21 Sep 2007
One come to think of the sadly forgotten, yet classic dystopian novel The Space Merchants, debatedly the most brutal capitalistic parody every written.
Read Douglas Coupland's Jpod which was very funny, take a look....on to rereading The Space Merchants.
Published in 1953 its a science fiction classic and a good bit of political critique, it pioneered 'ecotage' long before The Monkey Wrench Gang, the novel by Ed Abbey which provided a template for Earth First! It includes a pioneering critique of American capitalism, good science fiction not only entertains, takes us to the possible future but is a satire of existing society.
I read it in the 1990s, Mark Brown (no not that one) who had been coming around drinking my whisky at 111 Ashley Road on the front line Bristol when I stayed in Mark Simpsons house (great anarchic dinner parties....god another age), told me to take a look. Mark well both of them were a great support when I put together the Green History book for Routledge.
Why not an anthology of green science fiction I thought but never got around to it. Mark's advice as usual was solid gold, I certainly enjoyed The Space Merchants
The Wiki oracle states:
In a vastly overpopulated world, the economy has replaced all political systems, and states exist merely to ensure the survival of huge trans-national corporations, which in fact hold all political power. Advertising has become hugely aggressive and by far the best-paid profession. Through advertising, the public is constantly deluded into thinking that the quality of life is improved by all the products placed on the market. However, the most basic elements are incredibly scarce, including water and fuel. The planet Venus has just been visited and judged fit for human settlement, despite the fact that it wouldn't be the most hospitable environment, and the colonists would have to endure a harsh climate for many generations until it's terraformed.
Mitch Courtenay is a star-class copywriter in the Fowler Schocken advertising agency who has been tasked with turning Venus into an attractive proposition for potential colonists. But a lot more is happening than he knows about. It soon becomes a tale of mystery and intrigue, in which quite a lot of the characters are not what they seem, and Mitch Courtenay changes drastically since the beginning of the story.
here are some bits from a 1979 Penguin edition...I am reading from, power, capital, what was it that jarvis cocker said about the people who are still running the world.
'There's an old saying, men. "The world is our oyster." We've made it come true. But we've eaten that oyster." He crushed his cigarette carefully. 'We've eaten it,' he repeated. 'We've actually and literally conquered the world. Like Alexander, we weep for new worlds to conquer'. p12
He covered the tedious lobbying and friend-making in Congress, which had given us the exclusive right to levy tribute and collect from the planet - [...] He explained how the Government - it's odd how we still think and talk of that clearing-house for pressures as though it were an entity with a will of its own - how the government wanted Venus to be an American planet and how they had selected the peculiarly American talent of advertising to make it possible.
He spoke of the trouble with the Senator from Du Pont Chemicals with his forty-five votes, and of an easy triumph over the Senator from Nash-Kelvinator with his six' p.13-14
'Mitch, you're a youngster, only star class a short time. But you've got power. Five words from you, and in a matter of weeks or months half a million consumers will find their lives compleatly changed. That's power, Mitch, absolute power. And you know the old saying. Power enobles. Absolute power enobles absolutely. p.39
'But why don't they like hydraulic mining?' She persisted. 'We've got to have coal and iron, don't we?"
'Now,' he said with pretend, humorours weariness, 'you're asking me to probe the mind of a Consie. I've had them in the wrecking room for up to six hours at a stretch and never yet have they talked sense. If I caught the Topeka Consie, say, he'd talk willingly - but it would be gibberish. He'd tell me the hydraulic miner was destroying topsoil. I'd say yes, and what about it? He'd say, well can't you see? I'd say, see what? He'd say, the topsoil can never be replaced. I'd say, yes it can if it had to be and anyway tank farming is better. He'd say something like tank farming doesn't provide animal cover and so on. It always winds up with him telling me the world's going to hell in a handbasket and people have got to be made to realise it - and me telling him we've always got along somehow and we'll keep going somehow.'
Kathy laughed incredulously [...]
If you read Spanish try this description:
"MERCADERES DEL ESPACIO" (The Space Merchants) de Frederik Pohl y C. M. Kornbluth, Editorial Minotauro, 248 páginas.
Sinopsis: en una sociedad futura dominada por la publicidad y en la que prácticamente la mayoría de la gente son meros consumidores, Mitchell Courtenay es un publicista que se ve envuelto en la lucha por colonizar el planeta Venus, un infierno que se pretende presentar como un paraíso para beneficiarse de su explotación. Pero hay una parte de la sociedad, los llamados "consistas" (conservacionistas), que abogan por el consumo sostenible y el ecologismo frente a las tácticas publicitarias y el consumo irracional de los recursos.
Great review here
To readers today, it may seem nothing short of amazing that a book like The Space Merchants was published where and when it was—in an America enthralled by the hysterical moral panic that was McCarthyism and driven by a post-war economic boom that had the United States plotted on a steep upward trajectory. The Space Merchants was a radical book back then, and it's a radical book today. It's also still terribly—that is greatly and horribly—timely.
Pohl's and Kornbluth's deeply satirical dystopia is really no less potent an indictment of advertising "culture" (empowered as it is by manipulation and exploitation) and rampant capitalist consumerism (riddled as it is with contradictions and abuses) in the early years of the 21st century than it was in the 1950s. A reader need not be wildly cynical or a paranoid conspiracy theorist to (at least) crack a wry smile of the it's-funny-because-it's-true variety at notions like: Congressmen representing businesses instead of states (as in "the senator from Du Pont Chemicals"), an adman speaking with joy and moral resignation about the incredibly addictive properties of a popular consumable (like the novel's "Coffiest"-brand drink or "Kiddiebutt" cigarettes), people having to wear anti-soot noseplugs because of environmental degradation, or a multinational corporation proudly billing itself as the agency that succeeded in "merging a whole subcontinent into a single manufacturing complex" (thereafter known as "Indiastries").
But The Space Merchants isn't just good polemical satire, it's also often quite a page-turner of a novel. At times reading like a corporate espionage thriller, at others like an account of revolutionary struggle and at others still like a modern-day romance, Pohl and Kornbluth's storytelling succeeds on many fronts. The most often cited weak point of the novel is this relationship between Mitch and Kathy, however, which can make the story fairly pulpy, even melodramatic at times. Many have also found the ending fairly disappointing, too. But the characters do work, on the whole—both when this novel is operating like a spirited satire and when it's doing some rather thoughtful and complex analysis of the role of and stresses on the individual in what we might today called the globalized world.