Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
Feed The World
December, 1984. I am six years old. Neither of my parents were the kind to turn off their TV’s when the news came on, so I’d seen it, and I’d asked the kind of questions kids ask. These are the ones I can remember, with the answers I recall. All, some, one, or less of them may be accurate. They feel right, though.
“Where is that?”
“Why are those people brown?” I grew up in the rural north, then the rural southwest. Outside of TV and very occasional trips to London to visit my Nan, I didn’t see black people. At all. They were outside of my realm of experience. I remember feeling no fear or anger or discomfort – only curiosity, and maybe a little caution.
“Because it’s very hot in Africa, the sun is very hot, so their skin is brown to stop them getting sunburnt.”
It’s Christmas time/ There’s no need to be afraid
“Why are there so many of them?”
“There’s a lot of people in Africa. It’s a refugee camp.”
“Why are they living in tents?”
“Because they don’t have any money. There’s been a drought.”
“It means there’s been no rain, so none of their crops have grown.”
At Christmas time/ We let in light and banish shade
I know this one. Maybe from the harvest festival at school.
“So they don’t have any food?”
“That’s right. No water to drink, either.”
“Why are there so many children?”
“They have big families.”
“Why? If there’s no food or water...”
“They didn’t know. Anyway, it’s traditional over there. To have big families.”
I’m remembering it wrong, guessing too much. Never mind. It feels right.
And in our world, of plenty/ We can spread a smile of joy
“Why are they not moving?”
“They’re too tired to move.”
“Why are they so thin?”
“Because they’re starving.”
I think about that. About being starving. About long car drives, being late for tea, or waking up early and being late for breakfast. Hungry. Starving. No. Not starving. I look back at the TV. At the stick thin figures. Really, like a bundle of sticks under brown canvas.
I think I’ll never say I’m starving again.
Throw your arms around the world/ At Christmas time
“Why do the children have such big bellies?”
“Their bellies are so empty, they’ve swollen up.”
“Why don’t they do anything about all the flies? Brush them away?”
“They don’t have enough energy. They’re dying.”
Dying. Because it didn’t rain and there’s no food.
But say a prayer/ pray for the other ones
I knew about praying, at 6. And at 6, I was probably still young enough to do it, at least at school, not having yet noticed the disconnect between what my teachers taught me and what my parents lived. But the thing that really got me was – food. I was surrounded by it. There were whole trays of it every lunch at school, bowls and plates every breakfast and dinner. Our cupboards were full of food. So were the shops.
“Why can’t we send them our food? We have loads!”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s something about a grain mountain, from the news. Surely...
At Christmas time, it’s hard/ But, when you’re having fun
It didn’t sound complicated. It sounded simple. Hungry people. Spare food. Heck, it sounded dumb.
I think maybe my mother’s answer was clearer, albeit bleaker.
“I don’t know, son.”
There’s a world outside your window/ And it’s a world of dread and fear
I knew that, of course. Up north, the local news had shown people fighting with police, huge crowds of each, something about mines. I’d seen men with guns, and bombs exploding, and plane crashes. There were murderers in the world, who got caught – arrested. But they’d killed first. Sometimes children. Stranger danger. There were germs. Diseases. And later... well, later there’d be Challenger and Dunblane and Columbine and 9/11.
But none of that seemed this stupid. This... pointless. This solvable. Mountain of food. Continent of starving people.
I didn’t get it.
I still don’t, truth be told.
Where the only water flowing/ is the bitter sting of tears
It’s not complicated. We had food. We had planes. They were children. I knew, instinctively, without having to be told, this was wrong. It was.. an offence. Against morality. Against the notion of humanity. I didn’t have the words, but I knew this, felt it deeply. It made me cry, when I thought about it. This wasn’t how the world was supposed to work. This was unfair. And when the song came out, and that closing coda/round kicked in
Feed the world/ Let them know it’s Christmas time
Crappy synth bells and all, it would bring a lump to my throat, and I’d see those children, my age and younger, with flies in their face and no energy to move them, and I’d think dying, and I’d think starving to death, and I’d be crying, unable to understand why the singers in the video were smiling, why they weren’t crying just thinking about it, how it was that life went on and we all went back to schools and work and reading and TV and eating and drinking and presents and Santa and these children couldn’t move and were dying because they had no water and no food. I’d be choked up with useless tears, like I am now, writing this.
