Sunday, 21 April 2013

Loose Connections

State of Play (2004) is an isolated, functionalist, view of 21st century Britain. The characters of State of Play are reporters, editors, politicians, police, PR executives, and their families. Only a few characters not of this political-media world are depicted: a family of, in the view of the characters, mostly irrational annoyances; or an ex-soldier and hired assassin. These characters only appear when they are being investigated for crimes or raw journalistic material (and raw focus group material in real world terms). All of these elements, police, politicians, and journalists, are part of one holistic system of government that keeps the mass of the population at arms length.

Consider the character of the MP Stephen Collins and G.B.H.'s Michael Murray. One of the first scenes Murray appears in he is being applauded by his supporters, but Collins' are never seen. We learn about Murray's past and previous occupations, but Collins, like many post-Blair politicians, is impossible to see as having a background, or at least a background comparable to Murray's working class origins (even his name doesn't call back to anything, whereas Murray's is suggestive of a) his father, a prominent socialist, who shared the name, and b) his Irish immigrant background). Collins' world is also a very close one that demonstrates the fluidity of the new corporate order: it is is the death of his researcher that alerts the journalist Cal McAffrey to the story, McAffrey being his former campaign manager, and Collins' wife Anne being somebody he met on his political campaign.

Functionally State of Play is about the smooth operation of the political-media-police infrastructure that administrates Britain: it is sophisticated in that regard that it acknowledges many thing once though extraordinary are now systematic. A teenager is executed on the streets of London; a conspiracy to tailor government policy to the requirements of energy companies (Edge of Darkness symmetry). All of these events are unremarkable. In one of the stranger details the gunman is cornered a shot dead by police without warning: nothing is ever made of this for the rest of the drama.

The glitch occurs when the disconnected, corporate world of modern Britain is exploited by somebody who knows how to play the rules for personal gain. 'Honest' capitalism (or honest governance), or fair play, is what should be paramount. Reactions to the Financial Crisis of 2008 are variously focused on convincing the public that the financial world really is honest. It is interesting to note that if one explores the world of management there is a lot of fear about psychopaths: Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare's Snakes in Suits outlines the variously nightmarish ways a psychopath could be in YOUR company (though there is a tone of admiration throughout the work on psychopaths, after all they do get 'it' done, even if it's at the expense of everyone else in the organization). The character of Stephen Collins finds an assassin to murder an former lover. Whilst the government-energy conspiracy is treated as unremarkable, this personal failing involves a complete breakdown of Collins as a character. He is a threat to the smooth flowing of power.

Charles Stross has an astute analysis of what's gone wrong here. The world of 21st century British politics is a dehumanized, disconnected, alienating institution: in a way this has infected many areas of British society. Underneath the veneer of rational colonist institutions, it becomes clear that the disconnection allows the rot to fester under the shiny surfaces, provided it doesn't become to much of a bother.

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