By Finn Boyle, Associate Artist
As the echoes of gunshots faded into memory on that March afternoon in Christchurch, international media danced in dervishes around the identity of the Breivik wannabe rotting in a holding cell. Pearl-clutching headlines depicting an ‘angelic little boy’ surrounded the screams of families destroyed, spouses widowed, and children orphaned by this blonde-haired cherub. Videos of the attack plastered TV screens which declaimed his manifesto to a world again brought to a standstill by another act of hatred. The shrieks of pundits drowned out the sobs of survivors as Breivik grinned at the horseman he heralded. Yet again those who sit on bejeweled chairs and call them thrones asked, “How could we have let this happen?” while the truth stared them down and cursed them out. The sun set on an island incomplete as the forces of violence crept in once more to squat in triumph at their creation.
The choice by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to deny the killer a name is an admirable one, as evidence began to mount that his was a mindset beset with images. This, however, has been known for eons. Fascism and the far-right in general are movements built on spectacle – aesthetics are their oxygen. This much has been common knowledge ever since Riefenstahl depicted an artist’s will in triumph over a Germany conquered. The killer too revealed as much through his own paraphernalia. His guns were adorned in far-right and neo-Nazi slogans including “14 words”, “Charles Martel”, “1683”, “Rotherham”. His backpack similarly featured a Black Sun – an image originally used by the SS and later adopted by various western esotericist and fascist movements. The Frankfurt School theorist Walter Benjamin once famously decried that “Fascism is the aestheticization of politics” – and he wasn’t incorrect. Fascism from its inception has thrived on bombast and awe – images such as Mussolini on the balcony and Hitler at Nuremberg bedazzle the mind of many a fascist. And where images cannot be made, they are stolen – Roman military salutes become symbols of submission to authority, Buddhist icons show racial superiority, and bald heads become threats of violence. Fascism was, and eternally will be, a spiritual movement; grasping for meaning in the darkness of fear. So it has been from Wagner to Spencer, Gentile to Generalissimo, Quisling to Breivik.
Umberto Eco’s oft-cited Ur-Fascism – an essay so ubiquitous in these discussions it has been mentioned in these very blog posts – details numerous characteristics of fascism. While not diving into specifics, two of the fourteen points listed are “Hero Worship” and “Contempt for the Weak”. The Fascist with a capital-F seeks to dominate and rule in all domains of life. By expanding this rule to society writ large, he inevitably condemns himself to subjugation, which merely propels him to dominate and rule more, furthering his agony. Even the ruler of a fascist society is denied contentment, as he must always be on the lookout for uprisings and holds the society he stewards in contempt for allowing him to dominate. The fascist thus sentences himself to an existence of pain as his actualization can never be achieved. He searches for an ultimate redemption, a fleeting moment of glory, and this is where the Hero Worship comes in. In order to keep this wretched creature alive, he must constantly strive to be above all – to be a hero. What exactly this entails is often violent – doubtless the shooter thought himself heroic. The Fascist’s heroism, however, can never be eternal, as his glory lasts only as long as his victory. As such, Hero Worship devolves into a death cult, as the Fascist longs for the everlasting heroism that can be attained only by rendering himself into an image outside of his control. In his search for autonomy, he surrenders himself to the narrative of history. It is only through a bloody and violent spectacle that he can achieve happiness. This is why Ardern’s refusal to name him is so powerful – by denying the shooter spectacle and blurring his face, she has robbed him of his glory. She has killed whatever triumph he might have had – and has sent a message to other aspiring heroes. You will be remembered, but not revered; studied, but forgotten.
This, however, raises an almost existential question for the AB Project. How can theatre, a medium based in spectacle, deal a crushing blow to those who thrive in it? How can an image be destroyed if it is depicted as evil? Something must live if it is to be fought. Are we merely playing into Breivik’s hands? Is his shadow cast longer the more we stare into it? Put simply, how can we stop this?
These questions have not gone unanswered – for the AB Project does not, and has not, reveled in the identity of the killer, but the effects on the survivors. In all this fretting and study, we must not lose sight on who this is really for. The AB Project is not some tool in an ideological battle, it is a medicine for a society starving. All too often the lives of the survivors are completely forgotten in the morbid curiosity of men turned to evil. In all the media’s bloviating and shrieking, scarce few reports have surfaced on the lives of the survivors at all. But we have seen a change. We saw it in Utoya, we saw it at Parkland, we see it in Christchurch, and we shall see it in the AB Project. The cameras will shift from killers to survivors, oppressors to emancipated, those who come down to those who rise up. If we are to march into that twilight of tomorrow, we must be caring for one another and looking forward, allowing those who would bring back yesterday to die with it. For now is the time for, as the tagline goes, “the youth to take back what was stolen; the future”.