Published in 1984 and set amidst 80s greed, consumerism and the illusion that monetary value is the only value, Martin Amis’ novel Money was written before the explosion of the internet. It tells the story of John Self, a self-made advertiser-turned-aspiring-film producer jetting between New York and London in a bid to shoot his first pornographic movie. Self-centred, self-indulgent, self-deluded, Self leads an alarmingly hedonistic and gluttonous lifestyle, characterised by an addiction to drink, drugs, violence, prostitutes and pornography. By the end of the novel he is left filmless and penniless, having been conned and cheated by the producer of the film, Goodney.
Money is commonly cited as one of the defining books of the 80s, and the reader feels smug in the knowledge that Self is a character type specific to that era. We definitely are not, like him, rampant, immoral consumers. Deeply depressed, Self wants his fixes quick, instantly, on demand: women, sex, porn, pills, food, alcohol, racing across London and New York to satisfy his needs. Yet, do we not suffer from the same chronic addictions, symptomatic in the deep impatience that characterises our lives? Not only do we want instant gratification, we want to be able to shop, bank, and communicate now. Unlike Self, we don’t have to leave our house to do so. That’s the beauty of the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even more alarmingly, the ease with which porn is accessible online has led to a growing concern about the change this is precipitating in adolescent sexual attitudes, as more young people that ever are exposed to X-rated material. Are we in the process of creating a generation of mini- John Selfs?
The women in the novel are frustratingly underdeveloped and silenced, acting as one-dimensional pawns in a patriarchal world. Selina Street, Self’s estranged girlfriend, is porn personified: “She goes round the place looking like a nude magazine”. Her financial dependence on John sees her fated to act as his sexual fantasy, enduring casual violence and attempted rape in the process. Despite significant advances in gender equality since the 80s, the manipulation of younger women by older men in popular culture prevails today, some thirty years on. This month’s feud between Sinead O’Connor and Miley Cyrus was precipitated by O’Connor’s concern that Cyrus was being treated like a prostitute by (male) powers above, warning her: “Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you”. Take note Selina.
Just what Amis was trying to preach in Money is hard to decipher, and beside the point. What makes this book compelling is the uneasy sense that despite an elapse of nearly thirty years the novel is less a satire, more a strikingly relevant commentary applicable to the pornification of contemporary society, and our own lives.