Iconic Spider Jerusalem and The New Journalism

There’s someone every journalism student should know. The iconic, irascible and deeply compassionate Spider Jerusalem has proven to be darkly prescient of the decade that lay immediately ahead.

There’s someone every journalism student should know. An iconic figure who commands respect and admiration. Someone whose journalistic philosophy of complete dedication to the truth at any cost should be admired and emulated. Someone who always carries a bowel disruptor to waylay enemies. That someone is Spider Jerusalem. Strange as it may seem, fictional journalist in semi-dystopian future Spider Jerusalem is a role model not for kids, but for adults.

Exploding from the pages of Transmetropolitan (1997-2002) created by writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson political journalist Spider Jerusalem – the future’s answer to Hunter S. Thompson mixed with a touch of Che Guevara with a rock star craving for drugs and strange experience – is forced to return to the City from his Mountain refuge. Soon finds himself going head to head with a corrupt soon-to-be president nicknamed: the Smiler (by Jerusalem himself). His column “I Hate It Here” is beloved by those the Smiler refers to as The New Scum – the city’s dispossessed masses.

The dystopic future created by Ellis and Robertson contains bizarre mutations of today’s social norms, new drugs, and transhumanist inclinations. Yet it also contains the same bizarre perversion of basic humanity seen in contemporary society and politics.

According to a column by Jerusalem, “Yesterday, here in the middle of the City, I saw a wolf turn into a Russian ex-gymnast and hand over a business card that read YOUR OWN PERSONAL TRANSHUMAN SECURITY WHORE! STERILIZED INNARDS! ACCEPTS ALL CREDIT CARDS to a large man who wore trained attack cancers on his face and possessed seventy-five indentured Komodo Dragons instead of legs. And they had sex. Right in front of me. And six of the Komodo dragons spat napalm on my new shoes.

“Now, listen. I’m told I’m a FAMOUS JOURNALIST these days. I’m told the five years I spent away from the City have vanished like the name of the guy you picked up last night, and that it’s like I never left. (I was driven away, let me remind you, by things like Sickness, Hate and The Death of Truth.)”

Despite his supposed misanthropy, Spider Jerusalem does not hate people or society as much as he hates stupidity, knowing ignorance and inhumanity. Spider Jerusalem, strangely enough, has a passion for humanity and society and is willing to put his life on the line for Truth. As Transmet was ending its run in 2002 a sort of death was coming over American journalism. Call it the Death of Truth, perhaps. Call it the sort of thing that would drive the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Spider Jerusalem mad. In the wake of 9/11 much of the national press corps seemed to turn over their journalistic ethics and quest for truth in return for the ink and ratings access to a corrupt Presidential Administration would bring. The tough questions stopped being asked at the very time they needed to be asked. People who spoke their minds (Bill Maher for example) were branded anti-American and punished for their opinions.

Legitimate, professional journalists (as HST might have denounced in his typical Hard Man of American Letters style) had turned themselves over to suckle from the great teat of State. What followed was signed agreements and codes of conduct in return for becoming embedded reporters in the second major news event of the last decade: The Invasion of Iraq. After the general misconduct of prisons like Abu Ghraib, enhanced interrogation methods like waterboarding and violations of human rights in detention centers, an Orwellian nightmare of authoritarianism became ever more easy to believe. In that time journalism did need a role model.

Spider Jerusalem and in his almost perverse passion for finding and reporting the truth at all costs would make a powerful icon and an implicit remainder of journalism's core ethos in such times. Ellis and Robertson's creation offers certain crucial insights into journalistic values. It gives readers the idea that in journalism, truth is the only thing that should matter. That journalism is dangerous and good journalists are also dangerous. That good political journalism will make you enemies. Bad political journalism will make you friends. And, finally, journalists are very much crusaders constantly fighting the Sickness, Hate and The Death of Truth. So be on the right side of the fight.

Transmet reads and looks as good as it did over ten years ago. But the darker lesson seems that though Transmet was primarily meant as a metaphor for contemporary culture, we are ostensibly continuing to spiral into the perverse version of society that it depicts within its pages. And yet, there remains no Spider Jerusalem in sight.

The tough love of Ellis and Robertson's opus places self-reliance high on the agenda. Americans are always looking for a Messiah instead of looking within. They cannot seem to stand the idea of peering, even momentarily, at the realities of their own existence. While we have moved into a new era, Sickness, Hate and the Death of Truth still exist and they’re still driving the Spider Jerusalems of the day away from “the City” and up to the mountain.

Spider Jerusalem had the capacity to come face to face with the ugly truths that rule our lives. In this respect he becomes an agent of change, preaching a strong gospel of social responsibility: If you’re not a journalist who is willing to do this, get out now. Become something more benign like a custodian -- still helpful, but in less of a position to do great harm to society.

In birthing Transmetropolitan, Ellis and Robertson created an iconic universe and with it a character that has proven to be prescient. There is an enduring quality to the work here, the clang-clang-clanging of truth. It is this fierce pursuit of the Truth and this enduring hope of better yet to come what will continue to make Transmetropolitan iconographic in the years to come. The battle for journalistic integrity should never end. And as long as the battle continues so will Transmetropolitan and the legend of beyond-gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem who Ellis envisions as, “cheap, but not as cheap as your girlfriend.”

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.