“Your culture,” drawled the Finn, “it’s like the character in Psycho Killer. You, know the Talking Heads song?” There was a pause for this to sink in, for her to take a long speculative punctuation drag on a cigarette. “Not the psycho killer. The other one. ‘You’re talking a lot – but you’re not saying anything.’ You know?” She narrowed her eyes, which she hadn’t taken off the screen, as she blew out a fat stream of smoke. White-tipped Marlboro Menthols. Brushing a trailing blonde fringe behind her left ear, she shook her head briefly.
On the screen, a young-looking man with a beard and hedge-backwards hair was waggling a microphone with one hand while with the other hand was running through a series of exercises – dead spider, itemisation, happy talking, talking, happy talk. Behind him, in big letters on the set of the TV comedy panel game show, it read ‘Lines You Wouldn’t Hear In A TV Detective Show.’
Shifting uneasily on the sofa, Mank Wolfenstein thought briefly but without urgency that he should respond on behalf of his culture, so brusquely maligned. However, he shifted back, Wolfenstein could not help but hear the heavy emphasis on the possessive pronoun, the noun itself. His culture. His brain echoing her words, gesturing at the screen with an open palm, a sarcastic eyebrow. Hmmm, yeah.
He watched the young man leave the floor of the set to return to his seat washed by waves of undeserved applause, and sat agog with dismay as the next participant, a little bald man with a sandy musketeer beard, took the microphone and began a skit invoking well-hackneyed stereotypes of TV detective shows, long years since self-parodied into redundancy. Wolfenstein had stopped listening before the speaking began. Fuck, no, not him too, he thought. He hadn’t even been watching, and suddenly there he was, swinging from the lights and into the fray, the little slap-headed musketeer of inept comedy, all for one, one for no fucker whatsoever.
Listen to yourself. An inner shake of the head. She’s right, Wolfenstein thought. I’ve heard the same shit from 20 different comedians over the course of the preceding – fucking – two minutes or some shit. The more diluted it is, the worserer. And this… Thinking on it some more, aided by a sip of beer from a bottle whose top was warming in his uneasy grip, Mank added to himself that in fact, rather than react defensively, he was honour bound to admit that Magda was right. She’s right. I fucking hate this cunt, he thought. Devil-may-care, he decided: this was the appropriate response.
“Yeah, I hate these cunts too.” Emboldened by the act of naming his disdain, Wolfenstein widened his aim.
“Tsk. That word. You are right, of course, but still. Do not ennoble him with it.”
Magda smiled briefly, her comments dry, without heat. They sat smoking and drinking. There was a shared moment of numb horror as the TV prating continued without abating.
“What is the point of these shows?” Magda asked, drawing Mank, and on the cigarette.
“Oh, Christ, I don’t know,’ Wolfenstein offered, passing a heavy hand over his forehead and rubbing his eyes, suddenly weary. “It’s not satire, is it? It’s entertainment, is it? It’s barely humour. Jesters… I don’t know,” he added, genuinely lost for justification. “I used to love this kind of thing, but I just… it just seems to be…” He faltered.
Magda, eyes still narrowed, inhaled at length. She paused while the smoke settled in. “Imagine if all these comedians were writing something with teeth. Is that the right…?” She half turned to Mank. “With teeth, you can say this?”
“Yes. Teeth. Bite.” Mank sucked his gums. “Or no bite. You could say that too.”
“Yes, exactly. No bite. It’s not a psycho killerrr.” She rolled her R for effect. “It is very gummy,” she concluded. The smoke finally made its way back to the surface.
Mank part-turned to face Magda. “Do you have anything like this in Suomi?”
“Suomi.” She corrected his pronunciation with the tenderness of the well-practised. “Neeeeeeeh… not really. Our comedy shows are funny. Also, these kinds of things… maybe…” She tilted her head from side to side. “We’re a lot more politically engaged than you seem to be. This same show would be saying all kinds of shit about the masters of the universe. Not… what is it now?”
The backdrop had changed to read ‘Words You Don’t Want Sports Commentators To Say.”
She held up a palm towards the screen, point proven.
“Shall we watch something else then?” Mank weakly offered.
“No, fuck this. It’s boring. Let’s go and watch someone start a fight in town,” she said decisively, stubbing the cigarette in the glass ashtray on the floor by her ankles. “We’ll get a really big drink somewhere and watch it all kick off.” She sprang from the sofa and arranged her skirt. “Or just have the drink. First thing first.” A brief glance at the screen relayed a pointless score update. Exhaling a pffft, extending a hand, Magda was waiting with fluid movement for Mank to heave himself to his feet. She leaned back slightly, half-turned to the screen as he reached, she pulled and he pivoted upright. Magda gave another shake of the head as she turned back to him, his hand in hers, now face to face. “Your culture.”