsch failed Hitler was put on trial and imprisoned where he used his time to plan and to write his manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle or My Fight). The party he led, the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) was banned and its main mouthpiece, their newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, was also banned. As a result numerous new nazi supporting newspapers were started to carry on the fight, likewise nationalists and NSDAP members formed a lose-knit political grouping, the Völkisch-Sozialer Block (the People’s Social Block) which in turn supported the 
newly formed Deutsche Partei (German Party), essentially the NSDAP with another name. 

In December 1924 Hitler was released from prison. Two months later the authorities lifted the ban on the NSDAP and the party was reformed, publication of the Völkische Beobachter restarted and the rest, so to speak, is history.

For the Alt-Right, the wider nationalist groups, assorted Alt-Right and Alt-Lite personalities, as well as numerous other rightist movements of various hues and shades, from the palest grey to the blackest black, nothing is as clear cut. There is no ‘leader’ or defining philosophy, no unifying manifesto, not even a party or uniting force to gather around or run to for a reassuring group hug or mass Hailing; there is, or rather was, the internet and perhaps Pepe, that great smirking frog in the cyber sky. 

But that was before Charlottesville and The Daily Stormer’s Great Sluttening begat the internet’s Great Shuttening which, in turn, essentially killed Pepe and the far rights digital NeverNeverland. Mordor had come to the Shire or Kekistan as the right had rechristened it, and were taking no prisoners.

The Daily Stormer went first, but like a hammy actor determined to make the most of his death scene, the Stormer has refused to die and has been resurrecting itself ever since much to the annoyance of the theatre’s management, which in this analogy, would be the Silicon Valley corporations.

The Daily Stormer may have screamed loudest when the knives went in, but there were hundreds of other victims, many killed quietly and for expediency, quickly, their domains and website content wiped in seconds so that it was as if they were never there, that they had never existed. Others, less well known, or who had less followers but who were nevertheless important in contributing to the whole, were taken down in the cyber night and their screams have yet to be heard. In fact, many victims of the Great Shuttening will never be known.

Groups like Cross Currents, The National Policy Institute, Occidental Dissent, Alternative Right, The AltRight, Identity Europe, Vanguard America, Radix Journal, Rebel Media as well individuals like Lauren Southern, Faith Goldy, Mike Enoch, Andrew Auernheimer (weev) and Richard Spencer to name a very few. of all the hundreds and hundreds closed. What began as a bit of digital virtue signalling from internet companies like Patreon who closed the funding account of journalist and broadcaster Lauren Southern several weeks before Charlottesville on the grounds that it just didn’t like her views, escalated in the run up to Charlottesville when Airbnb started closing the accounts of anyone they suspected of using their services to attend Charlottesville.

This digital virtue signalling then escalated massively after Charlottesville and the banning of The Daily Stormer, almost as if the actions of Google, Go Daddy and Cloudfare in banning the Stormer gave legitimacy to actions that hitherto would have been unthinkable, that is the banning and erasing of a whole people’s opinion purely because they, that is, Silicon Valley, disagreed, or hated, that groups, or individuals, political views. Our Speech or No Speech was the motto of the day now!

Perhaps driven by the hysteria of the liberal media in the aftermath of Heather Hyer’s death, or indeed as a way of exploiting her death, Silicon Valley joined in the hysteria and began culling websites and social media in ways one would usually associate with communist China, or Iran, or indeed Soviet Russia had the internet existed, and certainly not with 21st Century USA.

Cheered on by the liberal media it was if all the main hosting and internet companies had convened an emergency board meeting and decided that they had to be seen to be doing their bit in getting rid of some ’nazis’. And for the avoidance of doubt 'nazis' no longer means ‘nazis’ in the Third Reich sense, but rather anyone opposed to leftwing liberalism and cultural Marxism. They would not put it in those terms of course but that is essentially what they meant and each company presumably got staff to troll through their sites and social media postings to find ’nazis’ with a view to ’shutting them down’.

Now, nearly a month since the events at Charlottesville, the Great Shuttening is still going on. Stormfront, one of the oldest nationalist forums in existence, having been established for over twenty years and with some 300,000 registered users, was recently closed down without notice and its domain seized by its hosting company, Network Solutions. And so it continues, another, another hundred bans.

Yet finally, though with reluctance, some in the mainstream media and liberal left are beginning to question both the validity of these actions and the power of Silicon Valley in being able to arbitrarily silence an entire political point of view with a few clicks. 

Equally disquieting, abet only for a few so far, is the begrudging acceptance that backing up and exploiting the online attacks on the right, has been violent intimidation from leftwing thugs and mobs of politically correct radicals who are behaving with the same violence and intimidation as Moa’s infamous student Red Guards did during China’s Cultural Revolution. For many, including Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, who to her credit unequivocally condemned Antifa and other leftwing thugs filmed beating up defenceless Trump supporters in a shocking display of mob violence. 

Yet despite these setbacks the Right is regrouping and rebuilding and learning from its mistakes. Rival internet social media sites like Gab and Bitchute, are openly committed to free speech and have started up to try and break the monopolies of Facebook and Youtube. There is optimistic talk of forming and creating a rightwing alternative to Google (now aka Goolag) and other Silicon Valley behemoths. While others, including perhaps not unsurprisingly many on the Left, are now calling for Google and Facebook to be regarded as utilities in the same way that water and electricity are so that they can be nationalised and regulated by the state.  Something, I am sure that would have unthinkable were it not for the Great Shuttening.

How these developments will play out over the coming months is anyones guess, but what is sure is that if Silicone Valley and the Liberal Left establishment thought by banning and closing down thousands of sites and individual accounts that they could silence at entire political faith and crush its supporters then they are in for a big surprise. History has shown that revolutions rarely start with one big event, rather they begin with lots of little events and happenings, an incident there, a skirmish here, an arrest in one city, and a speech somewhere else. Drip by bloody drip and word by bloody word, a revolution builds and grows, and the people silencing and beating on the right now, may come to realise that their actions have helped unify and galvanise the right in ways that will make it a formidable force in the years to come. 

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

See also:

- WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! - PART 1: CHARLOTTESVILLE

- WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! - PART 2: WEAPONISED SATIRE

- WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! - PART 4: TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY

Saturday, September 2, 2017

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! - PART 2: WEAPONISED SATIRE

Because the events in Charlottesville were so calamitous and the fallout both extraordinary and ongoing I am going to write several blogs on it over the next few weeks. This is partly because the ripples from Charlottesville, whether in terms of online censorship, street violence, protests, Donald Trump, the Mainstream Media, and right and left wing responses to it, are still happening. It is also because I wanted some time to see how the dust settles…

On Sunday August 13th, the day after clashes between supporters of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and leftwing opponents had left dozens injured and a 32 year old woman, Heather Hyer, the online white supremacist newspaper, The Daily Stormer, lobbed a satirical grenade into the media storm that events in Charlottesville had caused and unleashed carnage.

For those unfamiliar with The Daily Stormer website, it is a virulently anti-semitic, humorous, OTT and rightwing news site inspired in part by the notorious Nazi era newspaper, Der Stürmer, which was published from 1923 until1945 and the collapse of the Third Reich. Its editor, the ebullient and fanatical ‘jew baiter’ Julius Streicher, was arrested and tried at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity and executed. 

Founded in July 2013 by Andrew Anglin, a 32 year-old Alt-Right supporting white supremacist, and run as a news site, The Daily Stormer, is unashamedly and outrageously racist and antisemitic, publishing stories that are often very funny while being savagely satirical and, depending on the reader, either deeply offensive or highly appealing, particularly to a young audience. 

A bit like Family Guy mashed with VIZ comic, OZ (a 1970s anti-establishment magazine prosecuted for obscenity, regularly raided by the police and constantly attacked by the mainstream media), and Charlie Hebdo magazine whose cartoons of Mohammed led to it being attacked by Islamic terrorists in 2015 and the murder of twelve of its employees. In a typical example of the Stormer’s sense humour on June 8th, the day of the UK’s general election, it endorsed the labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with the ringing praise that he would “exterminate the entire Jewish race”, while the Conservative party leader Theresa May was dismissed as a “childless old woman with zero stake in the future of Britain who looks like a Cenobite”.

It was that mischievous sense of humour that led, on August 13th, to the exploding grenade. The article on the woman killed in Charlottesville was, even by the Stormer’s questionable standards, deliberately inflammatory and began with the headline: ’Heather Hyer: Woman Killed in Road Rage Incident was a Fat, Childless 32-Year Old Slut’. The article itself, written by Andrew Anglin, went on to state that most people would be glad that Hyer was dead as she was a fat slob who, had she lived until the average female life expectancy of 81, meant she would have been leeching off men’s work for another 49 years. Hence her death was a plus, with the added bonus that it took out a Bernie Sauders supporter.

Appearing less that 24 hours after Hyer’s death, and at a time when the US media was in a full ‘shock and awe’ mode against anyone, or any group on the Right politically - from the KKK through to the Alt-Right, from Trump supporters to mainstream conservatives - the article exploded just like petrol thrown onto a fire in a burning building. 
This was full-on confrontation, upsetting not just the liberal left but wrong footing and alienating many on the Right and Alt-Right who were already reeling from the backlash following Hyer’s death and the events that had played out at Charlottesville. Yes, it was satirical, but at this stage no one, and least of all a hyped-up media who were now seeing neo-Nazis under every bed, had the inclination to debate the subtle nuances of describing a recently killed woman as a ‘fat slut’.

The backlash which began within hours of the articles appearance, while perhaps predictable, seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Go Daddy, the company that had hosted The Daily Stormer since its formation, and who made a virtue of its stance defending free speech and opposing censorship, gave The Daily Stormer just 24 hours notice to move its domain to another provider. This action forced the Stormer to register with Google, who, following complaints from leftist activists who were now buzzing around The Daily Stormer like angry wasps, cancelled the Stormer’s registration within hours of being asked to do so by activists. For added credibility Google also closed down The Daily Stormer’s Youtube channel as well (Google owns Youtube). This action then prompted Cloudfare, an internet company whose services help protect websites from cyberattacks, to also terminate The Daily Stormer’s account, in what was, like Go Daddy, a complete reversal of their previous neutral, anti-censorship stance.

These actions, all of which happened over the space of a couple of days, took The Daily Stormer off line, while making its figurehead Andrew Anglin and his web savvy hacker colleague, Andrew Auernheimer aka ‘Weev’, into a sort of cyber Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It also heralded in a period of increasingly  farcical cat and mouse antics between the internet establishment and The Daily Stormer as it started on a seemingly never ending period playing “What’s My Domain” as the Stormer website hoped from one host to another.

Starting very briefly with China and .wang, the Stormer then moved to Russia and .ru where it lasted about a day before it was closed down only to resurface a few days later with the perfectly the suited .lol , which unfortunately lasted for just a few hours. After that the Stormer went dark, as in the dark web, the part of the web that is hidden from search engines and favoured by government agencies and notoriously gangsters, drug dealers, terrorists and paedophiles. 

The so called dark web enables The Daily Stormer to exist and to be visited by any one who downloads a TOR link (the Daily Stormer’s hosting company on the dark web) but it is effectively
removed from public view, the aim of its enemies. So, after a weeks absence The Daily Stormer resurfaced again in the real world, this time with the domain punishedstormer.com, where it bloomed, like some rare and poisonous Orchid, for a couple of days before vanishing once again into the darkness. 

Predictably, and almost heroically, nearly a full three weeks after it was booted off the web, The Daily Stormer resurfaced yet again, this time bizarrely via an Albanian host  using .al. But it was not to last, and after three days of normal life in the daylight The Daily Stormer has, at the time of writing (September 2nd 2017), once again been consigned to the wilderness that is the dark web.

Many initially rejoiced in what they saw as the death of The Daily Stormer, especially the majority for whom it was just a name in a news story about some obscure racist, anti-semitic and nasty hate site. What did it matter if it was banned? Well, it matters a lot regardless of what the The Daily Stormer says or stands for, as this is the first time in the democratic West, where the internet was heralded and defended as a vehicle for freedom and free speech, where outside of criminal and illegal activity, ideas, opinions and so on were free, and no more so than in the United States, where under the First Amendment, The Daily Stormer, has every right to say what it likes, no matter how offensive it is.

Ironically, a side effect of all this is that The Daily Stormer is no longer an obscure website, because with each resurfacing, the traffic to the site, like people flocking to see some rare event, has grown, with the dailystormer.al domain getting in excess of half a million unique visitors a day. Consequently, the longer this farcical game of internet cat and mouse continues, the more publicity The Daily Stormer is going to get, with now even the BBC covering and naming it in a news feature describing its banning.

