Lost for words
…not strictly, but they are wrapped up in a thick cloud of confusion and contradiction. But I’m putting out there EXACTLY how I’m feeling in the wake of last week’s referendum vote.
Is this the nervous breakdown of a country? It’s becoming an unavoidable truth that what I’ve seen happening over the past few years has gone into overdrive since 23.06.2016. People around me having some sort of meltdown – something I suspect is happening because the strain and the pain of DECADES of Thatcherite Britain has suddenly become unbearable. Brexit, like it or not, seems to have worked it like an accidental alarm-switch.
Was Brexit an unexpected exercise of a country’s nervous breakdown, long overdue? And was this unexpected exercise the last, skewed, but true exercise of democracy we had left?
It is without doubt that there are people in places around the world enduring a hell the English (as this is mainly regarding the English) cannot imagine. But has this country, the first capitalist country on earth, finally broke down under the experience of late capitalism? Has life under this faded-glory-stained neoliberal project hit saturation point?
Last week I was off work, but, after failing to set up a postal/proxy vote, I wasn’t confidently care-free enough to miss voting. So I decided to spend my days off work heading a bit further than usual. It seemed the right thing to do upon a terrain that could, so to speak, be shifting under my feet.
On Tuesday I cycled all the way from Barnsley to York (exhausted, dehydrated, thus all the more porous to the Northern Europe-like feel to North/East Yorks – the red-tile rooftops could convince you there was no body of sea between Yorkshire and Denmark). YORVIK . On Wednesday I went to London, endured a far-more than customary level of alienation at Frustration at the all-out ‘Remain’ consensus congregating around the Kings Cross-based leafleters (even though I voted Remain myself). I felt wounded and inarticulate in a London that felt self-congratulatory-soaked in something that was promoting a cause that had no idea of the type of wounding I was feeling, a wounding I KNOW I’m not the only one feeling, because the wounds are slumped in the city’s streets corners when it bothers to acknowledge them. An anger rising up through the drains of Thatcherite Britain.
But I had too many friends with too many SENSIBLE reasons to vote Remain and too many frightening reasons not to vote Leave for me to take such a reckless leap for the cause of the anger I’ve been feeling for so long now. And on Friday morning I was stunned into inertia just like everybody else.
Aren’t we all lost right now? Heads boiling with a million voices all at once. Looking for blame victims. But I won’t blame 17 million leave voters by calling them stupid or racist. Calling people stupid for what for them is a genuine concern leads to nowhere, except a self-congratulatory flurry of Facebook ‘likes’.
“The Cunt with the gut and the Buzz Light-year haircut…calling all the workers plebs” (The Sleaford Mods)
In recent British history nothing has been as divisive as the destruction of the working class base, built over years of struggle, fucked over by Thatcher, and the market fundamentalism then driven between us all. Yet we overlook ‘the war between all’ conjured by this, and we parrot the words of a more affluent less trapped metropolitan elite for whom issues of race and gender are solely moral issues, and nothing to do with class stratification. The result is what you see in the video above. A top down, media perspective, which doesn’t even need to be based in London to be London-centric, looking at all those intolerant, stupid places like Barnsley -cherry picking the mixed up and politically incorrect voices.“Oh why, oh why can’t they be like us decent London Folk?” A slowly bubbling rage.
“I work my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff “
So, these places where the majority voted ‘Leave’ – what do we do with these people who refused to do “the right thing”?
In 2015 the documentary Invisible Britain followed the music group the Sleaford Mods on a tour of towns not on the ‘cool-list’. Not just ignored by other music groups but also by the London-centred gaze of society. Invisible Britain is perhaps the only contemporary documentation of the great ignored that hasn’t stuck to a preconceived, condescending stereotype, laden with mockery or contempt. Expensively-educated Sacha Baron-Cohen springs to mind…
When you hear the Sleaford Mods, the lyricist Jason Williamson’s anger, if you ask me, is like a momentary placing of the head back on the shoulders of the decapitated and disempowered body of working class rage. Williamson’s seething anger at the alienation and humiliation of a contemporary life experience many can relate to gives a voice to this rage when the world is made to feel so unaccountably chaotic that the only tools for understanding it available are tools to blame yourself with for the hell that surrounds you. But, as the film states, they are still largely a lone voice.
