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By Jason Michael
“WHEN HE WOKE IN THE WOODS in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him,” Cormac McCarthy opens his 2006 masterpiece The Road. “Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.” All truly brilliant tales exist in their entirety in their opening words. By employing something approaching the holophrastic; in a single utterance, the storyteller prefaces what is to follow with his story in miniature.
In spite of the grotesque violence of the novel McCarthy begins The Road with this ever so subtle spoiler: The world, with all its intimacies, is ending and the darkness of its end is already falling. In film it is the same. Every disaster or zombie apocalypse movie we have ever seen, in its first frames, is a scene of normality with an announcement of the crisis on the radio or television being ignored in the background. The narrative arc of la catastrophe always begins at its end.
Come away son, it's just the gates to Jacob Rees Mogg's security compound. They're not due to open until 2069.… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Malcolm Tucker (@Tucker5law) July 24, 2018
It is nigh on impossible to segue from the literature and film of doom – in which we are culturally so well versed – to the world of the real without taking with us an acute awareness of how to read a situation in art. Sometimes a situation in life – a sitz im leben – replicates what we recognise from fiction. Life imitates art. If we are smart we will trust this when we see it. Art – the fiction, the novel, the film, “the end of the world” – is the product of our collective psyché. It is what we intuit deep in the core of our beings. It is a memory that arises from the wealth of all human experience.
When real life reads like the first page of an apocalypse we should pay attention. Writers, filmmakers, and artists create this genre for a reason – we recognise it. Today the newspapers threw at us one of those background public service announcements we’d do well not to ignore if we want to make it out alive:
There have also been suggestions that the Ministry of Defence has been looking into how the armed forces could be deployed to carry out various civil functions, including using RAF jets to transport food supplies across the country. Last week, Amazon became the latest in a growing list of businesses to express its concerns, when its UK boss warned the Brexit secretary that Britain would face “civil unrest” within weeks of leaving the EU without a deal.
When The Guardian breaks from its usual sedate and hipster fare to inform us the government is considering calling in the Ministry of Defence to transport food and that the bosses of big business are predicting “civil unrest,” I think we should wake up. Suddenly the world of the ordinary and everyday is behaving like the worlds of familiar disaster fantasy, and – what’s more – we know where it all ends. We’ve read this book and watched this film a thousand times before. We know the rules.
Down here, where, for lack of an alternative, the sun shines on the nothing new, we make the mistake of imagining that everyone thinks rationally – that everyone thinks rational thoughts the same way. They don’t. We are comforted by the irrational thought that ‘they won’t let it get that bad.’ But maybe they will, and it certainly looks like they will. Perhaps their rational thoughts don’t factor us in. Maybe the actuaries’ equations have written us off in the calculations of a greater good. Every boy in the trenches thought to himself the self-same thought; they wouldn’t do that? But they did.
All these but what ifs amount to nothing. This is only conjecture. Everything might be fine and dandy, and Theresa May’s promise of “strong and stable” government might at length come through. It might never happen. Sure, it might all blow over.
It might, but – then – even that’s only an it might; worth about as much as a but what if. The problem is that the first page has been turned. We have all read the first paragraph of this drama and we know the rules. We have already figured out what happens next as the tale unfolds out into real life, and even if it breaks the rules and doesn’t end the way it should they have unleashed those tropes: military aircraft carrying food and mobs rising in revolt.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) July 25, 2018
Jets, soldiers on the streets, the rioting hungry masses – it’s all a bit Chekhov’s gun. None of this would be in the newspapers if it wasn’t something for which the government was preparing. If it is false – as much a fiction as The Road – the government would have come out strongly against media scaremongering and pressroom gaffers would be having words in shell-likes. But rather than coming out against it, the government has denied it before coming clean and confessing that the reality of the situation is far worse than even H.G. Wells could have imagined.
This disaster is real. Whether or not we reach the point where people are stripping the bark off trees and eating their pet cats and dogs is immaterial. What matters is that events have been set in motion, and – being accustomed to this particular narrative – we know the places to where it can take us. No one can trust that these people know how to stop this thing before it gets any worse. They haven’t exactly shone with brilliance thus far. Yet, at this point we may want to think about the possibility that they don’t want it to stop. This mess might have been part of the plan from the beginning. Wouldn’t that be a plot twist for when he wakes in the woods?
Dawn of the Dead – Opening Credits