Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’
I’m really terrible about following The Media and The Blogosphere. I couldn’t possibly tell you what this or that prominent expert thinks about anything at all. I’ve somehow avoided most of the US debt ceiling debate, and I regard this as a minor success: the very structure of that debate is toxic. Start getting emotionally engaged in it, and before you know it, you’re trapped in the Democrats/Republicans dichotomy, with no obvious way out.
So I really have a very vague idea what people are saying about Breivik. I think I’m pretty good at educated guesses, though, so here’s a few:
- A lot of people are probably using the word “tragedy” to mean “a bad thing that happened”. An interesting choice; tragedy, in the classical sense, is the story of a downfall of a great person, ordained by merciless fate (or “objective conditions”, if you’re feeling witty). Who is the great person in this scenario? The murdered people? Or is it Breivik? Or maybe Norway itself?
- Certainly there must be mentions of “loss of innocence”, as if Norway or Europe was an entity capable of possessing “innocence”. Whether you use the word to mean “lack of guilt” or “lack of experience of evil”, it’s nonsensical. But “loss of innocence” is also an euphemism for sexual initiation through violence, and in this light, the implications are horrifying. You have been now awakened, it says, to the truth of the world: there are rapists, and there are victims, and your place is forever among the latter. How odd that cultures that deny the very possibility of rape instinctually reach for the language of sexual violence to describe what they deem a massive, world-shattering atrocity. As long as it isn’t actual rape, at any rate.
- The “lone gunman” theme is hardly worth mentioning at this point. A “terrorist” cannot be a white European; despite his extensive links to right-wing political organizations worldwide and his thorough familiarity with reactionary thought, he must be acting alone, a madman, an aberration. What a triumph for Western self-made individualism. A “terrorist” is, of course, a Muslim and/or an Arab, and at a stretch, any other member of a marginalized ethnic group engaging in any sort of political activity, up to and including “living in a white supremacist culture”.
- I didn’t address this adequately last time: Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s speech in the wake of the attacks. I’m sure he’s received considerable praise for sticking up for an “open society”, but it has to be said: to state that it’s okay to be a virulent reactionary, as long as you don’t use violence in the pursuit of reaction, is at best a failure of analysis, and at worst an expression of utter hegemonic contempt (considering that violence against the weak is an inherent feature of the world that Breivik desires). One assumes we should rather be inviting our racist acquaintances for coffee and giving them pamphlets about Karl Popper and John Rawls. Of course they’ll be converted to liberalism/social democracy/compassionate conservatism once they see its benefits! As long as we operate within the confines of what we deem acceptable debate, and don’t make silly demands incompatible with how the world really works, such as free education for everyone, full sovereignty for Native Americans, or radical redistribution of wealth, everyone will get along splendidly.
- I’ll bet an arm and a leg that few people have been able to resist remarking on Breivik’s looks (the phrase I’ve heard is “Aryan supermodel”). This is far from meaningless, actually. “Looks” are, in the final account, a performance, and his performance of violent white masculinity was exemplary. (Personally, I find his weaponized fratboy/pick-up artist style rather repulsive.)
As for my own reading of Breivik, you already know what it is. In my eyes, he stands for Europe’s, and the entire West’s, failure to build a just society. Forget “extremism”; he indicts the sort of “moderation” that allows material and cultural conditions to fester to the point where Utøya becomes thinkable.
(Do be warned that this contains some violence out of nowhere, okay?)
Let me tell you, because you’re obviously just dying to know, about what a little asshole I was back in primary school.
It was the second half of the nineties, I must have been 11 or 12. After 1989, lots of foreign companies moved in to take advantage of the suddenly open markets of Central and Eastern Europe. I imagine it was quite an exciting time; the upper management were foreigners — many of them didn’t even speak Polish — but sufficiently ambitious and determined locals could rise quickly in the corporate hierarchy. My dad was pretty determined. A few years earlier he’d been a car mechanic, and after that a part-time English teacher. He did some petty smuggling too; cigarettes to Germany or Austria, as I recall. My mom sewed a bunch of Marlboro packs into his winter coat. It must have at least been enough to pay for the round trip, and I’m pretty sure they bought their first VCR soon after that.
