I’ve just come back from a short trip to Chicago, and, as I got off the plane at Heathrow, I realised that I’d never been quite as pleased to see the shitty monotony of that particularly unlovely airport. I hadn’t been to America for long, but long enough to make me appreciate the things Britain still has going for it. Because, whilst I’d met some genuinely safe people out in Chi-town, I’d also found myself observing a society where the greed, cynicism, inequality and general fuckeries have boiled over into a sickness that permeates life. I ended up thinking; this is us. This is England in 10 years.
The things that wrecked my head appeared to be the direct results of policies that the current Tory party are currently pursuing with great relish. North America (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) seems to be a society with a firm belief in the virtue of private investment over public spending. They have a fetish for a world where monetary profit is seen as the correct and only driver for any action. This same fetish is creeping – or, more accurately- leaping, into the UK. Our lives will be the worse for it.
The most striking thing I noticed on the streets of Chicago was an underclass of homeless people who were so fucked they were verging on the sub-human. There were people with faces like mismatched jigsaws; features missing, eyes trickling down faces like trails of gob. Hobos wrapped in the rags of medieval peasantry, chuntering unintelligible threats (pleas?) at passers-by. I’m not talking a couple of unfortunates, I’m talking a sizable community. I guess this is what you get when you’ve got a punitive welfare system and fuck all health care. And watching the ‘normal’ people – including me – hurry past these poor saps, I could pick up something of a sense of blame, this unspoken accusation; it’s your fault you loser- your fault your life has reached complete crisis and none of us give a shit.
The homeless live in the shadows of these repulsive steel and glass towers. Trump Towers is right in the heart of Chicago’s downtown, a mirrored cock with TRUMP written on it, presumably by a man who rarely has it pointed out that his name is a slang term for letting one rip. There appears to have been no question asked of the skyline design other than, have you got the money to finish it? Is it massive? Done. Go for it. God knows who’s even in these towers, but they stretch up and up, and when the rain lashes down – as it does regularly – it boils off the sides in a fairly accurate facsimile of hellfire.
The public transport smells like damp and perverts. It appears to be used exclusively by poor people, mad people and me.
The food, in the main, is just wrong. Yeah, there are healthy choices out there. But at the same time, the shops are packed with incredible addictive goodies that are insanely bad for you. Apparently this is freedom – the right to be hard sold dirty little snacks packing so much sugar, salt and fat you can wave goodbye to your diabetes riddled legs by 30. Or you could do if you hadn’t had your hand amputated as well. I find it bewildering that this policy of pushing hideous, grotesque, habit forming food on the populace goes hand in hand with a moralistic stance on all drugs that are seen as hedonistic or psychedelic. I guarantee that drinking one of those vat sized cups of Mountain Dew a day would do you more long term damage than a spliff a day ever could.
One more thing: the TV and radio are something else. If you want to watch wall to wall advertorials selling you guns, Viagra, hair pieces, pointless new ways of chopping vegetables, life insurance, house insurance, pet insurance, pet grooming, pet burying, pets, pets, hair, gun, blender, car, gun, hair, pet, blender, pills, pills, pills* *side effects include vomiting, facial rashes and spina bifida* - then you’re quids in. It’s less good on the whole actual programs you might want to watch front, but there we go. Radio is wall to wall Miley Swift Perry feat. Pitbull. Then they play Hozier again. I was chatting to a manager out there and he was marvelling at the depth in the playlist of Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show. That, if anything, tells you how bad they’ve got it.
I'm not saying America's all bad. It's a culturally rich, amazing place. This is the home of house music, hip hop, and some of the finest punk groups to have walked the globe. America gave us the comedy of Doug Stanhope, the films of Charle Kaufman, the books of Toni Morrison. The list is endless. But that's not what our current Tory government is looking to for inspiration.
When I came back home, I felt very happy we still have the NHS. I felt very happy there was still some sort of meagre dole, very happy that the streets of London are still in some way a weird maze of ancient design and haven’t- yet- been completely subsumed by featureless high rises of empty luxury flats. I felt very happy that- for the moment- the BBC exists. I felt happy that we haven’t- yet- signed up to the TTIP which will allow Christ knows what madness into our deregulated food chain. I was particularly happy that no one in London felt obliged to wish me to have a very nice day, not because they gave a shit whether I had a nice day or not, but because they were so terrified that if they didn’t they’d run the risk of losing their job, and then they might be one of the losers on the streets with missing fingers and a shadow for a face hissing at strangers in a world of enemies.
Still Cameron, Osborne, Gove, Hunt, Duncan-Smith, all those cosseted non-humans who run the country, apparently they’d have it a different way entirely. And that I don't feel happy about at all.