New (June 2004): WHO ARE THE WHORES? (This page)
Editor: Murray at cinestatic.com
are the whores?
It had seemed like just another ordinary day. The dedicated Cull team, replete after another enormous lunch, swayed subversively back to HQ, burping garlicky expletives and chortling at its own scabrous insights. Little did it suspect that a routine afternoon trawl through the mail would change things foreverÖ
'What?' we gasped, 'How could someone think such a thing?' Our astonishment gradually turned to a horrific realisation. Could it be possible that we have been giving out mixed messages? The tireless Mike looked up with some impatience from his style sheets and spat 'I mean, it's the most OBVIOUS POSSIBLE COMPLAINT! You should be ready for this kind of comment, shouldn't you?' What follows are (mostly) genuine and (largely) unedited extracts from the impassioned debate that followed.
Leo: The opinion of the editor of a parochial local newspaper could be seen as irrelevant. It could be also seen as an allusion to why we don't get wider coverage of our articles (say, in the Guardian Editor section. Ho ho). Is this unwanted advice or useful feedback (I think it's the latter)?
Mike: Depends how much you mean it. If you're talking about 'taking the advice' and going milder then you risk undermining the whole thing. You might as well scrap the lot if you can't reduce this complaint to a steaming puddle of milkmuck.
Murray: The name could be seen as advocating ho' death, but it isn't. Or at least that's about 2.672 per cent of the story. Tell him to go and get a subscription to Nuts, where subjecting girls to embarassing coverage/other regression is completely ok....
Leo: Having looked at the Willesden site, I take back the 'parochial' comment. I do think they're (potentially irritating) north London liberals though, hence the proud display of Guardian and Zadie Smith quotes.
Bruce: How about this for a reply:
Leo: This is the first response to the superficially offensive nature of the fanzine/site name that I can remember. So it either turns people away instantly or makes them curious (maybe even about prostie slaughter, unfortunately). We are essentially reactionary, as we bait hypocrites and spiritual whores when and wherever encountered (as well as having some regard for music). Maybe it would have been more interesting to call Mobius a deluded Zionist cocksucker and send a satirical anti-semitic rant in response to Melanie Pissflaps but I don't think so in the long term if we wish to be different from Dennis Leary or Andrew 'Dice' Clay. As long as we are true to ourselves in all that we say it doesn't matter. Cognitive dissonance appears to be having problems burning through the veneer of collective insulation but that's because a more complex response to the increasingly dominant capitalist hegemony (that's what it is from where I'm perched) is required. That there hegemony is evolving into a particularly perfidious form of illusory self-empowerment and we need to be a lot more resourceful in our attacks than simply relying on ersatz bigotry (although it does have its place). Maybe we need to be altogether more dissonant in our cognition for it to work/offer an alternative to the current stupefied malaise.
Mike: It is a good title, and I certainly wasn't expecting the detailed McGroot Sutcliffe thing when I first saw it. If you hadn't read that piece, you could interprete it any number of ways - whore doesn't have to mean literal prostitutes, cull doesn't have to mean literal killing. The Herald editor's statement is painfully facile. If you're gonna set the zine up as deliberately offensive (as is the only coherent explanation I've seen so far) then you need to keep it offensive. Otherwise the formerly shocking stuff insidiously becomes part of the furniture, no longer questioned. If you shy away from keeping the shock up then the initially shocking stuff becomes a lot more dubious.
The reasoned debate can come afterwards, in the comments. I thought the LOTR piece was mostly piss, but the debate that followed it was fantastic. In fact, this is the best justification of reactionary or bigotted articles that I've seen. By arguing deliberately flawed ideas, you encourage debate. If people just agreed with it then they'd have no need to wake up, and things like the Mobius debate might not have happened.
Forgive me if I get overly annoyed at things like this, but I, like Bruce(?), feel I have more at stake as the cull host, what with my actual real-life name attached (however passively) to the organ. I need to be able to justify the ethos behind it to myself for this (possibly dubious) reason, so it's a bit annoying when I don't hear something ten times more cutting than I could possibly come up with from the actual writers after having worked so hard for the fragile clarity that I uneasily enjoy.
Murray: There are many scarlets for culling and just because we sometimes concentrate on ones with potentially less impact isn't a dilution of the version, which is NOT solely McGroot. Just think of mags or sites who have gone before promising to be excoriating but failing to deliver. At the guillotine at any one time could be soft targets like football hooligans or crap musicians or bigger braindeads like liberal bedwetters, Sharon, Dubya - we strive to be all-encompassing because we see a word sick to the guts, which we should always shoot again after resuscitation for letting us down so badly in the first place. And there are many ways to achieve this. We are also aware of the things that lift society (music, drgs) but do not allow these as so many others do to rule us and become escapist panacea.
I think that the cog diss element is part of the aim of the site as well as the tool to bring about its coverage. We are not here to placate/satisfy/pamper/service Mr Consumer, of Low Expectation Street, Easy Avenueshire These debates are good but we shouldn't tie ourselves in knots (unless we want to) becuase some Zadie-fancier (how convenient he lives where she did) don't get it...ps - always love comments like Zadie's on his site. Could it be that you never see sunsets like that because, as a resident there, that's where you see them the most?
