On a cold November evening in 1989 a five-year-old Yorkshire Tyke lays in bed, probably thinking about Starcom (which, by the way, was the greatest children’s toy of my generation and woefully under-referenced by everyone).
His mum enters the bedroom, explaining there’s a news report he should watch on T.V. Walking downstairs to the living room, the next few minutes are defined by confusion on his part. Be-mullet-ed men and women, wearing either shell suits or leather jackets and stonewash jeans, are shown scaling what appears to be a concrete something.
Cheers can be heard from a crowd of ecstatic people looking on.
“This is really significant,” says the mum, before explaining what’s happening.
First, though, a few clarifications. The boy was me, the mum was my mum, the event was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and this is probably one of my earliest memories. Welcome to the inside of my mind, make yourself comfortable and avoid the darker corners, please.
When it comes to global significance, this was arguably the biggest single event in my lifetime (thus far). It resulted in a period of tangible hope- a reunified Germany, open borders with Eastern Europe and an end to the old methods of authoritarian rule on the continent; real optimism in terms of relations between Russia and the West; and the E.U. Movies suddenly had to think of a new villain, one that wasn’t distinctly Soviet.
That was 28 years ago this week, and where are we? At the moment fascism is once more on the rise across a visibly divided Europe; elections and campaigns reflect not apathy but a widespread lack of faith in everything; free movement, Schengen and open borders are spreading xenophobia rather than understanding; NATO is ill-at-ease with Moscow, to say the least; and the countries that escaped the Iron Curtain are still subjugated, this time by a different economic system, but one just as corrupt compared with the realities of Communism. The failings of both being the people in charge.
All this sounds bleak and depressing. I say get used to it. We’re going downhill from here.
The opposite of a dictatorship is apparently the system we enjoy. And, yes, it’s probably better than a situation where you have to denounce a good friend and send them off to immediate death by firing squad or a slow slaying at the gulag, but it’s not the land of abundance we are promised. In fact, it’s anything but, and the cycle of boom, bust, no real change, boom, bust, boom, boom, bust is getting shorter, whilst our ability to recall, archive, and commit to record sins of the past grows by the day.
So the U.K. and America have responded by voting for the idea of Real Change. A backlash against financial empires and political dynasties and red tape and The Way Things Have Gotten. Conversely, some of that Real Change actually involves going back to what was happening before the last lot of change, in effect not actually changing anything but reverting to a previous era. Moreover, most change that has momentum today is promised to us by representatives of that status quo.
But let’s not get sidetracked.
Instead let us do what we need to do for We, The People, to finally have a shot. The guys and girls who don’t have it so good. The forgotten, hard working majority who put so much into society and civilization. We’ve been subjugated, screwed over, manipulated, dragged from pillar to post and told all sorts of bullshit about going to war, the need to save banks with public money and the dangers of sugar. Something has to change.
Sadly this puts me in a worrying position. Do those who voted for change really believe it could happen? If they don’t I’ll sleep easier at night, safe in the knowledge everyone gets they are reading The Book of the Film of the Book [Revised Edition]. In comparison, a grave concern is what happens if people did believe in change, and a change built on hatred at that. We are ill-prepared for where it may go when nothing happens at all.
Amazingly, this is still better than the alternative. Let’s stop for a second and say Trump and Brexit do what they respectively say they will, keeping good on promises (apart from the £350million of NHS money). Walls go up, again. Deportations begin, again. The kind of views you (hopefully) find sickening creep or leap into mainstream thinking. Again. The world begins to close off from itself, again. Only this time with more Facebook.
Welcome to the saddest days you never imagined. And yet, ironically, even in this horrific vision the situation in terms of wealth distribution, the environment, human rights violations, wars, and all manner of other things that prove how fucked things are right now, would probably remain unchanged, despite a vote for change. All of which leaves two stark questions.
Firstly, how can there be any positive change when the tools for implementing that change have always ensured change remains within the boundaries of a world that has been built on fundamental inequality for millennia? And, perhaps more devastating, what if change itself is likely to be a negative force rather than positive, because ideas with traction are frequently born from having nowhere left to turn, panic, and desperation?