As was noted in the comments to the previous entry in this series, the analysis of sex provided in that section of  The Function of The Filth wasn’t particularly attentive to the mechanics of The Filth as a comic.

I’m working to take some of those criticisms on-board while redrafting this chapter for print, and I’m confident that the finished result will go baws deep on the question of quite how narcissistic Greg’s fantasy sex scene is, and how little he and Boy/Miami/Nil enjoy it.  As I explained at the time, the second preview was the weakest standalone section because it was most obviously written with the hope of getting elsewhere – this doesn’t excuse the weaknesses of the section as it stands, but it does put the weight of expectation on this preview!

This is where it becomes obvious where the first chapter of The Function of The Filth is going, so hopefully this chapter will strike you as having a somewhat… meatier taste and consistency to it.  If not, please send your complaints to the usual address!

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When we see Greg in his home, he tends to be either looking at porn (“Hear Caroline scream as Mike shoves his eleven inch dick… in her dad”), watching the news (“Thousands dead… mourning continues”), or pining after his cat (“You look after yourself and eat your special dinner up”).  In fact, in one scene in the first issue he combines these three activities into one page’s worth of fun, taking care of his needs on the couch before clearing up his cat’s shit, all to the soundtrack of distant tragedy.  This combination hints at the unkempt, exhausted, low level squalor in which Greg exists, but it also serves to carefully unite the crude, screaming brutality of modern news stories with that of hardcore pornography rather neatly.

This is crucially important to The Filth, because while – as we have seen – traditionally commercialised violence and sexual fantasy are surrealised and made unstable by Morrison and Weston throughout The Filth, their combination in the form of  hardcore pornography receives a different treatment altogether.  The theme of sexual brutalisation is present from that first image onwards, even in its Weston-diluted form, but it becomes increasingly inescapable for all the artist’s self-censorship.  The fleshy peak of this aspect of the series pokes up through the binding in the two-part storyline that fills the fifth and six issues of the comic, ‘pornomancer’ and ‘the world of anders klimakks’.  If The Filth is a desperate fantasy, then this is the point where the dream takes on a life of its own; if it’s all ‘real’, then this is where we get a glimpse of the bigger, grubbier picture.

The antagonist of this part of the story is Tex Porneau, a director of ill repute with a penchant for spunking philosophical justifications into the middle of the action.  While he may possess nature’s first digitally obscured male genitalia, Porneau’s not a particularly reserved or modest man, as evidenced by his moto (‘FUCK OR BE FUCKED’) and by the fact that his grand plan involves growing a swarm of gigantic hunter-killer sperm with which to terrorize the women of Los Angeles.   Tex seems to be worried that his reputation as an extreme filmmaker is under threat from kids whose footsteps he hears whenever he turns the world into a set.  Note the way he talks about his usurpers while preparing to film the city-wide carnage he’s wrought:

These new kids… with their sleazecore heroin vomit porn… these droopy punks they can steal the hardcore crown from Tex Porneau.  Forget it.

Triple IMAX 3-D super-extreme hardcore.  The ultimate equation… SEX = DEATH = BUCKS!  I am the future!

The registers blur easily into each other here: paranoid old man babble becomes a pastiche of hip extremism which in turn becomes a crass technological boast that doubles as a crude parody of advertising.  All in a day’s work for a Vice staffer in 2014, perhaps, but was The Filth just quick in with its critique or did it summon up that which it was trying to put down?

For all that Tex Porneua is very obviously supposed to be a send-up of porn director Max Hardcore from his cowboy hat on down, this speech makes me think of Transformers/Bad Boys/Pain and Gain director Michael Bay more than anything else.  Bay’s aesthetic devotion to “fucking the frame”, to overloading the screen with rapid-fire cuts between scenes of carnage and scenes of sexual provocation, and his almost orgasmic commitment to advertising advanced and inhuman technologies on screen – from Michael Wahlberg arms to the dizzying murder machines that double as swanky cars in his Transformers movies – marks him out as a clear artistic relative of Porneau.

