Bullshit ain’t about lying, not according to philosopher Harry Frankfurt from Princeton University. It is, however, still concerned with falsehood.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Great, an’ all, and all very right sounding, but it’s not the definition you’ll likely get from the man on the street. So if we don’t fully grasp bullshit, then God help foreign readers when it comes to its close cousin “bollocks”, that most British of swearwords.

Like bullshit, bollocks is subtle. It is used as a declaration of falsehood, but it’s also, more commonly, used as to denote poor quality, or, like bullshit, highlight truth rejecting nonsense, or to punctuate a fuck-up.

In American pop-culture, not so much. In American pop-culture bollocks is thrown around with gay abandon, because, I think, most people have no idea what it means. In contrast, British people, who do know what it means, don’t use the word indiscriminately because, as Rich Johnson was so keen to point out, bollocks is the 8th most offensive swearword in the uk… according to some bullshit poll or another.

My Mum doesn’t like bollocks, I kinda love it, but our reactions are predicated on it being part of our vernacular. For everyone else it seems to signpost either a vapid British stereotype, pop-culture via the Sex Pistols, or operates as a way of winking and nudging at the anglophilic reader, “you’re one of us”, it says, “you get this whole British obscure swear word thing”. Which might be all well and good if you’re not a British reader, or a British reader who isn’t still under the spell of Britpop, 90s Britain’s very own brand of self-aggrandising anglophilia*. For me, however, bollocks in US fiction most often comes across as a password to bullshit, and bullshit, in line with the definition above, is less important to understanding this guy than bollocks.

Utter bollocks

Which is to say that Constantine should perhaps talk more bollocks, and use the word less, not simply because it’s offensive, but because bollocks is getting perilously close to being one of those empty comic book signifiers of fun that aren’t actually fun, like in the panel above: a powerful effort to capture Constantine at his most dead on the page iconic, just in time for his grand return to the DCU. You know what I mean.

John. Fag. Mackintosh. Magic. Blood. Bollocks.

No vigour, no life, no character truth, just momentism.

And the bollocks sits very awkwardly indeed. Mileage may vary, but on the whole bollocks is reserved for mid range fuck-ups. Drop your keys in some dogshit? Bollocks. A minor prang in the car? Bollocks. Forgot your wife’s birthday? Got caught having a wank by your nan? Bollocks.

Bollocks often but not always – and this is going to end up being *key* to this essay, so pay attention – brings with it a humorous, ironic gloss in that it’s frequently intended as a light(-ish) counterpoint to whatever mishap may have befallen us. A way of bringing levity and/or (through) an admission of our own complicity, or the futility of fighting Sod’s law.

So it’s hard to see how bollocks is an appropriate response to a room smothered in blood, unless the intention is to say some rather edgy things about John’s character and the world in which he operates by way of the very blackest humour. Which, I think it’s safe to assume, it isn’t.

But it perhaps it should be. More on the appropriateness of bollocks in part 2.

Something to consider in the interim: As far as his professional life goes, John Constantine is very concerned with the truth. It’s his personal life which is riddled with bullshit. Here lieth the tension in the character.

65 Responses to “Talking bollocks – Garth Ennis’ John Constantine part 1”

  1. RetroWarbird Says:

    You’ll note, however, that Keanu Reeves’ likeness wasn’t used … to you know … differentiate the “DC” Constanteen from the darker, Stingier Constantine. (Slight reserved aside … Johns couldn’t put together genius like Bill & Ted on a good day. Moz’ Bat-run owes much to Excellent Adventure.)

    I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Not Constantine showing up, mind you, but the wholesale slaughter of the board members. Or their absurdly late-80′s (70′s? 60′s? I’m an ’85, my reckoning doesn’t go back that far) dialogue.

    “No seriously boys, fuck this environment thing … we’re rich! And how we can get richer? By purposely worsening it! God we’re evil bastards who deserve to Die!”

