Maybe at one time I tried to get it, but I didn’t feel it at all, and this ‘not fitting in with the boys’ sort of defined the path in life I took, along with many others - the emos, the nerds, the greebos - these loose categories of identities only really make sense in contrast to the pervasive norm that plays out in Rude Boy; if you don’t identify with the norm, you are stuck choosing one of a few options off of the second shelf, or simply abandon ship and become completely reclusive/ostracised. The decision to not go with the norm is tough, England is terribly conformist, and those who conform and converge around this particular styling of masculinity will take it upon themselves to punish you for it; it’s a neurosis, its the cop in your head deciding to take it upon themselves to correct you.
This is perfectly exposed in Rude Boy, where you see a lot of potential variation being forced into a single outcome under what I can only describe as immense social pressures. In every moment of communication there is something trying to be expressed but always, at the last moment, it is funnelled into the monotypical masculine identity. They are all so afraid of dropping the act for even a moment that they cast themselves far away from the surface, they dissociate, and just agree to anything.
If there is a story here, a subtext, it is the character arc of Ray Gange, who is portrayed as a “wasteman”, lobotomised, slow, but also drunk and angry. He stands almost braindead in the crowd of The Clash, seeming to not feel or think anything. His character arc seems to be the movement from this initial state of lobotomy, to kind of starting to realise what is going on, and slowly realising that he disagrees with the lyrics of The Clash. There are many scenes of The Clash are performing on stage where the camera keeps cutting to Ray, as if checking in on his response to the music. Mostly he is depicted as dissociating, barely paying attention, mouth agape, but as the film goes on, the lyrics become more obviously political and more obviously “leftist”, and Ray’s reactions move slowly towards a kind of.. “wait, what? Has this always been how the lyrics go?”
Take for example the early parts of the film, where Ray meets a friend, Terry Quade, who has recently shaved their head and declared himself a skinhead - Ray has no reaction to this of substance, he senses some red flags but is far too consumed by the performance of masculinity to question his friend’s decision. Should he have said anything in disagreement, the result would be obvious and quick, the skinhead would accuse Ray of being a Queer or a Pussy or Scum in some paranoid moment of rage. This is exemplified when Ray and Terry play pool together in a later scene, where Ray refers to some anti-national front posters on the wall and Terry goes into a fit of rage, shouting that he wants to kill all the communists.
It is not exactly clear why Ray brings up the conversation at all, seemingly choosing to say whatever he thinks will keep Terry from turning on him. It is simple power dynamics, Ray knows that Terry embodies some idealised version of the masculine monotype identity that is being nurtured in England in the late 70s, all of these ultra-authoritarian men understand hierarchies quite deeply and sensually, and they feel who to suck up to in order to move closer to the concentration of power that is bound up in that identity. What you see in the pool room is part of the process of Far-Right radicalisation, as Terry offers no argue to justify his position, rather reinforces it by being unhinged and violent.
As if intending to illustrate this point, Ray, at some point confesses to the lead singer of the Clash, Joe Strummer, that he feels quite threatened by “the left”, that he feels much safer in the far-right. It is clear he doesn’t have any actual idea about how these ideas work, always conflating “the left” with “communists”, and constantly bemoaning “the left” as “anti-nazis” (said with contempt, as if being anti-nazi is somehow annoying or immature). He solidifies his position by stating that “he thinks he is a Capitalist”, which as a lower class, unemployed worker seems quite naive, considering his position in society as broke, disenfranchised and burned out Rude Boy. While not necessarily being a fan of Joe Strummer, or having any expectation for Joe Strummer to be well versed in political science, it would be easy to feel sympathy or tragedy within Joe’s response to Ray’s proliferation. Joe mumbles something along the lines of:
This is about the best that we can hope for. A vague disposition to something undefined, it is just not possible for someone under the influence of monotype masculinity to actually speak the words that they think; Joe really struggles to remain nonchalant, as if fighting with this parasite that is intervening in their ability to speak their mind. All ideas are transformed into the same idea as it prepares to depart from the tongue. Last minute changes from the editor. I don’t think its about education, either, as if to say that all my fellow working class British people are uneducated — this is far from true, so it becomes tempting to suspect that what controls the dialogue is a very intensely policed set of allowable statements. It is ironic, that those who are most likely to complain about Political Correctness today, are those who used to police language with bullying, harassment, and violence, 50 years ago.
Ray consecrates his misguidedness by saying something like “you know, i think i’m a capitalist, i think i want loads of money and servants”, but where you might expect the singer to react somehow, he simply nods, and shrugs it all off, because you know, that’s what a lad should do. Here we see the roots of a common problem we have today, particularly in the media, where there is a problematic conflation between “apolitical” and “right-wing capitalist”. Right-wing Capitalist politics are so normalised that the majority of people perceive them as a kind of neutral “correct”, that the left is trying to upset.
