And we’re back… after a poorly coordinated Christmas break that was brought to you by the combined powers of sickness and having other stuff to do!

Our previous excerpt dealt with the methods of production of pornography and ended up questioning The Filth‘s efficiency as a way of dealing with the muck of modern techno-capitalism or some such shite.  This excerpt picks up right where that one left off, almost like this is what I’ve been building to all along – the question of whether the only way to discuss the muck we live in is to live with it

Palm and her five sisters

Were there alternatives?  When challenged by Greg/Ned on the horrors of the world and his role in it, Palm supervisors Man Green/Man Yellow seem to suggest that as products of this world we do not have an option about how much of it is in us:

Man Green: The crack runs through everything.  And everyone.

Man Yellow: Without it, we would be perfect, like angels, and as dull.

Convincing as this rhetoric might sound within the story, there were alternatives – different Filths were possible, and which might even turn out to still be possible if Hollywood ever gets desperate enough to commission a big budget adaptation.  Unless a work of art is created at gunpoint or under duress we should be ready to heap scorn on those who claim that they had to write the rape scene.  Nevertheless, the question remains: would The Filth be as effective as it is if it didn’t contain what it tries to critique?  The medicinal metaphor is invoked throughout the packaging of the collected edition (“The experts agree — nothing is more effective for shrinking painful existential eruptions”), but while this is yet another stimulating comparison, one should be careful not to mistake it for reality – a story is not an inoculation against other (similar/worse) stories, no matter how much we might wish it were so.

Two parallel cases present themselves within The Filth, and though they occur in the world of the story rather than in our world and thus operate by the boundaries set by its creators, they nevertheless illustrate two extremes The Filth avoids and in doing so make a limited case for its methods.

On one side of the spectrum are the I-Life devices that were created by Doctor Soon, the unfortunate victim of the act of violence that opens the first issue of The Filth.  Modelled on the then popular creatures from the kid’s TV show Telletubbies, the I-Life are unusually cuddly nano creatures.  In the middle of a panicked briefing in the second issue, Feely is told that they are

A prototype miniature slave race with wide applications in microsurgery and genetic design… Soon’s theoretical breakthrough was based on the observation that conventional antibiotic treatments served only to weaken the immune system.  She wondered if, instead of trying to kill diseases, we could befriend them.

In the grand scheme of all things Filth, the I-Life creatures represent the most openly utopian solution (and yes, the fact that this involves pre-programmed slavery should probably ring alarm bells).  These gentle, bulbous monsters are unusually wrinkle-free for Chris Weston creations, and the gesture towards a popular kids TV show about play and cooperation that is built into their design is about as overt an invocation of innocence as is imaginable.  In short, they seem too cute, too aggressively nice to possibly prosper in their environment.  When it comes to pass that they are corrupted by Spartacus Hughes, forced to cannibalise their own creator, and then unleashed to “idiotise” debauched partygoers and Hand agents alike, this only seems to be a confirmation of their unsuitability in this most unpleasantly Darwinian of comic book worlds.

This, then, is one argument that could be deployed to defend The Filth’s use of the destructive spectacle of weaponised pornography: that a comic which did not deal with the worst that the world is capable of would be ill-equipped to do anything more than reiterate the assumptions that allow us to live in blithe denial, and that in order to challenge those assumptions it is necessary to integrate and understand them.

An extreme counterpoint to this comes at the end of ‘in the world of anders klimakks’, where it is revealed that the amnesiac porn star of the title’s absentmindedness and super-potent black sperm had actually been designed in as part of another sort of utopian plot.  In this scheme Anders’ sexual chemistry and hyper-virility would lead to a world populated exclusively by Anders’ fuck-happy progeny, a world in which ‘The lonely and the suicidal will be gang banged back to sanity’.  In stark contrast to the sealed-off, nurturing environment in which Doctor Soon conducted her I-Life experiment, the Klimakks project clearly originates in the goo-soaked, porn-powered world of The Filth itself.

The closing narration for issue #6 posits the end point of this as being a society in which “all you need is fuck”, and the resonances with Tex Porneau’s “Fuck or be fucked” moto are hard to ignore.  There are differences there too, of course – Tex’s life philosophy is something that is done to people, and it comes with an implicit hierarchy, while Anders’ implies a universal currency – but it’s worth asking who would actually want to live in this option-free paradise in which “The jobs of everybody will be to fuck everybody else for the camera to watch”?

While considering this particular brand of socio-biological refinement, I can’t help but think of a handful scenes that occur earlier in that episode, scenes in which a pair of detectives who have been sent to investigate Porneau’s connection with Klimakks are integrated into the ongoing bacchanal and berated for their humanity:

Don’t give me this unprofessional bullshit, honey.

