Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

The Complicity, The Hypocrisy and The Spider’s Web

I’d just done a radio interview about The Bachelor. About whether I thought I could watch low-brow television and remain a good feminist. (Whatever that means).

I’m an enabler in most areas of life; watch what you bloody well want! Equally, puh-lease: if there’s anything I’m apt at it’s conjuring scholarly rationalisations for bad behaviour.

So the host and I got talking about complicity, about if I were to watch a show like the The Bachelor - or in fact, any material I felt conflicted about - am I not contributing to the problem; to its production?

I’m an academic: I need things to remain abysmal to continue having stuff to write about. That said, the host’s question is one I ask myself every time I watch or read anything for recreation revolving around, say, a female corpse. About how I’m part of the reason that dead women constitute entertainment.

Needless to say, this idea of complicity, of contradiction, has been on my mind for a while.

No so long ago I wrote about the new “Dr Seuss” book, arguing that finishing his works posthumously - that profiting from his legacy - was tantamount to grave-robbing.

It was, of course, an easy argument to make in the context of material I’ve no interest in. It’s a less easy rant however, when characters I love are involved.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web. The fourth book in the Millennium series.

The tricky part here, and the part that brings together Dr Seuss, The Bachelor and my hypocrisy in a splendidly messy union is that I really enjoyed The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Quite possibly as much as I’d enjoyed the first Millennium book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Only… [insert foreboding music]… this fourth book wasn’t written the same author.

Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author of the original three Millennium books, died in 2004. The Girl in the Spider’s Web was written by another Swede, David Lagercrantz, who has continued the story of the hacker wunderkind, Lisbeth Salander, and her uncannily-lucky-with-the-ladies journalist friend/lover Mikael Blomkvist. A book written, apparently, with the consent of the Larsson estate.

There are of course, some obvious differences between Lagercrantz continuing the story under his own name (while simultaneously acknowledging that the characters were created by Larsson), as compared, say to lost, found and finished manuscripts being released under a dead author’s name.

That said, I can’t pretend I wasn’t slightly challenged by the idea of an estate providing consent. Equally, there is something truly troubling about characters continuing on after their author passes. While sure, we accept this in television because the writing is invariably more collaborative, in novels the characters are usually the work of only one person. They’re his or her babies. Is it right then, to have them continue on in new and potentially completely unimaginable directions?

As a writer, no. This is completely unacceptable.

As a reader, bring it on: I’m insatiable.

News media recently reported on an apparent snub of Matthew Perry and Matt Le Blanc at Jennifer Aniston’s wedding. (You know, because it’s so completely normal to invite all your colleagues from jobs you had a decade ago to parties).

While to me the story seemed equal parts tenuous and hilarious, undoubtedly it was envisioned to be of interest to Friends fans who like to pretend that not only are the screen dynamics real, but that they continued on long after the show.

And akin to those weird Friends fan, I wasn’t done with the Millennium characters. Writing a book with a chapter on hacking (out this month!), I recently had reason to revisit Lisbeth. To revisit a series of books that had an unabashed feminist agenda and which delivered a swag of smart and sexual characters in engaging prose (and which largely dodged boring tech-themed stereotypes). To fall in rapture again.

How could I deny myself the possibility of more?

I wanted more of Mikael’s unorthodox relationship with Erika. More of his unorthodox relationship with Lisbeth. More Mikael full stop, really. And I wanted more of Lisbeth, a character who’d been smashed and reassembled so many times and yet was more superhero than any Marvel creation.

My conflicts, fortunately, were addressed by Lagercrantz himself, through the voice of Detective “Bubble” who we get reintroduced to in The Girl in the Spider’s Web:

“Do you know what my Rabbi says? The mark of a man is his contradictions. We can long to be away and at home, both at the same time.”

I always appreciate new ways to think about my hypocrisies, my contradictions. And I have Bublanski’s rabbi to make the idea sound all lofty-like.

David Lagercrantz on Lisbeth Salander.

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