Monthly Archives: July 2010
Well, halfway through July and things are looking peachy at Floppybootstomp Villas. Spain have won the World Cup thanks to an octopus, Paul Gascoigne made an attempt to be the next Cracker by talking a murderous psycho into giving himself up (the police didn’t let him. Spoilsports) and BP have stopped pumping crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. For a day or two at least.
Personally the highlights of the past couple of months include:
** Publication of a short story in the veteran E-zine Aphelion. An early story featuring Malcolm Brook, the beer-swilling, part-inventor of teleportation. I’m glad the story, ‘Grandfather’s Axe’ has found a good home.
** My first ever stint as a judge on a literary competition. Can’t say much about it as the results are yet to be published, but it was an eye-opening experience into the world of editors and the like.
** The spectacular launch of The Speculator. Placed in the position of editor, with the sterling help of Jay Eales and the other Speculators, we put together a 12 page newspaper in less than 14 days. An awesome achievement, especially as the paper was distributed free at the Alt.Fiction conference to all the attendees. It’s put The Speculators on the map in terms of SF writer’s groups. Are we the top dogs in the East Midlands? Hell, yeah!
** Look out for conference overload in the following months. Novacon, FantasyCon, NorCon, Asylum and Literary Leicester are all looming. I hope to get to a few of these at least.
** Tory ‘Shock and Awe’ tactics are in full swing. Jeremy Hunt, new minister for the DCMS has announced 50% budget cuts from this year. I imagine the lights will start going out all over the cultural/literary scene very soon. We are already losing Leicester’s Central Library, organisations like Writing East Midlands must be bracing themselves for massive cuts and possible closure, educational provision that isn’t ring-fenced will also be slashed. Horrid times ahead for the writer’s ecosystem.
** Starbase Leicester will be launching the 2nd print issue of ‘Avatar’ in October. Issue 1 was a fantastic publication, I hope the next issue lives up to the first (I’ll have a story in it, I think!). Go Starbase!
** CarrotNapper news: Keith Large took his trio of plays Laughs From Leicestershire to the Buxton Fringe Festival, London and the main ADC theatre in Cambridge. All this is a prelude to the main event; A Week-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe. The cast now includes seasoned TV actor Jeff Stewart (Reg Hollis in The Bill), who I’m tipping as the next Dr Who after the bland, charmless Matt Smith pisses off to Hollywood to make bland, charmless movies with Ben Affleck and Adam Sandler. Don’t come back.
** Writing School Leicester is revamping its curriculum. Saturday Manuscript Writer’s Clinics are set to go and be replaced. I met a great many good writers at these events and I’m sorry to see them go. Hope that Val Moore and the gang can keep up the high standard of their courses (particularly in such a difficult economic climate).
** Two events for October: Get Leicester Reading week; a great effort to raise awareness o literacy issues and just how much help is out there. All splendidly run by Damien G Walter. He also organizes Save Our ‘Zines Day which encourages people to buy/subscribe to at least 1 new publication on the day. Something that is desperately needed by all small press/amateur publications.
** Just found out there is another Floppybootstomp website and it’s just been stopped. It was far more popular than mine (hardly surprising) and featured rock music and girls with no clothes on — not a bad idea come to think of it! Sadly, since the site’s demise, a number of the readers of the original site have been directed here instead. Sorry guys. I feel dirty for stacking up all the ‘hits’ that should by rights be going to someone else. No hard feelings, right?
And that’s the news…
Dracula, the novel that catapulted Bram Stoker into the realm of the immortals, is a spiteful, racist political hatchet-job on one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers; Benjamin Disraeli. Now there’s a claim and a half! Read on and you might even half-believe it.
Stoker’s relationship with Benjamin Disraeli’s politics is, to be fair, a mixed bag (he voices support for BD’s policy on the Berlin Treaty of 1878, both in the Dracula novel itself and in family correspondence), it is, however, his antipathy to Tory politics and the anti-semitic character of his spiritual dalliances that are the most fundamental influence on him. And on his famous literary creature.
Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) was a fop. A typical 19th Century Dublin gentrified intellectual. His greatest claim to fame, prior to writing Dracula, is that he married Florence Balcome, Oscar Wilde’s chief fag-hag. He also flirted with all manner of occultist nonsense, a weakness common to a number of progressive, Irish landowner’s sons. This ranged from the mild interest in Ouija boards and Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy, popular in most fashionable drawing-rooms, to the extreme cases (of which Stoker was rumoured to be among), who followed more radical forms. Among these is the ultimate chinless wonder’s attempt at occult wisdom; Aleister Crowley’s Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Such obscurantism was a common foible of the Irish upper classes who found their own people’s Catholicism as not only repressive and arbitrary, but also incredibly uncouth. Occultism was cleverer than Catholicism because it used all kind of symbols, chants and pentagrams that run-of-the-mill Catholics couldn’t fathom. This was a Good Thing. Particularly for members of the elite, like Stoker, as it gave them even more reason to look down upon the plebs.
A bizarre common cause emerged between the occult and the ideals of Liberalism. A disdain for traditional forms of religion was a key feature both of the liberal mindset, with its scientific, rationalist credentials and of the new Spiritualist/Occultist movements. That these two creeds are almost wholly incompatible was glossed over in the pursuit of common enemies. This seems to have been the case for Bram Stoker, the liberal occultist.
Liberalism was, according to his biographers, a consuming interest throughout Stoker’s life. And 19th Century Liberals had one particular enemy in their sights: Conservatism. This was true particularly in national politics where both camps held very different attitude to the ‘problem’ of Irish governance.
In this instance it can be argued that old Bram was swayed by a legitimate national interest. The Liberals, under the indomitable leadership of William Ewart Gladstone, were the champions of Irish Home Rule. A cause that Stoker passionately believed in. Gladstone’s main opponent in the national debate (on Ireland and many other issues) was Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was everything Gladstone was not: tall, swarthy, good looking, dapper, effortlessly charming and to cap it all, born a Jew of uncertain European extraction. He was also Queen Victoria’s favourite. Disraeli, as the press cartoons of the time indicate, became a popular hate-figure for Liberals. In their defence, it was not they who cast the first stone.
Disraeli’s political career, like Geoffrey Archer’s a century later, combined politics and literature with a great deal of success. Disraeli was, however, a diehard polemicist (unlike Archer). From his first novel, Vivian Gray (a thinly-veiled attack on a Tory corruption scandal), he used books to go after his political enemies. None of his contemporaries would read a Disraeli novel without expecting to find an attack on rivals within the Conservative party or, more likely, their Liberal opponents. Is it possible that Bram Stoker turned the tables on Disraeli, hoisting him on his own petard?
So let us examine the evidence present in Dracula, that classic of Gothic literature. Stoker takes a medieval bogey-man popular in previous centuries (Vampire novels by Polidari, Prost, Maupassant, Le Fanu are obvious antecedents) and turns him into… well. Some people claim that Henry Irving is the model. I am not so sure. Could it be Queen Vic’s favourite, old Disraeli himself?
Here we have a monstruous villain who is tall, swarthy, good looking, dapper, effortlessly charming and of uncertain European extraction. So far so good in terms of an Anti-Disraeli polemic (It was first published 7 years after Disraeli’s death, but was probably written, at least in part during his lifetime). These physical similarities are intriguing, but not in themselves convincing. Other elements, however, add weight to my thesis.
If you look at the fanged Count through the optic of 19th century antisemitism, the novel becomes considerably more disturbing. For starters, Count Dracula is repelled by Christian symbols. The common belief that Jews are anti-Christian is a common thread through the hate literature of the time (and, sadly, the present). This is buttressed in a rather disturbing fashion by Dracula’s dietary requirements: Blood. The use of blood in antisemitic propaganda has a long and distinguished tradition. It is often Christian blood that is the object of (supposed) desire and contention. In The Merchant of Venice, for instance, Shylock is foiled by Shakespeare when the court denies him this particular fluid. The blood libel, which is entirely germane in this case, accused Jews of killing Christian babies to use their blood to bake their bread. Many medieval anti-Jewish riots and pogroms were fuelled by these pernicious myths. Dracula merely introduces a new twist to this ancient race-hate; the pointy fang.
Another aspect of the antisemitic undertone in Bram Stoker’s novel is the issue of wealth and class. Dracula lives in a castle and oppresses the poor of Transylvania through his tyrannical rule. He plays with the prejudice that all Jewish wealth and power is obtained through illegitimate means. This is a pop by Stoker, an old-money landed gent, at a parvenu Disraeli –whose family made their fortune through the dastardly method of trade. Dracula’s character is created from a coded ‘Jewishness’ based upon common prejudice. (Blood drinking, oppression of the poor, usury, foreignness).
