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.