Sunday, August 22, 2021

Why Andrew Is Never Going To Write About Politics Ever Again (*)

I wish I could say I did it deliberately.

I wish I could say that in the context of a series of articles about Cancellation and Stuff You Can’t Say I deliberately wrote something a bit provocative, so that I could turn round an say “A-ha, you see, there you are, there really ARE things you can’t say.”

Or, more interestingly: “Actually, there is nothing you can’t say. I put some real hot-button stuff in my last essay and no-one batted an eye-lid”.

But I didn’t do it deliberately.

I mean, calling Richard Dawkins a cunt and generally swearing more than I usually do: yes, absolutely. I was using all the bad words I knew because I was writing about Stuff You Can’t Say. But the awful terrible no good bad footnote wasn’t like that. Not consciously, anyway. I have read enough Freud to know what a parapraxis is.

It was if anything more like that piece I wrote on Life of Brian in the middle of Mark’s Gospel. Midway through an essay about an essay about a nasty person saying nasty things about a particular subject that I have always avoided talking about, I thought “Oh, it is daft that I have always avoided saying what I honestly think about this particular subject” and wrote down very very quickly what I honestly thought.

Felt. What I honestly felt.

I suppose if anything I was making a joke against myself. "I’m very naive and out of the loop", I was saying. "I am old enough to not get this stuff but still young enough to think I ought to get it."

Who was it who said that as long as you think young people’s music is rubbish, you are still young: you only become old when you start to pretend not to understand it?

I used to be vaguely aware which teams were playing in the F.A Cup Final and the title of England’s song in Eurovision, even though I care less than nothing about either subject. Both events now pass by without my knowing that they are happening. I don’t even pretend that I know.

I hate what Chibnall has done with Doctor Who, but I know what he is doing and care enough to hate it. I dread the day when I will say “Oh, has there been a new series of Doctor Who? I used to watch that.” I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat realising that there are Tom Baker audios that I have not listened to.

And I am not even joking.

Or perhaps I am.

My feelings about the particular subject we don’t talk about are genuinely as confused and immature as I portrayed them as being. That’s why the language was deliberately childish. It is literally true that, at some level, some aspects of me have never progressed beyond junior school.

It is also literally true that in my head I always pronounce “Titans” to rhyme with “Mittens” and think that if a book is boring, it contains long “ers”. There is no point in writing and telling me that this is not right. I know this is not right. That’s why it is interesting and amusing.

I only know how to write in two modes: textual criticism and autobiography. I have never worked out how to write about things which never happened to people who never existed. I believe in Neil Gaiman and the power of stories and I remember when I used to believe in Joseph Campbell and the one story which is every story and I designed a quite good card game about stories (“with others”) and wasted a very large amount of my life using funny dice and little models to make up stories about dragons with my friends. Perhaps I spaffed my lifetime’s allocation of stories playing Pendragon at college. Perhaps I should have embraced it more deeply. Perhaps I should have become a pagan like Greg Stafford or a magician like Alan Moore. 

Robyn Williamson of the Incredible String Band has been known to say “Ach, I’m too Christian for the pagans and too pagan for the Christians”.

One thing makes me think of something else. It’s the only way of writing I know.

“Do you like scones, Andrew?”

“I remember my Aunty Molly called them splits and served them with clotted cream instead of butter. She had a caravan at the end of her drive. We used to go there once a year. It was Cornwall, where King Arthur was born. My Mum wasn’t one for baking, but she bought tiny little current scones from the co-op sometimes. There is a strain of Sweet Pea named after my Aunty Molly.”

I used to search for happiness, I used to follow pleasure: but I found a door behind my mind and that’s the greatest treasure.

I sometimes have a notion of trying to write Harvey Pekar style autobiographical comic strips. I cannot draw but the internet makes montage and paste up and photostrips relatively easy. The one time I tried autobiographical fiction everyone was intensely embarrassed by it: but that was 30 years ago in Coventry, and besides, the cat is dead.

I will probably write more about children’s TV. I write about Doctor Who, of course: last year I found things to be said about Deadly Assassin and Talons of Weng Chiang which had never been said before. I don’t think anyone noticed. I would like to analyse Tom Baker’s fourth and fifth seasons, of course. But the world and his mother in law is already writing about Doctor Who and my remarks about Horror of Fang Rock would hardly be heard above the cacophony. There is a heck of a lot of other children’s TV on BritBox: Grange Hill and Supercar and Mr Benn. Catweazle is awfully good. It’s hardly the kind of thing which would sustain the sort of extreme textual analysis I subject Spider-Man and the Bible to; but I could see a way of writing an autobiographical critical psychodrama.

