Australian politics, society & culture


Jonathan Cape; $79.95
By Kevin Rabalais
© Peter Lindbergh
The face
By Karen de Perthuis
By Patrick Hartigan
By Monthly Wire
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
By Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz
‘Vanity Fair Portraits’
By Clare Press
The origins of the word ‘glamour' lie in the swirling mists of Scottish thaumaturgy; to be glamorous in Robbie Burns' time was to be messing with magic. But come the twentieth century, thanks to who knows what dark spell, the term shifted meaning to denote ritz, glitz and the sort of sparkling hedonistic excitement exemplified by Evelyn Waugh's Bright Young Things. Waugh was a Brit, of course, and London a centre of Jazz Age high times, but the spiritual home of modern glamour was America. London did posh properly, Paris had elegance sewn up, but true glamour was - and to some extent still is - rooted in Hollywood and the Hamptons. Vanity Fair is glamour in print. Launched in New York in 1913 by the dapper publisher and pince-nez fan Condé Montrose Nast, a man so glamorous that his mistress was an opera singer and his Park Avenue party pad covered 5000 square feet, the magazine has long been the official American journal of the smart set. Its cousin Vogue, which Nast had acquired in 1909, is glamorous too, but is more specifically concerned with the cut of one's cloth than of one's jib. And there is a magazine in the current Condé Nast stable titled Glamour - a kid born out of Hollywood in 1939 that these days is synonymous with more accessible, girl-next-door style - but Vanity Fair remains the flagship for style with substance. As a writer you know you've made it when you've written for the magazine. Its roster of scribes past and present includes Noël Coward, DH Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Aldous Huxley, James Wolcott, PG Wodehouse, Dorothy Parker, Ingrid Sischy and Christopher Hitchens, to name just a few. Despite, in its current incarnation, championing the political essay - editor Graydon Carter is a committed Bush-basher, and Hitchens recently submitted to torture by waterboarding in the name of investigative journalism - this is a publication recognised foremost for its art-world and Tinseltown credentials. The annual Hollywood Issue's gatefold cover often features stars in swimmers - tastefully styled, of course. And why not? To borrow from Keats, beauty is a joy. Hitchens, echoing another poet, WH Auden, writes in the introductory essay to Vanity Fair Portraits (Hardie Grant, 383pp; $120): "The lights must never go out. The music must always play. Even in the darkest time, there must be beauty and style and the cultivation of taste and the individual ... And there is no time in which the celebration of irony - that cream in our coffee and gin in our Campari - is not of the first importance." So, you get my picture. This iconic journal straddles smart and serious, but above all it's gorgeous. And while Hitchens, Sischy and friends can surely bring beauty to life with the written word, it helps to see a photo too. As Carter explains in his foreword to the book, "It was with its photography that Vanity Fair truly and indelibly made its name." Indeed, its roll call of snappers is every bit as impressive as that of its writers. We're talking all the greats: Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Heune, Baron Adolf de Meyer, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel, even Karl Lagerfeld. At which point I ought to mention the book's disingenuous subtitle: A Century of Iconic Images. In fact, this record spans half a century, in two periods: the magazine's first incarnation, from 1913 to 1936; and its present one, from 1983 to 2008. In 1936, Nast - strapped for cash and fearing the party was ending - closed Vanity Fair's doors, and for nearly 50 years the famous looked to other magazines to document their fabulous lives. In Portraits, the absence of icons from the 1940s through '70s is keenly felt: we see Cindy Crawford but not Veruschka; Gloria Swanson but not Doris Day. There is no Andy Warhol, no Audrey Hepburn, no Twiggy, no Jane Fonda, no Beatles, no Stones (although a post-prime Mick Jagger does get a look-in, pictured being ignored by Madonna and Tony Curtis at the Vanity Fair Oscars bash in 1997). The likes of Dennis Hopper, and Bobs De Niro and Dylan, are captured in middle age but not gilded youth. What we do see is a compelling, wittily presented history - minding the 50-year gap - of celebrity portraiture. The editors have put the thing together in just the sort of quirky way you'd expect, given that this is the team that brought us the psychedelically decorated double-page spread ‘Inside Dylan's Brain' (May 2008), and that allots half a page each month to an actor's ‘In Character' mugshots (see David Schwimmer, last month, "knowing that the chance of a lifetime has been missed"). They have a