International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Spirit
of our Times
- A Spirit of our Times
New Year is a unique time, it allows us to gaze longingly back into
the past, and to look hopefully to the future. To leave behind the
mistakes of the old, and get ready to make entirely new ones. The
New Year is a time of reflection, of looking deeply into oneself,
and then swiftly seeking to change it.
Sometimes we stretch
our eyes further, look upon the world around us, and perhaps we will
be lucky enough to find someone else who already did that looking, and
gave us a novel, a film, a TV series, a game, some form of media that
sums up the world; The spirit of our times. A moral compass that typifies
our world, one which puts all the dirty truths of the age of the plain
white sheet of the page. I have looked, I have been looking for many
years, and it seems no closer this year than last.
Charles Dickens writes Oliver Twist, and an entire slum of London
is rebuilt. Orwell writes 1984, and for a time its warnings
resonate with us. Now however the majority thinks of Big Brother, and
they think of hot tub orgies, and fly-by-night celebrities.
The constant surveillance is mocked and naturalised, so no one is ever
concerned with it any longer, much less would they be concerned with
the encroaching losses of freedom. Our closest Celebrity-Author parallel
has no greater legacy than her legions of 13 year old fans, their wish
fulfilment fan-fiction, and piles of merchandise. No sooner has she
finished the last book anyone will care about, along comes another author
to fill the void, to green light the movies, OK the action figures and
inspire the fan-fiction. Its a very simple cycle, based largely
upon saturation. As more books have become available, and on a larger
and larger scale they mean less, touch less people.
Simultaneously, publication may no longer be based upon the worth of
your words, but upon how well you might sell, on whose fanbase you may
supplant. Books dont come in series anymore, but in franchises.
If there is a Dickens or an Orwell out there in the world today, trying
to fight the good fight, well probably find them on YouTube, at
best ignored, at worst lumped together with conspiracy theorists.
So, in short, I dont believe well find the spirit of our
times in the books out there. Perhaps well find it in the computer
games? Sadly, formats are finite, and a computer game, no matter its
message, will be largely forgotten within five years in the next big
upgrade. So we cant find our enduring message there. Do our films
dare to challenge us? Some do perhaps, consider Persepolis, or
Waltz with Bashir both have a powerful message delivered in the
medium of animation. But what does that say of us? Have we become so
inured to the horror of reality that it must be made "hyper real"
before it even begins to sink in? Consider that sooner than ruin our
Christmas, for the first few days the news of Gaza was hushed on all
but a few news stations. Say the word River over and over and eventually
the syllables lose all meaning. See the dying day in and day out on
the news, and well shed no more tears. Assuming were not
already, as a society, at that point already.
All of our media is saturated, a vast mess of franchises, those few
pieces that may once have existed to offer a moral compass will no longer
reach us as they will, by and large, never be allowed to exist, or simply
snowed under by so much other nonsense, and thus never reprinted, remade
or recreated as it would not be profitable. The spirit of our times,
the theme of the present era of human history is of little more than
excess. We find ourselves in the midst of economic crisis, motivated
and perpetuated by simple greed. The warnings of the past are subverted
into meaninglessness, our media is nothing but a tool of the elite,
our entertainment does not work to enlighten, but to stifle. I can think
of a few works that have touched upon these truths, only to become swallowed
and assimilated by Hollywood feel-good endings, or simply ignored entirely.
One piece however, remains brazenly open in its venom against the present,
casting a weary eye over the world as it now stands and declaring "I
hate it here. . ."
1997 and 2002 Warren Ellis Penned and Darick Robertson Inked the
60 part tale of journalist of the near future Spider Jerusalem
in DC-Vertigos Transmetropolitan. Set almost entirely
within the city a vast and sprawling metropolis that may once have
been almost any city in the US, Transmetropolitan is a dystopian
nightmare of unchecked corruption, consumption and excess. Called
back to this world from a woodland retreat, the hard drinking, drug
abusing anti-hero is forced to write again, having been unable to
meet the demands of his publishers.
Over the course
of the series, Jerusalem bears witness to massacre and brutality inflicted
by the state, uncovers corruption and probes the deeply wounded psyches
of the alienated and self-obsessed victims and residents of his world.
For his trouble, he meets only with brutal reprisal, and the brutally
depicted loss of one of the few people that matter to him. Transmetropolitan
forces us to ask if we should sacrifice truth for journalistic objectivity,
or whether we really need someone to spit in our face every now and
then, and tell us how things really stand.
Between its bowel disruptors, graphic violence and language, Transmetropolitan
is a beautifully written piece, and its chaotic art style brings a sickening
energy, perfectly capturing its essence. In some issues, there is little
to no artwork, instead we are swept along in the pure prose of Spider
Jerusalem, and amidst its venom we find poetry, we are truly moved to
his levels of despair. As with many dystopian pieces, its made clear
throughout Transmetropolitan that the soulless MonoCulture
in which Spider is trapped, is in fact our own world, simply distorted
and reframed. Globalisation has led to a singular identity across the
face of the world, and no two cities are truly distinct enough to offer
any reprieve. Only in self destruction, altering the very basis of human
identity, do those within the MonoCulture hold on to hope. They buy
happiness in drug form, in altering the body, or losing themselves in
hypothetical constructs of futures that may never exist. Transmetropolitan
holds a mirror up to the present, and offers us no room to argue against
its revealed truths.
However, in as much as Transmetropolitan is a critique of our
world, ironically it is as much a franchise as any other. DC Vertigo
has released a glut of merchandise around the property, despite the
in-text attacks on such things. Its no more going to alter the
way we perceive the world than Rage Against the Machine ever
forced the MTV generation out of our seats into glorious revolt. So,
despite its honesty, despite it being the most honest depiction of our
times, it extols the spirit in another sense; its a product, targeted
at the disenfranchised. That is the spirit of our times, we are now
each members of a demographic, simply disposable incomes labelled in
such a way that is best to exploit us.
But not to worry, Watchmen is out soon, and the "economic
downturn" means more savings. Big Brothers back on TV, and
in a few weeks our resolutions, our reflections will all be forgotten.
Happy New Year!
May the spirit move you!
Stemp Jan 7th 2009
Steven is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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