Gerry Potter – How Do You Respect Fuck All?
Whenever a news channel is slow to make it to the scene for a big event, they appeal to the audience for phone camera footage. They also remind viewers to have the good courtesy to hold their phones horizontally when filming. This makes the captured riot/terror attack/assassination/snowfall antics more amenable to the dimensions of your typical flat screen TV.
As much as some may sneer at vertical video, I can see why so many make it their format of choice. It is not intended for viewing on a flat screen TV via a news channel. It is intended for viewing from a phone – be it passing the original device from hand to hand or via social media. The vertical video has no aspirations for the validation or intervention of the mainstream media. It is a peer-to-peer communication in its most literal sense.
Gerry Potter, also known by his Performance Poetry persona, Chloe Poems, uploaded this video during a week of rioting across England that followed the fatal shooting of Mark Dugan. It made up an early instalment a series of videos he referred to as his *Poetry Selfies*. While the Instagram culture of the day portrays impossibly aspirational lives or papers over the cracks with wafer thin platitudes, Potter speaks the bitter truth of Fuck All.
Fuck All could be interpreted in a number of ways – it could be the popular vernacular sense of having nothing but it could also be taken as "fuck everything". Even the word *fuck* slowly loses its power as it is repeated. As the poem progresses it deflates from a cry of anger and defiance to a wounded growl of defeat. Formally, this poem could be seen as a list poem, but only in the sense that it argues that nothing we can conceive of can escape being corrupted by Fuck All. It implies that what seems at first glance to be a thread that binds all aspects of society turns out to be a crack on closer inspection.
If the 2011 riots had uncovered anything it was a relentless nihilism at all ends of the social scale. Those at the bottom of the ladder had no ideological framework to channel their rage and frustration. The nihilism at the top manifested as a slow, blameless drip feed as the Coalition Government set about an ideological dismantling of the Welfare State in the guise of austerity.
With the state using surveillance powers to snoop email and social media, the riots planned and orchestrated via BBM Blackberry networks that the Police couldn't eavesdrop. Potter recreates the peer to peer aspect through by using his phone's front camera. No fancy filters are applied. The frame accommodates his face and Fuck All else.
The video sparks a contrast with the slick and polished Spoken Word videos that can be found on YouTube. This accentuates the DIY Punk ethic. In the same way that Punks published zines armed with nothing more than some photocopy money and a stapler – Potter uses the the most mundane, everyday tech to dramatic effect.
Potter's voice is low but grizzled, as if he has been out amidst the chaos for the past few hours, shouting his throat raw. The phone camera is held close, distorting his facial proportions, revealing the lines and blemishes that affect all middle aged men. His face fills the screen. When watched on a tablet or larger screen this becomes intense and overbearing but when viewed on a small screen it seems candid and intimate.
By contrast, the mainstream media relied on God's Eye helicopter footage or lingering shots of the smouldering aftermath. Many of the iconic images of the riots, such as Pauline Pearce's rebuke of looters, were caught with phone cameras. As if to demonstrate the out of touch aspects of mainstream media, especially with the bullying of Darcus Howe, Potter states that the BBC are also Fuck All.
Before writing this I watched this video on my laptop, then watched it on a tablet in portrait mode, finally I watched it on my phone screen. As his face beamed from my palm and his sonorous growl poured from the tiny speakers I remembered the old sci fi shows where characters spoke to each other from screens on tiny hand held devices.But this wasn't the gleaming Jetson's future where automata were enhancing all lives instead of rendering human labour redundant. It was a future where almost everybody owned a smartphone. A smartphone, but no house of their own, no job, no education and no future.
That's fuck all.
This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts that work towards a criticism of the Spoken Word. I will be looking at all forms of Spoken Word — not just poetry readings and spoken word/poetry performances but stand up comedy, confessional monologues, academic lectures, speeches, wrestling promos and any other act of public speech that rings my bell. All posts will appear under the Toward a Criticism of the Spoken Word category. Click to see if new posts have been added and for any you may have missed.