It had to happen sometime. In all the sickening sycophancy surrounding the Millennium Trilogy of Stieg Larsson, someone with a pop profile sooner or later had to mention that the King was swaggering down the street stark naked — and in this case with a definite hard-on for every woman in sight.
It just happened to be an actress, Rooney Mara, who blew the whistle on Larsson. She played Lsibeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, made from the eponymous book by Larsson. For daring to suggest that the iconic character is not a feminist, she was publicly taken to task by Eva Gabrielsson, common-law widow of Larsson, self-appointed keeper of his flame. “Does she not know what film she has been in?” asked Gabrielsson patronisingly, as if being in the film signifies full agreement with Gabrielsson’s interpretation of Larsson. “Has she read the book?” Gabrielsson castigated her for her impertinence, as if an actress couldn’t possibly understand. “Has she not had any coaching?” Gabrielsson delivered the killer blow, as if an actress couldn’t possibly think for herself.
Some feminist Gabrielsson turns out to be, demonstrating in three short sentences that she thinks women are in certain professions because they’re stupid! But it’s worse than that. There’s a sense here that insiders, like Gabrielsson, like the filmmakers, like Mara’s handlers, know that Larsson and his characters Blomkvist and Salander as feminists are a fraud, but that it is in everyone’s interest to keep quiet about it, to toe the party line, to lie “for the cause”, to commit the “few necessary murders”. The reverberating metaphors are deliberately chosen because, had he not been a loud leftist, Larsson’s boosters would never in a million years have been allowed to get away with the scam that has been perpetrated on the public by Gabrielsson, Larsson’s editors, publishers and a wide swathe of “journalists” who betrayed their profession by not checking a single fact.
There’s nothing new in this. In STIEG LARSSON Man, Myth & Mistress, published in December 2010, more than a year ago, Andrew McCoy and I analysed the reasons Stieg Larsson the writer, and his creations Blomkvist and Salander, are not feminists. The reasons are really pretty obvious and all come down to two points: they don’t believe in the same things as feminists and they don’t behave like feminists. In STIEG LARSSON Man, Myth & Mistress Andrew and I predicted that eventually the barrage of lies about Larsson from his publishers and lover would sicken the more sensible journalists. We also thought the real feminists, who know Larsson isn’t a feminist but a middle-aged fantasist, but have been keeping quiet “for the good of the cause”, would be in the vanguard of the turning on Larsson that was due sooner or later.
Never in our fondest imaginings did we for even a minute hope that an actress would lead the charge— sorry, I mean the sorrowful change of heart.
The people who lied to us about Larsson (for instance about his Ethiopian and Grenadan experiences which are clearly inventions that they should have questioned) won’t apologise. It is what makes them despicable as publishers. (Yeah, I know, you think I’ve just cut off a part of my future as a writer; forget it, if I have something in my hand that they want, they’ll kiss my ass for it as if I never called them “despicable”, as if they never tried to intimidate me with lawyers, as if I never laughed in their faces; they’re the creatures of accountants, who have numbers where people have feelings.) The hack journalists who unblushingly wrote up all their lies as the gospel won’t even know they’ve done something wrong.
When a huge, multifarious lie has been perpetrated on this scale — Larsson’s three novels have now sold well over 60 million copies, so the lies have been told to at least that many people — the reckoning always in its beginning stutter and stumble before it gains irresistible momentum. People don’t like to admit they were wrong. Journalists in particular believe they’re infallible, and if they write for the self-elected leftwing papers, they’re in addition charged with being a vanguard elite for the masses. If their leftwing paper is a broadsheet, then they are like the Lamb, washed in the blood Eternal Truth. Having to say, “Sorry, I made a mistake,” really hurts those with such a mentality.
Here’s the stuttering beginnings of the truth in The Observer, a once-great paper which now serves the wishy-washy Left of Centre British middle classes, where Manners count for more than Truth. These are people, readers and journalists alike, who are well aware that real leftists, of the nature of Lenin and Trotsky, and Pol Pot and Stieg Larsson and Eva Gabrielsson, if they ever came to power, would shoot them first as bourgeois frauds. I’m not joking: in Sweden, Larsson and Gabrielsson are openly Trotskyists, and Larsson was for a long time the editor of the Trotskyite journal. Nick Cohen’s article was reprinted in The Guardian, a once-great paper (Alistair Cooke used to work for it before he went to the BBC and to America) which now serves the Bicycle Left, which fondly believes it has something in common, well at least in spirit, with Arthur Scargill. Guardian readers live in a dreamland of normative cases; anyone with politically correct credentials can tell them the most outrageous lies and be applauded for it. That it happened in the case of Stieg Larsson is of interest to us, but to the average Guardian reader it is pretty routine that the editorial staff of his newspaper should lie to him; he prefers it. In STIEG LARSSON Man, Myth & Mistress Andrew and I demonstrate some of the lies Guardian readers were told about Larsson, and we aren’t aware of a single complaint from a subscriber.
