The latest outrage against South Park

It is 2020. People are still blaming South Park for all the ills of the Western World. This time instead of the rabidly illiberal censorious right screaming about the show, it’s the rabidly illiberal censorious left in the shape of writer Dana Schwartz.

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There’s a series of Tweets, with above being her first, and the next being her last, but she’s ploughing a furrow dug often since the programme started in the late 90’s.

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The problem is her final message is wrong. Yes it is a very political show, but the message is that often there is nothing that can be done in terms of a simple, easy solution. The character of Kyle especially (often to be said to be the closest in terms of actual beliefs for the creators) pours out hard solutions but is mocked by others because people from the left and right don’t want complex answers but easy ones that fits their own worldview. Which is where Schwartz is as the show doesn’t fit her worldview so she threw out this attempt to basically ‘cancel’ it.

The problem is by blaming South Park from everything from the alt-right, to Trump to the current culture wars is that simple solution. An airy wave of the hand and all your problems are gone. Who needs to understand the socio-economic problems caused by the collapse of industry which has led to an alienated working class who feel isolated and ignored by all the traditional politics out there, hence why many are looking to outsiders for answers. Sadly that gives us Brexit and Trump partly because the left as a whole has advocated the discussion to the right in favour of purity spirals and identity politics rather than creating a narrative where the alienated working class see a way out.

So instead we’re stuck with people being offended by a show nearly 25 years old that’s attacked people from all political backgrounds and while it often misses a point, or gets it wrong, it serves a purpose as a satire of the times where anything is open for debate. Because you don’t like hearing what it has to say is not a reason to ‘cancel’ it, which makes me glad that Schwartz’s attempt to do just that fell flat but these attempts at censorship attack liberty itself, and sometimes liberty means people hearing or seeing things they don’t want to hear or see.

Cancel culture and Contrapoints

This is going to involve a lot of backstory, so start at the top.

Cancel culture is a thing. To shorten it as much as possible, it’s described on Wikipedia as this;

cancel culture, describes a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or unpopular opinion, or has had behavior in their past that is perceived to be either offensive or problematic called out on social media is “canceled“; they are completely boycotted

This has been around basically forever but in the age of social media where people live within their echo chambers where one has to be 100% pure ‘canceling’ someone can be weaponised to people even within their own community who’ve done incredible amount of work to make things better, or to make the case for these people. It’s one thing to say, cancel Harvey Weinstein and ostracise him, but it’s another to ‘cancel’ someone with a different opinion or opposing view. That’s where it becomes controlling, censorious and even cultish as the political and moral point being made is that a voice/opinion challenges their worldview so much the person must not just be expelled, but they, and even their friends, must be destroyed.

Which brings me to Contrapoints.

Contrapoints is a YouTube channel run by Natalie Wynn. It’s partly about her transition which has been very public, but it’s one of the few interesting leftish American YouTube channels as Wynn throws around ideas, and yes, sometimes finds the American left somewhat lacking. She also has spent most of her time online tacking the far right who have been attacking her pretty much constantly so she’s used to being attacked online, the pile-ons and all the usual crap one expects from the far right.

As her videos rack up millions of views, Wynn makes a good amount of money from them. Not enough to retire, but enough to do what she wants so ‘canceling’ her hits her directly in the pocket, which is what the far-right have tried to do, but what would prompt those supposedly of the left to attack her, and attack her friends in a manner so viciously that she was driven off social media.

And this is where you need to go watch Wynn’s last video and watch til the end…

There’s a lot to take in there. The main facts are that Wynn said something which upset a section of supposed ‘progresives’, she apologised where appropiate but made their case because views aren’t illegal because you disagree with them. I disagree with a chunk of what Wynn says but at the same time I’ve learned from them because unless you’re an out and out Nazi you don’t get your opinions silenced because it might upset people.

And what’s remarkable is at the end of the video Wynn outlines what the reaction to her feature length essay will be almost perfectly. The reaction was vicious and to repeat, didn’t just target Wynn, but her friends but this is not uncommon as this happens to someone it seems daily at least as they’ve committed some thought-crime against a section of people who will not budge. We live in an age where everyone is policing someone, and acting as judge, jury and supposed executioner as some of the threats Wynn and people like her get are terrifying.