Another side effect of The Daily Stormer’s banning is that whereas it was originally dismissed as just a neo-nazis hate site, its plight now seems like bullying and victimisation, and the new world order loves a victim. Indeed, as The Daily Stormer is pitched from pillar to post on a weekly basis by massively rich, unregulated corporations, so increasing numbers of mainstream organisations and even leftist journalists are beginning to question the validity of Silicon Valley censoring opinions it doesn’t like. So much so that Google, Go Daddy and Cloudfare’s actions may prove to be one of the biggest shot in the foot incidences ever …

© Nigel Wingrove 2017


See also:

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! Part 1 - Charlottesville 

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! Part 3 - The Great Shuttening

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! Part 4 - Tomorrow is Another Day



Monday, August 28, 2017

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! - Part 1: CHARLOTTESVILLE


Because the events in Charlottesville were so calamitous and the fallout both extraordinary and ongoing I am going to write several blogs on it over the next few weeks. This is partly because the ripples from Charlottesville, whether in terms of online censorship, street violence, protests, Donald Trump, the Mainstream Media, and right and left wing responses to it, are still happening. It is also because I wanted some time to see how the dust settles…

PART 1: CHARLOTTESVILLE

Since the chaotic and shocking scenes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12th, the world, and the US in particular, has been in a state of virtual hysteria over both the rally, and the brutal violence on display. Violence which culminated in the death of a female protestor,  32 year Heather Hyers, who was mowed down by a car driven at speed into a crowd of people opposed to the far right rally, killing one and injuring 19 others. 

To recap briefly, the Unite the Right rally had been organised to protest the removal of Confederate statues, specifically the statue of General Robert E Lee, that stands in Emancipation Park (previously Lee Park) in Charlottesville. There had already been two earlier peaceful protests against the statues removal, one by the Alt-Right in May when Richard Spencer, the founder of the Alt-Right and its charismatic spokesman, addressed a crowd of some 200 supporters, the other was in July, when some 50 or so members of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated while several hundred protested against their presence. At neither event had there been any trouble or violence to speak of.

In June, a local rightwing activist, Jason Kessler, applied to the city for a permit to hold a rally and was granted permission to hold the event in Emancipation Park on August 12th. From that point on, as disquiet about the removing of statues grew so did the support among nationalist groups for the Unite the Right event, so much so, that by late July it was becoming obvious that this was going to be both a major spectacle, and, potentially, a major publicity coup for the Alt-Right, far right, and nationalist right, as well. 

It was at this point, with just days to go before the rally, that Charlottesville’s city council decided to withdrew the permit for Emancipation Park issued to Kessler and offer him a permit for a rally in McIntire Park instead; a venue several miles away from Emancipation Park and the controversial General Lee statue. Kessler refused to be moved and legal action was taken to reinstate the original permit. Then, just 24 hours before the rally date, a federal judge sided with Kessler and the original permit was upheld for the rally to be legally held at Emancipation Park.

That night, Friday August 11th, saw hundreds of Alt-Right and nationalist attendees stage an unofficial torchlit parade through the grounds of the University of Virginia. Chanting slogans like ‘You Will Not Replace Us’ and ‘Blood and Soil’, the slogan of Walter Darre’s Blut und Boden division in Nazi Germany which obsessed on the relationship between ‘pure’ German peasants blood and the land in maintaining pure German ethnicity for future generations, the march caused disquiet and upset many who witnessed it. 

The next morning, the day of the rally itself, pictures and footage of the march appeared online ensuring that the world’s media, together with thousands of for and against protesters would make the effort to attend. But it is the attendance of numerous uniformed and menacing far right members together with hundreds of supporters that really shocked the mainstream media more used to seeing 'big' far right gatherings attract less than hundred attendees on a good day - this was something new that they could not ignore and many were genuinely shocked by what they saw and the overt and open signs of Nazism on display. 

Nor could the left ignore this resurgent right, or it would transpire, could the city council, the Mayor and the local police, who, seemingly furious at having their ruling to move the rally overturned, appeared determined to stop the rally altogether by any means necessary. 

By all reasonable accounts the various nationalist and Alt-right groups began heading to Emancipation Park at around 9.30 - 10.00 on the Saturday morning. They found that the police had fenced off the park in such a way as to only allow access at an entrance on East Market Street, one of the main streets in Charlottesville, and one also chosen by those opposed to the rally to congregate in. Unusually, or in fact unknown in situations like this, there was very little police presence and absolutely no attempt by the forces of law and order to keep the two opposing groups apart, making violent clashes and confrontations virtually inevitable.

