Negan: The Walking Dead’s Saviour? Emmm…

Negan in the comic books is physically imposing and plausibly psychotic. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a fine actor, but he somehow doesn’t feel like the right man for the role. Negan needed to be part Henry Rollins, part Tony Soprano, and part Wilson Fisk. For his interpretation of Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to be channelling Ian McShane’s mid-life crisis. I’m convinced by neither his physicality nor his charm. He spends the bulk of his time on screen slinking about in his ‘geez a gobble’ leather-jacket, cradling a barbed cock-proxy and blathering about pussies. He’s little more than a post-apocalyptic, post-watershed Del Boy; a washed-up Fonzie after a long spell in AA.

TV Negan doesn’t seem especially cunning and, crucially, he doesn’t inspire dread, tension or terror like the Governor or the crazy cannibals before him. When he raises his voice to shout, employing his weirdly over-emphasised, sub-Shatner shtick, it’s not a mercurial, megalomaniacal, homicidal demigod that’s brought to mind, but a hitherto mild-mannered deputy head teacher losing his shit at the school assembly. TV Negan is simply a smug, sleazy, cheeky asshole, who just happens to have insinuated himself into a position of supreme authority while everyone was looking the other way. Not only does he not feel like a real and credible threat, he doesn’t even feel like a real guy; just a composite of hammy panto villains, a wicked step-mother that occasionally gets to stove people’s heads in with a baseball bat.

The Saviours themselves are an odd phenomenon, too. Here’s a band of maniacs hundreds strong, spread out across a wide geographical area, with outposts and spotters and tentacles everywhere, and yet the group from Alexandria never encountered them once. Not until Rick and his crew turned up dragging death and bad-luck behind them like a plough. These days, no-one can sneak out for a piss without a man with an AK47 jumping out from the bushes and demanding half. Negan himself was introduced as a near mythical figure, always spoken of in hushed tones; a living legend that was as elusive as a smile on Michonne’s face; a man who never revealed himself, and kept to the shadows, his people even employing the old ‘I Am Spartacus’ technique to keep his identity hidden from the masses… what happened to all that? Now the gobby fucker pops round for tea about six times a week, usually without back-up. He’s an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an illuminous jacket with a GPS tracker in the top pocket. He’ll be doing a fucking book tour next.

I can’t wrap my head around the mechanics of how TV Negan managed to amass such a cowed and loyal, multifarious following of normals and nutcases alike; deeply puzzled as to why he hasn’t been assassinated. He doesn’t seem to have an especially sympathetic or trustworthy high command around him to act as his buffer, and any carroty behaviour he exhibits is rendered pretty much void by his vast preference for the stick. I get that other people’s greed and fear, and the carte blanche he gives them to unleash their ids while in his company keep them enjoying (or submitting to) Negan’s reign of terror, but that again begs the question: why hasn’t one of the innumerable violent psychopaths in his crew assassinated him?

All Negan seems to do is talk. And talk. And talk. And talk. Punctuating every other line with a triple knee-collapse, like he’s just finished a particularly tricky tap dance: ta-da! Or perhaps auditioning for a new, post-apocalyptic boy-band (sometimes I think he’s going to launch into that thing people do where they pretend to be walking down a set of stairs). And talk. And talk. And talk. And talk some more. Man, does that guy talk. Every episode in which he’s yet featured has consisted of five per cent Daryl scowling, five per cent Rick’s cry face, ten per cent Carl’s atrocious attempts at emoting, forty per cent people wandering in the forest, twenty per cent miserable people whispering in dark rooms, twenty per cent cheeky ‘I’m yer pal but I’m no really yer pal’ winsome grins, and six thousand per cent Negan talking.

In the comics, Negan’s talking is a joy to behold, principally because he’s allowed to talk as a real murderous dictator would, and not in a watered-down, neutered way to make his stylings appropriate for American network television. Negan does the ‘poopy pants’ line he utters upon first meeting Rick in the comics, too, but because he also peppers his sentences with a barrage of fucks, the discordance of the ‘poopy pants’ line renders it – and his entire subsequent speech – both scarier and funnier.

Here are some choice excerpts of comic-book Negan getting his swear on:

“So now I’m going to beat the holy fuck fucking fuckedy fuck out of one of you with my bat.”

“And here I am. Friendly as a fuckless fuck on a fuck free day.”

“You think I got all these little communities at my feet because I roam the countryside bashing in Asian-American skulls? That’s no fucking way to make friends. Everyone toes the line because I provide them a service. I keep them safe. We’re the saviours, not the kill your friends so you don’t fucking like us at alls.”

