The monopolization and manipulation of public narratives by the powerful has long been a pernicious political reality on both a national and global level. Invariably, they who shout the loudest somehow assert a claim to legitimacy, despite the commonly ill-conceived and downright harmful nature of the content being peddled.
by Beth Saward
Have you heard the news? America has solved sex trafficking. With the passage of SESTA/FOSTA, it will become a thing of the past, the internet will be safer and Freedom™ wins again. What’s that? You haven’t heard of this miraculous new law? Here’s how it works.
There was some apprehension as a Chinese ‘Heavenly Palace’ fell to Earth last week. The 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space station, adrift since China’s space agency lost connection with it two years ago, made an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere early on Easter Monday.
Fortunately there was never much cause for concern, the European Space Agency calculating the chances of being hit by debris as ’10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning’. Most of the station burned up on contact with Earth’s atmosphere and the remaining fragments plunged into the South Pacific. But the episode had a eerie resonance, symbolising something of the West’s prevailing perception of China as an enigmatic, technologically advanced state, glowing with – rather like its wayward satellite – a nebulous sense of danger.
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, the classic novel by Mary Shelley that stands at the pinnacle of the gothic tradition and looks forward to the new genre of science fiction, was first published 200 years ago this month. Shelley’s visceral tale of the terrible consequences that follow the failure of brilliant young scientist Victor Frankenstein to take responsibility for the strange new life he creates, is both of its time and utterly contemporary.
It can be read as a high Romantic fantasy set against a background of electric storms, shimmering Alpine peaks, Rhineland forests and Arctic wastelands, and as a subtle meditation on themes of knowledge and responsibility that resonate with today’s hopes and fears for the possibilities opened by artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology.
by Eli Lambe
Dave Eggers’ The Circle, both the book and the recent feature-length adaptation, is a dystopia formed around a Facebook/Apple/Google/Amazon-esque corporation, one which hosts and shares almost every aspect of its users lives. The novel does a remarkable job of capturing the subtle ways in which this model is marketed to us, how this format of data-as-product is often shrouded in apparently progressive buzzwords – community, accountability, transparency, participation – whilst the company which operates under this model does so under the same values as every other corporate entity.
There is a veneer of progressivity and respectability that companies adopt in order to retain and gain customers – like Facebook making it easier to harass trans people, or implementing guidelines that protect white men but not black children, and at the same time, for one month of the year, patchily providing a rainbow “pride” react to the users who liked lgbt@facebook. Perhaps not as extreme as Eggers writes in The Circle, but eerily close enough: “Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal.”
by Hannah Rose
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.
Allen Ginsberg, San Francisco. 1955
Aliyah has lived in San Francisco’s Mission district her entire life, which I estimate at being around twenty-eight years. Mission is the city’s working class and Latino area. She sleeps on the living room floor. The TV is on and throws intermittent light over her slumbering form, phone still in hand. I have to step over Aliyah on my way to her room—which I am renting through Airbnb for the week—and am careful not to wake her despite the blare of the TV. On the wall, beneath a tangle of half-deflated gold balloons left over from a party, is a giant poster of Whitney Houston—the queen of pop. Behind the water cooler is the silhouetted form of Michael Jackson—the king of pop—suspended on tippy-toes and ‘He Lives’ stencilled beneath.
Photographs of Aliyah and her husband smile back at me from heart-shaped frames that decorate the far wall and on a small, white canvas the words ‘Life is the Flower for which Love is the Honey’ are in poppy-red. One of a few splashes of colour in this windowless, dimly lit apartment.
by Zoe Harding
Just a heads-up: The government knows you’re reading this.
Literally. Amidst the endless torrents of nonsense spewing from the ongoing Brexit negotiations (update: Theresa May throws up hands, announces ‘Fuck it all, God will sort it out’) and the dawn of a new chapter in the great story of democracy, the government the British people did not elect and didn’t really ask for passed some of the most intrusive legislation a British government has ever passed. The Investigatory Powers Bill, also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, is due to be signed into law in a couple of weeks, and it manages what can only be called a very British Government feat in being both poorly-worded and terrifying.