(en) I shot Andy Warhol

Sat, 8 Feb 1997 23:45:04 GMT

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On Friday 13th December I viewed I Shot Andy Warhol, a biopic of Valerie Solanas depicting the events of her life at the time when she acquired her 'fifteen minutes of fame' by shooting Andy Warhol. I had heard of Andy Warhol - pop artist, film producer, launcher of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed - but the name of Valerie Solanas was new to me. No matter, I said to myself, it'll probably be about Andy Warhol and The Factory anyway. Well, Valerie was a surprise to me - so full of life, so sassy, so intelligent, so brimming with original and inventive ideas. Every so often during the film there'd be a scene of her facing the camera and quoting from her manifesto. And what quotes! Three of her major proposals spring to mind as I write: "overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation". I have to know more about this woman, I thought. I wonder if I can somehow get myself a copy of her SCUM Manifesto? On Saturday 21st December I bought a copy from the Freedom Press Bookshop and read it that weekend. Valerie, obviously possessed of a great intellect and in cornmand of a lively and independent mind, could see so clearly the faults in her society: war, the money system, useless toil - automation could quickly do away with unnecessary labour and the authoritarian family as a factory for 'respectful' (i.e. fearful) human beings, are but a few of the problems she pointed out. Lack of privacy, and at the same time the sense of isolation and the lack of community spirit felt by residents in the suburbs, were other issued tackled by Solanas. In answer to the problem of what we would do with ourselves if automation reduced our need to work to just a few hours a week, Solanas proposed that we completely revamp educational programmes so that the "goal is to educate and not to perpetuate an academic and intellectual elite". Once that were done, millions could be "trained within a few months for high level intellectual work that now requires years of training". Once we have time, we can then solve "the problems of disease and old age and death" and completely redesign "our cities and living quarters". Solanas's fourth major proposal was to "destroy the male sex". For those who know about Valerie Solanas you will be surprised that I have waited this long before spilling this to the remainder of the remainder of the readers. There is a reason for this, however. From the film I learned that Valerie had been sexually abused as a child - I think by her own father - and I tried to bear this fact in mind when I read the SCUM Manifesto. From the first page it was clear that the sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of a man she should have been able to trust had clearly warped her personality and skewed her view of society accordingly. I had been drawn to her writings because of her other three main proposals for a changed society, so I decided to read the manifesto anyway and simply ignore all anti-male remarks and pay attention only to her radical insights on society and her proposals for change. If I had not made that decision, I would not have been able to get far without being thoroughly sickened at her attitude towards the male sex. Three things made it easier for me than it would be for a man, I think, to temporarily disregard the sexist content of the material: 1. As a woman, I obviously did not feel personally attacked. 2. As a woman, I was flattered by Valerie' s opinions - stated as if they were facts - that "emotional strength and independence, forcefulness, dynamism, decisiveness, coolness, objectivity, assertiveness, courage, integrity, vitality, intensity, depth of character, grooviness, etc." are female characteristics and it was likewise a refreshing change for me to read that "the female function is to relate, groove, love and be herself, irreplaceable by anyone else ... In actual fact the female function is to explore, discover, invent, solve problems, crack jokes, make music - all with love. In other words, create a magic world." 3. As a woman, I am an expert at pretending that, in textbooks as well as in literature, the words 'he', 'him', 'his' and other such male words really do include and refer to me as well, so to substitute 'an authoritarian person' or some other such appropriate phrase for 'the male' was accordingly accomplished with ease, and I reached the penultimate page before I lost my concentration entirely. By then I could no longer deceive myself that Valerie's SCUM Manifesto is an anarchist manifesto. Independence of thought is an anarchistic trait; the idea of a society of self- governing individuals (i.e. without government control), the elimination of the money system and the institution of complete automation are anarchist ideas, but Valerie has taken her insights into the facts of society and concluded - no doubt due to her traumatic childhood - that because men (in general, when compared to women) are in positions of power, then all the problems of society are down to men. She recommends as a solution, therefore, that the male sex be destroyed. Personally, from the facts and opinions inside Valerie's manifesto, I can see no logical conclusion that the male sex should be destroyed. Valerie merely starts with an assumption that males are inferior, points out the many and varied injustices inherent in authoritarian society with (to my mind) false references as to male culpability, and baldly concludes that therefore men should be annihilated. One example Valerie gives of so-called proof that males are inferior to females is the fact that whilst females possess two X chromosomes, male s possess only one X chro- mosome, and instead of the second X chromosome males have a Y chromo- some. From this fact Valerie proceeds along a series of steps drawing conclusions therefrom, i.e. the Y (male) gene - and depending on the typeface used this may even be graphically demonstrated to you - is an incomplete X (female) gene; the Y gene has an incomplete set of chromosomes, therefore the Y gene has something missing, therefore the male is an "incomplete female" and "a biological accident". Well, there's something missing all right! What's missing are some of the facts about genetics, and what's been added is a generous use of the techniques of misapplying knowledge in order to push opinions and prejudices as if they were truth. Even this one example of her 'proof' that men are inferior reminds me of the scientific article published in medical journals - I think around the turn of the century - which stated that men's brains are larger than women's brains. This is a fact I would not dispute but I do dispute the conclusion, also published at the time, which was that men are cleverer and therefore superior to women because of their larger brains. The reason I disagree with the conclusion is that a fact is missing from the equation, because there is a human brain which is even larger than a man's: namely the brain of a cretin or congenital idiot, so it is clear that the size of brain is no indication of its efficiency, efficacy or superiority. Valerie's arguments as to the superiority of her sex over the male sex are founded on equally false premises as those put forward to argue the contrary view. Invariably these arguments are based on incomplete data, selectivity of facts, distortion and/or false logic and the deliberate use of an emotive subject matter with the aim of by-passing reason. Whilst reading her manifesto I toyed for a while with the idea that Valerie was making heavy - very heavy, it must be said - use of irony. She, to make her point, had taken the usual view of society and turned it on its head. Where men, by common consent, were taken to be biologically stronger that women she posited that they were weaker; where they were generally accepted as being superior intellectually, she depicted them as inferior; where of a higher moral standing, she painted them lower; where spiritually purer she showed them to be sullied, and so on. Finally I could no longer ignore the relentless vitriol poured by Valerie on the male sex. In the end I just had to admit that where I had gone in search of an anarchist, I had found a fascist. Question: What is the definition of anarcho- fascism'? Answer: A contradiction in terms. A rough guide to fascism is that it is authoritarian, judgmental and self-righteous. Furthermore, fascists are hostile to 'the other', i.e. anyone who isn't in their set as they see it. As far as anarchism goes, however, the outline I like best is that in Donald Rooum's book Wildcat Strikes Again, where Wildcat the cartoon character, in defining freedom, says: "All I want is for everybody to be able to do what they like, so long as they don't prevent others from doing the same". Hear, hear! I want a different society and I want it now! But not only do I not want it as the cost of nearly 80% of the human race, I don't want it as the cost of even one human being. And now lam beginning to understand why critics of anarchism, during the rare moments when they are not denouncing anarchists as sinister bombers, are dismissing them as mere dreamers and utopians. In case you were wondering; Andy Warhol did not die when Solanas shot him in 196@. At the end of I Shot Andy Warhol the film told how both Valerie and Andy died only ten or so years ago. Joy Wood

En attendant... M. Godot.

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En attendant... M. Godot.

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