sense of humour. The obvious way to arrange the images would have been chronologically. (Or perhaps by taxonomic rank: Phylum Acoelomorpha ... hello, Mr Bush!) Instead, images are paired or sequenced according to their similarities in composition, tone or subject matter. Thus the forgettable '80s actress Mariel Hemingway lounges topless opposite her contemporary equivalent, that scantily clad starlet more famous for her social life than her work, Sienna Miller. In Alice Springs' 1987 portrait of her husband, Helmut Newton, the master of aggressively sexualised fashion photography poses prettily in a straw hat, linen shirt ... and black stilettos. He's in Monte Carlo, natch. Beside him is a 1931 portrait of the British surrealist painter Paul Nash, also sporting a hat. We can't see his feet, so who knows about the heels? Newton shot the fabulous 1986 image of a crumbling Salvador Dalí, swathed in a silk dressing gown with something sinister (spaghetti? a feeding tube?) protruding from his nose. Adjacent is a glamorous image of a 25-year-old Dalí, shot in 1929 by fellow avant-garde scenester Man Ray, with not a shred of surrealist evidence in sight - although the signature curved moustache features in both pictures. Not surprisingly, there is more youth and beauty than decaying flesh displayed in these pages. A 1927 picture of the Albertina Rasch dance troupe is so laden with silvered tulle it calls to mind a lavish dessert. Steichen's young Clark Gable sits opposite Aviator-era Leo DiCaprio; both look good enough to eat. There's Cecil Beaton's picture of diamonds and pearls in which the actress Merle Oberon is also to be seen. The cover image is of Kate Moss dressed up like Marlene Dietrich, and inside it's next to a 1935 shot of the real Dietrich. Herb Ritts shoots Sylvester Stallone kissing a rapt Brigitte Nielsen above an adoring crowd, leaving Juergen Teller to snap designer Marc Jacobs slapping the arse of film director and fashion fan Sofia Coppola (don't worry - he's gay; they're just friends). There's also an aggressively sexy 1995 Leibovitz group shot in which Uma Thurman pouts in a negligee, Nicole Kidman parts her lips seductively above a black-panelled corset dress, and Sarah Jessica Parker struts it in a strapless bra and chain-mail miniskirt. They'd never do it now. Despite the glamour factor, the image that stayed with me longest after closing the book was not one of Steichen's flapper starlets or even George Hurrell's unsettling picture of Drew Barrymore as a child actor, scowling in pink nylon pleats and enough lipstick to make JonBenét Ramsey blush, but Leibovitz's 1995 portrait of William S Burroughs's oddly vulnerable-looking bald head, in profile. The 81-year-old Beat king's eyes are closed; he is stooped; the collar of his jacket is rumpled - a man ready to bow out. Two years later, Burroughs was dead. On the facing page, George Bernard Shaw, photographed by Malcolm Arbuthnot in 1920, is a stark contrast: aged 64, the Irish playwright is feisty-eyed and holding his lapel like he means trouble. Arbuthnot, a great friend of his socialist subject, was an exception to the early Vanity Fair norm: he had no money. Many of the snapper pack that worked for the magazine's first editor, Nast's buddy Frank Crowninshield, were upper-class figures with impeccable establishment connections. Crowninshield later became one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art. Steichen, too, was mates with the modernist art crowd and before working for the magazine helped staged exhibitions for Matisse, Cézanne and Brancusi. De Meyer was married to Olga Caracciolo, whose godfather was King Edward VII, and though Beaton came from more humble beginnings, by the time he'd grown up he was society. Later, royal cousin Lord Lichfield worked for the magazine, as did Princess Margaret's ex, Lord Snowdon. Plenty of the portraits' subjects, too, came from ‘top families', and while another Condé Nast title, Tatler, was and is the British society rag, that's never stopped royalty from courting Vanity Fair. Testino photographed Diana, Princess of Wales for the magazine in 1997, and Prince William in 2003. Just last year, Annie Leibovitz photographed the Queen in Buckingham Palace, though none of those pictures appears in the book. Presumably Liz refused permission. Leibovitz took some of the magazine's most recognisable recent portraits - Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk, a naked and pregnant Demi Moore - but it's the older, less famous shots that make this book a treat. I love Beaton's picture of a sulky Katharine Hepburn, taken in 1935, and the choreographer George Balanchine's gloriously snooty expression in a 1983 shot, as dancers float surreally over his head (Man Ray would've been proud). Ultimately, it's the faces that make a book like this so fascinating, for these are the mugs, young and old, ugly and stunningly beautiful, that shaped our times.
