Worst Case & Ariel

“You either love it or you hate it” was the slogan for Marmite because the people who did their marketing were smart enough to know this was the truth and they weren’t convincing non-buyers to get it so they just ran with this idea that had fallen into common vernacular. Bands, Books, People could all be described as “Marmite” meaning you loved or hated it, no middle ground. Today this partisan mentality has extended to EVERYTHING, nothing is seen as middling anymore or can simply be ignored, it is either the greatest thing to have ever happened or the worst. It will either save us or destroy us. The thing I found to be most interesting in all this is how this extends to the topic that has been the preoccupation with popular culture for the last 15 years or so: The Apocalypse.

The Left see an imminent apocalypse due to climate change, economic collapse and escalating wars whereas the Right see it in the rise of political correctness, social justice or just anything that doesn’t grossly benefit white dudes. Now the important distinction here is how both define these futures for society and civilization, for the left it’s a Dystopia that awaits but for the right it’s a Utopia. The pejorative use of the word Utopia has always perplexed me. Why is the idea of a prosperous, equitable society that benefits all seen as such a bad thing? I think the first thing to understand is that the people who complain about “Utopian dreamers” are normally the people currently living in a Utopia themselves: privileged, wealthy white people who have never known real conflict on their shores in their lifetime and are rarely said no to or not catered for, but it also seems to boil down to a total misunderstanding of what Utopia is.

I just finished reading Thomas More’s book ‘Utopia’ which is where we get the word and its general meaning from. Unfortunately, little more than a basic precis is given to us by the modern definition of the word Utopia if you haven’t read the book. The book itself is about a mysterious sailor named Raphael who tells Thomas of an island nation that he visited/discovered off the coast of South America. It is a seemingly ancient society and civilization of total harmony and the more it is described the more we realise how difficult it is to see happening at the time the novel was written but thanks to a surprisingly nuanced and detailed explanation of the different aspects of Utopia by Raphael we can see reflections of the country in our own contemporary society, references to courts and policing, sales and taxation and even home ownership and gardens are discussed as the perfect model for a well maintained civilization. Thus, the most striking thing reading Utopia today is that by the book’s definitions it already exists in the western world, but only here and only to certain class of people.

The other thing that struck me was something that seems slightly abstract about the book: it is not a first-hand account, it is an account of a first-hand account. Anyone who is aware of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ trope in stories will know this is one way of being given a story that may or may not be true. Or both. Any book you are reading purports itself to be the objective truth, be it written first person or not, you take the story at face value even if you know the person telling the story is subjective. In the case of Utopia you are hearing a subjective account of a subjective account and this places Utopia in an interesting place not just as a book but an idea that has come to define the word. Even in the context which defines the idea of Utopia it is seen from a distance, it is a myth even in its own story explaining it. Utopia is a country viewed from afar, never to be landed on, that we see as perfection but can never attain. Perfection has always been unattainable, as any wise person knows, so Utopia can only ever exists as an idea even in its own story. Therein lies the difference between the Left and Right visions of the next stage of civilization, the left knows aiming for Utopia is doomed to failure for “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” but we equally fear the reality that a dystopia is achievable due to its definition being founded in very real and present concerns. The Right, however, are the opposite. Their Utopian hell is unlikely to ever happen but they inch ever closer to a dystopian present of their liking and design.

Another text that uses a mythical island to confront us with a form of Utopia and Dystopia is Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Whilst Prospero’s island is not a Utopia, nothing more than a rock really, it is easy to see the way everything on the island, embodied in Ariel and Caliban, is depicted as being Utopian or Dystopian depictions of humanity. Even the way the survivors of the shipwreck see the island is the opposite to one another:

Adrian:            … the air breathes upon us here most sweetly
Sebastian:        As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Gonzalo:         Here is everything advantageous to life.
Antonio:          True; save means to live.
Gonzalo:         How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!
Antonio:          The ground, indeed, is tawny!
Sebastian:        With an eye of green in’t.

An island that depicts both the best and worst in people seems a perfect sister to More’s Utopia (a text written 100 years before the Tempest) that reflects the problems of the contemporary England of More’s age to a dream-like, mythical place of societal perfection. Prospero even says in his “we are such stuff as dreams are made on” speech, the implication that everything there on the island is false, this “insubstantial pageant”. At the end of the play both the selfish and greedy Caliban and the righteously furious but altruistic Ariel are freed from their servitude to Prospero by him as the survivors along with the Magician himself and his daughter leave the island to return to the ‘real’ world, this could be seen as relinquishing the notion of the dichotomy presented by the island of good and bad or black and white thinking (Ariel in performance is often White, Caliban is typically depicted as Black). As such we could see Prospero’s island as both Utopia and Dystopia that the characters can return to civilization with knowledge of, in the same way as Raphael returned with an understanding of the Utopians.