It is as David Baddiel says:

There are many types of trolls, but they fall into two basic (and much overlapping) types: those who hate from a position of hate and those who hate from a position of self-assumed goodness. We tend to think of them, in the caricature, mainly as the former, as basement-dwelling incels angrily spattering the internet with abuse for lolz, but it is actually the latter who are far more prevalent and significant. No one has ever been cancelled by the former; you can’t be erased and destroyed by punks, but you very much can by furies, mobilising to take you down in the name of right.

What happens is people pick a tribe, and rather try to seek solidarity with others or find commong ground by listening to others we have an urge for purity that’d scare anyone. Overwhelmingly it is women being subjected to this, though men and transwomen like Wynn suffer huge levels of abuse, doxing and worse thanks to how social media has weaponised politics, identity and culture in a way the days of the early internet where we interacted on moderated message boards. Now with nothing to stop us there’s unrestricted blind hate being spat out all the time at people followed by ‘cancelling’ people which means destroying as much of someone’s life as you can legally.

We live on a ‘planet of cops‘ in a world Orwell warned us about. Where someone can be ostracised partly by people within the same community as them but without any understanding of their positon or show of solidarity. It must be purity and if there’s no purity then people must be cleansed until there’s nobody left because the thing is with these people they will find ‘fault’ anywhere because one doesn’t find reason when we’re in a witchunt.

I have no idea where this ends but it won’t end well if we end up being ruled by people on hairtriggers policing your entire life online reducing privacy, free speech and debate to nothing. Because if they can come after someone like Natalie Wynn, they can come after anyone.

The genius of Robert Crumb

First time I saw any of Robert Crumb’s work I was very young and had an instant negative reaction to it. It was, to me then, utterly repulsive but I was used to superhero comics and nothing more challenging than the best of that genre. I must have been around 9 or so because shortly after 2000AD came out, and it acted like a comics education as I expanded my tastes to the point a few years later that I read more Crumb, and this time saw the genius in his work.

Some of it was still repulsive, some of it would come these days with ALL the trigger warnings one can get on today’s ‘woke’ culture, but Crumb tells truths and sometimes it hurts to see people tell the truth. I suppose this is why I grew more and more into Crumb’s work as it truly is comics meant to be read by adults with an open, critical mind.

Interviews with Crumb are fascinating things.Over the Christmas holidays, a new one emerged and the interview is a wonderful thing from a man now able to look back at a long career and still tell truths. Have a look and see someone who still struggles with some of the work he’s done, and sometimes doesn’t care because that’s how it should be.

So, enjoy and go search out Crumb’s work. It will be the most extraordinary, often challenging, work you’ll ever read.

Hunting down the video nasties

I blogged years ago about the hunt to find comic books as a kid, and that back in the day could be a nightmare, but when I was older the hunt for horror films surpassed it mainly because you could be imprisoned for owning some of these films. After the insanity of the Video Nasty moral crackdown, owning a copy of say, Zombie Flesh Eaters could get you thrown in prison.

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So people found ways to get past the censors, and the police which meant an underground network sprung up of bootleggers who’d supply you with dodgy copies of videos which were as clear as being in the middle of a foggy thunderstorm, but still had enough there to give you an idea of the gory antics going on. Here I highly recommend Jake West’s excellent documentary, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, for more about the times in the 80’s and 90’s pre Labour’s post 1997 liberalisation of British society.

As an aside, it is worth praising Tony Blair’s government for that brief period from 1997 to around 2001 when censorship was rolled back, which coming after decades of often extreme censorship at a state level it seemed like a new beginning. Sadly that wasn’t to last long after 9/11 but I digress…

That period in the 80s and 90s saw fanzines spring up which featured small ad listings in the back, as well as swaps, and although I got some films that way the main way I managed to get my uncut sex, gore and violence was through comic marts in London. As I was working these events I managed to get first dibs on some quality gore, not to mention the holy grail of bootlegs; the laserdisc copy. This meant uncut pristine clear copies of classics like Canibal Holocaust.

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Things were good if you were a fan and could get to these events, but this was still Tory Britain so at various shows you’d see customs and/or the police going round tables busting dealers and seizing tapes. Some dealers were prosecuted and a few served time for selling videos, with tabloids leaping on the ‘video nasties sold to kids’ angle, which actually never existed as these dealers weren’t that stupid. Thing was there was no way legally to see these films outwith of the odd private showing, or film festivals like Shock Around the Clock. That involved going to Kings Cross which in the early 90’s was a dark place if you went down the wrong streets, but if you knew the right places it really was home to the best fun you can have. Now it’s all Harry Potter tours and tourists getting the Eurostar.

