2012 was the end of reason

Roll up, roll up for the End Of The Enlightenment Show! You there, in the best seats right up front, watch in wonder as the world as you know it comes crashing down, the pillars of civilization torn asunder by neocon Samson and his delightful assistants! The Mayans may be wrong about 2012 marking the end of the world, but it’s the end for us – and what a spectacle it’s turning out to be.

Quake in your DM boots as tectonic shifts in consciousness thrust whacko pundits to the fore! Marvel at the multitude of business shills speaking of false profits and naysaying tax-collectors explaining why we have to pay while the super-rich go forth and multiply!

frog lolly Under a CC Licence

Hear US Republican nasty Charlie Fuqua calling for a return to slavery and the death penalty for ‘rebellious’ children because it says so in the Bible... if by ‘Bible’ you mean the Rorschach inkblot of Christian fundamentalist imaginings. ‘No critical thinking, ’cause that challenges your parents and the Family!’ they cry. Verily, the British Conservatives stare in envy and trail in their wake – or wail at their take.

Luckily, the Tories have politicians like Michel Gove, who is Minister for Education in the same way as Orwell’s Ministry for Truth does what it says on the tin. With our schools being handed over to businesses, we’ll soon be plummeting down the literacy rankings just like Sweden. Watch Gove hard-wire young brains for unquestioning obedience: no music or arts in the game of Baccarat replacing our exam system. History will be transformed into facts ’n’ data mined for system-buttressing tropes and filtered for subversive elements. A generation will say, ‘Karl Marx? Who he? Any relation to Santa Claus? Can I have an X-Box, Santa, just like my parents used to have in ye olden days before it all turned to shit?’

With enhanced baboon-bum lips and PIP breast implants (before they explode in your chest), girls can marry wealth and get themselves a half-million-dollar shelf of Birkin bags, just like socialite Tamara Ecclestone, daughter of Formula 1 supremo Bernie. The rest of us will have to slap on a ‘will work for food’ placard and head for our local dollar or 99p store, our dreams of becoming scientists or astronauts up in smoke.

Still, there’s always the entertainment biz, traditionally the exit from drudgery for talented boys and girls. Nope, that’s sewn up as well. Dynastic succession in the arts is now reserved for the offspring of the cultural aristocracy, while YouTube and Spotify function as windows into a world denied the rest of us. Yes, you may get three million viewers of your music video (hewn out of sweat, toil and a unique vision of our place in the cosmos that sends our spirits soaring) but your royalty cheque for $94 isn’t going to get you very far.

So, as capitalist production moves from the West to Asia and Africa, we wave farewell to four centuries of Enlightenment values. Nice while it lasted.

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster. Her poetry collection, Reaching for my Gnu, is available now as an e-book and forthcoming in paperback.

Banks and robbers

Sky: blue. Flowers: blossoming. Blood: boiling. As my inner spring lamb dodges the mint sauce, it’s time to ask: who is the bigger criminal? The banker or the bank robber? It would be a Brecht of fresh air to start asking one of the key questions for anyone casting X-ray eyes over this vale of tears we call capitalism.

Incredibly, the wussy contingent of the anti-cuts movement in the UK is buying into the official narrative of the powers-that-be, hurling condemnations at the small vandals reacting against the big vandals, whose vast all-embracing powers render them invisible to the naked eye like quantum physics in reverse.

A generation of youth facing unemployment levels unseen since Thatcher. The National Health Service carved up and handed over to business. Whole swathes of the population forced to move from city centres where they can no longer afford to live, in a clearance programme harking back to the Enclosures Acts which drove the peasantry off the land. Lives are being destroyed, yet the chief concern seems to be a few smashed (but fully insured) plate-glass windows.

Like 500,000 others fed up with the ConDem mash-up juggernaut we never elected wrecking our infrastructure in order to recapitalize the bankers (I feel for you, Greece, Ireland and Portugal), I joined London’s catchily titled March For An Alternative. The Trade Union Congress organized this long-overdue protest like snails staging a marathon. It had only taken them most of the year since the Tories took power and announced what they had in store for us. Sense of urgency, much?

UK Uncut and the Black Bloc protesters, the 26 March demo’s two youth offshoots using two distinctive methods of protest, stole the media limelight with their imagination and energy. One American told me she’d been with friends in ‘the royal grocers’, Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly, when UK Uncut protesters occupied the tax-avoiding shop. ‘They came in, they sat down and recited poems while we had our tea and cakes, being very careful not to break anything.’ Tea, crumpets and impeccable manners. Proper English or what?