And please don’t give me teach a man to fish. I mean, yes, obviously. Trivially. But fundamentally, feed the fucking starving children, okay?
And when they’re all fed, with access to safe, clean water and roofs over their heads and clothes on their backs, by all means follow up with a hundredweight of rods and reels and 7 million copies of ‘Fly Fishing by JRR Hartley’ translated into Ethiopian.
And the Christmas bells that are ringing/ Are the clanging bells of doom
And of course hearing it now it’s embarrassing for at least two reasons I can immediately think of, starting with white person guilt, land-of-not-just-plenty-but-excess guilt, and over generalising bullshit. Do you have any idea how big Africa is, how diverse? Well, probably you do, because you’re clearly the kind of educated, sensible person that only reads the finest horror blogs, but I mean in a general sense – no snow in Africa? Really? Not even on the mountains? The Christian population doesn’t know it’s Christmas? Ever heard of the rain forest? Clue’s in the fucking name. No, it’s shameful, it is – it’s the worst kind of well meaning yet paternalistic, over-sentimentalised, over-simplified sop to emotion whose sole purpose is to emotionally blackmail your cash out of your wallet and into the charity tin. The chuggers outside Sainsbury’s have more integrity, and more dignity. It’s fucking shameless, and crass, and gross.
Also... life does go on. We absorb these human and inhumane horrors through our eyes and ears, we take in the fact of child misery and starvation and death, and we feel bad, and say things like ‘fucking hell’ and ‘it’s just horrible’, and we do, we feel bad, maybe hug our own kids a little tighter come bedtime, or text ‘FOOD’ or ‘WATER’ to the number that flashes on screen, or both. Then somehow, we go to bed and go to sleep and get up and go to work and max out our credit cards on plastic landfill for kids who’d rather have the cardboard box to play with half the time, and because the starving dying children aren’t in our faces right that very second, we forget, and live in not just comfort but a level of extreme excess.
Like it’s not even happening.
And when I say we, I mean first and foremost me, just to be clear. Of sinners I am the chief. I’ll sometimes feel bad for a whole 15 minutes before turning on Breaking Bad or Justified or Hannibal, and any sleepless nights I suffer from these days don’t have much to do with any of this stuff. And for all that I’m giving Geldof and Bono et al shit here for crimes against song-writing, they have in an immediate and material way done far more to help these people that I will in 100 lifetimes. I speak not so much from the moral high ground as a deep and muddy ditch.
I don’t do anything useful.
And somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves this is healthy, even normal – that the weird people are the over sensitive souls who get so upset they can’t function thinking about it, who become miserable and depressed and even sometimes suicidal because the obscene imbalance is too much, the naked greed alongside the desperate need just too much for the conscience to take lined up so neatly. They’re the ones who need medicating. We’re normal, because we can just make ourselves indifferent to suffering, as long as we don’t have to look at it or think about why it’s happening.
I know all that now.
But I was six years old. And to a six year old, the song spoke perfectly to the feeling of what was going on. The futility. The awful juxtaposition of my life and the life of those children
And right smack in the middle, the line so dark, and true, and problematic, that they cut it from the latest release, even though Ebola should be scarier, from a cynical point of view – after all, it’s not like starvation is contagious. If ever a dark and unworthy prayer was needed, it’s in the face of a disease like this.
But even Bono has lost his stomach for this one, it seems. Which I think is a great pity.
Because sometimes even the crassest and most emotionally manipulative disposable pop art can speak to a deeper, darker truth. Can ring true with a statement, a sentiment, that shames us with its honesty, it’s raw and inherent hypocrisy, and which is really the only sentiment that’s come close to explaining that “it’s complicated” bullshit masquerading as an answer, while the butter mountain melted and the grain mountain rotted and the people of Ethiopia faced mass extinction for lack of clean water and food. A statement that reveals far more than it intends, and little of it to our collective credit, but is undeniably genuine.
Well tonight thank God it’s them/ Instead of you.
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THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR