Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Marvellous is popular

This weekend saw the launch of Black Lightning, our aggressively lo-fi new zine celebrating the Marvellous in popular culture. In issue 1 we present our cheerfully plagiarised manifesto "The Marvellous is Popular", alongside other delights including edible teeth, limbs on the loose, and a long-overdue appreciation of Jackie Chan as popular cinema's greatest poet.

Most Surrealists are understandably reluctant to evangelise for the movement, but we believe that the practice of occultation – the refusal to seek fame or success, or to turn one's work into commodities for the cultural market – should not, must not, mean a denial of the powers of the popular imagination. Some of us have perhaps been a little too fond of repeating the mantra that "Surrealism will never be a mass movement" when the late-night TV schedules (especially, in the UK, on Five and ITV4), the cheap grab-bags in mainstream comic shops, the world of straight-to-DVD movies, and even the pick-and-mix sweet stands in pound shops and supermarkets, all attest to the public's unconscious but insatiable appetite for the Marvellous. How can convulsive beauty be regarded as a minority interest, when Prison Break averages over 9m viewers a week in the US alone, and Harper's Island is broadcast in almost 40 countries? How can hypnogogic landscapes be regarded as Surrealists' special domain, when Igglepiggle and his friends are at play in Night Gardens all over the world, every night of the week? We know scores of Surrealists who lionise the silent films of Feuillade and the Gothic paroxysms of "Monk" Lewis, but outside of SLAG's own meetings we never hear any paeans to T-Bag, Michael Scofield, John Wakefield or Henry Dunn. We find this neglect inexplicable, and with Black Lightning we want to go some way towards putting it right.

If Surrealists these days are sometimes too quick to dismiss current popular culture – especially when it's made for TV, especially when it's from the US – then conversely, of course, the public is usually too quick to consign Surrealism to the gallery, arts cinema or prestige documentary. Friends and acquaintances learning that we are Surrealists are more likely to ask us our opinions on Buñuel, Švankmajer and indeed (sigh) David Lynch than on DC comics or Wilkinsons sweets. We cede to no-one in our love for Buñuel and Švankmajer, or for that matter for the other "classic" Surrealist heroes like Fantômas, the Marx Brothers or Looney Tunes cartoons. But the Marvellous is popular remains our watchword in the face not only of (some) Surrealists' disdain for TV's plebeian pleasures, but also of (most) people's assumptions that Surrealism is for art buffs and cinéastes, or that poetry is none of their concern. Poetry is everyone's concern, always and everywhere – and we Surrealists can help to bring that concern to consciousness by highlighting the extent to which poetry is, if not exactly commonplace, then at any rate present, and alive, and astonishingly beautiful whenever its black lightning flashes, which is still more often than most people think. The entertainment-industrial complex undoubtedly seeks to stupefy the public's imagination into consumerist docility. But as it grubs down towards the audience's lowest common denominator, it must inevitably also grub down into our unconscious commonwealth – of beauty, terror, desire, passion, and the longing for freedom. In that sense the entertainment industry is constantly sowing the seeds of its own destruction, and Surrealists can help to germinate them in the heart of every consumer.

We are optimists, but not idiotically so. Of course we know that the overwhelming majority of commercially-produced popular culture is irredeemable shit; of course we will never stop repeating that poetry must be made, and not merely consumed, by all. But the dialectics of culture, even under the depredations of the most advanced form of consumer capitalism – especially then – means that sometimes, at least, the slickest and/or stupidest productions are also those which fail most conspicuously to conceal the raw bones of desire moving behind the screen. Poetry, like lightning, must ever appear, to some men hope – and to other men, fear!

Special thanks to our friends in the Leeds Surrealist Group for their help with the distribution of Black Lightning no. 1.
To receive a copy of Black Lightning no.1, email us.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009