July 26, 2010

Raoul Moat and radical negativity

[A belated response to the Raoul Moat/ (social) media matrix, delayed because of a pile-up of deadlines last week]


Before I say go on, let me be very clear that I find nothing to disagree with in these three excellent articles by Martin Robbins, John Tatlock and Charlie Brooker. The descent into Chris Morris terrain was as predictable as it was rapid, but it's worth remembering that the importance and distinctiveness of Morris's approach, its superiority to witless "media satire" like Drop the Dead Donkey, was its McLuhanite formalism: it wasn't the idiocy of individuals that produced the inane delirium of news (although that certainly didn't help), it was the idiocy of the format. Nothing could prove this more than the spectacle of Jon Sopel, who seems in other contexts to be an intelligent journalist, becoming a ringmaster of the grotesque.

With the Facebook sites set up to honour Moat, communicative capitalism frayed off into a reactionary commmunicative nihilism freighted with astonishing and genuinely frightening levels of misogny worthy of Robert Johnson or Nick Cave: "He must hav really loved her to shoot her like that".

This astonishing hemorrhaging of anti-social affect - Britain's anti-Diana moment, in which the rituals of consensual sentimentality were violently inverted (flowers on the grave of a killer) - poses the same questions that Black Metal provokes. (These questions were forensically debated by
Ben Noys and Evan in their contributiions to the Black Metal Symposium, both of which later appeared in the excellent Hideous Gnosis collection.) Why does counter-consensual negativity now seem to "naturally" take a right wing form? To what extent is it possible to imagine this negativity being detached from the nationalism, racism and anti-modernism in which it is usually embedded in BM, and being deployed by another politics?

In the case of the response to Moat, potentially left wing intuitions - about police corruption, the inadequacy of mental health provision - could be found amidst the foaming racist and misogynist spew. Martin Robins talks of "the bizarre, carnival atmosphere that was allowed to develop in the village square" once the media Deathwatch took hold. One thought that occurs: why is unorganised "spontaneous" right wing sentiment capable of generating a counter-consensual carnival of such intensity that even journalists are drawn into openly defying the police? Thus Sky Reporter James Matthews wrote on Twitter that he “Was listening to negotiations till armed cop found us. Crept up silently,first i knew was when i felt his breath on my cheek”, while Channel 4's Alex Thomson tweeted: “sorry lots of Bberry tweets in dark running thru peoples, gardens evading cops – some spelling may have gone astray”. Tension between the police and journalists is hardly unprecedented, but off-the-record antatgonism is one thing; publicly defying police authority for no good reason whatsoever is another thing altogether. It is difficult to imagine journalists from these institutions engaging in similar anti-police devilment at an anti-capitalist event, so many of which try in vain to promote a carnivalesque atmosphere but end up as dreary kettles.


Speaking of Hideous Gnosis . . . my sincere apologies to Joseph Russo for misquoting him in my review of Hideous Gnosis for The Wire. Jospeph generously and graciously says that my rendering his phrase "priests in sweatsuits" as "priests in swimsuits" gave his essay a surreal twist, but I was disapppointed in my mistake, which was all the more bizarre because, when I was reading Joesph's article, the image of "priests in sweatsuits" struck me as capturing exactly the kind of thing that BM abominates: for BM, what's worse even than traditional chrisitianity is the way that, under secular modernity, christianity has become subject to a demythologized casualization.

Posted by mark at July 26, 2010 12:40 AM | TrackBack