Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Steadman’

The Cheltenham Festival is Decadent and Depraved

February 12, 2016

Shark Hunt Pic

A few weeks ago I blogged about how a group of my friends had come back dazed, shocked and annoyed from a day at the races in Cheltenham. They’d been in one of the beer tents when I group of hunt supporters from the surrounding country gentry came in. They were shocked at how personally graceless, arrogant and condescending they all were, combined with their physical repulsiveness. ‘They had no chin!’ wailed one of my friends. They were all agreed that they were fairly hideous. I put it down to the proverbial inbreeding in the British aristocracy and the horsey set.

Reading through the collected journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt, it seems that Dr Gonzo had the same experience of the type of Southern aristocracy, who attended the Kentucky Derby, in a piece he wrote for Scanlan’s magazine, ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved. This was the first piece to have the term ‘Gonzo’ applied to it. It’s an account of how Thompson and the caricaturist, Ralph Steadman, went to cover the 1970 Kentucky Derby. This took place against a backdrop of political tension and the expectation of violence by the Black Panthers, expectations that were gleefully stoked by Thompson himself. As drugs were very definitely banned and unavailable there, he and Steadman got drunk instead and caused chaos in their own way. Thompson hit various people with the can of Mace he was carrying, while Steadman innocently nearly started fights by showing people the drawings he’d made of them. They reacted angrily, to Steadman’s astonishment. In Britain people had only ever taken the caricatures as a good-natured joke. Not so in the Southern US, and at the Kentucky Derby, which Thompson described to Steadman as like a giant outdoor loony bin.

And the inmates Thompson particularly wanted Steadman to sketch in this alfresco madhouse were the inbred, horsey aristocracy. Thompson says

He had done a few good sketches, but so far we hadn’t seen that special kind of face that I felt we would need for the lead drawing. It was a face I’d seen a thousand times at every Derby I’d ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whisky gentry – a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture. One of the key genetic rules in breeding dogs, horses or any other kind of thoroughbred is that close inbreeding tends to magnify t5he weak points in bloodline as well as the strong points. In horse breeding, for instance, there is a definite risk in breeding two fast horses who are both a little crazy. The offspring will also be very fast and also very crazy. So the trick in breeding thoroughbreds is to retain the good traits and filter out the bad. But the breeding of humans is not so wisely supervised, particularly in a narrow Southern society, where the closest kind of inbreeding is not only stylish and acceptable, but far more convenient – to the parents – than setting their offspring free to find their own mates, for their own reasons and in their own ways. (‘Goddamn, did you hear about Smitty’s daughter? She went crazy in Boston last week and married a nigger!’)

So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.

Thompson and Steadman don’t actually find that characteristic, Southern decadent face, until the end of the Derby. They finally see it as days of boozing and a diet of fish and chips and French toast, when they look in the mirror. It’s a funny piece, with Thompson’s trademark vitriolic wit. And it seems on both sides of the Atlantic there is a stereotypical face belonging to the local equestrian gentry. Thompson saw it at the Kentucky Derby. My friends saw its English counterparts at the Cheltenham Races. Thompson did get one thing wrong in his description of that part of the sporting gentry. They may have been decadent, but they weren’t doomed. The influence of such inherited wealth was declining, until Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan revitalised it. It led to what Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd hailed as a ‘social restoration’. And it has led to some fine examples of decadent atavism, like David Cameron, George Osborne and the Eton toffs, getting into power.

Never mind the Cheltenham Races or the Kentucky Derby. The entire British cabinet is decadent and depraved.

Advertisements

Vox Political on Tory Outcry against RMT Chief for Stating They Should Be Killed for Murdering the Poor

February 3, 2016

Mike has this story over at Vox Political surrounding the outcry the Tories have raised against the comments by the senior assistant general secretary of RMT, Steve Hedley, on a debate on LBC hosted by Shelagh Fogarty: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/03/rmt-chiefs-demand-for-execution-of-tories-for-murdering-sparks-anger-against-him/. Hedley was justifiably outraged by the number of disabled people, who have died due to their welfare cuts. He declared the Tories were murdering them, and that for this they should be taken out and shot.

