Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Future Dystopian Britain

I09 and Bleeding Cool are reporting on The Curfew, an online, old school point-and-click interactive game that just went online. It's set in a dystopian Britain in the future.  Think Nineteen Eighty-Four meets V for Vendetta, with the core messages from both works (anti-Marxist, anti-totalitarian Socialist and Anarchist respectively) mashed in ways that would not necessarily line up with Orwell's and Moore's original visions.  The game's homepage is here.  It's ironically published by Channel 4, so expect their peculiar political brand to be hard at work here.  This is certainly what the site, the promo videos, and Bleeding Cool's first review all suggest.  The game was created by Littleloud Digital Entertainment and written by comic book author Kieron Gillen.

The game site's blurb: "Set in 2027 in the heart of an authoritarian security state, The Curfew could be described as a miniature Canterbury Tales set in a not-so-distant future, where citizens must abide by government security measures and 'sub citizens' are placed under curfew at night. The player must navigate this complex political world and engage with the characters they meet along the way to work out who they should trust in order to gain freedom. Choose wisely and you could change the course of history. Choose poorly, and it'll be changed for you."  A dedicated youtube channel for The Curfew is here.

The Curfew: Fictional Shepherd Party Future History.

As for original inspirations for this game, you can read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four online at Project Gutenberg here.  Orwell's ideas - Socialist, but anti-Marxist - are seemingly outlined in the secret book inside that book.  This forbidden work is entitled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, which the hero risks everything to find and read.  In fact, Orwell used it to present a coldly anthropological analysis of human societies that went beyond his Socialist attitudes.  There is a multi-part dramatization of it on youtube here.

Youtube dramatization of the opening of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.

There's a clip from the V for Vendetta film that still stays close to Moore's Anarchist material here. But generally, The Curfew already reminds me of the political misreading that was evident in the transition from V for Vendetta in the comics to V for Vendetta in the film.

V addresses Lady Justice - before he blows her up in favour of AnarchyV for Vendetta #2 (Oct. 1988).

The film makers' reinterpretation led Alan Moore to disassociate himself from the film version of his work. For more on this reinterpretation, see this blog entry, which quotes Alan Moore's interview at ComicCon after the film came out.  In that interview, he explained that although he used V to respond to Thatcher in the 1980s, his core vision was not about left versus right. It was about anarchy pitted against fascism - an extreme political condition wherein normal political terms no longer applied:
"So I decided to use this to political effect by coming up with a projected Fascist state in the near future and setting an anarchist against that. As far I'm concerned, the two poles of politics were not Left Wing or Right Wing. In fact they're just two ways of ordering an industrial society and we're fast moving beyond the industrial societies of the 19th and 20th centuries. It seemed to me the two more absolute extremes were anarchy and fascism. This was one of the things I objected to in the recent film, where it seems to be, from the script that I read, sort of recasting it as current American neo-conservatism vs. current American liberalism. There wasn't a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity."
V is of course modelled on the Catholic terrorist Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. The idea of Anarchy derives partly from the English Civil War in the 1640s, when anarchy manifested in England after the collapse of the state.

The gunpowder plotters. Guy Fawkes is third from right.

The popularity of this imagery and these ideas, even when anachronistically mangled (by Orwell in post-war Britain, by Moore in Thatcher's Britain, or by The Curfew gamemakers in Brown's and Cameron's Britain) suggests a resurgence in our own time of the tempestuous problems of Stuart-era politics in England.  More precisely, there is an echo here of that period's explosive religious conflict and the ensuing struggle between the executive (the monarch) and the representative legislature (parliament), originating in the people. Sparked by religious troubles, the thrust of the conflict was institutional, not political.

The symbolism in Dystopian stories involves the people becoming a hive-like collective, out of which an individual arises to become the antithesis of a totalitarian leader.  Both sides of the political spectrum in Britain have shown an interest in co-opting the notion that their values would prove those of the Brave New protagonist/antagonist rebelling against an all-powerful state. And both sides claim that that evil, all-powerful state would grow from the political minds of their opponents.  For example, Guy Fawkes is the eponymous mascot for an infamous, popular British political blog that tends toward the right or perhaps toward libertarianism.  Run by disaffected Gen Xer, Paul Staines, this is a blog with a buried recusant flavour that attacks corruption in the state.

By contrast, the fact that The Curfew's designers toss the late-fourteenth-century The Canterbury Tales into the mix probably confirms that this game constitutes a liberal-left claim to the anti-totalitarian totem.  The Canterbury Tales, while from a much earlier period, presented guarded anti-Catholicism as the watchword for everyday people who cynically worked around the priest-connected establishment. Even so it doesn't matter if The Curfew is indeed a 'defanged' Dystopia that is superficially disconnected both from its anti-Marxist and Anarchist source literature and its historical precedents because of its contemporary left-wing messages (now with a new family of strange religious cues). 

Orwell, Moore and another Dystopian visionary, Terry Gilliam, all concerned themselves with the point at which society enters the political No Man's Land, what Moore called the 'Land of Do as You Please.' Remember, no matter what politics and counter-politics these imagined Dystopias start out with, when it comes to totalitarianism - we're all in it together.  Moore was right: the rise of totalitarianism is a torturous moment when human society somehow abuses the terms of religious or spiritual communalism to move into a terrible world beyond partisanship. Perhaps that's why every new generation finds the tradition of British Dystopian fantasy still flourishing, and the fundamental symbols are recognizable to everyone.  A totalitarian Dystopia is a world where the labels we use to make things make sense no longer work, and the real power structures beneath those labels are revealed and reconfigured in an atmosphere of crushing conformity to a makeshift collection of new values.  Anti-totalitarianism sees the past radically thrown into the future, where it violently reasserts itself over new-fangled mythologies.

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  1. It is indeed true that the traditional, *intellectual* factions of left and right become less and less meaningful as time goes on; I even wrote a short story showing this dystopian realization on my DeviantArt account, entitled 'Is this our future?'

    However, the agrarian and 'red state' Low, as characterized by Orwell, are still very much advocates of the Right on a visceral level. One of the practical results of this is that in the United States, instead of having one unified dystopian future to 'look forward' to, we will instead anticipate a brutal fractioning of society into several (possibly many) different smaller states. As the immediate northren neighbor, Canada will not go unnafected by this implosion (as well as having it's own internal collapse, of course).

    By 2027, we will no longer have anything nearly as nice, in Britain or anywhere else in the west, as the dystopian vision shown by the game.

  2. Did you know... that the author of the Bleeding Cool piece... is the cartoonist for Paul Staines?

    That's me by the way!

  3. @Jay - You mean you expect a rupture between the 'middle-high' levels of society and the 'low,' as Orwell characterized them? Certainly there are signs of that. Not sure if that will break up Orwell's eternal triangle in human society and create warring sub-states, each ruled by a different group in the hierarchy. Most anticipate that the triangle reasserts itself before that can happen in the form of totalitarianism.

  4. @Rich - Thank you for commenting on my blog Rich! It's bleeding cool that Bleeding Cool and Guido's blog are connected, I didn't know that. This reinforces my sense that despite political battles now dominating public life, the values of Gen X are little understood. Not everyone sees this yet (even many Gen Xers), but it's a generation forced to pick up the pieces in practical, trans-political way; it's a generational politics of anti-politicization. By contrast, the Boomers politicized practically everything and still do, as their means to capturing and holding power. The only question is whether moving beyond politics will make things worse before they get better, as with the scourge Moore depicted in V for Vendetta.

  5. @Rich - shameless plug, have a look at my posts on comics

  6. @TOB: No indeed, the triangle paradigm shall continue. It's just that I anticipate the US breaking down into multiple different nation states, each with their own triangle, in the years to come. After what might be an appalling amount of bloodshed. I also fear breakdown along racial lines, and that Arizona may be the flash point of said division.