“And now one for all the nostalgics out there. A blast from the past… that beautiful time when people refused to accept that the future was just around the corner.”
My family is doing movie nights every Saturday for the duration of our social distancing. Tonight is my turn to pick so I’m choosing Inception (because apparently neither of my parents have seen it), but last week’s was my dad’s, who chose Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
In case you haven’t seen the film, here’s some background — it’s set in 2027, in a dystopian version of the world where infertility has become so widespread that the youngest person on Earth is 18 years old. The rest of the world has descended into chaos, and Britain, where the film is set, has some kind of society but at the expense of rounding up immigrants, keeping them in cages, and sending them to fenced-off refugee camps to fend for themselves as there’s nowhere to deport them to. The plot of the film involves an activist helping a woman who’s the first to become pregnant in 18 years to get to safety.
I really enjoyed the movie — it was darkly bleak at some points and refreshingly hopeful in others, which combined into an all-encompassing portrait of what our future could end up being like. But what struck me the most is how relevant it was to everything going on right now, so much so that I wonder how Cuarón could have predicted so much from 2006.
There’s no doubt that we’re in a crisis that could turn into something of dystopian proportions if we let it — and I’m not just talking about the coronavirus. The film also in some ways predicted the mass rounding up and deportation of immigrants in the US by ICE, as well as Britain’s hostility towards immigrants that caused Leave to win the EU referendum. Disregarding the coronavirus, the film still managed to predict our current political climate nearly 15 years on from its original release.
Impressive as that is, that isn’t exactly what I’m here to talk about, since there isn’t much to analyse other than what I’ve just talked about. Instead, I’m going to ramble for a little while on the quote above, and how it just adds more proof to what I’ve been believing for a long time now — that we are on the precipice of great change that will reshape society forever.
It sounds like a bold claim, I know. Before my radical education, which I touched on briefly in my last essay, I had always thought that all was right with the world, and that our system of governance would continue largely uninterrupted by any large-scale societal change for my whole life.
I’d also always figured that I’d have a conventional life by society’s standards — get whichever job was the current career I aspired to, get married to a man (as this was before I’d started to question my sexuality) and have his children, even though both ideas filled me with a strange kind of dread, eventually retire — because it was the only life I knew. My parents had lived it, along with my friends’ parents, my teachers, seemingly every other adult I was exposed to, as well as celebrities and fictional characters. What I thought were my aspirations were actually the ones that had been spoon-fed to me by the heteropatriarchy and capitalism — the concept of a “dream job”, monetary success, a nuclear family and, ultimately, a long but boring life.
That all changed in 2018, when I was awakened not once, but twice — to my sexuality and my new political views, both of which highlighted for me the intense flaws in our current capitalist, heteropatriarchal governing system and the changes that need to be made.
I first started getting political when I first properly got onto social media in 2016 after the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election. However, I wasn’t exactly radical at that point, and I was more what you’d call a liberal, or a social justice warrior: I preferred support of minority rights in a politician to any expression of ideology, thought Hilary Clinton was a great candidate for the American presidency, saw Obama as a god amongst men, thought David Cameron had been a good Prime Minister because he opposed Brexit and based my ideas of feminism on pussy hats, Wonder Woman and “girl boss” mantras.
Then 2018 came, seizing everything I thought I believed in its bare hands and tearing it to shreds, replacing it with something new — that I was a lesbian, and a communist.
Discovering my sexuality and realising I was a lesbian was the pinnacle of an ongoing process, as I’d been questioning for a year prior to that point. It was most likely one of the reasons that I’d subconsciously buried myself within LGBT spaces online as an “ally”, as if I’d known all along but was too scared to admit it to myself.
My other awakening was discovering a new political ideology, communism. It was completely by chance — a communist meme account had somehow found itself on my explore page on Instagram, and the meme I’d seen intrigued me enough to keep searching and searching through the account’s posts until I’d become convinced. There had been something missing in my life prior to this discovery, a void filled by communism, the answer to the meaning I had been searching for. I had already been disillusioned by capitalism, as I had no desire to get a job or have a nuclear family. I wanted out, and a communist revolution seemed like the perfect opportunity.
