After the broadcast of Curtis’s 2007 film The Trap, which traced the influence of game theory – the idea that humans behaved as self-interested individuals – on contemporary economic thought, Prospect magazine’s Max Steuer argued that the series “greatly exaggerates the power of ideas, and at the same time almost wilfully misrepresents them”. Others made similar criticisms of All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace, which linked the anti-state philosophy of Ayn Rand with the “techno-utopians” who developed modern computing. At the very least, don’t his films encourage precisely that gloomy feeling – a sense that power is in the hands of an unaccountable elite – that so exercises him?
“Well, I am a creature of my time,” he concedes. We’ve found our way to a café in the shopping centre near Thamesmead, where we can chat at greater length. “What I’ve been trying to do is analyse why progressive ideas failed.
“Secondly, I’m interested in telling stories, because I like telling stories and I think ideas are important. I take particular influences of particular groups of people as a way of showing how that idea spread out. I never say this is where it all came from, this shadowy group of people. I’m telling you a story, like a novelist would, but as a factual story to try and bring it to life to you.”
I thought about the break-in, his absences, the dead sister, the fingerprinting . . . but what did it all add up to? Was he a victim of circumstance—or a serial killer? Was I his next target? I became obsessed with getting answers. Then I searched the most obvious place of all: Google. I typed in the name “Dino Smith,” and a couple of clicks later, there it was. His mug shot, on the America’s Most Wanted Website. He was a suspect in the biggest jewel heist in San Francisco history. I gaped at the screen in disbelief, then ran in circles, howling obscenities: “Fuck fuck fucking shit fuck fucker! Holy FUCK!”
The argument that says the UKIP represents a rebellion against the political elite seems true (aside from its public school-educated/banker/professional politician leader), but even that lends it a sophistication it barely deserves. UKIP is the road rage of a repressed parochialism; the collective panic attack of an introspective minority that has watched a succession of socially and economically liberal governments and their co-religionists in the media promote a world-view that seemed to leave these “outsiders” further and further in the margins.
The margins of culture, that is. Not the margins of the economy. One suspects many of UKIP’s leading figures are businessmen and women who have done rather well out of the post-Thatcher economic consensus. Conversely, UKIP supporters from poorer parts of society are not disadvantaged because of EU red tape, immigration or tolerance towards gays, but because they live in a low-skill, wildly free market economy that has been propagated by every government – to a greater or lesser extent – since 1979, creating an entrenched inequality that is worsening every year.
“Fools!” said West, his clenched fist striking the lectern before him. “We must prepare today’s youth for a world whose terrors are etched upon ancient clay tablets recounting the fever-dreams of the other gods—not fill their heads with such trivia as math and English. Our graduates need to know about those who lie beneath the earth, waiting until the stars align so they can return to their rightful place as our masters and wage war against the Elder Things and the shoggoths!”
The very thing that makes true crime compelling — this really happened — also makes it distasteful: the use of human agony for the purposes of entertainment. Of course, what is the novel if not a voyeuristic enterprise, an attempt to glimpse inside the minds and hearts of other people? But with fiction, no actual people are exploited in the making.
I love crime fiction, too, but lately I’ve come to appreciate true crime more, specifically for its lack of certain features that crime fiction nearly always supplies: solutions, explanations, answers. Even if the culprit isn’t always caught and brought to justice in a detective novel, we expect to find out whodunit, and that expectation had better be satisfied.
I have never felt so strongly the presence of two contrasting characters as when I interviewed Harris. For much of the interview he performed, just as he did in court – he sang, he laughed in that exaggerated way, he whispered in that exaggerated way, he drew me a miniature flick cartoon book. Then, when he wasn’t performing, he was miserable as sin.
Whereas Clifford and Savile never appeared to question their essential goodness as men and altruists, Harris hated himself. He talked about what a useless father he’d been – selfish, paying more attention to strangers than to his wife and daughter, chasing his own dreams and desires, ignoring those of his family. He had recently written an autobiography and it had forced him to reassess his life. “You start writing it by thinking what a great guy I am. I’ve done this, that and the other. Then you suddenly think it’s all been inward focussing, only me, me, me, me, me, me, me, and people who are really close …” I never began to suspect why he was so tortured. At the time he came across as a man with humility, in touch with his flaws. But in retrospect, I think even here he was indulging himself – only this time, it was his guilt rather than his libido
Nixon was president, Watergate was still a third-rate burglary, and Tom and I were left feeling anxious, paranoid, and bored. We were both admirers of Mailer—the tough little reefer smoker, contrarian wordsmith, libertarian politico, and no-nonsense ladies’ man—so the story about the Voyage Beyond Apollo stirred our interest.
