One hand on a remote Control, a joystick, a keyboard, a touchscreen, itching with a need to turn over stones. Nothing ever matches up, but I feel so wired up that the urge to carry on searching wins every time.
To begin I have to talk about how uncomfortable my disinterest in a recent discovery breakthrough made me feel. News of the ‘Rivers of Mars’ (the headline on the shitbag-from-nowhere The Metro) left absolutely no stain on my train of thought. There seemed to be this lingering sense that it should mean something to me, that the news should run right through me as if I was an electrical rod. Of course, I want it to mean more – I’ve been reared through decades in a society where the words ‘science’ and ‘progress’ are nearly always used in an evangelical light. Yet there is a near total collapse in our faith in the idea that we are progressing to somewhere/something better, all-the-more impounded by the sickly sound the word ‘growth’ has when spouted from the mouths of our world leaders.
The partnership between economic prosperity and civilisation is probably most visibly now defunct in our ambivalence towards discoveries, new technologies that would have, at one time, served as star signs to a better world. Something has turned our radars towards such horizons well-and-truly off. Certain forces have set in, serving as a ‘slow cancellation’ of our faith in the future, making us “oppressed” as Mark Fisher writes (in his book Ghosts of My Life) “by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.” Yet we are still forced to get out of bed in a morning. We have no choice but to go through the motions.
Despite being laced with hypocrisy like an old oak beam is laced with woodworm, Victorian and postwar Britain sustained a collective belief that we were turbulently sailing the seas towards a better world. These pacts that endured through their hypocrisy were torn apart by the emergence of the neoliberal (or market fundamentalist) political economy, and it’s hammering home of its vision of individual guile amidst failed social projects.
There is a synonymous relationship between the move towards neoliberal economics in the 1970s and the rise of the dominance of computer (digital) technologies. It is beyond doubt that they both serve and strengthen each other’s stronghold over reality. In fact the anthropologist and general all round bullshit-buster David Graeber argues that the “profound shift, beginning in the 70s, from investment in technologies associated with the possibility of alternative futures, to investment in technologies that furtheres labor and discipline and social control” was instigated by the then-emergent New Right (with their perfect storm-broth of Neoliberal economic theory with Neoconservative politics). He suggests that the economic program they would eventually set in motion under Thatcher and Reagan was motivated by their ‘concerns’ over the potential of a less-work-more-leisure, less economically-driven, and less competitive Western world in the wake of the cultural revolutions and hippy movements of the 1960s. Graeber argues that the Right had finally caught on to the somewhat truth behind the Marxist conviction that “capitalism’s very need to continually revolutionize the means of industrial production, would eventually be its undoing”. Spooked by the social and political progress of the 1960’s they helped put the brakes on this by leading us into an age where one technology would underpin the rest, limiting possibilities and forcing us into an even more work-orientated structure. 40 years later when our ability to contemplate anything, never mind alternative social systems, is literally broken up by our craving to use the devices at our fingertips to find ever-more tasks to complete, we can see who won the war of ideas in the 1970’s.
The premise here isn’t that nothing new is possible (I dearly hope the opposite is true), but that the proliferating digitisation of life into security codes and distributive media, that is aggrandized as offering us limitless discovery, actually does more than merely limits our horizons, but actually makes us increasingly tired of life. Computer technologies foreclose all other horizons, compressing them into the same one dimensional blocks of information as everything else, who’s production and distribution, despite promoting difference, hammers down a sensory-attack of the ever-same. There’s Nothing New under Digital Rain.
The words Nothing New under Digital Rain came to me last week whilst hurriedly walking to work, as I end up doing nearly every morning. I have to enter the rural gap between the disjointed conurbations of West and South Yorkshire to get here – hardly the epicentre of cyberspacial connectivity. Digital Rain is a track by the music artist Zomby (from his 2011 album Dedication), who’s very sound takes the one-time-euphoric sound of late 20th century rave music, and takes it under the digital downpour of the 21st century, from where it literally sounds like a disintegration, a collapse of all narrative into an abyss of disbelief.
Even in this relatively broadband-free area, I still exist in a state of apprehension, anticipating unanticipated interruptions to the here and now, and thus having no sense of the here and now. Indeed I am occupied daily by a sense that nothing sticks anymore, that I have no real memory of the past few years, an era in which cyberspacial dependency has increased in conjunction with austerity-age-fueled survivalist anxieties. This clearly isn’t an isolated sensation when 2015 exists as as CGI-version of the 1990’s – the final full decade before the digital downpour. 2015 doesn’t believe in itself. Perhaps here, away from the warm glow of screens, as I walk feverishly quick in order to avoid the embarrassment of being late for work, I can more noticeably recognise that I (we) have been perpetually put to work. Perhaps the term ‘The Cognitariat’ (which came to my attention through the writings of Italian thinker Franco Berardi) is the best at hand to describe the residual psychological exhaustion of a continuous and largely unrewarded work-life.
In a performance piece myself and Leeds-based curator/artist John Wright undertook earlier in the year, called Non-Stop Inertia: a Stuck Record (named after a succinct account on the contemporary work-life predicament by Ivor Southwood), we concluded that you no longer need to be in the midst of an interruptive Non-Stop environment to be in a state of perpetual apprehension, and that this continual anticipation of the unanticipated may itself be altering our ability to concentrate on the here and now, perhaps more so than computer devices themselves fostering it, which we largely scapegoat the younger generation with, accusing them of speaking in soundbite form. Indeed Jonathan Cary in his book 24/7, suggests that the 24/7 life “has produced an atrophy of Individual patience and deference that are essential to any form of direct democracy: the patience to listen to others, to wait ones turn to speak.” This spreads into every corner of physical life in the all-against-all fixed-race of up-to-our-neck-in-it neoliberalism, where “the waiting that one actually does now – in traffic jams or airport lines – acts to intensify resentment and competitiveness with those nearby”. A work colleague was literally physically attacked in a unprovoked incident recently as a motorist got out of her car and hit her on a seemingly calm autumn morning.
If we aren’t utterly detached, continually sharing ‘buzzfeeds’ and cuddly pics like an electronic-Eloi, then we’re snarling and swearing at those who languish in the very same predicament as us from behind our steering wheels, or within ticket queues. The system is literally sending us mad, and we need to find an exit strategy.
