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This week: novelists on Trump, murder as a leisure activity, rock band politics.
I almost gave up on the Ruffian, because I'll be honest with you it can feel like a bit of an arse to write something you're not getting paid for every week. But now and again people tell me they enjoy it, which is lovely, and recently a kind acquaintance made the point that it doesn't need to be weekly: I can write it whenever I feel like writing it. Reader, this may seem obvious to you but it came upon me as an epiphany. I hereby present to you the irregular Ruffian.
In the last couple of weeks two novelists published thoughts on the current political moment, one in fiction, one in non-fiction, and although they had nothing to do with each other they read like companion pieces. Both are beautifully written in their different ways. Walter Kirn has an essay in Harper's in which he reflects on the way that, for Trump supporters, or at least some of them, Trump stands for freedom from oppressive social norms, which is what the liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s used to stand for. In the New Yorker, Zadie Smith explores an intriguingly similar theme in a witty and ludic short story (read to the end for its allusion to the current president). Neither make arguments that you need to agree or disagree with, but instead do what literary writing does, which is to attend to particulars in a way that subtly recalibrates your view of the whole.
SHOOT 'EM UP
From the Homicide Studies journal, a paper that looks at the 2017 Las Vegas massacre and makes a chilling argument: mass murder has become a form of leisure activity.
SHORT BREXIT POST
I have very little to say about Brexit, because I don't understand its complexities, and it's depressing. My cold take is this: the EU and the UK will muddle through to a compromise. Don't ask me how, exactly. But I think a lot of the commentary over-values the importance of what's agreed now and under-values the fact that the substance of the relationship won't be negotiated until after the UK has left, during the transition period. The political declaration has no binding force. So if the EU has even minimal tact it will give Theresa May enough space to make a face-saving agreement that will get her government past March 29. After which, it's time for real talk.
A motel, a blocked toilet, a plumbing snake. All the elements of a classic drama.
There's a new episode of Polarised, the podcast I co-host with Matthew Taylor of the RSA. In this one we consider whether our media environment is as responsible for our polarised politics as people say. It includes a really interesting discussion with the researcher Silvio Majo-Vasquez who has looked at this question in relation to different countries. Basically, God save the BBC. I have a new piece in the New Statesman on the ad industry (a slightly darker sequel to a piece I wrote for the FT a few years ago).
RETURN OF THE MAC
Rolling Stone magazine has a podcast which recently featured a great interview with the members of Fleetwood Mac, who are preparing for an upcoming tour. When I say "the members" - well. The central topic of the conversation is the band's decision to go on tour without longtime guitarist and creative genius, Lindsey Buckingham. The official reason is a dispute over scheduling, the implicit one is that he's an asshole and they are heartily sick of working with him. So they replaced him with two musicians - Tim Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell, formerly of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. I mean, not bad. As it turns out, everyone in the band is replaceable: they have all left at some point, except the bassist, John McVie, and the drummer Mick Fleetwood. In life, as in music, it's the rhythm section that keeps on keeping on. What you understand from this interview - which is at times awkward, candid, and funny, and my God I love Stevie Nicks - is that this is very much Mick's band, and has been since he founded it, in London, in 1968. Everyone else comes and goes. I think the new tour will be brilliant, though it's a shame, in every way, about Lindsey. He and Nicks, of course, were once lovers as well as musical partners. Their 2009 performance of Say Goodbye To You is sublime and, knowing what we know, very moving.
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