Review of ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K Dick

  

The Man in the High Castle is… suggestive. Dick is a pre-digital master of virtual reality; or in older vernacular, alternative reality. Access to such may be acquired via narcotic means, technology or…? In High Castle, I’m not really sure.

High Castle is basically a slice of life. How would ‘modern’ (1960s) Americans live if Japan and Germany had won the Second World War? From the humdrum everyday existence up to the far-reaching context of international affairs. And what if, within this world, a small handful of people discovered an alternative? Would this alternative exist only in the mind of its imaginer? Or…?

Not to put too fine a spoiler on it, High Castle leaves you wondering. Which is Philip K Dick in a nutshell, really.

Balance

My Political Coordinates

And thus I am labelled. But what does it mean?

A couple of decades or so ago I was a ‘right lefty’ (pardon the pun). I have since veered towards the right. Does this mean I am destined to become a Right Wing Grandad, who decries all foreigners and denies the principles of his youth? I would like to think not. I would like to think that I will ‘end up’ gently circling the Centrepoint of Perfect Balance (because Absolute Perfection is, of course, impossible).

These divisions are… divisive. Between friends, nations, families, religions, any kind of social grouping you can think of. Division causes conflict, which is usually destructive. Shouldn’t we aim to heal, to understand, to tolerate, to compromise? Not to be equal; humanity (and beyond) is beautiful in its variety – but to seek a harmonious mix of political affiliations, races, gender preferences, religions (or lack of), taste in tapas and videogames.

I am tending towards thinking government should be like a parent – or parents – of either or both genders; but whatever the mix, there should be a balance of masculine and feminine, of maternal and paternal attributes. Parenthood is guiding, nurturing, a mix of control and freedom, but not too much of either. Discipline offset with reward, love and firm boundaries. Listening and considering, but asserting where necessary. This is not a perfect analogy – if the nation is the child and the government the parent(s)… well… it could be seen as patronising. But you get the idea!

Which is why I believe in Proportional Representation!

Dawn, Shaun and Cliches Worn

I am conflicted about zombies. We are presently saturated with them. But have we lost sight of their true purpose? Let me define ‘true’…

In accordance with Romero’s original vision.

I speak having just watched Dawn of the Dead – George A. Romero’s original 1978 version. I haven’t been particularly interested in watching it before – zombies, flesh-eating, blah blah blah. But then I read Simon Pegg’s autobiography not so long ago, in which he speaks of the profound effect of Romero’s undead flicks upon him, leading ultimately to his respectful parody, Shaun of the Dead.

I picked up from a carboot and watched a remastered DVD of Night of the Living Dead a bit before reading Pegg’s autobiog. I watched Dawn the other day (and of course I watched Shaun pretty much upon release, being in awe of everything Peggish). I was surprised, entertained and affected by Dawn.

My conflict arises thus…

Zombies are everywhere! Not literally – we are not actually in the throes of a zombie apocalypse – but in every conceivable media. TV, films, comics, teen novels and perhaps most popularly, videogames (I am especially familiar with the latter, as the children at the school where I work can’t get enough of them). But what do they mean? What are they about? Why are we obsessed with these consumers of the flesh? One could, no doubt, compose reams on The Socio-Political Significance of the Modern Zombie Phenomenon, but to really get to the bottom of their true (Romero-esque) significance…

One has to return to Dawn.

So…

Accounting for my apologies at flitting back and forth between different sections of the film…

One (that is, I) is (am) struck throughout at the ease with which these seemingly weak, feeble-minded, shambling creatures, manage to bite, rip and tear at the flesh, innards and musculature of their victims, with what one presumes are, after all, merely human (albeit undead human) hands and teeth. This can, to some extent, be put down to the limited effects technology of the time… or it could be put down to a lack of thought with respect of the ‘realism’ of such scenes… but considering my increasing respect for the film and its primary creator, as the film approaches its denouement, I refuse to believe that either of these potential limitations negate the intentionality of this apparent ‘error.’ Because after all, throughout Dawn (and doubtless Night, but I’d have to watch it again to be sure), there seems to be an overarching intention to not explain just why the American nation (or some unspecified part of it) has become overrun with zombies.

It’s not about the intention (particularly).

It’s not about the purpose (entirely).

It’s all about the metaphor!

And if high school (or more likely, above, on account of the BBFC ratings of the films) English students were ever to study Romero, one would surely find his works riddled with it (metaphor, that is). To whit…

Perhaps most obviously, the zombies themselves represent what humanity has become (generally).

