I still exist

Hello, wanderers in this wind-swept wasteland.

As some of you might have noticed (though given the emptiness, you are all theoretical right now), I don’t post stuff here much. I am still active however, and McSweeney’s have been kind enough to publish something of mine here.

Ta ducks.

Hi there!

So there’s a new page up top. ‘On Holdering’. Yeah, I thought it deserved its own page.

It’s something I wrote at uni for the creative non-fiction unit. Two years later at graduation I’m pretty sure still not a one of us knew what ‘creative non-fiction’ actually is. Only that it includes New Journalism but isn’t just that. Yeah.

Anyway, it was well received and I’m quite happy with it so here it is. Based on a Christmas Eve I actually had. Enjoy.

It’s seasonal now, right?

On Summer Evenings

A summer evening is my favourite time of day. The hours between six and nine, when the heat of the day is past, the light is golden and the shadows lengthening and striking. If it has rained, the air is cool and crisp and the smell of petrichor lingers.

The kind of evening made for wine and barbeques, which segues into the kind of balmy night where you sit inside at the pubs, but can walk between them comfortably in only a t-shirt, and everyone is in good spirits.

Jostled by the wind and trailing lengthening shadows the plants seem to reach for the last of the amber light. I am struck by their innocence and helplessness. The innocence of plants.

Don’t they know it’s futile, this rat-race of traits and genes? One day there will be too much sun. Then none at all, forever. They nurtured, us, created us, we breathe because they must eat. And it is up to us to save them. We must break our bonds and transport them along with ourselves to other stars, hopping from Earth to Earth until the universe itself dies, in defiance of nothing and everything; of sheer probability. The fucker.

 

A summer evening is my least favourite time of day. The hours between around nine and darkness, when the sky is grey. When night has fallen, it is night and you know what’s what. The streetlights stand as points of light against the darkness, illuminating it, or else it is pitch black and you know things can not get worse.

But when the day has been cloudy there is an extended period of sickly grey fading light. Everything seems wan and dying. The streetlights, though lit, are still outilluminated by the sky and seem to shine out in futility. It’s a dispiriting gloom. In winter, and at other times of year, this period is over mercifully quickly. But since the length of day does not change with the weather, in summer it is dragged out dishearteningly.

BBC Three: On(the)line

Three might be the magic number, but it’s never been a lucky one for the BBC. ITV 1, colloquially known by many as ‘three’ as in ‘put it on three’ was the BBC’s first rival and remains its largest. It usually occupies the third channel slot. Radio 3 has the highest cost per user hour of any BBC radio station, but one of the lowest audiences. And now we’re met with the news that BBC Three is to become an online channel.

As when anything changes, there have been a chorus of complaints and concerns. Russell Kane’s cry of “Why should it be this channel?” is of no surprise seeing as he gets a lot of work from BBC Three, but one of the more valid concerns is the loss of BBC Three as “a massive creative nursery slope for talent and for shows”. However there’s a chance – and chance is italicised because it very much depends on how the BBC handles the whole thing – that it could fulfil this nurturing role as well or better online. Of course, it’d need a good platform designing: the current iPlayer is functional and does its job well but somehow manages to be both clunky and pragmatic at the same time.

EDIT: Literally today the BBC announced an iPlayer overhaul that is indeed sleeker. Well played auntie. Still, to survive as a channel BBC Three will need a dedicated site, and one based on the new iPlayer frame looks like it could work.

Online is the home of the short-format and freed from 30, 45, 60 minute etc. ‘programming blocks’  a trippy ten-minute child-unfriendly cartoon, single three to five minute sketches or experimental drama or comedy presented in 10-20 minute minisodes would be cheaper to produce than a half-hour programme. In fact, the BBC literally just started doing this with the iPlayer original drama shorts (Flea, My Jihad and Tag). YouTube and Vimeo can fulfill all these functions of course; but what the BBC has is its traditional role of providing support to emerging creators, access to existing talent, funding, equipment, and promotion.

BBC Three with its younger, tech-savvy audience is also more likely to survive a move online. Millenials watch the least TV and the most online video. True, 75% of 16-24 year olds’ TV consumption is still linear but this has been waning for years and looks to continue doing so. This 25/75 split could even be because a significant amount of millenials barely watch any TV, and when they do it’s with others.

BBC Three could also potentially use its move online to reach a more diverse audience. BBC Three is a ‘youth’ channel, but has and unvaried repertoire: loud, unsophisticated comedies (which isn’t to say some of them aren’t good or well-written), vapid entertainment shows and documentaries so formulaic someone made an algorithm to mock them: – in short, the channel has a defined idea of what young people are and what they want when, like all ‘groups’ the truth is going to be much more varied.

Smaller, lower budget productions also means less risk per production, so BBC Three could target smaller niches within young people that its current broad approach to youth overlooks; whether this be LGBT, gamers, or even something like young people who are intelligent but find BBC4 too stuffy.

True, the move online itself will cost money and there are cuts to the budget in general. There is certainly fat that could be trimmed: They must be running out of places for sex and suspicious parent by now and for every Bad Education there is a Badults (which now has a second series, diminishing my faith in the BBC’s standards). Surely no-one would miss the “Robert Webb smarmily nitpicks about film mistakes until you want to punch him” programmes that are essentially three hours of filler? This is however still an area where things could easily go wrong.