Then he got a job as a low-level sales rep in a major tobacco company — I wonder if he ever paused to appreciate the coincidence — and all of a sudden he was Something or Other Manager and being offered a promotion to Something Else Manager. The latter, however, required his constant presence in the headquarters in Warsaw. So we moved. It was already a month or two into the school year, and the local public school was packed beyond capacity, so I ended up getting sent to a private one. We could afford it.
You know how you probably imagine private schools as being full of spoiled, overprivileged kids? You know, that stereotype you have that you realize can’t be completely true?
It was completely true.
Well, not all of them. But the spoiled rich ones more than made up for the sorta-average, friendly ones. The principal’s daughter was in my class, too — she probably wasn’t as completely horrible as I thought at the time, but she and her friends were damn near sacred, and made sure everyone knew it.
And even the sorta-average kids were doing all these things after school, like taking art classes or martial arts classes or riding horses. I’d only ever played football with the other kids from the block; sometimes I came over to their places, or invited them over, and we’d play some videogames on my 386 PC or their Amigas. The kids in Warsaw had Playstations.
So I was the new kid. I wore thick glasses; I quickly found out they were “mustard jar bottoms”. I didn’t have cool clothes. I’d never seen a shopping mall before. I’d never been on a vacation to Israel or the French Riviera. And I was fat, and not athletic at all, and really into Terry Pratchett.
You can probably imagine how it went down. After a few days of getting used to me, the others started giving me crap. Back at my old school, kids would taunt and insult each other all the time, sure, but… well, there were rules. Name-calling was fine, and a good enough riposte scored you some coolness points, but any sort of “your mom”/”your dad” quip was implicitly understood to be the gravest of dishonours. It was not used lightly, and when used, had to be avenged there and then.
I’m not sure if it was a class thing, or a regional thing, or what. But you just didn’t talk shit about someone’s parents.
So naturally, when one of the bratty alpha males of the class said something about my dad being a fag, I lunged at him. He was honestly more shocked than anything, which was probably how I avoided getting my ass handed to me. He just dodged and stared in disbelief. “What are you, some kinda psycho?”, he asked, laughing nervously.
Apparently the rules didn’t apply here.
I suppose it was bullying: hiding my backpack, having jolly chuckles at my expense, some shoving and tripping, that sort of thing. Kids are dicks all the time, but I don’t think I’d ever had anything like a coordinated campaign of dickery directed at me before. I didn’t know what to do.
And… you know how there’s always this one kid, hanging out with the bullies, trying to impress or amuse them so they don’t turn on him? Yeah, there was one in that class too. His name was Łukasz, I think. Kinda scrawny. Cute face. Didn’t look his age.
Two or three weeks in, we were sitting somewhere, before or after class, I’m not sure. He was behind me. Suddenly I feel this sharp pain in my back; I turn around and Łukasz is there, holding his pair of compasses, smiling his nine-year-old smile, glancing at the two worst assholes in the class for approval.
He just seemed so happy about it.
So I stand up and I sock him straight on the nose. He doesn’t dodge; he just clutches his face and whimpers. I notice a trickle of blood.
He never bothered me again, and the bullying let up after that. For the longest time I thought I must have broken his nose, but that’s not very likely. Probably just burst a blood vessel. But do you want to know the really bad part?
Every now and then after that, I’d make fun of Łukasz, or say something unjustifiably cruel about him, when I was sure the others were listening, just to reinforce the message. I’d figured out, instinctively, how the whole thing worked. There was a hierarchy, and I was making damn sure there was someone below me.
I never apologized to him properly, and I lost contact with all of the kids in that class when we moved again. It still bothers me. I didn’t become one of the bullies, and I didn’t torment him on a daily basis or anything, but I might as well have. I was a little asshole when I should have known better.
I recognized that whimper, after all. That time when I spilled tea on my keyboard, and my dad came over from the other room, and noticed it, and hit me on the face, I’d made the same one.