David Marr’s ‘The Henson Case’
By Sebastian Smee
David Marr's book on the Bill Henson controversy (Text Publishing, 149pp; $24.95) begins with a reasonable man reasonably wondering if an image of a naked young girl used on an invitation to an exhibition opening is not "a bit off". The man is the Sydney Morning Herald's arts editor, Richard Jinman, and his query is the catalyst for an extraordinary chain of events: a police raid on the country's pre-eminent commercial gallery, the shutting down of an exhibition, expressions of revulsion and outrage by state and federal politicians from the prime minister down, the pulping of an art magazine, and sombre police visits to state and national galleries. The Henson Case, which appeared only a few months later, was obviously written at top speed. And yet nothing about it indicates undue haste: on the contrary, it is a feat of fluent narration, thorough research and intelligent commentary. As a piece of sustained reportage, it's also fiendishly gripping. All this is worth emphasising, since the book's reception has been clouded - and the whole controversy reignited - by Marr's revelation that last year Henson scouted for models in a state primary school, in the company (and with the approval) of that school's principal. The revelation feels incidental in the context of the book, but it became an explosive issue after it was included in excerpts published in Fairfax's Good Weekend magazine. Marr has subsequently been accused of obliviousness and insensitivity to people's concern over the school visit. But his inclusion of the story is in keeping with the rest of the book, which - in Marr's words - is interested primarily in "what actually happened". His tone throughout is cool, observant and factual, as well as respectful of people's fears and confusions. But what is his position on the matter? He told ABC Radio that he is interested in panics. In the book, he writes: ... after long and shameful neglect of the issue, concern for the fate of children at the hands of paedophiles is being exploited to achieve old, familiar ambitions that never go away. Paedophiles - dangerous and hard to pick - have been recruited to achieve censorship's same old ends: a more controlled and modest society. Marr does not sneer at those who are made uneasy by Henson's imagery (nor, for that matter, does Henson). But his disdain for demagoguery in the media, particularly talkback radio, is clear. "Among the many causes of the tabloid media's deep resentment of the art world," he states, "is the success artists have had carving out a territory where nakedness can be celebrated in public." Perhaps most importantly, Marr emphasises that a decision not to ban something is not the same as endorsing it. Artistic and other freedoms depend on this distinction. "When we [in Australia] disapprove of something we want governments to leap into action," he writes. "Many who deeply disliked the Henson pictures weren't content to express their disapproval and leave it at that. They wanted something done about them." But opinions like these are few and far between. Before we even get to them we have read about the unfolding controversy in eye-popping detail, from every angle. The few days around the planned opening of Henson's show are especially dramatic. We are taken into the news conference at Marr's paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, where someone suggests that the columnist Miranda Devine should have the exhibition invitation brought to her attention. She is working, as it happens, on a column about the sexualisation of young children (her seventh in a year). All this is happening on the same day that the state Labor government's former minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Milton Orkopoulos, is being sentenced to a minimum of nine years' jail on drug and child-sex charges. The speed with which everything takes place is astounding. We see how Devine's column, along with easy access to Henson's images on the web, mobilises talkback-radio hosts and then the police. We read about Premier Morris Iemma, in China at the time, receiving Henson's images on his BlackBerry, and formulating his condemnatory response, which in turn encourages the police to take action. Ironies, some splendid, some bitter, lurk everywhere. We hear about police arriving at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and telling a guard, "We're investigating whether you have any nude underage artworks." The guard's helpful reply: "I've only just started here, but it is an art gallery so there have to be some nudes." We find ourselves at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, as increasing numbers of callers leave ugly messages, including threats to burn down the building. At one point, Henson, concerned about the media scrum gathering outside, suggests calling the police. Only five or ten minutes later, they arrive with a mission very different to the one he had in mind. The exhibition is shut down and a number of works taken away. It's not long before the television reporter Robert Ovadia is telling his audience, straight to camera: "Late today the gallery was able to guarantee no paedophiles will attend the exhibition. That's because Roslyn Oxley cancelled it." It's grim theatre, and it gets grimmer over the next days and weeks. But what got it going? Only three years earlier, Henson had been given the rare distinction of a full-blown retrospective at Australia's two leading state galleries. That show, and the accompanying catalogue, included images that many thought far more confronting than the image that appeared on the invitation to the Roslyn Oxley9 exhibition. That said, the "Henson invitation has few friends," Marr writes on page four. "Even those who admired Henson's naked junkies in the 1980s, and didn't flinch from his gawky adolescents in the 1990s partying by night in piles of wrecked cars, were unnerved by the beautiful image of that twelve-year-old child." Why? Complaints may not have been made, Marr proposes, had the image of the naked girl not appeared on an invitation mailed out to thousands of people. "Its deliberately commercial purpose was unsettling." The girl's budding breasts also created unease. In our culture, Marr writes, budding breasts are "rarely seen and almost never celebrated". They are "extraordinarily private". The point is well taken, and no doubt true. But