Sigh...

But a scene emerged though that time which has went on to bigger things. Not to mention that post 97 many of these films people could have been prosecuted for were now becoming legal. I can now pick up a copy of Last House on the Left without fear of prosecution easily or in the age of the internet, I can download a copy in seconds without heaving my fat arse off my couch. This is all great but I miss the hunt, and I miss the thrill of doing something illegal which stuck a knife in the eye of censors who were out purely to blame something for the problems they caused in society.

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And now in 2019 we’re on the verge of another wave of censorship with hard/far right wing authoritarian strongmen/women eying up what they can to control the public, or at least, blame Thing A for the fact that they’ve fucked everything up. You’d think we’d learn but hey ho…

However I miss those days. They were fun, you got to meet interesting people and saw great (and awful) horror films in places you really probably shouldn’t have been, but dear me, it was fun and we don’t get that sort of fun much anymore.

Trying to catch a Black Kiss

I’ve been asked loads and loads to expand upon my series of blogs about Neptune Distribution and the UK comics scene of the 80’s and early 90’s when things were changing so rapidly, This is a shortish story about Howard Chaykin’s infamous erotic horror comic Black Kiss and the state of censorship then, and indeed, now not to mention the way history has been rewritten…

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Black Kiss was a 12-issue mini series from the mind of Howard Chaykin published in 1988 by Vortex Comics. Billed as an ‘erotic horror story’, it promised to be one of the biggest selling independent titles of the year as Chaykin was hot off his revamp of The Shadow for DC, plus he’d recently returned to rescue American Flagg! after his departure some years previously. At this time he made up part of a trio of creators (Alan Moore and Frank Miller being the other two) who would be vocal about censorship in comics, and especially the situation at DC which was becoming censorious with a threatened ratings system.

The late 80’s were a hard time. Hard right wing governments were in place in the US and UK with both pushing a hard line in censorship, though the UK didn’t have a constitution to protect it from the worst of the censors demands.  In the middle of this we were trying to ship comics into the UK which were to be blunt, filth. Wonderful, glorious filth not to mention splendidly violent (which didn’t seem to trigger customs as much) but what customs were especially looking for was sexualised violence. Black Kiss was full of sexualised violence, plus it was published sealed in a plastic bag so it was literally targeting itself out for customs.

Customs then was a bit like playing Russian Roulette. On a good day and in certain airports, you’d be able to ship anything passed without a problem. On bad days they’ll have you sitting there for hours, maybe eventually releasing your entire shipment, sometimes not. Sometimes they’ll keep a box. Sometimes they wouldn’t give a fuck. What was weird working for Neptune was our boss Geoff was a rabid Tory and Thatcherite, but he was also against censorship so we’d bring stuff over that our competitor Titan wouldn’t, and in the case of Black Kiss they’d had their shipment held at customs while ours sailed through. Happy days!

We would do a number of things to get our copies through. We’d wrap them in newspaper, or hide them in a box of Disney comics (”Oh Mickey, what are you going to do with THAT!!’), or we’d distract customs while I lifted a box from the to be screened pile to the screened pile.  We risked our freedom for comics!

It didn’t always work. Customs would open up boxes, rip open a copy and decide that one erect penis was obscene (they’d already nicked a copy of Love and Rockets for showing an erect penis around the same time) and to this day I can’t work out why most societies have an issue with erections as half the planet has had one at some point, and the other half has some experience with them so in comics made by adults for adults there shouldn’t be an issue but it was a red flag to customs.

Black Kiss did indeed top sales charts in the UK regardless with Chaykin proving himself a creator at the top of his game again, but in the years since both Chaykin and Black Kiss have been airbrushed from the history of the time. Histories of the time will mention Watchmen, Dark Knight and Maus, but not Black Kiss because I imagine most modern comics historians find it seedy or something.  However the mainstream today is full of comics that would make Chaykin’s book look tame in terms of the sex and especially the violence. Sure, there’s no erections or such but it stops short of being honest enough to be pornography plus there’s a glossy sheen to the violence, especially sexualised violence, that even makes an auld liberal like myself often baulk.