The point I am trying, laboriously, to reach is that the Hegelian argument of Thesis and Antithesis (the need for two opposing arguments to decide on a synthesized method to progress with) need not be embodied in reality. Diametrically opposed views are useful in debate and thought experiments as there will always be a counter argument for any point of view or belief but its usefulness in day to day life is not beneficial, as we are seeing today. Whilst this may sound like an attempt to say “Can’t we all just get along?” it isn’t. I do not believe in liberalism or centrism, I believe in everyone being educated and intelligent enough to understand an argument from each extreme and be able to utilize this knowledge to better approach a topic as opposed to simply taking an oppositional or dogmatic stance on any given thing. We need be neither Ariel nor Caliban, we can be Raphael and see the ideas of perfection or corruption without making them a reality and know there is something better to aim towards.

Having said all this, I admit this was one hell of a reach. I based this article on the title which was given to me from an autocorrect mistake by my girlfriend when she meant to say ‘worst case scenario’ but I liked it so much I wrote it down to use as a title later. It kinda makes sense though. And I highly recommend reading Utopia, fascinating reading given the current political climate, especially in the UK and USA. There’s nothing wrong with being a Utopian dreamer, Shakespeare clearly was.

“We are such stuff…”

*SPOILER WARNING*;

Proceed no further if you have not seen Inception as this film will be discussed in detail. And while we are talking about it WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T YOU SEEN IT?! Seriously. Get yo’ ass to a cinema, bitch.

Anyway…

As I believe I mentioned waaaaaay back in my Inception review, I wanted to do a post (I refuse to use the word ‘Blog’ as a verb) about dreams. So here it is.

For anyone who knows Shakespeare (and if you don’t YOU SHOULD) will know the title is taken from the gorgeous speech in Act 4 of the Tempest which ends with the beautiful and eloquent line “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with sleep”. I heartily endorse these sentiments from a fantastic piece of literature.  I was having an online discussion (yeah, man, I was on Skype. I’m just that 21st century. Deal with it.) with a friend of mine and she mentioned various philosophers whom she’d read including Satre. I agreed he was good and suggested Carlos Castenada as someone worth investigating. Castenada was the “creator” of Nagualism which is the belief that through dreams and meditation you can attain a transcendent reality. The first book is great. The others, less so. Anyway, upon explaining this to my friend her immediate response surprised me. I had taken her (until that point) for not only an intelligent and literate person but also someone with an open mind but when she came back with the simple “Dreams don’t mean anything” I was piqued. Not least because even if you do not share my beliefs on the subject saying dreams “mean nothing” is fairly stupid anyway, even if they mean you’re hungry or need a pee that is still a meaning. Anyway, I bit my tongue and she steered the conversation away from the subject but this did make me think a little harder about my own love for my dreams. This curiosity was further pressed on seeing Inception which deals solely with dreams and in their realm.

Dreams are, to my mind, the purest form of self there is. In my Favourite Film of All Time Ever a character says “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter”. The “real” world is infinitely more important and wonderful and brilliant but there is clearly more to us than that and Dreams are our way of observing this. How do I know or rather, why do I feel this way (I don’t know anything for certain)? Because I am so much happier having dreamt the night before, even if it is a nightmare. There is no other way of feeling the rush of emotions and depth of emotions you do in a dream. For this reason alone I love them but also all your joys and fears are revealed in equal measure by your dreams too, which, consequently, gives one a unique appraisal of what drives you on and holds you back. Dreaming can create empathy too. How many times have you observed a scene from afar in a dream, like a film, only to be thrust into the head of one of the people you were watching a second ago, thus giving you their terror/anger/sadness/happiness? Dreams free us. People who are wheelchair bound or blind speak of being able to walk and see again in dreams. Dreams help us solve problems. The phrase “Sleep on it” has come into common parlance for that reason; “Not sure? Better sleep on it.” Even if you don’t agree with any of that dreams and REM sleep are essential to our mental wellbeing and our physical health. You don’t sleep for a week, you go mad. Don’t sleep for two, you will die. Fact. Unfortunately dreams are unquantifiable and cannot be measured and as such, are very unscientific and in this new Age of Reason if it can’t be proved, it doesn’t happen.