That which informs racist anger isn’t born out of fresh air. Nor can those who spout it vanish into fresh air – which is what I often feel many on the diminishing liberal class long for. Out of mind out of sight.
What do you do with these people, then? “Get rid of the buggers? “. Create two separate States? One called ‘London‘, for the ‘tolerant’ ‘open-minded’ folks and ‘the rest‘? Actually, doesn’t this petition already exist? The ‘I’m alright Jack-multiculturalism’ mantra conceals an hidden contempt.
The Leave result has clearly blown everything else out of the water. And as denial against it kicks in, the truth of what has simmered underneath the seeming tolerance and liberalism of the past few decades is coming out. It’s nasty, and I’m sorry to say the most upsetting things aren’t just coming from ‘racist idiots’ but from the younger section of the Remain supporters, chatting away in the cooler parts of town. Behind the ‘coolness’, their inherited social Thatcherism is rearing its ugly fucking head. Their contempt isn’t for the migrants, it’s for Britain’s socially immobile who will “probably never leave their home town never mind live in another country” (actually heard!). It’s an hidden hatred for the existence of those who “clearly haven’t tried hard enough to better themselves” and join aspirational and cosmopolitan Britain. It’s not a contempt for people from other countries, it’s a contempt for the working class of this country, and it’s equally toxic – if not more due to its invisibility.
I’m sorry to say this but they may have just sunken your cosmopolitan dreamboat…
I can’t help but be convinced that, even though what evidently galvanised the victory for Brexit was a deep concern about immigration, the anger isn’t really meant for immigrants, but for the ruling class of this country, as inarticulate as the anger was. As self-harming as Brexit could potentially be to everyday people – it’s an anger about being ignored, overlooked and even looked down upon. And I’m not saying I don’t now find it all scary as fuck.
The same present day top-down reasoning bemoans the ‘loutish’ English for their seeming preference to take to throwing chairs and punches at other football fans than taking to the streets like the French. But after nearly 40 years of destruction of class consciousness and a narrowing of political horizons, creating a state of stuckness that Mark Fisher calls ‘reflexive impotence’, Brexit is a seismic working class revolt, even if it ends turning against the working classes.
The Ignored is geographical in nature, but it is fundamentally underpinned by class.
“The sorrows we suffered and never were free” Decades, Joy Division
In an article looking at why white working class children, out of all ethnic communities, perform so poorly in the school exams they sit before joining the adult world, Paul Mason says that “Thatcherism didn’t just crush the unions, it crushed a story”. Far from pitting different working classes against others, Mason looks at what happened to a specific story. This was a story of a long history of struggle, from the satanic mills and mines of the 18/19th century, towards an increasingly equal and better country for the working class, propped up on paternalism and solidarity. But, he adds, “suppress paternalism and solidarity for one generation and you create multigenerational ignorance and poverty”.
Left to endure the hell of ‘prole-life’ with no explanation to the pain felt, or meaning to guide you through it, it’s clear that migrants, who are nearly always thrown into the very same Ignored-lands, are mistaken as being the cause of this pain rather than being effects of the pain being felt.
After 30 years of misdirected rage towards the neighbours, the headless zombie of working class rage reacts in a destructive manner. I’m not saying what has just happened is a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but the limits of my own imagination saw that something like this was bound to happen in the UK at some point. The cause for either a leftwing Remain or Leave were not being heard because they appealed to how they thought people should think rather than how they actually felt.
In a competitive world everybody wants to speak, but nobody wants to listen.
Blair and Cameron’s Britain…so much to answer for…
… a Negative Hedonistic Britain
Humiliation. Aimlessness. Shame. Anxiety. Anger. Dead-end pleasure-seeking.
Drink to take the edge off the pain. Drink to run away from the pain. Drink to locate the nature of the pain. Drink to find a way out of the pain.
Sooner or later you can’t see anything else. And I’m not even alcoholic – I just can’t deal with it all once the sun goes down.
I’ll be honest, I’ve hit a point in my life where I don’t think I can carry on in this manner much longer….I’m hearing you England.
