Reflections gathered from performance in the Anti-Gallery Show, weekend 16,17,18, January 2015
This text is a reflection on the performing of Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record – inspired by Ivor Southwood’s book Non-Stop Inertia. Part of a wider collaborative project between myself and Leeds-based artist/curator John Wright, Non-Stop Inertia was played intermittently over a 3 day period as part of the Anti-Gallery Show, at The Espacio Gallery in Shoreditch, London. As this text deals purely with reflections during and after these 3 days, the explanation for the motives behind this ongoing work can be found here: https://johnledger.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/non-stop-inertia-a-stuck-record-the-anti-gallery-show/ . However, the writing uses other points within the 3 day period in London to talk about a larger project, in which Non-Stop Inertia is just one part.
A Psychological Experiment…
That I am in a well-and-truly-spent state the day after our Non-Stop-Inertia piece means that if it was as much a psychological experiment as it was a piece of artwork then the experiment was successful. The carefully-chosen texts we chose to read out were so fitting, but fitting within the eternal-now, ‘in the loop’ of the performance. Because the gravity of their content could as easily fall from mind as it could be put back there once there performance resumed. The content itself became looped; there was no further level of understanding. It was the poetry of a ghost trapped in the machine.
And ghosts trapped in the machine we became. Neuro-psychically electrocuted by the randomly occurring door-alarm signal, I for one can testify to the physical effect (in my manic body movements) that such internalising of the constant expectation of random interruptions can have. Certain lines read out from our texts would land in unison on the pulse-line of the subjectivation, at which point we’d look to each other as if to confer “yes, that’s what this is, exactly!”, but cognitively building on what was being said/read felt impossible due to this anticipation of interruptions. How can you build on things if you are in a perpetual state of siege?
The door alarm noise signaling our ‘calling’ to disseminate emotionally-laboured welcoming-spiel (language absent of life aimed at an absent customer) was, of course, implemented in a random-fashion by our own design. But the intention was to show how this unending anticipation of unpredictable interruptions of our thoughts is a constitutive part of contemporary life, which (we believe) is intrinsic to the inability of individuals and societies alike formulate, or even imagine, a way out of the current global cultural situation that consumes the hopes, desires and visions of alternatives with the same level of ferocity that it consumes the people and resources needed to constitute a future world full stop.
We came away from this performance with no answers to this, but this was the intention: to give poetic form to the very structures preventing us from finding the answers to the current situation. We believe that if the structures permeating contemporary life are dismissed as irrelevant to the task of building towards an alternative, then any kind of positive alternative is impossible.
No Desire to Converse
Whilst in London, myself and John Wright frequently discussed the difference between desire and drive: that, in an ‘always on’, no-future, hyper-competitive, hyper-capitalist world, desire is both short-circuited and disemboweled from drive. This leaves us trapped in a ‘nothing-left-but…’ state, where we often feel a zombie-like-entrapment to the motions of tasks, duties and habits and especially the end-game pursuit of sugary, narcotic, or sexual stimulus; that can often feel like being in a state of seizure due to inconceivability of there being anything else we can do “but pursue pleasure”. (an overly referenced section of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism book, which I attempted to read out as part of the performance).
As well as the resulting post-performance-state leaving us in a state of incomprehension of what we could possibly do except going and getting alcoholically intoxicated in the city, the performance itself also functioned through pure signal-actioned drive. The words were spoken out of drive, rather than desire. This is why others who attempted to engage in the dialogue, and who weren’t used to the nature of the represented job-type to an extent that they could ‘go through the motions’ like we could, very quickly became frustrated (as was partly the intention). One of the participating artists in the Anti Gallery Show said he couldn’t see the point in trying to make conversation. What was the point of him trying to gain something from a conversation if he was to be constantly sent back to square one by the interruptions?
If we are correct in viewing this predicament as endemic in contemporary life, could it not be said that the breaking down of thought and communication to a sound bite-form isn’t merely the result of a reduction of our attention-spans caused by our immersion in cyberspace, but is actually caused by the lack of desire to engage in conversation due to the anticipation of interruptions slicing through it? We also argued that the increasingly competitive nature of contemporary life further reduces the room for conversation, because the constant sense of the self-under-siege within such a competitive world makes it seem an immediate necessity to get our point heard rather than allow the time for other points to be heard (I, for one, am very guilty of this). Indeed, what was left of our broken up conversations was used to discuss the breaking up of dialogue intrinsic to one of the largest social media platforms: Twitter.