Of course, Cohen’s article is hidden among the think-pieces, whereas the lies were told in big feature spreads. But you can’t expect editors who sit at the right hand of God to be honest even when they’re admitting a lie. Cohen starts off by implying that they were misled about Larsson and Gabrielsson because those two are on the European Far Left, that is, rather than on the cuddly ineffectual Left, which in Britain these days is in practice resigned to perpetual Thatcherism, since Tony Blair made “New Labour” electable by simply stealing Mrs Thatcher’s policies. It’s a crap argument, and Cohen will go on to admit he knew Larsson was of the Far Left.
Now, actually, the Far Left has a record on feminism that accords precisely with that of the Vatican and any mullah who wants to punish adultery by public beheading and an immodest glance by public whipping. Anyone who belongs to the far left by definition cannot be a feminist. Period.
As Andrew and I point out, being revolted by violence to women is a decent impulse but by itself it makes no one a feminist. Yet Gabrielsson makes this the single test of a feminist. Why? She isn’t stupid. It is because Larsson cannot pass any of the other tests, as is easily demonstrated from his own writings and behaviour, including to Gabrielsson, whom he left unprovided for after 32 years with a crude lie that his publishers were seeing to a will that leaves everything to her.
The Far Left solves this problem by being outraged at violence practised on white women but determinedly leaving patriarchal violence practised on brown and black women by Islamic and other societies where women are property as a matter entirely for the indigenes. That this is a racist solution they plaster over by loudly accusing anyone who disagrees of being — a racist! Cohen, no fool, calls this “relativist politics”, a superbly accurate phrase, but in the mouths of the Soft Left another lie, with overtones of Einsteinian inevitability. Bullshit. It’s moral relativism, and it is, like all morality, elective, practiced by choice.
The people who lied to us about Larsson’s feminism cannot even claim ignorance. Larsson wrote a book about the honour killings in Sweden. He laid out his attitudes and beliefs in hard, permanent print. Cohen admits he knew about this book, and that he ignored what was likely to be in it, and instead assumed that Larsson betrayed the Far Left to become a feminist. “The far left’s record [of] alliances with radical Islam make it, at best, a misogynist force and, at worst, an active agent of oppression. Larsson appeared to be the exception. I wrote in the Observer about how impressed I was when I discovered that while completing his thrillers, Larsson found the time to dash off a polemic about honour killings in Sweden. Here, after all these years, was a leftist who preferred to drag himself out of the swamp of relativist politics rather than compromise his principles.” Notice that Cohen doesn’t tell us he read Larsson’s book. He just assumed what suited the tone of the beatification of Larsson that his paper, and all papers of similar political persuasion, were indulging in at the time.
Cohen, putting the best face on a monstrous lie perpetrated on the public, tells us the motivation for ignoring knowledge in favour of wishful thinking, in short for lying knowingly. “There is something truly thrilling in the notion that the bestselling thrillers of the past decade were written by that modern rarity — a leftwing, male feminist.” Now he is forced to agree with an actress (God, what a comedown for an intellectual with a spot on the Observer!): “Except that Larsson wasn’t a feminist.” Both motive and conclusion were delineated by Andrew and me fifteen months ago in STIEG LARSSON Man, Myth & Mistress.
Then Rooney Mara, uncoached or perhaps her own woman forming her own opinions, blew the whistle on this huge elitist conspiracy. Now Cohen blames the delay in the truth appearing on his “friend” Johan Lundberg, the editor of the Swedish journal Axess, who “has done what I should have done and read Larsson’s obscure book on honour killings. He waited for the release of the film to give us his findings.” It won’t wash, Nick. You knew what was in that Larsson’s book on the honour killings to a likelihood of 99%, and you chose to pretend otherwise. And since you, in London, knew of Larsson’s book on the “honour” killings earlier, “obscure” is another lie.
Cohen ends sniffily with a grudgingly ungracious admission that Rooney Mara has it right: “I do not go to actors for political advice. But when Rooney Mara said that she did not think that Larsson’s Salander was a feminist, she was not the empty-headed celebrity she seemed.”
That’s also Cohen’s admission that all those journalists, who look down on mere actresses (“empty-headed celebrity”), lied and lied and lied about Larsson.
The key word in in Nick Cohen’s article is “relativist”, what I expanded above as “lies for the good of the cause”, what someone else (was it Bertrand Russell?) called “a few necessary murders”. Moral relativism perfectly explains how the pretense of feminism, the left-wing record, justifies overlooking the salivating violence in the books, the poor writing, the lies of Larsson and all his boosters, the hypocrisy of almost the entire newspaper and publishing trades, of the feminists (of whom only the most brainless could have believed Larsson was truly a feminist) and of the left-wingers with a specific interest in areas Larsson claimed to have experience in (notably East Africa and Grenada) but clearly had none. These lists grow almost as long as the ones in Larsson’s books!
• Read Nick Cohen’s volte face on Larsson. If you ever catch me out in that large a lie, I hope my mea culpa will be as admirably slippery as Cohen’s!
• André Jute is the author, with Andrew McCoy, of the first and only book-length literary criticism of STIEG LARSSON Man, Myth & Mistress.