In our three years and some months of existence, The Reprobate has offered a dizzying – some might say chaotic – selection of cultural delights, from outsider art to social commentary, from incredibly strange movies to incredibly strange lifestyles, from the defiantly weird to the populism of yesteryear. But one thing, perhaps, has united everything we’ve ever done, to a greater or lesser degree, and that’s the overwhelming belief in individual freedom – free speech, free expression and free sex (actually sexual freedom, but that doesn’t quite fit with the sloganeering).
These used to be a given for liberals and libertarians alike – the forces devoted to shutting down expression and censoring thought were traditionally the establishment and the regressive. Things have changed somewhat in recent years, and it seems that self-professed liberals are now the cheerleaders for policing what we say, what we see and what we do – and they are policing it with the zeal and the inflexibility of a dictatorship. That might sound like exaggeration and hyperbole, but it really isn’t. Let’s not forget that social media accounts are increasingly being closed due to wrongthink, and in the UK, people are being prosecuted, convicted and jailed for expressing the wrong ideas, losing their jobs over what are clearly jokes and are hounded by the online mob until they grovellingly apologise for “causing offence” – a greater crime than actual assault. As I write this, the police in South Wales are actually warning people not to mock the haircut of a drug dealer they are looking to arrest, lest they upset him and so break a law that the police don’t seem to understand. It might seem ludicrous, but as we’ve said before, these warnings are designed to shut people up – to stop anyone from straying out of line. Thoughtcrime is no longer a dystopian myth, it’s a reality. The belief that certain ideas are heretical and dangerous has spread everywhere. Even in the once sacred world of science, difficult ideas can no longer be debated or tested, for fear that the conclusions reached might hurt someone’s feelings.
It’s easy to see this as the domain of a small but vocal group, but the fact is that this small group have disproportionate influence and power – the activists have the ears and the hearts of the broadcasters, the journalists, and the politicians, even those who you might think were instinctively against such things. Either through ideology or fear, people fall in line.
While some on the Right have responded to this with a sudden, unexpected and rather hard to believe zeal for free speech, others – the more lunatic fringe – have become increasingly moralistic and fanatical. We’re thinking of the unbalanced individuals in the conspiracy theory-driven ends of the internet, who have a religious fervour and a new sense of Nationalism and moral purity. These are the hardline conservatives of old, anti-abortion, anti-sex and anti-anyone that looks or thinks slightly differently to them. The twitching paranoids who are driven by hate and fear. For these people too, free speech is anathema – they are the mirror image of their Leftist counterparts, wanting to shut down any ideas that they find distasteful or threatening, and it’s interesting to see how many of the self-proclaimed free speech conservatives have shown their true colours in recent times, demanding censorship, calling for the cancellation of those they dislike and generally reverting to type. The end result of this is that the lynch mobs of the internet are now finding that once you let that genie out of the bottle, there is no controlling it, and your own weapons can be used against you, either by your opponents (and the Right seem to be all too happy to demand ‘offensive’ comments be punished if they disagree with them – funny, that) or by your own side, who of course will turn their witch hunts inward as their neo-religious zeal becomes ever more fervent.
One bizarre aspect of the cultural shifts and tribal divides of recent years is how ‘free speech’ has become a dirty word (or pair of words). We’ve reached the bizarro world alternative universe where the Right has posited itself as the unconvincing defender of Free Speech – for entirely selfish reasons, of course – while the Left agitate against it, mocking those who demand their “freeze peach”. You have to wonder where we have come to when the right to express your opinions is something to be mocked and hated and campaigned against. Who could have imagined it?
With such virulent hatred and lack of openness on both side of the political divide, is anyone really surprised when both sides will conveniently switch places when it is in their interests, or that the distance between the Far Right and the Far Left is rather smaller than the distance both sides have from everyone else. For both, the shutting down of inconvenient opinions has always been the best way of marginalising and silencing the ‘other’.
So where does this fit into The Reprobate and our philosophy? How do the political conflicts of today relate to articles about awkward 1970s TV celebrities, sexy LP covers or vintage toys? Well, besides the fact that our ability to publish such stuff depends on us having the freedom to do so, it perhaps speaks to where we are in attitude and where we’re heading in content. Not that we are dropping our more esoteric content, you understand – far from it. But we are probably going to be a great deal more forthright on the subject of free speech – not dirty words for us – than we have been, and to hell with any nervousness about its current association with the Far Right. We need to reclaim these terms, and if that means upsetting and losing the sort of person who declares anyone that they even slightly disagree with as a Nazi – the go-to knee-jerk insult that both Left and Right seem keen to throw around with gleeful abandon these days – then so be it.
