by Daniel Miller
Tuesday, 16
March 2021
Debate
18:30

Is Patsy Stevenson a crisis actor?

Accusations of whether an event is staged miss the point
by Daniel Miller

Is Patsy Stevenson a crisis actor? The claim began circulating on social media following the discovery that the flame-haired protester, whose arrest in Clapham Common on Saturday evening was printed the next morning on the cover of every Sunday newspaper, retains a profile at acting website Casting Now. 

Further evidence is compelling. Hours after her arrest, looking unaffected by her experience, Stevenson gave a statement to the Leftist activist organisation Counterfire which sounded like a workshopped script. “I came here to support any woman: whether it be cis woman or trans woman… who cannot walk down the street by themselves because of the fear of men. And it’s not all men, we know this, that’s not what we’re saying…” 

Invited by her Counterfire interviewer to propose what she’d like to do next, Stevenson calls for larger protests as a crowd cheers off-camera. “We need to rally the troops…. It needs to go worldwide. It should be a global… same as Black Lives Matter, same as everything that matters.” This campaign coincidentally appears to clash with protests against lockdowns, scheduled for 20 March, just as BLM protests last year interrupted the momentum of growing opposition to the policy. 

Though her motives cannot be proven, that this question has already been posed is interesting.

The point is not that any element as such is “fake” but that reality does not exist in any raw, unmediated form. What exists instead is a kind of wasteland of half-unconscious motivations, projects and obsessions from which a symbol is extracted in order to augment an existing agenda.

With the theory of the crisis actor, a further twist is then suggested. Given the existence of agendas, it is possible that certain stories may have no connection to any real event at all, but are completely staged. This proposition poses complex questions regarding crisis theatre, but the allegation tends to be unprovable in practice.

In the end, the notion of the entirely fake is just as hard to prove as the entirely real.

Arresting images and stories circulate, not because they are invented, but because they deploy symbols or images which are instinctively gripping and create pathways to spread, not unlike a virus, or what Dawkins once called memes. So even if they are partially “fake”, they touch on something “true”.

Because this element lies in spontaneous human psychology, the process can operate without direct coordination, but simply through incentive structures, so that individuals act spontaneously, yet all move the same way.

The most striking antecedent of the picture of Stevenson was State of Emergency, an Italian Vogue photoshoot by Steven Meisl from September 2006 featuring models being elegantly brutalised by anti-terror police.

Vogue Italia September 2006. Photographer: Steven Meisel

Defending the series from more sceptical takes at the time, the writer Mark Fisher argued the images proposed an eroticised sublimation of humiliation and violence:

Meisel’s photographs — which, we should remember, appear in a magazine the vast majority of whose readership is not ‘adolescent males’ but women — are ‘fantasy kits’ which offer just such sublimations, providing scenarios, role-play cues and potential fantasmatic identifications.
- Mark Fisher, Ballardian

Few would dare to make this same argument about Stevenson, but the hunger to circulate her image speaks for itself. Stevenson is on the front of every newspaper, and transmitted across social media because of the eroticised humiliation her photo shows, a state of mind which Britain under endless lockdown shares. Irrespective of her intentions, her own statements, or even the putative existence of her handlers, the impact of the photograph is provably real.

Join the discussion


  • The irony of protesting violence against women by staging an “eroticised humiliation” photo.

  • From 20 meters away nothing much seemed to be going on but a high pitched chant I couldn’t understand and some bloke orchestrating the chant. Apart from that everybody else was respectfully there for the vigil. A small number of people got what they went there for. A large number of people went in respect.

  • She travelled to the demo from her home in Southend, with her own professional photographer.

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