Cape Town

Simply showing up is a start

showingup

A few people look slightly embarrassed.

Embarrassment has been a big topic ahead of this march. Some have been embarrassed by the lack of embarrassment of their friends. Others have been embarrassed by the idea of making this all about them and their middle-class discomfort, preferring instead to make it all about them and their middle-class mortification. Their Victorian ancestors beam down on them proudly.

One group, though, isn’t embarrassed. They’re the ones about to get richer than God by pushing through the nuclear deal.

A few modern Victorians still ask: “Have they no shame?”, using the language of a 19th-century dressing room to try to make sense of a 21st-century looter setting his eyes on the biggest prize in South Africa’s history.

One of those naive souls is outside parliament near me, holding up a sign: “Save the ANC, fire Zuma”. Determined to ignore what his eyes tell him, he still clings to the notion that the ANC is being held captive in a tower when in fact it has sold the tower to Russia and is sending the cash to Dubai in brown paper bags.

Of course, his isn’t the only misinformed banner out here. Over there a guy is holding up a picture of Nelson Mandela and the words, “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.” When I was there in 2015, watching students getting gassed and shot at, that sign might have been relevant. But today it has the opposite effect to the one its waver is hoping for. Today, it serves as a call for perspective. No, it says, we are not there yet. Vote them out because they are irreparably corrupt or because they can’t deliver services or education; but don’t demand they go because you think this is oppression. That helps nobody.

High above us, a drone hovers, drifting against the cusp of sinister. One day it will be frightening. This afternoon it is still pleasant. We look up at it the way people looked at aircraft in 1913.

Two EFF fighters in full regalia raise their fists, looking subtly self-conscious as you might when you’ve worn bondage gear to a wedding.

We’d take anyone with a megaphone and a message

The absence of leadership is palpable as thirst. We’d take anyone right now, anyone with a megaphone and a message. One man, his credentials printed on a union T-shirt, obliges, leading some raw-voiced amandlas and a speech about educated revolutionaries; but it’s an underpowered megaphone and only the front row can hear. The tens of thousands shuffle on, good-natured, used to being leaderless, wanting more.

Half-hidden in a shaded doorway, a young woman holds a sign reading “Fuck white people”, the now-familiar logo designed by Michaelis art student Dean Hutton. She is tired and the sign is drooping. People glance at her and glance away.

I know that some people want a tabula rasa in this country, a great resetting of the clock and the balance sheet. From what I’ve read they understand that this would result in societal and economic collapse but they feel that the ensuing wreckage would still be better than what we have now. They believe that democracy has failed, or that it is inherently unable to improve their lives, and that it is time to knock it all down so that something new can be built.

I have my doubts. I don’t think that that path inevitably leads to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge but, without being an expert, I am pretty certain that it produces years of stagnation and regression and the potential for astonishing violence. Blank slates are seductive but they can also become a canvas on which monsters paint their fantasies. What comes next is trial (or show-trial) and error. Finally, once scores have been settled and the wheel slowly reinvented, the country starts a slow and painful crawl back towards the global status quo: generally capitalist, nominally democratic.

South Africans don’t need to read all the clichés about the inherent flaws of democracy to see its failings: they only need to look at the inequality in this country to see how easily democracy can be manipulated to avoid restorative justice.

But for me, it remains the least-worst method of government we’ve groped towards. And if, like me, you think that democracy is worth maintaining, then showing up is literally the least you can do.

Soon, the looters will ask us to show how much we’re willing to do to stop them. They will ask us if we’re sure that we want democracy, and they’ll demand that we prove it. They might call it something official like a “state of emergency” or a “temporary suspension of information technologies”, but it will be a question, plain and simple: “What are you going to do about it?”

Showing up is a start.

*

Published in The Times

Not all art is on the wall

hith-Mona-Lisa-model-E

The first time I saw the Mona Lisa in person I was literally stopped in my tracks. That’s because two young Americans were kneeling in the doorway, unfolding a map of the Louvre.

One of them was explaining in upwardly inflected Californian that it would be cool if they could like find a john on this floor because it had been like hours since he’d like peed and he really needed to like pee or whatever.

I said, “I’m sorry,” and they said, “It’s cool,” and I realised that they thought I was apologising. So I stepped over them and entered the room where the most famous painting in the world hung.

At least, I think it was the room where the most famous painting in the world hung. Because you can’t actually see the Mona Lisa. What you see is a scrum of about a hundred anxious people in flip-flops, bobbing and craning to get a better view of the bobbing and craning heads in front of them.

Now and then one of them manages to squirm around with his or her back to the wall before raising an arm, like a drowning swimmer calling for help, and taking a selfie. There is the sound of digitally simulated camera clicks, and the plop-plop of fresh flip-flops hurrying to join the back of the throng.

You don’t hear the people detaching from the group because they walk too slowly to make a sound. They drift off into the gallery, bent over their phones, scrolling through the pictures they’ve snatched. Like starving prospectors sieving through icy mud in search of a gleam of gold, they peer at each photograph, hoping that they captured something – a fragment of frame, two pixels of the actual painting – to prove to themselves that they had been close to something valuable.

Looking at the people looking at the people looking at the Mona Lisa was a sad experience. The painting was always going to be an anti-climax but I wasn’t prepared for the desperate hope of the plop-ploppers and the intense disappointment that filled the room.

But on the weekend, in a gleaming white cube off a bleedingly self-consciously Cape Town alley, I longed for the Mona Lisa mob. Because there was nothing between me and the art on the wall, and I was panicking.

Now I was doing Lecherous Poseur

Was I standing too close? Had I got my Hollywood tropes wrong? I had. Oh God. I had wanted to do Elegantly Ambivalent Connoisseur but instead I was doing Elderly Spotter of Excellent Fakes. I stepped back. Oh Jesus. Now I was doing Lecherous Poseur Stepping Back To Take In Some Sort of Imaginary Bigger Picture, Hoping To Bump Into Ingénue Standing Alone With Her Wine.

I glanced around and saw the artist glaring at us, despising our spineless decision to come to see his work, hating our approving nods. I understood his anger. It is a terrible thing to know that your rejection of the status quo has been paid for by your dad. I wanted to go over to him and reassure him that one day he would be able to have exhibitions that nobody was invited to, where he would be free from the insulting compliments of the masses; that one day he might even sell a painting to someone who wasn’t one of his dad’s clients. But at that moment I’d slipped into Person Who Suddenly Wants To Leave Gallery Because It’s Strangling His Soul.

Not that I could leave, of course. I’d only been there for 15 seconds, and it would be clear that I was fleeing and that I hated the work. Which wasn’t true. I didn’t hate the work. I didn’t feel anything about the work. I was like a gecko gazing at a copy of Vogue. It was just, you know, there. Perhaps I could do a slow lap of the room, pretending to pause at that one of the pig of neo-conservatism riding the Monsanto tractor, and then slip out of the door? Not yet. Maybe give it another 15 seconds.

“I like how the intervention has subverted the hegemony of flat-plane curating,” said the person next to me. I am quite fluent in Pretentious so I knew that he’d said, “I like that not all the art is hanging on the wall.”

I was going to reply that, for me, the power of the work derived from its discourse with the traditions of the Bacchanalia (“I like the free wine”) but instead I said, “Mm”.

Because, really, I have nothing to say about art. The bad stuff doesn’t deserve comment and the good stuff doesn’t require it, least of all from someone like me. But I’ll keep looking, because sometimes the most memorable pictures and mysterious smiles aren’t on the wall.

*

Published in The Times

Putting the ‘pro’ in ‘propaganda’

propagandaWhen I read that the ANC had spent R50-million on a propaganda campaign I was greatly relieved because it allowed me to think better of someone.

The person in question, a denizen of Twitter’s sweatier fighting pits, had once showered me with hot, pungent sanctimony after I’d criticised the ANC, and I had gone away believing him to be a wilfully stupid supporter of kleptocrats.

But when news broke of the ANC’s “war room”, everything changed. Because there he was, named as a valued member of the lavishly paid goon squad.

The relief rolled over me like a Gupta rolling over a cabinet minister. His criticisms hadn’t been personal. They hadn’t even been heartfelt. Rather than being a self-righteous prick he was simply being professional: putting the “pro” in propaganda.