Regarding the past ten years I can’t yet express the pain at the deep regret at the world I’m supposed to function in. It bursts out in drunken self destruction- it’d be articulated in sober tears if I hadn’t become so walled up over the years.
“Keep calm and carry on”.
It’s very hard not to internalise negativity. After all, it’s encouraged by a process that has seen this island become increasingly private and lonely over the past few decades.
“Feeling uneasy? then stick your headphones in and drift into private inertia”.
But with each passing post-2010-year I’m finding that what I thought was MY Story – that my struggle with depression has felt to have been caused by a loss, and REVERSAL of a sense that the world was becoming and fairer, more tolerant, less cruel place – was actually lots of other peoples’ too. It’s just that it was experienced in loneliness. It turns out that through the last decades of the 20th century many of us thought the millennium would be the harbinger of something better, and the cost on general well-being from the reversal of this conviction must be so huge.
Post-Rave. Post Britpop. Post Binge-drink Britain… what next?
And so to Friday 24 June…
As my train traveled through Manchester, and as a country tries to function after the morning’s news, I look up at the hills that circulate the world’s first modern city. This is a nervous breakdown! It sort of comforts me in some odd sense, because I feel like I’ve been heading towards one for a long time, and it looks like the rest of the country has found its rightful place beside me for this mass collective breakdown. Things could get very dark very quickly, if the racist incidents being caught on film are anything to go by, but I’m in a Kate Bush-methadone right now, as I listen to a slightly slowed-down version of her Wuthering Heights. It seems to always stir a deep conviction of there being something better beyond, for which the pennines (whichever side of the pennines) seem to become a more than adequate threshold to. Some of us can’t give up on Utopia.
LET IT BLEED…
Hearing that the English national football team had lost to a country with the same population as the Wakefield District (and I think the problem is mainly just about England), it felt like a symbolic act of surrender on a much larger scale. The country needs to collapse into a weeping mess, because if it pretends it isn’t having a nervous breakdown than the pain will just be extended and aggravated. Let this ‘pumped up’ ego-bloated nation, deluded about its place in the world, deflate, otherwise the pain will intensify.
This is as much a note to my easily beaten self as anything, but: right now, in the midst of what currently seems Dystopian, let’s not be swayed by the common rhetoric over the foolishness of Utopian dreams.Beneath my pathos, the pain I showcase idiotically at times is a unflinching dream of that better world.
“I’ve seen what people are capable of when they’re in desperate situations. Are we really so far from that point already?” – Philip Carvel, Utopia, episode 6
I won’t dispute that the recent second series of Channel 4’s Utopia ( Dennis Kelly) was gripping. Nor will I dispute the fact that what made it more gripping was its use of overly homely locations around Barnsley and Wakefield in the final episode – fusing two of my obsessive pre-occupations: place, and our collective future in this century (the crucial issue within the drama). After all, I have a clear memory of reading Slavoj Žižek’s Living in The End Times in the very of bus aisle used for the beginning scene of the final episode.
Yet, Žižek’s approach to ‘the end times’ is in itself a critique of a cultural infliction that I argue is critically played out in Utopia’s ‘end times’. Žižek’s book deals with the civilisational dead end we have found ourselves at. That although a capitalist reality can only deepen the problems we face in the 21st century, we are incapable thus far of imagining an alternative reality. He, like many other take heed, and deepen the assertion from the famous quote made by theorist Fredric Jameson that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism”. A cultural infliction that theorist Mark Fisher calls ‘capitalist realism‘ prevents a civilisation from imagining a way out of the mess it has found itself in.
Utopia’s artful web of conspiracy ideas, all set up within the drama to enable a secret sterilizing-causing-vaccine called Janus to greatly reduce the human population, is greatly imaginative within the narrow realms of what is currently imaginable, but it goes no further. Whereas a film such as The Children of Men (set in the aftermath of mass sterilisation) dealt with the fallout of the inability to overcome a dead end, Utopia provides only capitalist realist solutions to it. Nowhere within the drama’s message is there room for contemplation that a more equal distribution of resources, and a more democratically planned growing and using of foods and fuels could perhaps be a solution, because this is far harder to imagine ever happening than the end of the world. Thus, the only option in such a reality is to greatly reduce the population.