Still, dreams DO happen and if we didn’t have them the world would be a much poorer place. Half our songs, stories, films, works of art and certain ideals would not exist were it not for dreams and I, for one, love that. Dreams are utterly intangible yet felt by everyone. ‘Dreamlike’ is an adjective we all understand and puts us in exactly a frame of mind to accept things usually considered incredible. As that wonderful line in Inception says (even if it is so appallingly read by Leonardo “I’m overrated” DiCappucino) “Dreams seem real while we’re in them, it is only when we wake we realise something was strange”. Whatever my beliefs on a corporeal or astral plane are, the fact is dreams are there and, as such, should not be so easily dismissed. In that film the entire caper rests on planting an idea in someone’s head via a dream i.e. Inception. To do this they utilise their ‘Mark’s’ relationship with his father and the pay off to this is so simple yet so perfectly realised it brought a tear to my eye. This is as much a testament to Christopher Nolan’s writing and Directing as it is to our own knowledge of dreams. The simple use of a paper windmill and Cillian Murphy’s reaction to it outstrips Rosebud by a mile purely via its context in my opinion. That really is the power of dreams, it is our consciousness and emotions at our most basic level. A ’20 go to 10′ of the soul.

Let me tell you a story;

I have a favourite dream. My first was when I was about eight, I was wandering around an American Neighbourhood in the dark and I was on a long road then I just remember jumping and shooting off into the sky and flying low over the roofs of the houses. I remember the stomach churning dips and dizzying highs like they were yesterday. Similar dreams kept me throughout my school years. Wonderful dreams of jumping from the roof of my hated school then bouncing from the floor and literally “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”. I liked it when I could slow my descent and felt all blood lift in my head like when you’re on a plane and it takes off. Another favourite was when I was in a giant trampoline the size of a Cathedral and bounding around in the air, plummeting to the soft and bouncy ground which would cannon me up again.

These dreams were so common and so enjoyable I came to write a screenplay about it. I am still convinced it is possible for us to fly, we just haven’t evolved there yet. I love to watch films where people fly and where it feels like it does in my dreams. ‘Soar’ I called the screenplay and when I’m a successful film director I will make it.

It was the day before my Nineteenth Birthday. I wanted to go up to London for the day and have look for some music books and go to Denmark Street. I had also booked a ride on the Millenium Eye at Sunset. So I headed into town whereupon my father met me at Leicester Square. I’ll never forget that. He was living elsewhere at the time and I can only imagine he had lots of work to do that day (being a Saturday) but whatever else there was he could have done he came and he met me and spent the whole day with me. That was the kind of father my Dad was. He did everything he could for his kids. While we were out he bought me some ‘extra’ Birthday presents that I spotted and he bought saying he’d give them to me tomorrow. A few hours before sunset Dad asked if I wanted to go to the Cinema. Of course I said yes. We went back to Leicester Square and went into the Empire to see ‘HULK’.

It got a lot of stick that film but I rather enjoyed it. The end was a little un-inspired though. Anyway in the last third of the film Hulk is bounding across the Sierra Nevada away from pursuing Helicopters… And there it was. Flight as I had dreamed it. There’s a wonderful shot where you see the Hulk jump from one giant stack of red rock in the desert and bound into the air. It then cuts to a shot of his face as he falls/flies. The wind ripples his hair and cheeks as his eyes close and the music stops and all you can hear is the rush of wind. That was exactly what my dreams were like. It was at that moment my Father leant over to me from the seat next to me and said simply;
“I can do that in my dreams.”
I had to watch the DVD to find out what happened immediately after that as I was so stunned by this I didn’t pay attention. At the age of nearly 19 I had never felt so close to my Dad.

2 years later, I was at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge sitting by my father’s Bed and staring out at the flatlands from the window we were at. It was a spectacular view and Dad had always said how much he loved the land of England especially the Fens. It was a rare moment we had alone that week and I didn’t say much to him just how I loved him and was going to miss him. I remember him waking up though, briefly, and staring out the window at the flatlands. He didn’t look at me just out the window at the view then went back to sleep. I only hope he dreamed he was flying over those lush and verdant lands he loved so much before he died.

I haven’t dreamed I was flying for 6 years.

My final thought;

Calvin & Hobbes are a wonderful pair of cartoon characters and they taught me a lot about life but none more so than this strip from the 10th anniversary collection. I heartily recommend you read all their published work and read the author’s comment on the strip below.

Goodnight. x