BARACK OBAMA AND THE END OF POST-EMPIRE
Will I ever get to where I’m going? If I do, will I know, when I’m there?- INCUBUS, Nowhere Fast
You want me be somebody who I’m really not-
It is 15.35pm on the 31st of October 2012, and I am writing this in black biro on a sheet of printer paper in the male lounge of Pynchon Ward, Blue Leaves House, a psychiatric hospital in South East London. A Nigerian nurse (complete with vicious tribal scars in sets of three down both cheeks) has just asked for his biro back exactly 45 seconds after I borrowed it. I am telling him that I am writing an essay, whilst writing that sentence, and now he has wondered away, confused. “Rape Me” by Nirvana is playing on repeat through my iPod, and I am now going to stop writing and go for a cigarette in the smoking pod with a crippled old man who keeps smashing windows on the outside world, and a young autistic boy who tried to cut his own throat and due to the guilt of this tried also to jump in front of a train. He was pulled back at the last minute.
I am now writing at 18.36pm on my current A4 binder pad. (I get through these thing quicker than an erection at an Annabel Chong gangbang.) M.I.A (my current favourite emcee) is pumping (harder than Annabel Chong, bless her) and I am debating what horror movies to watch, it being Halloween and all. I have a vast collection, but I also sign up to letmewatchthis.ch which means I can stream the uncut version of “Cannibal Holocaust” or “The Human Centipede: FIRST SEQUENCE” or “The Human Centipede: SECOND SEQUENCE” or “Martyrs” or “A Serbian Film” or any nightmare that some European devil wishes to share with me. I could always go with a huge cinematic error like Paul Schrader’s “Exorcist: Dominion”, purely for the fact that he is directing “The Canyons” from a script by Bret Easton Ellis, simply because I’ve met Bret Easton Ellis, and I gave him a signed copy of my 2009 debut novel “Smoking Is Cool”. The fact that it wasn’t signed to him is neither here nor there. I suppose I could always watch “Sex Mad Secretaries 2” (a great sequel) because it stars James Deen, who is the well-hung star of “The Canyons”, and I once tweeted him to say I was going to pimp him out to my posse. Why? I don’t know. Some people take Twitter so fucking seriously.
I had my second bout of psychotherapy this morning. Well, tell a lie, I’ve had psychotherapy before. After returning from a month in Amsterdam aged 19 (don’t ask) my mother took me to the Priory. I was more than happy to talk to the doctor (non-stop) for an hour about the novel I was writing about a school shooting at a posh grammar school in Kent, then called “A Very British Columbine”. He made a lot of notes. Years later, when I was recovering from crack cocaine addiction in Pynchon Ward, I asked her what he had said after our meeting.
“That you clearly had a mood disorder, Andrew.”
In my physical withdrawals and excruciating depression, I still managed to rise from my sweat sodden sheets.
“That son of a bitch,” I growled, “he told me he was really looking forward to reading it…”
I won’t tell you the name of my psychotherapist unless she does something to annoy me, which I don’t think she’ll do. I’ve known her to say hello to for years. When she was pregnant with her second child she asked me if I had any ideas for names.
“Flavor Flav,” I replied without hesitation.
“Old school,” she giggled, and I instantly trusted her.
We’re now knee deep into the session. Twenty five minutes had passed.
“Yes, the tragedy of the novelist. No matter how many books you write, the best one is always the one you haven’t written yet. You never write your masterpiece, and you never attain closure. And if you’re me, certain Hollywood types read it and suddenly there’s a meeting in some dark room and silencing me becomes the most important thing for them, and primarily just for a little while, just so I can hear the response, and then they go off and try and pretend to say that what I said wasn’t painful and attacked everything they’d ever believed.”
She stopped writing. “Huh?”
“Yeah, it ain’t easy being a literate satirist in today’s world.”
“When people ask me who Bret Easton Ellis is, people will never understand just what has inadvertently happened to me.”
She looked at me. I was wearing three hoodies, a beanie, jeans, Reebok Classics and the awkward smile of a defiant rape victim.
“We were, uh, talking about the NHS and what you think worked, didn’t work, you know, so far.”
“Over the past ten years, you mean?”
I cracked my knuckles, not out of habit but necessity. “Everything up until this meeting has been abusive. That’s if I’m being totally Post-Empire.”
“I will never legally be allowed into the United States of America.”
This is the first line of Smoking Is Cool, my self-published debut novel, and in its brevity and with its sinister political connotations, it was my attempt to announce myself as the English equivalent to notorious American novelist Bret Easton Ellis.
The great irony to this is that when I met him at a book signing in Leadenhall Market in July 2010, the copy of the book I gave him began with the far more ambiguous (but no less an homage):
“I think it is January.”
