Book Review: Shitstorm

Shitstorm, by Fernando Sdrigotti, is the first in a series of pocket sized novelettes from Open Pen. It offers a wickedly entertaining take-down of contemporary attention spans and media fuelling of public outrage. Although a work of fiction it is built around actual events and the associated input from bizarrely popular public commentators. As well as being witty this story is vexingly accurate in its observations.

The opening sequence tells the tale of an American dentist who travels to Zimbabwe to kill animals for his own skewed pleasure. He ends up causing the death of a protected lion named Cyril who was much loved by wealthy celebrities. Newspapers and social media soon pick up the story and the hunter becomes prey. Hashtags trend and column inches fill with barely considered click bait opinions. A shitstorm is generated.

The dentist and his family receive death threats and require relocation and police protection.

“So maybe it was about his stupidity, maybe it always boils down to people doing stupid things, being incredibly stupid all the time, or just once, being stupid at the wrong moment. And our never-ending hunger for content.”

The outrage goes on for days, building momentum, airtime and petitions, until a bomb goes off in the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International. The President of the United States of America uses this latest tragedy to spread his message of hatred and fear of Islam. The dentist is forgotten as commentators turn their attention to garnering supporters for whatever message they wish to peddle.

“Some of us have changed our avators to one with the Union Jack or a photo of Big Ben while others have chosen a black square while others did nothing. Many of us have announced ourselves safe over Facebook while others have articulated in the strongest terms that we are against doing this, in order not to play at the hands of the terrorists, whoever these might be. And of course all of us are now policing people’s reactions to an atrocity, as is the tradition these days.”

A mosque in Birmingham is petrol bombed. A driver attempts to run over a group of young Muslim girls in Milton Keynes. Then a blogger from Archway goes viral after news breaks that she is making bread from her own vaginal yeast and selling it.

“now we can all stop thinking about bombs for a while”

And so it goes on: the patriarchy, Holocaust, transphobia, terrorism, conspiracy theories, the President of the United States of America accused of sexual harassment – there is always another shitstorm with its requisite opinion pieces in newspapers and on social media. Judgements are quickly made, written about and shared. Boycotts of companies are supported by people who never bought from them anyway. Insults are exchanged when points of view are not openly agreed with. Then everyone moves on to the next happening.

The denouement of this little tale is neatly executed by looking at what happens to those in the eye of the storm after public attention diverts from them. I was amused by the addition of a Russian connection.

In fact I was wryly amused by this entire book and its depiction of how easily so many are being manipulated. Wanting change in this world is understandable, armchair activism smugly comforting, but proper understanding of issues and their wider repercussions is vanishingly rare.

An intelligent and quirky little book that may (or may not) make readers reconsider their reaction to whatever shitstorm comes next. Astute and entertaining, but also important in its cogency, this is a recommended read.

Shitstorm is published by Open Pen.