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.
Data is a commodity. It is a digital blueprint of our lives that we leave behind wherever we go on the internet and in life. Many of us consider it to be of little interest. After all, what does it matter where or what we shop for? Who cares about the sites we search for via Google and what pages we like on Facebook? Well, it turns out that our governments and private companies do.
(Trigger warnings: Transphobia)
by Zoe Harding
You wonder where the hell they find these people sometimes.
Two weeks ago, one of the Tennessee state lawmakers pushing an anti-transgender rights ‘Bathroom Bill’ through their state legislature was exiled from his offices and denied access to several other areas of the legislative building on the grounds that he posed ‘a continuing risk to unsuspecting women who are employed by or interact with the legislature.’ Last year, former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee told the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters that he wished he’d been able to pretend to be transgender in high school in order to shower with the girls. (Additional trigger warning: What.) Oh, the sexual assaults he could have committed if there was a legal loophole to allow it.
And these are the people pushing laws supposedly aimed at protecting American women and children from sexual assault. Americans are rallying behind real sex offenders to try to stop imaginary transgender sex offenders.
‘War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.’ – George Orwell
In the aftermath of acts of terrorism — spotlight grabbing though it might be — politicians reach out, indirectly and through other politicians, to those affected. It demonstrates that perhaps they possess some element of humanity themselves. The media briefly shows the caring actions of the people of those countries and cities devastated, physically and emotionally. Then, once all has been said and done, business returns to normal.
We point and laugh across the pond at the circus that is Donald Trump’s presidential bid. We criticise the depths to which the Republicans stoop to find a scapegoat for America’s problems. Yet what we fail to recognise is that the same process is taking place here — it is simply spread across European governments instead of being conveniently bundled up into one laughable narcissistic crazy-haired package. We try to convince ourselves that not in Europe would we allow such bile and hatred come from one individual and we don’t. But nor do we look at the bigger picture and see that very same bile and hatred come in the form of legislation and government actions.