All in all Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record was successful – too successful perhaps; afterwards, the necessary walk (climb) back to Kings Cross station seemed almost daunting.
The (Un)realised Project
This inability to transcend, to get beyond the “this is so relevant!” point whilst we were reading the texts/debating perhaps makes Non-Stop Inertia:A Stuck Record pivotal to a wider sensation myself and John Wright are investigating. That, as numerically-measured time pushes onwards, and one’s skin slowly sags downwards, somehow one hasn’t merely become ‘stuck in a moment’, but that the moment has terraformed, re-landscaped the horizon so that the next step beyond this ‘stuck moment’ seems to have never even existed, and that the places that proclaim to have movement are merely just full of frenetic ghost-like actions, speeding up but going nowhere. The unending nature of the sentence I have just written embodies a unending struggle to put to sleep the ghosts that haunt me. After countless debates around this matter, myself and John Wright began an investigation, of intertwined stories (personal to me) and wider post-millennial cultural moments, that we aim to turn into a solid body of work under the umbrella title The (Un)realised Project.
Thus far it has been agreed on that one specific work, The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash), will take centre stage within this body of work. The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The crash), completed in 2014, uses my own turf (post industrial areas stretching along the foothills of the Yorkshire Pennines) to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition. Focusing on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of which is largely caused by the loss of the previous, and their haunting presence. The first lost future is that of popular modernism, which died in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The second lost future being the naively optimistic early to mid-1990’s, and its utopian gaze toward the coming new millennium. The un-locatable present here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at a severe disconnection to the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis. The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash) is crucially inspired by my sense of a loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. But certain locations I spent time in prior to the beginnings of this project were crucial to reasons behind making of it.
It is clear then that specific geographical spaces are very important to this whole investigation. Thus, with the rarity of two people from northern England planning to embark on the south at the same point, it was essential we had to go another very symbolically important location: Greenwich.
So what makes Greenwich so important? We’d arrived in darkness, and the specifically-threatening-looking silver Met police cars guarding the gates put us off trying to find a way in, so we circumvented Greenwich Park wall right down to the river. One point of agreement on that walk was pivotal to the whole text I’ll write thereon after: my ‘stuck in a moment’ fixation with a 3 month (yet 3 year-long-feeling) time spent in London, unsuccessfully trying to complete an MA in Cultural Studies just down the road in New Cross, prompted John Wright to say to me (in a supportive manner, of course) that I really ought to have done the MA in Leeds (I had considered doing the MA at the University of Leeds, the institution John had recently been awarded an MA qualification at), but we both instantaneously and almost simultaneously responded by agreeing that I had to go to London; that there was something much larger and important at play.
I’ve written way too much already about the mental state I found myself in down London that forced me to leave, and the time leading up going and the time afterwards is far more crucial to the project and the reasons for the usage of my experiences within Greenwich. However, there is one crucial line explaining my state down there that activated this entire project: I believed I’d reached a total dead end, that there was nothing beyond this spell in London.
During this 3-year-disguised-as-3-month-spell, I found myself at Greenwich quite a few times (even ending up with a part time job there, just a week before finding myself back in bed in the north), finding the momentary ease under the autumnal ‘avenues all lined with trees’ an embodier of the wish for a granting of indefinite residence in a place I never really wanted to leave – “I like it here can I stay?” as the lyrics from The Smiths’ Half A Person that weaved through all other thoughts within my room in nearby New Cross.
Something had occurred here to a degree that I was finding it incredibly hard to get out of bed in morning after 15 years of habitually getting up at 7am. The years preceding had seen a building up of both foreboding and understanding of the global cultural situation, to which 2011 felt like the zenith; a clicking into place of a new reality from which we couldn’t go back. And now I was here, in the last 3rd of 2012, and it truly felt like the eye of the storm; the “that’s exactly it!” masters course (that I wanted to last forever, not 1 year of pressurised performance); the financial epicentres seen from my windows; the potential of meeting the world in a world-city; THE HEART OF DARKNESS – as it really did feel like I’d finally found it in as if in an inversion of Joseph Conrad’s novel – because, as comical as it sounds, the plentiful Megabus trips down there looking for a home were symbolic of a wider feeling of being worn right right right down into a man in search of a resting place. And, after the year 2011, there appeared to be no way of going back. And at that initial point before it all went wrong it didn’t matter that there was no way forward.