I’m reminded here of a rant that film critic Mark Kermode had about Transformers: The Dark of the Moon on his BBC Radio 5 Live film review show, in which he berated the ever-escalating speed and volume of Bay’s productions.  Kermode argues that this technique results in the annihilation of the boundaries between women, cars and toys, “all just things to be leered at and played with” in Bay’s worldview.  Of course, Michael Bay didn’t discover the potential for erotic overload in car advertising or commercialised violence any more than your parents invented sex, but Bay’s Tex Porneau-like tendency to push the form to new extremes is emblematic of his cultural moment, a moment that The Filth both amplified and went some way towards anticipating.  What we are presented with in ‘pornomancer’ and ‘in the world of anders klimakks’ is a portrait of sex and entertainment stripped of any function or context and turned into a force of hateful misogynistic violence.

Seen in the light of Tex Porneau’s plan, the descriptions of the depths of pornography from Laurie Penny’s Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism sound tame:

The formal rules of late capitalist pornography are the fulcrum of modern sexual affectlessness: an endless parade of disembodied cocks going into holes, a joyless, piston pumping assembly line of industrial sexuality that seeks constantly to monetize new limits of ‘hardcore’, to milk more cum, to stretch sphincters wider and open orifices to double, triple, quadruple loads of faceless genital meat.

As one may infer from the above excerpt – if they didn’t already know from experience – male ejaculate has already been turned into a signifier of something beyond its mere biological function in pornography, what with the ritualised money shot being an act of completion that doubles as an act of degradation, depending on the nature of the production in question.  Tex Porneau’s plan merely takes this to its unnatural conclusion.  His model of porno-capitalism leaves the spooge-drenched battery farms Laurie Penny described far behind, creating in its place an environment in which semen has been turned into something that unambiguously hates, hunts and destroys women: 

This both underlines the connection between Greg’s taste for crude pornography and the actions of the various “anti-people” he meets and intensifies the sense of jarring scale-shifting that haunts The Filth.  More than this, and far more troublingly, the images that close issue #5 and open issue #6 of The Filth are the moments where it most resembles an action comic in the “widescreen” style that was popular at the time of  The Filth’s publication.

Popularised by Bryan Hitch and Warren Ellis’ run on The Authority (a comic in which analogues of Superman and Batman and a variety of oddities from Wildstorm’s comic book universe performed terrible violence in order to stop potentially world-ending threats), “widescreen” action comics stripped dialogue back to the bare minimum of snappy quips and Ballardian exposition in order to foreground the visual carnage, expressed in a series of wide panels that would typically contain high-impact action scenes, punctuated by one or two page splash images in which a particularly elaborate or striking composition would be given special emphasis.

Perverse as it might sound, the one page splashes depicting crowds of women being assaulted by hunter-killer gametes are the closest The Filth comes to replicating the hyper-entertaining style of “widescreen” comics like The Authority, Morrison’s own Marvel Boy (with J.G. Jones), or Mark Millar’s work on The Ultimates with Authority artist Bryan Hitch.  Here, as throughout The Filth, Weston’s pages are busy to the point of mania, a riot of twisted bodies and gurning faces and biological excretions, but somewhat atypically, these elements are all composed for maximum impact.  The flow of super-massive sperm guides the eye across the page, through a series of grizzly money shots; unlike the action charted in the first issue of The Filth, none of this is put together in such a way as to make a “straight” reading of it impossible.

(As a side note, such unencumbered readings were one of two contradictory streams at work in the widescreen superhero comics of the early 2000s.  As written by Warren Ellis and Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch, JG Jones and John Cassady, these books aimed to simplify the language of comics, to make it more obviously impactful – a little bit less comic booky, a little bit more cinematic.  At the same time, these comics were unable to escape the self-reflective, meta-fictional play that characterises superhero comics.  No amount of “cool moves” could destroy their history, as the easy absorbtion of these texts into Geoff Klock’s Bloomian critique in How to Read Superhero Comics and Why will attest.)

