November 6th, 2015
It might seem counterintuitive to name a post about transport, technology, and the different ways we imagine ourselves hurtling into the future after a Mogwai song, but remember: I’m a life-long pedestrian, so like Mogwai I plod along at the side of your automated adventures, only occasionally encountering the violence of twisted metal or getting caught up in the wakes of your passing.
Ahem. Anyway, where was I going with all of this…?
1. Mad Max Fury Road
Oh yes. Here. Always here. If you were lucky, perhaps you woke up one morning this summer after your second or third showing of Fury Road to find Brother Bobsy perched on the edge of your bed whispering his Mad Max monologues straight into your dreams:
The Fury Storm sequence is key to the film’s intent, mapping a space unexplored by the previous Mad Max trilogy. Although climate change, nuclear summer, associated water/petrol resource crunches, and militarised neo-feudalism were all too predictable (or depressingly inescapable) from the perspective of the late 1970s, the history of cyberculture and networked existence went unforeseen. The Fury Storm rushes in to fill this chasm in Mad Max‘s rebooted version of tomorrow.
Imperator Furiosa nevertheless deliberately turns into the storm: eager not just for the camouflage, but the active tactical benefits it affords over her ill-protected pursuers: naked War Boys mistaking annihilation for apotheosis. It doesn’t matter how much they enjoy their lovely day, how they shout and confuse the heat of digital immolation for the light of false afterlife – the War Boys are getting torn into bits in there, while Furiosa and the Five Brides (plus Max himself) are only truly empowered to taste water and freedom after traveling through the storm’s event-horizon and its violent, chaotic multiplicities.
There are several contradictions built into the sort of immersive enjoyment of Fury Road that I’ve experienced – loving a movie that frames women as exquisite things while explicitly rejecting this worldview is complicated – but perhaps none are more fundamental than the sense of hope captured in the above paragraphs, this rapture of collaboration between bodies in a scenario where flesh and blood are just yet more commodities to be scavenged.
If you want to understand how director George Miller, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron communicate such intense relationships through image and sound, Chris Ready’s your man.
If you need a more critical look at the film’s terminus point and treatment of the female passengers, the Kraken boys might make more suitable tour guides.
2. New roots for public transport
If you’re interested in identifying Fury Storms in our present moment in the hope of mitigating or better preparing for the bigger storms yet to come, you could do worse than read this Novara media piece outlining six meaningful ways we can work together to fight climate change now.
For the sake of this travel themed 5 For Friday, it’s the fourth option that’s most attention worthy here, seeking as it does to re-imagine the urban environment as a zone connected by free transportation (“There’s little need to burn fossil fuels to get around cities – if the right transport and energy infrastructure is in place”) and suggesting new sites of mutual struggle, such as those between environmental activists and public transport employees:
Opening up mass struggles for public transport also offers opportunities for alliances with transport workers – such as fare strikes/free rides, as pulled off by a collaboration between Occupy Wall Street and rank-and-file transit workers in NYC in 2012.
Developing and sustaining these relationships will no doubt make the spectacular coordination of Fury Road look like child’s play, but while you’d be foolish not to take the difficulty of a journey into account before embarking on it, that doesn’t mean that you should treat all difficult journeys as though they are impossible.
But maybe all of this talk of choosing your journey is just terribly outdated, what with automatically driven cars assembling in a secluded car parknear you right now. While the possibility of robots taking the jobs of professional drivers provided a new front for the debate about the relationship between automation and the world of work, it was this article on the ethics of programming cars to kill is the one that’s taken me captive.
The key line, for me:
People are in favor of cars that sacrifice the occupant to save other lives—as long they don’t have to drive one themselves.
In contrast to the toxic, dust-filled landscapes and radiation scoured pageantry of Fury Road, this suggests a very clean, carefully managed sort of dystopia. Think Cosmopolis as invigorated by J.G. Ballard – a future in which an elite class is driven around from one anodyne, too-easily diagrammed space to another, protected from the lower classes who populate the space in between by the clever programming and sturdy construction.
Action sequences in which driverless cars are programmed or hijacked have been part of our fiction for a while now, but for all my apocalyptic pulp rhetoric it’s the solidification of common human reactions that’s most unsettling here. We can perhaps understand people who make split-second decisions to put themselves first, but to specifically program a car to plow into a crowd of strangers in order to protect one passenger, to reproduce these survival instinct as code, to make them marketable… all of this is far harder to feel at ease with, for this pedestrian at least!