We walked down Oxford Street and watched the aftermath of the Black Bloc’s bonfire in Oxford Circus as they smashed windows and tried to do stupid stuff with ammonia-filled light bulbs. (This last according to the press, so make of it what you will.) Hoodied up for action, they played cat and mouse with the police, venting their anger at the material symbols of privilege. Efforts to turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square were somewhat one-sided: the police giving the youth wing of the protest a drubbing, while all the kids wanted to do was have a party by nightfall.

So, UK Uncut and Black Bloc in two parallel actions. Funny how it was peaceful UK Uncut and not property-targeting Black Bloc who sustained the bulk of the day’s arrests. I guess ideas are even more scary than damage to property.

The use-by date on hippies

Let’s hear it for hippies! Hippies changed the world. Without them, we’d have no alternative society, ecology wouldn’t be mainstream, and Richard Branson wouldn’t be a billionaire.

They might have roamed the earth in abundance in the way-back-when but, like sparrows, brontosauri and socialist Labour politicians, they’re now seen only rarely, in rural backwaters and fossil form. So the other day when I sighted one at the local bus stop, I felt like a palaeontologist stumbling across a lost colony of woolly mammoths.

I don’t mean the pretend hippy manqués where a few greasy strands of hair and wispy facial fuzz approximate the luxuriant follicular growth of the beaded brethren and sistren of the 1960s. I mean one of the magnificent hairy beasts who roamed the globe from Kathmandu to Kilburn, sampling the sort of high-octane inebriants superpowers go to war to control. These wandering wonderers trudged their trails through exotic parts, most of which are now war zones. So much for spreading peace and love, maaaan. Coincidence? I think not.

There he stood like Moses – in the mirrorball in his head, anyway – clad top to toe in vivid primaries (organic fabric, natch!) and topped with a pixie hat. Wild-eyed and grizzled, he smote the ground with his thunderstick, which was not only a prop for his arthritic body, but also some sort of wind instrument, as he insisted on demonstrating to puzzled passengers determinedly avoiding eye-contact.

Strange how in my youth I found the ‘vibe’ emanating from guys like this attractive: their challenge of authority and philosophizing bullshit always engaging and sometimes thrilling.

Yet here I was, recoiling from his Old Testament emanations, finding his relentless face-offs down the line of passengers just a bit too, well, full-on.

Was my aura all out of rainbow hue? Was I now capitalist fodder, a cog in the machine grinding myself into psychic sausage meat?

It was, after all, hippies who had come to my early rescue, providing shelter when domestic upheavals led to adolescent homelessness, plus initiations into Frank Zappa and certain substances.

But no beacon of benevolence and wisdom, this one. It was possibly the moment when he bore down on a head-scarved Muslim schoolgirl waiting for the 139 bus, making that devil sign at her, that I realized he was stuck in a time warp where barons ruled, and contracting leprosy was preferable to modern medicine ’cause it was natural.

He yelled ‘Jehovah!’ and ‘Jihad!’ at the kid. I told her to stand with me before the hippie and I had an eyeballing contest to end all stare-outs. Hollowed out by too many hallucinogens, he roared and stomped while I watched out for his stick, working out how many ways I knew to take it off him and familiarize it with his fundament.

Not all my heroes with their anti-materialist ideals have degenerated into demented flower-trolls, but sometimes it doesn’t half seem that way.

Hippies. They don’t make them like they used to.

Why are we dancing round reality?

If the Age of Enlightenment was about proving certainties, we’re entering the time of unravelment, when everything falls apart.

Talk about the centre not holding! My cinematic popcorn experience has been more interesting of late than for ages. We may no longer have the agitprop output of the post-World War Two cultural boom, but serious issues are creeping in where the Hollywood mainstream normally dreads to tread.

New World Orders are all very well, but they carry the chaos of realignment at every level, with your actual fabric of reality dropping its stitches in a veritable plain-and-purl harbour disaster of perception slippage. We can’t even rely on those pesky filmmakers to give us cosy reassuring reflections like they did in the 1950s. Sci-fi novelist Philip K Dick is Deity in Chief as his two key questions – What is real? Who is human? – get assessed, processed and re-presented while opposing strands of society try to nail down who and what we are. And Leonardo DiCaprio graduates from the permanence of Big Love in Titanic to the transient consciousness of Inception, joining Keanu Reeves as the poster boy for the anxiety at the dark heart of society, as we try to keep a grip on our disintegrating collective take on what is true.

They say we are now an underclass, no longer of any value. We say, hell no: we are Neo in The Matrix asserting our humanity by taking the red pill. We are Little Leonardo in Inception, a cosmic matador dancing in and around the ‘realities’ coming at him like trains down a track.

