Seth Stephens Davidowitz (2017) everybody lies. What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.

Google announced they would delete data. Algorithms rule the world. And their algorithm made Sergey Brin and Larry Page the richest men in the world. That’s the equivalent of an oil company announcing it would no longer produce petrol. Google would not cooperate with law officials who sought to prosecute women seeking abortion in lieu of Roe versus Wade after searching online, using Google.

Google is a noun and verb. Google trends offer the searcher anonymity. What we type into an internet search engine (Google) tells us who we are. Netflix’s algorithm, for example, offer the films we like based not on our stated preferences—we lie about the type of movies we watch—but on what we’ve actually watched. It’s become a cliché to state that these companies and corporations know us better than ourselves.

Davidowitz, in his introduction, ‘The Outlines of a Revolution’, put this to the test.

‘In the 2016 Republican primaries, polling experts concluded that Donald Trump did not stand a chance.’

We all know how and when the moron’s moron was elected. Google Trends, introduced in 2009, which counts how often a word or phrase is used, but also monitors locations and time.

Conventional wisdom painted the United States a multiracial society with the election of Barack Obama. Race didn’t matter.

‘Nigger,’ ‘Nigga,’ ‘Niggers,’ was typed into the Google search-engine on the night of Obama’s win.

‘There was a darkness and hatred that was hidden from traditional sources, but was quite apparent in the searches people made.’

Google search-engine also showed a different pattern to conventional media wisdom. It was taken as a truism that racism was a problem of the South. Good old boys. Those were white and Republican districts. ‘Nigger’ searches with the highest rates also included upstate New York, rural Illinois, West Virginia, southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Not a North versus South divide, but East versus West.

Data proved, retrospectively, that in states with a high number of racist enquiries about ‘niggers’ Obama did worse.  Davidowitz suggests Obama lost around four percent of the vote for explicitly racist reasons.

His loss was the moron’s moron’s gain. A map of racism mapped out by the term ‘nigger’. The strongest correlation was between Trump and his support was the use of a word we dare not speak its name.

The moron’s moron’s legacy lives on in a number of areas, including misogyny. Overturning Roe versus Wade. Davidowitz also offers a map of what women of child-bearing years and living in the dis-United States can expect.

‘In 2015, in the United States, there were more than 700 000 Google searches looking into self-induced abortion. By comparison, there were some 3.4 million searches for abortion clinics that year. That suggests that a significant percentage of women considering an abortion contemplated doing it themselves.

Search rates for self-induced abortion were fairly steady from 2004 through 2007. They began to rise in late 2008, coinciding with the financial crisis and the recession that followed. They took a big leap in 2011, jumping 40 percent…ninety-two state provisions that restrict access.

Looking by comparison at Canada, which has not seen a crackdown on reproductive rights, there were no comparable increases in searches for self-induced abortions during that time.’    

Google declines to share data. Google destroys data. In Google we trust. The moron’s moron’s legacy lives on. Expect a tsunami of death and dying of young coloured girls. But you don’t need to be coloured. All you need to be is poor. God help us.  We don’t need Google or Davidowitz to tell us that.

Rachael Smart (2022) Ways To Fold a Swan.

Poets make the best writers. Ways To Fold a Swan is a chapbook. I remember Rachel Smart from when she was an editor at ABCtales (she probably still is). I read everything she wrote. Poetry mostly, but also prose. Story of the week stuff.

I like her writing because she writes about people I recognise. People like me. Working class, and unashamedly so. Words she recognises come preloaded with meaning.

‘Rouse, ravish, rape.’ Roe versus Wade. Tens of millions of poor women have suddenly been disenfranchised by a coterie of rich white guys. Hierarchies of hidden meaning.

The narrator, Leda, is on a journey. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on push bikes. Leda has to find out how to be more herself and not what other—men—want her to be. She needs to grow up.

‘Leda is different to others. She has been different her whole life. Her parents never made a meal out of it.’

First lines are important. It needs to ask questions of the reader, but also draw us in.

‘Her companion reckoning she’s got nice hair shouldn’t tip her mood, but it’s the one adjective that turn Leda wretched.’

I had to read that line several times. I’ve grown proficient with words. I even know what semantics means. But I wasn’t sure what adjective Leda was referring. Then it hit me. ‘Nice,’ is hell of an insult. Nations don’t go to war, when they’re called ‘nice’. Relationships don’t break down over niceness. Leda is saying they do.

D. H. Lawrence wrote a poem about it. The English are So Nice/so awfully nice.

Lust doesn’t turn to hate, but an escape from the fate of so many other nice girls that can’t see who they are, or what they will become.

Leda claims a different self. An autonomous self, guided by a rejection of a male reading of Greek mythology.  Zeus, and how her namesake, was raped by an Olympian God who’d turned himself into a swan to claim her beauty. How Leda was meant to feel grateful for this, because, after all, he was a god.

In the same way, the driver of a ‘Vauxhall something drives by her. It’s a flashy white model and it slows right down when the driver gets close.

he says: Get in.

And then: Sweetheart you do hand jobs? She calls him a dirty bastard and legs it all the way to the hotel.’

He was simply kerb crawling and claiming dominion. In another story, she could think herself lucky.

‘The thing that really riles Leda about the word nice is it’s a cop-out.’

Leda isn’t willing to do that or play that role. Neither is Rachel Smart. I used to have a verbal jibe at her: Smart by name and Smart by nature. Jesus, I wouldn’t dare call her ‘nice’.   

The Exorcist, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, writer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00116dq/the-exorcist

I was around ten, big for my age, but not big enough to sneak into the La Scala and watch The Exorcist. The media warned us—don’t go. Rather than see it, there was talk of church boycotts and a spate of suicides. And those that did see it fainted, spewed up, or went insane. But my sister was made of stronger stuff. Jo even smoked and drank vodka. She wasn’t eighteen, but there was a buzz about the film that made it a rite of passage.

We heard, of course, about the highlights. Regan (Linda Blair) poking herself with a crucifix and her head turning back to front like a piegon while spouting green goo. This was a step up from Christopher Lee as Dracula, who hung about open windows, waiting for the lady of the house to arrange her negligee so her big boobs were showing, before inviting him inside to bit her on the neck and leave two pin-prick marks. It wasn’t safe to go to bed without a crucifix. Being Catholics, of course, we’d more crucifixes that the average American had household personal guns. And if my wee brother was sleeping, I could set him out as a tasty snack, with a big arrow pointing to the room next door, where my two sisters were more than a match for Dracula. Just let him try laying a fang on them.

The Devil, of course, was a different matter. Atheists could poo-poo the existence of ghosts, or use logic to prove that God didn’t exist, but you’d need to be mad not to believe in the devil’s existence. Wherever sex was, he was sure to follow. Ironically, the swinging sixties saw a surge in numbers to religious institutions. The Exorcist was a reminder of the good old days when good was good and evil was truly evil, and nobody abused anybody in their beds.

When, for example, Regan’s mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) asks Father Karras (Jason Miller) to perform an exorcism on his daughter, he quips, that he could, but he’d have to find a time machine and whisk them both back to the sixteenth century.

Father Karras is having his own Dark Night of the Soul (St. John of The Cross) and doubts if he can continue being a priest. If he believes in God. This is centred on his Italian Mama, who is ill and lives alone. He thinks he should be caring for her in her last days. When she’s taken into hospital, his uncle, her mother’s brother, remonstrates with him there’s nothing they can do. They haven’t got the money for private care. He asks, Who’s going to take care of her? – you?

Father Karras has no answers, but as well as being a priest and psychiatrist, he’s a keen amateur boxer. Lt. Kinderman (Lee J Cobb) buttonholes him on the track. He’s investigating a strange death on a stairway, outside Regan’s window. Chris MacNeil’s boyfriend fell down those stairs, his head turned back to front. Father Karras might know something about that, he hints, some wayward priest with a grudge. After all, there’d also been the desecration of the church.

Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) brings the storylines together. The film begins with his architectural digs and ancient demons. When Father Karras tries to tell him about Regan’s medical history, Merrin tells him none of these things matter. He’s Peter Cushing’s Doctor van Helsing hunting down Dracula to his lair. Instead of a brace of wooden stakes in his hand: a worn  Bible. Father Karras follows the formula: Good versus Evil. God versus the Devil.

The Prodigy (2019) a horror film directed by Nicholas McCarthy, and written by Jeff Buhler gives this formula a twist. A child at birth is inhabited by the soul of a Hungarian born mass murderer, who’d relocated to the United States. The battle for the body is the battle for the soul.

In The Exorcist this is shown graphically with the words ‘help me’ appearing on her abdomen, underneath the skin for her mother to read. Twelve-year-old Regan is innocent, but the devil has taken her.

We all know how it ends in a boxing match. Father Karras knocking the living hell out of twelve-year-old Regan and the devil inside her. ‘Take me,’ his invitation accepted. One for the other. Broken in body (Eucharistic rites: this is my body, broken for you), but time enough for Confession and repentance. The Catholic Church 1—0 Devil nil.

Watching the film, forty years later, you see how run down New York is. This is the Nixon era. There’s rather a corny scene when Chis MacNeil goes up into the attic to investigate what she thinks are rats. She has a torch, which doesn’t work. Instead, she lights a candle. The traps for mice lie empty. The candle flares up and just as suddenly goes out. The real surprise is the caretaker appearing, immediately, with a torch. That’s what you call service. Things were better in those days. Servants could anticipate your every need. They even knew when the devil was going to flare up and stand ready with battery power.

Roe versus Wade, 1973, the year of The Exorcist. Nostalgic religious porn. The rise of the religious right. The election of the demonic moron’s moron backed by the religious right. 2021, the squashing of Roe versus Wade. Peter Cushing or Father Karras,  we need you to put one on the evil ginger quiff and pink-faced one spouting green goo and household cures by injecting common disinfectant? Evil lurks—still.