Backwards to go forwards. An acceptance of defeat?
Seriously, is it not possible that the recent craze around the 21st October 2015 being the date when Marty and The Doc traveled into the then-distant future in the 1989 hit film Back to The Future 2 may have been motivated by a longing for us to be able to go back, an then forwards, again? This time onto a better course? Like much retro-phenomena, we are potentially missing the point: that our obsession with them may be down to them alluding to different futures than the one that became our present. One thing is for sure, even if some of the technologies predicted in Back to The Future 2 did arrive, they could not have predicted the depressive nature and lingering sense of broken promises that constitute our digital Dystopia. In 1989 the neoliberal idea was only just beginning to vanquish all other ways of living among each other, and was still far off creating the reality we endure today.
Speaking to my friend/artist Dave Jarvis recently, amidst the initial clarity of drinking, he said “maybe we need to admit we’ve failed?”. This was no knee-jerk reaction. It was a reaction of someone (like myself) who is almost pre-programmed to defend the benefits of contemporary technologies, yet who’s found himself soberly coming to the conclusion that computer technologies have got us so ‘stuck’, in the face of some of the biggest human and ecological crises in the history of our species, that we may have to admit we’ve failed. Concluding that we might have to stop looking for the answers within this technological framework, (which is admittedly hard to do when you’re doing almost everything you do within it), and if not take a step backwards, then at least try to move sideways, out of the way of the glare of the screen.
“One of the standing affronts of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydreaming or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of sloe or vacant time.”
Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 is one of the most moving pieces of prose I have read in a long time. There is an unflinching devotion to the human condition running through the book. He is clearly captive to the longing to see our species transcend capitalist relations. The subtitle of 24/7 is “Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep”, and the book warns us that “sleep is a standing affront to capitalism”, due its unproductiveness, and it is being systematically eroded. Yet Crary isn’t just talking about sleeping per-se, it’s about the space to dream, concluding his book with the suggestion that “in many disparate states, including reverie and daydream – the imaginings of a future without capitalism begins as dreams of sleep.”
Such a sentence moved me profoundly, as I suddenly realised how much I shared this sentiment. We are all seeking arrival, a moment when we can finally fucking ‘log out’ for good. Nobody is on the social media all the time, job searching sites in their spare time after work (continuing the daily commute of physical space into cyberspace), because that is where they want to be. They want to be where media platforms promise but never allow them to final arrive at. Over recent years blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter trends have revealed how the majority of us share the same distress about the world we live in. Social media, unlike Television and Newspapers before it, has allowed us to see that most of us basically want the same things (even if some are led into the destructive demonisation of other social groups). But even if it helps as an initial platform, computer technologies must finally be moved away from as the dominant technological force within our lives.
Acceptance of this does not mean running to the forests, away from the 24/7 world, it means accepting that computer technologies, as David Graeber argues, may not actually be true progress at all, not in the sense of the epoch-defining breakthroughs that went before it. If we can accept that, we may be able to pick up the new tools, ideas, products that have been probably created in-spite of the digital downpour. As my friend John Wright suggests, it’s more than certain that they do already exist, but possibly just can’t be seen by us at the moment: that the tools towards a tommorrow cannot be understood amidst an eternal present under digital rain.
This year was always going to be one of re-building/coming to terms with falling back into a place that I felt I had to escape (believing it to be now or never) and realising it wasn’t the end of the world after all. This requires one to put things into perspective, not by comparing oneself to those less fortunate (not that they should be ignored) but in realising that nothing matters more and than obtaining that next inhalation of oxygen.
This has been a strange time, where initially the outside world fell away, to the extent that my life felt like it was in a momentary suspension from them, haunted by the (friendly-than-usual) ghosts of my past, and future. Almost felt like I was a actually a ghost hearing the sound of my life passing through the house where I have spent most of it. (The most appropriate musical soundtrack being Kate Bush, who’s music is quintessentially dream-like; but a certain type of dream, a dream where you wake up feeling you have left something behind in it; an haunting from the past, future and an unreachable present. The most apt song being Watching You Without Me (Hounds of Love): “there’s a ghost in our hall just watching you”. Her music may be so powerful to this situation because her earlier music is certainly one of my earliest memories of music, and it was also the music I was listening to in a rather similar situation 10 years ago when I tried and failed to do a course in Manchester. It’s phenomenologically important here.).
To cut all this short, it was a perspective that gave me reason to see the falling apart of the plans engraved into 2012 as anything but a mistake made; that now I could resume my creation of art, without feeling the pressure than I somehow ought to be more. But the rebuilding needs to be slow, like a physical healing process – just because you think you are fully healed it doesn’t mean you are. To go back out into the world too soon, well, this results in stumbling over obstacles that you’d have been floating safely over if you’d left it long enough.
I tried to understand what made me make think I was ready prematurely.
Social media has encroached so far into our lives that its omnipresence has made us blind to our total loss of privacy. The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote of ‘falling into the world’, losing our ability to be philosophical, being unable to listen to our Being through the din made by society’s asks of us. Heidegger never lived to see the coming on the information-technology age. In this age (the ‘Facebook-age’- such naming of an era may yet prove to be not satirical and ironic at all) it is now almost impossible to refrain from ‘falling into the world’ in our very spaces of privacy.
Marc Augé wrote about this inversion in his book Non-Places, mapping the cultural logic that has landed us in the Facebook age, Augé Writes that the “[t]he individual, finally, is decentred in a sense from himself. He has instruments that place him in constant contact with the remotest parts of the outside world. Portable telephones are also cameras, able to capture still or moving images; they are also televisions and computers. The individual can thus live rather oddly in an intellectual, musical, or visual environment that is wholly independent of his immediate physical surroundings” One is surrounded by communication in the places they retreat to, and I now find myself going outside into the street to be alone with my thoughts. Finding it hard to tune out of the social media world, within a couple of weeks I have found my mind running on overtime. I didn’t have time to ground myself in a philosophically stable place, and my mind was ‘falling into the world’ with tonnes of stored-up energy that should have released at a much slower rate.