Of course, I’m probably being naively idealistic and this is a way for the old guard to kill the channel quietly and move some of the money towards inoffensive BBC One tat. Because what’s going to re-invigorate the Netfilx-threatened medium that is broadcast television is more call the damn midwife…

The Dead and an Island

Writing critically about zombies is starting to become almost as ubiquitous as the damn things themselves. I recently saw an episode of PBS Idea Channel entitled ‘Why Do We Love Zombies?‘, which explained how the monster in vogue at any point reflects society’s fears – so in paranoid Cold War America you had alien invaders; some, like pod-people, which looked like us and lived among us but weren’t us; and in post-Hiroshima Japan you had the giant radiation-mutated Godzilla levelling cities. The proposal regarding zombies was that the horde symbolises a world beyond human control, and that further they represent a sort of technophobia – zombies are not evil, they are just doing the only thing they know – carrying out their programming if you will – without regard to morality, much like a computer. In many zombie films, survivors rely not on technology or infrastructure to maintain themselves but simple, often handmade machines.

                This is nothing new of course. I studied Robinson Crusoe at university and it and the ‘Robinsonade’ genre it spawned would seem to represent a retreat from technology and infrastructure similar to that which Idea Channel posits in their video. Furthermore the video then states that “The classic zombie apocalypse survival plan is to go to an island where natural resources are plentiful. You get away from the zombies but you also get away from technology and from… everything. You return to a simpler time.” Seeing any similarity?

                But why zombies particularly? Many types of apocalypse could cause this regression to rustic simplicity. KokadaRC, a top commenter on the Idea Channel video at the time I watched it, suggests that once the prevalence of zombies specifically is over a ‘wasteland’ genre might emerge for post-apocalyptic survival works. But for the meantime, as game critic Yahtzee Croshaw puts it: “Honestly at this point you people just won’t be able to cope if civilisation ends any other way, will you? If the fucking Daleks invade or the entire world gets covered in carnivorous jam you’ll have to make papier-mâché zombie facsimiles just to get through the day.”

                The technophobia aspect may be a part of the appeal of the shamblers, but I believe it is not specific enough to zombie apocalypses to be the sole reason. There are other reasons that could contribute, such as the fact that zombies, like Hollywood Nazis, are human shaped and yet morally ok to slaughter, but this is not my theory.

                I lied about Robinson Crusoe earlier. What I was citing was what most people think of when they think about the Robinsonade genre. But I had to write an essay on it, and my research highlighted something. Crusoe is completely reliant on technology. Shortly after he is shipwrecked he finds the site of the wreck and makes multiple dives to retrieve supplies, including iron tools and a number of guns. He is further bolstered later by a hurricane blowing further supplies from the ship back to shore and then again, some years later, by another shipwreck. It is these guns that allow Crusoe to hunt in the early years, before he starts farming goats, and later to defend himself against cannibals and mutineers. Further, while Crusoe may rhapsodize about how much time and effort it takes to make something he could just buy at home (a table, pots) and how much more he appreciates it for his hard work, he would not be able to make these things, nor do much of his farming, without the iron tools that are the culmination of his society’s technology and infrastructure.

                Similarly, though a zombie apocalypse might strip away the iPhones and the bleeding edge of technology many of the standard survivor tools – guns, cars, chainsaws, crossbows, medicine etc. – could not be manufactured by the survivors themselves. Like Crusoe, the apocalypse may represent a level of technological regression but it does not take us all the way back to ‘Man vs nature/undead’. In retrospect I realise this was not really Idea Channel’s argument, and that in fitting so much information into five minutes some subtleties are lost. Both Crusoe and zombie survivors are aided by thousands of years of technological advancement, but it is only the most recent developments the latter is a reaction against.

                Still, I would argue that overpopulation is just as much behind the love of zombies. In the West, many of us are taught that we are special snowflakes, but it’s hard to reconcile this belief with the fact that there are seven billion of us; a number that’s hard to even comprehend. Then, when we leave education at whatever level it hits us hard that there are literally thousands of people who could do the same job as us, some even in different countries – we do not matter. An apocalypse solves this problem twofold: firstly it reduces society to a level where, due to the sheer drop in numbers, every individual matters; secondly, to be a survivor in the first place, whether through luck, providence, or your own preparedness – you are special. So far, so applicable to every type of Armageddon. What gives zombie apocalypses the advantage is that it recasts all those who aren’t us, who aren’t special enough to be us – the other – as shambling grotesqueries we can cathartically obliterate. That’ll teach ‘em for threatening our entitled sense of self!

                Any similarities to Crusoe? Well, at the time it was written the mercantile class was expanding. Previously the nobility had been special and the peasants had been a faceless, unimportant mass. But now there was a new, educated, ‘middle’ class who clearly viewed themselves as special, and this class was growing. At home Robinson was just another merchant’s son. On his island, he is master, ‘governor’ and ‘king’.

                As I have written, I have realised I cannot refute the Idea Channel argument as fully as I first intended. Though still the culmination of thousands of year’s technological advancement, there is a great difference between guns and cars and crossbows – ‘analogue’ technologies quite easy to understand – and the cryptic computer technologies that seem to operate without human agency. Rather, let this article be seen as highlighting an interesting parallel between the first English novel and a current trend in fiction, as well as my thoughts on the source of their popularity.

-Inspiration for this article comes from a top commenter on the aforementioned PBS Idea Channel video, Grahame Turner, who said: “My argument for a while has been that zombies represent our fear of conformity, of becoming part of a faceless horse and creating to be relevant because of looking our individuality. I can definitely see both arguments, even see them both working.” [sic.]

                It has also occurred to me that some of the arguments here are quite similar to and probably inspired by Croshaw’s articles on zombies, both of which are worth reading: 

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/8387-Why-We-Love-Zombies

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/9542-The-Growth-of-the-Zombie-Myth