Editor's letter

Text by Masoud Golsorkhi

Tankaut 15_9Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam’in Oglu (2006), literally, the son of the man who saved the world – a Turkish pastiche, or homage, or copy, or version of Star Wars

Thanks to the accidentally hilarious Straight Outta Compton (2015), the hip hop pioneers who told us back in 1988 to “keep things real” can be laughed at this autumn. But the invitation to a more authentic everything has never ceased, despite being let down by successive generations of angry young men turned grumpy middle aged, reactionary gits.

In this issue we try to show that this merry go round of Compton credibility cashed in for the comfort of a house in the Hamptons is something of a sideshow. So what if a newly minted black music mogul looks stupid when he occasionally drops in on his old pals in the ghetto, thinking that he is keeping it real? Let the poor man live his dream. Let the rich man live with his own experience of ennui and existential angst. He deserves it just as much as the fat and randy French intellectual from the Sorbonne who lathers his misanthropy in class war rhetoric and camouflages his caveman machismo with Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Back in 2008, when we interviewed the already famous Bryanboy he told us that he had no plans for world domination. “It won’t get you laid, won’t get you free clothes so I don’t see the point”, as he put it. It was an endearing and refreshing sentiment in a young gun so obviously en route to world domination. Needless to say most who start off with an ambition to dominate the world are so deeply hopeless at it that they barely manage to get a decent contract with their first management. Bryanboy, who plots his relationship with reality on page 170, is managing to live a fantasy life without the usual loss of self-realisation.

A comparative analysis of cowboy movies from the 1920s to the 1980s shows how successive generations have attempted an ever more real depiction of the cowboy compared to their predecessors. Each generation of make-believe cowboys would look at the previous generation with a wry and mocking smile – “You call that a real cowboy?” – and attempt to achieve a more perfect verisimilitude.

In the 1920s and 1930s pristine white or black outfits on familiar smoothly shaven stars, amply endowed with eye makeup, were believable depictions. In the grittier 1940s and 1950s the cowboys got more real by looking rougher and more menacing; better researched wardrobes and improvements in lighting, film and camera kit meant that the make-up could be applied with more delicacy. In the disillusioned 1960s and 1970s they got long beards (somebody had pointed out that the frequent visits to the barber might be a tad impractical in the Wild West), and the angry and alienated 1980s and 1990s dialled up the graphic depiction of violence. Each time the realness was thought to be ratcheted up but in truth, the best these films managed to achieve was holding a mirror to their own age, to document the culture of their own time.

The Cowboy is exchangeable with Gangster and Spaceman alike. I would like to imagine a parallel dimension where all the “real” cowboys get together with their representations from various decades and perform a game of charades, or spot the decade, for an audience of gangsters and space aliens. The point is surely that when Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne and Samuel L. Jackson point their guns at you in the dark auditorium, you lean back with fright.

The truly terrifying today, of course, presents itself online – in the form of the viral video. The gentlemen of the group generally known as the Islamic State have the BBC and other international news media in an eternal semantic spasm as to what they should be called. Following the distinguished historian Faisal Devji’s analysis of their media output (page 116), one is tempted to call them Vice-IS, in tribute to their penchant for a certain type of gonzo filmmaking. Although at the behest of our lawyers I would like to add that it’s really the only thing they have in common.

At root Realism is a form of representational tyranny. Mr Hitler and Uncle Joe both favoured realism in their art. They didn’t know much about art but they really knew what they liked. In fact to misquote another Nazi, when I hear an artist claiming credibility through making their work more “real”, I reach for my gun, only to realise I don’t have one. Art, literature, and even fashion, endlessly cycle from unreality – abstraction and distortion – to realism. The prominence of one is usually a sign that the other will soon be on the rise. The search for truth, relevance and connection with an audience is something aside and comes in many guises.

A few months ago I turned from a lifelong sceptic to a die-hard fan of the British novelist Will Self when, in explanation for not falling in with the prevailing Charlie Hebdo-ism, he said (quoting Finley Peter Dunne, the American humourist and writer) of journalism that its role was to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. So we ask ourselves, what is the intention of the art or the artist and what is the effect it has in the real world when it comes to affliction and comfort – who is aiding and abetting who? Was truth transmitted? I ask the question with trepidation. She only ever wears a crown of thorns. If it’s uncomfortable the chances are that it contains some truth.

It matters to be relevant and to be relevant, we must try to be believable at the time of going to press. To be truthful is much too high an ambition, best left to the gods and Tolstoy. §

  • Editor's Letter