Back in September I went down to Belper, Derbyshire for a gig. I went to see a favourite band of mine, Dead Sea Apes. I realised that this was not going to be a regular gig, given that it was being held in a small arts space in that town (the brilliantly named ‘Unstables Bar in the Kunst Gallery’) being organised by local collective ‘WeAreKunst‘. The ‘support’ that night was a dystopian monologue, ‘2039’, read by author Adam Stone to an improvised backing track by the Dead Sea Apes themselves.
The monologue (see the You Tube link below to see it in full) is set ten years after the outbreak of thermonuclear war, and sets out a timeline that effectively began with the 2007 crash and the eventual election of Donald Trump as US President. Being present at such a performance was both chilling and inspiring. Chilling because of the plausibility of it all, a plausibility enhanced by the seemingly implausible happenings of the last year. Inspiring because when you consider the timeline you can also consider how alternatives can be created, provided that new status quo at any point is not accepted as such but challenged (surely the point of the piece).
This monologue made a big impact on me to the extent that when, on November 9th 2016, I was out walking in the middle of the night (I was restless about the outcome) listening to the results of the US Election come in; that my first though when Trump’s victory became inevitable was ‘2039’…and the whole dystopian series of events came back to me. The next step on this dystopian timeline had been achieved, the dye was set for the next part.
Since then I have though about this often as the idea of Trump as President settles in. We get a process of normalisation, the next step, and then…this week it becomes a reality…and the next step happens. Today, I’m writing this on January 16th 2017, there is a long and well reported interview with Trump in The Times which is a clear attempt to make him seem less dangerous and more ‘Britain friendly’. The fact that the interviewer is Michael Gove should be a clear warning in and of itself.
It is quite possible to listen to this monologue and be dismissive of it, and there is something quite comforting in thinking that something as catastrophic might never happen.
Actually it might never happen.
Nevertheless, change is here. Change is inevitable. But what many of us have perhaps lost sight of is that while change is unavoidable, then nature and direction of change is negotiable. There is a direction of change that can be influenced, but, as Stone ‘reports’, us liberals were powerless to challenge that change which resulted in ‘The Great Decimation’.
Nevertheless, to effect change, we also have to offer our own vision of the future, one that is not rooted in the past, one that is not fighting the battles of yesterday…but meeting the challenges of tomorrow. It seemed to me that there were very few thinkers who were meeting these challenges with any clarity which it was so devastating to hear of the death of Mark Fisher at the too young age of 48.
Fisher was a founder member of the Warwick University’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a multi-disciplinary academic body which, amongst other things, organised conferences which looked a future perspectives in a way that combined many different aspects of culture and technology; exploring the relationship between them in radical and experimental ways. I attended one of these conferences in the late 1990s while studying for my PhD and found it to be probably the most influential event that I went to during those years. There was a marvellous mix of the academic and cultural with performance artists, authors, scientists, social scientists, and those from the ‘liberal arts’ mixing together to create visions that were both plausible and groundbreaking. Most of that thought seems to have fallen as we attain an new technological reality which feels more dystopian as…another step towards 2039…many lose out to technology rather than gaining from it…one of the reasons Trump got elected.
Without thinkers like Fisher and, another key influence on me, Zygmunt Bauman (who has also died in the last week) we would be walking into the future even more blindly than we are. And now they are gone, we need new eyes to see the future…to realise the vision.
Well, this didn’t really go in the direction that I was expecting when I started out. I guess what I’m saying is that 2039 need never happen. But 2039 has started to happen, and to stop it requires something radical and coherent. At the moment I’ve got nothing, but maybe with this sort of challenge and inspiration something could emerge.