But as the London-endeavour lead on it became unavoidably clear that there was a dead end rapidly approaching. Throughout the preceding years there had been so much effort to show how entangled my inability to perceive a future for myself was with the dead end that was the endgame of the course the world was taking, to the point where I was exhausted just as it all seemed to come to a head. But as I walked around Greenwich, a place arguably unsurpassed in symbolic importance to creation of the world as we know it, to the extent that it often feels like the meridian was the first line ever laid, it became very clear to me for the first time how our ‘always on’ global capitalist culture was trapped by the past.
Greenwich is a place symbolically laden with traces of ghosts from other eras that refuse to die; a fusion of what-might-have-been’s (lost futures) and unshifting-has-been’s’ (archaic tombs that won’t close up). One that caught my attention was the Queen Elizabeth Oak, an important tree for the Tudor dynasty (a crucial period in the formation of Imperial expansion and modernity). Yet the tree is 100+ years-dead, and has laid on the floor like a wooden carcass for some years now too. Trapped under the weight of the past, with no future to speak of, the speed of life/the ‘always on’ endless labouring within the infinitely accelarating capitalist technosphere, traps us in a frenetic eternal-now epitomised by the Non Stop Inertia project. But in such a Stuck Record state, the present is also a void without a perceivable future in its wake, meaning the past, especially the near past, seeps into the void left by the unlocatable present (think of how traces of the optimistic 1990’s seem to cling to everything); impounding the pressure between the new reality demanded in the wake of 2011 and the lack of ability to be able to even think beyond the current moment. This is well and truly an hauntological state, and through my endeavouring after abandoning London to engage on a cognitive level with the South/West Yorkshire landscape I lapsed back into, these past 2 two years have been profoundly hauntological; all that has followed as felt unrealised…undead.
Connections….Always Looking for Connections…
Of course if we didn’t deem all this crucial to some wider situation we wouldn’t have embarked on the (un)realised projects investigation, nor would we have bothered taking the bus to Greenwich on a cold, dark night. The very fact that I also ‘sound like a stuck record’ on this blog now is more to do with my emotional energies smashing against 4 walls, looking for a way out, than the indulgences of dwelling in the past. Or at least this is what I tell myself. I have to tell myself this, because I am profoundly sick with the way things are, and the conviction that I am not alone means that the current direction of my work is as much as political act as the works I made in my early 20’s that dealt specifically with the threat of climate change.
The closed brackets around the ‘un’ in unrealised, was John Wright’s idea, positing it as the hope that all that is hanging around in a ghostly form will one day be realised. Using Jacques Derrida’s differentiation between an Ending of something and a Closure of something, John and I discussed how this dead-end feeling doesn’t have to be (or at least shouldn’t have to be) the end in itself, but a closure of something that allows the beginnings of another. Of course, our usage of specific geographical locations was a way of simultaneously commenting on this as both a deeply personal and deeply global cultural state. Perhaps using landscape is one of the strongest methods or articulating the fusion of two issues that would appear very distinct on a surface level?
The Utopian Never Truly Dies
As much as we felt it necessary to travel to Greenwich after our performance on the Saturday, after our final, most exhaustive, performance on the Sunday, we deemed it necessary to spend time in the Barbican complex before we set off back for the train.
There is something truly special about this place, which gets beyond the facts of why it remained like this whilst other Brutalist utopian residential schemes failed drastically; that this estate was designed for the well off, the cultural elite, and thus corners weren’t cut in its construction (nor was it fucked up socially by mass job losses), is a seperate matter to to truth of the place which is that it exists as a realisation of the utopianist society that truly could have been. This place doesn’t even seem to have been bothered by the onslaught of Thatcherism; neoliberalism seems to have been kept at the gates of this fort-like-structure, and you can imagine the same being true in long night of fascistic, repressive governance if we don’t find a way of changing the course we are on. It may be a place of the communal/the shared for those who already have their fair share, but in that it actualises elements of the ideal, it shows that they could, and should exist elsewhere.
What I like about this place is what makes me realise that as undead as I often feel, as emotionally-turned-to-stone as I regularly feel, I am still deeply utopian. Utopian is different from a Utopia; arguably Utopia can never exist, but to be Utopian is to be an idealist in life, not to accept any given reality as ‘the way it is’ – such fatalism is dangerous, and has arguably made the situation we are in profoundly worse to deal with.
