Dystopian television seems to be the order of the day. As the full effects of the Banking Disaster continue to unfold across the Globe we face a very uncertain future and this insecurity is reflected in popular culture.
“The Walking Dead” (Fox then repeated by Channel Five) began in 2010 as a basic Zombie Apocalypse action drama where we see Society crumble due to a sudden illness which renders humans as flesh eating undead due to a virulent virus. Hobbes vision of life as, “nasty, brutish and short” comes to pass as the survivors fight the zombies to survive, and each other to garner resources.
The story took an unexpected turn in season four. Instead of the usual routine of finding food, water and shelter being interrupted by sporadic bouts of zombie related gore, the characters came more to the fore and basic existential issues are discussed. What are we to make of the fall of society? What should replace it? What is acceptable behaviour in a post apocalyptic world? Relationships are explored and the motivations of the characters are examined to make absolutely riveting television.
The Left Overs (Sky Atlantic) probes similar themes. This time by some unknown phenomenon 2% of the world’s population disappears all at the same time and with no trace. Those left behind are forced to come to terms with what has happened and why some “good” people exited this life whilst so called “undeserving” people were spared. The reactions of individuals and groups of people to an act of random barbarity provide the background to a wide discourse on the nature of god, religion and our purpose (if we have one) on this mortal coil.
Both series have strong leading UK actors in Andrew Lincoln for the Walking Dead and Christopher Ecclestone as a cleric in the Left Overs. This is a curio of recent years; how it is seemingly compulsory for ever US TV series to contain a Brit in a prominent role. Hopefully this is testament to the quality and strength in quantity of British talent where, until recently the arts were something that all Government’s cherished as a mark of placing encouraging and nurturing talent above profit.
As we survey the world in 2015 compared to say 25 years ago, it is an unstable and potentially scary place. The prospect of an all out war in Europe in the near future is once again back on the agenda. The overthrow of an elected Government in a Sovereign European State with the Far Right in a prominent role backed by the EU provided just the excuse the despot in Moscow, Vladimir Putin was desperate for. The Ukrainian Government has effectively declared war on the Eastern part of the country and Russia, due to close cultural links was bound to respond. Neither Government has the interests of working people in mind and investigative journalist Ross Kemp exposed just how far Neo Nazi militia are embedded with Ukrainian Government forces in a documentary for Sky One last month.
Putin’s militarism knows no bounds and it is ordinary citizens who pay in blood for his adventures. His repression of dissent is proof that old KGB habits die hard for Putin, and his intermittent homophobic outbursts show he is no friend of a progressive future for the Russian people.
The sabre rattling goes on unremittingly as it is in the interests of both sets of leaders. It is a classic distraction from the real issues facing the working classes all over the world in 2015. The most important one being the funnelling of money upwards. Russian oligarchs hoover up cash and in the UK £385 billion of quantative easing went into the Banks who invested it with Hedge Funds resulting in the FTSE 100 shattering its all time record high this week. Meanwhile 1 million people rely on food banks and it was reported by the Office of National Statistics this week that 1.8 million Brits are on zero hour contract jobs.
Going back in history when Depression sets in war follows as sure as night follows day. The ruling class will do absolutely anything in its power not to share wealth and the only way to reboot capitalism and create demand is via armed conflict. The people are blinded with faux nationalist sentimentality so that they will go and kill their fellow human beings as part of an industrialised war economy which creates the need for goods that can be used to kill other people. This was the lead up to the First World War, and the Depression of the Hungry ‘Thirties was only ended by further conflict.
So as we face a flashpoint in the East with Russia there is the cancer of Islamic State and all it stands for creating mass instability in the Middle East. The issue there is far clearer cut. Poverty. The people of the region are sitting on billions upon billions of petrochemical dollars and yet the Middle East has some of the most grotesque inequalities imaginable. This provides a strong back drop for the peddlers of religious extremism where the finger is pointed at the decadent West for the ills of the area. They have a point insomuch that the West has asset stripped the Middle East since time immemorial including the oil dash in the 20th Century and the liquid black gold motivated wars in Iraq and Libya.
IS seems to be amongst the most barbaric regimes of all time, and let’s face it there is some pretty stiff competition in these stakes. But the answer is not for the US and its allies to once again to intervene in the short term merely to protect their own interests. The best thing that international community could do is demand an end to savage regimes that are propped up by the G8 via vast trade agreements always involving oil. Saudi Arabia and its satellite states exist in a state of medieval repression and we continue to trade with them as this was the most natural state of affairs. Charles Windsor has to be sent to the region as an envoy because these people hold elected our representatives in contempt. (We kind of agree with them on this one, but for wholly different reasons).
Jimmy Carter was right when in 1979 he called for America to end its dependence on oil. In this country we have waves, wind and, (yes really) sun in abundance yet only 4% of our energy needs are met by renewable. Our oil addiction leads to meddling in dangerous geo political issues which never end well.
Unless inequality is addressed IS will thrive and inevitably come into conflict with the West and our proxy in the region Israel. Due to the unfettered emotional responses engendered and the existence of WMD’s and uncensored acts of terror any conflict will quickly escalated into all out war and all that goes with it. Our world will be dragged back to the dark ages and the sufferings of our grandparents generation will appear as a walk in the park compared to what may happen to us.
Austerity and war are the tools of capitalism and have been deployed throughout the last millennium and into this one. But there are tiny seeds of hope being sown in surprising places which demonstrate what can happen when people come together and mobilise.
In 2014 Kshama Sawant rode a popular wave to be elected as a Socialist councillor in Seattle and in the wake of this her city was followed by San Francisco in voting through a minimum wage for their areas. 65% of US voters now support a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. This month nine oil refineries across the US were crippled by a strike over outsourcing causing safety problems.
In Greece we have seen anti Austerity mass movement Syriza swept to power although they must follow through what they promised if the situation is not to end in mass disillusionment and a swing to the far right. A similar proposition is feasible in Spain where Podemos, a left wing party only formed in 2014 seem set to win power this year. And in Ireland a mass movement is growing regarding the imposition of universal charges for water as part of the EU bailout deal.
We need to be optimistic. The wealth and technological advancements made over the last few years mean that as a species we have the possibility of a golden age for all within our grasp. Mass communications and medical breakthroughs leave the possibility of a life free from poverty for everyone. But we must get rid of the system that is locking us down and stymieing our long term chances.
Capitalism is rotten to the core serving the needs of just 1% of our humanity. The 99% have the power and the potential but we just don’t collectively realise it yet.