    Greed isn’t evil. I’d even go so far as to say Greed is pedestrian, evil’s hard to come by and entirely more thoughtful. And evil being evil, is very concerned with its image, seeming non-evil, not up-ending any status quos that it’s benefitting from. Evil hates to be a cliche. That’s why it chose Evil over the much more sensible Good. And it probably went Green before Green was Going Green, which was before Going Green meant “not getting killed by Swamp Thing”.

    GET IT? DCU IS GOING GREEN … OR ELSE … HA HA HA JOHNS, CLEVER.

    My immediate and best gut reaction to “Bollocks” was that Constantine was aware who was writing the comic he was appearing in.

    I read Geoff Johns comics. No regrets.

  2. Zom Says:

    Never apologise (life rule 1)

    I didn’t bother with the issue. Was only concerned with that panel and what it implies about iconic moments in comic books

  3. mad_arab Says:

    John kind of looks like he’s being told off by his nan for wanking in that picture.

    I’m a little surprised that they didn’t reboot his smoking, although he probably doesn’t smoke Silk Cuts in the DCU!!

  4. Zom Says:

    There’s still time for them to reboot his smoking.

    I don’t think they will, but it’s a possibility

  5. Thrills Says:

    At least when he’s in the DCU, he’ll be unlikely to be calling anyone a ‘cuntbubble’.

    And he should quite clearly smoke a magic cigarette that represents the focused totality of his arcane skillz, that he can smoke at his enemies. “Looks like you just got cancer, Reverse Flash. CANCER OF THE MIND” (casts sigil, building explodes, someone’s arm falls off).

    And that’s some serious seedy facial hair Constantine’s got in that picture.

    Bollocks.

  6. Zom Says:

    I’m gonna get into magic in a later post. Constantine’s magic is a particular kind

  7. plok Says:

    Oh no, they’re drawing him to look like the guy from The Mentalist! Not cool.

  8. RetroWarbird Says:

    I’m fixating now on just how much smoke is pouring out of that Bogie. I’ve smoked a lot of years, and never once did it look like that.

  9. Zom Says:

    So they are. Good call, plok.

  10. bobsy Says:

    Is b******s really that offensive though? I’m sure I’ve been getting away with it in front of my quite swear-averse family since I was very young and naughty indeed.

    ’8th most offensive swearword’ is a bit like saying least most offensive swearword, isn’t it?

    [also, they links is broke old snozzcumber]

  11. Zom Says:

    All I know is that my Mum hates it

  12. david brothers Says:

    I think the “Bollocks” was in reference to an interminable monologue about the unlikelihood of Swamp Thing coming back and killing things. Paraphrase from memory of a page I saw once: “Me ol’ mate Swampy caught a lorrie uptown and then did for a bunch of executives all violentlike? Nah, mate, bollocks.”

    (Judging by that Flashpoint preview, that’s how Constantine talks these days.)

    This is weird–I’m a big Hellblazer fan. Like it lots, got the jokes in the marriage issue without wikipedia, etc etc, but I can never quite bring myself to say Constantine, rather than Constanteen. I have to think twice to make sure it comes out right. I’ve made an effort, but wow, nothing doing.

    But tine or teen, I’m looking forward to the next entries in this one. I don’t know that I’ve read much critical assessment of the series or character at all.

  13. Ben Says:

    I kind of like that the smoke is coming out the back of the cigarette in great plumes rather than cross his hand, as one would normally expect the physics of cigarette smoke to work. I get that such a feat would be an artistic nightmare, but perhaps he could be doing something… I dunno, vaguely expressive with his hands this panel?

    To be truthful, I’m thinking that the “Bollocks” here is more a noun than an interjection, as in “What part of the male anatomy can sum up the vibrancy and vitality this page is sorely missing?” He even has a wistful look on his face, as if he’s missing them already. Don’t worry, John: we’ll fetch you an icepack and give you plenty of edgy cigarettes to smoke while the strippery ladies parade around you. Buck up, old sport!