My relief, however, was tinged with sadness. Because, even though I was happy to discover that my accuser was simply cranking out lies-by-the-yard for money, I felt terribly sorry for the country’s other propagandists who had just discovered how badly they were being paid.

I don’t know if the EFF has a propaganda department yet. I suspect their “war room” is just a dojo where senior Fighters gather around and applaud while Julius Malema delivers karate chops to an inflatable doll of Jacob Zuma. But if they don’t already have an Alternative Fact Brigade, they soon will: when the Commander-In-Chief publishes his memoirs in 10 years, perhaps titled 100% For Me, expect to see no mention of Venezuela or Robert Mugabe.

No, I don’t know if the EFF pays any propagandists, so it’s not them I feel sorry for. The ones my heart goes out to, the ones lying curled up on their unmade bed, staring at nothing and murmuring “Fifty million?”, are the spin-doctors of the DA.

I met one of them, once, a bright young thing who told me that he writes letters to newspapers whenever the DA needs a little push in the polls. You’ve probably read them: “Dear Sir, as a resident of Khayelitsha I can assure you that the location, or, as we call it, ‘the i-karsi’, is not only very safe but is also being brilliantly run by the DA. Halala Moesie Mymarny! Yours, Sipho Mandela.”

Until news of the war room broke, the future must have looked bright for the DA’s propagandists. There was work galore. Cape Town is busy selling off a large chunk of public coastline to a private developer, and under normal circumstances we might have expected something to appear online in the next few days, perhaps “New Study Proves That Seaside Walks on Public Land are Leading Cause of Depression”.

But that was then. Now, the rules (and the pay scales) have changed forever.

Once, a DA letter-writer was content to be paid with a tin of Danish butter cookies and an Exclusive Books gift voucher. (“With thanks. Buy anything you like, but just so you know, there’ll be a quiz on Helen Zille’s life next week and all the answers are in her memoir. Just saying.”) But how can butter cookies compete with R50-million?

Still, I would urge them to hang on. Their ship will come in, because propaganda is a growth industry. In fact it’s just getting started. And that’s because people are incredibly bad at discerning fact from fiction, especially if the fiction has a headline and some quotes and a photo of a man in a suit.

I should have learned this lesson back when I helped run satire website Hayibo.com. In 2011, our story about the African Union sending troops and food aid to riot-hit London went viral. It was posted to forums and blogs. It was even discussed by commodities traders, wondering how the imports would hit UK grain prices.

In retrospect it was chilling, but at the time we found it bizarrely funny. We simply couldn’t believe that Eton-educated stockbrokers could mistake our silliness for truth. For God’s sake, it even claimed that the AU would be “parachuting in dentists as part of a ‘Feel better about yourselves, Brits!’ initiative”.

I no longer find that story funny, not after seeing how completely adrift we are.

I often hear people wishing that our media were more sophisticated, but I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m starting to suspect that editors and broadcasters might need to revisit their assumptions about how information is received and take a big step back to the basics.

Propagandists everywhere are telling us that up is down and good is bad. They have gone straight back to the first principles of reality in order to rearrange them.

It is easy to point and stare, aghast. But the media cannot react to credulity with incredulity.

Rather, it needs to meet the new Goebbelses back there at Ground Zero. And it needs to start repeating, clearly and relentlessly, that bad is bad, that down is down, and that lies are lies.

*

Published in The Times

Stockholm Syndrome, the Good ANC, and other fantasies

south-africaThere’s blood in the water.

Sorry, false alarm: that’s just a cranberry juice being nursed by an anxious comrade over by the buffet table; the one who’s quietly practising saying, “Congratulations, Comrade President Ramaphosa!” over and over so he doesn’t cock it up when he says it for real.

Still, something seems to be shifting. There might not be blood in the water but there’s definitely a clot in the gravy. And, for the first time in a long time, South Africans are allowing themselves to think about what comes next.

Of course, some of us are struggling to think anything at all. For example, last week, a DA counsellor in Cape Town, tried to organise a “march against grime” during which homeless people would be asked to “move along”.