Fuggin' sad dwads. A classic case of residential vanity, and of recent memory supremacy. Of course they'll be the most vivid to your mind's eye...
We're dealing with amateurs...
Bruce: How about this as a reply:
But in response Murray, the Ed's clearly not going to be alone in being prevented from attending to the rich and varied content by the name, for which our reasoning (to repeat the initial question) is....?
It's no longer about McGroot; it's about the continued
relevance/appropriateness of the name and its allusion
The problem that has already been noted is that in terms of impact, we've not come close to an adequate replacement, have we? Interesting/problematic aspects of the name are
Leo: On the self-defeating nature of insouciant machismo: of course we want to engage with people on our own terms but there is something fundamentally conservative about shouting mouths off and refusing to acknowledge valid criticisms (particularly when they crystallise the problem with the site content). It's even worse when it's about (the most obvious) interpretations of the name of the site. People may well think 'wow, these people don't give a fuck!' but is that really what we want? Especially when it's not true. That is the point, we give too much of a fuck by today's stagnant standards (nice bit of alliteration there) and we should perhaps be more comfortable with that. The fact that we equate Madonna with cultural cancer and the Hutton Report with totalitarian control of the media is easy enough to explain/understand and 'ard enough to break through the malaise mould (soz!) whilst remaining impervious to RIGHT thinking criticism.
Murray: To me the WhoreCull name and raison d'etre are very clear, we are here to 'cull' 'whores' in myriad spheres. CogDiss is a sub theory - an approach using many and varied methods. 'Outright aggression' is one of those methods, but like solecistic onanism not the only one.
WhoreCull to me is still the most apposite name. It suggests a gritty yet subversive engagement. Anybody who takes umbrage at the name seems obviously to be up for a culling themselves. We do expect a level of awareness from the readers - we are drowning in media, meaning and mass reinterpretation and they can only take the name at face value?
All in all this is why we continue to slag off eveything from Big Brother to George Bush - all are cancers and they fall under our microscope... To my mind there is room for manoeuvre in all this [ocassionally we'll write eulogies of stuff]. But obviously if we are shifting our sights and aims significantly we would need to look at name/justification/etc...
Ray: The Willesden Herald's point is perfectly legitimate, albeit naive. I vote we change the name -not because it's indefensible (see below); nor with the sheepish demeanour of chastened adolescent miscreants, but simply because the one and only proper defense of the moniker, which involves demolishing the concept of responsibility, seems increasingly inappropriate given the very responsible political sensibilities that inform the journal.
I'm afraid this issue has nothing to do with metaphorical versus literal uses of language ("we mean it metaphorically, not literally"), and everything to do with the notion of "intent". The "we mean it metaphorically" defense won't work. The McGroot Sutcliffe piece is quite transparently condoning the murder of women and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. The "whore/capitalism" trope may be metaphorical; the incitement to murder most definitely is not. Murder is never a metaphor. In fact, in McGroot's eyes, the identification of the female body with the body of Capital provides the literal warrant for killing women. Presumably then, the piece is tolerated as an unpleasant exercise in perverse self-indulgence on the assumption that the author and whatever potential readers may get a guilty thrill from the piece remain far too cowardly to act out. But surely that assumption is only slightly less irresponsible than the irresponsible fantasies it finds so reprehensible? Given the seriousness of the stakes and the obvious sincerity of people's moral qualms about violence against women, can they really afford to assume the author and readers of the piece will always be harmless fantasists? For if you suspect someone harbours potentially murderous impulses, then surely it's your responsibility to report them to the police forthwith? Similarly, why would you ever publish something if you genuinely believed it could be taken as a potential incitement to murder?
Everything seems to hinge around this concept of "intent" and the unstated assumption underlying this debate about the name of the zine: "meaning=intent". The idea seems to be that the horizon of legitimate intepretation for an author's meaning is the intent or set of intentions the reader can plausibly "read back" into the text. In this regard, it's important to bear in mind that even if McGroot is interpreted as dubiously "funny" or "amusing", this in no way mitigates the fact that he's basically endorsing murder. Ian Brady was a "funny" guy: he taped little Lesley Downey's screams over a Goon show recording, deliberately engineering the shocking transition from documentary horror to light entertainment. Humour won't get us off the hook. So long as a journal called "Whore Cull" can be seen as endorsing material which can be interpreted as condoning the murder of women, then it's not just the title that's a problem, it's the kind of material we're willing to publish.
