The Ruthless Id

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NOTE: This is part of a dialog between our VOXPOP editors John Steppling and Guy Zimmerman. For the complete discussion please visit VOXPOP, which, while focusing on the arts, theater, cinema and politics, is also part of Cyrano’s Journal. 

I THINK GUY THAT your points about Iron Man are right, and it’s worth taking note, again, of the Orientalism implicit in these projects. Simply by virtue of having a colonial occupation in Afghanistan presented in a completely de-contextualized way, one creates the knee-jerk reactions about Islam and terrorism that the FOX news channel likes to peddle. The mysterious east has always been presented in the west as timeless and mysterious –and the motives of its people indecipherable and shrouded in veils of ancient tribal rights the progressive west can’t (and doesn’t want to) fathom.

The terrorists in this film are ALL dirty and bearded and ruthless — and somehow made to seem sadistic even while being blowtorched by Bob Downey. The western soldiers are smiling and clean and friendly — and the deaths of the US soldiers is awash in genuine suffering and pain, while the death of the *terrorists* (sic) is simply there to demonstrate how cool Downey’s newest weapons are.

The world of Marvel comics and DC comics is a world of compensatory gratification for a powerless populace; its obvious fantasies are those of pimple-faced lumpen teens who would love to grab a cape each night (or a suit of iron) and go beat the shit out of someone ….and who better these days than those lousy A-rabs. This brings me, in a roundabout fashion, to the London mayoral election. Boris Johnson wins convincingly, over Ken Livingstone. What to make of this? Johnson is an Eton educated toff, a rich Torrie prick, and one of those self consciously rumpled ruling class assholes that England is so good at turning out. What was his appeal? Well, first, and maybe most importantly, he was a regular on the satirical news show Have I Got News for You, which made him a comfortable iconic figure for most Londoners. Even those council [projects] welfare underclass poor he was attacking seemed somehow to prefer his blond bloated image to that of Red Ken. That he often used openly racist language (picaninnie etc) seems not to have mattered. But this is also about the demise of New Labour.

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The world of Marvel comics and DC comics is a world of compensatory gratification for a powerless populace; its obvious fantasies are those of pimple-faced lumpen teens who would love to grab a cape each night (or a suit of iron) and go beat the shit out of someone…

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Now, what are the implications in all this …..in terms of the psychology of London voters? I think that it speaks most directly to the emptiness at the heart of electoral politics in the west … or at least in the major western countries (the US, England, Germany, and France). The meaningless theatre of these popularity contests cannot be clearer at this point. Boris Johnson is an asshole — a rich conceited prig, and in a sense he is a bit like George Bush; an empty mouthpiece with a genial smile and happy go lucky attitude. In the US the Obama/Hillary show staggers forward with appearences on FOX news. What the fuck? Interviews with Bill *lufa* O’Reilly? Ok, in a sense, this is a satirical news show, too. But why do it? The answer is because it matters not, because none of these candidates has anything to say. Because the Spectacle neutralizes real opposition and replaces it with kitsch faux opposition. Do you like waffles or pancakes? I like pancakes damnit, and I’m voting for pancakes. From Reagan to Arnold to Boris to Bush — from Blair to Berlusconi to Merkel to Sarko. Assholes top to bottom.


Boris Johnson, the ludicrous nonentity replacing “Red Ken” as London’s mayor. That such clowns could fill the top social positions in supposedly “modern” democracies like Britain, France or the US underscores the meaninglessness of bourgeois rituals, such as elections.

This brings me one final observation. The asshole quality of people like Sarkozy and Boris Johnson and Bush and Cheney is part of the unconscious self-loathing of the populace. It’s the outward projection of the increasingly putrid inner lives (what there is of them) of the people of western advanced capitalist societies. School shootings, addiction to useless anti depressants (and drugs and booze of all kinds) and to TV and video distraction is all part of the same fabric. Who better to represent a nation of alcoholics than Boris Johnson? It’s why I fear McCain will probably win the election next year. His snarky rictus of a smile, his near pyschotic glare and his rigid and robotic body movements all reflect the collective malaise of the nation. Scalia is a demonic psycho, so is Cheney, so is Boris, so is Condi and so is McCain and Clinton (both of them). These are all dark repugnant people bereft of compassion. They are the projections of our dark Id.

One last note; the Pope (the Panzer Pope) travels to South America. With my man Lugo now elected in Paraguay, coupled to Correa and Chavez and Morales, one expects a rough trip for the Pontiff — a man who once was the Vatican enforcer against Liberation Theology. Nobody in South America has forgotten Oscar Romero. Certainly Lugo hasn’t, since he’s a Catholic bishop himself. I ask people to look at Chavez, or Morales; or Lugo — and see if you can’t detect the spark of life in these men, men who are still human. There is no spark in Boris Johnson, nor in Bush. There is no spark in Scalia or Rupert Murdoch for that matter. The blank insect-like asexuality of Iron Man (etc) is the direction of the advanced west. Shiny, hard, and compassionless — self righteous and ruthless. I think also of Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood — somehow also capturing something of this new pathology. To vote for those who hate you, who want to take more from you, who openly insult you, is a sign of madness. And this is a culture of almost total madness.

—John Steppling

Senior Editor of Arts and Culture with Cyrano’s Journal Online, playwright, director, screenwriter and teacher, John Steppling was an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival and has had his plays produced in London, LA, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Teenage Wedding, Neck, Dog Mouth, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune and My Crummy Job. A collection of his work was published by Sun and Moon Press in 1999 (Sea of Cortez and Other Plays). He is a Rockefeller Fellow, multiple NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner. His last film credit was Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi 2000). Steppling lives in Lodz with Norwegian director Gunnhild Skrodal, and teaches at the Polish National Film School.

3 comments on “The Ruthless Id
  1. I’ve read Mr Stepling in his normal spot, Voxpop, and am delighted to see him here as well. This is surely one of his best!

  2. A ruthlessly accurate critique of our state of moral and cultural disintegration! Thank you for daring to print this.

  3. Perfidy has found its most deceptive wrapper in the likes of Boris Johnson and GW Bush–inane, almost laughable caricatures of true power who nonetheless are invested with REAL power! There’s a huge disconnect here and it is (I suspect) the work and result of our pitiful social consciousness…and the disease of infotainment that permeates a culture adrift.

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