Even though he came unstuck in Shutter Island, another hit movie juggling illusion and actuality, he was still able to make a moral decision at the end and do a better thing than he had ever done, taking his self-imposed fate like a manly Man and not as a lab rat. As did Donny Darko and the protagonist of the multi-layered The Butterfly Effect.

Film historian Jasper Sharp reminds me that these films borrow heavily from Japanese anime. ‘The Matrix was pretty up-front on its debt to the original Ghost in the Shell film, which posited a totally “wired” society back in 1995 before the internet was really a thing of the masses.’ And Inception was influenced by Satoshi Kon’s anime, Paprika, chucking our nightmares right back at us.

Given what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it’s no wonder the Japanese are seriously good at this. Or that William Gibson, whose novel Neuromancer gave us the founding cyberpunk text back in the 1980s, is so popular in Japan.

I wonder what the developing nations in transition out of ‘third world’ poverty make of our grizzling: they’ve been putting up with assaults on their reality for centuries. Mostly from the Western powers or, at any rate, those in the driving seat. When you have no power, others – meaning the seriously rich – get to define your world. That’s one bit of reality that never changes. Anyone told Hollywood?

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster. Blog: Madam Miaow says... was recently shortlisted for the 2010 Orwell Prize.

Wave buh-bye!

How would you like to go out, Sir/Madam? A bullet? Or cancer? A quick lights-out? Or a slow, lingering death where you might just have a chance to put off the inevitable for a bit longer? With our Slow Plan, the contender in the red corner, you get to see one more beautiful sunset (courtesy of Eyjafjallajokull). And you get time to say goodbye to the wife/hubby and kids/pets. That’s if the stress hasn’t already made you take an axe to each other.

With our Fast Plan, the chap in the blue tie, you get to see the end of life as we know it in this part of the solar system. Just imagine: you get to witness the Apocalypse, complete with bells and whistles, four horsemen, famine, disease, pestilence and our old favourite, war, all at once. And just for you, we’ll throw in torture, riots and climate disaster. We spare no expense in making this a spectacular experience that only seven billion people in the whole of world history get to see.

Surplus to requirements, that’s what you are. By some 80 per cent, according to certain environmentalists of the Zac Goldsmith persuasion. How many times have you heard the lament that we are overpopulated? That’s not Them abroad out there. It’s right here on our own doorstep. But fear not: we have several tried-and-trusted methods to rectify this temporary imbalance in the global population.

We have several interesting wars going on in various exotic locations, due in part to His Magnificence, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (now worth a mouth-watering £120 million – suck on that, you green-eyed plebs). These provide useful laboratory conditions for testing exciting new military innovations such as organic compound*-eating combat robots and See-Shoot automated kill zones.

Elsewhere, some fascinating new viruses are shaping up nicely to take out great chunks of excess humanity.

So as we shear off, we wave buh-bye to those of you without the golden ticket to the ranks of the super-rich. Why do you think so many politicians are scrambling to get aboard? They know what’s coming down the pipeline.

We’re off to our arks and bunkers and islands. Lord Ashcroft, Sir Rich Branson… very popular chaps, you know. And we did warn you: whoever you voted for, the government was always going to get in.

*that’s flesh, to you and me

How (not) to survive the apocalypse

So. That was my trial run for Armageddon; the day capitalism implodes and society breaks down. With the spring comes blessed relief from the Arctic turmoil that had Canadians, New Yorkers, Inuit and Siberian huskies wondering what the hell was wrong with us Brits. Even my surfing Oz neighbours, off to see the blizzard, reckoned they could do a better job than our puny infrastructure.

I’ve emerged from winter feeling like a Montana survivalist. I fretted over getting an electric heater because the nation was down to its last eight days of gas. Hot-water bottles, ditto. There was a wood pile somewhere under the ice in case the boiler blew, bottles of water and a full pot on the stove ready for when the pipes burst. Men’s thick thermals (or thick men’s thermals from whom they were purloined) guaranteed back-up for the day gas and electricity become a dim memory from the golden age of Having Stuff. And torches, tea-lights and a blunt instrument ready for the Raiders when they target our meagre crop of potatoes and roquette salad.

I actually wondered if I should fight the birds for their fat balls. How many squirrels to make a stew? How many tits for a single-entendre?

The best metaphor of the season was grit because we had none in any sense. Not only did the roads go ungritted, meaning you played Russian roulette just getting about, but the Iraq inquiry needed a spinal column shoved up its flabby fundament. The only gentlemen’s club I wish to see in action is one embedded with studs and swung with gusto in the general direction of the warmongers and their cheerleaders.