what seemed most striking about the whole affair is that neither Henson nor the model, nor many of us who have known and admired Henson's work for years, anticipated this furore. Does the surprise we felt as it was happening, and the disappointment we feel in its wake, suggest naivety? I suppose it might. But Marr's comment about the "extraordinarily private" nature of budding breasts applies also, strange to say, to the nature of making art - and to the experience of succumbing to its spell. There are thousands of people around Australia, and elsewhere in the world, who have been moved by Henson's photographs, who have felt it stir something inside them, something usually hidden, something fragile and, to some extent, unexamined. An unusually large proportion of these people, as it happens, are teenagers or young adults. Are they so moved by Henson's work because it appeals to their prurient, perverted side? I doubt it. Equally, however, Henson's work is not there solely to remind us that the teenage body is beautiful, innocent and good. His work is more ambitious and unsettling than that. It speaks to a part of the soul that is permanently on the threshold, vulnerable to collapse, hungry for ecstatic release, thwarted, confused, tender, longing. Inevitably, eroticism plays a role in this. So does an apprehension of death, and of the unearthly, haunted silence of each moment as it recedes into the roar of history. How do emotions like these find a place within a moral framework laid down by "reasonable people" (in Miranda Devine's words) or, worse, unctuously paternalistic politicians? It is hard to see how they could. Henson's work has the potential to make us uncomfortable, the more so because our society - for reasons that stem from protective impulses and an awareness of very real abuses - has complicated feelings about the sexuality of teenagers. But art, at its best, often makes us feel uncomfortable. Many of us long for that discomfort, because we feel it opens onto truth. It seems almost too obvious to point out, but second-guessing the responses of talkback-radio hosts, and even "reasonable people", is inimical to making art that is concerned with reflecting the truth of our lives. This is not to suggest that artists do not have social responsibilities. They do, and the evidence indicates that Henson knows it. He has had wholehearted support from those who have worked with him; he is known to be fastidious in observing protocols, and to be sensitive and supportive to those who model for him. But, by the same token, "reasonable people" - and especially politicians and commentators - have a responsibility to show sensitivity to the conditions in which art is made and received. Most of the time, I can't help feeling, the best way to express such sensitivity is to back off. As I read Marr's superb and penetrating book, I looked back over an interview I conducted with Henson several years ago. I had asked him why he lives in Melbourne and why he works with teenagers. His answers, in light of what has happened, seem incredibly poignant: The city, along with the climate and changing light patterns, fascinates me - even moves me - ever more powerfully as I get older. There is so much beauty in all of the B-grade anxiety about being ‘important' or ‘international' or whatever here (so much rubbish, of course) and this insecurity lends the physical landscape a tenuousness because things are constantly being torn down or destroyed in the desperate drive for ‘improvement' ... Because ‘Australian' culture is so thin - rather like the continent's top soil - lacking the depth and sophistication that can only accumulate over time, it is extremely prone to distortions and the perversions of fashion and expediency. This, I think, makes for a tremendously vulnerable society and this has great beauty and sadness for me ... Perhaps it is just this adolescent society which - for some of the reasons outlined above - makes working with young people seem so logical to me. So much potential for things to go right or wrong - such exponential growth in body and mind, and such beauty in the uncertainty of their floating world. As for other people's reactions to the pictures; I have no interest in them whilst actually working - I don't consciously anticipate the audience. However, no one's an island and so once the pictures are in the public domain of course I think about the impact they have, because I hear about it so much.
By Malcolm Knox
“The event that dislocated our period from the last was September 11.” “Oh-one. Twin Towers. Splatter patterns. It’s raining men, hallelujah ...” “Hush. The event to which you refer merely amplified the existing order, even accelerated its actions. No. I am referring to September 11, 2006. The so-called Anniversary Attacks.” “Oh-six. The triumph of the I.” “Of the Eye, you mean. Yes. You are too young to remember, of course, but that event shaped you as much as your mother’s milk. It shaped us all, for it altered the curvature of the space we inhabit.” “The Would-Be Attacks. The Loony Losers. The Fuck-Up Fundos. We Report, You Decide ...” “You are a creature of your time, my child, and a creature of the second September 11. When those four warriors in greatcoats were prevented from detonating a nuclear device in New York City they were barely older than you are now. Children, really. What it told us about our children was perhaps the most gruesome illumination of all.”“Save the Children. Suffer the Little Children.”“The boy warriors: walking the streets, catching the subway, stepping out into the bright blue sunshine, lost in their fantasy of themselves. They were said to believe in religion, but these were American boys and their religion was the moving picture and the video game. What did they believe in? That they were stars in an adventure of their own making? How close they were to the truth.”“Flatbush Avenue. Coffee, Dunkin Donuts. Brooklyn-to-212th Street service. Change to the A-train at Union Square. Downtown to Wall Street. Heading west at time of arrest.”“Yes, yes, their footsteps became part of our folklore. They spawned walking tours, songs, incantations. How we celebrate our survival. The size of the blast and the number of casualties, had the boy warriors detonated their suitcase, was open to conjecture. Some said it would have been lucky – unlucky – to take out more than a city block. A dirty bomb is not always as apocalyptic as it sounds. But few were interested in the magnitude of the blast. It was a matter of principle. A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon of mass destruction, even if it had only killed the bombers themselves.”