I wrote a piece yesterday, ‘Choose your dystopia‘ in which I looked at some of the best dystopian visions and how our current government seems to be using them as templates rather than as nightmares to be avoided… and I invited people to suggest some other dystopias that might also be relevant. Some of them, the first in particular (for which I thank @guy_herbert and @EinsteinsAttic), were so good that they warranted another post… so here it is!
Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece is one of my all-time favourite films – from the astonishing visual imagery and the glorious absurdity to the deep tragedy that is the underlying message.
The parallels with the current government are many-faceted. Brazil paints a picture of a nation of underwhelming greyness characterised by a government of incoherence and incompetence – omnishambles anyone? It posits a society where the slightest irritant is labelled a terrorist – Robert De Niro’s rebellious plumber is a brilliant creation. Tony Blair may have started the ball rolling in this way, but Cameron and Clegg have taken that ball and run with it. Their embrace of the likes of the Snoopers Charter, Secret Courts and so forth are all predicated on the kind of illusionary enemies that are the essence of Gilliam’s nightmares. The ultimate fate of poor Sam Lowry is a cautionary tale for anyone advocating a breaking of conventional rules at a time of emergency….
Even those of us who are far from fans of Tom Cruise can find things to enjoy about Minority Report – the strength of the underlying Philip K Dick story and the quality of the film-making mean that even Cruise can’t stop it being an interesting, some might say excellent film.
What are the parallels here? Well, once again we should look for the Communications Data Bill – the Snoopers’ Charter. Whilst Minority Report relies on the prescience of psychics to predict crime and stop it before it ever happens, the Snoopers’ Charter can and almost certainly would use the predictive ‘ability’ of computer-based profiling to try to assess potential criminals, terrorists or paedophiles. If ‘we’ can work out who ‘they’ are before ‘they’ do things, then ‘we’ should be able to stop ‘them’. The accuracy and reliability of these predictions may well be getting better – and we can be pretty sure that the ‘experts’ in GCHQ will be looking to this kind of thing more and more. The pitfalls – and the risks to civil liberties – are another matter. Moreover, the idea of convicting people before they do things – for threatening behaviour rather than actually doing damage – has parallels with our willingness to convict people for what they post on Facebook or Twitter – mentioning riots rather than actually perpetrating them, or posting pictures of burning poppies rather than actually burning them…. Some kind of thought police? Hmmm….
The Old Men at the Zoo
A book significantly less known than most of those I’ve mentioned so far, but one no less worthy. Angus Wilson’s 1961 book portrays the struggles of a succession of old men running the London Zoo whilst politics change around them.
What has this to do with our Government? Well, one of the attempts to bring the zoo to relevance and success is to harken back to the old, traditional ways of Britain – to try to recreate an ideal vision of the Great British countryside, with foxes and badgers, lovely rolling hills. It’s a romantic vision, one based on a rose-tinted and illusionary vision of what once was – and is, of course, doomed to failure…. and is pretty much exactly what Michael Gove is trying to recreate with his plans for the education system. Indeed, Michael Gove would play the part of one of the Old Men at the Zoo perfectly – and the results would be the same.
This classic SF movie from the 70s portrays a post-apocalyptic world populated only by young, good-looking, people. Everyone is a perfect specimen – there are no old people, no sick people, no disabled people
What are the parallels here? Well, I don’t think Iain Duncan-Smith has contemplated actually killing any less-than-perfect physical specimens, but the treatment of disabled people under this government has been pretty horrendous. The result has been a significant increase in abuse and discrimination towards the disabled – some have even labelled it a kind of demonisation – and a sense that the government would much rather they simply didn’t exist.
Choose your dystopia….
I’m sure there are more – and I’m open to suggestions…. but there are certainly enough to be worried about! Does this government want us to think of them as a nightmare? It sometimes looks that way…