The past, present, and future that were previously in an harmless form, began to do immense damage to my well-being again. I don’t think anybody who finds themselves analysing 2013 can feel in a good mental state afterwards, it’s like the fruits of madness, all aging at different rates, all seem to have come to ripen in this year; there’s something uncanny about 2013. Almost as if we have hit a certain gage in our civilisation: now it isn’t a case of having to be unwell to function in an unwell society, you have to be utterly mad to function in society. Nothing looks different at first, but then walking the streets something hits you, the look on faces of utter confusion. Streets filling with the homeless, whilst others look at each other on phone screens. Pastiche and retro to such a saturation-extent that it’s like the entire history of man has been thrown into the same arena. More scandal in the political/media/corporate establishment that we can cope with; we’ve lost all faith in everything but still go through the motions not knowing what else do to. What’s the difference between a dystopia and an insane society? Or is the insanity the infliction that stops us realising it’s a dystopia? Utter confusion; necessary blindness. Just count your blessings that nobody really has the time to notice the moments when you yourself crack.
So I wait and expect social breakdown, but it’s likely that it won’t happen, and the breakdown is merely that my past seems to have collapsed in on my present, and I can’t figure out where next. Perhaps I am the one dummy at the end of history whilst everyone else just potters around until the transition occurs? I’m 29 now, and it feels like my 20’s were just a single year, but yet not for everyone around, who appears to have somehow merged into a walk of life. I’m still locked in these years not knowing where to go next. After the calm start to the last year of my 20’s I’ve suddenly found myself locked into a lifestyle which feels like I’m trying to finish the business of the entirety of my 20’s – not really knowing what that business is, just that some conclusion needs to arrived at. The conclusion was probably being arrived at until I fell into the omnipresent world, unable to escape social media. It certainy feels that some grasp on normality (a relationship with someone for example) would serve as an immense anesthetising tool, stop me staring too much into the uncanny, frightening 2013, but would it?
Looking at the world teaches you to be cold, emotionless, when you can’t help feeling that the future will be dark, you shut down your senses to prepare for it. It surprises people how honest I can be about my life, whilst also being so unemotional about it, as if I’m not speaking of my past but a record collection. It really doesn’t bother me at all, but I often fear I scare friends with what I say, but I can’t see it, because my emotions are now merely references for conversation to prove my points. I can speak of emotion but I can’t act on it; I could easily inform you if I was having a massive breakdown whilst calmly asking you to pass me the salt. Of course I don’t want to be like this, but like with everything else, re-learning takes time – I struggle to find this time, when the superhighways are flying past my eyes and ears.
I haven’t been thinking too clearly of late. This might be a start, looking at examples of distractions that enhance this disorientation
I can hear the spectacle calling me from down stairs. Whooshes and explosions tempt me to be sucked into the dreamscape
When I walk past the television set downstairs around tea-time, as I attempt to quickly get a drink, not wanting to lose momentum from the work I am undertaking up in my room, there is often a film on, set to the typical action movie formula, which my father hasn’t so much decided to watch as become resigned to watching. After I have got that needed liquid, and I make my escape for the stairs back to the room where I’m working, I get caught by the action on the screen as if I’ve accosted.
Most ‘blockbuster’ action films (especially the recent re-makes) have but a skeletal amount of content, but have collosal heaps of spectacle; and it is at these moments that one (re)understands the almost-hypnotic power that spectacle (especially spectacle that has had millions spent on making it) has on people. It just draws you towards it like a light draws in a moth. It is seductive; you’re telling yourself to leave the room, to turn and make a dash, but it’s like the screen has hold of eyes from the sockets and his pulling them into a whirlpool.
Notorious for being empty of new ideas, Hollywood, which is the USA’S foremost propaganda machine (‘diffuse’ propaganda; to use Guy Debord’s word for describing the way that most so-called ‘democratic’ nations’ spectacle works), still shows us why the American way is still the most powerful; it’s seduction.
Facebook: the crowd in your lonely room
What I need to remember when I’ve got Facebook on whilst trying to do other things (things that rejuvenate my sense of self like making art, writing), and struggling to do so, is that Facebook is a crowd, even if it’s a non-physical one. One cannot think clearly when it’s on, when the blue and white rolling news channel of friendship is promising/or threatening (?) to put up the excitement-creating red cubes of communication in the top left corner on the screen. Although the crowd isn’t physical, and many members of the crowd may not even be present at certain moments, the potential of the presence of members of the crowd pulls the crowd mentality over us. Not a crowd mentality in the sense of an unthinking mob, but in the sense of the paranoia and self-consciousness, and the feeling that one should reply to everything said around their Zone/Facebook wall, like one often feels in a busy street or crowded room. This isn’t so great, regarding the places where we usually use Facebook: places like bedrooms, where one would previously have found only their mind at work; a place for reflection and clear thinking being encroached upon? But most of us Facebook users know it is so hard to leave this potential crowd! It makes us feel so lonely if we turn it off, or deactivate our online persona for a few days, even though we probably didn’t have this lonely feeling until it encroached upon our once completely solitary spaces. Its shouts have a spectacular effect, like the aforementioned films do, and they call us to back to the computer screen like the films call us downstairs to be subject to the TV (the dictator of the settee).
Elaboration in this will be needed at some point, I know! But I didn’t want to post it onto the place where 150 words fit more appropriately than this blog where I usually write in more detail: Facebook
Desperation witnessed on a Facebook wall and desperation on the railway lines, on our endless commutes – going nowhere
“Out of my way, it’s a busy day, and I’ve got things on my mind” Us And Them, Pink Floyd
Whilst in London in December, I was told by two different people of their witnessing/second hand witnessing of a suicide on the tube tracks or the aftermath of one (blood stains on the sides of the tunnel were visible from the windows of a tube train carriage). I would find witnessing such a thing unbelievably difficult to deal with (as I suspect they did); in the space of one week I experienced 2 delays to train journeys in the Yorkshire area due to there being ‘a fatality on the line/somebody being hit by a train’ (as said by the automated tannoy voice) and the mere news of this left me with such an empty and despairing feeling that I had to go for a drink to become a little more numb, to stop me thinking “there’s certainly an increase on these occurrences”. I find stories of suicides on train tracks more awful than suicides committed in bedrooms, alleyways or woodlands; there is something about them that states that they will happen again and again, and nothing will be done.
