This tweet image showed up in my Twitter feed today, with a comment by Bim Adewunmi, fairly remarking “no one cares, Slavoj”
We’ve all heard the opinions of people who don’t use Twitter about Twitter. For obvious reasons, they’re not terribly well informed, and tend to strongly resemble the opinions of Telegraph columnists who write about how they got slated on Twitter and what nonsense it is. (See also: blogs. You and I know what joy and larks they bring, but I’ve given up citing the things I’ve learnt and the people whose work I’ve got to know via blogs when faced with someone who will maintain in total certainty that no-one does anything on blogs aside from photographing their breakfast.)
So it wasn’t the dazzling originality of this opinion which struck me, nor indeed the singling out of an account which I used to follow but ended up finding a bit insufferable. It was something which didn’t strike me at first, and I’m afraid probably wouldn’t have struck me unless I had disagreed with the sentiment and wanted a reason to dismiss it. He compares a witty and incisive Tweeter to a murderer who believes all women are dangerous and loathsome. The originality of a social commentator’s ideas are compared to the famous images of a man stabbing a woman to death.
This should surprise me more than it does. Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the new Jack the Ripper museum which recently opened in London, a monument to the glamour of men who kill women, whose proprietor tried to defend it by suggesting it could help us discover how the victims “got themselves” in that “situation”. It had angered so many people because it was initially billed as a celebration of women’s history in the capital, only to reduce women, as feminist critics, pointed out, to a red smear on the merchandise:
The combination of these two made me think about an unpleasant element woven through our public culture: a lot of men think that men who kill women are cool. There’s not really much of a way round it. They might not spell it out so precisely. They might deny it if it was phrased like that. They might claim that Jack the Ripper is an important historical figure whose fascination comes from the fact that the crimes were never solved. They might point out that I used “incisive” as a perfectly neutral adjective in the paragraph above, and that a knife is the object with which one makes incisions, so imagining a cultural critic slashing things is a logical way of praising them. And the “things” just happen to be women in that image.
But these are pretty unconvincing justifications. A lot of murders went unsolved which never got beyond the “Notable British Trials” or “true crime” niches. A lot of men went around with top hats, overcoats and canes, but Jack the Ripper somehow gets drawn as a style icon silhouette. “Mack the Knife” details the crimes of another man who kills women, and becomes another icon of male chic. This isn’t about men whose achievements are admired whilst people carefully ignore their violence towards women (Lennon, Dr. Dre, Polanski, et al). There are plenty of those, and there are discussions to be had about art in a patriarchal society and the relationship between the artist and their work.
No, these are cases where violence towards women is the focus of attention. And that attention is admiration. It reminds me of a point made to me on Twitter about one of the mock-accounts for Henry VIII: strings of jokes about eating, sex, dancing, being fat, and then a few about killing your wife. As if that’s another cheeky genre of humour we can all relate to. It makes him edgy, gives his image a bit of shadow which Henry the Fifth and Richard Coeur de Lion lacked. He was dangerous to women. They ended up dead. It’s a character trait you can hang an icon around.
Individually, these might be explicable in their own particular terms. I’m not saying being fascinated by Henry VIII makes anyone a misogynist, or that liking Brecht’s murder ballad is a mark of moral depravity. I’m glancing at the broader outlines of a hate which is only visible when all the individual cases show up as connected. Something like the cultural equivalent of Karen Ingala Smith’s project to count the women killed by men, women whose deaths are reported as terrible individual aberrations, day after day after day. It surprised me to be totally unsurprised that when a famous philosopher wanted to praise a social commentator, he said: that guy’s so cool, he’s like a guy who slashes a woman to death.