“They’ve cleverly organized this thing on a ship, you dig, that way no one can crash it,” mused Forcade. He theorized that the cruise was just a cover for an elite conclave conspiring to jettison Earth once they’d totally ravaged it, and establish an exclusive colony for the rich and powerful in space. Everyone else would be left to fight over dwindling resources and perish in the terrestrial ruins. “Mailer is either in on the scam or they’ve suckered him into it. We have got to get on board that ship,” Tom said, “find out what these motherfuckers are up to, blow their cover, and rescue Mailer before it’s too late.”
Under the influence of a fresh shipment of Tom’s Columbian import, I thought it seemed like an entirely reasonable plan…
Space, once a place for governments and dreamers who would really just be civil servants, has become a playground for the hyper-affluent. […] We don’t have flying cars, but we have a billionaire who sells electric cars to millionaires. We don’t have space vacations, but we have another billionaire who will take you on a magic carpet ride for two-hundred large. Today, a kid who says “I want to be an astronaut” is really just saying “I want to be rich.” Isn’t that what everyone wants? All of today’s dreams are dreams of wealth.
The official mission of the final Space Shuttle, STS-135, reads more like a joke from The Office than a science fictional fantasy: “Space Shuttle Atlantis is carrying the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station.” Among its tasks: the delivery of a new tank for a urine recycling system, and the removal of a malfunctioning space sewage pump. If only I’d known in 1982 that astronaut and garbage collector would turn out to be such similar jobs.
Reactions ranged from incredulity to claims of “Without a doubt, this is the most significant discovery of the age.” and “A truly earth shattering discovery!” Naysayers left comments such as “Hmmm…no dimple on the chin. I call FALSE BOB! CAST HM OUT!”, “That is not ‘Bob’ — it’s a False Bob. Do not be fooled by cheap imitations”, “The shadows are ALL WRONG. The shadows from his nose and cheeks point downwards at a 45 degree angle to the left (DOWN AND TO THE LEFT, DOWN AND TO THE LEFT), but the shadow of his PIPE go down at a 45 degree angle to the RIGHT. It’s LEE HARVEY OSWALD all over again”, and “Note the strange roundness of the pipe.”
I am not afraid of clowns. But there’s something that happens when you walk into the forgettable bathroom of a hotel lobby and meet a fully made-up clown standing by the sink, reflection staring back at you with the Kubrickian blankness of a greasepaint grimace.
I almost wet my pants.
Media seminar fresh in my head, I choke the gasp in my throat and try to smile. While I am going for “warm and effusive,” I’m sure my face is more a pained amalgamation of terror. I can only hope that she thinks I’m trying to be polite. I’m sure she gets it all the time.
But. There are reasons people can find clowns to be so unsettling. That makeup: white face; huge, red mouth; drawn-on smile; eyebrows that kiss the hairline. “When it’s up close, it’s the visual equivalent of being screamed at,” explains Jaron Aviv Hollander, the co-founder and artistic director of the Kinetic Arts Center in Oakland. And it’s all the big top’s fault: When a clown is standing in one of three or more rings and playing to a huge crowd, the audience needs to be able to read familiar facial landmarks in order to get the bit.
Miliband said: “Barack Obama looks as though he would definitely have been part of my gang at school, The League of Zarjaz Earthlets.
“I may even detach the Space Spinner free gift from issue one for some light-hearted yet reverent fun.”
At the turn of the millennium, Miller and Varley were working on their long-awaited Dark Knight sequel. It was initially hatched as a romp, a reinjection of Day-Glo fun into what had become a relentlessly grim superhero landscape. They were about halfway through the series on September 11, 2001. By this time Miller had moved back to New York, and the assault on his home disturbed him deeply—which again quickly became apparent in his work. In the later issues, Batman decides to let an alien force destroy Metropolis and its citizens, Captain Marvel is killed, and Batman kills a genetically manipulated Robin by hurling him into a lava-filled chasm. “I think there was a PTSD effect,” Varley says of 9/11. “I think many people didn’t get over it, that it will continue to affect their lives forever. And I think Frank is one of those people.”