But which is Perseus?
Back in my university days near Brighton, there was a famous Bonfire Night celebration nearby in the pretty town of Lewes. There were guild marches, beautiful old hostels, and a famous fire on the beach where a huge guy would be burnt. It was always an enormous caricature of whoever was the most infamous hate figure of the day. I remember the Pope being incinerated one year - there is a strong anti-Popery theme to the UK's most famous bonfire - and Margaret Thatcher another.
The grocer’s daughter from Grantham, in fact, was probably executed in effigy on the streets of England more than any other politician. She seemed to draw a particular hatred from the Left, and Leftist hatred is what we are gathered here to discuss. Many little Thatchers were carried wearing nooses on the streets of London during various riots, which is what the Left make of demonstrations when they are bored and well-off and they have had enough of video games. Morrissey – in trouble recently for breaking Liberal protocols with his comments on terrorism – even had a song called Margaret on the Guillotine. Hopefully my mother, another Margaret, didn’t get to hear that ditty.
There were many satirical political outlets during my middle adulthood. Spitting Image, the famous puppet programme satirizing celebrities, politicians and so on, was one of the most popular weekend shows at one time. It was very funny, although would be severely curtailed now because some of the people it poked fun at were black, or gay, or women, or some other identity now a protected species in an ideological safari park. What always interested me was the allowable targets for this type of satire. The song I’ve Never Met a Nice South African, for example, was one of the most popular satirical songs ever on the show. Of course, it was only white South Africans who were the butt of the joke. Now, of course, those white South Africans who haven’t been either driven out of their country or murdered in it, have met a lot of South Africans who weren’t nice. The problem is, they were all black.
The political cartoon also took a rather vicious turn during the presidency of George W. Bush, who was regularly portrayed as a chimpanzee by Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, and it was clear that portraying the US President as a monkey was fine and funny. When Obama took over the White House, this practice ceased. I’ve always been amused by the white fear, on behalf of blacks, of the portrayal of blacks as monkeys. They always seem a little too frightened of the connection. But I digress.
I don’t think anyone has really seen viral political satire on the punchy visual level of Kathy Griffin’s picture and video shown at the head of this piece. Some gormless rapper – why is every second black man under 50 a rapper now? – produced a video a few weeks ago in which he killed a clown who was made up to look like Trump, and there was the usual minor furore from the Right. Social media is for the bored, more than anyone else. But Griffin’s image is interesting – something rap very rarely is, except as a cultural phenomenon perfectly suited to the decline of the West – in a rather different way.
I briefly crossed swords with semiotics while studying philosophy at the aforementioned university (Sussex). From the Ancient Greek Semeion, which had technical dramatic meanings before migrating from Greece meaning ‘sign’, the key text I got hold of was Roland Barthes’s Elements of Semiology. Now, this not the place to enter a ghost train containing Saussure, Derrida and many other trickster gods. But Barthes wrote about how signs worked in everyday culture, and this implies a meta-level, or what the meaning of a sign means at another level. An obvious example is when a politician is photographed with lots of black and Muslim children surrounding them. This photograph says baldly that the subject of the photograph is in favour of multiculturalism, and by extension that all her colleagues are too. Tony Blair was once photographed in front of a stained-glass window, surrounded by angelic, multicultural children. Signs again, signs and wonders.
What are the semiotics of Griffin’s head? Classically, we think of Perseus with the head of the Gorgon.
Later, the woman holding a man’s severed head has a Biblical lineage and a concomitant artistic tradition. A fine example by a favourite artist of mine is Klimt’s extraordinary Judith and Holofornes.
She always looks to me in that picture – and the model was Klimt’s mistress Adele Bloch-Bauer – as though she has a mouthful of come. Again, I digress,
With Griffin hoisting Trump’s head, however, the semiotics are easier to read.
As many online commentators have pointed out, Griffin’s gesture, stance and, of course, gruesome offering resemble nothing more than the murderous desert jackals of ISIS, as extremist Islam is known during its current re-branding. It has become boringly, desensitisingly routine to see some bearded halfwit dangling heads in his hand like the British Chancellor of the Exchequer holding up his famous case containing the budget. What is happening here?
Nick Cohen wrote in What’s Left? that there was a forming alliance between the Left and radical Islam. Now we see north American ‘comedians’ using their most murderous semiology, we see this alliance working its way through to the realm of the spectacle, and the spectacle is what has replaced thought for the Western Left.
The Left is evolving, and not in an attractive direction. It is increasingly obvious that one of the core reasons groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter want open-door immigration is that it lets in more Muslims, and more Muslims means more jihadis.
And this is what the Left want. Anything to hack away at the hamstring of the white man, and to hell with the consequences. So when this woman holds up Trump’s severed head, even in effigy, she is saying what the Left are all saying. We want this, and we want it for every white man. And the best decapitators in the world are coming out of ISIS. Come and help please. We run things here, and we are recruiting.
I have toyed with a psychopathology of the political Left. Of course there is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Cognitive Dissonance, Dunning-Kruger effect (although this is not – yet – in DSM) – and a carnival of minor neuroses, psychoses and nervous tics translated into moral edicts. The problem with this exercise is that you always end up suspecting that an amateur psychoanalysis of the political Left will reduce to a condition which is only of interest because we have all been through it, and there is no known immunisation; childhood.
The Left are children. Look at the media and political and celebrity reaction to Trump. There is nothing there which can seriously be called an adult reaction. Look at any photographic sequence of a Leftist event – they are hardly in short supply – and you will see that they even dress like children. Look at universities, with their safe spaces, colouring books, Play-Doh. Look at the quality of their argument on social media, reducing as it does to you’re horrid!
But the Left are growing up. Unfortunately, they are merely passing from one phase of childhood to another. The phases can be amusingly represented by two fictional children. Violet Elizabeth was the precocious little girl beloved of the eponymous schoolboy in Richmal Crompton’s Just William series of books, first published in the UK in 1922. Her catchphrase, when she did not get her own way, was “I’ll scweam and scweam and make mythelf thick!” But that was the old Left. Now, they have got a little older and become another child. Unfortunately for many people yet to die as a result, that child is again eponymous, this time from Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. One of Kevin’s more memorable asides is when his parents are informing him that a trick he played on his little sister has cost her an eye. What effect does Kevin think that will have on her, ask his parents pleadingly.
“She’ll just,” he answers in a bored tone, “have to suck it up.”