Friday, 7 January 2022

Mr Inverness is tired,


but at least he sweats alone, 

no-one around to catch him out

by tweeting pics of sodden shirts,

no-one to tell him how the case is going,

which papers today have decided 

he should be cut loose. He turns on

the telly, forgets it was tuned to the news:

sees a protesters' cavalry clashing with

police in a country whose ruler's

son bought one of his houses, 

throwing an extra three million in 

for a few of Jeff's signature sweeteners. 

He switches it off. He doesn't want all

these reminders of the way his world

has started shrinking. Pours more whiskey,

thinks about the better times: 

late nights at Haviland, with the man

whose statue he unveiled, one island over

from the place where one masked monster

took a fall to keep the other faces hidden.

Masks: they used to joke about them, 

safe in their unhooded anonymity,

their Very Kubrick Christmas parties.

'It doesn't need to be a costume…'

What else has he ever worn? 

Inspired by the information about Mr Inverness (whose security detail, according to Popbitch, had a much more amusing codename for him) contained in this episode of Podcasting is Praxis, and its sources

Thursday, 23 December 2021

That the city, after this enormity, may be renewed

 So I saw a tweet asking...


That the city, after this enormity, may be renewed 

They told me that my sex drive would be

'ruined' - the exact word that they chose,

as if the hormones were a bomb

that would destroy the proud erections

of an engineered city.

What they didn't realise

was that my metropolis

already lay in ruins:

behind the neoclassical facades

of banks, the people gathered

'round the fires that burned in drums,

bartered shoddy goods under the tarps

slung far beneath the shattered skylights

of the covered market;

that taps gasped air and dirt

in sailors' bars beside the silted harbour:

and here, hormones came as wrecking ball

and blueprint for renewal, as mortar

in the sense of both explosive and cement,

as the new broom in City Hall,

and that, where once I had a Miesian libido,

gridded and predictable, what sprang up in its place

is more like Gehry: complicatedly

amazing; twisted and baroque,

always apparently about to

tumble in upon itself, but stronger

than the mess it seems to be.

Where once I was the New York Subway,

now I'm Harry Beck's map of the Tube

reimagined as a rollercoaster

(though I happily will go

South of the River):

complicated, multi-coloured, centripetally

alive in all directions, and I know

that cut-and-cover, and the pounding

of the tunneling machines

can look like demolition

but they aren't. I'm not in ruins:

this chaos that you hear and see

is not a war:

 it's just my future,


Friday, 17 December 2021

The Burning of the Elephants

Strictly protected. She’ll tell you the story

all came to her on a train. The owner will go to the papers,

gush about saving the table, but whine his first edition

can’t be found. The cultists will claim it was arson:

they have such quaint ideas, these people, 

of causality.

The only place that got to print the legend

on its legend, since her brother-in-law’s property

became a Chinese buffet. Went on fire, they say round here,

with knowing intonation. Like the School of Art.

No word on Muriel’s location this time, but the spark,

they say, caught from the basement of the woman 

in Room Four. Why don’t you come on over,

said the paintings and statues of Indian animals,

fetishised like Joanne’s mensa, shown off like Maratha 

treasures plundered by the Royal Scots, sick of

being implicated in her veneration, sick of queues

of tourists, sick of chintzy white folks saying how exotic

it all looked, oh how Bohemian and quirky, longing

for some peace and quiet, they rejoiced to burn.

And if you’re picking through the ashes 

and the rubble in the hope of finding footsteps

or forensic spoor, a connection to the photographs

retweeted from her door,  you will not find them

where your eyes and fingers scrabble. But there is

a footprint here, which you cannot see the way fish

don’t see water. There are things

that move in ways we see

by implication only, that use people 

as their moving parts, and happen 

in a dozen or a hundred spots at once.

Take a ruler. Draw a line from here

to her Barnton house to Killiechassie.

Plot the times. Of course you can’t. 