That was the year I read my first piece of theory, which was the classic itself, The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. While reading the text, I was struck by how much of Marx’s writing was still relevant to our current political climate and how his ideas could be so universal, even though the Manifesto was originally published 150 years ago.
Communism had also helped to give me some form of purpose in life — striving towards revolution, which enabled a new pipe dream of mine that I would be the one to lead this new revolution and give the rousing speech that would bring it into being. Back then, I was content with this, safe in the knowledge that one day, the history of class struggle would be worth it.
Then the coronavirus came, and now all this seems to be accelerating, speeding ahead at a rate I can’t fully comprehend.
The pandemic has been startling in so many ways, but one of the most meaningful for me, one that could cause lasting social change, is the exposé of some major problems and gaps within the capitalist system we currently live under. This is due in part to the temporary suspension of many commonplace elements of our society, like evictions and student loan payments, as well as housing homeless people.
Other effects of the coronavirus include the general public’s disillusionment with the concept of celebrity due to the annoying and often tone deaf content being put out by them during their periods of social distancing and self isolation, like Gal Gadot’s cringe-worthy “Imagine” cover that has been torn apart by pretty much everyone on the internet recently. There has also been a growing frustration with billionaires for their hoarding of wealth that could be used better to help the people and their lacklustre or completely absent responses — celebrities asking their fans to donate money when they appear not to have spent a single cent are particularly guilty of this.
Growing resentment towards the pre-coronavirus ways of doing things has the potential to inspire great social change when this is finally resolved. The addition of a crisis on the magnitude of this one to an already fragile society with a growing number who are dissatisfied with the status quo means the pandemic acts as a catalyst to the social change that was always inevitable.
So far, the coronavirus has already proven that certain so-called axioms from our previous society — that people now considered key workers like food delivery drivers and janitors weren’t essential enough for pay rises, that a single-payer healthcare system was unnecessary, that the NHS didn’t need any extra funding — are completely false, at least in the eyes of the general public who previously believed them.
Even though it may just be wishful thinking, I truly believe that some form of social upheaval must be around the corner somewhere. For example, if governments don’t learn from the mistakes of this pandemic by changing at least some things about how society is run, we will be in the exact same situation the next time another deadly and infectious disease like COVID-19 appears. As we’ve seen from the response to the pandemic, some of these changes, like housing homeless people, halting evictions or freezing student loans, are ready to go whenever but governments just need to want to put these changes in place. Others, like the eventual demise of celebrity, will be bought about by the general public instead.
But, either way, something has to happen. Right?
That brings us back to the Children of Men quote I mentioned at the beginning. For us, the future is just around the corner, and we have the power right now to mould it into something positive and beneficial for all of us. We don’t have to stick our heads into the sand and pretend that change isn’t coming; instead, we can take this opportunity to do something meaningful.
I spoke at length about living through something in my last piece, but I feel like it’s relevant for this topic as well. For all of us, and especially younger people like my generation who will particularly feel the long-lasting effects, this is what one of the major events that will define our lives in history, if there’s anyone still around to record history in the far future. Not only will there be the coronavirus to talk about in discussions of early-21st-century history, but there will also be climate change and our shifting political climate.
One of my biggest fears to do with the virus, other than one of my loved ones catching it, is that at the end of all this no one, at least no one in power, will learn anything; that rent payments and evictions will resume, homeless people will be forced back onto the streets, key workers will still be payed the same, billionaires will continue to hoard their wealth, and celebrities will return to thinking that posting a GoFundMe link to their followers without donating any of their own vast swathes of wealth or recording a video of themselves singing is activism. That, for me, would just exacerbate the tragedy of the deaths from the virus as it would make them seem in vain.
It is essential that we learn from this — the future is nearly upon us, and if we try to blunder through the next crisis with the same flawed system history will not look upon us, especially our leaders, at all kindly. (But maybe that’s for the best.)