These images also resonate with scenes of mass destruction from modern action movies such as Man of Steel, Battleship or indeed Transformers: The Dark of The Moon.  From movies to computer games, the devastation of American cities has become a staple of modern entertainment post 9/11, and for all their flagrant strangeness the scenes of everyday people struggle to survive the mayhem provided in this section of The Filth are nonetheless of a piece with similar images in more mainstream entertainment.  This is particularly noteworthy because as Chris Weston noted in his interview for Curing the Postmodern Blues, The Filth was an almost wilfully abnormal and non-commercial comic:

The Filth was Grant [Morrison]’s first project after his creative divorce with Mark Millar.  While Mark had gone on to do The Ultimates – probably the most commercial comic-book product on the market – Grant perversely chose to tell the most niche, psychological, complicated, and dark tale he could think of… I suspect The Ultimates may have won the sales war…

We may not be rooting for the sperm to destroy these innocent women – may in fact be rooting for them to survive! – but if we look at and enjoy the page we are nonetheless taking pleasure in the butcherly qualities of  Chris Weston’s linework and composition.  Safe from the knife ourselves we are free to enjoy its threat and its impact, its inescapable reduction of life, just as surely as we are while watching the elaborate techno-knives of Michael Bay’s Transformers cleave through skyscrapers, or when trying to keep track of the meat knives in whatever gonzo porn clip we chose to access on our smartphones on our way to work in the morning.

In the end Porneau is defeated when Miami anally violates him with a strap-on full of “Bourgeonal; the chemicals eggs release to act sperm”.  When he is rushed and destroyed by his own creations, the question of whether The Filth is a critique of sexist entertainment or an example of it is further complicated.  In order to defeat Tex, the agents of The Hand resort to his methods and reaffirm his “Fuck or be fucked” motto.

That this action reaffirms the automated cruelty of his worldview right down to its rigorously defined fucker (male) vs. fuckee (female) gender roles might be taken as a critique of the agency Feely works for; the fact that these episodes of The Filth derive their most striking images and their clever mini-resolution from Tex’s style of entertainment is less easily rationalised away

3 Responses to “The Function of The Filth – Preview #3”

  1. Filthy Friday #3 | The Function of the Filth Says:

    [...] third preview from my upcoming book The Function of The Filth is now available to read over on Mindless Ones dot com.  This section deals with the character Tex Porneau, who I position as the Michael Bay of [...]

  2. Thrills Says:

    I’ve never been totally comfortable with the Tex Porneau section of the Filth, it is all a bit “LOL rape”. I realise I’m not supposed to feel ‘comfortable’, what with it being an innoculation blah blah but, well, I don’t need Morrison to ‘expose’ me to the seedy ‘hilarity’ of rape for me to realise the world is a grimy, hideous place, eh. Perpetuation of laddish bullshit is pushing no boundaries.

    SO, yeah. “When he is rushed and destroyed by his own creations, the question of whether The Filth is a critique of sexist entertainment or an example of it is further complicated”

    Status: Quo maintained, I guess.

    I get that that’s probably the point, but the laffs Morrison tries to evoke from it are all a tad Millar (which is a shame, as Grant is capable of being genuinely funny).

    It’s interesting that Morrison has been mining porn scenarios for horror fodder (definitely a valid thing to do), but it was much more effective in his Batman run, with the forced feminisation/dollification stuff of Prof Pyg and his gang.

    Anyway, looking forward to this book, and have been enjoying the comments sections. I’m not really a smart or enthusiastic enough guy to get too in-depth these days about Morrison stuff, but I’m glad other people are, as it’s interesting reading.

  3. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » The Function of The Filth – Preview #4 Says:

    [...] we have already seen, The Filth makes use of these conventions itself alongside strategies designed to curdle the [...]

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