24 February 2017
According to Noam Chomsky, “the United States is the leading terrorist state”. Once you read Heathcote Williams’ latest collection of eighteen poems, you’ll be inclined to agree.
Taken as a whole, ‘American Porn’ dissects and destroys the myth of American Exceptionalism, and its preening, narcissistic sense of Manifest Destiny. From the naming of the continent, to the creation of ISIS, the author nails the American Dream to the floorboards, and proceeds to trample all over it, via a catalogue of precisely articulated and accurately perceived moral obscenities, war crimes, neo-fascistic demagoguery, holocaust complicity, and a singular act of genocide (as defined by the United Nations), committed against the aboriginal peoples. By way of contrast to the unhinged machinations of various Presidents, the triumph of the pornocracy, and the power of the military-industrial complex (which is very real), Williams’ portrayal of the White House Harlequin fly, and of the sequoia tree in the Sierra Nevada (known as ‘The President’), feel like breaths of the sweetest air, blown in from a distant planet.
I’m disinclined to review the individual poems, since that might suggest I I think I know more than the author does (I don’t). All I can say is Heathcote Williams speaks in a direct, no-nonsense way, which befits the urgency of the current situation, as regards the Dystopian States of Drumpfopolis. The fact that a rich, racist, sexist, self-aggrandizing bigot now rules the American roost is the natural outcome of the way the US is, in its bones - and has been - since the original Declaration of Independence. What, perhaps, some readers will find disturbing is Williams’ unsettling portrayal of Barack Obama. It is, undeniably, rather a shock to read of America’s first black Commander-in-Chief gleefully observing the ‘taking out’ of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden (via a US Navy Seals’ helmet camera). The fact that this footage was shown across the world, as was his swatting of the fly in the East Room of the White House, merely confirms “this buzz the powerful get when causing death, claiming that they’re still human”.
It might be suggested that detailing the inadequacies of Donald Trump is to take aim at an easy target (in the same way that Williams was criticized in some quarters for his treatment of Boris Johnson, via ‘The Beast of Brexit’). However, given the current President’s deliberate undermining of anyone and everyone who doesn’t conform to his definition of what constitutes all-American (as well as Johnson’s sleazy, underhand, self-promotion at the expense of all and sundry), then the unwritten law of ‘quid pro quo’ works for me every time.
Above all else, what Heathcote Williams despises is bullying - and the United States of America is, without doubt, the biggest global bully of all. ‘American Porn’ is a jolt to anyone’s system, brought up to believe that the United States was, or could ever be, genuinely regarded as the Land of the Free, as a Great Nation. In reality, as revealed by Williams, it’s an anti-democratic plutocracy, dominated and manipulated by unscrupulous profiteers and shady ‘behind the scenes’ operators, masquerading as law-abiding citizens. Its obsession with, and exploitation of, pornography is indicative of the way it sees itself and the world. It is also the seed of its potential downfall.
I strongly urge everyone to buy a copy of ‘American Porn’, especially Americans(!), and read from start to finish in a single sitting. I guarantee, by the end, you’ll know more than you do now…