book-reviews

Dawn of the Dumb

by Charlie Brooker

Rating: ★★★★

I know Brooker mostly from his TV shows -- I'm not one of those sacred few who've followed him from TV Go Home -- and so my point of reference for most of this collection of articles is Brooker's image on Screenwipe. You know, where he sits in a darkened room, cheerfully spewing puerile vitriol at the telly while wanking himself off. Not that I'm criticising. In fact, I find it kind of cathartic, letting him shout and overact his disgust at the stupids so that I can just sit back and smile. The major problem with Screenwipe, which also applies to these articles from 2004-2007, is that a lot of the time you end up watching Brooker insult people you don't know on TV shows you'd never watch. Brooker is constantly slagging off the non-celebs on shows like Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity, The Apprentice and X-Factor, all of which sound about as fun to watch as the medieval equivalent -- a sack full of live cats thrown onto a fire. There's a sort of relationship here like that boy pushing the girls on the playground -- he's only picking on them because he's fascinated with them.

That's why I always preferred Newswipe. It's still the relaxing image of Brooker insulting things while he masturbates into his cornflakes, but the things he's angry at are current events, some of which actually matter, and he intersperses segments of genuinely enlightening media studies, about how the news media operate, and how little this has to do with the notions of journalistic integrity that they try to flog you in the cinema. Thankfully, these articles contain both approaches, along with more general misanthropy.

Some US readers might be confused, because Brooker's major claim to fame at the moment is his sci-fi series Black Mirror, which unexpectedly shot into international awareness for some reason with its 2014 Christmas special, nearly two years after its second season, and has since been picked up by Netflix (and seems to still be doing pretty well). Most of Brooker's material isn't like that. However, that said, in his pseudo-psychotic rants through these pages, you see hints of the ideas that led to Black Mirror episodes, and evidence of Brooker's attention to technology and its effects on culture. Most importantly, though, you get to see Brooker unknowingly describe the series he would go on to create, in one of his rare surges of authentic human emotion, as he talks about British sci-fi:

Actually, no. Not Buck Rogers. It's far too gee whizz. Give me something British. Something depressing and dystopian. Something angry and idealistic and imaginative and scary

Few raving media commentators can claim to have actually made something which so genuinely fits a description they admired.

There are other echoes of the future in these pages, too. Brooker's Dead Set is foreshadowed both generally by Brooker's love-to-hate relationship with Big Brother, and specifically by an article he wrote describing its plot. A much more chilling fusion of popularised idiocy and brainless hordes is also predicted in a 2007 article, when Brooker gives a list of advice to George W. Bush which describes Donald Trump's presidency. No, seriously, read the article, the correspondence is really uncanny, I half wonder if he's responsible for the whole campaign. Brooker seems to have so contorted his mind trying to predict the activities of reality TV idiots around his article publication dates that he's actually developed precognitive abilities, which have unfortunately been tuned to the wrong timeframe. If my calculations are right, he should be picking up 2029 about now.

It's been a while since I've read stuff that could genuinely get me chuckling, rather than just smiling in a self-satisfied way, and so I have to award Brooker with stars for that. So what if it's sometimes juvenile, sometimes overly personal? You have to live a little. Sometimes you need something a little bit unbalanced to remind you that it's worth getting out of bed.

PS: Okay, so one more negative comment. That prologue: What? You took this already sort of weak, hot-off-the-blogs nothing-piece and you neutered it. I mean, sure, give the context, and I appreciated the letters-from-loons a little, but really, you snip off the ending that was the only reason anyone talked about it, and then instead simper away about how lovely every single American is? Come on.