The remark I expect to get of “can’t you just see it as a form of entertainment?” isn’t satisfactory when the subject of a drama deals with very real and imminent threats to our survival as a species. You come away thinking that there’s no alternative to a mass sterilising or culling of our species. This ‘no alternative’ can’t be of said apocalyptic dramas from the past. For example, Threads: with the terrifyingly real depiction of a nuclear holocaust set in nearby (to me) Sheffield, it was never a foregone conclusion – there was always an underlying message of “we don’t have to let this happen”.
Utopia graphically shows to us what we already know is unfolding around the world due to the fucked-up-ness unravelling from being psychologically-trapped in a reality of exploitation at all costs: psychotic violence, by state and by individual to reach the only ends given. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi said “If capitalism is to go on in the history of mankind, then the history of mankind must become the place of total violence, because only the violence of competition can decide the value of time” and aren’t we seeing such measures being exerted in both non-physical and physical ways to reach these ends/means? When another gruesome act occurs in Utopia, although it shocks us and gets the blood racing, isn’t it what we kind of expected to happen anyway though? That in our narrow Real that’s the only extreme-result we can imagine?
Utopia was a great series, but due to its ‘capitalist realism’ it gives us a deadly solution to the threat to survival we all try to forget about (hoping it will go away). But the problem with picking and choosing in an already vastly unequal and selfish reality could result in the most ghastly ethnic/class-cleansing imaginable. But nobody watches Utopia thinking they’d be the unlucky ‘chosen ones’ in such a scenario. The infliction of ‘capitalist realism’, in pitting all against one another, intensifies our subconscious belief that we are more equal than others, an instinct that less reckless societies throughout time have realised needs to be tamed for our good. Utopia does a great job of showing what human beings are capable of doing to each other, but I find it severely problematic that it just leaves it at that – a foregone conclusion.
Full marks for entertainment value, acting, and the plot, for sure. Just no marks for feeding our imaginations with a reality that often was indistinguishable from the brutal world we see unfolding when we switch channels to see blood almost dripping from the TV set on Russia Today and Al Jazeera.
“2013 is unfolding real horror-show-like” said the protagonist Alex, as he sat back in a bubble of styles and tastes, mixed, and mashed together from decades gone, too alcoholically inebriated to care that the here and now is almost unidentifiable except for a general distinct lack of faith in everything” (Imagining the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange inhabiting our present social landscape).
The ghosts of every era have frighteningly come fully to life in our times. Full-throttle hyperreality. A world where people are more Victorian than the Victorians were; more 60’s than the 1960’s were, more Madchester than the Madchester scene was. A world full of simulacra. But why?
Surely the anxiousness caused by the inability to visualise/represent our postmodern (or late-capitalist) times need to be fueled by more than just confusion, in order for the past to embalm the present to such an extent that it becomes alive at the expense of the present? A collective sense that, in our blindness to our times, something is running amok, off its leash, slowly unraveling that which holds together civilisation?
In my last blog I described a feeling that 2013 gives me: a feeling of the uncanny. That all that should be dead and gone – inanimate – has now been brought back to life; or in another way of looking at it, we are behaving like ghosts ourselves; that the world we knew is dead, yet we go through the motions. We go through the motions despite there being so much scandal and corruption, in media/political/business establishments, that there is nothing left to trust in. We don’t know what else to do put to repeat our old actions.
A protective veil of simulcra helps us believe we are elsewhere in time. This veil gives way (either due to a descending social gradient or the passing of hours in a day) to the protective bubbles of alcohol/drug intoxication. You happen to pass through a certain part of your local area, at a different time of day, to realise the necessity of illegal drugs in peoples’ lives in order for them to exist (subsist). All avenues to deny the present have become so entrenched that you realise out-right madness is indeed a requirement to survive the strange and unsettling passing of days in 2013.