Like the majority of well educated, middle class kids of my generation, Ellis tapped into the sexual nightmare that was unspoken, yet shared, the fear of latent homosexuality, the carnal nature of money, drugs and beauty. Indeed, a year later, while serving a stretch in hospital, I met a twenty something young man who was “very inspired” by both American Psycho, and the fact that I had queued up for three and half hours to meet him, and presented him with a copy of Lucio Fulci’s notorious video nasty New York Ripper and a signed copy of Smoking Is Cool. I cannot remember much of the conversation with the young man, I was still bloodied from the assault that had happened on a previous ward, and had been moved so they could send my attacker to a secure unit. I forget if I told him that Bret Easton Ellis was given the original version, with the real names of doctors, patients and psychologists that formed the largely truthful story of a 25 year old manic depressive attempting to both destroy the system and write his masterpiece whilst incarcerated in the Royal Edinburgh Psychiatric Hospital, and winds up destroying only his own soul. S.I.C is an ambitious failure in my mind, and I gleefully stole from such diverse sources as John Gray’s Straw Dogs and Black Mass, Phillip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, and infamous Australian criminal Mark Brandon Read’s CHOPPER 4: Happiness is a Warm Gun. The New Statesman and the Literary Review both sent me warm, complimentary rejections when I requested a review, and The Big Issue, Loaded, Prospect, The Spectator and Bizarre didn’t reply at all. Empire, the most popular movie magazine in England, responded with a post-it note.
Smoking Is Cool is by no means a popular book, and has to date sold less than thirty copies, since its publication in August 2009. After the N.H.S bought a copy, they threatened litigation if I did not withdraw the book from sale, so instead I changed the names, slapped on a new first line (true for anybody who has been under a Section 3 of the Mental Health Act of 1983) and put a banner on the back:
THE BOOK THE N.H.S TRIED TO BAN!
The reason Bret got the staid, incendiary original is because I simply did not have the money to buy a new copy of my book, since self-publication requires you to purchase review copies at a discount. It is an honest way of doing it, and I am more than happy with the underground reputation that my anti-‘everything’ (read progress) satirical mini-epic has garnered me. But I’ll tell you one thing (and you’ll know why if you ever do read it) it certainly didn’t win me any friends.
I was born on April 11th, 1983, and was very much a child of the post-modern, ironic nineties. It may also interest you that I was born with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck.
Waco, the first Gulf War, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide did not make my top three, primarily because I was too young to gauge the reaction and meaning of these events at the time. For me, and for many of my generation, the three key tabloid events of the 1990’s do not include Princess Diana’s death and funeral, which were themselves a public expression of guilt and shame directed at the tabloid media in itself.
The first sign that the western world was headed for trouble occurred in 1993, with the trial of two ten year old boys who had sexually assaulted and murdered six year old James Bulger. The events surrounding this horrifying event were put down by Blake Morrison in his ugly, battered non-fiction book, As If, which is a truly nasty read, and impossible to forget.
The massacre of a class of five year olds and their teacher in a school in Dunblane happened three years later, an event that the present writer remembers weeping over in 1996, age thirteen, when the gates of innocence were well and truly welded shut.
Three years later, in April 1999, two unattractive school bullies carried out a massacre at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado, ending the spree shooting with a double suicide. It transpired that the pair had planned the murders with the same level of preparation as the Oklahoma City Bombers, spending a year plotting the massacre and keeping a video diary.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, an already terrified Western World had its sanity snapped from the hinges, leading Coalition forces into open war against the Middle East, beginning first in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and, as of writing, Libya, whose dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, had his mutilated body proudly displayed on the front of the British gutter press, with some wag’s caption: THIS IS FOR LOCKERBIE. This was a message for Syria, the next target, I’m assuming, and a country that we will be fighting soon.
With the almost unbelievable influx of cheap, digital technology, some theorists state that the 21st century will be either the final age of human consciousness, or closer to a post-structuralist hyperreality where each individual will have the capacity to mould reality to their own design.
“Towards the end of the twentieth century we lost confidence in reality. Everything- identity, morality, time, space, gender, political alignment, relationships, memory, history- became provisional…
…The ‘rubber reality’ trend was in full swing well before the dawn of the third millennium- an arbitrary ticking over of the odometer, celebrated without the collapse of society that had been feared- and the world-changing events of 11 September 2001. The nightmares of Elm Street made fantasy mindscapes commonplace in horror films, with Freddy Krueger’s control over dreams allowing for sequences in which logic could be suspended for the sake of a scare.”
Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies (2010) p.449
The English youth riots in 2011 were blamed by some on race relations, police cruelty, poverty, and a whole host of other fashionable key words that gave politicians a voice box to sell their latest theory. The truth is they were less opportunistic carnage from a feral, angry youth, but highly orchestrated terrorism by savvy, computer literate young men and women who had, inevitably, matured into dark cynicism far quicker than any previous English generation. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the breakdown of the family or black marginalisation. As many white and Asian youths joined in with the black kids for the fun and games. It was the Lord of the Flies effect. When war is seen as a viable career option, and first person shoot em ups are becoming more and more realistic, the skunk fuelled, Eminem listening kids just wanted to enjoy themselves in the only way they knew how.
