Shitstorm by Fernando Sdrigotti

Open Pen, November 2018, 86 pp

Open Pen, November 2018, 86 pp

In this short but ferocious novelette written by London-based Fernando Sdrigotti, a wealthy American dentist is on a hunting trip in Zimbabwe and shoots down a lion, not forgetting to take a couple of selfies with the carcass as a trophy. He doesn’t get caught and leaves Africa:

It looks as if no culprit will ever be found and the news won’t make it out of Zimbabwe, as is usually the case. But a journalist from National Geographic, coincidentally in the area for an orientalist documentary, picks up the scoop and the killing achieves international status quite quickly. Danny Gervais, Maria Farrow and Shane Osbourne find out about the murder of their exotic pet and tweet about it and their outrage and their sadness and their pain and their their their their. … And like this another shitstorm is born.

The poaching of Cyril the lion, clearly a variation of Cecil the lion, causes a media scandal, and from this premise Sdrigotti ventures into an overall exploration of the forms that mainstream media hysteria can take, or, has indeed already taken. (All the proper names in the book are modified names of real-life figures who have been subjects of such scandals, including the POTUS.) Shitstorm is bookended by the story of the poacher, while the main chunk in the middle could be considered an extended, sarcastic essay on the titular phenomenon, a fast-paced and oftentimes funny analysis written in feverish present tense.

On one hand, reading Shitstorm is masochistic: we all know the pain of reading through the comment section of our favorite newspaper while facepalming at every other comment, and we are also very well aware of the ever-lurking presence of nuclear weapons and terrorism – all of which the novelette deals with – and we might not want to go there when reading fiction. Our days are filled with this reportage already. On the other hand, it’s hard to put down Sdrigotti’s slim volume once you begin reading it, and it does offer interesting commentary on the said subjects. What I enjoyed the most here was how Sdrigotti aims for an objective view (which is impossible to achieve, of course), not blatantly taking sides but bashing the left and the right in an equal and humorous manner. This does lead into a rather pessimistic whole in the end, as quite nothing presents a good solution to the problems pervading our dark world, but surely Sdrigotti is not trying to achieve world peace here anyway. Instead, Shitstorm demonstrates in clear, sharp language some of the fundamental issues of life lived in our current era saturated with social media.