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She-monster or credible character? Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne in "Gone Girl" (image: 20th Century Fox)

You cannot write clearly without generalisations. Thus, after bowing my head in due awe and deference to the work of many talented colleagues, I still feel able to say that right-wing political journalism is clear and popular while too much of what passes for left-wing writing is obsessive, joyless and as comprehensible to today's general readers as church Latin was to medieval peasants.

The power of right-wing writing is reflected in the extraordinary gains for nationalist parties across Europe. With the partial exception of Greece, a crisis in capitalism, brought about by the most overpaid and over-regarded men on the planet, has not produced a left-wing populist backlash, but its exact opposite. Whether in the end the Right will benefit is open to doubt: nothing has damaged the conservative cause in the minds of intelligent people as much as its raucous denial of man-made climate change, for instance, and the Right will find it takes immigrants generations to reconcile themselves to the parties which abused them.

But maybe I am just saying that to keep my spirits up. For now, right-wing populism is in the ascendant while too many on the Left struggle to throw off the stifling thought and style of postmodern academia. The furore about Gone Girl makes my point.  The thriller (and if you have not seen the film or read the book you should stop reading now) was variously condemned in the liberal press for "recycling the most egregious myths about gender-based violence", and portraying women as "little sexual monsters" with the power "to sexually, emotionally manipulate men". It was "disgusting" and "unequivocally misogynistic".

The procedure used on Gone Girl is familiar. The academic or critic inspects popular culture. She (in this instance) knows that unquestioned assumptions and prejudices infest the work. The author may not have known of their existence. The clueless viewer may not be able to see them, but she can unmask and denounce with fervent righteousness.

Gone Girl, the critics held, is a deserving target because its villain is the monstrous Amy Dunne. As the story unfolds, you learn that she has spent months planting clues which will mean that when she disappears the police will conclude that her unfaithful, useless husband murdered her. Not only does she try to frame her husband, she falsely accuses two other men of rape. She lets the first off after weeks of torment. She murders the second, and uses the fake rape claim to plead justifiable homicide. As it is hard to secure rape convictions, and defence lawyers seek to discredit rapists' victims, the feminist case for the prosecution can sound ferocious. Applaud Gone Girl and you are applauding rapists; making it easier for them to get away with their crimes, and harder for women to convince juries that they aren't scheming bitches in the Amy Dunne mould.

This trick, pulled in Gone Girl, is pulled so often you need to close your ears to the din of accusation and indignation to see the sleight of hand. Just because literary juries never award prizes to crime and thriller writers does not necessarily mean that their authors are fools or bigots who reinforce stereotypes until the wised-up critic reveals their true, bestial purpose.

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Charlie 3
December 17th, 2014
10:12 PM
Nick, the most accurate temperature measurement is from satellite which shows no overall warming for 18 years.As M Keynes said " When the facts change, I change my mind; what do you do?"

Joanne
November 7th, 2014
8:11 AM
Moustaches have imperialist connotations? Do they really write such silly things in the New Statesman?

HzleMuggins
November 4th, 2014
6:11 PM
There are some who claim (unverifiably) that popular culture depicts women this way and men that way. Because it is so difficult to find evidence for or against this, they start claiming anything they like. They speculate, for example, (based on nothing) that this culture creates stereotypes that stop women from achieving, and that it persuades men to do violence to women, or see them as objects. Stereotypes of Chinese people and blacks were identified long ago, and I dare say rightly in some cases. . You then get the remedial steps: the Charlie Chan movies in the US 60 years ago, and now the BBC unable to write or commission good drama because they’re so worried about particular prejudices they might stir up (mind you, they aren’t concerned about prejudice against white men, are they?) So censorship is already happening. . It is a bit strange when people confidently take the next step of saying that ANY character in a drama that isn’t positive is (by itself) creating wrongthought. Well ...strange only if you haven’t realised that these people want complete control over what you read, say and think

Jez
November 3rd, 2014
7:11 PM
When I was a teenager my Dad took me on a CND march. When one of the organisers started handing out fun sized Mars bars. For a joke my father shouted "you can't do that Roger, Mars is the god of war!" There was a frenzy amongst some protestors to not enjoy their chocolate treat and hand them back. My father winked at me and said " I hope you learned something from that". To me it sums up why even though I loathe the Tories, Ive always struggled with the po faced joyless left.

James Boswell Esq.
November 2nd, 2014
12:11 AM
Nail ------> Head.

Gwendolyn Grouse
October 31st, 2014
11:10 AM
I agree. I'm quite sick of the constantly refreshing list of common everyday things that cannot be said or fear of being accused of 'othering' or 'marginalising or whatever this weeks buzzword is. There is a lot of ridiculous offense police patrolling twitter, ready to tell you you're a 'white saviour' because you work for Medicine sans Frontière, or Transphobic because you don't like mixed-gender bathrooms or a racist cultural appropriator because you uploaded a holiday picture of yourself wearing a sombrero or because you have just bought some Moccassins from Topshop. Sneering writers like Nesrine Maliki make a living out of this crap, spurred on by sycophantic offense warriors who leave those who disagree to be the recipient of twitter pile ons.

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