What followed was shambolic, predictable and totally avoidable. The protesters, including numerous supporters of Black Lives Matter and Antifa, were inevitably hyped up by the reports of the previous nights torchlit parade and by the presence of so many neo-nazis types in one place. Also protesting against the right were many non-violent, but extremely vocal local people determined to stop what they saw as a direct assault on their values and city by a resurgent Nazism. On the other side was an assorted mixture of the Alt-Right, the old right, the new old right, nationalists, militias, Christians, Trump supporters, and the assorted right curious.

With no attempt by the police and authorities to keep the two sides apart, and with the protesters outnumbering the right who were generally making there way to Emancipation Park in small groups, it meant that the shouting of abuse very rapidly escalated into physical confrontations and the throwing of missiles by protesters at the rally attendees. However, that said, once the Unite the Right supporters had managed to battle their way into the park, which was surrounded by metal fences erected by the police, they were relatively safe in their enclosure. Unite the Right attendees also maintained a ‘shield wall’ at the single open entrance to the park to ensure that only pro Unite the Right supporters were admitted.

With the first speeches due to start at about 12 o’clock, a sort of shambolic order had been established and was being maintained despite the increasingly violent atmosphere and attempts by the protesters to disrupt proceedings by throwing missiles into the park and the people in the park throwing missiles back at the protesters. 

Then, at about 11.30, some thirty minutes before the first speaker was due to address the crowd the police on duty were pulled on the grounds that the event was unsafe. Shortly after that at about 11.40 several canisters of Tear gas were thrown into the park area by the protesters - tear gas is not something that can be legally bought and is usually held by the authorities ,so it is unclear as to how several canisters of it were in the hands of the protesters?

Regardless, a few minutes later the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, declared an official “State of Emergency” in Charlottesville, meaning that even a gathering of a small group of people was illegal. To enforce this ruling, heavily armoured riot police formed a wall and began driving out all of those gathered in the park out onto East Market Street where large numbers of protesters, including those aligned to Antifa and BLM, were gathered. The the police had made no attempt to disperse the protesters first to avoid a confrontation and instead pushed the right wing attendees straight into the arms of their sworn enemy.

Inevitably with hundreds of attendees of the Unite the Right rally suddenly forced onto a crowded street filed with hostile people shouting at them and, in many cases physically attacking them, it made an already volatile situation incredibly dangerous for everyone.

Lots of people on the Unite the Right side would have been unfamiliar with Charlottesville and unsure of where they were to go (many walked several miles to the McIntire Park only to be told that that gathering was also illegal) and worried for their safety. As a result many found themselves being attacked as they tried to disperse. 

Many have described having to fight their way out, and looking at footage of the event it is obvious that the authorities at best had, by their actions, made a bad but totally legal situation, much worse. Either that or they had cynically orchestrated and allowed a near riot to develop in order to be able to declare a ‘State of Emergency’ and prevent the rally from happening at all.

The resulting chaos and sporadic street fights that followed in turn began attracting local toughs and thugs or saw in the virtual anarchy an opportunity to have some fun at the expense of the ‘nazis’ in their midst. As Unite the Right supporters tried to get to their cars or became separated from their colleagues in side streets so they were attacked by Antifa, BLM activists and gangs of teenagers armed with baseball bats and other weapons. 

This, it seems, is what possibly happened to James Alex Fields, the man who drove his car into the crowds of protesters celebrating the collapse of the Unite the Right rally killing Heather Hyer. Footage taken of his car up to the moment he drove into the protesters and again as he reversed away afterwards at speed, shows the car being chased by some 10 to 15 youths armed with clubs which some of them were hitting the car with. 

Possibly Fields panicked, fearing for his life, possibly he got angry at his car being hit and drove at the crowd in a rage, or perhaps it was just some terrible accident? Whatever the reason, and that will be for a jury to decide, it was unlikely a planned or premeditated action, and had the two sides been kept apart and order maintained, would likely never have happened. 

Indeed, many, including the Texan Republican, Louie Gohmert, have called for a full Justice Department investigation into governor McAuliffe and Charlottesville’s Mayor Signer, who he believes were behind the violence and indeed may have facilitated it.  Whatever the outcome of an investigation, or of Field’s trial, it is also obvious that what could have been a media triumph for the Alt-Right and nationalist movements, was in the end a public relations disaster, the ramifications of which, for good or bad, will be felt for the far right, Donald Trump's administration, the left, and American society, for a long time to come.