The awkward Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government turned down every single appeal from convicted rioters. Some, who had merely used social network sites like Facebook and Twitter to organise looting, were given mandatory sentences as high as four years, a length of time that one might spend for armed robbery or manslaughter.
A cynic might argue that these were moves made to ensure a frightened world that England was a benign place to visit for the impending 2012 London Olympics, and international tourists would be safe and more than able to spend money into the collapsing economy.
But of course the reasons behind the riots were never given open credence, and, in fact, the documentation by the media became more like an interactive film, with digital viewers able to watch multiple screens and hear commentaries by various celebrities and talking heads.
The hottest summer on record, where lightning storms mixed with heat so boiling that flowers burst into flames, certainly didn’t help. Added to this, Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking scandals whereby the News of the World newspaper was forced into retirement after it transpired they had bugged the phones of the families of child murder victims, Amy Winehouse’s death at the notorious rockstar age of 27, the unarmed assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the impending ten year anniversary of 9/11, a new supposed war for oil in Libya…well. It may not be too much of a surprise that a generation who no longer read for pleasure and have little chance of earning a wage after school ends, who subsist on skunk and an ultra-realistic multitude of anarchist themed video games, our X Factor culture where musical talent is no longer groomed but groomed of individuality, an admired obsession with organised crime, a football culture that has long been corrupted by money and celebrity, would explode with a passion when the police shot dead an unarmed gangster in Tottenham, and take to the streets in a show of nihilistic joy.
“Mummy, can I interview Granddad for the book?”
Mummy smiled. “You need to brush your teeth.”
He paused, her little gentleman.
“Mummy,” he said.
“Mummy, when I become famous, do you mind if I play a really, really bad man? Do you mind if I use rude words?”
She smiled. “Go and brush your teeth, Andrew.”
“Yes mummy. I love you mummy. I think Dad is like Indiana Jones. Can I have some sweets?”
The inevitable barter for sweeties.
“Granddad’s bringing cakes.”
Andrew paused. Became serious. In a perfect, Bostonian accent he saluted: “Yes maam. We’ll surely win the war!”
“Did you ever kill anyone?” Andrew asks me. Paul is toddling around. Kids always want to hear the horror stories. They see Hitler as a cartoon.
“Aye, ah dinnae remember, lad.”
I fight the sadness and smile as he carefully writes down the answer. He’ll be a great man someday. Paul wanders over to me.
“Ba ba aba?” he asks quizzically. I give him a sweetie and make sure he doesn’t get it stuck in his throat. He’s three, a wee bairn.
“Next question,” Andrew says, looking jealous.
“Do you want a sweetie, Andrew?”
He considers this. “Yes,” he replies, “but I have to finish the book first.”
“Are you certain?”
Andrew looks down at his next question, smiles sweetly.
“What sort of rifles did you use?”
“I don’t remember.”
He looks disappointed.
“My memory isn’t what it used to be.”
I sigh, thinking about the drop. Training. The fear. That soft agony when I walk past a building site.
“What was it like being a POW?” Andrew asks.
“There was a guard. A German.”
“Mummy speaks German!” he says.
“Aye. The only two words he knew in English were Jesus Christ. We called him Jesus Christ the Friendly Guard.”
Andrew’s eyes bulge with excitement.
Dave walks in. “Dad, want a beer?”
“We’re working here,” I sneer.
“Are you bothering Granddad, Andrew?” Dave says, looking nervous.
“No daddy, I’m writing my World War II book. I’m doing a interview.”
“AN interview,” Dave smiles.
“Whisky, David,” I say.
“I’ll have one too,” David sighs.
Paul falls over backwards, crawls over to Andrew and points at his book.
“Ba b aba? Mudda? Murder?”
We all stop.
“Mudddah! Murrrdder!” Paul giggles.
Andrew looks pensive. “Can I have a whisky?”
“Murder!” Paul says, proudly.
“What happened to Jesus Christ?” Clare asks, who has been sitting at the piano. She’s wearing her church dress and a little beret. Clare is nine.
“The Americans forgave him and he went home to his family,” I say, drinking my Bell’s in trembling fingers.
“Great!” Clare says, and starts to play Fur Elise.
And that will do for now. But as a treat for anybody who bothered to read this lazy attempt to explain exactly who I am and why and whatever, I am now leaving a contact number. If you want to talk to me, you can. I suppose if you want to track the phone and find out where I live and do whatever you feel like doing to me, since for some reason I have fractured some kind of identity in you that you worked a lifetime to create, go nuts. Or if you’re a publisher, musician or producer, please text me an address if you would like a few free copies of my debut album YOUR ONLY FRIENDS ARE MAKE BELIEVE and I will post them to you, wherever you are in the world. I am quite poor, but not poor enough not to talk to you or promote my music. Fuckit. You only live once, I suppose.
07583033391- (Ask for Andrew…)