. Change is the Only Constant: Got Any Spare? | London Progressive Journal
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Change is the Only Constant: Got Any Spare?

Sun 8th Jul 2012

Think you’re hard enough to transform into a Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger, do ya, punk? Well, who you gonna morph into?

Listen up, you miserable multitude. MC Escher’s in da house, and it’s all change!

Everyone’s at it. Swapping Top Cat-Fat Cat roles; exchanging job titles; altering big pharma policies. Not to mention reforming banking rules, electoral boundaries, academic evaluations, raw milk prices, the second chamber. And all backed up by thinned-out police and military forces.

Some power! Some rangers!

Recently I saw three films and a stage show, all exemplars which did what such awesome diversions are meant to do. Each transcended its task of media diversion toward a deeper understanding of how social systems function and how we choose to survive within them.

They share often astounding skill and aesthetics which dress and address the nooks and crannies of dominance and aspiration. All reflect various versions of transfer. And it’s the very nature of fiction which not only allows the alchemy of change, it demands it.

The National Theatre’s film of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein [based more closely on Mary Shelley’s 1818 fantasy than any Hollywood or Hammer horror], reminds us in every scene of her subtitle : The Modern Prometheus. The Greek original, you’ll recall, defied his superiors by creating mankind out of clay, gifting mortals with tamed fire to stimulate civilization and progress. Self-deification: shock horror indeed!

Even as the obsessed Victor Frankenstein revels so maniacally in his own powers that he wants another go to provide his Creature with a mate, the childless Mrs F. reminds him of another, more prosaic way to make life out of nothing.

And in Ridley Scott’s Alien-related Prometheus, the unreasoning instinct-driven proto-beings slither ceaselessly toward cross-species impregnation, brooding, breeding, mutating, surviving.

The third manifestation of artistic change came with Dickens’ Women, a deceptively simple one-woman show, part of a world tour devised and performed by the magnificent Miriam Margolyes. She uses her mighty morphin’ thespian skills, turning her self-confessed passion and admiration for the writer’s works into a wholly engaging vehicle that proves his eternal relevance.

She echoes Dickens’ own prowess as a presenter of his prose, literally making us laugh and cry at the same moment with the power of truth. His comedy constructions and poignant tragedies of the human condition all rest on a solid foundation of socio-political analysis.

Margolyes’ sharp knowledge of the writer’s genius also admits to his distasteful human weaknesses. She invests her characterisations with the very essence of what is: Truths conjured from nothings.

Themes of revelation and the flawed mechanism of creation also underpin the recent re-release of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic Metropolis. It’s a schematic treatment of a heartless class system, echoing the archetypes of Ben Jonson and the structural analyses of society by Brecht.

A tyrannical mogul enslaves the workers of the future so the elite can enjoy frivolous pastimes. The working men perform repetitive mindless tasks under the scrutiny of an overseer, assuring their arbitrary targets are met. When a poor girl accidentally glimpses the carefree rich, she catches the eye of the boss’s son. Their subsequent romance becomes tainted when a demented inventor morphs her physical presence into a machine-woman who tries to lead the workers to their deaths.

These entertainments each imbue created beings with at least a partial mechanistic core, yet defining a quintessential humanity with that amorphous something called feeling. When the naïve son of Lang’s industrialist consults the wise philosopher, he’s taught that it must be the empathic and imaginative heart which unites the cold business head and the drudge-driven hand.

Gee, I wonder how we can relate that to, oh, I dunno, maybe to the Libor-boys?

Both ancient and modern Prometheans create beings who reveal their origins or natural states, with varying degrees of acceptance. And each creation, for good or ill, flails in its own way toward an assertion of personal will.

Such made-up creatures rehearse our own journeys from neonate to someone with the ability to make choices. So how do we wind up so disempowered, so socially weak, even inept?

Just look around. The current crop of headlines returns not so much Shock and Awe, as Schlock and Aw Gee Not Again!

It’s reiterated every day that we really have no meaningful options. What’s the value of public accountability when those who define strategy and policy have crafted an endless series of rococo loopholes to hide within? How can we act wisely when we’re deprived of the light of truth by those who feed on lies?

There’s a popular culture game called Dis or Dat. It’s a fairly mindless diversion probably played more on various web forums than in the meat world. It involves an arbitrary choice between – well, between a pair of anything really. Let’s say Heaven or Hell. Dustin Hoffman or Dusty Bin. Swimming pool or Typing Pool.

Then you just have to choose one, you needn’t even explain your choice, and you get to pick another brace of options. The choices can be as inane or as clever as you like. I guarantee you it’s one of the most popular games online.

Tell you a choice I’ve never seen, though:

DIS - A Capitalist Faux-Representative Democracy Based on the Exploitation of the Masses by the Elite

OR

DAT - An Ongoing Meaningful Social Dialogue That Posits Power to the People.

Perhaps the greatest sin of capitalism is that its very existence depends on fuelling the furnace of profit by culturally programming a workforce as deprived of intellect and compassion as a robot. Robots appear to be clever, but only as clever as those who program them. However engaging it may be for artists to wonder whether machines can have feelings, they really don’t.

There are plenty of benefits offered by robotics. Stephen Hawking’s speech bot and the latest in robotic legs from the University of Arizona attest to the power of good morphs. So perhaps the future’s good, the future’s made of metal.

But what about those pesky Arts, so concerned with people and their inconvenient feelings?

How’s about - Bobby the Banking Wizard and the Philosopher’s Stone, a triumphant tale of alchemy, that turns the valuable Bob Diamond into pure gold. Yep, he drinks the elixir of life, travels back in time, teams up with experimental physicist Ernest Rutherford to convert nitrogen into oxygen so they can sell the antidote to any possible survivors of nuclear war and earn Big Bucks in the process.

Wow! Mutation! Now you’re morphin’ talking, punk. Go ‘wan, make my day!
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