There are many things from Ms Gunia’s story that could be expanded into a film. The first is the scale of China’s pork consumption. How much environmental damage is that causing? Not to mention the amount of suffering involved in rearing and then killing so many animals? Both of those element are interesting but I can’t see them as anything more than background to another story. The one thing that really jumped out at me is that African Swine Fever is a virus with no cure. There’s definitely story in that. The most obvious is a plot in which this incurable virus mutates, jumps the species barrier, and starts to infect humans? Steven Soderberg’s 2011 film Contagion ploughed a similar furrow. We follow a government agency as they try to stop the spread of the ensuing pandemic. This movie stops short of the apocalyptic outcome of Kinji Fukasaku’s 1980 film Fukkatsu no hi (Virus), in which most human life is wiped out. That story follows a small group, surviving in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, as they also try to find a cure. The story that I find more interesting is one that follows survivors in the aftermath of the pandemic. With the trappings of civilisation gone, what do we become. I am reminded of Margaret Atwood’s 2013 novel MaddAddam. A plague has killed most of the worlds population. A small group of survivors try to rebuild civilisation alongside Crakers, a species of post-humans, bioengineered to survive the plague. There is something in the existence of human and post-human at the same time, an inherent conflict between nature and nurture, instinct and conditioning. I have an opening in mind. A small group of survivors fleeing though the wasteland of a city, chased by a group bioengineered for life in this harsh new world. Why are they being chased? How will they survive? They characterise their post-human pursuers as a pack of animals. They are being hunted like wolves chase an Elke. There are all kinds of opportunities for action, and horrific scares. Everything funnels towards a huge reversal. We find out that the group of survivors were actually a hunting party. They stalked the post-human species, and killed one for food. The post-humans are simply trying to drive these predators from their territory.
This is an interesting and impassioned argument from Mr Monbiot. I agree with what he has to say. But it does feel a bit like one of the podium speeches from the film Reds, Warren Beatty’s 1981 biopic of Jack Reed. The question I have for Mr Monbiot is simple; where do I plunge my sword? I’d love “to go straight to the heart of capitalism,” and strike the fatal blow. Personally I don’t think you can, because capitalism doesn’t have a heart. And because it doesn’t, there is no focus for our rage, no place for my aim to strike.
This raises the question, what form does contemporary capitalism take? It’s not the capitalism of the nineteenth century. The one Jack Reed was battling in Reds? That seems almost quaint by contemporary standards. Cut the head off the bosses. Take control of the means of production. Job done. These days you can cut the head off as many bosses as you want, capitalism will continue. It just grows another head, or two, like the spawn of Hydra. It strikes me that capitalism is more like an all-consuming ball of viscera, held together with clots of blood, and the chimeric limbs of a virus, grabbing at everything in it’s path.
Describing it in this way makes me think I should adjust my understanding of the monolith. For me the metaphor for contemporary capitalism has always been the panopticon. The panopticon I’ve written about in previous posts is a machine of control, a prison. It has a tower at the centre. With cells arranged around it. The watchers watch, and the tenants comply, because they never know when they’re being watched. With the visceral image in mind I think I have to revise my vision of the prisons architecture. It needs to accommodate this unrelenting ball of viscera.
If contemporary capitalism is a ball, always rolling, always consuming, where do the cells of the panopticon fit? I can only think they line the inside of the ball like the proteins lining the wall of a virus. This changes the orientation of the cells, tipping them over. That means we’re no longer being watched along a horizontal axis, instead we’re being monitored from above. If we inhabit these six-sided boxes, hermetically sealed cells, what are we seeing when we look out? If we look left or right, front or back, we should be able to see the other tenants of the panopticon. But we don’t. They should be there, staring in on us, as we stare in on them. Could we be so similar to each other we mistake them for our own reflection? Is it that we see them, but like Narcissus we’re so transfixed by our own reflection, all we see is a haze of movement in the background.
If when we look around we only see reflections, what are we seeing when we look up? Can we even see the spherical version of the tower? All watching? All knowing? Omnipotent? Do we see the virus gnome, hovering above us like water sliding on oil? Are we seeing God? Is that why capitalism hasn’t destroyed our notions of God? It needs us to believe in the almighty so we keep looking up. If we’re always looking up, we’re not looking down. If we’re not looking down, we don’t see the viscera, the clots of blood, the chimeric limbs of the virus. We don’t see the true horror of capitalism swirling beneath our feet. We’re told the fiery chambers of hell are waiting should we transgress, but they’re not. All that is beneath us is the bloody intestine of the beast that has swallowed us.
