Wednesday, Jun 26, 2019 | Last Update : 09:24 AM IST

Art often poses a real dilemma

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Jun 2, 2018, 2:43 am IST
Updated : Jun 2, 2018, 3:00 am IST

Cressida attributes gun-and-knife crime in part at least to their aggressive encouragement by drill music and wants it banned.

Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick (Photo: AP)
 Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick (Photo: AP)

“I was called ‘an f----ing wanker’
So what could I reply?
But to point to the contradiction
Wingless pigs don’t fly!”

Have you seen a rising sunset
Or a cart pulling a horse?
Celebration of regret?
Twists of verbal intercourse?”
From The Case of the Ashamed Vahu by Bachchoo

This week the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, issued a fatwa against a form of video-musical communication called “drill”. This is a genre which originated in Chicago gang culture. Cressida said she wants the videos that feature it taken off social media or computer-access sites such as YouTube.

She went further. She said that the British police would begin to treat some of these video musical broadcasts as they treat terrorist threats. In a world, which insistently espouses freedom of expression and in the absence of specific legislation to ban such videos, that’s one helluva claim!

What’s police chief Cressida getting worked up about? Obviously it’s her job to clear London’s streets of the spate of knife and gun killings, mostly of black teenagers — victims and murderers. Donald Trump, in the wake of reports of increasing knife and gun crime in Britain’s capital, tweeted about the hospitals of London awash with bloody corridors.

Mr Trump is parodied by Private Eye, Britain’s leading satirical magazine, as saying that if the victims carried loaded guns, they wouldn’t be dead today — more guns, fewer deaths. Private Eye means it as parody, but does one doubt that it’s what Mr Trump believes?

Cressida attributes gun-and-knife crime in part at least to their aggressive encouragement by drill music and wants it banned.

So what the hell is “drill”? It’s an advanced form of rap through which one gang threatens a rival. It’s so called because the rattle of a concrete drill resembles the sound of an automatic gun.

YouTube has responded and this week has taken down those videos in which identifiable gangs threaten other identifiable ones. Masked young men voice nasty lyrics and make shooting gestures with twisting hands to the rhythm.

That’s “art”.
Commentators have joined in to back Cressida’s ban on this form of free expression. The ban will save lives. That sounds very plausible — until one asks oneself whether a song, video, film, play, painting or poem, which depicted violence, ever caused that violence. Or did it simply reflect it?

My reason for posing this question, gentle reader, is to involve you in a personal dilemma. Allow me to explain:

Some time before, in fact a considerable time before, Cressida proposed banning “drill”, I wrote a musical stage play, as yet under consideration of production, in which one of the penultimate songs is a “drill” number. The plot of the play contains a young black man from one gang seeking vengeance on another gang. Here’s a preview of the lyrics which I’ve proposed:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
Feelin’ high on coke and drill
And slammed into the Harlesden crowd
Who call their posse Harleykill
Them f----ing’ saaf but feel say them hard
Them go feel de chill in them own backyard

Continuous they park their rides in a line
Wearing black scarf masks in a threatening play
Posing and waiting for their hit man sign
So I shout a question “Oi, all you butties gay?”
And two of them start up and advance
Toward me. Bwoy, them take a chance
’Cos they must suss that I most like may
Have a loaded piece or two on me
Which could blow them f—-in’ arse away
And send them soul to liberty.
Them come a pace and then stop short
Then pause and have a second thought

I face them down, me tell no lie
Them shape up tryin’ to look rude
The good book says an eye for an eye
My exchange rate is “your whole head. Dude!”
So Harlesden Posse make your wills
Him who survives — is him who kills.

The lyrics are representative of the character and his intentions and motivations within the plot, but now the prospective director of the play says it’s possibly not appropriate considering the present controversy over such lyrics and their accompanying choreography. Theatres we’ve approached with it may err on the side of caution — or good taste.

My partner says it may be reflective of a repulsive reality and certainly poses a moral dilemma about its inclusion in a piece signed by me. It doesn’t cross any legal boundary and there is not the wisp of a likelihood that the audience who come to see the play will be persuaded to gun or knife or any revenge crime through witnessing the performance of these lyrics on stage.

I don’t think I need to change them, but they still pose a sort of dilemma.

I don’t agree with the character I have created — the one who mouths these lyrics with their accompanying gestures. I find them, just as repulsive as perhaps Cressida does, but I can’t see that my repulsion from the character which my observation compelled me to create, should prevent his creation.

With the utmost of humility, I can argue that Shakespeare didn’t much care for Macbeth or Iago but wanted to tell the truth about human proclivities, regardless of the possibility that the Cressida Dicks of the time would think they were likely to glamourise the killing of kings and the poisoning of the minds of ethnic minorities.

The question that will probably remain open forever is whether art reflects reality or directs and channels it. Propaganda and agitprop seek to influence behaviour. Parables, fables and the main categories of drama have moral or moralising endings. Even tragic plays with no moral precept in view present the pity of human reality.

Of course my imitation of the style and argot of drill comes encased in a stage play and isn’t, as the videos on social media are, warnings to any rival playwright.
Er… I plead not guilty M’lud!

Tags: cressida dick, donald trump