Comedian Ben Elton’s latest novel delves into the murky waters of media manipulation and the mind of the serial killer. He speaks to Damien Love.
In the latter part of |‘)‘)4. Ben Elton becatne transfixed by the hoopla developing around Oliver Stone‘s treatment of Quentin Tarantino's violent satire Natural Born Killers. Killings as far apart as Paris and Utah. came the cry. were ‘copycat‘ slayings. the killers all influenced in some way by what they had seen at their local multiplex.
‘I was watching this extraordimu'y media frenzy.‘ says Elton. ‘And I thought. what an intensely dramatic situation about personal responsibility. where we actually have society encouraging villains to think of themselves as victims ofthe media. If the villains have got any sense. they'll pretty soon catch on to that. and have a classic plea of mitigation.‘
Such is the situation explored in I’oprorn. Elton‘s latest novel. In the deliciously observed book. Wayne and Scout. traiIer-trash-types turned serial killers. seize upon connections being drawn by the media between their random killing spree and ()rrlinury Anrerir'uns. the latest film by Tarantinoesque director Bruce Delamitri. as their route to salvation. Soon after his triumph at the ()scars. Delamitri finds hitnself held captive in his home. which increasingly resembles a set from one of his own movies. by the
l | l l
Ben Elton: ‘the censorship we require is personal censorship’
killers who demand that he take responsibility for his — and their — actions.
The real-life twist. of course. is that although written far in advance. l’upr'm‘n's‘ publication coincides with another hotting up in the screen- violence debate. Lawyer-turned bestseller writer John Grisham is publicly holding Oliver Stone responsible for the death of his friend William Savage. killed in March l995. allegedly by one Ben Darras. whose girlfriend Sarah Edmondson shot and paralysed convenience store clerk Patsy Byers three days later. The couple had reportedly dropped seventeen tabs of
acid between them — before watching NBK on video. Byers‘s legal representative is planning to sue Stone. citing his movie as a contributing factor in the crime. ‘I was astonished to see how quickly it‘s coming about.‘ says Elton. ‘The implications for our culture are unimaginable. lfthis case is won. then all an will have to be produced under the shadow of random litigation. and we're going to get movies based at the same level as everything else is now. which is the fear of the lawyer. Having said that. I also believe there‘s a real case here for artists to consider. I think Grisham‘s point is fatuous in its hysteria. but I also think Stone is wrong to entirely dismiss the idea that an artist might be thought to be at least morally culpable for potentially poisoning the environment. ‘In the long run. the censorship we require is personal censorship. anyone doing anything has to look at what their motives are and consider what the consequences may be. But we do not want a choice
‘In the long run, the censorship we require is personal censorship, anyone doing anything has to look at what their motives are and consider what the consequences may be.’
between Mrs Doubt/ire and City Slir'lt'ers Ill. Clearly. artists must do very good an if they‘re going to create socially objectionable imagery.’
It would be a pity if Popcorn were considered only in light ofthe Grisham v Stone debate. as it works at ‘ a far more general level. Elton is first to concede that the issues are incredibly complex. In writing the novel. he says. ‘l‘ve become more speciﬁc about mv lack of. . . specificity.‘ Yet. while respecting the weight of the subject matter. the author has written a very funny book. It‘ll make a great movie. Bit violent here and there. inind.
Popcorn by Ben Elton is published by Simon and Sr'lnrster at f I 2.99. Elton will be at the K ing is Theatre. Glasgow on 26/27 November.
Though he’s new resident in london, there’s a widescreen expansiveness about writer Todd Wiggins’s debut novel that marks him out as an American. A hellzapopping, millennial satire, Zeitgeist is part thriller, part road movie, part philosophical treatise.
lleading like Apocalypse Now rewritten by the Marx Brothers, the novel tracks the adventures ot a motley collection at adventurers - a schizophrenic priest, a lesbian karate
Todd Wiggins: ‘l have trouble sticking to
expert, a mute girl, a black cyberpunk terrorist and a horny Welsh tailed novelist - who lace feminist separatists, media interrogation and a lull scale race war as they travel across the USA at the tag and ot the century. And did I mention the musical interludes? In zeitgeist, Wiggins throws in everything and the
‘lt’s the way I tend to write,’ the Ohio-born 28-year-old explains. ‘I have trouble sticking to confined areas. Whenever I get ideas they tend to be
reaction really to the social torces that predominate in America at the present time and lust extrapolating a ‘lew years into the tuture,’ he says. ‘I don’t personally think it’s possible to avoid the perspective the book takes. You don’t want to be extreme lust tor the sake at being extreme, but I think it’s good to ride the boundaries as tar as you can.’
It anything, Wiggins suggests, he doesn’t go tar enough. ‘This particular book could have gone a lot turther but, when I sort ot veered in that direction,
big ones. They always sprawl all over the place. It happened very naturally. I could probably have gone on at twice the length.’
It Zeitgeist has a message it’s that tomorrow’s America is screwed. Wiggins paints a picture oi an American society about to sutter millennial meltdown. ‘It was just a
people who read it seemed to get really alarmed. So I decided I'd save all that tor the second book. This is the tamily version.’
Well perhaps, it your tanrlly happen to be the Manson tarnlly, that is. (Teddy .larnieson) gltgeist is published by Beltane: at
The List 26 Jul-8 Aug I996 79