“A nuclear bomb set to go off in the world’s greatest city! On the very day when the President, the leaders of Congress, potentates from around the globe, were in harm’s way!”“A movie, yes. A big-budget spectacular. Although it has to be said the production values were of variable quality. The four bombers were indistinct shadows skip-jumping past an automatic teller machine on Flatbush Avenue. Low-grade black-and-white in Dunkin Donuts. Some nicer colour full-face angles entering the subway in Brooklyn, and then some quite artistic portraits in motion through the interchange at Union Square. By the time they were downtown, well-resourced police camera crews had scrambled to record the bombers’ exit into the daylight and their last walk towards ground zero. The final action sequence, the climactic chase scene, was shot by a Hollywood veteran director of photography, Hilt Maxim, now of course the head of the NYPD’s cinematography unit. The final scenes, after re-cutting and a professional sound mix including foley, were cinema-quality.”“Success!”“Yes, success. Even before the four were brought to trial, the video evidence of their near-deadly journey was screened around the world. And not only that. The seizure of their cell phones enabled authorities to track down every person with whom the four had had a conversation. The seizure of those individuals’ phones in turn revealed every person with whom they had had conversations. And so on, in a finite but numberless progression, a super-virus of names, numbers, identities. The Dunkin Donuts meal was purchased with a credit card, and so the police were able to build a comprehensive record of the owner’s whereabouts going back several years. The four were carrying no personal documents, but once their identities were established police could access every time they had been to the doctor, and every other person who had been to the same doctor. Through their employment histories we could find out every website they had visited, every email they had sent from their workplaces, every time they had been tested for drugs and alcohol. Their genes and their blood were public. They had been filmed at work and so we could compile a portrait of their most insignificant actions. Of course, nothing was insignificant. Through their drivers’ licences, every car they had owned or rented. Every time they had been to their DVD library. Every bank account they had opened. Every gift they had sent. Their school grades. Through their electronic toll tags, every time they had crossed into the city or on any turnpike road. These four were transformed from nobodies, invisible men, into, literally, the best-documented lives of our time. They were public figures before they knew it.”“Celebrity Squares.”“Well, yes, they did become famous, and life in jail only enhanced their celebrity. Every litre of air they breathed, every second they slept, every pace in the exercise yard they trod, was filmed, measured and recorded, and finally – due to overwhelming public demand – released in a format accompanied by appropriately serious qualifications. The President himself provided the introductory sequences to the prison film.”“Lifestyles of the poor and famous ...”“You will not know this, child, and this will seem like an antique concern, but there were those in our community who, while relieved that the nuclear plot was thwarted, were aghast at the extent of surveillance in public places that the prosecution case revealed. It was not common knowledge, for instance, that cameras were stationed on most street corners in metropolitan areas. It was not commonly known that health records could be linked centrally to social security, education, housing and immigration records. These men had no criminal background and had never found their way into the newspapers. They had never been under any kind of anti-terrorism surveillance. They had been utterly unknown. And yet, within weeks, the world knew them as intimately as each of us knew ourselves. So some of us asked: could this happen to us? Are we all, in fact, open books that can be opened at the whim of authority?”“Civil Liberties. Industrial Revolution. Steam Engine.”“Yes, you know of the past from your schoolbooks. But it is not as long ago as you might think that there were people who believed privacy was an inalieanable human entitlement. Quite simply, they had no idea that an individual who was not of prior interest to the police could be tracked so closely. They had no idea so many cameras and other means of recording movement existed. It frightened them.”“Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear.”“Yes, yes, the catchphrase of our time. If you had nothing to hide then you had no cause to be afraid. It was only the guilty who needed to worry about the cameras and the spiderweb of personal records. And so, in a corollary of that logic, perhaps those who were worried – the civil libertarians – were guilty. Perhaps their anxiety proved their guilt.”“Nothing to Fear, Nothing to Hide.”“But the ancient guild of civil libertarians were not silenced by intimidation or arrest. There was no need for that. They were silenced by euphoria. Euphoria and anxiety did battle for a short time, but euphoria would win. Look at the bomb! Look at what we were saved from! Relive the drama of the capture! There was no contest. We had been saved from annihilation, or so we were told, and no price was too great to pay. The surveillance of individuals had certified its own necessity.”“The highest civil right is the right to live.”“Child, you say it as if you believe it. You are a creature of your time. ‘The highest civil right is the right to live’ – the President’s own words, spoken to the appreciative hum of a grateful world. The Anniversary Attacks proved him correct: any other human rights were secondary to the protection of life. Next to it, privacy was a trifle.”“Privacy – a temporary illusion of anarchic times.”