  14. El Gostro Says:

    As it has been pointed out in this blog before,Johns is a man who likes playing with action figures and writing wikis on the universes he comes up with for these people.
    Was never vey enthusisathic about the idea of COnstantine getting back into the DCU,he is essentially a very ,and though I do understand an dlike the concept of characters being toys to play with,something masters like Moore and Morrison undesrtand keenly,Johns strikes more as the insusferable collector that loves lining up his precious action figure collection complete with color variations behind a hermetically sealed glass display case alongside a very boring and unending exposition plaquette below it…

  15. RetroWarbird Says:

    Tine versus Teen … I actually have a friend named John Constantine (teen). Does add to the confusion sometimes.

  16. amypoodle Says:

    He’s always been teen to me.

  17. Zom Says:

    And me. He’s also not a Liverpudlian.

    “Oh, but he is have you read…”

    No, and no he isn’t.

  18. Zom Says:

    (I’m thinking about the value of him being a Liverpudlian now…)

  19. hellblazer Says:

    Regarding le mot juste: anyone remember what JC says in that bit of the Rake At The Gates Of Hell story when he looks in Nigel’s shoebox and finds his insurance policy has been torpedoed? My guess is that isn’t bollocks.

    The facial expression also doesn’t seem to fit the use of the word, but then I haven’t read, nor have any desire to read, the comic where the panel comes from.

    Oh, and that last paragraph is the best encapsulation I’ve seen of what I like about Ennis’s run (and to some extent Carey’s)

  20. hellblazer Says:

    (and to reiterate someone else’s point, the links are bollixed)

  21. The Beast Must Die Says:

    In the final lines of Rake at the Gates of Hell storyline, Ennis got the first use of the word ‘Fuck’ into a Vertigo comic (until then, the much grimmer ‘frig’ was favoured).

    Seems such an innocent time now…

  22. bobsy Says:

    He had the first c-bomb in that Higgins four-parter that he came back to the title for also.

    It’s ‘Tine’ for sure, at least that’s how I’ve etc.

    I think he is Liverpudlian, I just don’t think you can hear it in his voice that often, as is so often the case for naturalised Londonistas. I actually think JC needs a bit of the North in him for the character to make sense, though youi’d have to listen to his voice pretty carefully to pick out the scouse traces now.

  23. Zom Says:

    He’s better with the North in him, yes, and as a naturalised Londoner.

  24. Zom Says:

    Links sorted

  25. Stuff to Read – 06/21/2011 « popculturebomb Says:

    [...] Talking Bollocks – Garth Ennis’ John Constantine part 1 – Mindless Ones Bullshit ain’t about lying…Like bullshit, bollocks is subtle. It is used as a declaration of falsehood, but it’s also, more commonly, used as to denote poor quality, or, like bullshit, highlight truth rejecting nonsense, or to punctuate a fuck-up. [...]

  26. Botswana Beast Says:

    Luckily beyond this lowpoint, which obviously I’d hoped to make it through life without reading or even knowing that Geoff Johns/Pete Tomasi were writing John Constantine, Hellblazer but for Dan Didio continuing to apparently be the anti-me, he will be written by initially former Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin and then Peter Milligan in the *koff* Justice League Dark.

    I don’t even find his reintroduction terribly problematic; you can’t swear, but you can a wee bit, there’s a big *&$%ing mess to clean up. Bollocks.

  27. Zom Says:

    I think it’s fine if you get the whole very black humour thing and if you’re happy to present Constantine as meaningfully amoral. I don’t believe for one second that Goffrey Jeans has any of that on his mind.

  28. Thrills Says:

    I sort of reckon that while J’ohnns is using him, he’ll just be portrayed as ‘cynical swearer with heart of purest gold’ who also happens to talk like Dick Van Dyke, but then I don’t think I’ll be reading to find out. Though curiosity may get the better of me…

    I am, however, totally onboard for Justice League Darque, at least for the first story arc. I’m hoping for some Good Milligan, even if it is the more ‘loose’ and ‘tossed off’ Good Milligan, like Toxin.

  29. Botswana Beast Says:

    Well, god knows what goes through the eggshell enigma that is J’eoff Jeans mind, but I don’t even think it’s necessarily “meaningfully amoral” for him to be like, relatively unshocked at a bunch of bloody murder by ‘is old mucker, the Swamp Thing, because DCUohn DConstantine experienced some far, far harder core stuff during the Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in issues of Swampy.