Not that I had much moxie* about me. It’s not as if I was in deepest Devon, where poor motorists were stranded six hours at a time in sub-zero temperatures and farm workers fought to dig out our root vegetables. I was struggling in the pampered north of one of the world’s great capital cities.

Ah well, at least come the thaw, hair washing and bathing are no longer on hold. But each new global catastrophe brings us a little nearer to the day we find out how useless we will be when our number really is up.

What to do to entertain myself during the breakdown of society? I know. I’ll watch my mega-collection of DVDs and use my digital reader to catch up on all those good books I never read… D’oh!

*backbone

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster.

Blog: "‘Madam Miaow says...’

Website: www.annachen.co.uk

President Blair: The great escape

Which movie are we in? The final act of The Omen? Or maybe Goodfellas?

After heroically stalling the advance of Tony Blair by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty, which would (among other horrors) create the role of President of the United States of Europe, the Irish were told to vote again until the required result was reached. So they finally caved in and midwifed the birth of the monster like something out of The Omen and for a few moments it looked like only an act of God stood between us and a Blair shoo-in. Cue shrieking horror chords.

With his abasement before the rich and powerful, free holidays, dodgy dossiers and phantom weapons of mass destruction, dead government scientists, a mushrooming property portfolio, a million dead Iraqis and British soldiers returning in body-bags, first President of the US of E is not the final destination many of us find most appropriate for Blair, even if the imaginative demises in the Final Destination movies are suitably poetic.

Presiding over this country’s wealthiest decade ever, where the gap between rich and poor widened into a chasm with oceans of money siphoned off by various privatization schemes, millionaire status is hardly just desserts for someone who was supposed to be serving us as Labour Prime Minister.

Garlanded with praise from powerful men welcoming the newbie into their club, swaddled in the warm embrace of the high-paying lecture circuit, honoured among the élite, the ego massage did enough damage for an army of wannabe Masters Of The Universe, and now they want to make him unelected President of Yurp? Move over, Pope Benny, ‘cause he’ll have his middle finger in your Big Ring, next.

Blair has made his bones and claimed his dues. He’s been having a high ol’ time, travelling the world and hoovering up his rewards. Some £2.5 million a year from JP Morgan, the bank that co-ordinated the ‘revamping’ of Iraq’s financial system and made a fortune from the war he started. A million-dollar honorarium from an Israeli university for Britain’s Middle East peace envoy. Some might holler ‘conflict of interest’ and set the cops onto him but maybe they do things differently now.

When he looks in the mirror, does he know that it isn’t the beatific numinous aura of the martyr he’s beaming out? This is the thousand-yard stare of empty space. Blair may aspire to Gandhi as played by Ben Kingsley but he’s more like Sir Ben as Don in Sexy Beast.

If the unelected post of President had gone to this man, what would the rest of the world have made of our much-vaunted western civilization? ‘It would be a good idea,’ as Gandhi once said. Or is that the voice of Blair’s inner Don I hear, telling himself, ‘You got some fuckin’ neck, ain’t you? You should be ashamed of yourself. Who do you think you are? King of the castle? Cock of the walk?’

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster. www.annachen.co.uk

Suave criminal

So there you are, settled on the sofa with the dinner you’ve lovingly prepared for yourself and your delightful companion. Maybe a glass of wine or three lined up, ready to watch a movie that will bond you together in a couple of hours of fun, frolics and romance. You kick off the DVD and suddenly it’s all, ‘YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A HANDBAG!!! YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A CAR!!!!’ bellowed at you over a crashing guitar track of the kind they blast at internees at Abu Ghraib.

My recent Battlestar Galactica binge was seriously marred by a scary lardarse blacksmith from hell, thumping out a warning NOT TO STEAL THIS MOVIE!!! And you can’t even skip past it as it locks you into a nightmare vision of Western society on steroids where everyone is out to screw everyone else. That can’t half sour an evening.

Why are we all being criminalized? From media reports you’d think we were the most educationally-backward, pissed, pregnant, clap-ridden nation of crooks and delinquents in Europe. (Er … we are? Oh, DAMMIT!)

How many TV ads have you seen accusing you of TV licence fraud? Drink too much and the sinister bartender takes you through your alternative future as a jobless, homeless felon. Seen the one where some poor white woman with a Croydon facelift sneaks a man into her (council) home when she’s on the dole? You’re encouraged to grass her up becoz we ‘ate benefit cheats. RIGHT? It’s getting like the Stasi in East Germany, but with the comedy plus of knowing that James Purnell, Minister With Portfolio For Hounding The Poor, has recently been outed as something of a champion public-purse scrounger himself.