A couple of days ago I got a text from a Friend who lives in London, expressing discontent with commuter behaviour on the tube. He said “these rush hour commuters are like those in cars. Cars being the embodiment of Thatcherite individualism and selfishness” and that “everybody looks away if you look at them, so no eye contact with people”. The way we collectively use public transport (although much more beneficial to society than using a car) reflects the Thatcherite rhetoric of there is ‘no such thing as society’ just in the same way as the increasing usage of the car has done in the past 30 years. This friend was one of the 2 friends who told me about a suicide they witnessed on the tube. He sent that text one day after the M1 motorway was closed near to where I live, causing traffic congestion on the nearby road, due an individual threatening to throw themselves off one of the bridges over the motorway. Also, it was on the same day that I came across a Facebook post that expressed acute desperation.
The fulfillment of the ‘no such thing as society’ rhetoric means that we are atomised and forced into a selfish bubble-like existence even when we are out of our cars and our sleeping/eating cells (the physical bubbles); our jobs (that creep into every aspect of our lives via email/cell phone) make for perpetual financial strain, which puts strain on relationships, and becomes all consuming, and couple this with the effect that the sheer bulk of advertising we absorb (thus, the status anxiety it causes) has on us, living in a neoliberal (free market) economy; and we (to use a quote from Mark Fishers’ Capitalist Realism) “wall ourselves up against The Social” by putting our Ipod/Mp3 players on to soothe ourselves with musical sugary stimulus – we feel we need it to keep our mood levels up. But when capitalism’s so-called ‘accidents’ actually reinforce its legitimacy, as recession pushes the pitch-fork of financial anxiety further into our backsides (thus, forcing us to be even more selfish and competitive) what can we do but become more self-orientated, perpetuating the problem?
When trying to escape The Social all the time, a suicide, or the threat of a suicide, is both too bleak to contemplate and also a massive inconvenience to us (due to the delays it brings to our ‘daily races’). And the wish not to dwell on it, to just get on with focusing on our own journey through this world, engenders the inconvenience that the delays these incidents become, which engenders a selfishness in all of us, which in turn, engenders a society of more atomised people where, because this is a positive feedback loop of affect and causation, means increasing numbers of people will become alienated, depressed and will attempt/commit suicide.
I suppose the aforementioned greater bleakness of killing oneself in such a way relates to my own past experiences when I can remember feeling low enough to be contemplating committing this ultimate gesture (although not involving railway lines, personally): knowing nobody has the time to even give it a thought, and that your death will be brushed under the carpet, out of mind out of sight, like the train wheels would do to your body, because it’s also too inconvenient to dwell on, being in a society where we are informed to ‘forget’ about these external incidents, as we should try to get on with our own lives, making sure we don’t become the next person ready to throw ourselves under moving vehicles. This attitude, which we all ascribe to, or try to (because it is the most convenient attitude to have in a society where mental illness has been individualised, thus separated from its socio-political causation’s) is what ensures that it will keep happening again; it ensures the perpetuation of alienation; the perpetuation of this ‘no such thing as society’ where we all feel that we have no choice but to look out for number 1, with the cost being that we may one day be this person jumping in front of a train/threatening to jump from a motorway bridge.
“So” you think “Is this what happens? People just look the other way, put in their headphones, and occupy their mind with filling out that Job application, for a job they are unlikely to get because 100 other people have applied for that very post? And hope that they never reach such a lowly stage themselves?” You can hear us all muttering the lyrics from Us And Them by Pink Floyd again; “down and out, it can’t be helped that there’s a lot of it about”.
You get home. Try to forget the thoughts that the bleak tannoy announcements conjured up, and if you can’t you can always see if anyone wants to join you for a little bit of alcoholic anesthetizing in town. But you do that too much, and although it feels to be leading somewhere at the time, it’s the same every time. The thing is it feels like an arrival, or at least the finishing off of something, a conclusion to an otherwise empty day that feels incomplete and unfulfilled. You miss the drink for today, but still need to feel secure, heard; that you’re building something that will make you safe from ever being ‘down and out’; pathways towards arriving. The seemingly easiest way to contact people now is via the Internet, so that’s what you attempt.
But as soon as you log into the place where everybody goes (Facebook) you feel like you are going nowhere again; nobody seems to be hearing what you say; it feels like you’ve only just set off on a tiresome journey, after only just finishing one in the physical world; you just can’t land. So you shout louder, AND LOUDER! Listen to me!!, just me!! Oh dear.
And so the attitude we share as commuters is continued in both the reason why social networking sites have become so popular, and in the way we collectively use them. One will occasionally stumble across Facebook wall posts an individual has put up, saying how desperately unhappy and lonely he/she is, worded in a way that suggests that he/she is contemplating attempting suicide. Regardless of whether the suggestion of doing so is false, or is just a cry for help (which, should be seen as just that, and not attention seeking; people don’t make up depression, it is endemic in our society), how do we react to this? I’d argue in the same way as we react to the situation of a man threatening to throw himself from a bridge onto a road we desire to travel on/the same way as we’d react if a dead body was blocking our rail journey: although empathy is lacking in such a society, we still do all possess enough to feel some short burst of sadness for the person in question, but the feeling is overwhelmed by our anxieties about our own life. We are so self-orientated, so overly concerned about getting from our A to B (our intentions/goals/needs from facebook) that it becomes much more of an inconvenience. More than that, it reveals the uncomfortable truths about our fragility that we are constantly having to run from.
But can we ever arrive, in a sense, if this journey perpetually never ends, when social networking sites and cell phones extend this endless commute into our houses, the one place where we are supposed to have arrived at? We commute on the net like we commute in our endless physical races in the heat of the day; trying to push ourselves forward, but going nowhere, going nowhere
The fast lane, high speed rail, high speed broadband, but never actually arriving (“Perhaps we should resolve Britain’s railway network into a single orbital system, so that we can all remain in constant circulation. Then we’ll know we’re getting somewhere.” this cutting and humorous observation about the high speed rail plans by George Monbiot in Fast Train to Nowhere, May 17 2010, seems to touch upon the whole of the eternal commute.)
