Anarchy. You use that word a lot. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The word “anarchy” is a much-maligned. In the popular media, anarchy is often used to describe rioting and other affairs outside of the judicial system. The conflation of anarchy with lawlessness is common, even though the crucial differences were patiently explained by Emma Goldman over a century ago.

The general popular understanding of anarchy is low, and allows all sorts of ridiculousness to be carried out in its name: TV Tropes explore some of the bollocks associated with anarchy. The latest on my anarchist shit-list is Lynx. In their latest offering, “ANARCHY IS COMING”, a man in a red and black balaclava steals something from a jewellery shop, and is chased by a policewoman. As our anarchist protagonist applies his Lynx, some clothes come off from both him and his pursuer. They meet in an alley, and embrace.

The grating sexism of the Lynx marketing line of “women are unable to resist the stench of a 14 year old boy’s P.E. kit” is still present, and it adds in utter nonsense about anarchy. Firstly, anarchism is not all about robbing jewellery shops. Secondly, even if an anarchist did rob a jewellery shop, he sure as fuck wouldn’t be doing it alone wearing such a distinctive balaclava. Thirdly, the very presence of a police denotes that this is not anarchy, as having a police force tends to imply some sort of degree of having a fucking state. As an aside, the whole piece suggest a tragic misunderstanding of what is meant by the phrase “fuck the police”.

It transpires that this ad is part of Lynx’s latest marketing campaign, which involves a graphic novel about anarchy, which, from the previews, seems to imply that anarchy consists solely of scantily clad women running around in leather. In truth, very little of anarchism involves scantily clad women running around in leather.

Are we doomed, then, to a popular culture completely devoid of any decent anarchist content? Not quite. The first thing that springs to mind is, strangely, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is the only film I can think of that uses the phrase “anarcho-syndicalism” twice and manages to slip in a detailed explanation of how an autonomous collective could be organised. We also get to hold on to V for Vendetta, if we only accept the book and reject the watered-down film.

The Mad Max trilogy also presents, when viewed together, a surprisingly coherent view of anarchy. The first film shows the death throes of the current order; the second the Verwirrung phase; and the third, order emerging. Beyond the Thunderdome shows us two societies. In the one, there is an ongoing power struggle between Tina Turner and a midget riding a gimp. The phrase “TWO MEN ENTER ONE MAN LEAVES” is mic-checked, providing a chilling warning to the Occupy movement to make sure their collective decision-making is in order, as otherwise they will be left entirely up to the whims of Tina Turner and her punishment-wheel. The other society is a group of children with no leader. Unsurprisingly, the ones who end the film better off are the non-hierarchical lot.

For the most part, though, anarchy is widely misunderstood. As John Henry Mackay wrote,

“Wreck of all order,” cry the multitude,
“Art thou, & war & murder’s endless rage.”

0, let them cry. To them that ne’er have striven
The ‘truth that lies behind a word to find,

To them the word’s right meaning was not given.
They shall continue blind among the blind.

One day, perhaps, the truth will become widely known. In the meantime, there’s always Mad Max. 

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6 responses to “Anarchy. You use that word a lot. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • JonR

    “The phrase “TWO MEN ENTER ONE MAN LEAVES” is mic-checked, providing a chilling warning to the Occupy movement to make sure their collective decision-making is in order”

    this is gold

  • paul murdoch

    Someone recommended this to me…but, frankly, your prose is leaden and clunky and I don’t think you really have a grip on anarchy at all. Read Rocker.
    Also…you seem to be trying to come over as well-informed, eclectic and even, perhaps, witty. I think you may simply be a bit thick. I’m reserving judgement.

    • stavvers

      Are we talking about the same Rudolf Rocker who was heavily influenced by–and close friends with– the Emma Goldman cited at the beginning? If so, you’ll notice that he expressed largely the same exasperation as I did about the public being unable to understand anarchism.

      P.S. When criticising someone for leaden, clunky prose, it is generally not good form to do so in leaden, clunky prose.

  • paul murdoch

    “P.S. When criticising someone for leaden, clunky prose, it is generally not good form to do so in leaden, clunky prose.”

    well that was perhaps the single most mind-numbingly predictable response imaginable…let’s add unoriginal to the list…and look into Rocker…he had a world-view well in place before ever meeting Goldman.

  • Jamie

    Re: sexism in Lynx adverts

    I think they use the rhetoric and semiotics of ridiculous sexism to ridicule ridiculous sexism. I regularly get annoyed with sexism and homophobia in adverts (Malteasers current one for example where the two girls’ boyfriends fall asleep on the sofa and the girls rearrange them so they’re hugging. Oh how funny — I get it, they’re gay! How awful it would be to be gay! Hilarious) but I’ve always felt very happy with Lynx adverts.

    Totally with you on the anarchy though. (well, I mean I’m with you in that the word is misused horribly and as a result, few people understand what anarchy actually is as a political ideology. It’s not an ideology I subscribe to though.)

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