Thursday, 20 October 2016
The new Westworld, adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1969 book, is shaping up to be a must-watch. I only hope they don’t try and drag it into a second season with the resulting disappointment that invariably brings. I won’t be a spoiler, if you haven’t started watching it, but the fundamental plot twist is really rather clever. Of course, none of it is real; we willingly suspend our critical faculties to accept this other reality for the duration of the show before returning to our regular lives.
It is a mark of maturity when you can happily accept the alternative world of a summer sci-fi blockbuster, but then slip without the slightest hiccup back into ‘normal’ mode as you leave the cinema. When you are an impressionable child, however, relinquishing your immersion in the other world is harder. And in these days of heavily merchandised movies, kids can be seen parading in costume for days after a viewing, reliving their fantasies. We’ve always had fancy dress but now ‘cosplay’ affords supposed adults the same indulgences.
All very harmless, you may say, as you watch the parade of steampunks and hipsters and goths and others, all living in their own little imaginary universes, but is it? Our new age injunctions not to judge others frees some people to never grow up. All very Peter Pan, but if a great problem of our days is an ageing population, do we really want to encourage, at the other end, an extended childhood, a form of mirror senility, where people of voting age are disinclined to separate fact from fancy and take longer to become fully engaged members of a serious society?
I watched an Adam Curtis documentary the other day, called Hyper-normalisation, in which it suggests that the complexities of the world are deliberately boiled down, by government and the media, to easily digestible tales of goodies and baddies and how “we have retreated into a simplified and often completely fake version of the world”. Curtis suggests that one could become “...so much a part of the system that you were unable to see beyond it.” with your hopes and dreams indistinguishable from the state such as under Soviet Russia and the regimes of the Middle East dictators.
The dream we have always wanted to inhabit, in the enlightened west, is one of freedom and peace and prosperity, with individual responsibility and tolerance thrown in for good measure. And to a large extent this is what we had. “Mustn’t grumble!” was our cheery watchword, as we accepted the reality of our situations and the fragility of our contentment. Things will turn out fine, you’ll see, we told ourselves and generally got on with it.
So when did people start taking fictions so seriously? There is a narrative of harm at large. Rationally tolerant people have been browbeaten into tolerating anything and everything in the name of diversity and multiculturalism, no matter how ridiculous or harmful it seems and whole sections of society now believe the fairy stories they tell each other. Take this idiot piece in the Guardian, that bastion of self-harming illiberalism, in which it is argued that Brexit has turned Britain from tolerance to bigotry. Can’t you almost see the self-congratulating, non-critical dupes all getting together for group hugs and general agreement?
It used to be a hallmark of the British that we had an ironic, dry, satirical sense of humour. Self-deprecating; what’s the matter mate, can’t you take a joke? Coupled with a healthy pull-the-other-one scepticism we were armoured against the ludicrous and able to laugh at ourselves. So, in an effort to return to the sanity of the real world I suggest we take back control by taking the piss. Instead of pandering to them, mock your children; they’ll thank you for it one day.