“You only actually arrive when you switch it off”, a friend said to me yesterday, regarding the effect of trying to find meaning through communication on Facebook. But he also acknowledged how hard it is to do so, because of how it persuades you that the opposite is true. Social networking sites are forced communication-as-self-promotion, forced Yuppiedom, passed off as choice, just as commuting longer and longer distances to work, which was forced onto us by social restructuring, and a deliberate shifting of capital, was passed off as an individuals freedom to work wherever he/she may choose; both do the opposite of what they promote; they create an environment of self-preservation at all costs and selfishness as necessity, as if we were still fighting for food in the wild. If this isn’t further evidence that systemic alterations engender how technology advances, and how it is used by people, then I don’t know what is.
Facebook is awful, but it is not an anomaly, or even a massive societal shift; it is a logical extension of the culture that has been created. Which is why, when you’re thinking clearly enough (and not excited by the prospect of lots of little red numbers appearing in the top left corner of your profile page) it is the saddest of thoughts that tonight the only way you will attempt to talk to people is through it, because nobody will be really listening to you, because they need to be listened to. self-promotion lapses into self-preservation every time. But some people, in the physical and virtual world, cannot survive this world-made-cold.
2 Sides of The Same Band: why Primal Scream’s Screamadelica and Exterminator are the same album, just flip-sides.
It is a new day
We are together, we are unified
And all for the cause
Because together we got power
Apart we got power”
(sample taken from a Malcolm X speech, Come Together, Screamadelica)
I must admit that the only other two albums I’ve heard by Primal Scream are their 1997 album Vanishing Point and their 2002 album Evil Heat. Both are decent albums but yet don’t really seem to sum up what I believe is Primal Scream as captured by Screamadelica and Exterminator; everything else I have heard by the band (the ‘Indie disco’ hit Rocks and the 2006 song Country Girl) have put me well off even bothering to listen to their respective albums. Thus, this is also by no means an attempt to write some sort of band biography, it is more of a longing to explain how much these albums seem to be sides to the same record; a very important record to our era; the naive-hopes and optimism of the post-Berlin-wall, freedom-and-good times-demanding-rave-scene early 1990’s turning into the hollowed-out-need-for-denial-hedonism, bitter-disillusionment, and fear of things only getting worse that all those promising earlier components found themselves in. Screamadelica (released 1991) is one side of the very same coin to Exterminator (Released in 2000) – the former dreaming of Utopian togetherness, the other waking up to a Dystopia, largely allowed to unfold due to an hollowing out and falseness of those very components.
To begin with, it is important not to dismiss the band due to it being appropriated into the Beer-swilling-football-style-chanting-loutish-Oasis-fan-laddism of the past 20 years, but also not to forget that those who one would associate with this image/lifestyle (mainly from the backgrounds traditionally working class) have had reasons for hiding behind this macho (I’ll-only-listen-to-bands-with-cocky-northern-frontmen) image.
It seems bizarre that it’s nearly 12 years since Exterminator was released; it feels as if there’s almost been a stagnation of time through the decade known as ‘the noughties’ from which the financial crisis, and its stark environs have awoken us (time seems to be moving again, although whether for better or for disastrously worse we cannot yet know). The more that time passes and Exterminator becomes older, the more it seems to sum-up western culture both at turn of the millennium and the years that followed it. Listen to Swastika eyes then the following track Pills, to hear an attack on the vacant nihilistic hedonism and denial of the growing inequalities/erosion of democratic rights/unjust (re)imperial wars, through an immersion in ‘big nights out’/recreational drugs/and phoney-togetherness.
.Not that any of us could be blamed for participating in such a stupor – denial often felt like the only possible avenue during the past 10 years; and as Charlie Brooker observed in his much-needed-for-terrestrial-Television comedy-cum-cutting-cultural-analysis ‘How TV ruined your life’, images of ‘the good times’ were being rammed down our throats to the extent that if we weren’t feeling like we were ‘living the dream’ 24/7, then something must be wrong – no wonder ‘uppers’ from the legal Red Bull’s/Pro Plus’s to the illegal Pills/Cocaine were needed by many of us just to get through the day.
Recreational drug-taking is the extreme end of that constant need to be pursuing hedonism, or at least ‘the good times’. This kind of lifestyle, after it took over from something a little more genuine and optimistic, as the early nineties became the Blair-year ‘BritParties’, used the same component’s to create a smoke-screen over reality, as darker things “best forgotten about” started to rustle as we approached The Noughties. Now, however, it’s harder to avoid the sobering truths behind the late-capitalist smoke-screen. Maybe (eventually) this will turn out to be a good thing. What choice do we have but to try to make it so anyway?
Back in 1991 the mood was different, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica (although not an endorsement for drug-taking) certainly embodies the mood of the period, and talks of drugs as something that can help ‘open you up’. Screamadelica’s mood is certainly one of an ‘inner flight’ of peace and love, as reminiscent of the hopes of the 1960’s as the psychedelia both in the guitar based and dance bands of the early 1990’s was. This is perhaps best exemplified in the track Higher Than The Sun.
Hallucinogens can open me or untie me
I drift in inner space, free of time
you aint nothin , you got nothin to say
shine a light on you, you fade away
woke up, felt drunk, throwin’ up, pissin’ blood
Think death, broke in, burnt out, holed in”
dead dreams……..Dead dreams…..Dead dreams”
“Dead dreams, dead dreams” – life has been hollowed out; can’t picture a future worth living in, so certainly can’t swallow the positivity of spiritual well-being spouted-out in previous years; take drugs to stay high to avoid the truth rather than search for it; like in A Design For Life by The Manic Street Preachers “we don’t talk about love, we only wanna get drunk”. No true hope in the long run, but if one can live a high life all the time, constantly pursuing pleasure it may build a precarious bridge over this underlying emptiness. This Erosion of democracy, from which we tried to hide, is the “illusion of democracy” in Swastika Eyes, the song before Pills.
A military industrial ILLUSION OF DEMOCRACY…
Swastika eyes swastika eyes swastika eyes”
.(Whilst looking for the song Pills on Youtube, I found that the user snowskrunch had use an image from Zero-Zero decade Indie popstar Jonny Borrell; an apt icon for a culture that turns away from the horrors commited in its name, hiding in retro-fashions/drugs/nights-out/Indie-cool. I hate to use the word Hipster, because it’s arguable that it extends to the entirety of Western Culture and not just some imagined pretentious young middle class kids, but when thinking of Jonny Borrell, it’s hard to think of another word.)
Come together as one……
For many the perfect-party-anthem Loaded is the highlight of Screamadelica, but for me it has always been Come Together. Whilst I listen to it, it can still dust down those ‘dead dreams’, and make them feel alive again. For me, it is the perfect fusion of Euphoria and genuine hopes (that we can sort things out, and life can be something more than this).
.So It felt like a cutting betrayal of those ‘moments of euphoria’ the song would often give me, when a few years ago parts of this song were used to advertise mobile phones for the ‘Talk Talk’ brand – using “come together as one” to advertise the advantages of mobile phone communication, even though the mobile phone, through it further privatising communication between one another, has arguably perpetuated the isolation of the human faster than any other device, except maybe the Social Networking site; maybe capitalism’s biggest enclosure act in 200 years – it will get the oxygen if it can! I think the fact that it has shared out hopes for a better world to me, is the reason why this felt like such a bitter betrayal; that it was now being used as part of a process that is taking every bit of that world away from us.
.This is how much I value this piece of music as something unbelievably special, and believe that its potency to be that still carries on. When I try to imagine a worst possible scenario, as a tester of whether I could cope with it, I imagine a scenario quite like the apocalyptic scenes in Continental European towns/villages during sieges in 20Th century wars, as depicted in films ever-afterwards. The church bells would always be ringing, as a stance against the gunfire and carnage going on around. In my imaginings of this similar scenario there is ash from burning things falling from the sky, and guns are firing, but Come Together is the song I’d play at full blast from an upstairs room, with the windows open, as a call for peace, and a halt to the violence.
.We’ve become cynical in our times to these sorts of words, but I feel that songs like Come Together are becoming relevant again, but with a more grown-up look at the hopes and optimism that were there in the 89-91 period. We’ve got a long way to go to get to this place though; I, for one, still lapse into momentary hibernations from reality, by using alcoholic softening, and the same old meaningless pop music I’ve been listening to for over 10 years on and off – the roads to the future we must strive for often seem too daunting.
Exterminator is the uncomfortable reality that Screamadelica woke up from; no wonder that many people turned a blind eye to Exterminator whilst the former is still talked about to this day. Many will say that this is because Screamadelica captured a moment; well, so did Exterminator, just a moment society tried to hide from. So, ironically, it seems likely that it’s unpopularity (in comparison with Screamadelica) is because it message about the Dystopia forming around us was an unpopular truth! Screamadelica may have captured the essence of high and forward-looking times; but hasn’t Exterminator captured the essence of the mass denial aided by the very components championed by Screamedelica? that we in the UK are now, hopefully, starting to wake up from? no more false assurances to each other that things are OK and we are living in a free country?
One would hope that the rerelease of Screamadelica this year, rather than merely being something the band and record label can make a profit off, can be symbolic of a return of some sort of hope; that we really ought to “come together as one” now, and quickly. An arts event named Pandemic which I have partaken in recently uses a quote by the Philosopher Bertrand Russel which also comes to the same conclusion: “extreme hopes are borne from extreme misery”. Now that we are (possibly) awaking, maybe something can be done about all this.
.It’s a long hard road back after being dumped by the vehicle that was pushing us to constantly pursue pleasure whilst depoliticised and desensitized to the world. But perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that it was mostly an illusion of good times, maintained due to the fact that one thought that they must be having ‘the good times’ all the time, which actually a larger causation of individual unhappiness rather than happiness during the past quarter of a century. I suppose (‘comrades’) we having nothing to lose but our ‘indie disco’s’ (and the equivalents).
Shoot, speed, kill, light……….
My friend got me ‘into’ Exterminator when it was a new album in the year 2000 (I had to hear Screamadelica as a record from a past time which only sprinkled nuggets of blissful optimism on me; the early 1990’s was an happy childhood for me, and I thought things would “Only get better” – urrgh). We got excited about the energy and anger (especially the “fuck, fuck, fuck, sick, sick” ending to the track Pills), and we knew that there was shit going off in the world worthy of such anger, but it always seemed a million miles away, it never felt like it was angry at the very culture we were being drip-fed on. I cannot recall anybody I encountered having a political agenda between the years of 16-22 of my life, aside from a ‘blatantly obvious’ scratching-the-surface-dislike of bad things such as the far right group the BNP, cutting forests down, and casual racism and homophobia overheard in town centres on a Friday/Saturday night – a rightfully-placed objection, conveniently soft-touching, so as to not dig up too much of that uncomfortable truth.
Having spoken to quite a lot of young people who have recently started F.E/H.E education/recently graduated, or haven’t bothered with any of this but have come of age during the last 2/3 years, it seems blatantly obvious how much more politicised they are and how unaccepting of the “capitalism is the only system that works” rhetoric we receive when we first find ourselves ‘naively’ asking “why do things have to be this way?” in comparison with those of us who reached that part of lives in the 10 years previous to the financial crisis.
Yet, I do not believe that this politicisation of the youth is just down to the recession and the ruthless cuts to welfare; yes it is the banner that they chant under, but these issues have merely made an open door for them to look and be horrified at (to use the famous phrase) ‘the desert of the real’. This is the ‘glorious’ century that awaits them, and they know that they probably won’t even have the chance to drink, dance and deny it’s happening like those before them. If many before found it disturbing to open doors further down from the ‘Iceberg’s Tip’, the financial-crisis-kids are having to enter the world through those very doors. High tuition fees, and other things that deny them mobility, perfectly cap a hideous array of social, economic, environmental problems that, because they cannot escape like the young professionals of the 80’s and 90’s could, will have to be tackled, together. Does “Come together as one” sound so dated and corny now?
