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Offbeat – 08 February 2013


We know that Pennywise is going to be evil when he appears through the bars of a sewer inlet in a gutter. Gutters, one of civilisation’s many margins, are known for being the place where bad things assemble.

I just finished reading Stephen King’s ‘It’ again. I first read it on the far side of my teens, and rushed from page to page to find the monster. It wasn’t a very satisfying experience. This time round, the depiction of the protagonists as children and as adults was really gripping.

The book starts with a kid speaking to a clown peering through the bars of the sewer. “We all float down here,” the thing says to the kid.
It’s a Stephen King, so the kid dies horribly, and a bunch of others. If you haven’t read the book, now you know the origin of the evil clown with the very long teeth.
The monster, ‘It’, is a bit rushed, I think, in terms of why it is a monster and what its unwholesome motivations are. Most of that comes towards the end. In spite of that, it is probably one of the greatest monsters ever invented. For much of the book, it takes the form of ‘Mr Pennywise’, a clown.
The clown takes other forms, but at the end it is shown to be a nod of Lovecraft’s cosmicism, the type of horror construct that lives outside of the parameters of the known universe, the kind of godlike being that stamps on humans the way kids stamp on ants. The image of pulling wings off flies springs to mind.
We know that Pennywise is going to be evil when he appears through the bars of a sewer inlet in a gutter. Gutters, one of civilisation’s many margins, are known for being the place where bad things assemble.
That’s a generalisation, of the kind uttered by parents who want to keep their children away from filth and disease. Humanity actually depends on them to lead filth into the drains. They’re also fun places to put your mind when you are bored or just need a metaphorically salacious break from the humdrum, a moment of fantasy.
Gutters are important.
Gutters, as I said, are margins for humanity. They are breeding places for the poorest of the poor or people who find the pressure of civilisation too much. They have their heartwarming stories, about people who scrape off the slime and go and find a shower, but right now I’m not in that frame of mind. It’s the evil that preoccupies me.
The rough life on the edges of humanity teaches ugly lessons. Greed is one of them. Violence is another. Treatment of other humans as disposable resources, is yet another.
There’s a certain economy to the gutter. Most economic systems regulate behaviour to ensure that trades at least leave people with enough freedom and means to come that one step closer to being enslaved in the next trade. It isn’t like that down there, on the edges of the street.
When there isn’t enough to go around, then the interests of other people become secondary. Even family bonds are broken and close relations become disposable or subject to violence that gutter dwellers use to bring family members into line. Yup, you get people like that.
The gutter is not just a place. It is a mentality that becomes as ingrained as the dirt of its real counterpart. And amazingly, people who should be above it willingly sink to that level with perfume-clouded justifications, citing morality or whatever else they think can serve them.
I don’t have anything against people who find themselves there due to circumstances beyond their control, but the people who seek it out for their own personal gain are beneath contempt.
The problem with the gutter mentality is that there is no rain to wash the bits of foulness down into the sewer, where it can flow out of our frames of reference. The people who sense a chance of gain, however slender, come back again and again and again.
So here’s what I figured. Stephen King’s Pennywise becomes relatively benign in these cases. We can understand ‘It’ as a thing that is driven by its nature to destroy. There are no surprises in the thing. The really dangerous things are the ones that arrive unexpected, in human guise looking pleasing but with the intent to cause harm and get all they can at any cost.
I’ll sign off here. I need to go and find a shower.

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