So maybe we need to look a little more closely at this notion that "meaning =intent". Even cursory reflection reveals deepseated problems with it. Does the bookshop "Murder Inc" condone the legalized syndication of murder? Why not? And if not, why does "Whore Cull" condone the murder of women? It seems as though, in the former case, the shared sociocultural context makes interpretation straightforward: it's just a shop that specializes in crime fiction...But we can easily imagine a "naive" observer unfamiliar with the complicated sociocultural context that is supposed to ensure proper interpretation not only being outraged at this offensive moniker but also at the very idea that murder could be turned into entertainment: what about the families of murder victims...? Interesting to note that the popular context for appropriate interpretation that deems "Murder Inc" inoffensive is the sole guarantor for judging the moniker "Whore Cull" offensive. The point is not that "Whore Cull" is inoffensive - it quite clearly is offensive to some people. But what is that "offensiveness" really worth? Why should we lend it any weight whatsoever? Surely the point is to destroy the context that encourages people to adopt an interpretation of words that makes it OK to be entertained by murder in one instance, because it's "clearly" not being condoned, but to adopt a quite different strategy in another instance, where it's not OK because it seems as if words can be interpreted -albeit "not clearly"- as condoning murder. Since it's the same context that renders intent supposedly transparent and acceptable in one instance, while rendering it opaque and therefore unacceptable in another, the point is not to engage in desperate disavowals or try to render intent transparent and acceptable, but to destroy context altogether.
The only thing that guarantees the "proper" interpretation of intent is context and context is not only arbitrary but precisely the thing that can and should be called into question. Moreover, since the only guarantor for the notion of "responsibility", apart from religious faith, is investment in a shared sociocultural context, which is precisely what needs to be undermined, the concept of "responsibility" goes out the window along with the authority of context, accompanied by "duties", "obligations", "legitimation", "communicational consensus" and all such moral notions. Responsibility is an intolerable contraint. If you want to allow considerations of potential offensiveness to be the ultimate arbitrers for the contours of discursive possibility, that's fine, but remember it cuts both ways: there will always be someone who finds what you believe to be just disgustingly offensive. Consider how easily anyone defending the justice of the Palestinian cause can be pressured into having to deny that they're apologists for indiscriminate murder. The argument from offensiveness proves nothing: I wager Derek and Clive sketches about cancer are not remotely amusing to people who have lost loved ones to cancer...Similarly, Ballard's "Crash" is probably repellent to someone who's lost a loved one in a car accident. But so what? Cancer is horrible ergo Derek and Clive aren't funny? Car crashes are horrible ergo "Crash" is disgusting? I don't think so.
Subversion is irresponsible. Irresponsibility begins with the abandonment of the context that ensures the "proper" interpretation. And where proper interpretation is no longer guaranteed, purity of intent is compromised. The author's intent may not only be dishonourable, but malicious: he may be guilty of "bad" thoughts. Subversion quickly becomes criminal. Those who really believe in the irrecusability of responsibility have to ask themselves whether a crime commited in word is just as bad as a crime commited in deed. And they're perfectly entitled to believe it is - so long as they bear in mind that their own commitment to "responsibility" obliges them to act on that belief and to respond to "thought crimes" just as they would respond to "real crimes": by calling the police. It's a package deal: with responsibility comes duty, with duty comes respect for law, and with respect for law comes reverence for authority. Alternately, those who don't have the stomach for all that responsibility entails should drop the moralizing cant.
Whore Cull is not irresponsible: it is earnest, eclectic, witty, empassioned, iconoclastic, acerbic, and quite frequently very funny. But none of these qualities, admirable though they undoubtedly are, justify the continuing use of a moniker which is so at odds with the actual character of the mag, it can't possibly be worth the misunderstandings it has and will quite probably continue to invite.
Nina: Whilst the Cull has always been quite obviously internally dissonant (from the downright excruciating to the more approachable cultural/political commentary), the name (whatever its origins) has always seemed quite appropriate.
Why? Because it invites the question 'who are the whores?' Are the real 'whores' the ones McGroot convincingly advocates doing away with using various hammers (i.e. all women as modes of capitalist excrescence), or the ones selling us a debased version of politics/ad men/the lackeys of big business etc.? i.e. What Murray said in the discussion: To me the WhoreCull name and raison d'etre are very clear, we are here to 'cull' 'whores' in myriad spheres.
But this a politically responsible, even didactic position, presupposing what Ray refers to as 'investment in a shared sociocultural context'. But the phrase 'whore cull' does imply that, in however blunt a way. So doesn't the name precisely fit the political/social/cultural commentary stuff....but not the formally and conceptually troubling material of a McGroot (even if he does precisely condone actual 'whoreculling')?
However, isn't the 'responsibility' implicitly promulgated by much of whorecull actually at odds with that of the language of obligations, duties, pc concern for the sensibilities of a mythical 'other' etc. that Ray rails against - positing the two 'poles' of either a post-religious morality, or forms of radical context-destroying subversion. But these can't be the only ones. Is there not an amoral kind of responsibility that consists of leaving to one side both the pc/left concern about 'offensiveness' and the shit that passes for politics/being alive in general. Isn't there such a thing as, dare I say it, the 'truth' of a situation (beyond morality), and that's what's at stake in the culling of the 'whores' that attempt to make you think otherwise...?
johneffay: Iím somewhat surprised by all the handwringing over this (is that letter from Willesden really genuine?) [as far as we can tell! -b]. For what its worth, I say keep the name: If you want to worry about something, worry about the content. If you donít want to do that, shut the thing down and start a new one with new aliases, etc. Otherwise youíll have to do something like this:
The Angry Young Urbaniteís Political and Musical
Kind of defeats the object doesnít it?
the company, as one: Well, when you put it like that...