This is played out again in a later scene when Ray asks the singer to make his music less political, that he hates this merging of music with politics because it’s all too confusing and too emotional. Politics upsets Ray because he cannot emotionally handle the thought of it, his state of drunken, angry lobotomisation is a response to fear. By disallowing the discussion of politics because it’s too upsetting, you sustain and support the very thing that is upsetting you. This is the orthodox neurosis of right-wing politics at its finest. The film sets up the merging of toxic masculinity with capitalist conformity, all the men in the movie are bullying each other into being thuggish capitalists, if you critique capital, you are a scum communist who they want to kill, if you critique masculinity, you are a scum queer who they want to kill. To be born in the UK is to be born into this inferno of hyper-capitalist and hyper-masculine neurosis, everyone policing everyone else into being the exact identity required to power a crypto-fascist regime. The poor who are poor because of the rich, become the very violent enforcers of the schism, and therefore violently defend its distinctions. Imagine millions of 50 year old men who are so trapped in this nightmarish complex; absolutely trapped as an essential node in the network of the neurotic oedipal state; trapped in the panicky adrenaline-driven state of being angry that someone else is not being punished for what their Daddy is punishing them for. “If I can’t fucking have it, no one fucking can, get that fucking cunt sorted out before I fucking sort him out for yers; twat!” — Or what was it that the National Front speaker was screaming in the beginning of the movie? “You don’t deserve to live; you’re scum!”. Whatever, whatever, whatever.
The film cuts to an abrupt end, and this was infuriating, ultimately a 2-hour ride that ends without really addressing anything. Despite the run time, it would need another hour minimum to resolve things. For example, the skinhead from the earlier scenes never comes back, despite the film setting up a lot of tensions between him, Ray and the singer of the Clash. For example there is this moment where the skinhead reveals himself as the cousin of the singer, but then asks where he might find him - it is an ominous moment that implies the skinhead is trying to hunt the singer down somehow, and even Ray picks up on this because he lies, and says he hasn’t seen him in ages. It seems clear that the film needed to show Ray falling away from the band into the hands of the Skinheads, and become nemeses of The Clash, and right when you think Ray is falling into that plot of radicalisation, he just staggers off into the night, drunk, disoriented and ever-stupid. Yet, in reflection, perhaps this ending is a subtle wink to Neoliberalism, by juxtaposing this scene of Ray drunkenly staggering off into the night “like a homeless person who stood up too quickly” with a scene of Margaret Thatcher. Despite it seeming obvious at that time that Ray, the common repressed subject of hyper-masculine-hyper-capitalism, was about to fall into Nazi radicalisation, what happens instead is that Ray falls into the Banal and Apolitical, and moves towards a state that is more similar to a kind of individualised class of their own, into a state of being entirely unaligned and alone.
One useful term to describe this is “precarity” from Isabel Lorey. Everyone in society becomes disconnected from each other (Thatcher declared/manifested this with the statement: “There is no community”). We are all so uniquely in danger that we cannot relate to each other, and concurrently we see an emergence of the ideas of intersectionality which helped, at least, explain why we stopped relating to each other as class dissolved into precarity. Ray becomes the quintessential Neoliberal subject: disoriented, isolated, and now can no longer even enjoy music, although it is not clear that he ever did, just standing mindlessly in the crowd half paying attention to lyrics he probably wouldn’t agree with if he had any idea what was being said. The film-documentary, despite being quite flawed, does leave a very bleak repository of quite authentic/raw material that contains many traces of what it was like in the UK at that time. The specific aspects which infuriate me, seem so curiously poised above important topics that I started to believe that the writers were ahead of their time without knowing it. They set out to document racism and extremism in the UK, through following around a semi-political punk band, but what they showed was the early traces of the decoding and deterritorializing of politics; the film doesn’t show Ray ultimately joining a far-right group, it shows him becoming fully committed to being apolitical, and his refusal to engage in politics leaves him without the means to socialise or stay as a part of a social group. it suggests that hyperindividualism and the death of the community goes hand in hand with a disregard for the politics that underpin those social formations. Through the dissolution of these political social formations, the result is just pure liquid capital.
Yet, the subconscious cannot be deleted, there is data down there, lingering, unwiped, sitting there as 1s and 0s. If one might try to guess where the source of all this anger comes from in the UK, it is because of this — no one has a chance to actually express their uniqueness or their honest/vulnerable truth, it is all bottled up and ritualistically let out in mad rampages. Football culture was the only way to dissipate the energy, to give these angry 50 year old men somewhere to go to have a good shout, otherwise the wolves would remain wolves. You can create peace under immense military conditions, or you can create the illusion of peace, but how can any one feel secure in this peace if it has more in-common with a volcano waiting to erupt.
The real tragedy is to imagine how many would-be-trans people there are in the UK who are lifetimes away from being in touch with themselves due to being encaged and abused: the UK is a prison where the inmates have long taken over. It is a zoo-turned-battle royale, over which the rich preside, watching the games from tall towers. How much variation is lost when all expression is forced into two styles? Diversity is everything to nature, and the UK culls it, breeding a cultural homogeneity for the sake of facilitating exploitation and denaturalising/industrialising the working class.
Now more than ever I have to be grateful to have left the UK, as it appears to be becoming worse and worse, especially for trans people. The wolves will turn on anyone who makes them feel threatened, which is easy because they’re abused, paranoid and living in poverty — it is incredibly dangerous to be a trans person in the UK when the UK is scapegoating trans people — the wolves start circling.
— God save the Queen(s)