    I should add, I’m not 100% on this and really can’t be arsed checking, someone can ask David Uzumeri to be certs, that Johns and/or Tomasi have literally written Conners for one (or one face-, there may have been meaningful silhouettes?) panel, which is the last panel of Brightest Day, which is represented here. So that’s a bonus.

    Or not, if this follow-up preview is much to go by; I don’t know, there he is interacting with Batman, it’s hm.

  30. Botswana Beast Says:

    Well, I read it now, and can report it is thoroughly ungood.

  31. amypoodle Says:

    Just read the preview and while NO SMOKING IN THE VEHICLE = LOL… Why is Batman beating that man up for no reason?

  32. Botswana Beast Says:

    That’s just how Batman is.

    You know Batman.

    Great.

    It’s never actually made clear if this is Dick Grayson, because although he is wearing the present DG suit he seems a lot more like Bruce Wayne? (I had this, admittedly piffling, issue with Greg Rucka’s Batwoman also.)

  33. Zom Says:

    Because he’s a vigilante

  34. Botswana Beast Says:

    he is

  35. hellblazer Says:

    BB: if it is Bruce, didn’t JC talk to him at some point in Moore’s Brujeria storyline in Swamp Thing, or am I misremebering?

  36. plok Says:

    Wow, I loathe that Brightest Day cover!

    But at theast he doesn’t fucking look like the fucking guy from the fucking Mentalist.

    Can no one not be drawn to be a person who’s on TV or in the movies? Is this marketing? Or is it meant to be some super-up-to-date twenty-first century subtextual reinforcement of character? It is really starting to get me down, I feel like I’m wearing a colander on my head and somebody’s bashing it with a slotted spoon.

    Ahem.

    Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. That “oh, but Captain Marvel was based on Fred MacMurray, it’s fine, it’s historical” stuff has finally run 100% out of road for me.

  37. The Beast Must Die Says:

    So, are they cancelling the regular Hellblazer title?

    Amid all the *excitement* I can’t remember if DC announced this.

    Cos that would be shit.

    Maybe they’re scrapping Vertigo altogether…?

  38. Zom Says:

    Dunno.

  39. bobsy Says:

    Surely not, unless indeed they are cancelling Vertigo entirely. I think the ‘grown-up’ audience that was big enough to make the movie viable will still need to be serviced by a ‘mature’ title.

    We need to start pushng to have David Hine take over when Milligan goes.

    I quite enjoyed S4ST as it do ‘appen squire, I thought the dialogue was surprisingly neatly balanced, given the ongoing bollocks discussion (appropriate bollockses appeared in both S4ST and the regular HB in these latest issues), and the bits of Batman booting JC around an garbage-encrusted alleyway was spot on, as if Batman would have time for all his wideboy spiel.

    I’ve wanted JC to be able to mix with the DCU for ages, and now they’re doing it, and it wasn’t too horrible, which with DC these days is close to ‘miraculously good’.

  40. Thrills Says:

    I feel Batman and Constantine could get on, though, if only for their shared love of purple prose.

  41. amypoodle Says:

    Now that is bollocks, Bob. The Batman I know would never just start in on a perfect stranger who’d done nothing to deserve it. That’s the idiot’s Batman. He’s definitely not your Batman.

  42. amypoodle Says:

    He would get angry about the smoking in the car thing though.

  43. bobsy Says:

    No it’s not bollocks – it’s very staightforward bat-behaviour. Shady character in an alleyway, withholding info on a murder, being a smartarse. Wallop. Batman’s physical intolerance of the drug-dependent is legendary.

  44. Anonymous Says:

    Too right.

    I wish Morrison would get Batman back to doing what he does best – crippling glue-sniffers in condom strewn alleyways.

    Hhh.

  45. Zom Says:

    Fuckstraight

  46. RetroWarbird Says:

    Vertigo’s going nowhere – Milligan’s apparently writing both John Constantine and Jeans Constanteens. Young, hip Constanteens has young, hip things to do with Zatanna. I hope Milligan revives Morrison’s “Zatanna … super-magician with super-need-for-therapy” angle. I suppose trifling with a cad like Constantine could put a girl back there, right?

