Inky Needles #2: Celebrity & Speed


Reviewed by Angus Sinclair

– Edited by Samuel Stolton, Jess Gregory, Joe Turnbull & Ricky Howrie.

Two dangerous driving forces provide the theme for the second issue of Inky Needles Literary Journal. Celebrity and Speed, notes founding editor Samuel Stolton, ‘hold magisterial levels of power and influence, and such is why it is of desperate importance for us to exploit them for the literary game.’ For the most part the prose fiction in this issue uses satire as its mode of attack. Fred Sugarman-Warner’s short story sees filmmaker Michael Bay as a forgetful loner, and an unattributed letter takes on the manic voice of Shia LaBoeuf recounting ‘a god damn crazy episode’. These truly believable farces barely caricature their subjects: the LaBoeuf piece is wild and unbelievable in its content but convincing in its use of the ‘meta-modernist performance artist’s’ look-at-me-don’t-look-at-me voice.

Elsewhere, the celebritisation of our culture is flatly reflected. A poem by James Nixon titled ‘Five facts about George Clooney’s new fiancée’ informs us ‘She wears sunglasses when it’s sunny unless she has left them at home’ and four other banalities. This is less an act of détournement and more a case of critique of the tedious through tedium. Much of the rest of the poetry in the issue is as unambiguous as it is overstated:

Unpunctuated exclamations of ourselves
Cycling, unavoidable – disposable –
Until we are all just tourists
In the lives of others

(from ‘1000 Selfies’ by John Newton)

My interest in this issue peaked with the critical prose. Attention is given to the market positioning of Kanye West (‘Kanye West’s Reclamation of the Production of Celebrity Image as Commodity’, Nicomedus Reuben) and the commodification of subculture (‘Subculture as a Form of Fantasy Trap’, Natty Peterkin) in quick and lively pieces that are unfortunately brief.

Jess Gregory and Joe Turnbull’s interview with Chris Rojek, author of Presumed Intimacy: Parasocial Interaction in Media, Society and Celebrity Culture (among others) and a professor in the field of celebrity studies, is a highlight, and refreshing insofar as the discussion doesn’t take as default a negative view of celebrity. Rojek posits, with due caution, one of the reasons for Occupy’s failure to live up to its revolutionary promise was a lack of leadership: ‘You can’t trust leaders, but on the other hand they are a necessary evil because nothing will change without them.’

Gregory also contributes a clear, insightful review of Saatchi gallery’s recent Post Pop: East Meets West exhibition providing a room by room account of its successes and shortcomings. Regarding the latter, Gregory notes a ‘serious under-representation of women artists’, unfortunately drawing attention to the lack of female voices in the Celebrity and Speed issue, which contains nearly twice as many men as women.

Stolton draws his editorial to a close by noting that the fictions by Amy Mackelden and Laura Tansley articulate the ‘raw, obsessive, violent, hedonistic, nauseating, dizzying, and nihilistic’ motifs of Celebrity and Speed, all adjectives one might use – in both a positive and negative sense – to describe the issue as a whole. The scuzzy design, frantic typography, and raw editorial choices certainly make for a confrontational read, which seems to be the main objective.