She wasn’t clear about where “along” was. One could be unkind and assume she was thinking of somewhere with less grass, circa 1962. Or you could be charitable and assume she literally had no idea and that the DA’s official policy is to shunt social issues into the next ward and hope they simply vanish.

After all, it’s worked for Cape Town when it comes to pumping raw sewage into the Atlantic. I don’t know which PR agency is handling the shitstorm in the city’s sea water, but they’re fantastic. Last year there were reports of tourists coming down with “food poisoning” and I can’t wait to hear which local industry gets thrown under the bus this festive season. (Cue a reassuring male voice. “Are you a tourist? Have you recently swum at Clifton? Are you curled up in your shower, vomiting and crapping uncontrollably? You’ve clearly got altitude sickness from climbing Table Mountain via an unsafe route! Next year, try the cable car!”)

Most DA supporters, however, seem to want a government like the one in Sweden. Because Sweden works. Mostly at H&M, but still. It’s also very safe. I visited Stockholm a few years ago and was warned that I was staying in a murder hot spot: a drunk had accidentally stabbed his buddy to death a few months back and the locals were still reeling.

My hosts were proud of how economically equal their country was, and I had to agree that I had seen very few poor Swedes.

That’s because most of them were now Americans. Something that tends to get overlooked in South Africans’ Scandinavian fantasies is that, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, about a fifth of Sweden’s population – mostly poor rural people – upped and left for the New World.

Which is why, when I hear people wishing we could “be like Sweden”, I have to wonder where they’re planning to send the 10-million poorest South Africans. “Move along”, indeed.

Of course, not all South Africans want to live in Sweden. Many, I discovered this week, want to live in Cuba.

In the days following the death of Fidel Castro, I learned from my compatriots that he had left behind a small piece of paradise in the Caribbean, where children received excellent free education and everybody received excellent free healthcare. Yes, a few political opponents had received excellent free bullets to the back of the head but, as one local Castrophile said on Facebook, “It doesn’t matter what you do to your enemies as long as you serve the people.” (And then we still pretend to be confused when Jacob Zuma uses the country as a bidet.)

The EFF stated that Castro’s death had been painful to them, but probably not quite as painful as the death of Venezuela’s economy, a Ponzi scheme they once punted as a model for South Africa to emulate.

Still, the fighters will also be looking to the future and refining their plans to give the land to the people. Not the title deeds, of course, but long(ish) leases contingent on party approval are basically just as good.

Perhaps that’s why many, if not most, South Africans are allowing themselves to start dreaming about the possibility of the return of something called “the good ANC”.

In case you’re confused, the good ANC is the one that’s going to “self-correct”, the way rich people throughout history have decided to be less rich and to let more poor people into their club.

It’s also the ANC that says it’s not seduced by populism or demagoguery. Well, except that one time when a charming young player called Julius got it pregnant, hung around just long enough to see his big, bubbling, bouncing, buffoon of a baby brought into the world, and then buggered off. The good ANC might cling to its imaginary virtue but its track record suggests the only thing it’s good at is being used by Big Men on the make.

So what comes next? Your fantasy is as good as mine.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

Much hairdo about nothing

popebun

Pic: George Peters – airworks-studio.com

I was a Waldorf child.

It’s not something I’ve been very public about because people can be cruel, mainly because they’ve lost touch with their guardian angel or are not eating enough yoghurt. But I was one, for better or for worse.

Our class was a tight-knit family (one plain, two purl, cast one off … yes that woollen tiger is coming along beautifully…), and we learned about the world in a free-flowing way. Sometimes also a free-falling way: I recall a lot of tree-climbing and quite a lot of crying. Our uniform was the dirt on our knees and the only examinations we ever had were for lice.

Soon, however, it was time to choose a high school. I was proving exceptionally talented at Israeli folk-dancing but I was not sure that this was a career that offered comprehensive medical cover and so I decided to go mainstream.

Which is how I found myself in a Cape Town school called Westerford, learning the school song.

The idea of a school song was new to me. Up until that point I had sung about maidens buried under ash groves and it seemed silly to sing about a suburban high school. But I obeyed, and learned the quasi-Victorian, paranoid dirge.

“In Westerford’s historic morn,” we droned, “an outpost stood where brave souls manned the lonely breach twixt Cape of Storm and Afric’s rugged hinterland.”

