Have a Nice Day

April 28th, 2020

On the night our young decade was trying to be born, those trapped in the ritual of havering between TV channels in the UK might have found themselves wondering which century they were in.  On one channel, Travis, the slightly more nimble proto-Coldplay.  On the other, the Stereophonics, Oasis without the world-threatening streak of experimentalism.

The only sign that this wasn’t 1999 was the beard on Travis singer Fran Healy’s face, a mass of hair that would have made it impossible for Healy to perform ‘U16 Girls’ without being arrested on sight, even in the ’90s.

So we were living in the future after all. It didn’t feel like it, but then it rarely had before either.

Near the top of Zach Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, ‘Have a Nice Day’ by the Stereophonics plays in a pre-carnage sequence where Anna drives away from her prophetically long hospital shift and towards the last glimmering daylight of suburban comfort.  Cynics would say that this is just an early example of Snyder’s penchant for the obvious, a tendency that would see him hose every scene in Sucker Punch and Watchmen with big classic massive anthems until all ambiguity is blasted from the frame.  True believers know otherwise.  Those of us who have studied the sacred texts know that Snyder works on a mystic level – this is the man who anticipated 9-11 a mere twelve years after it happened in Man of Steel, after all.  No mere filmmaker, Snyder is an occult operator who predicted his own Man of Steel three years after it happened in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, thus ensuring that pop culture and pop reality were caught up in a perpetual feedback loop.

So while to the uninitiated the use of ‘Have a Nice Day’ at the top of Dawn of the Dead might seem to be the sign of a filmmaker battering you with dramatic irony, to those attuned to the Snyderverse it will be apparent that this move was really part of an effort to reprogram the world, a slow spell that has really started to take effect in the year 2020.

Coincidentally, Snyder’s Army of the Dead has a tentative release date of winter 2020, when we may or may not be stepping in or out of some manner of Covid-19 related lockdown.

Now I’m not saying that Snyder made use of that Stereophonics song to end the world, because the world hasn’t ended, and those most likely to tell you that it has are mostly honked off that they can no longer cover their hemorrhoids in shea butter and have had to resort to spitting on their bogroll for comfort like the rest of us.  We’re in the middle of a situation unlike anything I’ve ever known – it’s lethal, it’s brutal and it’s as disruptive to our interior world as it is to the very concept of public space – but the world is not “over” and that guy who wheezed on some carrots down the Safeway isn’t a zombie, right?

I’m not going to spend the rest of this post attacking Zach Snyder because, as previously noted, he is a being of considerable authority on this plane.  Going at him full on wouldn’t just risk making the labour movement / the Scottish independence movement look like it was capable of forging its own path or anything trivial like that.  No, far worse than that it would make me subject to hex, to the risk of having myself parodied in a scene in Graveyard of the Dead where a big-eared Scottish chump is hunted and killed by a his camera phone-wielding peers to the sprightly sounds of ‘Bad Day’ by REM.

Fearful of the real villain, I shall focus instead on his implement.   Let’s talk about the master’s cudgel.  Let’s talk about the Stereophonics.

There they are, born to be kings, princes of the universe.  You might remember them from telly where they would swap spores with  wormtongued oaf Chris Evans (picture above) and occasionally guest host Have I Got News For You.  Seeing Richard Kelly off the Stereophonics doing his little bunny hop dance to the applause of pisshead jesters and His Royal Highness used to be a treasured memory of mine, and indication that the dream of the ’90s was still alive, that we really were all in it together, kings, cunce and commentariat alike.

No longer.

When Zach Snyder played ‘Have a Nice Day’ at the start of Dawn of the Dead I did not see this moment coming because I did not know Zach Snyder.  When the Stereophonics appeared at the dawn of 2020 I did not see this moment coming because I did not know 2020.

I do know, and now I do see it.  How could I not?

Time being one of the more malleable actors in our tale, let us note that this video was taken at a show at Motorpoint Arena on Saturday 14th March 2020, during a period where the UK government hadn’t quite got round to telling us not to go to the pub, and a smooth week and a bit before the country went into lockdown.   For a bit of local context: it happened on the same day that a Scotland v. Wales rugby match was cancelled due to concerns about the potential health impacts/the day after Cheltenham had been allowed to go ahead despite concerns about the potential health impacts.

The caption is key here.  What sentiment did these courtiers of diminished possibility say while they were just finished playing their part in a massive public health hazard?  “Cardiff in beautiful voice tonight” – well, as clunking ironies go, saying this in the middle of a maelstrom of respiratory carnage is on par with using ‘Have a Nice Day’ at the start of your zombie movie, isn’t it?  If you added the two together, what would happen?  Would you discover that banality could be weaponised?  Would you discover something so powerful that it could break the world to your will?   Would you discover that there’s a line that leads directly from the start of the 21st Century to now that has… if not created this psuedo-apocalyptic moment, then at least heightened it?