Some days you cannot see yet since,

to you, they haven’t happened.


Some things are bigger than elephants

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Mechanical Turk

The joke is that it never was a robot.

The joke is that 'battery hens'

is a reference to conditions.

The joke is the advert's promise

that you won't speak to a robot

is a promise you will be accused 

of breaking by a caller who knows

fine well you're a human. The joke is

that you know this line is monitored

and when you say 'Yes, I am a real

human being,' in a sing-song voice,

you can say you are not doing me,

you are doing the girl

in the advert.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Trump gets an 'honorary' black belt

 In his head, he's really going to start thinking he's Frank Dux now. Telling people he was literally trained by Tiger Tanaka, a fictional character from the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. He's going to start being all 'I respect you, fellow warrior,' when he meets Putin and Steven Segal now. He's gonna go the full fucking John Dupont. This is hilarious. 

His favourite movie was not Citizen Kane

And will you watch Bloodsport on Air Force One,

now the strains of My Way have died down?

Will some flunky fast-forward the boring bits

so you can cut to Van Damme doing the splits

and punching that big Chinese dude in the nuts?

Will you tell yourself this is what you have done,

with your sniping at China? That you have become

an American ninja, a kumite king, a heavyweight

champion lord of the ring, like the man Van Damme

played, the white ninja, Frank Dux,

who put on a cheap gi and made it all up?

Who paid for the trophy he said that he won

with a face straight as yours when you bragged about grabbing

the pussies of bitches you moved on at pageants.

What is it with boys like you? Desperate to come

off as what you think men are? Was daddy that bad?

Were you so poorly served by the models you had

that you think we respect you, you ludicrous goon?

Well I never did. And I’m glad that you’re gone.

And I hope they fumigate Air Force One.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Cancellation, Baby!

 I want to be famous

and considered blameless

I want my mates promoted and my critics rendered nameless

I want to be rewarded for actions most consider shameless:

that’s right - I wanna be cancelled!

Cancellation’s where it’s at, pals, cancellation’s King:

if you claim you’re being cancelled you can say most anything,

you can claim to be a pugilist while running from the ring.

All you have to say is ‘I’ve been cancelled!’

Cancellation’s what you need, not dedication, Roy:

cancellation will take you from strength to strength through joy,

you can write a book about how you like perving on underage boys,

and never have to fear, Ms Greer, just be clear that you’ve been cancelled!

Or perhaps you want to talk about the breasts of teenage girls
and folks are pointing out that this makes you sound like a perv?
Just frame your chat in terms appealing to your fellow terves 
and carry on, my wayward Alison, by saying you were cancelled! 

Cancellation is the royal road to superpower,

you can quit your job and get a softball spot on Woman’s Hour,

you can claim to love free speech and threaten critics with your lawyer:

your Stock can never drop when you’ve been cancelled!

Cancellation isn't quite the same as saying 'leave':
true patriots know English words mean more than what they mean,
so if you lose a cushy speaking fee, you still can act aggrieved -
if you ever need to change your plans, Nige, say it's you that's being cancelled!

Is your sense of comic timing deader than a parrot? Are the people who once laughed with you just looking on embarrassed? Do people speak more often of the women that you harassed than your one-note comedies, John Cleese? At ease: claim you've been cancelled!

Cancellation’s barely come in even single spies

while you have big battalions to amplify your lies,

but so what? Claim you're being targeted by Shinigami Eyes,

you can baby face yourself by wailing 'Cancelled!'

But just remember: cancellation’s not for everyone.

You’re only cancelled if you say things they agree with in the Sun,

not things like ‘the BBC platformed a TERF who’s rapist scum,

and they were warned she was a rapist but they let the story run.’

Do you think we care about the truth? We’re journalists, hun!

