Cranked-Up, Extreme Tabloid Machine
V for Vendetta, Alan Moore and David Lloyd, Dc Comics, September 1988 – May 1988
With the incorporation of the ’60s counter-culture into the machinery of normalisation, the re-emergence of an underground from the late ’70s onward corresponded to an increasingly fraught and combative stance. “Learning from the vulnerabilities of the 1960s,” Reekie argues, where “the counter-culture in Europe and America lost its radical momentum whilst the avant-garde effectively institutionalised itself as the legitimate dominant form [of experimental art],” the new underground – finding itself doubly excluded “in the face of a reactionary political backlash, comprehensive… appropriation, commodification, disenchantment and compromise” – specifically valorised “the radical democratic and egalitarian aspects of popular culture: amateurism, conviviality, improvisation, illegitimacy, profanity, transgression and collectivity.”
Abandoning “the naïve optimism of the ‘hippie love generation,’” this new underground “traced a darker subterranean course which retrenched counter-cultural opposition as an ironic celebration of disillusion and negation [centred around the punk and post-punk movements].” In doing so, it “deliberately and ironically sought to outrage and incite… audiences by enacting spectacles of lurid violence, sex, drug use, blasphemy, obscenity and perversion,” exemplified in the work of filmmakers and writers in the US like Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, but also Kathy Acker and Dennis Cooper. In the UK there’d been Alan Moore, Chris Petit, Peter Whitehead, but more decisively Richard Allen (aka James Moffatt), whose 18-volume “skinhead Bildungsroman” (including Boot Boys, Teeny Bopper Idol and Knuckle Girls, all published by the New English Library during the 1970s) echoed through the work of Stewart Home, Jeff Noon, the ’90s “New Weird” (China Mièville, Jeff VanderMeer, K.J. Bishop), and Steven Wells’s Attack! Books.
In a series of related articles for the journal Alluvium in 2012 focused on Home and Wells, Mark P. Williams developed the term “subliteratures” in reference to “fictions of resistance” and “insurgent subcultures” emerging in tandem with the new underground: a kind of writing radically opposed to the “dominant culture of postmodernity” – what Francis Fukuyama famously called capitalism’s masterstroke, being in every essential respect “the culture of globalisation.” Corresponding to a millennial turn marked by widespread popular protest against the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and IMF that culminated in violent clashes with police in Seattle and Prague, Williams identified “a demotic, DIY approach to textual experiment” infused with radical politics, whose “defining aesthetics are characterised by excess and resistance to dominant culture.” With roots in the Thatcher/Reagan era anti-Establishment, “subliterature,” like the new underground cinema of the time, produced interventions in “mythic postmodernism’s” rehabilitation of culture into a “heterogeneous spectrum,” one that was supposedly “democratic” and “egalitarian” but was in fact designed to expropriate positions of potential opposition and disguise the hegemonic ambitions of corporate state art, in the “post-historic” absence of countervailing political forces.