I get a thousand girls through here who manage to do what they do without bleating like losers.

If a world full of Anders Klimakks clones would be happier than our world, that would only be because everyone would know their place and be unwilling/unable to opt out of the spectacle that was being inflicted on them.  Everyone would be a professional, the whole planet an elaborate movie set.  This would not be a world full of living creatures but a world full of prime cuts of meat, ready to rut and to rot with no one to buy them.  For all its differences from the “beautiful bonsai planet” Doctor Soon created for the I-Life, there is a similar absence of choice in this scenario.  Both worlds posit stability through the absence of choice, with all life reduced to mere biological self-perpetuation.

The image of the detectives kneeling down in gimp masks in front of a giant ball of rubbish that has been collected by Porneau’s minions and turned into a bit of set-dressing is like an in-story representation of what this version of The Filth would be: a creation purely of the world it came from that requires everyone to kneel down before it.


Note the way that these men kneel, not so much overpowered by physical force at this stage as they are overpowered by the story they live in.  In the world of Anders Klimakks, it is hard to tell whether this is a feature of the story or a bug; a side-effect of the stiffness of Chris Weston’s figure drawing or a hint of the world yet to come.

Regardless of such questions, with the weight of the rest of the story behind it the Anders Klimakks solution may be read as an essential parody of The Filth’s  porno-futurist aesthetics.  If the comic has treated the expression of these elements as a worthy end in themselves, would have recalled Walter Benjamin’s line on aestheticism:

Humanity, which in Homer’s day provided a spectacle for the gods of Olympus, has now become one for itself.  Its alienation from itself has reached a point where it now allows its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.

Instead of asking us to kneel with the debased detectives, and therefore to glory in our own devastation, The Filth takes a third path.  Thankfully for the sake of my rhetorical style, its final direction also has a representation in the comic, in the form of the I-Life as they return at the end of the series, integrated with Greg Feely after his experience, his consumption of the festering corruption of the comic itself.   Here this “living micro-technology” is shown operating  in something close to its original capacity, rebuilding the world on the tiniest scale imaginable, but it is essential to note how the appearance of the individual I-Life creatures has changed.  They still have that single staring eye on their chests, but it’s a logo now, emblazoned on a uniform that has a lot in common with the uniforms worn by Hand agents throughout The Filth.

Like the comics they appear in, they have been shaped by the horror of experience but they are neither too otherworldly to operate effectively in it nor totally defined by existing conditions.  In the final moments of the series, our shared social and biological context is reframed not as a trap, but as the  foundation for something better, something new.  Describing the new, improved I-Life, an un-attributed voice tells us that “Only humans could make something kinder and better than themselves… like anti-bodies in the great big body of nature except anti-bodies don’t get sad because they know their place.”

Note that the heroes of this speech are only “like” anti-bodies.  We have moved beyond metaphor here, towards simile, and with it an acknowledgement of our incompleteness, our inability to truly inhabit our ideals.  This might not sound like much, but consider the alternatives we’ve explored: defending the status quo like the Hand agents, amplifying it like Tex Porneu, or working towards a future in which we all know our place, like an original model I-Life worker or one of Anders Klimakks’ many horny offspring.

In place of such certainties we are offered a mutant strain of the ideology that Terry Eagleton suggests in After Theory, a worldview that recognises the big black pit at the heart of existence not as something to be fucked, but as something that needs to be acknowledged before we can work out how to treat each other.  As Eagleton puts it:

Our present political order is based upon the non-being of human deprivation. What we need to replace it with is a political order which is also based on non-being – but non-being as an awareness of human unfoundedness.  Only this can stem the hubris to which fundamentalism is a desperate, diseased reaction.  Tragedy reminds us of how hard it is, in confronting non-being, not to undo ourselves in the process.  How can one look upon that horror and live?  At the same time, it reminds us that a way of life which lacks the courage to make this traumatic encounter finally lacks the strength to survive.

This isn’t another dose of “love conquers all” bromide or a call to find purity through pain.  It isn’t ‘All You Need Is Love’ either, beautiful as that particular lie might be. This is an admission that there is life beyond the strains of anti-human, anti-feminine thought that contaminate the culture in which The Filth was incubated.  The fact that this comes bound up in an tragicomic exploitation of that culture makes this confession more urgent and credible, and if it makes it more difficult to fully take on-board maybe that’s for the best too.

In the end, The Filth is a piece of abstract propaganda that argues that we have bodies and that “We have love”, but that what we do with both of them is very much up to us.  It suggests that if we can free ourselves of the angelic and demonic perfectionisms of the past without losing our awareness of our own capacity to inflict, enjoy and profit from horror, we might just still be able to figure out how to do more than survive in the world we have made for ourselves.

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