I’m not saying that this current crop of young people are our only hope, and it is sadly without-a-doubt that the marketing/publicity that has bombarded these youths is more intense than the life-long-course-in-how-to-be-a-slave-to-capitalism that we received, as is the case for my age group in comparison with those before me and so forth; the omnipresence of imagery that lures one into the consumerist mindset grows and grows, to open more doors for capitalism’s insatiable thirst for more and more growth. However, the anger and politicisation is in itself an hope that new things are afoot, contrary to what everyone told us in the years following Thatcherism, that “there is no other way/there is no hope of the sort any more”. “New things are afoot” was what a friend of mine (one of the creators of the Pandemic event idea) said to me, when I said how I fear being defeated from within, like my parents and their contemporaries were defeated by Thatcherism (even more cutting coming from an area directly affected by her defeat of the Miners Union) – and he is right, we won’t be, whatever happens now.
Shoot speed kill light, the last track on Exterminator (UK edition) possesses the anger and energy of the rest of the album, but there is something massively encouraging in this song. Initially it became the song stuck in my head when I was leaving High school, thus the soundtrack of that moment. You expect something exciting to happen after you leave school, it feels like a moment when all will change, you’re too naive to realise that things won’t change that much at all, and people still treat each other the same, and have the same opinions (at least until they reach 20) “no togetherness, stick your headphones in a run away from reality”. It was also the turn of the millennium, and our naive 16-year old selves expected life to get nicer and better as all the hollow aspirations and optimism’s of the late 1990’s fooled us into thinking. In 1999 I can remember that me and my fellow school friends used to joke about how we expected to see spaceship-like-flying vehicles appear in the sky as the clock struck 12 on the evening of the 31st of December, but behind these jokes was a serious expectation that our lives would be better, humanity would be better! A mega-comedown, finished off by the 9/11 terror events – the life truly did become an escape from reality, whilst dreams began to die off.
But dead dreams and fading hopes (which are wrongly labelled as ‘just growing up’) can become momentarily alive again whilst listening to certain songs. After the dystopia revealed in the rest of Exterminator, Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light is like a surge towards a better world, the world you can tell Primal Scream have never stopped dreaming of. Earlier on in Exterminator, in a calm moment in the middle of the storm of anger, Keep Your Dreams warns us to “be careful” not to sell our souls, and give in. Now, with Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light it feels like a call to all to get up and surge forward to get those dreams – it is the song that Vanishing Point, on the album Vanishing Point seems to have considered being, but just wasn’t ready yet.
When I’m listening to it on my walkman whilst walking I get the urge to start running, faster and faster down the road, but never actually doing so due to the social taboo of expressing oneself in this manner. But this feeling emerges because of the sheer forward drive of the song; it uses all the energy of the album, and it feels like it is pushing through it all, moving to a different world, where things have changed for the better. It is fully modernist in its forward drive, never looking back in a search for a beautiful future. The words ‘Shoot, speed, kill, light’ conjure up images of smashing right through something; breaking the speed of light – demanding the impossible! It is almost that, as it turns the anger into a truly forward looking energy, it does full-circle and catches up with Screamadelica.
It has often been said that Primal Scream are capable of masterpieces and absolute crap; perhaps, whilst this reaction is harsh, it is maybe appropriate to dismiss the rest of the music in order for the masterpiece, created by the joining of Screamadelica and Exterminator to be complete. As the rest of Exterminator calls for us to wake up (something we are showing slight sings of doing), maybe the last track Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light calls for us to press forward now – a call from 12 years ago to right now!!
Maybe this song is the Geist of what The Now should mean. Which is why I make reference to the politisation of the youth (as well as an unchannelled discontent emerging in many previously defeated by Thatcherism): because it has an air of something of this sort about it. I always find that talk about spiritual well-being, as embraced in Screamadelica, a good thing, but useful for a world which has moved past the era we are in, to a place where this is actually achievable for the majority, not just a few who find their own way out. Have we awoken to Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light’s ask, a realisation 12 years too late but better late than never, to push forward to this world? If so, maybe after the push, and we’ve arrived at this place, will the spiritual well-being of all be found, and we can truly appreciate things like Screamadelica again, full-circle.
Globalsapiens: an introduction to Parallel Paranoia, Humans In Cages and Silently Chained – the respective alternate names for artistic collective Mikk Murray, John Ledger and Jade Morris. Each artist has, at some point in life, stumbled across these titles and found them poetically fitting descriptions of their own predicament as young adults in the 21st century: tied to lifestyles that they know are destructive to the planet and most often self-destructive; struggling forwards from this, trying to find cracks in a hegemonic social landscape that drags humans toward an ultimate battle with nature that we are certain to lose.
Thus this show cannot be a means to an end for Globalsapiens: it has to be the start not the end; one of many ‘atoms for peace’, clustering together, always growing never standing still, until their shout is big enough to make one final stand against a world ruled by money. This exhibition aims to resonate with all those who care but feel trapped and helpless to make a change, and possibly then inspire them to believe that they need not feel trapped and helpless.
As a society, our actions, our expressions, our reactions, all show signs that we are aware of living in end times. Make no bones about it; no matter how much we talk about getting married, getting a house, settling down, we reek of a dying civilisation.
This exhaustion of everything in our merry-go-round swap between being the exploiter to the exploited has to end. Nobody can predict what ‘end’ we can expect, but we can guess what the prolongation of this current manmade nightmare will lead to. But we can also guess and hope; to hope that “surely this can’t be the end of the human story just yet…!” Grim resignation is dangerous; hope generates possibilities – but hope is sometimes hard for one to maintain.
Globalsapiens are artist’s who are desperately trying to find a way forward into a future worth living in. Our instinct is to express – we may not be the most pragmatic/practical people, but our contribution is a desperate attempt to realise a new way of living for the sake of the human race (sound self righteous? No: all species battle to maintain their existence). The time is right. Artists have no future in this old world, they must end their post idealist malaise/capitulation to the business mentality and join the cause to act now to make a future worth living in.
We felt aligned by a feeling that our artwork seems too driven, and too realmerely to be for exhibitions only – which often seem to just castrate it and make it nothing but mere consumer spectacle. This is a pressing concern that is played out within the show: we know that this is all our works may be, but we are still often driven by a powerful dream-boat of blind optimism that refers to the opposite, and seems to be generated by the ideological coding of the very system we are trying to help unwire. We want to help pave a way out of this bleak place our species (and the planet it has dragged down with it) has stumbled into, but we too often get too trapped in our minds to be/or do anything but what the system would happily have us be/doing – what keeps it thriving off human day-dreams and desires.
Nobody is in any place to preach. To resonate with others to generate in others. To alienate is to disintegrate. Let’s take the No Them, Only Us belief seriously again.
Human beings offer fundamentally special qualities to life on planet earth, and wherever else life may flourish. However, we are not better than the rest of life; if we were better we wouldn’t need it; but strip the life away from under our feet and we’d be dead before you could say the words ‘Easter Island’. Nevertheless, this is what out species is currently doing. But to say that we are a species of existential contradictions is to give up without even trying, and to let the idea of perpetual profiteering drag our eyes to the grey floor, where we watch our feet take one step at a time, in a potentially lethal small-world view. This exhibition wishes to contribute to the voices of reason in this time of collective insanity.
Inside Humans In Cages’ isolated cell
“Humans In Cages is feeling a little trapped, and without a vision of the future at present.”“The weekly ASDA shop likes this”
“The capitalist system still advances across the face of the planet, destroying the world that we depend on to survive, and pressing the boot further and further into our faces, as freedom/democracy become obstacles stood in the way which must also be destroyed. But here I languish; informed but passive; not knowing which foot to put in front of the other; so letting faint hopes of something better do the walking for me.
Here in my cell there will constantly remain the doubt that my artworks/artist shows may end up as nothing more than self-profiling within the capitalist dictatorship of individualism; the fetishisation of the self in the forced-competition of status advancement, based on the ultimatum of prosperity and a terror of failure. Thus, everything I have done within my isolated little world sometimes feels so counterproductive: that the truth may be that I am simply bolstering the realism of a system my work fundamentally opposes in its messages, by seeking recognition, and respect from it, for my individual endeavours.
I’ll do my best, but it’s hard trying to stop an exhibition become a means to an end from whereworking towards one final goal, (as anyone who as put on a major show will resonate with) leads to anti-climax, depression and a defeated-slump straight back into the realism of capitalism – to start right back at the beginning, but with less time than before.”
Achieving And Getting Things Done (installation)
Inside Silently Chained’s isolated cell
They all smiled gingerly and meekly.
Had they simply forgotten, or had they never known anyway? I guess it is neither.
They’re neither alive nor gone.
Not until the hour of the moon crosses the path of the sun.
Then they will know, and they will realise, what they had known all along.
But for now, it is too late. Too late. Too late?
Inside Parallel Paranoia’s isolated cell
This painting (above) is from a series of works called Where have all the bees gone? Where a parallel universe was created to highlight the importance of bees to the ecosystem and our food supply. Without the bees that pollinate roughly a third of our food crops there would be less food around. The chain reaction could be devastating to the human race and all life on Earth. The disappearance and death of bees or Colony Collapse Dissorder (CCD) as it is somethimes known is puzzling scientists and researchers still with mites and pesticides being the main concerns.
In the parallel universe the bees have been lured into a lab by a mad scientist and experiments have taken place. For some reason the scientist becomes psychically connect to the bees and finds they will do as he wishes. The scientist sets about creating his own Utopian vision. Using the soldier bees to hold the planet under siege and turn things around. Food, shelter and equality for all. Harmony with all living creatures and the landscape the ultimate goal. Organic produce, waste reduction, ocean cleanups, knowledge and wisdom passed on to all. The trouble was the scientist did such a great job that he became some sort of a celebrity. A leader and ultimately was devoured by power and greed. Alan is a dog and he spends most of his time walking around in his horse suit. Alan is the mad scientist’s best friend. The horse suit is an extension of Alan and his status/power and also the scientist’s eccentricity. The portrait of Alan was painted by Mikk for the Scientist in 2027. “I didn’t have a choice!” he said.
Many of our endeavours are maintained by reliance on oil. Many of our endeavours are purely narcissistic – taught by the system to be so. Reflecting on this can sometimes make one see their own ‘achievements’ in a very different light. And is it really that precious? (this piece was once used in a Seawhite Of Brighton arts suppliers brochure, not black gooey paint, with a look of oil about it, drips down it).
Parallel Paranioa is in the process of filling up a paddling pool with needless consumer plastic waste. In another water filled area (The Pacific Ocean) a floating island of plastic trash twice the size of Texas is currently existing.
Pandemic-Sheffield! Plague breaks out!!!
Note from self outside the cell to self inside the cell…
In the summer of 1944 delegates from 44 countries met in the midst of World War 2 to reshape the world’s financial system. The location of the meeting – in rural Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA – was designed to ensure that the delegates would have no distractions, and no pressure from lobbyists or congressmen, as they worked on their plans for post-war reconstruction. The New Hampshire Bretton Woods is part of a land grant made in 1772 by royal governor John Wentworth, which he named after his ancestral home (West) Bretton, in Yorkshire, England.
In the summer of 2011, Globalsapiens met in the midst of a global meltdown (financially, environmentally and socially) to throw around their own ideas of making a better world, with changes being needed now more than ever – A HUGE ALTERATION IS NEEDED. The location of the meeting – In rural Bretton woods in West Bretton, Yorkshire, England – is a symbolic gesture: the USA Bretton woods conference reshaped the world after the war, to prevent the problems (financial crisis’s for example) which led to the war; shaping the world for the past 60+ years, and beginning global capitalism as we know it today.
We need a Bretton woods conference now! Not to reinstate capitalism but to figure out how we can move beyond it. The sources of power whom we would usually assign these tasks to have gone insane; a systemic press-ganging on anything which tries to halt the forces of big business – which leaves this conference to people assumed-powerless like us (Globalsapiens). In this mock-version of an all-important conference, we will speak about, and demand a better world; suggesting, through the thoughts and words they never speak, both what these all-important meetings should really be about, and also emphasising what is more important; assigning the decision making to the assumed-powerless.