Mike makes the point that the ensuing outcry is the reason he won’t allow similar demands or recommendations of violence against the Tories on his blog, for the reason that the Tories would use it to drown out the main message – that their wretched welfare reforms are killing the disabled – and use it as an excuse to attack it.

He’s right. When faced with any really tough rhetoric, the Tories immediately claim victimhood and whine, bitch and moan. In their minds, they represent dignified civil discourse against the slovenly manners, fecklessness and hooliganism of the Great Unwashed. And they are always, always unjustly maligned by thuggish opponents. Even when the reverse is true. And their welfare benefits are killing people, and reducing those in genuine need to utter poverty. Mike on Vox Political, Stilloaks, Jayne Linney and other disability bloggers have catalogued the various deaths that have resulted.

I actually wonder how the Tories would react if they were faced with really forthright criticism. Such as, for example, from the pen of Hunter S. Thompson, the journalist and author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson was the inventor of Gonzo journalism, and didn’t mince his words when it came to describing those politicos that aroused his hate and disgust. In his piece on Richard Nixon, he described the former president as ‘so crooked he had screw his pants on in the morning’. He also said that instead of giving him a land burial, they should have buried him at sea, or flushed him into the sewers with the other turds.

And the bile didn’t stop with the Watergate conspirators. He also expressed his utter contempt and loathing of the Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Admiral Poindexter and the others in the Reagan administration responsible for the Iran/Contra affair. One of them was described as being ‘so crooked it took three Whitehouse aids to screw him into his pants’. He thought they should be shut in a bamboo cage to be poked with sharp sticks, and flogged all the way along Route 66. As for Ed Meese, Reagan’s equally crooked attorney general, he said that he should have been hung upside down from a lamp post.

Maggie Thatcher also disgusted him. In a piece he published, replying to a letter from his illustrator, Ralph Steadman, he called Thatcher a ‘denatured hog’, and said that Steadman’s delinquent son was quite right to smash windows. Any young person who didn’t want to smash windows in Thatcher’s Britain was probably brain-dead.

This is strong language indeed, especially in the American press, which is now very cautious and respectful. In Britain it would result in paroxysms of Tory fury, as any criticism, no matter how small, of the Blessed St Margaret of Grantham is regarded as the vilest blasphemy. The Conservatives – traditionally the party of the Anglican establishment – have no scruples about attacking the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed any other clergyman or woman, if they dare to speak out on their dreadful welfare policies. But the sanctity of Maggie Thatcher, the patron saint of monetarism and South American dictators, must be defended with all their might.

Mike’s quite right to be worried that comments urging violence would give them ammunition to ignore and distort what’s actually said on his blog. Their past masters at that. Hedley’s statement that they should be shot gave them all the material they needed to distort the debate. But they are monstrous thugs, whose policies are killing tens of thousands of people, and who can’t stand the kind of criticism their atrocities deserve.

Hunter S. Thompson and Hilary Mantel on Blowing Away Maggie Thatcher

January 31, 2016

Generation Swine Cover

Remember the fearful bate the Tories got in last year over Hilary Mantel’s short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher? This was a counterfactual narrative, speculating on what would have happened if someone had managed to blow away the Leaderene, as almost happened when the IRA bomb blew up the hotel the Tory delegates were staying in during their Brighton Conference. Thatcher escaped, but it left Norman Tebbitt’s wife crippled and in a wheelchair. Unable to cope with the idea that someone might actually want to off their idol, the Tories worked themselves up into a howling frenzy, baying that the prize-winning lady novelist was encouraging terrorism.

It’s hard to see how this could be so. Mantel’s one of the great figures in contemporary literary fiction. As well as winning literary prizes and awards, her book about Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey and the dark intrigues of the Tudor court, Wolf Hall, was turned into an acclaimed drama series by the Beeb. She’s very far from a Marxist or Irish Republican radical firebrand, let alone an Islamist jihadi, spewing hate for the Kufar and demanding the destruction of the ‘Little Satan’ by fire and sword. These groups don’t need much encouragement from genteel, respectable novelists. They’ve got their own sources of propaganda, fanning their fanaticism. I somehow don’t think they’re terribly interested in modern highbrow literature. You don’t, after all, see them hurriedly putting down the Times Literary Supplement as their latest butcher gets up to vomit out his rant in the latest beheading video from ISIS. In fact, considering that one group didn’t even have a copy of the Qu’ran, and a British jihadi had to order Islam For Dummies to get acquainted with even the rudiments of the faith he claimed to be fighting for, I’m frankly amazed that any of them can even read. Possibly they do so much screaming of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ because it’s just about the only Islamic phrase they know.