“I assure you, m’am, he’s dead as fuck.”

“So now our big swinging dick is going to swing harder…and faster, until we take off like a motherfucking helicopter and blow all these motherfuckers away.”

Isn’t it odd that the network and its advertisers aren’t too concerned about things like a man being literally torn apart in a set of revolving doors, or rotten corpses chasing after children, but absolutely will not tolerate the use of the word ‘fuck’? That’s the word I use when I stub my toe. I can only imagine what I’d say if a zombie tried to rip my cheek off with its stinking, contaminated teeth. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be ‘Cor blimey, guv’nor, this is a pickle and no mistake.’

I often wish that HBO had picked up ‘The Walking Dead,’ thrown a bigger budget and a more authentic cavalcade of sex, swearing and violence at the screen. More and more, I’m coming to prefer the insane inventiveness and all-round bat-shit craziness of SyFy’s Z Nation, which – while clearly ridiculous – always leaves me with a grin on my face. The arrival of Negan in The Walking Dead comics heralded an upswing in risk, excitement, tension, horror, hope and humour. I can’t say the same for the TV show, which appears to have slipped into a coma in its seventh season, awaiting a final and merciful headshot. Season six wasn’t perfect, but it at least had a smattering of excellent episodes to balance out the dreck and the crass manipulations. Season seven has Negan. That should’ve been enough. Sadly – at this stage at least – it isn’t.

Come on, Negan, Mr Poopy Pants. There’s still time for you to save the show by fulfilling your destiny as Mr Motherfucking Shitty Fuck Pants.

Violence – It’s All in the Game

I’ve been thinking about that age-old question: do violent video games make us violent, or do we make these violent video games because we’re a violent species? Well, I say it’s an age-old question. It’s a pretty new question, really. My history’s not perfect, but I don’t think they debated it during the Hundred Years War.

‘What chance ‘av we got strategising against ze English when zey play so much facking Spess Invaders?’

To be honest, I think even Pong’s arrival was too soon to be debating the issue:

‘I want this horrid, bad influence of a game banned immediately. My son’s been playing it all week and he’s just nailed himself to a plank of wood with roller skates on it and now he’s sliding up the wall flinging cricket balls at people!’

This is where I’m from. And this is where I’ll always be. I’m trapped in you, 1980s.

I’ve been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) Vice City on the PS2 recently. I know, I know. Viva das zeitgeist. Finger on the pulse and all that. Maybe I’ll watch some Quatermass on Betamax as I’m playing it, while phoning you on a shoe-box-sized mobile phone to tell you all about it.

GTA doesn’t half make me aggressive – which is strange. Third world debt doesn’t make me angry. Starving kids don’t make me angry. Job losses in my home town don’t make me angry. But running out of time on a virtual mission to kill as many prostitutes as possible using only a flame-thrower? FUCK YOU, WORLD. FUCK YOU ALL THE WAY UP YOUR HOT MOLTEN CORE!! Only the accidental snapping off of the pissy little key on a tin of corned beef can even bring me close to such heights of rage.

It’s surely not normal that a game can make me think to myself, calmly and rationally: ‘I’m pretty bloody annoyed I failed that tricky mission. I think I’ll just go butcher some police officers until I calm down a bit.’

Because in the real world my arse jitters like a hedgehog in a cement-mixer when I drive past a cop car, even when I’m obeying the law and have nothing to hide. Cultural conditioning, I suppose. And human decency. And perhaps even a certain pussy-assedness. But in the virtual world, I’m chasing them down the street with machetes and rocket launchers, shouting quotes from Scarface.

This is surely unprecedented in humanity. Never before have tiny little pretend people – non-living avatars composed of motes of electrical magic in a make-believe world – been subjected to such florid and disgusting abuse: ‘GET OUT OF MY WAY OR I’LL KILL YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY YOU FUCKING COMPUTERISED CUNT!’ Shakespeare should watch me play and take notes for his next sonnet.

I’m a reasonably placid person in ‘real life’, so I’ve been wondering why GTA has had this effect on me. I’ve concluded that:

  • I don’t like losing at silly little games because I’m a big fucking baby.
  • I’ve no sense of perspective.
  • Aggressive competition and disgraceful violence is wired into my pathetic, throwback monkey brain.

More musings on this topic in the next few days. 