It turned out that Afric had only been rugged for a few years. The line used to be “Afric’s savage hinterland” but the words had been changed to reflect the times and to, you know, avoid committing a hate crime every Monday morning.

Yes, the times had changed; and now, the second verse of the school song explained, the outpost had been replaced by “our school, a living citadel”, standing “firm against the foes of good”.

So who were these foes of good, you ask? That was obvious. The greatest threat to that outpost of righteousness — indeed, the spiritual danger looming over all of humankind — was a boy with an earring and long hair.

You think I’m being facetious but I think it’s in Revelations: “And then, as I watched, from out of the loins of the she-beast issued forth a boy called Gary with a man-bun and a small stud in his left ear, and lo, the heavens did plunge.”

humanity’s greatest enemy

Hair length was policed with messianic zeal. Now and then a girl would ask if she could wear cycling shorts under her skirt so as not to freeze or have her underwear on display and her request would be ignored because, obviously, girls aren’t people so what the hell are they doing wanting to wear human clothes, but mostly because it distracted from the important work of hunting down humanity’s greatest enemy: the boy who wants to shame his sex and his nation by growing his hair an extra two centimetres.

The staff made noises about hair getting in your face and oil and pimples, but the dogma was clear. Men with long hair were dodgy. Except for Jesus, obviously. For the rest, short back and sides were a sign of self-discipline and a good attitude. Except for the defendants at the Nuremberg trials, obviously.

I hadn’t thought about that stuff for decades. And then, this week, News24 screamed in terror.

“Long hair, man-buns, earrings for boys at Cape Town school”, the headline howled like a man in a cardigan who has spat out his pipe, launched himself out of his armchair and is sprinting down a street in 1952, begging women and children to cover their eyes.

I read the story and discovered that Westerford, the living citadel, has finally been overrun by the foes of good. The school is doing away with gender distinctions in its regulations around hair and jewellery. From now, as long as they keep things neat and tidy, boys may wear their hair long and have studs in their ears.

The news spread like the Marxism that has clearly infected Cape Town’s schools. A city radio station asked its listeners for their take and got what you’d expect from people who feel they need to respond to a story about boys and girls being treated equally.

“Liberals”, I heard, were “letting things slide”. A “lack of discipline” was inevitable. I discovered, with some surprise, that the only thing standing between us and anarchy was an intact male earlobe.

When I swapped fairies and feyness for exams and scrubbed knees, I learned that things change without breaking. “Savage” can become “rugged” and nobody dies. But this week my old school reminded me that, while things change, people push back.

And when it comes to our beliefs about boys and men, so dutifully learnt when we were children, that outpost still stands; manning the breach twixt a fragile identity and an onrushing, inevitable future.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

Fake it ’til they ask you to leave

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From the street, the place had looked modest. The paint was stained and blistered by damp. A tree pressed ominously and expensively against the ageing plaster. In retrospect, it was an easy mistake to make.

Even when I knocked on the front door, next to the “On Show” board, there was no hint of what I was about to walk into.

But then the door opened, and I saw the estate agent’s teeth, and I realised I was in terrible, terrible trouble.

They weren’t just teeth. They were…lord, how to describe that moment when her lips pulled back to reveal the vast steppes of her immaculate dentistry? Imagine a keyboard, without the black notes. Of a church organ. In Saint Peter’s. Just row upon row, hundreds, possibly thousands, of perfectly even, blindingly white incisors.

“Welcome!” she said, and the teeth caught the light, flayed it, and nailed its corpse to the wall.

There’s that moment in the spy movie where a desperate man finds himself in a bar in Berlin at midnight, anxiously sucking on a cigarette, waiting for his contact to show. The only other person in the place is the barkeep, drying a glass. And then the desperate man notices that the glass has been dry for the last 10 minutes, and the barkeep is avoiding eye contact…

Right there, he understands that he’d been betrayed; that he needs to get out right now; but which way? Make a lunge for the back door or dive out of the window?

Those were my options, too, but I was wearing my good jersey, so diving through glass was out of the question, and the back door was blocked by a couple of house-hunters, cooing over the potential for installing a ball pond.