The message is you can’t trust anyone. My bus stop displays an alarming paranoid poster straight out of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian vision, Brazil. ‘If you see or hear anything suspicious...’ Really? Anything?

Funny how the Government and its proxies are assailing us with a wall of accusations. Anyone might suspect it was a distraction from what they get up to, designed to stop us asking: who’s the bigger criminal? The Bank Robber or the Banker? Who’s the bigger benefit cheat? Someone barely able to feed themselves on £60 a week or an MP suavely fiddling thousands? Who should end up in prison? A woman in debt or the man who started a war, killed a million and walked off with millions?

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster. www.annachen.co.uk

Boycott meets girl

Today I did the big shop in Sainsbury’s and found that all their fresh herbs were Israeli. They used to have Spanish and Moroccan herbs as well as homegrown, allowing you at least the illusion of choice. But now the mask has slipped and the gloves are off. If you do not wish to support the state of Israel, and its penchant for pounding the population of Gaza into a greasy smear, you must eat your food without your favourite flavourings. That’s the entire chill cabinet now annexed by an aggressor state. They may as well erect a triumphalist neon sign that flashes ‘Bwa-ha-ha!’ at the hippies, humanitarians and leftists slinking away defeated without their coriander.

One consignment of herbs was labelled ‘West Bank’, which short-circuited my brain. I didn't know whether buying a ton would help the Palestinians, or whether this would mean my cash flowing straight to some horrible settlers bent on turning the remaining slivers of Palestine into Swiss Cheese, only not as neutral. I picked them up. I put them back. I picked them up. I put them back. I ended up buying packets of inferior dry stuff. ‘Packed in the EU’, the label said, and although it neglected to state where they are actually grown, I can make an educated guess. How I long for the old days when British food didn’t need no steenkin’ herbs and spices but could get by on a cup of salt and a good boiling ’til it was safe.

I complained to a member of staff. He hooted derisively and said, ‘Don’t you know Sainsbury’s is a Jewish company?’ I was going to argue the toss but my Jewish companion was losing the will to live and I hate to see a grown man cry. At least in public.

My only consolation is that, knowing how little supermarket giants pay food producers, the settlers got well and truly ripped off.

Better news from George Galloway MP, who says that while we should boycott something called ‘Israel Shops’ (staffed by Israelis and promoting Israeli/West Bank goods), we don’t have to boycott Marks and Spencers as it is a public company owned by its shareholders and has nothing to do with Israel. Whuh??? This information really scrambles my noggin. But hey — now I can restock on leggings and replace my Holy Drawers.

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster. www.annachen.co.uk

Who's Left?

So here we are, poised in the middle of a perfect storm of revolutionary conditions with economic, social and ecological meltdown staring us in the face. All those years of flogging a dead paper to the ungrateful masses no longer look futile. With prospects for workers in the saddle never better, now’s the time for buns to hit leather and lead us to victory.

But where’s the International Rescue tendency when you need them? How come the Right is still calling the shots? Having done more than my fair share of scientific research into the matter, here’s my Ruff Guide to what might have gone wrong and why we are doo-o-omed!

Society: Right – you hate the unwashed scum but look after your own. Left – you care deeply about the Plight Of The Masses out there but hate the real people around you.

Family: Right – family first, everyone else can go swivel. Left – forget the family, it’s the masses that count.

Workers’ Rights: Right – you attack trade unions and exploit your own workers. Left – you support trade unions and exploit your own workers.

Transport: Right – happy to give lifts in your flash car but begrudge spending taxes on public transport. Left – you support public transport, drive a car, but won’t give anyone a lift.

Arts: Right – being cultured, you encourage anyone to excel but resent public spending on arts. Left – you will book chums and established artists for events, but screw that bourgeois individualistic asshole in my branch who sacrificed their artistic career for the cause.

Comedy: Right – you believe in public decorum but will happily tell outrageous and offensive jokes in private. Left – you support freedom of speech but come crashing down on anyone who even breathes heavily at a shibboleth... unless expediency dictates otherwise.

Truth: Right – you hate the traitor who signed that confidentiality clause and now has a best-selling book all about you and your little foibles, but you love insider-trading. Left – you love the whistle-blower, unless the organization they’re blowing is your own.

Sexism: Right – sexism? What’s wrong with being sexy? Left – you condemn sexism in all forms but snicker over ‘horizontal recruitment’. And get the little lady to make a cup of tea while you’re at it. Earl Grey. With a slice of lemon... comrade.

If you’re on the Left and none of this describes your own behaviour, well done. You win a red star. Shame I never met you.

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