MITCH BENN: How to survive dystopia
PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 February 2018
MITCH BENN has taken the words of David Davis to heart and is now ready for dystopia.
Like, I imagine, a lot of you, I’ve been spending this week stocking up on crossbow bolts, carefully removing one sleeve from my old black leather bike jacket, and fitting my Toyota Aygo’s engine with an illegal nitrous oxide feed while welding armour plating to the doors. Next step is bolting my amplifier to the boot and attaching a flamethrower to my guitar.
I’ve been doing this because of a statement made the other day by the man who is, for the want of a more descriptive term, ‘leading’ Britain’s side in the Brexit ‘negotiations’ – David ‘the dog ate my impact report’ Davis. Giving a speech in Vienna, he assured his listeners that a post Brexit Britain would not be “plunged into a Mad Max-style world”.
So that’s it, I’m afraid, folks. Get yourself some leather chaps, cut your hair into a Mohawk and grab a steel boomerang because after March 2019 it’s post-apocalyptic wacky races until further notice. Because if we’ve learned anything these last 20 months, it’s that anything the government assures us isn’t going to happen, is going to happen.
If I’m completely honest, I find the prospect of perpetual leather-clad desert road war rather less depressing than the actual reality that awaits us. The real outcome will, I fear, be altogether more banal. That’s what’s coming, the worst of all dystopias. All the deprivation and oppression, none of the facepaint or car chases.
If anything, we’re more likely to be heading for The Hunger Games than Mad Max. There’s now more or less universal consensus that the only ones to benefit from Brexit will be those who are already disgustingly wealthy. – perhaps they can ration out whatever scraps are left and make the rest of us fight for it on TV (I’ll bet you Simon Cowell owns the format; I’ll bet he copyrighted it on his way home from seeing the movie).
There does seem to be a strange convergence between dystopian science fiction and reality at the moment. As I’m sure you’ll have noticed, the burgeoning ‘YA’ (‘young adult’ – it’s a polite way of saying ‘for teenagers’) sci-fi genre has developed some recognisable tropes in the last decade or so.
You have your grimly orthodox society presided over by a callous, wealthy elite, and the resistance movement, generally led by a plucky teenager – usually a girl – who is propelled to a position of reluctant leadership by unfortunate circumstances.
It was hard to keep this analogy from one’s mind this last week watching the impassioned, indeed furious speech made by 17-year-old Emma Gonzales after 17 of her schoolmates lost their lives in America’s latest senseless school gun massacre.
It would be entirely fitting if the NRA’s stranglehold over the gun law debate in the USA were to be broken once and for all, not by politicians seeking to burnish their progressive credentials, but by the simple, untempered rage of a generation sick of being told by their elected representatives that their lives are less important than filling the campaign contribution coffers.
One outwardly typical gun-toting good ol’ boy took to YouTube after the atrocity in order to publicly destroy his own AR-15 (the military-grade assault rifle used in this incident, as in so many such attacks). It was a fun weapon to shoot targets with, he admitted, but ultimately little use for hunting or self-defence (the ‘legitimate’ gun uses that Second Amendment fundamentalists generally cite), and even if he were to sell it, that left the possibility of a future owner using it to slaughter innocents.
If this latest tragedy – in which, it bears repeating, the murder weapon had been legally purchased by a 19-year-old boy, two years too young to buy a bottle of beer in his home state – finally leaves a bad taste in the mouths of even the keenest gun enthusiast, then soon – hopefully – that sought-after ‘A’ rating from the NRA will be a badge of shame, rather than honour, for a political candidate.
That’s the thing about dystopian science fiction; it’s as much about hope as about despair. It’s not about the end of the world, it’s about surviving the end of the world. In even the bleakest visions of The End (one thinks of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road) there’s a glimmer of possibility of better things to come. The Hunger Games isn’t about a corrupt, bloated oligarchy forcing poor kids to hunt each other for sport, it’s about poor kids smashing a corrupt, bloated oligarchy. The Mad Max movies aren’t about humanity descending into savagery; they’re about a section of humanity finding a way to be decent and honourable even when nearly everyone else is descending into savagery. The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t about fascist theocracy crushing the freethinking human spirit, it’s about fascist theocracy’s failure to crush the freethinking human spirit.
Maybe when they write the story of our times, it won’t be the tale of how small-mindedness and greed masquerading as patriotism crushed tolerance, openness and forbearance; it’ll be how fake patriotism was unmasked as the small-mindedness and greed it truly was, and how tolerance, openness and forbearance won out after all. Maybe.