Too dreadful even for Clarkson?

Sian's responds to the launch of a new righthand drive Hummer

I have been kept busy this bank holiday, dissing the launch in the UK of the new Hummer monstrosity.

In the hope you’ve never heard of such a thing. Here’s a few basic facts. A Hummer is (surprise) a giant 4x4, based on an armoured car thingy used by the US army. Style icon Arnold Schwartzenegger was responsible for persuading them to make a ‘civilian’ version a few years ago. General Motors have since bought the franchise and their new H3 is being launched in right-hand-drive for the first time in Manchester this week.

The H3 gets around 15mpg in town and its carbon dioxide emissions are equally atrocious, ranging between 327 and 346 gm/km. These figures put the H3 more than 100 g/km above the cut-off point for top car tax Band G, and make it – scientifically – a whole Citroen too big.

I’m not sure what GM think they are playing at. There’s something incredibly wrong about launching a stupendously wasteful car at this moment in history, just when almost everyone is seeing the light and trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

Even in the USA, where a ‘normal’ car is about double the size of a Ford Focus, the sheer horridness of the Hummer has spawned a campaign of organised derision in the form of the FUH2 website, which collects phone camera snaps of people giving ‘the official Hummer salute’ to passing idiots.

Rising fuel prices in America have meant the gas-guzzler strategy hasn’t worked out for GM in business terms either. Plummeting sales of 4x4s – sending profits into free-fall – mean the company is rapidly laying off workers and closing factories, while imports of climate-conscious Japanese cars soar. So it’s hard to see why GM think pushing giant cars will serve them any better in the UK, where petrol costs even more, taxes are getting (marginally) higher for top emitters and there’s a fully fledged backlash against off-road wastemonsters.

Given this, I am also having difficulty imagining who might want one of these nowadays. The H3 has the aesthetics of a transit van and the driver visibility of a tank (thanks to its tiny windows that are a legacy of its military origins) which makes it a nightmare to steer around pedestrians and cyclists. I dread to think what its rear blind spot is, and I wouldn’t fancy trying to park one either.

The Manchester-based dealership where the H3 will be sold is claming in its launch material that there is a market for these things amongst young men who ‘have got and don’t care’. But actually I doubt there are many fashion points left for big gas-guzzlers now, even outside London. (I think it’s significant they didn’t plan the launch here in the capital, where a congestion charge of £25 a day is on the cards.) Even young, white-shirted blokes probably do care about looking ridiculous and getting evil glances from absolutely everyone when they drive down the street. You’d have to be Jeremy Clarkson himself to enjoy that.

In fact, Clarkson exhibited curiously mixed views on the H3’s predecessor, the H2 (these were only available in left-hand-drive and there are, thankfully, only a few hundred on our streets). In his review for the Times back in 2003 he said that despite its faults he, “loved it. I loved the look of the thing most of all” but, by 2005, the H2 had descended in his estimation to the wrong end of his personal ‘cockometer’ scale (which is definitely saying something). I’m holding out a slim hope that he will give the H3 a rave review. That will surely see it off for good.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Why Game of Thrones is the perfect show for the modern age

There is something horribly relatable about George R R Martin’s world of Westeros, whose characters have now become part of public myth.

By now, it feels as if George R R Martin – the author of Game of Thrones, narrative sadist and ruiner of all things beautiful and good – has been appointed scriptwriter for the news. I am not the first to observe this. Martin is famous for killing off everyone’s favourite characters and sending his stories careering into pits of bleak uncertainty just when you thought everything might turn out all right. Since Prince became the latest beloved star to die this year, it has become abundantly clear that life is imitating Game of Thrones, and there’s nothing to do but watch the next bit through your fingers and try to avoid spoilers.

The staggeringly popular HBO show based on Martin’s books is in its sixth season, and it is wild, glorious trash. I mean that as a compliment. I love this horrible, problematic show more than I can possibly justify, so I’ve stopped trying. It is hardly a social-justice warrior’s dream, given that it seems to be racing against itself to sexually degrade as many female characters as possible in the space of a 45-minute episode.