To be clear, I’m not saying Zach Snyder used the Stereophonics as part of a long term marketing bid for Army of the Dead because (A) like I said, I’m scared of power and (B) that would be ridiculous anyway.  The idea that structural forces at play on March 14th meant people were being sacrificed in the interest of preserving power and cashflow is simply risible, isn’t it?

And yet here we are.

As previously noted, this isn’t the end of the world and those most likely to tell you that it is are the ones who’re feeling the narrow edge of inconvenience, perhaps in the form of having to queue for half an hour before buying some nice olive bread down the shops – and hey, I’m pretty sure I’ve been stuck two meters behind the hypothetical wanker of my own imagination, trying to work out if he’s scooped up the last salty slice, so please trust that I know what I’m talking about here!

We might still want to think carefully about our rhetoric though.  Just in the city I live in, there are a whole lot of folk with chronic health conditions who will understand what it’s like to constantly monitor their own body better than someone who’s had to spend fifteen minutes googling the definition of a persistent cough.  Scarcity could only ever be an overwhelming novelty in selected postcodes, and here on my own street there are people who struggle to get out the house for a variety of reasons, lockdown or no.  The Covid-19 crisis will have made life even more difficult for those who were already very familiar with the above.  This makes it all the more important that we keep track of the picture we’e allowing this crisis to paint in our minds.

Since banality is the medium of transmission here, here’s a banal thought about zombie movies: the fear they play on is the fear of the mob.

This is fair enough as a starting point, but let’s go one banality further: the fear of the mob here is laced with the knowledge that, ultimately, the mob is you.   In Dawn of the Dead (2004), Zach Snyder presents an America in which the usual signs of order – good marksmanship, a police badge, having the keys to a yacht – will not necessarily save you.  For all the glee the film takes in offing everyone from vague celebrity lookalikes to zombie babies, its adrenaline rush was always going to burn out, leaving the brute fatalism of the credits sequence, where action film aesthetics sputter out into found footage horror and all escape is rendered fleeting.  Looking back, the signs were there all along, the rank vulnerability of our protagonists flagged by the fact that they found themselves living with criminals, immigrants and – horror of horrors – the guys who work service side in the mall.

Even if you’re not a caricature of sneering competence made flesh or a faded photograph of a young man in the ’90s, it’s easy to feel vulnerable right now.  The world full of reminders that strangers are a risk to you and that you’re a risk to strangers, and you know what?  They/you are!  Try to remember, though, that the guy who unthinkingly wiped his nose on a stray cat while contributing to a vox pop isn’t a zombie and neither are you.

What does all this have to do with the Stereophonics and Army of the Dead?  Well let’s dig deeper into that second banality, the sense that we are all vectors of destruction walking.  The Stereophonics concert broke our reality to Snyder’s will because hey, not only do Richard Kelly and co sort of look like us, but weren’t we mostly still going on about our lives that weekend?  The more attentive among you will have shut down your social life quicker than I did, but I think I’m so haunted by that “Cardiff in beautiful voice tonight” tweet because I spent the 13th of March out drinking with a friend who was visiting from elsewhere.  This seems bizarre and unthinkable, as does the fact that I spent the 14th cat sitting for my mother – she was off on a coach tour to Dunoon, you see.  A week later I felt sure I was going to accidentally kill my mum when I did a (socially distanced) drop off of cat-food and tinned tomatoes – had we wiped everything down thoroughly enough before passing it over?  Were we sure it was enough?

There are people in positions of power right now (and I’m not saying Snyder’s one of them!) who are… not insensitive to this fear of being murdered/becoming murderous.  Indeed, they will be very keen for us to tune into it, to make sure that no blame for rising Covid-19 related deaths goes to them, to make sure that the panic never comes their way.  In their grace, they have given us their tired pets, the Stereophonics, that we might have someone to blame for all this.

 

A third banal opinion about zombie movies: whatever their endings might tell us about the end points of this logic, while they’re playing they draw energy from the thrill of presenting you with a monster you can hit.

It’s considered uncouth to want a villain in the sort of story we’re living through.  Learning to accept what’s happening as so it’s just so much sunshine can often feel like the sensible, adult response.  Inasmuch as I would warn you against accepting the view of yourself and your neighbours as zombies, I’m amenable to the idea. If this doesn’t quite feel right to you, though, I agree, and that’s why we need the Stereophonics.  To give us someone to fight here without actually putting ourselves in danger.

Blame them.  Put them in your sights, but comrades – if you want to stay safe, set your sights no higher.

Live well.  Live like you want to get through this, and like you want your neighbours to get through this too.

Have a nice day.

Goodbye.

***

POSTSCRIPT

The premise of Army of the Dead (Zach Snyder, 2020) is as follows:

a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.

This is not a new story and we must not blame Zach Snyder for telling it.  We must never blame Zach Snyder, no matter what we have grown to understand.

And if anyone else is out there trying to work out how to make sense of this, angling for the best way to launch a heist in the quarantine zone?  Take my advice, dear reader – look the other way unless you want to end up being treated like just another zombie.

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