But long before Mantel raised a stir discussing Thatcher’s possible assassination, Hunter S. Thompson had done the same, in a piece addressed to his illustrator, Ralph Steadman. Steadman had been having problems with his son’s behaviour. From the letter’s contents, it appeared that his son had been smashing windows. Thompson ascribed this to the boy’s father’s own profession as a cartoonist, one of whose targets was the PM.

England is the wrong place for a boy who wants to smash windows. Because he’s right, of course. He should smash window. Anybody growing up in England today without a serious urge to smash windows is probably too dumb for help.

You are reaping the whirlwind, Ralph. Where in the name of art or anything else did you ever see anything that said you could raw queer pictures of the prime minister and call her worse than a denatured pig-but your own son shouldn’t want to smash windows

And Thompson made it very clear that he shared the lad’s anger and contempt for the Saint of Finchley:

The prime minister is a denatured pig, Ralph, and you should beat her like a gong. Draw horrible cartoons of the bitch, and sell them for many dollars to The Times and Private Eye … but don’t come weeping to me when your own son takes it into his head to smash a few windows.

He goes further, and states that the lad should be taking pot shots at Maggie, instead of just acts of petty vandalism.

You snivelling hypocritical bastard. If your son had your instincts, he’d be shooting at the Prime Minister, instead of just smashing windows.

Are you ready for that? How are you going to feel when you wake up one of these mornings and flip on the telly at Old Loose Court just in time to catch a news bulletin about the prime minister being shot through the gizzard in Piccadilly Circus … and then some B.B.C. hot rod comes up with exclusive picture of the dirty freak who did it, and he turns out to be your own son?

The piece was published in April, 1986, and was included in the volume of pieces from the great man’s journalism, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s. That first came out in 1988, and was republished by Picador in 2011. To my knowledge, the Tories signally failed to work themselves up into any lather about Thompson wondering how it is that Steadman’s son hasn’t assassinated Maggie, despite the fact that this took place at about the same time the PM’s life, as well as so many others, was threatened by Northern Irish paramilitaries. Possibly it’s because they knew humour and satire when they saw it, though that’s unlikely. More likely, they just hadn’t read it. I got the impression that the staple reading of the Tory classes, when it isn’t the Sun, is the Times and Telegraph, and the glossy magazines of the County set, like Sporting Gun, Shooting & Conservative, The Lady and Country Life. Bile-soaked pieces of radical journalism, filled with the blazing hate of the man, who invented gonzo journalism for the political classes, TV preachers and the depraved and debauched creatures prowling business and the dark undergrowth of modern society, probably wasn’t on their literary horizon. They probably didn’t notice. Either that, or they were afraid of Thompson. He was a life-long gun freak, like that other countercultural literary icon and drug fiend, William S. Burroughs. Holed up in the Rockies as he was, the Tories may have been afraid of Thompson as he had more firepower available for him than they did.

So as far as I know, they ignored Thompson’s piece on Steadman’s son and the possible shooting of the Leaderene. If they were aware of it, they probably realised it was all literary artifice and satire. Thompson probably did hate Thatcher, but he wasn’t recommending that anyone should shoot her. Not if Nixon had escaped, anyway. And they should similarly have recognised that it was all literary artifice and the craft of the novelist when Mantel too wrote her piece about the assassination of Maggie. But this was too much. By the time she wrote, they’d elevated her into a virtual saint, St. Maggie of Monetarism, the high priestess of the idolatrous cult of von Hayek and Milton Friedman. Mantel uttered blasphemy, which they just had to decry.

It shows the stupidity, emotionalism and sheer selectiveness of the Tory party when it comes to any assault on Thatcher and the squalid political values she stood for. Unable to understand literary fiction, they had to censor it instead. Just as they’re doing their level best to clamp down on ordinary free speech. Thompson, had he lived, could have had a field day with this new generation of Tory swine.