At the start, and at points throughout Dawn, folk seem more concerned with reporting on and commenting on the phenomenon than dealing with it… which says a lot about the state (in 1978 and now) of the ‘media.’

There is a themic thread throughout regarding the dichotomy of freedom vs self-imposed internment. This is most clearly expressed through the choice of the protagonists to set up home in the shopping mall, surrounded by legions of the undead, rather than seek a less restrictive but less psychologically secure zombie-free existence elsewhere.

The whole film and concept is about rampant consumerism. The zombies are consumers, literally, who mindlessly return to the mall, guided not by thought but by an animalistic adherence to routine. Also the non-undead protagonists become self-appointed kings and queen of their consumerist domain, fighting literally or virtually to the death to protect it. And they actually end up losing their domain, and partially their lives, in the culmination of their possessive greed.

And then there’s the easy rending and tearing of flesh. How fragile are we, that we can be torn apart, even by the dead?

There is doubtless much more to Dawn than I have touched on above. Why were the two survivors a black man and a pregnant woman? Why did the Hell’s Angel insist on getting his blood pressure measured, even when surrounded by the zombies who were the ultimate agents of his gruesome demise? What is the significance of the tennis ball?

In generalising the modern zombie, which saturates the media of 2015, one can apply the metaphor that they represent our collective desire to return to the primal, along with the simultaneous need to assert out humanity by destroying it. Granted, this is simplistic and certainly not a patch on the complex extended metaphor of Romero – but if one is awash with the undead and multitudinous simulucra thereof… may I suggest a cleansing at the hands of the master? Be enlightened by the light of Dawn! (um… or something…)



My Newfound Okay-ness With Football

I had bad experiences of PE at school. Although I may see things differently if I actually went back in time, I would say my PE teacher was a bit of a bully. I wasn’t naturally sporty and I wasn’t, let’s say, positively encouraged to enjoy sports. There were some exceptions, but my emerging feelings about football certainly derive in part from the above. I also, in my early childhood, was quite aware of football hooliganism – and I remember feeling quite intimidated by football fans running through the streets of Moss Side when there was a big match on… so football, for me, seemed to be a game for thugs.

Over the next couple of decades or so, I had no incentive to “get into” football. This has recently changed…

I work in a school.

The class I support is comprised of five teenage boys.

Two of those boys are “into” football.

We are also often joined by another teenage boy who is “really into” football.

Since September I have been largely supporting the PE teacher (who is more calm, patient, intelligent and funny than I remember my school PE teacher being) and his assistant – both of whom are “into” football.

I have also been recently supporting (and enjoying doing so) the lunchtime football club.

And I like and respect and enjoy being around the aforementioned footbally folk.

So can you see why I now have incentive? As such, this past week, I have looked at a football league table, asked the footbally folk for my predictions of forthcoming fixtures (see how I used the word ‘fixtures’?) to be added to the ongoing spreadsheet, acquainted myself with the ‘Rules of Football’ and gained a basic understanding of the Offside Rule. Re the latter, it is essentially about stopping a player from hogging the opponent’s goal, so that your team mates can spend all their time taking long shots, upon which the ball can be just chipped into the net (see how I said, “chipped into the net”?) – which would of course make for a boring game. Please forgive me, football fans, if my understanding of this is ‘offside’ (sorry).

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The Missed Opportunity of Mutual Geekery

LAN, WAN, HAN… What do these terms mean to you? In the arcane world of Computer Science, they stand for Local Area Network, Wide Area Network and Home Area Network. But Star Wars fans amongst you might spot another connection. If I say, ‘-do Calrissian,’ ‘Obi Kenobi’ and ‘Solo,’ are you enlightened? Non-Star Wars fans will herewith remain stumped, so let me elucidate…

There are three characters in the Star Wars universe thus named:

LANdo Calrissian

Obi WAN Kenobi

HAN Solo

… Geddit now?

And yet…

From a brief Googlic perusal, I cannot find any evidence that this connection has been exploited (except in this tenuous link: http://blog.silver-peak.com/what-can-obi-wan-kenobi-teach-you-about-networks). That’s not to say that it hasn’t, the Internet being big and all, but I would have expected greater prominence. An ‘Obi WAN’ connecting the computers of the offices of Lucasfilm Ltd, for example…? Methinks a mutual geekish opportunity missed!

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