Monday 20 July 2015

The Evil of Banality

The writer, theorist and academic Mark Fisher recently set up a Facebook page called ‘Boring Dystopia’, and invited the submission of photographs of Britain in the 21st century to illustrate the concept. I’ve already uploaded a few snaps, as manifestations of dullness and decay have long been an interest of mine, particularly the places where the banal and the broken intersect, and the true, terrible, tedious horror of modern life is revealed.

We’ve all read ‘1984’ and seen the implications of totalitarianism: the endless war, constant surveillance, the relentless propaganda machine, the purges, the torture, the executions, the mind boggling twists and turns in ideology, in language, in life under the heel of the system. But this is a very different dystopia that lacks even the charm of the police state: there are hardly any police for a start (the phalanx of coppers in the picture below dates from 2012, and the procession of the Olympic Torch).

This dystopia is held in place by neglect, by apathy, by a lack of resources, by a lack of interest. Everything is falling apart, but we lack the money and energy to make it right. Newly built things look half-dead even as they are unveiled, MDF where wood used to be, bricks made out of old bricks, slates and glass made out of plastic, all covered with a single coat of watery pastel paint.

New housing is prohibitively expensive and resembles a series of bird boxes split into quarters, sixths, eighths depending on how many newly weds are expected to cram into them. The pity of the boring dystopia is that these poorly and hastily constructed pens are sought after. It has come to this: we are so desperate to live somewhere that we will settle for a Lego house with a tiny consolatory patch of polyurethane lawn. There are some townhouses near to where I work. Each of them has one large window that has a tiny balcony attached to it, like a fancy fringe on the bottom of a sofa. You cannot stand on it, sit on it, or even dangle a child over it. In any event, it just looks out onto a dirty, busy road.  

Local authorities and other central civil organisations are not instrumental in the boring dystopia, they are subsumed by it, just like everybody else. Lacking money, resources and motivation, their interventions are confined to putting up signs, or erecting fences and barriers to keep members of the public away from areas that they already have no interest in.

Old and empty buildings are no longer demolished, as that costs too much money, and the boring dystopia has put too many rules in place about blowing things up or setting fire to them. Instead these buildings ossify with pigeon droppings, and stalactites form like spindly toxic fingers. After a while the buildings become invisible.

Yet, despite the underpopulated office blocks, in spite of the abandoned buildings, we keep on developing and constructing because we are not able to stop, perhaps because we want to fulfil the life trajectory we expected when our world was not so dystopic, not so boring. Or perhaps it’s to see out the job that our distant ancestors started several centuries ago: to carve up and chop down this land until every inch of it has the brand of civilisation upon it, until there is no corner or parcel of space that does not have a foot print or a retail unit or a trampoline upon it.   
There are CCTV cameras everywhere, but they simply provide a continuous flow of unmonitored images that flicker through the night in unmanned offices. If something happens, someone will review the footage, in exactly the same way that a store detective might rewind the day’s video surveillance tape to check out a shoplifting incident – in 1990. We’ve spent billions on replicating a process that already existed. We’ve lost the whirring noise and gained blurred footage of Michael McIntire shopping.     

Who runs the boring dystopia? The answer is no-one. There is no-one driving. The government are too busy to bother with little things like the administration of the country now. They are like burglars who have meticulously planned a precision raid on a gold warehouse, only to get there and find all the doors open and the alarms switched off. They wander around, taking what they want, not quite believing their luck. After a while, they take their masks off. They know no-one will stop them, and they no longer care who sees them.

We can obey a dictator, respect an ideologue, fear a tyrant. These individuals lead by bending parts of the world to their will, and, whether we go along or fight against, we live or die in the shadow of their monstrous ego. But this dystopia is boring, and it is run by boring people, with boring motives, except for Ian Duncan Smith, the previously underestimated 'quiet man' who is apparently a sociopathic maniac.

So, yes, thanks to Mark Fisher, the Boring Dystopia has a name now, and Facebook users can participate in its cataloguing. It is unlikely to spark a revolution, or challenge the parameters of this society that we have created. We are too tired and disengaged to throw a brick, so we press a button to ‘like’ a picture of something that, actually, represents our cultural penury and societal subjugation, like condemned men unknowingly shaking the hand of their executioner, who uses the contact to estimate the length of the drop. We should be ashamed, really, mortally ashamed, but this dystopia has made us all boring, and we are too stupefied to do a fucking thing about it.