© Nigel Wingrove 2017

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! Part 2 - Weaponised Satire 


WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! Part 3 - The Great Shuttening

WHOSE SPEECH! OUR SPEECH! Part 4 - Tomorrow is Another Day


Saturday, January 28, 2017

I AM CURIOUS, BLACK - AMERICAN NOIR WITH A TWIST

Eileen by Ottesa Moshfegh has sentences and passages that are quite simply breathtaking in their perfection. One after the other her words tantalise and tease. She never says too much, nor too little, they are just perfect. Poisonous, cutting, funny, odious, grotesque, dangerous, plain, scary - her writing is marvellous. In just a few sentences in the books’ opening paragraph we know Eileen

You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special. It’s easy for me to imagine this girl, a strange, young and mousy version of me, carrying an anonymous leather purse or eating from a small package of peanuts, rolling each one between her gloved figures, sucking in her cheeks, staring anxiously out the window. The sunlight in the morning illuminated the thin down on my face, which I tried to cover with pressed powder, a shade too pink for my wan complexion. I was thin, my figure was jagged, my movements pointy and hesitant, my posture stiff. The terrain of my face was heavy with soft, rumbling acne scars blurring whatever delight or madness lay beneath that cold and deadly New England exterior. If I’d worn glasses I could have passed for smart, but I was too impatient to be truly smart. …. I deplored silence. I deplored stillness. I hated almost everything. I was very unhappy and angry all the time. I tried to control myself, and that only made me more awkward, unhappier, and angrier. I was like Joan of Arc, or Hamlet, but born into the wrong life - the life of a nobody, a waif, invisible. There’s no better way to say it: I was not myself back then. I was someone else. I was Eileen. 

Eileen is like no other heroine or hero. She lives with her mentally unstable, alcoholic father, a retired policeman, in a filthy house that neither clean. She eats little of anything, biscuits or sweets mainly, and embraces her thinness. She is obsessed with her bowels and avoids washing. She is twenty four, a virgin, and works as a clerk in a correctional facility for teenage boys. She is plain, small-breasted and hates her body which she hides under layers of clothes. 

This is Eileen until she meets Rebecca who changes everything. Rebecca, who Eileen felt on meeting, must, like Doris Day - live in a charmed world of fluffy pillows and golden sunshine - and instantly hated her.  Yet within minutes of actually talking to Rebecca Eileen discovers her soul mate, or, as Rebecca puts it, her partner in crime, and the books unexpected twist begins.

Eileen is so perfect a novel that it was an almost emotional disappointment when Moshfegh’s ending fails to ring true. Here was Eileen and Rebecca, not as a darker and perverse take on Thelma and Louise or as a sapphic romance like Carol mashed with Bound, but as ineptitude. It is almost as if having brought the reader brilliantly up to this point that there was pressure to bring the story to an end or to find a twist that sashayed nicely into Eileen’s conclusion.  

Everything so far has been flawless, with Eileen’s thoughts on life and its banalities leading us inextricably to her meeting with Rebecca and from there we anticipated, deliciously, trouble ahead. So it was doubly disappointing that when that ‘trouble’ arrives it is caused not be wickedness but by uncharacteristic silliness on the part of our heroines.  As a result Eileen, whilst not unravelling, is now imperfect and flawed. as if, like her creations, Moshfegh had messed up, not a lot, but enough.

Eileen is still an extraordinarily, and at times, beautifully revolting story, that seeps into your consciousness like a strong whisky, nulling and stimulating, while sowing the seeds of corruption. Yet it could and should have been a truly brilliant novel and the fact that it falls short lies in part with Rebecca, who, like her creator, steps out of line in a way that disappoints rather than excites - leaving the reader feeling flat when we should have been bubbling with anticipation and excitement. So much so that even Eileen cannot hide her disappointment at the turn of events.

I could have told her she was crazy, that I wanted nothing to do with her, that she ought to be committed, but I was so hurt, so dismayed by her scheme to seduce me into being some sort of accomplice that I failed to muster any cutting words or phrases, “Good luck.” might have been enough, I suppose. 

A remarkable, brilliant, but flawed masterpiece.  

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh is published by Viking Books


260 pages  £14.99

Saturday, January 14, 2017

ARE GIRLS ELECTRIC?