If the Devil is the beast, and the beast is the machine, how many of us have the courage to cut into its flesh? How hard is it to kill an animal? How much fear and loathing must we have to slice through the flesh and bone? How much more courage would you need to slice and escape through those chimeric limbs? Their entire reason for existence is to grab everything in their path, and draw it into the beast? Any individual escaping their cell would become just another resource for the machine, more protein for the wall of the virus.
It is no wonder that beast seems impossible to slay. We’ve been shadow boxing our reflection for so long, we’re exhausted. But strength must be summoned from somewhere. Any attack on the beast must be coordinated. It requires a vast percentage of the panopticons prisoners to break through the walls of their cell, and slice into the beast simultaneously. The trauma must be so catastrophic that the beast is unable to repair or mutate. Each and every chimeric limb must rendered irreparable. The unrelenting production of heads must be hacked until the machine has neither the will or the energy to produce more. Only then will we be able to hack through the clots of blood, and escape.
This would not be the end of it. Who knows what will be found on the outside. Will there be anything left? It could be so depleted it can no longer sustain us. Consider also, how prepared are we for this new life? After forever in a box, will we have the skills we need to thrive? A practical life is not a technological existence. The abstract thinking needed to thrive in a cell is not the same as the practical skills needed to survive in the wild. Can you create fire from nothing? I’m not sure I have such a basic skill.
This is not an excuse to stay where we are. We have a choice. Escape the panopticon. Destroy the beast. They are one and the same. If we don’t the beast will continue until it has consumed everything. Then it will feed on us until that resource is gone. Finally, alone, the beast will wither and decay. It will not matter. No one will cry. There will be no one left to notice.
We have a choice. Learn to make fire.
On the one hand this makes me very sad, and scared, and angry. We have the worst kind of self serving politicians trying to isolate us from Europe under the guise of trade with, who know? What they should be doing is finding ways to integrate, and partner with other countries to do something about this. On the other hand I look at this story and think there’s a great film in their somewhere. What happens when nature collapses?
There’s an interesting idea for a film in this article. I can see the obvious parallel to Schindler’s List. Although Chiune Sugihara’s story doesn’t have a list to focus the narrative. Sugihara doesn’t change in the way Schindler does. Sugihara remains steadfast despite the pressure to conform. The question to be answered is what are the stakes, what does Sugihara want? Something to think about.
There’s a premise for a screenplay in here somewhere. It could be a “House MD” style medical detective story. A patient’s behaviour suddenly changes, presenting with what looks like autism, but they’re fifty. Test upon test leave the team stumped, until they discover a recent trip abroad introduced an unfamiliar bacteria to the patients gut. The happy ending version of this story has the team introducing healthy bacteria, restoring the patient to full health. There’s also a “Lorenzo’s Oil” type story in there. Parents struggle to raise their child with severe behavioural problems. Setting out on a mission to help their child, they take on experts, challenge orthodoxy, and discover an imbalance of bacteria in their child is causing the problem. I could also see this premise being more sinister. A pandemic story. Our germaphobic heroine starts to see the people around her change, congregating like bees in a hive, as the bacteria spreads. Our heroine hooks up with a small group trying to evade this new “normal”, and find a way to fight back. I envision something more akin to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” than “28 Days Later”. It has the potential to explore issues of power and control and normalisation.
There is germ of a screenplay idea here somewhere. The most obvious is a “you messed with the wrong guy” scenario. Teen gets s-extorted. Shammed, the teen kills himself. Teen’s dad, a gangster gone straight, returns to his old life determined to avenge his son. There’s a relatively pedestrian “police procedural” in there. Victim of s-extortion reports it to the police. They chase down the perpetrators. A recent Channel 4 documentary Celebrity Sextortion walked a very similar path. In it Dan Lobb tried and failed to tack down his s-extorters. The issue for me seems to be in the tension between public and private behaviour, shame, privacy, greed, and morality. The only way anyone can be s-exploited is if they are caught doing something they are ashamed of. The first scenario asserts the morality of the current power structures. The second explores the technology of the exploitation. The more interesting story is overcoming the shame imposed on them by the attempted s-extorsion. Someone is targeted. They refuse to pay the ransom. Their video is released. What do they do? How does the experience change their relationships? Where does it take them? This scenario puts me in mind of the #metoo movement. The person finds strength knowing they are not alone. Their example starts a revolution that changes the world.