Sieg Kyle – Daytime TV’s Case for Sterilisation

I wrote the piece below about four or five years ago. These days, Jeremy Kyle styles himself on a waxwork of a waiter from the Titanic, and has taken his hectoring talk-show to the States, its spiritual home – Jamie

Jeremy Kyle has become what many of his studio guests need: an institution. He is a mainstay of modern British media culture, along with Richard and Judy, Rolf Harris and Howard from the Halifax ads.

His long-running show serves us up a daily dose of poor, stupid and ugly people with which to satisfy our voyeurism, and generally make us feel better about our own pathetic little lives. Jeremy and his production team like to pretend that each edition is a sort-of pseudo trial, designed to expose dishonest behaviour before a furious Jury of the People, an act that will surely take away the need for any real social work, and possibly save the world. It’s all about reclaiming lost dignity, punishing the sinful, mending fences and repairing lives. Is it? Is it really? Then why does it seem that all Jeremy – and, by extension, we the viewers – are interested in is humiliation on a grand scale, with the added bonus of the threat of violence?

The typical guest is from the north of England, or Scotland, possesses little in the way of teeth or intellect, and has usually been – despite resembling a walking tumour – shagging their entire home town. Paternity and lie detector tests are the order of the day. The results of the latter wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law, but anything goes in Jeremy’s daytime Kangaroo Court. That’s why there are so many big, bald men with tattoos on stand-by as security; just in case any of the big, bald men with tattoos featured as guests decide to pop Jeremy’s head off and use it as a football.

The episode I watched featured the usual slideshow of human sputum, tears and tantrums. One of the segments told the beautiful story of an adolescent male who had met and ‘romanced’ a young lady, only to find out after their brief relationship ended that his ex-beau believed herself to be pregnant with his child. He disputed the accuracy of this claim, and thus demanded that she submit to a DNA test. Once his neckless, feckless, and dietarily reckless ex-partner thundered out on to the stage, I too was pretty eager for a DNA test: to prove she was human.

The ex instantly endeared herself to the audience by free-style swearing, and nervously yet aggressively hitting her shoe. I know it’s become something of cliché to describe an inarticulate, chavish girl as being like Vicky Pollard, but Neckless really is the closest match I’ve seen; in looks, speech and mental processing abilities. She couldn’t see any connection between her outright refusal to submit to a simple test that would prove she was telling the truth about her pregnancy, and Jeremy Kyle’s mounting disbelief at her story. As guests often do on the Jeremy Kyle Show, she stormed off backstage. He followed her, changing his tone from hectoring, Hellfire Baptist minister to wise, understanding uncle. ‘Never mind them out there, it’s just you and me, now,’ he said to her, or words to that effect, refusing to let the fact that millions of eyes were on them both destroy the sense of intimacy he was cultivating.

‘Why don’t you want to take the test?’ he asked her softly. Her response almost had me rolling on the floor. ‘I’m not going to go down to his level,’ she said, rolling her eyes and continuing to batter her shoe.

Some might say that once you’re sitting on Jeremy’s backstage sofa it’s a little too late to worry about dropping a level or two. This is it, Neckless. This is rock bottom.

Let’s put aside our role as collaborating spectators for a moment (yes, I’m talking to you) and ask ourselves why anyone in their right mind (I think I’ve just answered my own question) would want to appear on Jeremy’s show. I see it as a venal circus, from which few emerge with even a shred of dignity; and that’s true even of the protagonists who initially approach the producers to get their pound of flesh from someone who’s done them wrong. Why don’t the guests see it that way? I can perhaps see why a cuckolded husband would want to see an angry audience screaming at his scrawny, cheating wife; but why would the wife want to subject herself to this treatment, and vice versa where the sexes are reversed?

Who gets a phone call from the Jeremy Kyle Show and thinks, yes, yes, I do want to have a middle-aged man shouting at me in-front of two hundred people, who will also be shouting at me, while the people watching at home hiss things like ‘scum’ at me. Well, perhaps you would consider doing it if you were dirt-poor, trapped in a life you couldn’t escape, ill-educated, desperate and sincerely believed that the Kyle show was an institution primarily concerned with helping people and not with exploiting and humiliating them for advertising revenue. Or if you were getting an all-expenses-paid trip to London, and the chance for your fifteen minutes of fame, however grizzly.

Certainly one thing you won’t see on the Jeremy Kyle show is a top-hat-wearing male doctor arguing with his Gucci-clad lawyer ex-wife about who’s going to get custody of their Shih Tzu, Phillip. How do the producers sleep at night? I’m sure the Nazi doctors salved their consciences by assuring themselves that their work was for the good of mankind. Maybe that’s what they do.

Our society, and care industry, must be in one Hell of a shape.