Monday, July 12, 2010

The Modern Man

I can't remember where I read it, but someone once said that the European nihilist closes the window and shoots themself, whilst the American nihilist opens the window and shoots whoever they see. At the time, I remember thinking, that the English nihilist probably sits at home listening to Joy Division and the Cure. How wrong can a person be?

It is hard to know where to start in the case of Raoul Moat. If his death seemed likely, it wasn't inevitable. My sister lives nearby the chip shop he robbed, and for a week she could hear the police helicopters overhead and kept the children inside. The "risk" might seem minimal, absurd, but here was a mad man with a gun on a rampage. The involving of the public and TV seemed a perfectly sensible decision when he was on the run, but became terrifying when we were sat there like Bird Watchers waiting for a man to kill, be killed or be caught. It's less than a month ago since we saw the terrible rampage of another killer in Cumbria, so inevitably, prevention was better than cure.

I thought, in the Cumbrian case, that here was something of male disappointment - a man in his fifties, not, like so many of his country, in a position of power and affluence, but someone with debts, with broken families, almost past the midlife crisis and calling time on things. There's something wrong here - I thought - something wrong with that generation of men. I've seen it with others, bitter, twisted, divorced...

...but then this, and Raoul Moat is younger than me. He's not yet 40 and yet his horizons have reduced. This is something new I think. This is Thatcher's children gone wrong. That Paul Gascoigne, at 43, my age, turned up, seems absolutely appropriate. In an non-spiritual age there's always celebrity, there's always alcohol, there's always death. Moat, we will find out more about over the next days, weeks and months. So far, it's been unedifying enough. Yet its not just his macho cliches - a bouncer, with a young girlfriend, with a gun and the ability to use it - that freaks me out, but the acceptance that seems to come with this. His friends standing by him. A culture that seems to accept his dismal world view as being acceptable. Behind it all, the horrible lies that lead to a culture of domestic violence. This sort of man should surely have spent the last few weeks with better things to do than wanting to hunt down his ex-girlfriend and her new lover. Shouldn't he have been watching the football? Surely that's a matter of "life and death."

What stays with me, apart from the distaste, the disgust at this dreadful thug's sentimental sense of righteousness, is how awfully pointless it all is. In Will Self's "The Book of Dave" the writer does what all good writers do, and imagines a certain future, and Dave Rudman is not so far removed from Raoul Moat. Self has hit upon a character that is capable of scaring us - a self-righteous misanthrope who is both a macho charicature and sentimental in the extreme - I didn't expect him to exit. Men who have lost their girl and their children do not try and grab them back, but try and destroy what's left of that bond out of sheer hurt. Moat is Rudman made flesh, scarily. His long letters to the police and his girlfriend a strange articulation of that hurt; his own "Book of Dave."

The modern man was not supposed to be like this. In the iconic episode of "Cracker" where Robert Carlyle plays a divorced Liverpool fan, mourning for his father and angry with the police following still raw memories of Hillsborough, Jimmy McGovern wrote into existence a template for this man. Yet Carlyle's character had motive. He was destroyed as well as being destroyer. Moat and his premeditated, nihilistic helter skelter of destruction this week - leaving two dead (himself included), two injured, and many more scarred - seems the worst kind of narcissism. Guns are hard to come by in the UK - yet he found one hours or days after being let out of jail. On the radio this morning I heard an ex-girlfriend talking of the violence he inflicted on her, and a friend of his dismayed at his passing. How can one untangle the apparent attraction of this dismal nonentity who, in his mid-thirties, saw life as only a dead end, who was unable to take responsibility for his savage action?

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