The Barbican reveals traces of the utopian in the past that was left behind when neoliberal economic theory and postmodernism galvanised the TINA (there is no alternative to capitalism) reality. We sat in the canteen (the only place I know of in contemporary life where the word canteen isn’t associated undesirable eateries), and just sat, without the need for more pleasure-seeking, drink, etc – just sat. As we moved on toward the station, making a closure on this situation still felt as far off as it did before the performance, in the Barbican we did at least get a glimpse of elements of a place that could exist beyond this stuck point. This point has to be moved on from; personally speaking, I cannot stay here any longer.
Instigated by the Degrees of Freedom artist collective, the Anti Gallery Gallery Show is an experiment in finding ways for artists to change their relationship with each other, their artworks and the public within a traditional gallery space so as to subvert its governing ethos- competitive individualism within a consumerist culture.
Alongide 35 other artists and art groups using the space from 8 to 29 January, we will be performing on the dates 16 to 18 January, at select time during those days. Please feel free to come down.
Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record:
Non-Stop Inertia is a performance piece named after Ivor Southwood’s book of the same name. Southwood’s book takes a comprehensive look into the situation of the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity. This affects mainly the younger generation of workers, but it is increasingly dragging even more people into a role, which economist Guy Standing suggests is the ‘Precariat‘, replacing the older term for the working class, the proletariat.
As much a psychological as a situational inertia, this “deep paralysis of thought” is basically what anthropologist David Graeber is referring to in his argument, “neoliberalism [the ruling economical dogma of the present reality] is a war against the imagination”. The stop, start and (finally) exhaustive effect of what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’, which in the age of cyberspace communication extends into all realms of waking (and sleeping) life, is arguably the neoliberal model par excellence.
The performance attempts to mirror this ‘paralysis’, to illustrate just how the ability to understand the social reality we are amidst is continuously broken up. But the crucial twist is in how this performance aims to bring this issue into the gallery by mapping the subject most present in all galleries: the gallery worker.
Out of all workers, the predicament of gallery workers appeared to us most appropriate. The gallery is an environment that has evolved over time with the aim of being an ideal space for contemplation by allowing the absorption of different ideas. The gallery worker (who remains there all day) is psychologically ambushed by contemplation; chronic (over)thinking is part of the job. Yet he/she is actually employed to be of constant service to the endless stream of visitors. A spoken introduction, an issuing of guidelines is required to be given out to every visitor who enters the often heaving galleries. The environmentally-enforced contemplation is continuously interrupted and sent back to square one. Indeed, visitors subjected to more than one of spiels given out often say “you sound like a stuck record“. Anybody who’s ever worked in a gallery can’t quite state why they felt so exhausted and defeated at the end of the working (“this job is easy isn’t it?”).
Both participating artists work and have worked as gallery invigilators for many years. We are experienced in the fundamental contradictions of both the gallery space, and the predicament of those who work in it, who are often mistakingly seen as volunteers “doing it for a hobby”, rather than doing it to put bread and beer in front of them.
Thoughts on the proposal to remove the ‘ugly’ electricity pylons from the Dunford Bridge landscape
I am disappointed to hear of plans to demolish the giant electricity pylons stretching from just beyond Penistone across the Pennines to Tintwistle. The BBC article states that the “50m (164ft) tall structures are set to disappear… as part of National Grid plans to remove ugly overhead lines” and “could be buried underground as part of a £500m scheme.”
The structures come into their own within an area known as Dunford Bridge, just within the South Yorkshire side of the hills; a post industrial gateway, not so much to the Peak District, but to the industrial/urban centres on either side of the hills; where there was once a freight railway line you now find a bicycle trail.
I will put my opinion on this proposal straight out there with saying how I place a high value on the presence of these pylons within this landscape. Additionally, I’d find it easier to accept their fate if there were clearly laid-out practical reasons for the National Grid plans to demolish them; for example, if the placing of the power-lines under the ground was more energy and environmentally efficient. But there’s no indication that this would be the case, and as my friend was saying to me; it will mean digging up so much of that landscape in order to place the power-lines underground. Also, the scheme is being funded by Ofgem, meaning the public (or ‘customer’) will foot the bill, something the BBC article only vaguely touches on. But none of this is getting to reasons I’m about to make as to why I like these structures; however, it at least refutes the anticipated-responses demanding me to see the practicalities behind such a plan.