The Power by Naomi Alderman is part science fiction, part thriller and part feminism reborn as a morality tale in which all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts most of all no matter the gender of those that wield it. In this instance, teenage girls, and, eventually through them, all women, - the ‘power’ being electricity generated by a skein of knotted muscle and veins that grow under the skin and across the collar bones of girls and becomes the source through which, girls, all girls, can learn to discharge electrical power from their hands and fingertips. A power that, handled correctly, can hurt a man, wound a man, kill a man - from that beginning women begin to take the societal power away from men changing society, religion and male / female relationships, forever.

Told through the lives of three women and a man whose stories, like the skeins from which their power derives, are intertwined and seemingly damned by their newly acquired strength. This is particularly so in the case of Tunde, a young man and aspiring photo-journalist from Nigeria whose Youtube video of a girl taking down a man who was pestering her in a supermarket and reducing him to a gibbering wreck bleeding from his eyes and mouth after she has touched him, sets the worlds’ media ablaze and ushers in what will become known as the Day of the Girls…

From here on Alderman’s impressive cast of characters, Roxy the daughter of a London gangster, Allie (or Mother Eve as she becomes) who morphs from abused teenage orphan to the leader of a new, feminised take on christianity, to Margot an American senator whose troubled daughter Jocelyn lacks the ability to use her power, to Tunde, who documents the world’s rapid shift, which, like an electrical Arab Spring, moves from patriarchy to matriarchy in a series of tumultuous set pieces, not least the collapse of male controlled countries like Saudi Arabia.

The Power is also savagely violent in places and as the world shifts from male control, with its inherent, endemic violence, to female control, which unleashes its own, equally brutal, female take on revenge. Now, hundreds of years of being an abused and subservient sex, of being prostituted and beaten, is crystallised into an almost bestial discharge aimed straight at the heart of the male id, which, at its most basic, means his cock. 

Here, in this world, men are raped by women who use their electrical powers to induce an erection in the unwilling male victim and then, when satiated, are shown killing the man in scenes that only mimic mans' savage raping of women in wars through the centuries. Elsewhere men are tortured, limbs and organs are fried or severed, eyes burnt out. Men, in their turn, plant bombs and resort to terrorism and war in a futile effort to return the world to the old order. Alderman hammers this home in scenes that are as disturbing as they brutal:

“The woman on top cups his balls and dick in her palm. She says something. Laughs. The others laugh, too. She tickles him there with the tip of a finger, making a little crooning sound, as if she wants him to enjoy it. He can’t speak; his throat is bulging. They might have broken his windpipe already. She puts her head to one side, makes a sad face at him. She might as well have said in any language in the world. ‘What’s the matter? Can’t get it up?’ He tries to kick his heels to get away from her, but it’s too late for that”

In this world, as the initial shock of women’s new power and status sinks in, so men try to fight back, underground groups form, the Saudi King funds rebellion to take back his kingdom and the military tries to hardness and control women’s power to use it as a weapon. Yet the dynamic between men and women has flipped and no banging of fists by the old patriarchy can change that. 

“He sees the dark eyes of the women watching him from the factory. He knows something then. A simple fact that should have been obvious from the first, had he not been pushing the knowledge from him. The women are not glad to see what he has done, or that he could do it. The fucking bitches are just starring at him: their mouths as closed as the earth, their eyes as blank as the sea. They walk down the stairs inside the factory in orderly file and march towards him as one. Darrell lets out a sound, a hunted cry, and he runs. And the women are after him.”

Yet, despite the violence, this is a serious and highly readable novel that moves at a cracking pace. Its ideas and the societies that it imagines, believable, real and, at times, frightening. The shift of emphasis from the male Jesus to the female Mother Mary and Eve, the first woman, not just apt, but in the circumstances described, absolutely right. 

In some ways The Power reminded me of books like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, of John Wyndham’s The Trouble with Lichen and Edmund Cooper’s almost forgotten novel of the early seventies, Who Needs Men or Gender Genocide as it was titled for its US release - a dark tale of a future societies extermination of men by women. That said, The Power is totally its own book, and a shockingly good one at that! One that not only provokes, but whose story and characters stay with you long after the last page has been read and the book finished, and I cannot recommended it highly enough. Fabulous!

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

The Power  by Naomi Alderman is published by Viking Books

342 pages  £12.99