The Tomorrow People: Season 2, Episode 4:
The one in which our heroes are dressed up in baby-clothes and forced to fight in an arena by an insane Robot disguised as Caligula. I was nine when it first came out, and in Miss Griffiths; class. I remember what Miss Griffiths told us about Caligula....

But that sort of thing involves free writing; turning off the internal censor and saying what is in my head. Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct. Once I start to talk about the 1970s all sorts of other things are going to come tumbling out: Harold Wilson and Jimmy Savile and Our Vicar and Miss Beale and the Miner’s Strike and when I first realised Daddy was sick and what it is like to be systematically bullied for six years and Enoch Powell and the generation gap and football hooliganism and Punk and the Jubilee and C.N.D and South Africa and Mr Burnham's sex-ed lesson...and if I switch off my targeting computer and act on instinct I may find myself saying what I really think.

Feel. What I really feel.

“If people would only be frank and say what they really think!

“Lord forbid!”

“But why?”

“What they think they ought to think is bad enough, Lord knows; but what they really think would break up the whole show. Do you suppose it would be really agreeable if I were to come out now with what I really think?”

“Is it so very cynical?”

“Cynical! Who the dickens said it was cynical? I mean it wouldn’t be decent”.


"Oh come on. You positively enjoy standing on the metaphorical stage and metaphorically taking your metaphorical clothes off. That’s where this all started from."

I wonder if I will get letters telling me that this is the biggest load of self indulgent garbage they have ever read, or ones saying that this personal prose-poetry is my forte and I should expand it into a novel.

"Oh look, Andrew is having one of his bi-annual blog crises: he’ll be back to writing about continuity errors in 1970s Marvel before you know it."

I mean for goodness sake one person said they found one footnote slightly hurtful...

There is a scene in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man where he they, the author, admits that he  they were almost broken to pieces by the death of his their pet cat, but that there was always a part of him them thinking “But if she does die, I will be able to mention it in my comic and that will give it a wee tinge of authenticity.” Which is to have one's cake and eat it: mocking yourself for using your grief as narrative currency, but making narrative capital out of the fact you are mocking yourself.

I am not going to write possibly touchy stuff on possibly touchy subjects any more but I am damn well going to tap out two thousand words writing about how I'm not writing about it.

A long time ago I was mugged by some Asian kids outside my house: I wrote about it on my blog precursor, mentioning that for a few weeks after the attack I looked at every Asian I met and wondered if they were the ones who had attacked me. I thought it was evident that I knew that this was a very silly thing to be thinking: that was the whole point of saying it. But sure enough I got a letter from an outraged person telling me firmly that I ought not to feel that way and explaining patiently that just because one individual Muslim was a petty thief that was no reason to think that all Muslims are petty thieves and my dark skinned neighbours were no more or less likely to attack me than the light skinned ones.

The Right talk about Virtue Signalling: people express liberal views, not because they believe in them, but because they want other people to think that they believe in them.

But there is another kind of signal: the endless searching of tea leaves and the endless casting of runes and the endless study of telegrams and tweets in the hope that you will find a word of secret significance that will reveal what is really going on.

We don’t have arguments: we have treasure hunts. Eventually, X marks the spot.

I honestly had not realised that the feelings which came out of my head when I wrote the Footnote were almost precisely word for word the credo of certain deeply unpleasant individuals that I absolutely don’t want to associate myself with.

I suppose if I periodically blurt out things which make me sound like a baddie I ought to entertain the possibility that I really am a baddie. 

A sudden conversion to right wing politics would be worth a few blog posts; there could even be a book in it.

Becoming a militant Dawkinsian would be a bit obvious, but I could surprise everyone by becoming a Jain or a Christedelphian. Do elderly evangelicals ever embrace Islam?

I’m not going to do any of these things. I think that Bristol should get rid of Colston, American cops should stop killing black people, climate change is real, and we should have gender neutral loos. I am bad at remembering the right pronouns, but I try really really hard. I am not going to stop writing about politics for ever, but I have got some other projects I want to get stuck into for the foreseeable.

Or I might change my mind.

Stranger things have happened.

Buy Me a Coffee at

(*) Or at any rate, not for a while. 


