We are fish, swimming in a sea of advertising – and we don’t realise we’re drowning.
What if we are already living in a kind dystopia, except we just don’t realise it. Article by novelist Mike Brooks.
In his novel Annihilation, one of Jeff VanderMeer’s characters claims: ‘The madness of the world tries to colonise you from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.’
VanderMeer is not describing the type of dystopia exemplified in George Orwell’s 1984 by which a totalitarian regime takes control through overt force. Instead, VanderMeer is describing dystopia by stealth – of a type that I believe is happening right now.
In my own dystopian novel, The Machine Society, I satirise our society’s enslavement to consumerism, materialism and virtual reality.
Let me give a simple example. I grew up with the perhaps naïve idea that banks were there to keep my money safe and keep me out of debt. But, years later, I realised my bank was in fact encouraging me to spend more than I could afford and trying to take money off me by charging exorbitant interest. How did we allow that to happen?
Or think about advertising. In the 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the protagonist Colin Smith is watching TV with his family. There is an advert for a range of women’s clothing called Roller Roy. The jingle informs us: ‘He’ll see a girl in a Roller Roy, Boys love a girl in a Roller Roy, She looks nice, they look twice, Give me a girl in a Roller Roy, Cute little girls in a Roller Roy, Wash and wear, Easy care.’ His family are transfixed, but Colin shakes his head in dismay and leaves the room.
Watching the film in 2016, we laugh at the inanity of the jingle – but back then only Colin could see that. And it is the same today: however sophisticated our modern technology, advertising remains equally inane – yet few of us seem to notice or care. We are the fish and the adverts are the sea.
From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded by adverts that inform us of our inadequacy and harangue us into buying products that will make our miserable lives better. We rarely stop to consider the impact this is having on our well-being.
Branding is something else that has infiltrated our lives. At one time, employers seemed content if their staff turned up on time and did their jobs sufficiently well. But now, whatever the industry, our bosses require us to ‘love’ the company we work for. Whether we work for a bank, a high street chain or giant pharmaceutical company, employees are required to embody and express the company brand with uncynical enthusiasm. It is all fakery, yet we play the game knowing that being off-brand is career death.
And now, with social media, there is a compulsion for us to create our own personal branding in order to market an ideal version of ourselves to the world.
We have been colonised by advertising, consumerism and branding. And as we drown in a sea of inanity, fakery and deception, we lose the idea that it might be possible to find a sense of self that is somehow real, true and liberating. This is why I am suggesting that we are already living in a dystopia.
In part, I wrote my novel as a wake-up call. I imagined a future which is essentially the present world, as described above, but in an exaggerated form. I am exaggerating to make the point.
So far, so bleak. But I also believe there is hope.
The hero of my novel – like Colin Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – is an anti-hero, a square peg in a round hole. He knows something isn’t right and, though it is a struggle, he is determined to find something real in a world of fakery and deception.
The Machine Society by Mike Brooks is published by Cosmic Egg in October 2016.
Mike Brooks’ debut novel is an adventure story set in a dystopian future in which our taste for branding, consumerism and artificial reality is boundless. In The Machine Society, he weaves together psychological insight, philosophical reflection and spiritual inquiry to give us a novel that is both a deep satire on modern life and a rich metaphor for our longing to find inner peace.
Dean Rogers lives in the Perimeter of New London, holding down a soul-destroying job, surrounded by people who have lost the will to communicate. He is afraid his debts will spiral out of control, resulting in him being cast out of the city, outside of the Security Wall. Meanwhile, in the Better Life Complex, New London’s rich elite live in plastic luxury, unaware of the sinister secrets that underpin their world.