The article quotes Anne Robinson from Friends of The Peak District, who says “There’s no doubt that customers are willing to pay and have a very small sum added to their electricity bills a year to make sure these landscapes are enhanced.”, and although I find a general consensus on increased electricity bills in our current situation hard to believe anyway, my main response to this is just how does such a plan ‘enhance’ this landscape anyway? And referring to other words used in the BBC article, just what is ‘ugly’ , and what is this ‘character’ of the Peak District?
The Peak District is a landscape totally molded by thousands of years of human activity. Moreover, like much of this national park, the Dunford Bridge to Tintwistle stretch is, at least in terms of what is likely was before human interference, a barren desert-scape, a bleak ominous-looking landscape. In fact desert-scape is too soft a description; it is more Martian-scape – there’s something other-worldly about it. And So be it. As they stand, they are ecologically unsound. But as places of intrigue they have enormous stature, laden with symbolic meaning. They contain a beautiful emptiness; a ‘climb-to-the-moon’ feel due to their roof-top-like place within the hearts of all those settled in the post-industrial cities that nestle in the beginnings of these dark dark hills.
What are we looking for from this landscape? What is this character, this non-ugliness we wish upon this place? Dunford Bridge itself is a graveyard for industrial transportation between two mass urban areas that still contain more industrial graveyard sites than they’d like to admit. It is now a bleak lost world, hidden within the huge huge hills – and this is what makes it such a fascinating place (it is also the location of the only large-scale project I’d sanction upon these hills: the re-opening of the railway line as a direct connection between southern Yorkshire and Greater Manchester). Is postcard-picturesque all we want in a country so quick to forget any unrevised past? The Dunford Bridge landscape is far more powerful as it stands precisely because of how dark, unsettling, and unworldly it is in comparison with the more pasteurised landscape further down the hills.
I’ve always argued that structures within this ‘beautiful emptiness’ take on a monolithic presence, and would certainly attribute this to the pylons which only really begin to reveal their alien-like nature in such a barren landscape. They can’t be ignored up here, that’s for sure. Yet this is what makes them so appealing, rather than something to be got rid of. They have a presence of prehistoric sleeping giants nestled as they are within these huge barren inclines. And they are so well webbed into the symbolic nature of the hills, as the pylons aren’t just a (East Pennines) practical connection to the lost-world-metropolis of Manchester, they act as symbolic carriers of cultural exchange – as if the chilling and dislodging grooves of The Smiths’ How Soon is Now, and the haunting synths of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart were being channeled through these make-shift obelisks to Modernism, sending Pulp’s abandoned steel workshop sound-scape backdrop back in return. All Jean Baudrillard says in how the essence of America is to found in its vanishing-point-deserts, can be said of these barren hilltops in relation to the industrial north (all-be-it on a very British toyland scale).
This landscape is the incidental outcome of human activity; and no less so than the wastelands of former warehouses in surrounding urban settlements such as Sheffield – in fact they compliment each greatly. The pylons, I would argue, now play an important part within this incidental human landscape, which shouldn’t be disguised as anything other than. Both ‘beauty’ and ‘ugliness’ are subjective, and the ‘default beauty’ we desire of our misleadingly-termed ‘natural’ habitats is an environmental and cultural dead-end. The promise that the underground power-line plans are aimed at enhancing the Peak District ‘character’, as stated in the article, is seriously misguided as to what this character actually is – in my opinion, of course.
The whole emphasis on ‘ugliness’ and ‘character’ renders the functionality of the pylons an irrelevant issue. Thus leaving us purely with a debate around whether we like them in the landscape or not. Like the now famous cooling towers (formerly) next to Meadowhall, Sheffield, many people protested against their demolition (although this didn’t stop them being demolished), recognising just how powerful a feature they were on that landscape, no less intrinsic than the features we foolishly perceive as eternal/of original essence to a place. I personally think all arguments made against these pylons are oxymoronic, because what they are claimed to be in their essence, is also what Dunford Bridge is in essence. They are all one, in the dark, unsettling beauty that is this area,
A General disappointment with Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Roundup
For somebody who highly values Charlie Brooker’s contributions to a post-millennial-television-palette in continual-deterioration (and as somebody who tunes into his television programmes with an unexamined ritualism you’d expect in well-trained church goers) I have slowly had to face the truth that his weekly and yearly Screenwipes have become incredibly uninspiring. It left me thinking that cynicism about absolutely everything is the opposite of what we need or want right now, and I think this is why I found it so difficult to watch. When cynicism is the only response it quickly becomes very unintelligent, becoming no different from the rest of contemporary Television (which is the original reason so many viewers turn to the Screenwipe format for solace).
Maybe in the pre-2008-crash age, cynicism for its own sake had greater appeal. However, it now feels like a very poor joke that’s arrived way too late in the day – the same feeling that the arrival of a new white boy indie-rock band in the midst of ‘Cameron’s Britain’ (to quote Brooker) gives us. But am I guilty of cynicism? Of course I am – in many social environments where openly critical debate about the current state of affairs is implicitly frowned upon, cynicism is the only tool left in the bag.
The cynicism of the Yearly and Weekly Wipes has slowly eclipsed the subversive nature they once offered to the disenchanted media-frazzled subject. Of course, such a subject still tunes in – after all, the still-dominant position the Television Screens that Brooker still promises to wipe for us take in our living spaces means we still resort to them as surrogate guides at points of damaged self-awareness (such as around Christmas). But the feeling of relief that “someone actually sees things like I do” that Brooker’s dissections of television used to give us has vanished, it has for me anyway. I can can stand outside a pub at 11 o’clock with the marginalised smokers if all I want is somebody convincing me that “the world’s fucked, and there’s nothing you can do to change that”.
I thought the part given over to documentary-maker Adam Curtis was genuine food for thought. This section seemed to be on such a different wavelength that it seemed to belong to an entirely different type of program. Curtis speaks of a new form of political control systems emerging across globe with the intention “to undermine people’s perception of the world, so we never really know what is happening… a strategy of power that keeps any opposition confused. A ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is indefinable” (making George Orwell’s ideas of double-think look both prophetic and weak in comparison) meaning that “we as individuals feel powerless to change anything because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty” Curtis’s conclusion is arguably just a different take on Gilles Deleuze’s conclusion on the emergence of Control Societies or even Sheldon Wolin’s notion of Inverted Totalitarianism, and it is certainly a pessimistic conclusion. But it didn’t just leave the viewer feeling “what’s the fucking point…?”. I’d argue it engaged the viewer in a way that makes them want to question and delve further more into the fabric of contemporary life, but the rest of the show seem to promote the very “oh dearism” that Adam Curtis was gravely warning us is the intended outcome for those subjected to this political control system he describes. In this light Screenwipe just became an example of what Curtis was diagnosing.
There is a growing social pool of discontent that turns to Screenwipe, hoping for populist coherent sense, that isn’t just wanting cynicism. It craves that which was present in his brilliant series How TV Ruined Your Life, and was maybe present in a Screewipe format that corresponded with a only-slightly-less fucked up Blair/Brown era. Thousands of (mainly) 18 – 30 year olds have found themselves, financially and existentially, with no option but to become politicised and both mentally and socially engaged in wrangling over how the world doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be the way it is. The yearly wipes dismiss this by ignoring this hidden-away labouring of collective souls, and instead gives us the fading-of-novelty-acts Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, who’s comedy-act-stupidity and naivety over current affairs, accidentally-on-purpose stumbles onto the faux-intellectual cynical-apathetic position – Screenwipe’s default position.
For example, the bringing down of Russell Brand with cynical-outlook–posed-as-stupidity opinions seemed utterly pointless, and showed a lack of will to engage with the important issues he at least brings to the limelight. Not everybody likes Russell Brand, but even those who charged him with the most heretical of sins of the opinionated – hypocrisy – cannot deny the energy he puts into his arguments for change in the world. Maybe this shouldn’t be expected, maybe the “everything’s just a mess, lets at least sit back and accept it” logic is the limit of this program. But, despite the possibility of Brooker merely ‘playing it safe’ within the increasingly restrictive and conservative cannon of the BBC, many people have come to expect more from him. This is because he has been genuinely subversive at times, and has also proved himself a brilliant social pulse-finder in certain comedy and drama show’s he’s helped create.