“You remember your school lessons well. This period was the Eye’s apotheosis. Correspondingly, it was the end of what my generation called privacy. You were taught in school that ‘privacy’ was a tangent, a glitch in human history. You can only say the word with inverted commas around it. Since when had the notion of ‘privacy’ existed? Look back through time and all societies were communal, safe, pure and open, because in tribes and villages there were no secrets. Families were strong, and families knew all. As village life subsided and cities grew, and as humans were alienated from each other, the compensation for their separation was the propaganda-fuelled notion that their ‘privacy’ was something to be cherished. That it was better to have a life that could be kept secret from others. I know, child, it sounds absurd to you, but this belief persisted until my lifetime. What we learned later was that ‘privacy’ produced agony in individuals and war between nations. ‘Privacy’ isolated us from each other, and from our better natures. In our secret worlds we developed hatred for outsiders. ‘Privacy’ was what had produced those four sick young men. Look through history and what was ‘privacy’ but an aberration of the industrial era? Those countries that did not fetishise ‘privacy’ were the most successful in the 21st century. The People’s Republic, as always, was our model. A sophisticated culture was by necessity a village culture – cohesion was achieved by the absence of secrets. If you entertained terrorist thoughts in the PR, even silently, even in your sleep, they would soon be unveiled. This was a good, productive, functional society. The notion of ‘privacy’ was another facet of Western arrogance. It existed nowhere else in the world, and nowhere else in time. Once we realised that it was easier to let it go.”“The poor people nobody cared for. Boo-hoo, orphans.”“Yes, you were taught that the generations preceding yours were abandoned. Nobody was watching my heart rate while I slept. Nobody kept a daily log of my movements around the house. Nobody was watching out for me while I swam in my pool. How sad and lonely must I have been? It all changed in your time, when every one of your daily activities was logged and monitored and, as you put it, cared for.”“Our Golden Age. ”“Yes, our Golden Age began with the Anniversary Attacks. If an unknown terrorist cell, self-funded and self-motivated, without any links to known organisations, could be thwarted from detonating a nuclear device in New York City – then what hope did regular criminals have of succeeding? Most crime is unlike that attempted by those four young men. Most crime is patterned, committed by career criminals. So if the instant transmission of suspicious behaviour could stop an attack by non-criminals, what hope did recidivists have?”“The end of crime.”“Sex offenders had been fitted with global positioning devices – tracking devices – since 2005. The rate of sex crime by previous offenders, which had comprised 80% of all sex crimes, fell to nearly zero. The insertion of GPS devices, after this celebrated success, was extended to cover other kinds of criminals. Soon every man and woman who had served a jail sentence was fitted with a satellite tracking device. Cameras could locate them at the touch of a button. The authorities knew not only where they were but where they had been. This was the ultimate deterrent to crime: you could not get away with it.”“Big Brother is Watching You.”“I detect the sarcasm in your tone, child. ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ was the last anguished cry of the civil libertarians. They feared that the level of surveillance over citizens was prone to abuse by the authorities. By ceding so much power to those who watched, we were risking its arbitrary and unjust exercise. Yet this too was held to be an antique anxiety. Already we allowed police to carry handguns. We let the armed forces equip themselves with all manner of weaponry. Did that lead to the end of the world? Of course not. Occasional mistakes notwithstanding, the police and the armed services were trustworthy. They had proved it with weaponry, so why should they not be trusted with cameras? The police and the army were the most respected, most trusted institutions in our society. Who else would you entrust with the means of surveillance? It was argued that ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. But this was another artefact, a museum piece, from the industrial age, from the ‘privacy’ fetishists. Our protectors, our department of homeland security, had shown that absolute power need not corrupt the holder. In fact, absolute power just made it harder for criminals and terrorists to harm the innocent. To hurt our children. To shatter our society. Absolute power, when it was in the hands of the good, could only be put to good use. And that was what we saw in our Golden Age. Plummeting crime rates, the end of the terrorist threat, safety for all – all thanks to cameras and tracking devices and the immense resources allocated to real-time response.”“Reality time.”“The victory of the Eye gifted you with a safe childhood. We did not need to worry about strangers in cars, about men taking you away to commit unthinkable crimes – because we knew where they were. Better yet, they knew we knew where they were. These kinds of criminals had always held that their proclivities were biological, irremediable. We discovered otherwise. Once they knew they could not get away with it, they desisted. Not all of them, of course; there were always some who wanted to challenge their woven-in GPS devices. But these are by and large timid creatures. They found that when they had no hope of secrecy, their urges were not biological at all. They were a matter of choice.”“Freedom of choice / Is what you want / Freedom from choice / Is what you got.”“Of course sexual predators were not the only threat to our children. Fear of losing a child is the most powerful motivator of all. Knowing where your children are is a great salve for that fear. For many years, parents had been giving their children cell phones and using them as tracking devices. The child might have used the cell phone to communicate with friends but the cell phone’s real use, as dictated by the person who bought it, was surveillance. Parents could call their children and check on them whenever they grew anxious.”“Liar Liar Pants on Fire.”