The argument for the endless misogynist violence is that it has to be shown, not to titillate viewers, absolutely not, but because that sort of thing just happened back in the murky medieval past. This would be a decent excuse if sexual violence were indeed a thing of the past; or, come to that, if Game of Thrones was actually set in the past, instead of in a fictional fantasy world where there are shape-shifters, zombies and dragons.

There is one aspect, however, in which Game of Thrones has a claim to being the most realistic show on television. Despite the wizards, the wights and the way every character manages to maintain perfect hair even when they’re being pointlessly tortured to death, there is something horribly relatable about Martin’s world of Westeros, whose characters have now become part of public myth. What sets it apart is not the monsters, the nudity or the festering gallons of gratuitous gore, but the overwhelming sense that the plot got run off the rails three books ago and is being steered towards a terrible precipice by a bunch of bickering, power-mad maniacs. This, coincidentally, happens to be the plot of the entire 21st century so far.

Viewers might tune in for what the actor Ian McShane called the “tits and dragons”, but they stay for the unremitting horror. Martin gleefully tramples over all the tropes of conventional sword-and-sorcery fiction. There are no noble quests or heroes’ journeys. Instead, horrible things happen to good people for no reason. Heroism goes extremely unrewarded. The few times injustice does get punished, it happens by accident. Fair maidens are not saved, protagonists are slaughtered at random, and war is always a stupid idea, even though the ­surviving cast members are still trying to solve all their problems by waging it.

Most fans of the show have idly wondered which warring noble house they’d want to be born into. Are you brave and upstanding like the Starks, an entitled aristocrat like the Lannisters, or a mad pirate bastard like the Greyjoys? Personally, I like to think that I’d be at home in Dorne, where knife-fighting and aggressive bisexuality are forms of greeting, but the truth is that I’d have been dead for at least two seasons by now and so would you. And not excitingly dead, either. Not beheaded-by-the-king dead, or burned-as-a-blood-sacrifice-to-the-god-of-fire-by-your-own-father dead. Statistically speaking, we’d be peasants. We probably wouldn’t even get names. We’d just be eating mud and waiting for the war to be over. You know it’s true.

The moral lessons so far are murky but sensible. Dragons are awesome. Men are invariably dreadful. Following religious zealots into battle is a poor life decision. Honour is a made-up concept that will probably get you killed. Most importantly, there are very few truly evil people in the world: instead, there are just stupid people, and scared people, and petty, vindictive people, and sometimes those people get put in charge of armies and nations, and that’s when the rest of us are really buggered. That’s what Game of Thrones is about.

I’m not even confident of a happy ending. I’ve made peace with knowing that my favourite characters are unlikely to make it out of the series alive, and even if they do, it won’t matter, because a giant army of ice zombies is coming to eat the world.

And that’s what makes it brilliant. There are plenty of horrible, sexy things on television, and in these anxious times every novelist worth his advance seems to be turning his hand to grim dystopian fiction. The problem with most dystopias, though, is that they’re too predictable. They serve up worlds where, however awful things get, someone is at least in charge. They are comforting for that reason, in the same way as conspiracy theories are comforting. It is less distressing to believe, for instance, that a secret race of lizard people is managing the destiny of the human race than to believe that nobody is managing it at all.

Stories help us rehearse trauma. They help us prepare for it. You sit down to watch terrible things happening to made-up people and you imagine how you’d cope if that were you, or someone you loved, and even if the answer is “not at all” you find yourself feeling a bit better. Right now, the really frightening prospect is that the world is actually being run by vicious idiots with only half a plan between them who are too busy fighting each other to pay attention to the weather, which is about to kill us all.

That, along with the epic theme music, is why I still love Game of Thrones. It feels like aversion therapy for the brutal randomness of modern politics, with a side order of CGI monsters and a lot of shagging. There you go. I hope that’s given you all the excuse you need to tune in for season six. I did my best. If you need me, I’ll be behind the sofa. 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism