How I Learned to Continue Worrying & Love the Dystopian
Venue: Giraffe Bar and Grill
Discussing: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
We’re delighted to include a post here by #GiraffeLBC book clubber and twitter friend par excellence – @Bolli_Bolshevik!
Growing up in 80s recession-hit Brighton we had poll tax riots, attempts to electronically tag school kids, and of course the IRA bombs as The Brighton Centre hosted Tory Party Conferences. However the several explosions did not affect me as much as you might think. My psyche was far more scarred by the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four miscarriages of justice. I failed to learn to hate terrorists for their use of semtex as protest, but I did start to fear the State for how they abused people. I became involved in direct action in an anarcho-pacifist way, following in my more collectivist mother’s footsteps with huntsabbing & protests of various flavours. So, yeah, I’d say I have ‘authority issues’
If like me, you were raised in the UK and aged around the 28-40 mark, you’ve lived under several allegedly differing political administrations all of which have brought forward more legislation than ever before. Many MPs have legal backgrounds and yet so many laws have been passed in ignorant haste with no forethought as to what consequences may arise. An act passed that made it a hate crime to attack someone for their nationality. A week later, in Essex, a man was attacked for being Muslim by a well-known fascist group & they used offensive language relating to his perceived nationality. (I’m not repeating hate-speech but I’m sure you can guess) He was assaulted and harassed. The police said they could do nothing as the insults were claimed to be about his religion not his nationality. The same day in North Yorkshire, a Quaker granny in her 70s was arrested and subsequently jailed in a closed prison for trampling an American flag into the mud to demonstrate against the unaccountability of Menwith Hill military airbase. I can speak from exemplar that US air force personnel do not give two bigmacs as to what a grey haired nana does with a bit of fabric outside their fence. So is this what the law is for, locking up hippie pensioners but not protecting the vulnerable? I could use more extreme examples, but this is steering off topic somewhat… The point is, when laws are made reactively it often sucks, and people suffer needlessly. Snap decisions in politics can and do kill. This makes me a very sad panda. It also makes me a mistrusting panda who challenges authority when its expects blind acquiescence.
So its maybe unsurprising that I love Dystopian-inspired art. My taste (or lack of) in art, books, music, comics, poetry, gaming and partners tends to lean towards revelling in the bleak futility of it all. Or indeed revelling in spite of the futility of it all… What giddy misanthrope would write a masters lit essay on how Souvarine was in fact the true hero of Germinal? Yes, I genuinely went there.
So shambling back to the point he most evocative dystopian writing often stems from taking something strongly rooted in the mundane realism of life to a logical extreme or nth degree conclusion.
Both in Europe and the USA the access to planned parenthood and abortions is a fierce battle of wills where you rarely avoid comparisons to Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Orwell’s 1984 was prophetic in how we now live our lives. Ok, so it was about the threat of Stalinism, but we do now live in the most cctved nation
on earth & instead of questioning Big Brother, we made it into a voyeuristic banal entertainment. Oh the Morissette-irony of it all…This in itself has allusions to Pete Davis’s The Last Election with the prole snooker channel as the only tv the State’s totalitarian Majority Party will allow. So corporate control and state misinformation are accepted as normative in 21st century Britain. No-one is that alarmed by the Leveson inquiry, are they? The only shock would be if anything actually changes afterwards. We live in a world that encourages us to devolve thinking things through to others.
It would be an error to assume that a love of the dystopian genre is simply an emo affinity with the depressive bleak imagery. As I return to my favourites, partly inspired by #GiraffeLBC I find that they in fact offer me solace. They provide hope that there are people out there who do think things through and communicate them in a creative and pleasurable medium. It is comforting to think of all those artists challenging accepted wisdoms and provoking questions. Its a psychological comforter akin to planning your Zombie Apocalypse survival in far too much detail at 3am with your best friend. Some people enjoy losing themselves in deliberately fluffy creations where they escape to cosy warm places. If this sounds contemptuous in any way please rest assured it is pure jealousy. I simply cannot access my happy place with feel-good material. I crave the empathy & understanding that comes from knowing someone else is a miserable, anxious, paranoiac over-thinker too. If, as is attributed to CS Lewis, “we read to know we are not alone”, then when I feel isolated, I have a friend in Dystopia.
Not sure if you want to join in #GiraffeLBC yet? I’ve chosen freebie, Neil Gaiman’s Baby Cakes as a quick taster. It’s a comic but works as prose. It quintessentially covers all the themes of Dystopia, avoiding much of the cliché. Quite frankly, the ingenious simplicity of the piece is enough to make your average short story writer want to stab themselves in the thigh with a fork. Baby Cakes presents a future that challenges our current treatment of animals and concisely poses many questions most of us try to avoid. Like all the best Dystopian art, it holds a timeless position reflecting historical arguments made during the abolition of slavery and projects forward the principles of the modern animal rights movement. Often these causes are linked in discussions of paradigm shifts in philosophical thinking.
Ladies, gentleman, Cuthuloid entities & You At The Back…
I give you Baby Cakes by @NeilHimself:
Baby Cakes by Neil Gaiman
A few years back all of the animals went away.
We woke up one morning, and they just weren’t there anymore. They didn’t even leave us a note, or say goodbye. We never figured out quite where they’d gone.
We missed them.
Some of us thought that the world had ended, but it hadn’t. There just weren’t any more animals. No cats or rabbits, no dogs or whales, no fish in the seas, no birds in the skies.
We were all alone.
We didn’t know what to do.
We wandered around lost, for a time, and then someone pointed out that just because we didn’t have animals anymore, that was no reason to change our lives. No reason to change our diets or to cease testing products that might cause us harm.
After all, there were still babies.
Babies can’t talk. They can hardly move. A baby is not a rational, thinking creature.
And we used them.
Some of them we ate. Baby flesh is tender and succulent.
We flayed their skin and decorated ourselves in it. Baby leather is soft and comfortable.
Some of them we tested.
We taped open their eyes, dripped detergents and shampoos in, a drop at a time.
We scarred them and scalded them. We burn them. We clamped them and planted electrodes into their brains. We grafted, and we froze and we irradiated.
The babies breathed our smoke, and the babies’ veins flowed with our medicines and drugs, until the stopped breathing or their blood ceased to flow.
It was hard, of course, but necessary.
No one could deny that.
With the Animals gone, what else could we do?
Some people complained, of course. But then, they always do.
And everything went back to normal.
Yesterday, all the babies were gone.
We don’t know where they went. We didn’t even see them go.
We don’t know what we’re going to do without them.
But we’ll think of something. Humans are smart. It’s what makes us superior to the animals and the babies.
We’ll figure something out.
The genre has forays into music, film, comics and gaming and there is so much cross over it is worth having a rummage around the lot. Not definitive lists, just a dabble. In solidarity with grumpy pessimist disaffected old goth-punks everywhere, enjoy! (well you know what I mean)
– Just doing ones we haven’t mentioned at Giraffe or via twitter yet…
- The Last Election by Pete Davis
- The Trial by Franz Kafka
- The Iron Heel by Jack London
- The Republic of the Future by Anne Bowman Dodd
- The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin
- Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
- Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle
- And plenty of JG Ballard, if you have the mental well being!
- PWEI- Everything’s Cool
- Godspeed You Black Emperor – The Dead Flag Blues
- Nitzer Ebb – Join in the Chant
- Radiohead – 2+2=5 Although you can pick any number of Radiohead tracks tbh.
- Pink Floyd – Brick in the wall. Plenty of dystopian Floyd, but this was number 1 the day I was born, so it gets priority
- Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime. This 80s dystopian concept album got a sequel last year.
- White Zombie – More Human than Human (caviat, this Philip K Dick inspired track is ruined for me since I heard it as “More human than Hugh Grant”. Swine that I am, its all you’ll hear now too)
- New Model Army – 51st State of America and Higher Wall too.
- Siouxsie and the Banshees – Cities in Dust
- Sepultura – Chaos AD
That should get you started! Honourable mention to Ultraviolence for choosing their moniker from A Clockwork Orange.
– but with so much of the industry written for the genre, here is a couple of special mentions
- FF7 – For me, one of the best of the series and for PS1 no less
- the Mass Effect series
- Half-Life 2
- the Deus-Ex series.
– I could go on forever, but the future is unlikely to be bright if these are any measure…
- V for Vendetta& Watchmen
- The Invisibles/Filth
- Tank Girl
You may now YouTube fluffy kittens to cleanse yourselves, should the need arise.
If, however, you like the novels mentioned, or have better ones, come to
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCGiraffe