- 01 May 19
Murder in Derry. Brexit as a contemporary Game of Thrones. Civil war among the Tories. Gargoyles that want to drag us into the past. We must resist them with everything we're got...
Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of all who have gone before? Things change, of course they do. And yet, not by as much as we might like to think. The fundamentals, the underlying structures, base impulses and motivations, are tenacious. The past is undead. A fine young journalist is murdered by a dissident gunman in Derry in the same week as the medievalist Game Of Thrones had the single largest viewership for anything ever.
Fascination with Game of Thrones has been infectious, with tens of thousands scrambling to binge-watch earlier seasons. Call it a pre-Easter revision course. For others it was a belated introduction to one of the biggest, most demanding and infuriating, and yet also rewarding, series ever made. It is going to be THE topic of conversation in many a workplace, coffee house and bar for the next couple of months. You simply have to catch up if you don’t want to embarrass yourself. I mean, imagine the shame!
It’s an immersive experience and not for the fainthearted. Just keeping track of who is who for a start. And whose bits have been cut off. Or throat slit.
It’s not the past, it’s just kind of. But in the present the line between the real and the fictional is increasingly blurred. What was once foretold as science fiction is increasingly close to reality, insofar as we can distinguish what that actually means. After all, when an aide to the US President can dismiss discussion by reference to “alternative facts”, we’re very close to that dark place where the membrane between reality and falsehood has been shredded.
The Matrix was first released in the United States on March 31, 1999. That’s twenty years ago. It marked the moment where a wider public first engaged with the growing concerns of quantum physicists, internet geeks and future-speculators. It brought us the notion that the boundaries might indeed be much more permeable than we had ever thought – indeed that it could all be a simulation. After all, Einstein showed us that even time bends…
So when the news broke of the catastrophic fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with accompanying video, did anyone bingeing on Game Of Thrones think that maybe it was all part of the show? Medieval gothic is a major contributor to the look of the GOT world, and not only buildings and settlements. Wild carvings of gargoyles and griffins and myriad hellish monsters such as feature all around Notre Dame are part of the aesthetic. Plus, the news that the cathedral’s famous and apparently invaluable rooster statue had been found in one piece in the rubble added another note to the shock and wonder: apparently it holds various relics valued by Christians. Ooh look, a miracle!
Next thing you know they’ll have discovered how to bring a dead person back to life, as happened to the GOT character, Jon Snow. Well, actually, there was news on that front too. A group of researchers, led by Prof Nenad Sestan from Yale University, have partially revived the brains of decapitated pigs, several hours after the animal had died, by circulating an oxygen-rich fluid through the brain.
Some cell functions returned. Okay, the brains didn’t show any signs of consciousness, so it doesn’t change the definition of death. Yet. So not Jon Snow. But still, it could prove handy in the case of brain dead Brexiteers! Brexit is essentially a kind of pantomime take on Game Of Thrones and the Wars Of the Roses (largely the basis for GOT). The similarities are inescapable: the parallel universe, the nostalgia, the chaos, the factions, the intrigue, the self-deception, the inability to look beyond one’s own redoubt, and much, much more.
It is also the latest stage in a civil war within Britain’s Conservative Party being fought by two rival tendencies: the One Nation Tories who, broadly speaking want to remain in the EU; and the anti-statist Free Market Liberals, who want to leave.
As for the motley of grotesques dominating the various factions, including the Norn Iron Intriguers, look at them! Bang ’em down anywhere in Westeros and they’d seem right at home. The English nationalists among them want to return England to its past. They dream of roses outside the cottage door and conveniently ignore the chaos, bloodshed and economic ruin of the Wars of the Roses and the Civil War.
But let us not get too superior. Back in Ireland, the appalling irresponsibility and murderous stupidity of the gangsters who killed Lyra McKee must remind us that there are those here, who would return us to the charnel house of the past – and not just among the DUP diehards. And should the cowardly republican ultras, as usual, blame the Brits, there is only one answer: the decision to shoot into the dark was yours alone. You bear the responsibility – and the guilt.
Game Of Thrones exists in a fictional past. We don’t, not yet. Yes, all the emerging research in physics supports the notion that time is elastic and there are many universes. Digital recreations can seem exactly like humans, and individuals and organisations of whom we know nothing are infiltrating the digital universe, rendering our assumptions about its reliability ever more questionable. The violence that is such a feature of films, series and games may ‘normalise’ the carnage that can be unleashed in other conflicts. The Matrix is as close to the future as Game Of Thrones is to a vision of the past.
In response, we must focus on what we can see, what we can prove. Stick your finger in the pie and pull out the plum. No plum, no play. Brexit is as Brexit does, but Notre Dame still stands. In a sense, those who want to drag us back into the past are on a different planet. They don’t give a shit about ours. We must resist them with everything we have.