What we did though at the time was to push what was and wasn’t acceptable to bring into the UK because the truth is we struggled all the time with bringing comics into the UK because some arsehole in customs might play things by the book, or someone decided that a title should be seized because it had a zombie or tits on the front, or in some cases, zombie tits on the cover. The more middle class of you reading this might be thinking ‘ah well, it’s only the exploitation market’ but the fact is adults have the right to read what they want, and some genuine works of art (and I consider Black Kiss to be such a thing) were caught up in this government led witchhunt. Had there only been one distributor of comics to the UK as there is today then we may not have had these challenges to the system shipped in, and in fact things today would be different.

And for all the faults of today I’d rather we as adults choose what to read or watch rather than have to play games so people can make their own minds up.

Glastonbury Festival ban an anti Tory Punk band

Glastonbury Festival has a long history of being against the establishment and fighting against various injustices of the world. This year a punk band Kildren were due to play Shangri La, one of the late night areas of the festival. The band have a song which goes like this…

It’s clear there’s a message even if its delivered in a way that isn’t nice and middle class.and all Guardian readery. The festival has decided to remove the band’s invitation to play after a media campaign to ban them, so a band who’d have probably played to maybe a few thousand people won’t be playing and the festival cracks a little in the face of the establishment.

Of course, they’d never have invited anyone previously to play songs which celebrate the death of any Tory…

Oh.

 

Listen, I get the current climate is not a good one and that it is, sadly, turning violent, but sometimes music needs to be angry, and sometimes it needs to fucking shock us to our senses. I adore Glastonbury and have done so in the 27 years I’ve been going but this is a nonsense as the festival bends to the establishment in an act of censorship because that’s what it is. We need music to challenge us at times otherwise all we end up with is pish like The Killers playing for the nTh time…

The Faiytale of New York outrage sums 2018 up in a sad, pathetic nutshell

In 1987, The Pogues and KIrsty MacColl release the classic Fairytale of New York; a song about Irish immigrants in old New York City. In particular Irish immigrants who had fallen on hard times and become alcoholics and drug addicts. It’s a story and lead singer Shane McGowan and MacColl play characters. This is something that for years has been seen as, well, obvious.

But we now live in 2018. Nuance and understanding has been replaced by an urge to outrage, even censor and I speak of the use of the word ‘faggot’ in the song. It has caused predictable, if depressing internet outrage with the usual cries of the word being changed, or even banning the song.

However context, and knowledge, is everything. If seen through a purely American cultural eye, the word ‘faggot’ means one thing and is a horrible, dreadful word. In the context of the song, it’s an old Irish word for a lazy bastard. If you listen to the actual song you can get that from the context of the song even if you’re utterly unaware of the Irish language. Yet the word is going to be clearly offensive to casual listeners as it does leap out with glorious spite so it’s a good thing that back in the day McGowan and MacColl listened to the same argument and made an edited version.

in a recording for the TV programme ‘Top of the Pops’ in the UK (with Shane McGowan), Kirsty changed the lyrics slightly to ‘You scumbag, you maggot, you’re cheap and your haggard’ – wording which was later used by Maire Brennan in Ronan Keating’s cover version.

That’s right, there’s an approved edited version out there because kids, we had this debate and a compromise was reached. Radio stations and TV programmes had a choice of what version to play prior to the watershed, with both versions being played for years before most of the time the original version of the song was played.  Words have meanings beyond whatever the mainstream context think it does, in America at least, and this isn’t the first time an American company have cried foul over the word after Facebook banned Mr Brain’s faggots, which in context was discussing the pork based dish famous in the north of England.

If I was being a dick, I’d be moaning about how American culture and language overrules all others and how some of those complaining can’t see their cultural imperialism in action. I won’t though.

Unfortunately what we have now are people screaming ‘BAN IT’ and another group arguing for the use of the word regardless of context or to try to actually just use it to offend those screaming ‘BAN IT’ and the snake eats its tail. The fact is the song exists. Words have different meanings depending on the context and what language you’re speaking in, and before jerking one’s knee perhaps search to see if the OUTRAGE you’re feeling now about something from the past, possibly before you were born, has had a debate and even a compromise delivered.

Art of any kind can be appreciated for the time it was made, the intent of the creators and the standards of the day. Sometimes that art will offend today’s sensibilities. Hiding from it doesn’t make it go away and censoring it without the consent of the creators is a dangerous path in whitewashing the past. In this case it’s a situation where the word doesn’t mean what many think but, the creators gave us a compromise. We now live in a world where this sort of thing happens far too often and this isn’t a good thing for society which is becoming insular and censorious.