And if you point out otherwise at best you’ll be ignored,

at worst we’ll slag you off in print or drag you through the courts,

we’ll steal your private photos and we’ll twist your social words,

we’ll convince the general public that you’re all a bunch of pervs

when all you want to do is live your life and not be hassled:

we’ll make that life a living Hell, but we won’t call you cancelled.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Horror Recollected in Tranquility 2: C.H.U.D. (1984)

What does C.H.U.D stand for?  One of the big twists in Douglas Cheek's film is that it doesn't stand for 'Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller'. That phrase, blurted out by Wilson, the dodgy suit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after some papers bearing that acronym are inadvertently revealed during a meeting with the protagonists, is actually a hastily improvised cover for the real translation, discovered in the final act on canisters of toxic waste dumped under New York City - Contamination Hazard: Urban Disposal. 

The files never referred to the Dwellers, but to this secret programme of dumping waste beneath the inner city. It's an effective twist, and it really transforms the movie, turning it from a battle between humans and typical - if very well-executed - horror movie monsters to a struggle to reveal the truth and expose Wilson's schemes. It's Wilson, the NRC company man, who gets shot by one of the protagonists in the film's denouement, after all. The revelation that the bigwigs have decided the only thing New York City is useful for is dumping waste also situates the film in the kind of conversations about New York that were going on at the time, with the city still emerging from the 1975 financial crisis, and not yet transformed into the sanitised, tourism and finance-focused behemoth we know today. Reagan to City: Go Toxic. 

Not just New York, in fact. During the 1980s, the Thatcher government, an ideological ally of Reagan's neoliberal US regime, discussed whether or not it might be better to allow the 'managed decline' of the poverty-stricken city of Liverpool, rather than investing to save it. Liverpool being, among many other things, the setting for Clive Barker's short story 'The Forbidden', better known to most through its US adaptation into yet another film whose supernatural hijinks reflect anxieties around urban spaces, the 1992 version of Candyman (which would be rewritten in 2021 by Us director Jordan Peele). 

Candyman itself is somewhat outside the purview of this series, in that I didn't get around to rewatching it while doing the October Horror Movie Challenge this year, and this series is meant to strictly follow the films I did watch. But it's worth mentioning here both because it shares concerns with C.H.U.D., and was Peele's next writing choice after Us, which strongly suggests Peele didn't show us a copy of Cheek's movie on the TV shelf in the opening of the film we looked at yesterday just because they share subterranean settings. 

Both films are about abandoned populations: the Tethered in Us, the street people (and indeed by extension the entire population of NYC who will have to deal with toxic waste and the cannibalistic mutants it creates) deemed expendable in C.H.U.D. And while there are specific groups culpable in these abandonments - the scientists who discontinue their experiments with the Tethered, Wilson and his pals at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission - both those groups ultimately answer to the US government. Whether it's the Tethered or the people of New York, both of them have been abandoned by America. 

This is what's so important about Red's statement in Us that 'We're Americans'. Why her final, attention-grabbing gesture is the Tethered creating a Hands Across America style chain across the country. She's staking a claim, resisting being discarded. The protagonists of C.H.U.D. -  George the photographer, and A.J. the Reverend (played by future Home Alone housebreaker Daniel Stearn) - also stake their claim with an attention-grabbing move, stealing an NRC camera to expose that organisation's misdeeds, but you could argue that they're less successful. Certainly they are in a non-diegetical sense. 

Why? Because - well, what does C.H.U.D. stand for? You have to have seen the movie to know the initial explanation is a bait-and-switch. In posters and video covers for the movie, in its numerous sequelae, and throughout pop culture since, it's become axiomatic that the acronym really does mean Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. And so a meditation on urban abandonment and necropolitics avant la lettre is more readily remembered as simply a creature feature. 

Of course, that's a fairly common trope in the history of horror cinema: often the first film in a franchise has depths and resonances which vanish from later entries (indeed, we'll be looking at one notable example of this later in this series). Maybe the reference to C.H.U.D. in Us will lead more people to look again at a film which might too easily be dismissed as 80s schlock, and think about the themes both films share.