Monday, June 15, 2020

Identity Crisis

Identity crisis, Ben Elton

Ben Elton has yet again proven his skilled, cutting ability to assess and rip into current societal trends (I have briefly mentioned some of his other books here). Nothing is off limits in this mystery which starts with police inspector Matlock reporting the murder of a woman in a London park at night. In a press conference, he suggests that women should be careful at night, and it was a sad case of her being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A media storm ensues, as he is accused of suggesting she is to blame for what happened to her. Bewildered, he makes the requisite apology. Alongside this, various story threads emerge and start to intertwine. There is an impending referendum between England Out and Team UK and both sides are desperately trying to get votes. A reality TV show, Love Island, has had its first case of #ItsNotOK with a female contestant alleging a non-consensual kiss. A transgender person has been killed, and there is uproar over the lack of police awareness, while other people are protesting that the similar death of a young black woman did not get any attention. A female historian is trying to get women of the past acknowledged, and have dead men of history charged for past crimes. Parallel to all this, Maliki, a mathematician in a communications company is becoming increasingly aware of her role in writing the algorithms which spark such reactions.

Considering that subject matter, Elton can comment on both sides of numerous topics through the characters involved: gender and identity issues; feminism, #MeToo and men that reject it; Christians; nationalistic politics; the revision of history (markedly relevant this week); and the ongoing bile and hatred in the online space. Really it’s an opportunity to stick the boot into everyone, pointing out inconsistencies in almost all arguments, especially those conducted online. It is insightful, ironic, and at times laugh out loud funny. But it is also crass, vulgar, and contains all the strong, graphic hate language that is often used in these arguments. It’s appropriate in the context, but some readers may struggle.

To get a feel, I’ll include one longish quote:
"Who were these people, these furious tweeters? 
Matlock never ceased to be amazed at the violence of the abuse. He had met a number of transgender individuals in the course of his duties and without exception they had been polite, considerate and seemingly without any unusual degree of malice. Yet somewhere out in the ether there appeared to be a small group of non-binary people who were in a permanent state of blind fury and a hairtrigger away from taking massive, absolute and unforgiving offence. And of course it wasn’t just transgender people: the same things seem to be the case for all self defining groups, which, in the current identity-focused social landscape, appeared to include absolutely everyone. From men to women. From cis to trans. From new-age Travellers to white supremacists. From vegans to pagans. From Celts to carnivores. From anti-vaxxers to enlightened humanists. From the proudly plus-sized to the assertive anorexics. The long, the short and the tall. The good, the bad and the ugly. 
The entire population appeared to be itching for a fight because everybody else afforded them insufficient respect. At least they were once they got on the net. That was the strange thing. Everyone seemed perfectly normal when you talked to them personally, in the street or on the bus.… But in the virtual social universe of the internet everything had gone completely potty."
It's fiction, but at times seems markedly close to reality. Elton has written an enjoyable, insightful, searing and highly relevant consideration of the world today, in both the online and offline space. 

No comments: