Why, I wondered, do I only notice Telescreens (the object itself, rather than what it is showing) when they are turned off? Looking up at the sleeping boxes as I enter the transport interchange, there was suddenly something more about their presence; they almost had a creepy presence as they hung above my head, and all the other heads on their way home. If they were switched on it would have been giving me information – what us humans gasp for, and can’t ignore, even if it bears no importance to our own endeavours.
Our lives are surrounded by screens. Something about the image on them, be it another humans or just simply text, has an authority over us. For example, just look at a conversation and how the communication going on in physical reality merely acts as an interval between the urge to get back to what really matters: text chatting on mobile phone screens. For another example, put a TV in a pub/bar and suddenly the place becomes like a theatre with a captive audience rather than a place for conversation.
But when the power goes off, we have these blocks and squares staring at us. And it feels really weird. It is as if our leader has abandoned us. “What the hell do we do now?” We can only hope they are switched back ASAP and that things get back to ‘normal’.
And still the screens advance! Barely any of us drive places without guidance from the sat-nav screen; we now read books on screens rather than carry real ones about; I also find myself feeling that my music player is incomplete if there isn’t the album sleeve of the currently playing artist beaming back at me as I stare down at it, whilst frantically clicking at its buttons (mind you, that’s also just a tactic because I’m scared of eye contact with the hyena-like gangs of teens running about in the transport interchange, to be rude to them and true to how they make me feel).
Ok, using screens in this way isn’t a bad thing on its own. It’s our growing dependency on them which is the concern, and it only seems to hit home when they are turned off, and we aren’t blindly (not literally of course!) obeying the information they give us. More than that, all this is run on finite energy, what will we do if we find no new way of powering it all and it stops? Will we do what Thom Yorke Suggested in ‘My Iron Lung’, “just hum”?
I am looking from the bus window with sadness at another building being put up into what seem to be tighter and tighter spaces. All these new houses, nearly always flats, which are still springing up (in spite of these harsher times) in every crevice previously left unchecked by urban expansion (the last glimpses of the sky being sealed up) are cramming the entire population except the elite into spaces which from the outside look like a regression to Victorian times. Maybe this is where we are heading? Perhaps we’re being booted even further back, to a new densely populated state of feudalism? However, few are currently of us kicking up a fuss about these particular worries, because these flats can currently be insulated by the constantly advancing electronic gadgets offering the illusion of a perpetual virtual world, and an ornamental veneer which lasts only a short time before needing to be replaced, but replaced it can be – can’t it?. But what the hell will these places be like if the state can no longer sedate us by consumerism, and not if, but when we have power shortages? Take a look outside your windows, no amenities, no parks, nothing but house after house are being built. For what kind of future? This world of apartments is geared towards an anti-community, car-dependent and consumer-dependent world, the exact type of world which is becoming ever-more difficult to sustain, due to resource depletion, climate change and other world powers contesting the western hegemony which has kept us sleepy and cosy for a good 50 years now. It’s a design for life that want us to keep quite, consume, conform, and for us to never stop fuelling economic growth. This is the world of neoliberal capitalism we have been coaxed into by false dreams. But we do really know what exactly neoliberalism means? Hopefully, as long as we a good little boys and girls, it can still and will give us all the good, shiny/happy life. Surely we won’t be let down? Well, the political philosophers Alain Badiou and David Harvey located the idea of neoliberalism as precisely the antithesis of the NEW, and as a way returning complete power and wealth back to the elite, back in the hands of very few just like it was in those lovely medieval days. It’s arguable that we are already back to a stage of serfdom, except that we have no ruler we can recognise and our living conditions are massively different, with our material needs always on hand, which allows us be ruled with the use of brutal repression. But all this could change. The material comforts the working peoples of the west have gained and gained over the last century could really be put in jeopardy by the unfolding of events in the 21st century (e.g uprisings against western-placed dictatorships in the oil-producing nations could put oil out of the price range of most of us, and who could blame these people for rising up? After all, why should we in the west have something which nobody else can?). Over the past 30 years (regardless of governments) there has been a slow erosion of our democracies in the west. Once the great pacifier consumerism starts to be taken from us, something a little harsher may need to be there to control us, and that appears to be exactly what we are being prepared for. When I observe how they are cramming us all into tighter and tighter spaces, without local amenities, seems to suggest that this is indeed part of the making of the pathway towards this.
Global Ghetto, 2045, marks centenary of defeat of Fascism, (Biro on paper, 140x100cm, 2010/2011)
My expectations of a future under global capitalism are bleak. Whilst imagining a future, the date 2045 seemed to stick with me. This is because it would be 100 years since the defeat of fascism, a date which we all look back at where good won over evil, and we were told that such human suffering must never be allowed to happen again.
With the defeat of fascism and the end of war, despite the threats of the nuclear age, people alive in 1945 had a belief in a future that would continue to bring them a better life. At present we see the future in the opposite sense: things are only going to get worse if we carry on like this.
In my darkest moments I fear that there will not be any of our “great cities” left in order for the global ghetto, predicted in this drawing, to be actualised. But the future date of 2045 was very important to the idea of progress; 100 years since the widely assumed end of the Second World War, it stands as an historical landmark from which ‘evil’ was defeated and ‘good’ would now make the world a better place. But this idea, which still rests solidly in the hearts of all those indoctrinated by western ideas, has turned horribly sour.
This piece intends to be seen as an extrapolation of the present; my grim expectation of the fate of most of the people as the world continues to be driven by capitalism. It also just solemnly looks backwards and bluntly asks “What went so horribly wrong (in order for our future to end up looking so bleak)?”
Fascism was like a tragic car crash, from which the ruling powers of the time were never really held to account for their reckless driving, and, thus, have continued to drive recklessly. It isn’t alien to our own ruling system; they share the same roots, like cousins. Likewise, our system has the ability to fall into dictatorship, if put under severe stress. I have intentionally tried to put elements that we are currently familiar with into a landscape which is terrifyingly worse than what we know now. But such a world may be actualised, as deterioration is all we can now expect under global capitalism; its welfare state period is dying, the planet’s resources are becoming more and more expensive as they dry up; the future for humanity can only get worse on this route. The system can now only deliver a slow erosion of democracy and a dystopia which the prophetic writers of the 20th century would have struggled to imagine. The future we may once have expected has taken a horrific u-turn.