4. Rumble Strip
That diagram of different crash scenarios burned itself onto my eyes the first time I saw it, overlaying its emotionless reductions of life and death scenarios onto my everyday experience. It took until my vision had cleared for me to realise that I’d been here before:
As Bobsy (yeah him again!) said back at the time of Rumble Strip’s release:
…the visual language of roads, the set of consensual signifiers that give punctuation and meaning to the otherwise meaningless grey expanses, the easy-to-read fluency of the roadsigns and road-markings, the minimalist and directly unambiguous design principles they adhere to – are an almost too-perfect subject for interrogation via the comicbook medium.
The three previous entries in this post have dealt with where we might be going, charting alternate destinations for our journeys. Woodrow Phoenix’s Rumble Strip is something else entirely – a lucid expression of the journey as we experience it now.
5. No DeLorean
As Marnie Stern fan #1, I’m duty bound to say that she gets a pass on Back to the Future nostalgia for life, but everyone else could do worse than read this post on fake geek guys, hoverboards and how the obsession with technological commodities in the Back to the Future drowns out any consideration for how its fetishised future would have been built and by whom.
This might seem to be beside the point – the people who made those movies knew their way around a product, after all – but since we’re not exactly lacking in signs pointing us towards that sort of future, we should stay mindful of other possibilities.
After all, they may just end up taking us beyond our current limitations, to somewhere we’ve yet to imagine.
October 23rd, 2015
You are an inconsequential energy fluctuation born to the fractionally larger but no less inconsequential energy fluctuation we call humanity. You aren’t doomed to oblivion because you never were in the first place.
So you might as well click on some links!
1. These 31 spooky radio plays are one way, possibly the best way, of killing time until the apocalypse/Halloween. Mostly American, they cover a large chunk of the 20th Century, 1934-1979, and include adaptations of iconic horror works by the likes of Lovecraft, Poe and M.R. James.
2. An essential and concise overview of the English Eerie. Travel writer Robert Macfarlane dissects and opens up the books, music, film and poetry that have influenced our conception of England as in some sense haunted, be it literally or figuratively.
3. That weird confluence of hippies and horror that was the late 60s and early 70s’ age of Black Aquarius is given the documentary treatment by Dr Who fanboy and film historian Matthew Sweet in this episode of Radio 4′s Archive on 4. It’s a good’un.
4. Want your life – what’s left of it, anyway – to sound like a spaceship hurtling into the unfathomable blackness mortals call the universe? Here’s 12 hours of Star Trek/Alien/2001/Bladerunner atmospherics.
5. Hang on, you’ve never visited Scarfolk? I mean really? That needs to change right now. Because you are being watched, especially when you sleep, and if you don’t we’ll come for you and your children*.
For more information please re-read this message.
October 9th, 2015
- What the fuck is money? Who makes it? It’s the government, yeah? Or maybe the banks. This episode of the Kraken podcast makes for a cheerful introduction to this topic, and if you’re left wishing that they got a bit more into the question of what they’d do for money, well, there’s a whole big world of people wanking for coins out there for you to concern yourself with.
- If you’d plashing up to the deep end, the New Economics Foundation have put together a report on the prospects for an independent Scotland creating its own digital currency, the “ScoutPound”. The NEF argue that if £250 worth of it were issued to every Scottish citizen, it would boost the spending power of the poorest and boost business. Critics in the comments argue that the administration of this would be more difficult than presented and/or that it’s all just an New World Order plot, but then again these criticisms are generally applied to almost anything that’s “proposed” on the internet these days, so…
- If you need to wash the taste of BitCoin out of your mouth after reading that, here’s a post on Basic Income (also known as giving people enough money to ensure that they won’t die of poverty) that takes issue with some of its technolibertarian supporters, and another that casts a sceptical eye on some of cryptocurrency driven Basic income proposals. I’m a big advocate of Basic Income as an idea, so it’s good to read critiques like this – shout outs to Charlie Stross for the links!
- Bringing it back down to Earth for a minute, here’s a news article on the Govanhill pound, a local currency that has been created by a community artist at the Govanhill Baths, just round the corner from my old house. The exchange rate for the Govanhill Pound is variable, with the suggestion being that it amounts to “a hundredth of a person’s weekly income”. If you were going to make a joke about artists needing to print their own money don’t bother unless you’re going to wince when you say it.
- Finally, in case you were wondering where all the comics chat went, here’s a link to my post on Eddie Campbell’s book about money, the title of which I stole earlier in the post. Every other comics critic I’ve discussed The Lovely Horrible Stuff with has told me that they think it’s good, but slight – I reckon they’ve just not realised that it’s a dapper bit of bunting that’s been hung around a gaping, cyclopean abyss…