Kyle said...

I tend to skim over political content on the internet a bit, so I haven't been able to make heads or tales of this or your "everything I have written about politics" article for lack of context. Anyway, I always really enjoy your culture writing and always look forward to more of it.

Kyle said...

Also, please ignore my spelling error. I generally check your website when I have my Sunday morning cup of coffee and am a bit groggy.

Andrew Stevens said...

Kyle, for what it's worth, I had to read your first comment back to catch that spelling error and I'm normally very, very good at noticing things like that. I wouldn't have noticed yours had you not drawn attention to it.

Andrew Stevens said...

I think that Bristol should get rid of Colston, American cops should stop killing black people, climate change is real, and we should have gender neutral loos.

For what it's worth, Mr. Rilstone, I am with you on three out of four of these and am persuadable on the fourth.

Andrew Stevens said...

I point this out only so you can be gratified about how much a British Christian leftie and an American atheist conservative still have in common politically.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Thank you Kyle.

I find the Doctor Who and comic books stuff harder to write, but much more rewarding to have written; but politics flows out of my fingers if I am not careful, but I am often not that pleased with the results. I am going to stay focussed on Doctor Who, The Eternals, The Micronauts (which I've been promising for ages) and maybe some 70s kids TV for a while. And I appear to have just agreed to do a regular folkie podcast.

Dirk said...

This part made me sad to read "wasted a very large amount of my life using funny dice and little models to make up stories about dragons with my friends".

I'm sorry you feel that was a waste of time.

g said...

For what it's worth, I too find your political writing consistently interesting and insightful, and I hope that if you stop doing it it won't be for too long. I have no recollection of That Footnote (What Footnote?) or what about it was offensive to whom and why, but your willingness to say what you think with less self-censorship than most is one of the things that makes your writing so worth reading.

SK said...

I missed the 'previously on'. Did you accidentally say 'sibboleth'?

David Brown said...

Would still love to hear your thoughts on Alan Moore's Jerusalem if not writing about politics gives you some time!

Andrew Rilstone said...

i appear to have committed myself to reading all eight volumes of the Dune trilogy before the movie comes out, but have tied a knot ion my handkerchief to have a look at Alan Moore”s opus thereafter,

Andrew Stevens said...

American cops should stop killing black people

More referring to the other comments section, but the majority of people (more than 50%) killed by U.S. police are non-Latino white people. The biggest per capita problems are not in Southern states with a lot of black people (although those are pretty bad, the second worst tier) or in Northern states with big urban areas which have a lot of black people (those have gotten a lot better over the last 30 years and New York is one of the best states for police not killing people, only bettered by Rhode Island), but in the mostly white and/or Latino ex-Wild West states - New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Montana, none of which has a large black population.

Why do we think the problem is due to racism? The data does not support that, though the data does support that black people are disproportionately affected. But the problem pretty clearly principally lies in police training and procedures, though I'm sure racism of the police does play some role.

Andrew Stevens said...

E.g. the murder of Tony Timpa by police in 2016 was worse than the murder of George Floyd and also had horrific body cam footage. It's just that nobody cared. The media only cares about police brutality if it's against black people which fits neatly into a racism narrative, just like they only care about missing person cases when they're pretty young white women. (And do not care about black serial killers, likely because their victims tend to be black.) Of course, this is because the public has those priorities. The media is merely trying to feed public demand.

Andrew Rilstone said...

The message that I am picking up here is that, if I were to go back to writing about politics, I would have to change my style to something much more direct, bland and factual: my readers apparently do not always grok that “I think we should have gender neutral loos” is not, fact, a statement about lavatory provision, but a colorful way of saying “I support trans people in almost all respects.” They do not realize that “I think American cops should stop killing black people” is not a statement about the demographics of crime, but a flowery way of saying “I support the black rights matter movement, and anti racism campaigns more generally.” But I would find this very boring to write, and I suspect most people would find it very boring to read.

SK said...

my readers apparently do not always grok that “I think we should have gender neutral loos” is not, fact, a statement about lavatory provision, but a colorful way of saying “I support trans people in almost all respects.” They do not realize that “I think American cops should stop killing black people” is not a statement about the demographics of crime, but a flowery way of saying “I support the black rights matter movement, and anti racism campaigns more generally.”

