When the last vuvuzela sounds, only the posh will survive. Apparently.
Do you have any idea how much oil has been pumped into the Gulf of Mexico?
Do you? Well, I’ll tell you – I have no idea either. I can’t count past a squillion. They’re telling me it’s reached some new, invented, numeric milestone; perhaps one spillion.
Which I think simply adds up to: We Might As Well Stop Counting And Start Sobbing. Or Possibly Drinking.
Such an unimaginable quantity of toxic vomit rupturing into the environment is exactly the kind of thing that especially environmentally-minded souls have been warning us about in tones of doom for 100 years. Because it is, they say, exactly the kind of thing we would go and do – we being shaved apes shown the possibility of a dirty great supply of free bananas. We’d, y’know, go bananas. And start slipping up.
We have, as it turns out, been prat-falling through recent history in a distinctly un-funny manner since we first discovered the goopy black gold. Only this time it feels that little bit more apocalyptic. As if any oil spill doesn’t look like some dark, viscous end to part of the world.
With “austerity measures” very in vogue around the world at the moment, the planet is not feeling like a jolly place. At least to those foolish enough to ever turn on a broadcast reception device.
As BP’s executive, Tony Hayward, vows to “get his life back” as soon as he can, stockmarketeers have noted that the international oil giant can basically afford the odd global catastrophe, it is that wealthy. Something like one in six share dividends paid in the UK are BP’s. One in six. Of the entire FTSE. That is a truly giant business. That is mind-boggling influence.
The thing is, giant business is, we are gradually being reminded, the bedrock of the modern world. It is the wealth creator that sustains whole countries. Has been for that same century.
Only, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but giant business has a poor safety record. Giant business likes to do deals at parties with governments to avoid safety inspections, in fact.
Giant business also does rather like to borrow money to bet on things, and lend money to people who technically can’t afford it at all to create something else it can then sell and make more money on – some ingeniously sensible thing called debt assets. And with all this apparently easy money, giant business rather likes to make giant promises and get everyone all excited – about jumping into a river of wealth that gets only wider and deeper as you swim harder.
Giant business likes to encourage you to stop worrying about the details in life and instead envision a bigger better picture of life; something in a glittering future. Something better than what you have now. Which must be good indeed, given that for an ever-widening strata of middle-class earthlings life has never been so conceivably good.
Essentially, giant business might say, it likes to find resources of any kind and put them to good use – animal, vegetable or mineral. Build something bigger from what we have at our, ah, disposal.
Yeah. The teeeeny tiny floor in this plan is that it is built on a promise that is nicely, temptingly, beautifully simple… but unhelpfully, and fairly obviously, bollocks. Growth. Growth alone.
Only growth adds up, says big business. Only, it doesn’t. It subtracts: Check the column marked: ‘Duh’. There are only so many resources, it turns out.
If only consolidation sounded sexier to share holders. If only survival did.
Thing is, while giant business keeps implying that we should stop worrying about the details and think big, it can be easy for everyone tempted by this idea to miss a fairly crucial point that it’s really making about its most valuable resource: individual humans are mere details.
Damn right we are. And where is that Devil.
Simplistically cynical view of capitalism? Of course; this is a stupid blog, fuelled by latés and G&Ts; bought with some of the money of the giant wealth creators. But you try talking to anyone who’s worked for, say, one of the massive international banks. Ask them how valued they feel in their glass hutch.
Anyway, with economies teetering and whole eco-systems taking a pounding around the world, an awful lot of us are desperate for some good news. Or some immersive distraction at least. Which is why world economies are unlikely to gird their loins any time before the merciful summer distraction of the World Cup. And why most of us watching it will be doing our best to blot out the thought of the Tick-ravaged townships and fear-soaked poverty cluttered around the perimeter of Johannasburg’s glittering new international football stadium. We feel depressed and helpless enough, chaps. Now blow that vuvuzela, someone.
Y’know, it must be tempting for escatologists to flip to the back of their bibles and wag a smug finger at the rest of us. Given that people obsessed with the end of the world can find a way to crow about all the death and foolhardyness at any time, they must be whipping themselves into frothing frenzy at the moment. We are reaping what we are sowing – we are naturally greedy, vain, short-sighted creatures and the end result will imminently be a fallen world finally flipping into the abyss.
That vuvuzela is probably the last trumpet. Wouldn’t be surprised.
I have found, therefore, a weirdly deep sense of comforting distraction from a little bit of television drama that is based on just such an appaulingly bleak and human historic possibility.