It’s always been in the Reprobate team’s instincts to kick against the pricks and take a sceptical, contrarian view of the status quo, and things haven’t changed as the forces of oppression have shifted political direction. We’re no more impressed by the new progressive saviour than we were by their regressive predecessors – in fact, it’s hard to really tell them apart once you get beyond the sloganeering. The activists, the campaigners, the morally superior – we always tend to think “what’s in this for you?” when we see them, and it’s often all too obvious what that is – money, attention, ego, control-freakery, bullying and power are the connecting points amongst our political leaders (and wannabes), campaigners and activists on all sides.
I can’t emphasise this point enough (and I fear it’ll be ignored widely), but here goes: The Reprobate is neither Left nor Right. If anything, we have a healthy distrust and contempt for both sides. We are worldly enough to realise that no one has a monopoly of being right or wrong, no side is entirely with the angels and no side the devil incarnate. Just as we believe that there is no inherently good or bad art, so there are no inherently good or bad ideas – it surely should depend on the argument behind those ideas and the way they are expressed. We automatically wince when someone says that ideas are ‘problematic’ without offering a counterpoint or accepting that not everyone believes the same thing, and that doesn’t automatically make them bad people. And we’re unsettled when people suggest that certain topics should be off the table for criticism, ridicule, insult or mockery, lest they cause offence. Contrary to what the “words are assault” claimants might tell you, no one has ever died of being simply offended. Though plenty of people have died for causing offence, of course…
We’d hesitate to call ourselves ‘centrists’, because that term has too many hang-ups, and is a touch on the wishy-washy side, like someone sitting on the fence. We are, if you want to label us, cultural, old school libertarians, from a time when that word didn’t have the political-economic baggage that it does today. We believe in individual liberty, personal – not collective – responsibility and the right to offend and be offended. We believe that ‘bad’ ideas are combated through discussion, not suppression, and that to marginalise, demonise or shut down entire groups based on belief systems, skin colour, nationality, age or gender is not just stupid but also counter-productive. We reject the idea that you can make blanket statements about art you haven’t seen or people you haven’t met. We are wildly – some have said hilariously – opinionated, but that’s all we are doing – sharing opinions. You can share yours too. Maybe you’ll change our minds on things we thought we believed. Maybe you’ll just offer a different point of view. But that should be enough.
So… The Reprobate stands for free expression, a plurality of opinion and an instinctive suspicion of those who want to tell us how to think, and if we can use our little corner of the internet to promote that, all the better. Whether it be furious socio-political tracts or discussions of weird and marginalised culture, we want to provoke thought and share ideas. And we’ll pretty much share any ideas outside of the more lunatic end of conspiracy theory and virulent hate speech – obviously, there is a considerable difference between criticism and incitement, and we’ll absolutely not support any calls for violence or discrimination against any individual or group based on their opinions; but neither will we accept any writing that calls for other voices to be shut down and silenced simply for offering a contrary opinion or a criticism of ideas. If you believe an argument to be ignorant, offensive, disgusting or in some other way wrong – fair enough. Counter that argument with your own. Allow people to read both opinions and make their own decisions. Have faith that you can win an argument, because shutting down the voices that you disagree with does nothing but create martyrs. Disagree with something you read on this site? Fine. Write a rebuttal. As long as it reaches our standards for readability, we’ll publish it. We absolutely believe in a plurality of voices and ideas. In fact, we encourage it.
Think of us as a refuge of freedom in the post-cultural apocalyptic wasteland of the modern world. We’re the outcasts, and dammit if we don’t like that. Maybe you are an outcast too? If you are open to new directions in art and culture, to debating ideas and opening your mind, and that nothing is sacred, you’ll find a home here, as a writer, an artist or a reader. If you feel politically homeless, if you wonder why people who proclaim themselves to be victims often behave like oppressors, and if both the excesses and the minutiae of the culture wars leaves you shaking your head and wondering just how the world ended up like this, then you’ll find a family here. Like most families, it might be a touch dysfunctional, sometimes argumentative and occasionally embarrassing, but it’ll never cast you out for saying the right thing with the wrong words, or for being the crazy grandparent in the corner who says the unsayable on a regular basis. In the words of Tod Browning’s Freaks (a brilliant, transgressive, very problematic film that might just be our celluloid avatar) Gobble, Gobble, we accept you. One of us… one of us…one of us…
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