Shitstorm, Fernando Sdrigotti, Open Pen, 2018, £4.99
Among four equally alluring others, Open Pen’s new series of “novelettes” features Fernando Sdrigotti’s latest story Shitstorm, which delves into the unsettling nature of viral news and online scandals. His perceptive insights, coupled with often crude but amusing satire, lead one through a dizzying and chaotic cultural landscape that is disturbingly akin to our own.
Shitstorm follows dentist Walter Turner’s sudden fall from grace after slaying a protected lion on a trophy hunting expedition in the plains of Africa. Caught in the ensuing “shitstorm” facilitated by tabloid newspapers and Twitter, Turner’s actions are condemned by leading animal rights activists, celebrities, and the general public, whose fury seems to know no bounds as death threats quickly arrive at the Turner door. In his dirty ordeal of a narrative, Sdirgotti allows nobody to emerge favourably. The fury felt by outraged members of public may be the noble response; but is it genuine? Many quite rightly find the actions of Turner abhorrent and want justice for his crimes and deviance. Yet such outrage is consistently short-lived, as our attention is guided elsewhere to another “shitstorm” of momentary significance, which will likewise be ousted in days. As he says, ‘No one can focus on too many shitstorms at the same time, and we’re all still getting out of some of the recent ones… a racist cream ad where a black woman turned white after using the product, a body-shamming outdoors as by a protein shake company from Saudi Arabia, a pornstar who might have said something homophobic and was bullied until she committed suicide live on Periscope… there’s only room for one proper shitstorm at a time, because of all this, Dr. Turner starts to be forgotten. Saved by the bell.’
The satire takes on darker significance when the story inevitably considers the President of the United States, who seems to have repeatedly undergone shitstorms of increasing severity, and has repeatedly emerged unscathed. Sdrigotti quite frighteningly speculates on what could irreversibly take the President down in a familiar, but fatal speculation involving a porn-star threatening to release sexual information to the public. Yet even in this horrendous scenario, his loyal supporters remain adamant in their support and talk of something else to distract the opposition – or merely talk over them.
The book is a very crowded and noisy experience in this regard and emphasises the seemingly impenetrable position the President has established with vulgarity and bluster: ‘And then the President of the United States of America says something about this or that journalist. And then he says something about Muslims. And then he says something about gays. And then he says something about women… But something else happens and then something else. And someone says something, someone always says something, and then someone else says something else, and like that it goes on. And it goes on. And on. And on. And then the President of the United States of America gets re-elected for a second term.’
With the noise comes the smell. I mean this in no disparaging way; it is great testament to the book’s quality that it left me revolted by the images and thoughts Sdrigotti conjures: they aren’t pretty, particularly at the close. They left me feeling positively unclean, for I saw myself engaged in some of the practices Sdrigotti was parodying. I too have fervently pledged my support and my signature to petitions that I have since forgotten about. I remember distinctly feeling outraged by the killing of Cecil the lion a few years back (doubtless the same lion Sdrigotti is satirising), but only vaguely remembering the story when revisiting it here.
Another shitstorm must have caught my attention, as they still do today. Sdrigotti’s narrative left me with more awareness of the media manipulation we undergo, and encouraged me not to fall into their traps of clickbait and propaganda. It is thought-provoking and clever, and I would heartily recommend.
Words by Ronan Gerrard.
For more on Shitstorm, visit Open Pen.
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