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So Damn Pretty

Dystopias are so damn pretty. They are also riddled with clichés and belong to the picturesque realm of fantasy.

And so, we cannot believe our eyes at the stunning, stark spectre that’s unfolding, overfamiliar scenes from books and movies: images of people tumbling in the wake of an invisible force moving across the globe’s silent cities—a tsunami of trouble that nobody saw coming. (No one saw it coming, did they?)

On our TVs and phones and computers everything is flattened into an absolute equivalence. Adverts, movies, sitcoms, documentaries, game shows, reality TV: they all reach us through one screen. It’s hardly surprising, then, that our brains can’t tell the difference between fiction and fact. All we see are storied images.

We still feel safe, way down here at the bottom of the world: the Antipodes. Life is still normalish (though we are making up new adjectives). We do normalish things whilst devouring strangeish images from far-away places of what looks like a new kind of warfare. Some ask, Is this warfare? It won’t be the first time the unprecedented—the unimaginable—has been used in a war. It won’t be the first time a biological weapon has been used against the innocent. Some ask, Are we innocent?

Conspiracy theories abound. In a world seduced by technology—and increasingly warped by extreme extremes—these theories sound rather plausible. They are also very entertaining. We mock conspiracy theorists—we do—but their tales make a home in us and feed our worried wondering.

I study satellite images of countries whose industries have ground to a halt. A month ago these countries were cloaked in bilious blurs of nitrogen dioxide. Today, their earthy terrains are unveiling themselves. Fantastic revelation. A savage surge of joy belts through me: The world is righting itself. To think we once believed that money and technology could ever out-game biology.

I say to him: It’s so poetic, isn’t it? It’s so hard not to ascribe meaning to all of this.

He looks annoyed. Worse: he looks disgusted. You’ve got to be fucking kidding, he says, and slams out of the room.

I scroll through the article and stop at a photo of a brick wall stuck over with newspaper: the obituary pages. Overseas, funerals have been banned for weeks: this is the only memorial allowed now. Overseas, abstractions have surrendered fully to the concrete. Is there a place, in this new world, for metaphor and poetry? (Even the question seems obscene.)

It is odd, that digital images born from a distant satellite should move me so deeply, whilst this—the sheer loveliness of ordinary faces—leaves me feeling nothing much at all.

What is wrong with me?

Perhaps there is a name for such cool curiosity in the face of actual, and oncoming, tragedy. Perhaps it’s some sort of pre-emptive, self-protective numbness—or is that, simply, dread?

Better to be up in space, I think, than stuck here with the beloved dead.

This text was first published at Arena Online: https://arena.org.au/rewilding-part-i/

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@usgs