“Well, yes, the child could always lie about her whereabouts. But this was soon remedied with the spread of transponder technology. Previously used in law enforcement, transponders – signal-emitting tracking devices – were fitted to cellular telephones, then ultimately linked to satellite photographic technology, so that the child had no way of credibly lying. She could give her phone to somebody else, to throw the watchers out, but independent corroboration was available in instant satellite photography. In short, children could do nothing that their parents were unaware of. It gave us peace of mind.”“All we are saying / Is give peace a chance.”“It must seem strange to you, the Eye being of help to parents. Things are altogether different now. But you were privileged, you must not forget that. You had a childhood where your chances of being hurt, or of hurting yourself, were greatly diminished. As your parent, I can tell you it was a wonderful thing.”“It’s a wonderful world. So why – why flee from it?” “You, of all people, know why we are fleeing. But you may not be aware that you know it. That is what I am trying to tell you: to guide you towards that which you already know. Your problem is not that things are hidden from you. Your problem is that you don’t know how to see what is in front of your eyes.”“You can run, but you can’t hide.”“Never have truer words been spoken.”“Out of the mouths of babes.”“Sometimes you stumble across the apt phrase. But where were we? Yes, yes, I was telling you how blissful was your childhood. You knew nothing else in the world but your own appetites, unconstricted by fear – or the most constrictive kind of fear, which is your parents’ fear for your welfare. Now. Where was I? Yes – transponders for all. A pattern of those years, you must realise, was the democratisation of technology. Devices that were formerly the property of the intelligence agencies, or the police, or the armed forces, became available to anyone. Developments in technology constantly tended towards reducing the cost of each device, so that by 2001 I was technologically better equipped in my own home than the CIA had been 15 years earlier. Satellite imaging, closed-circuit cameras, transponders, wireless communications – a process worker could afford a total household surveillance fit-out by the first decade of this century …“And likewise with the inspection of others’ affairs online. I know how much you laugh when you see those old spy movies from the 1980s – how secret cameras and listening devices and bugs and wiretaps seem so clandestine and top-level. By your time, as you know, the means of peering into other lives was fully democratic. As was the willingness to be spied upon. There were those who advertised themselves on the internet as the subject of spying. They did not care who looked. They had nothing to hide, nothing to fear. They lived their lives in front of the camera. Their consciousness was fed into the eye – they lived as performers, as works of art, or as the raw material for art. What was shocking to older people was not that strangers could do so much spying; what was shocking was that so many were so willing to be spied upon, that so many were thrilled by the idea of the unknown viewer.”“I-spy with my little eye.”“Its immediate effects were rejoiced. We were relieved of the phenomenon known as ‘celebrity’, for instance – the mass worship of human icons. A groundswell against ‘celebrity’ had arisen since the turn of the century, with ‘celebrities’ being bashed and in some cases murdered by infuriated or disillusioned ‘fans’. What arose in its place was ‘microcelebrity’, individuals whose fame was as magnetic as that of the old celebrities but who were known only to the few who watched them online. Home exhibitionists, webloggers, visual diarists – these were the microcelebrities. We were all living in the public eye. But what microcelebrity portended was ‘microcommunities’. There was, by 2020, no longer such a thing as a ‘mass audience’. Our society splintered into microcommunities with their own separate interests and separate cultures, as exemplified by their own separate microcelebrities. What was changing was not the human desire to worship idols; what was changing was society itself.”“Things fall apart. The centre will not hold.”“The centre did not hold. The time of your youth was the time of fragmentation – a celebration of individuality and rebellion from old social values, and a reconfiguration of nations into smaller groupings defined by ethnicity, age, class, religion and sometimes, merely, taste in music and fashion. Or I should not say merely, because it was these niches that were the strongest microcommunities. You were defined by what you consumed. People coalesced around their common pursuit of certain goods. How did they coalesce? They were shaped by the really influential powers of our time: the forces of commerce ...”“Need To Know ...”“Fear of the state was, at least for a time, unfounded. Corporations, not the state, were driving the Need To Know. Whenever you bought, say, an item of clothing or homeware, your choice was connected into a vast database which could then analyse your choices over a range of products and compile a ‘consumer profile’ of you, which would be used to anticipate – and create – your future needs. The end of privacy was a windfall for corporations. For they could know what you wanted before you wanted it. They could create microcommunities around their products. They could harness what used to be known as human emotions – fear, greed, anxiety – just as we had once harnessed hydro-electric power. Once your day-to-day movements, your medical needs, your household spending, your educational and employment status, your cultural affiliations, as well as the old markers of age, race and religion were in the hands of corporations, you became a fixed and predictable quantity. You became a machine of productivity that had to be fed, clothed, housed and diverted. You were free from your workplace, but in exchange for letting you go sailing all day your corporate master could make you work while you were on your boat. You had unlimited leisure, and no real leisure at all. But who would trade it for the past, when my people were caged into our workplaces? No. You loved the present. It was the best of times. You would never choose to live at any other moment in history. This made you a much more malleable entity than you had been in the past.”“The past is another country.”