So there you have it. Another stick to beat the sparkly vampire fans with: Modern vampires are the product a racist, distorted caricature of a dead politician. Paradoxically, Stoker sets out to destroy an old political enemy and brings him new life from beyond the grave (in monster form). Dracula’s main message could be this: that Disraeli and his Tory ilk must never rise again to terrorize the land.
Far fetched? Maybe. But the idea of Tories as evil fiends is a good one. We should grab a pitchfork and a stake, my friends, get ourselves down to David Cameron’s and kill some monsters!.
More info on the subject can be found at:
El Santo Vs Tetona Mendoza (Jis & Trino)
Mexico has always played its part in the underground comic’s scene and its own indigenous comic book culture (inventors, so they say, of the photo-novel). Free from the neanderthal Comics Code Authority (but not their own Education Ministry) they carved their own particular furrow under the radar of the Anglo industry (Sergio Aragonés being the honourable exception).
Fast forward to the 1980s, a decade where the Mexican Comic-book industry is in meltdown and the press is being assailed by economic crises. One newspaper, the left-leaning La Jornada decides to take on this situation; advertising revenue falling, rapidly declining readership, particularly among young people, a stagnant, old-fashioned newspaper industry. They decideto take a gamble. At a stroke La Jornada killed off the traditional Sunday ‘funny pages’, up to now filled with syndicated cartoons from abroad. Gone were the twee, badly translated US strips (Hagar the Horrible, The Wizard of Id, Peanuts, Blondie, Garfield). In their place arose Histerietas: a 6-page weekly showcase for rude, noxious, prurient Mexican underground comix.
It is hard to imagine now the influence that this weekly supplement had. The strips chosen were dripping with attitude, swearing, blasphemy, sex and disrespect for authority. In a society with very traditional norms of behaviour (particularly in the press), it revolutionized attitudes and (as the editors hoped) sold by the bucket load. Santos ran to three best-selling anthologies, lasted for over a decade and was even mooted as a major animation series.
The star turn in the Histerietas stable, was an experimental narrative cooked up by two cartoonists from Guadalajara; Jose Ignacio Solorzano (Jis) and Jose Trinidad Camacho (Trino). Their page-long strip El Santos Vs Tetona Mendoza soon acquired a cult following. At the heart of the strip is the protagonist/hero, Santos; a disrespectful parody of the famous (in Mexico) 1960s wrestler, El Santo. From the outset, this appropriation of a popular icon and its transformation into a comedic character laid down a marker. A line in the sand for a new generation ready to overthrow previous sacred cows. Either that or they found something really funny about the overblown, macho superhero of previous generations. The new Santos by contrast, is a whining childish figure who is totally besotted by the female wrestler, Tetona Mendoza (tit-woman Mendoza).
The structure of the strip is particularly interesting. The (full) page is usually divided into two sections. The first is given over to a formulaic narrative that begins with a stock phrase: “One day Santos was…”. Whatever Santos is doing (playing with his Barbie dolls, trying to develop telepathy or writing his memoirs), he is interrupted by El Cabo (a police constable) who brings a problem to his attention. Santos and Cabo then set out to solve the problem. And fail. Each of the artists, Jis or Trino, may write the strip up to a certain point, leaving the other to develop the storyline from where the other left off, usually in a totally different direction. This rather chaotic element to the story structure is reinforced in the second half of the strip.
The second half of Santos is devoted to a number of one-off single-panel gags dealing (tangentially in some cases) with the subjects tackled in the first half of the strip. These are also written alternatively by Jis and Trino. The last of these is always the Epilogue, which tries to bring the whole narrative together. The strip also boasts a huge cast of characters (Peyote the assassin, Godzilla, the devil Zepeda, the Gutierrez piglets, Red Riding Hood, the Sahuayo zombies, Susi San Ramon, Lupe the Siren… I could go on).
I love this strip (and have immortalized it in academia -vol 25,2006), because it did what the best of underground culture does. It gave a voice to youth who were struggling in a world with few opportunities. It gave them something to call their own within a media landscape that did little but alienate and repel them (if you’ve ever watched Mexican TV you’ll know what I mean). It is also incredibly funny, fresh and original in its execution and style. It might not be the greatest artwork in the world, you might not be able to understand a word of the layered, dense Mexican vernacular, but it lightened the load for a generation of Mexicans. Pure joy wrapped in printer’s ink.