    I only read the preview, but it’s gotta be Dickie-Bats, right? Has Grayson met ol’ Johnny? Is he that big a health nut? I mean he doesn’t let Jim Gordon smoke in the car?

    That’s how I know it’s gotta be Dick, though. It’s Dick’s better batmobile. Bruce and Dick have shared a great many things in their days, but bat-themed automobiles? No sirs … there’s no call for that.

  47. amypoodle Says:

    My Batman would be able to reclaim the power dynamic from Constantine without the punching.

    I wish I could remix comics…..

  48. Zom Says:

    You could always try that. Cut a panle here or there, change the dialogue.

    Abhay did. Landed him a gig writing for DC.

    Or you could write some shit and submit it…

  49. bobsy Says:

    I think your Batman is actually a bit of a hippy, and Constantine would have him for elevenses.

    Seriously though, in a grand old team-up, not even Batman should be able to psych-out Constantine, otherwise what’s Constantine for?

  50. Zom Says:

    Good counter

  51. amypoodle Says:

    He just does it later on.

    Welcome to a world, Bob, where everyone, Batman and Constantine, have to up their game.

    And Vankin.

  52. bobsy Says:

    Where Batman rips the Silk Cut from his hands and starts chuffing away, just to prove how hard and unruffled he is, while JC starts pulling his mad ninja shapes?

    Sounds like we’ll finally have that tooled up Hell Blazer character from Doom Patrol 53? OK, that would work…

  53. Thrills Says:

    “I already know 53 different ways to smoke that packet of fags. 43 of them’ll make me light headed, 9′ll put me in hospital, one’ll kill me. But they’ll all make me look cool, like James Dean.”

  54. amypoodle Says:

    I think Moore had it down in Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing totally hands Batman his arse on a platter, but, still, in the end when Batman says ‘If you harm my city again, I’ll kill you’, the reader and Swampy believe him. It’s a juggling act getting the power dynamic right between two popular superheroes.

  55. Zom Says:

    I mean, Batman doesn’t kill but that’s fucking aces. Forgot about that.

  56. bobsy Says:

    Yeah, that ‘un’s a proper Moment. I always though Bats should have been involved in Millar’s final ST arc, just on the back of that line.

  57. The Beast Must Die Says:

    If Batman smoked he’d be the best at smoking.

  58. Botswana Beast Says:

    JC and Batman have indeed had words, but blah blah pre- or inter- Crisis, I suppose you could argue. Steve ‘Mento’ Dayton was there too, shortly before his unfortunate passing alongside Giovanni Zatara.

    …DC should really have just stopped publishing after those comics, they were the best.

  59. mckracken Says:

    Blimey!

    What a crappy character. Even Ennis couldn’t do anything decent with this walking cliche of a supercool 80ies brit.

  60. Zom Says:

    Not sure how cool he was/is, really.

  61. Alphonse Says:

    It was earlyish work by Garth Ennis, mckracken, but most of the time the writing, if brash, is hard to fault. Arguably the art’s another matter, it looks a bit scratchy these days, but either way, JC was as much a monster as he was a hero type in that run, surely?

  62. amypoodle Says:

    Yeah, I don’t understand what you’re talking about Mckracken, Constantine in Ennis’s run was hardly someone to aspire to.

  63. hellblazer Says:

    “this walking cliche of a supercool 80ies brit.”

    WTF? Which bits of Ennis’s run are you thinking of? This is, after the all, the author who titled the final story/arc “Rake at the Gates of Hell”…

    I seem to remember the introduction to one trade paperback collection describing JC as “Society’s Bastard”, after all.

  64. hellblazer Says:

    Also, there’s the unsubtle but (IMHO) amusing bit in the Ennis run where JC goes round to have words with someone his niece has been magic-dabbling with, only to find to his horror that the lad in question is “a fan” who finds JC’s exploits cool.

    The “JC is cool” thing may arguably owe more to Ellis, IIRC.

  65. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Talking bollocks – Garth Ennis’s John Constantine part 2 Says:

    [...] Part 1 here [...]

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