Amidst, what I would describe as a landscape of chaos, two television dramas (in particular) have settled into this mental environment, like large plants that have grown out of it all. They portray a tangibly close to The Now world, a sort of science fiction; the type of science fiction specific to a time that no longer believes in a future (our time). They are so close for comfort to be Pizza-eating TV-watching fodder, that you have to be in a severe state of disillusion not to notice that we are indeed looking through a Black mirror. Appropriately most of us are in just that state – in order to refrain oneself from running around and screaming. These two dramas being Utopia and Black Mirror, both shown on Channel 4.
As much as the extreme violence in Utopia initially sends jolts of shock through your nervous system, it isn’t what makes the lasting impact: it is that all this violence is perpetrated in order to find certain people and certain items crucial to controlling a global sterilisation project, which is being planned due to the very same issues that we must face in the century above anything else; resource depletion and feeding a growing population, with such a situation possibly leading to hellish ends.
Utopia reflects back to us the humongous issue that, due to its appearance of having no immediate effect, has almost vanished to the social conscious since the financial crash in 2008. We are locked into a cultural infliction that the theorist Mark Fisher diagnoses as ‘Capitalist Realism’. Utopia presents back to us the only solution we would have to save the human race under our ‘Capitalist Realism’ infliction: mass sterilisation. Surely one must retain the hope that a human race outside the dynamics of capitalism may yet find itself with a humane way of dealing with these century-defining problems?
Utopia’s networks of conspiracy get the mind working overtime, but the lasting mark it carves into our minds is the thought that says “hang on? what are we actually going to do to save the human race?” The violence is perhaps a welcome reflection of the levels on inhumanity that unaccountable powers will go to to get their way, but we need not rely on the possibility of acts of secrecy to know that this occurs. One must surely then follow up the first thought by asking whether the continuation of humanity under unaccountable power, which leaves a snail-trail of corruption as it inches towards the cliff face of civilisation, would be worthwhile anyway. But I’d argue that this is when one’s thoughts die via the thought-guillotine of Capitalist Realism, that places thought back into the survivalism of the here and now under extreme austerity.
If I do appear to have a somewhat paranoid feeling that I’m seeing the unraveling of things, so be it, (I hope it is!), I can’t help it, but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing the drama Black Mirror as being a zeitgeist-moment. Black Mirror is written by satirist/presenter Charlie Brooker, a man who is so apt for our cynical times, that it is maybe right that he doesn’t show the true size of his intelligence so often, allowing him to sneak it under peoples’ noses without them knowing.
Black Mirror is Science fiction specific to these cynical times, where we just hold on day in day out; a science fiction for a time when we have forgotten our own times, unaware that they are far more futuristic than we think – which has disastrous consequences. Three different episodes show a future so incredibly close, but it’s like looking a picture you know well yet then suddenly spotting something is incredibly wrong. This is our future, as with the future depicted in the Children of men; one where what is already present now is just made to get more extreme.
Yet Black Mirror operates perfectly in a postmodern society where more pedagogical warnings are told to go fuck off and get back on their high horse; it’s incredibly subtle. For example, the last episode. A cartoon character standing for election becomes more popular than real politicians. Anybody who has read ‘The Hell of It All’ ( a collection of Charlie Brooker’s columns for the Guardian’s G2 section) will know that this is what he more or less summed the then-London-mayor-candidate Boris Johnson up as being. Brooker showed a meek fear of the political consequences of people voting for somebody for their cartoon-character likability. With Waldo (the name of the character), in the last episode, who actually is a character, Brooker subtly leaves the consequences of the rise of such a figure to political power to short intervals between the ending credits, the point when people usually assume the story has ended: the man who did the original voice for Waldo, who quit because he became worried about they way it was all going, finds himself homeless in a fascist-looking state ruled over by Waldo television screens. The last shot shows him being beaten by police in black uniforms.
What does such an ending have in common with our times? Black Mirror’s subtle stabs through the blindness of cynicism, show us what social consequences can arise from a culture of cynicism and lack of trust. Our cynicism has been growing and growing, as the pillars of society have crumbled into total untrustworthiness over the past decade. In 2013, we now find ourselves in a landscape where we have no trust or hope in anything that orders our society, yet we have to carry on because we know no other way. We just Ipod ourselves out, even further so, and drape ourselves in even thicker reflections of a more comforting past. But the cracks in the present are getting harder to step over, and many are already tumbling down into them.