“Other countries, nevertheless, do not always remain other. Other countries can move upon our countries. The past can invade the present. You see, to this point I have been talking only of our country and others like it, what used to be known as the ‘developed world’. But those who wanted to see the future needed only to look at other continents. Africa. The South. The predication of our Golden Age was that surveillance technology became cheaper and more democratically used. Power devolved. But this was not the case in other countries. In Africa, the new surveillance technology was owned only by the state. And these were countries of scarcity, where competition for limited resources was so brutal that a weapon, such as surveillance technology, could be used for more efficient suppression. In our country, our Golden Age ironed out inequality of access to technology. Anyone could own a cell phone, a transponder, a household iris scanner. Anyone could go online. But in the regions of scarcity, surveillance technology enforced inequality. Only the powerful minorities owned the hardware. So the technological revolution accelerated and hardened the brutalisation of the masses. These societies were much more complete and whole than ours – ironically, because they shared in common a single ruler and a single controlled mass. No fragmentation there ...“For a time, we believed we would escape this. We believed our society was different because of our ethical and racial superiority. Africans, Latin Americans, Central Asians were inferior. This was why they let themselves be ruled undemocratically. They wasted their resources. But the truth was different. Our Golden Age was founded on plenty. The spread of technology was not a benefit of superior organisation. It was a benefit of being able to exploit cheap labour and inequalities in currency. We weren’t rich because we were clever. We were clever because we were rich. Nobody understood this, of course ... until we started to become poorer. The cost of energy – so much harder to control and exploit cross-nationally – rose exponentially. Our crops failed and the seas and the skies reared against us. We borrowed against the promise of ever-growing prosperity. But once the future began to contract, so did the present. We have entered a period of brutality. Our basic resources are soon to be beyond the reach of most of us.”“So this is why we flee?”“No, this is not why we flee. But this is my warning to you. Our future is African. Our future is control and suppression. Already towns and villages are being wiped from our country. You do not know about this, because there is no longer a mass media to spread the word. Knowledge is open, but who knows where to find it? Who has the time? Who is interested enough? You are locked within your microcommunity. All you know is your immediate surrounds, your interests, your consumer needs. For you, the age is still golden. But the future is closing in. Power is, once again, to emerge from the barrel of a gun ...“You see, my child, you were all happy to give up your personal privacy, but you would never give up private property. You still had to compete for goods, for rewards, that you could own yourself. Did you see the contradiction? How could you have an open society with private property? You can’t, but so long as prosperity grew there seemed to be no contradiction. Now that we have entered into an age of contraction, older imperatives – antique imperatives – are once again asserting themselves. Humans now have unprecedented means to steal. To commit grand theft. Theft was not a problem while the pie kept getting bigger. But now, microcommunities are falling to micro-armies. There is no central power to stop them, and no central consciousness to know about them. Entire states in the west, the north and the south have fallen. Do you know that? No. You are still living in the immediate past.”“So where do you flee?”“There is no arcadia, no refuge. There is no way for individuals or communities to wall themselves in, safely. Our future is African. The earth can no longer produce enough for us, so we must change. And we have only ever changed, or been changed, by brute force. This, I tell you, is your future, not mine.”“The children are our future ...”“I would prefer to infuse you with something of the past. My child, I am fleeing in order to die. I am old, and I crawl away to die like an animal. You know that I am sick, even though you cannot interpret it. You have my medical records, you know all of my vital statistics, but you do not have the eyes into my soul. I remember when you were learning surveillance in your primary school.”“A satellite for every child ...”“That was the slogan, yes. Surveillance had been parents’ work, but it was all too clear that children were the owners of the future. Children knew how to use the technology better than adults did. I remember when I first found out you were watching me: you stopped asking me where I had been. You knew already. Children in our country became the spies, the watchers. Parents became the watched. I am not telling you anything you do not know. You have been watching me for as long as you can remember. I am your guinea pig, your lab rat. You know more about me than you know of yourself. And yet this is why I am bringing you here, to the wilderness, so you can watch me die – because you know nothing of me. You know a collection of data and movement and consumer activity. And yet, you know nothing. You know the number of everything, the value of nothing. I am your parent, and you have had me under surveillance for 15 years, and yet I am a mystery to you. You do not believe me? But this is what I have brought you out here to see. You shall see me dying. You shall know what happens. Our society has been built for the living, for the immortal, for the youthful. For prosperity. Well, you will soon be old too, and you will die, and if you do not watch what I am to show you, you will enter your last moments in a bleak hell that you can call your own. Your empty phrases, your babbled slogans, your skin-shallow speech, your happiness – none of it will insulate you ...“You may not care now, you may not wish to reflect or enquire, but the future has a habit of ignoring our wishes. Death will come to you too. Unless I show you who I am, you have no hope of knowing who you are. You have the Eye, but not yet an I. Here, come – child of mine – stranger. I am pleased – overjoyed – to meet you. Let us go and meet mortality.”