In many respects, last week’s inconclusive General Election result was the perfect outcome for our indecisive times. Nobody seems to know what’s going on and what little we do know hardly fills the heart with joy. TV politicos and leader writers are frothing at the mouth because it’s undoubtedly dramatic, and chaos always makes for a far more gripping story than stability – strong or otherwise. But for many beyond the bubble, it’s the latest in a seemingly never-ending sequence of unsettling events imbued with uncertainty. A sweeping generalisation, perhaps, but mankind’s instinctive solace in dependable routine – as deep-rooted in its instinct as that of the animal kingdom – is in a permanent state of flux due to circumstances we appear to have no control over.
The surprising result of last year’s EU Referendum provoked just as much champagne cork popping as it did despondent despair; the election of Donald Trump as US President had a similar impact. At the same time, the ongoing efforts of Remainers to delay the implementation of Brexit or to even overturn the outcome altogether has led to renewed paranoia and panic on the other side that the euphoria of the Leave success will be cancelled out by the vested interests of higher powers; equally, the persistent attempts to impeach Trump by his many enemies more or less from the moment he was sworn-in on the steps of the Capitol Building has served to strengthen the vicious divisions his entrance into the presidential race sparked off in the first place.
The 24/7 howl of protest emanating from social media, itself a medium apt for the here and now in its deceptive illusion of community and friends that rarely (if ever) meet in person, is the cry of those powerless to do anything else to make their grievances heard. I suppose Twitter or Facebook could have been just as fitting a forum for the silent majority during past crises that remain in living memory for some – in 1940 or 1962, for example – but its presence today in societies that have seen their traditional structures and certainties whittled away by economic and global forces seems as predetermined as Brexit and the Donald. Even from a distance that can still only be measured by months, it already appears evident that 2016’s two seismic political earthquakes – the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election – could only end one way.
The central premise of the contemporary narrative is Project Fear. Whether in the hands of Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, ISIS or home-grown Jihadists, Project Fear has enough visible entrails leading back to its origins to fill a ten-hour Adam Curtis series, yet few care about the cause; the effect is what worries most. Footage of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or the carnage suicide bombers and machete-wielding white van men leave in their wake sits alongside Trump’s undoing of hard-fought legislation designed to extend the lifespan of the planet or Theresa May’s desperate desire to cling onto power by doing deals with bigoted Ulstermen, presenting a resounding ‘f**k you’ to those who can do little to prevent further destabilising of their world other than scrawl graffiti on a wall or wave a placard or simply wait for the light relief of a commercial break.
Yes, the false idyll of advertising has always sold the same unattainable dreams; after all, in 1965, Bob Dylan sang ‘Advertising signs that con/you into thinking that you’re the one/that can do what’s never been done/you can win what’s never been won’. More than half-a-century on, however, in an era of rising prices, static wages, food banks and empty houses too expensive to live in, they somehow seem more insulting and more frustrating than they ever did before because those dreams feel more unattainable than they ever did before. Every blinding white smile or smug motorist to grace our billboards and TV or Smartphone screens is spewing a sack-full of salt into our open wounds and then employing a scrubbing-brush to rub it in.
But, like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or ‘The Voice’, this is supposed to be our aspirational alternative to doom ‘n’ gloom; and watching some hapless wannabe being told that their future is the pound shop check-out till rather than Glastonbury after all gives us the opportunity to laugh in unison at the deluded fool who reached for the stars and landed in the gutter. We can ridicule the little man because the big man is too detached from our reality to strike a blow on target.
A report that appeared on FB last week claimed couples were considering not having children because ‘the world is so f**ked-up’; I thought of when my own parents were born, in the middle of the Second World War, and came to the conclusion that seemed a poor excuse for neglecting to sire offspring when there are so many blatantly sounder reasons for not doing so. Yes, the babies born during WWII largely arrived thanks to randy servicemen making the most of a 48-hour pass or restless wives enjoying a one-night stand with a GI, but I’m pretty sure the belief that the world was f**ked-up carried more weight back then than it does now. Then again, maybe they had something we don’t.
Perhaps the crucial element during the war was the recognition of a greater good that required the setting aside of minor gripes and divisions in order that it could be fought for. In the years following 1945, many who were there spoke of those times with a nostalgic glow that often seemed baffling to those born long after it was all over; but it’s possible the genuine sense of community arising from everyone working together for the same admirable objective – rather than the superficial virtual community of social media, which is an online asylum for the angry, lonely and confused – opened a brief portal into a different and more desirable model for society that sealed up thereafter.
At the moment, the world has the same sudden disorientation of a child whose parents have just separated; the past is a comfort blanket while the present is scary and the future is too frightening to contemplate. It won’t last; these periods never do. But living through it can be a bloody hard slog.
© The Editor