It’s a television drama based on an appaulingly bleak and basically apocalyptic possibility that will, however, probably have you laughing when you first clap eyes on it. Before you realise that it, like the death virus it’s narratively built around, has gotten under your skin.
For this is a very conspicuously, amusingly old bit of TV, populated by flares-wearing Rada-trained upper-middle-class people acting their socks off in rain-sodden, un-CGIed Hertfordshire in 1975. A programme surely impossible to find seriously thought-provoking in this day and age.
A programme called Survivors.
It’s taken us most of the year to date, but we’ve just finished watching the final episode of this three-series BBC production and I feel two kinds of subtle grief about it. One, that it’s finally over and we’ve had to start catching up on the slightly less amiably ambling Season 7 of Spooks, and two that these plucky posh people won’t be there to turn to, when the vuvuzela of armageddon blares.
It shouldn’t be affecting. The acting is often am dram church hall stuff, driven by wooden scripts that seem only written to ram home plot points, the camera work is wobbly and uncompromisingly un-post-productioned, the fashions are absurd, the weather is awful, the budget is utterly non-existent-looking and you spend most of the time distracted by wondering what all the actors are doing now in their late nineties.
But, so help me, it IS affecting. And it’s many of the technical shortcomings that help it get into your head. Dare I even say it, your heart.
When Jenny and Pet are slopping out pigs, that uncompromising 70s VT stock and reluctance to cut away and reduce the effect of Real Time doesn’t half make it real. Un-dressed-up. In some cases, apparently unrehearsed.
The wonky dialogue and stumbled lines and goofiness of it all can just be annoying, of course. Characters appear and disappear with sometimes no reference to the fanciful concept of continuity at all, and it does seem that egos and amateurish bickering wrecked any remaining hope of production consistency, with actors, writers, directors and managers routinely fired or stropping off. Chaos.
But I just know what the recent remake of Survivors will be like. All helicopters and running and shooting and shouting and jittery action camera work and beautiful direction of photography and worthy attempts at real human dialogue and barely any screen time that isn’t orchestrally saturated. Y’know. A proper bit of production. With little chance of penetrating all that slick-hard entertainment gloss.
Meanwhile, in 1975, Terry Nation was dreaming of something properly bleak to cheer everyone up during the winter of discontent: Hideous Death Virus escapes from Chinese test lab and kills 95% of people on the planet. Which seems to have included almost anyone working class; one of the first people you see on screen is Peter Bowls, which should set the scene for you.
Fun. And added to the production sensibilities and possibilities of pre-Thatcher, pre-digital, pre-ironic British television, by jiggery is it bleak.
It’s also fast apparent what it’s motives are. It wants to teach you about survival. Like Lord Baden-bleedin’-Powell. It wants to sit you down and make you think about what the utter collapse of the modern world would really mean. From sanitation to sewing needles. In the style of your favourite 70s geography teacher.
And it’s precisely this academic premise, adhered to in every single one of it’s nearly 40 modules, that is the best bit, the reason you love it. So help you, you ARE made to think.
You’re made to think that no-one will have complete mental breakdowns at the sheer sudden torrent of incalcuable death, loss, horror, fear and psychological ripping away of fundamental context, true. Everyone gets on with stealing old Bedford vans to look for guns and tins of beans immediately, and at no time stops to think for a moment and then flee screeching into the woods tearing their own eyes out.
But Survivors does swivel its little spotlight of attention onto every implication of human annihilation it can think of, from learning to grow food and form communities, to considering eventually how to rebuild the infrastructure of society.
And perhaps, only by ambling around the countryside haphazardly with these characters can we get a sense of the empty reality of trying to actually survive under such circumstances. It is the understatement that creates the tension. And reveals the humanity. I’ll bet no-one on the new cast of Survivors has become an accomplished horseman as a result of the job. Everyone in the old series looked comfy on a shire horse by the end. Trotting around.
That’s sort of lovely. How bored would everyone one be after a single episode of that now?
As a result, I feel two challenges.
One, it’s obvious that if we are to survive, it will be together or not at all. Resources have to be valued and every detail of life counted like last pennies, not taken for granted. More than that, survival means understanding the invaluability of every single individual. Every skill counts. Every heart adds to the beat. A concept blurred away from your field of view by the giddy heights of teetering giant business.
And secondly, I really should be developing some practical skills of some kind. Instead of standing around watching the action and periodically blowing my own trumpet.
My one hope is that the well-enunciated posh-sounding will, in the end, be in with a chance.
Think we might all need to clean up our act, though.