So wait… when you write, you've not actually engaging with ideas, you're just positioning yourself on the right side of what you perceive as the good-guys / bad-guys divide? Your words don't actually mean what they seem to if you parse them, they're more like flags you fly to indicate your loyalty to the right side, to… how to put it… to signal, as it were, your… your virtue?

How disappointing. I though there was actual intellectual content to be found here, and not just empty slogans.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Yes, that's correct.

SK said...

Wait, was that sarcasm? Could you, like, raise your hand when you're being sarcastic, or something?

Andrew Rilstone said...

that is a very good suggestion. in future i will do that.

Andrew Stevens said...

SK, to be absolutely fair to Andrew Rilstone (and I certainly believe that I am always scrupulously fair to him - in fact, I quite like Mr. Rilstone and consider him to be an admirable and insightful man), he wrote an entire piece about how he can't stake out a moderate position because of his fear that this will put him on the "bad guys'" side. This was, I think, admirably honest of him and a perfect encapsulation of our current political polarization. Moderates do not speak for fear of being attacked by their own side and so we end up with an argument entirely dominated by extremists. This makes things worse because the left moderates become convinced that everybody on the right are extremists (because the moderates are keeping their heads down) and the right moderates become convinced that everybody on the left are extremists (because the moderates are keeping their heads down).

Anyway, I completely agree that U.S. police should stop killing black people (in a large percentage of cases anyway - sometimes people do unfortunately force the police to kill them). I also think they should stop killing white people and every other group of people. However, I would not join in with the slogan "All Lives Matter." I believe that, but I think the people who say "Black Lives Matter" also believe that. And therefore I think it's an unreasonable way to respond to them.

However, my point was not whether Mr. Rilstone himself believes the problem is one of U.S. police racism. My point is that virtually all of the public believes this, at home and abroad, including white conservatives in the U.S. This is, in fact, often a stumbling block for me. Because the media has convinced the world that the problem is purely a "black" problem, it's hard to break through the brick wall of "Well, this problem doesn't affect me personally." It does. The police aren't out there just shooting people at random, but there is a large amount of preventable deaths caused by the police in this country - including white people (in fact, the majority of them) and even innocent white people. (See Tony Timpa or Eric Shaw, who was killed in 1997 in his own studio in Iowa City, while talking on the phone. The latter was never more than a local story and I only know about it because I was local at the time.)

Achille Talon said...

Okay, I want to preface this with saying that I am doing it in the lest cancelly treasurehunty spirit imaginable, but: just a heads' up on the topic of trying really hard to remember the right pronouns; these days Grant Morrison goes by the singular "they/them".

Andrew Rilstone said...

I would think nothing of saying "Someone left their umbrella in the office and we will return it to them if they ask for it." But I do sometimes get caught out by expressions like "They are going to sleep in the spare room" "Oh, are they doubling with their sister?". I don't know why, and I correct myself if I get it wrong.

Did I refer to Grant Morrison as "he" somewhere? Sorry if I did.

Andrew Rilstone said...


Just saw your Dalek blog. I haven't read it but it looks very much up my street...

Achille Talon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Achille Talon said...

Yes, I think you referred to Morrison as a “he” during the bit about Animal Man in this very post (unless I misread the sentence). That was all I meant by the above comment.

I'm happy you think my Dalek blog seems interesting! I do too, which is why I am very upset at myself for having failed to write more than the first three entries or so. I greatly admire your own Who writing, though (as does everyone with whom I've shared it!), so knowing you'd be interested in reading it might be the metaphorical kick I needed to continue it already! We shall see.

Andrew Rilstone said...


"I wish I could say I did it deliberately"....

Andrew Stevens said...

I would think nothing of saying "Someone left their umbrella in the office and we will return it to them if they ask for it."

I actually dislike this from a grammatical perspective and yet I still find myself talking that way, so I suppose I must concede that grammatical change is inevitable and I should stop trying to fight it.

SK said...

I once heard about a professor of literature who similarly found that he had painted himself into a corner where he was holding positions that he realised were logically untenable and could only be defended by arguments that were borderline duplicitous. As he also was an internally honest sort of cove this made him, too, desperately miserable. I wonder whatever happened to him.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Reading comments like this is, as you say, not very good for me.

SK said...

I don’t doubt it. Just having to practice passive crimestop all the time must be exhausting; having to do it actively would be a killer, I expect. There’s really only one solution. Read Václav Havel.

Andrew Rilstone said...

You really don't know when to stop, do you.