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"OH WATERS, TEEM WITH MEDICINE TO KEEP MY BODY SAFE FROM HARM, SO THAT I MAY LONG SEE THE SUN." - Rig Veda
I’m just back from the Top Gear Live world tour. It was five weeks of Keith Moon-like excess, during which we chartered superyachts, sent Eurocopters out for fish and chips, played beach cricket with AC/DC and tequila-slammed our livers until they felt like walnuts.
The fact is, though, we aren’t really rock stars, which is why we were so surprised, in Johannesburg, to receive an invitation to meet Nelson Mandela. For the life of us, we simply couldn’t work out why the greatest living statesman would want to waste his precious time with two Top Gear presenters and their piggy-eyed promoter. And, worse, what on earth would we talk about?
As a general rule, I’m quite good at small talk. But there’s a world of difference between a Sunday morning drinks party in Fulham and an audience with perhaps the most famous face on earth. “What do you do?” simply wouldn’t cut it. Nor would “I flew over Robben Island in a Eurocopter yesterday and it looked quite nice”.
It was like queuing for a wedding line-up. You want to say something to the bride’s father that all the other guests haven’t said before, but what hasn’t already been said to Nelson Mandela? My head was in a spin. I was shaking with nerves. And perhaps that’s why my first question was — and I’m not making this up — “So, Mr Mandela, have you ever been to a lap-dancing club?”
As Mr Mandela explained, with much dignity, that, no, he hadn’t, I looked in desperation to James May and the piggy-eyed promoter for some help. But they were wearing that look of pure incredulity that could be conjured up only if someone had just asked the world’s one living saint if a girl in a nylon frock had ever shoved her vulva in his face.
There was, as you can imagine, a bit of a gap in the conversation at this point but Mr Mandela was too schooled in the art of diplomacy to let it last long and decided to ask us a question. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting. “So,” he said, “what was it like on the moon?”
I should explain at this point that these days Mr Mandela spends a lot of his time meeting people who are passing through Johannesburg. As we left, for instance, Danny Glover, the Lethal Weapon actor, was waiting to go in. The previous day, apparently, he’d met Eddie Izzard, who’s raising funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
And when you are sitting in an office all day, meeting an endless stream of people you don’t know, it’s easy to get them a bit muddled up. That’s why he wanted to know about the moon. He had plainly been told the three of us were astronauts.
This was tricky. I couldn’t very well say that we were not because that might look argumentative; nor could I say that we made a poky BBC2 television programme about cars because then he might wonder what on earth we were doing wasting his valuable time.
Once again I looked to May for help, since he had recently made a programme about space and might know a bit more on the subject. But he was simply too astonished to speak. His open-mouthed, slow head-turn said it all. “First you asked him if he’d ever been lap-dancing and now you are claiming to be Buzz Aldrin.”
Soon it got worse. Because Mr Mandela then asked if I’d ever met Her Majesty the Queen. Since I had, once, at the opening of a hospice in Oxford, I said yes. So, naturally, he asked how she was. And I found myself saying she was very well and that of course I would pass on his good wishes upon my return to, er, Cape Canaveral.
Happily, the piggy-eyed promoter came to the rescue by asking if Mr Mandela would be going to the World Cup finals this year. And finally we had a conversation going. But I was too frightened to take part because I knew that some time soon we would have to give Mr Mandela the presents we had brought. And I’d just realised they were completely inappropriate.
What do you give a man who really wants only peace, equality, justice and a cure for Aids? Stupidly, I had decided that the answer was: “One of my books.” The one with the cover featuring a picture of an ostrich in a crash helmet.
Vão ler o resto. A ser verdade, possívelmente a melhor história do mundo.
But the landscape of unprovoked but premeditated female violence remains strangely unexplored. Women who kill are “relegated to an ‘exceptional case’ status that rests upon some exceptional, or untoward killing circumstance: the battered wife who kills her abusive husband; the postpartum psychotic mother who kills her newborn infant,” Candice Skrapec, a professor of criminology, noted in “The Female Serial Killer,” an essay included in the anthology “Moving Targets: Women, Murder and Representation” (1994).
Ms. Skrapec was writing at a time when Hollywood seemed preoccupied with women who commit crimes — in productions like “The Burning Bed,” the 1984 television film in which a battered wife finally sets her sleeping husband aflame, and “Thelma & Louise” (1991), in which a pair of women go on a outlaw spree after one of them is threatened with rape.
Both are essentially exculpatory parables of empowerment, anchored in feminist ideology. Their heroines originate as victims, pushed to criminal excesses by injustices done to them. The true aggressors are the men who mistreat and objectify them.
A decade or two ago this all made sense. The underworld of domestic abuse and sexual violence was coming freshly to light. And social arrangements were undergoing abrupt revision. The woman who achieved hard-won success in the workplace might well find herself, like the lonely stalker played by Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” (1987), tormented by the perfect-seeming family of the married man with whom she enjoys a weekend fling.
Much has changed since then, but the topic of women and violence — especially as represented by women — remains more or less in a time warp, bound by the themes of sexual and domestic trauma, just as male depictions of female violence are locked in the noir demimonde of fantasy, the slinky femmes fatales once played by Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner more or less duplicated by Kathleen Turner and Sharon Stone.
These conditions have been developing for some years now. But the most advanced narratives of female violence seem uninterested in them. There is, for example, Marina Abramovic, a pioneer of performance art who will be honored in a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in March, with 35 artists re-enacting five of her works. Ms. Abramovic, born in what was then Belgrade, Yugoslavia, first became a force in 1973 at the Edinburgh Festival, where she furiously stabbed a knife between her splayed fingers, bloodying 10 blades and tape recording the noises she made as she wounded herself. In 2002 Ms. Abramovic was still at it, exhibiting herself for 12 days in a downtown Manhattan installation, wordlessly moving among three raised platforms connected to the floor by ladders whose rungs were fashioned from large knives, their gleaming blades turned up.
There is also Karen Finley, whose avant-garde explorations of sexual violence put her in the middle of the federal arts-financing wars two decades ago. She is back onstage in “The Jackie Look.” Outfitted in bouffant and pearls, in imitation of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ms. Finley stands at a lectern and delivers a monologue on the female body — at one point shedding copious tears — and on the indignities ritually inflicted on public women (Michelle Obama no less than Mrs. Onassis).
All this is stimulating in its way, but it feels curiously outmoded. Although Ms. Abramovic and Ms. Finley are both charismatic presences, their antennae seem to have rusted. They persist in registering the dimmed signals of a bygone time.
For this reason, perhaps, the most useful glosses on Dr. Bishop may come from the world of popular, even pulpish, art — for instance, crowd-pleasing movies like “Black Widow,”“Blue Steel,”“The Silence of the Lambs,”Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” or even “Lost,” the ABC series. In all of them the hypothetical notion of empowerment gives way to the exercise of literal power. So too in crime novels written by women who specialize in the disordered or deranged mind. Genre art has its own limitations. But its strength is that it seeks to reanimate archetypes and is indifferent to ideological fashion.