In a recent New Statesmen article, Will Self writes about the prophetic vision of the Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris co-creation, Nathan Barley: a brilliantly done satire on the rise of the hipster in the more fashionable alleyways of postmodern society, brilliantly summarised in the introductory prose ‘The Rise of The Idiots’. Even though Nathan Barley was made ten years ago, any suggestion that he is past it is completely debunked by the frighteningly contemporaneous dystopic comedy-drama Black Mirror. Nothing on television gets as close to visualising the dystopian tendencies of the present than this does. Perhaps this is the problem, Charlie Brooker has proven himself too intelligent and too disconcerted with the current state of affairs to be able to put out shows such as the 2014 editions of Screenwipe without causing mass, and deep-seated disappointment.
But, there again I am not critical of the man himself. I like him, and using the common logic of how things work in the era of Nigel Farage, I’d quite like to have a pint with him. I just that I don’t think the Screenwipe format has any real function anymore in a world saturated by clever cynicism, when what we need in the limelight is, dare I say it, hope, ‘or at least something to galvanise people. For example, I find Charlie Brooker far far funnier than Russell Brand will ever be, but as in the only bit worth watching from the Yearly Wipe – Adam Curtis’s conclusions on the apparatus’s of social control – we cannot deny the “long-night of humanity” that 2015 seems to heading further into, and detached armchair cynicism (which Screenwipe makes look desirable, as long as it’s done with ‘intelligent’ wit) seems utterly without pleasure never mind unhelpful. After-all, armchairs may soon be a ‘luxury’ of the past for many of us in the race-to-the-bottom-reality neoliberal fanaticism is putting us through.
However, I also know that it’s massively misguided to ask too much of an individual, and he (Charlie Brooker) knows this, and there have been times when this knowledge has resulted in brilliant television rather than mere cynicism. For me, the most intelligent summarising of both our current social reality and his own limitations as a mere human caught in the media machine is the Black Mirror episode he wrote called ’15 Million Credits. In a blog I wrote almost exactly a year ago, consisting of a similar foreboding for the then coming 2014, I said how it was “clear that the episode’s protagonist is a cipher for Charlie Brooker himself” – I believe this episode to be a sort of fictional autobiography “In ’15 Million Credits’ After the girl of the protagonist’s dreams has her soul destroyed in front of an X-factor-like-show panel (the crucible of the entire society – where the panellists begin to represent the judges in Stalinist-like show-trials) when they crush her hopes of being a singing and more or less force her into a choice between being a hardcore pornstar or having a miserable end to her days, the protagonist gets himself up in front of an entire population of a eerily-familiar dystopian society, to tell the X-Factor-like judges, and the rest of society, that it is all fucked up, and they are all fucked up, and fuck you all, whilst holding a shard of glass to the main vein in his neck. The judges outcome being: “this is surely the most heartfelt performance I’ve seen on here since Hotshot began! [to which to crowd goes wild]” and the protagonist ends up having a weekly televised slot shouting about how everything is fucked up, whilst living quite comfortably. This is obviously how Charlie Brooker sees himself; that his despair, and abjection, tinted with great wit, over the state of society, is destined to be merely another form of entertainment.”
I then wrote that “The thing is, as much as I enjoy and value Charlie Brooker’s contribution to popular culture, there are a hell of a lot of people who feel exactly the same way about society (hence his popularity), who aren’t sitting as comfortably as him; I.e. he’s one of the few of us fortunate enough to make a decent living for himself out his feelings of hopelessness and despair. This isn’t a criticism of him, by any means, it’s just observing that this escape route isn’t an option for the rest of us, and in 2013 [now 2015] it’s increasingly evident on peoples’ faces that their options are running out full stop.” .
I suppose the problem with Charlie Brooker in relation to the viewer is analogous to the problem of the Screenwipe derision of Russell Brand. The media/or the spectacle performs reality/the truth for us. We, as mere minions, are compelled to crave a voice that represents/and guides us within the high echelons of the media/spectacle. And rightfully so; because I am sure that within the current social reality, ‘going underground’, as in attempting to ignore the omnipotent media/spectacle, is impossible and thus a waste of increasingly valuable time. As theorist Mark Fisher argues in his K-Punk essay ‘Going Overground‘, the essential task is to try to take it back ‘genuine’ popular culture; saying that this platform in such a world cannot be dismissed, and should be treat as a crucial platform for politics (as his convincing arguments in his recent essay-filled book Ghosts of My Life convincingly argue). This is why, whether you like Russell Brand or not, as a person/TV show that has without doubt become a guide for the ‘against the grain’ need most of us have, for Charlie Brooker/Screenwipe to merely mock Russell Brand does nobody any good. Cynicism has had its day.