How had it all gone so wrong so quickly? I had wanted to spend a few minutes wandering around a small, shabby-genteel house, politely skirting shabby-genteel voyeurs who also had no intention of putting in an offer, before giving a fake name to a bored and demoralised agent and wandering out.

But I had been deceived. The sad exterior had told me I was on safe, familiar territory, but the teeth showed me that I was hopelessly out of my depth.

they wanted nine billion million and seventy hundred thousand

“They’re looking for cash,” the agent said to me. I wanted to reply, “Aren’t we all?” but just then I lost the ability to speak because she was handing me a brochure, the whole front of which was covered with zeroes: they wanted nine billion million and seventy hundred thousand for the house.

At least, that’s what it looked like out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t looking directly at the brochure, because I had realised the only way I was going to survive this was to pretend to be very, very rich. And the rich never look at the price. Sometimes they have it brought to them on a small velvet cushion. Sometimes it is whispered to them in Italian by a beautifully groomed manservant. But they do not look.

“Very good,” I murmured, and clicked my heels together in the manner of a Prussian war criminal knocking the mud off his polo boots.

“It’s obviously beautifully restored,” she said.

“Obviously,” I replied, poking at a floorboard with my foot. “Yes. Good. The floorboards are…on the floor. Yes.”

Her smile became wider and brighter, as if she’d just unsheathed an extra 50 teeth out of her jaw.

She’d seen through me.

I felt the blood drain from my face (although, to be honest, going even whiter probably counted in my favour just then). It was now or never. I had one last chance to trick her into believing I was loaded before the smile turned cold and she ordered me and my Standard Bank PlusPlan to get the hell out.

How would a trust-fund baby respond? What was it like to have – I glanced at the brochure – six million, in cash, to hand over for a rather threadbare little house? Also, was my jersey betraying me? It was lovely, very red and warm, but do the rich even wear wool? Don’t they prefer alpaca, or felt made of the pubic hair of CEOs of the corporations they’ve bought and stripped?

The rich also tend not to have books in their homes. Should I complement her on the way in which the solitary bookshelf was being used to store some Carrol Boyes ladles and an Audi cap? Perhaps I should –

“Okay!” she said brightly, and opened the door for me.

I’d forgotten the most important trait of the rich.

They don’t hesitate.

I’d revealed a nanosecond of introspection, and I was done.

“I’ll let you know if something else comes along,” she said. But she never took my details. Not even the fake ones.

*

First published in The Times

The end is nigh. I’ll wait for the DVD.

“It’s a bee. And it has murder flashing in its eyes.”

Trust Cape Town to get the Hollywood blockbuster disaster. Asteroids and a tsunami. So predictably mainstream. So tiresomely dramatic.

At least South Africa’s other doomed cities are exploring more sophisticated cinematic traditions when it comes to catastrophe. Johannesburg, slowly sinking into polluted sludge, is clearly being influenced by the Japanese Godzilla myth and is starting to do really interesting things with radioactive mud and poisoned water.

Durban has looked to the classic spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and set up a fascinating story arc by running out of water. I’m confident that even Pretoria has resisted the pull of Hollywood cliché and is planning a much more authentic death for itself, perhaps a classic Hartiewood romantic comedy in which the handsome owner of a wine estate and the beautiful owner of a hairdryer fall in love, get separated by a series of unlikely events, and then get afflicted by urban blight and rampant youth unemployment.

But not Cape Town. Ever the slave to hand-me-down, mid-Atlantic trends, it has brought Michael Bay to Table Bay and gone straight for the asteroid-tsunami combo.

The news broke last week. According to a map produced by Ben Affleck on an aircraft carrier in a typhoon (or was it academics at the University of Southampton?), Cape Town lies on a corridor of the planet known for more frequent asteroid strikes.

A direct hit on the city would, of course, be very upsetting, mainly because the local ANC would accuse the DA of using astrophysics to oppress the poor, while the DA would blame substandard geological infrastructure left in place by the ANC. But the real drama would happen if an asteroid landed in the sea. According to Affleck’s calculations, an object larger than 40m in diameter would trigger a tsunami. Forty metres isn’t very big. It’s basically the bidet in the en suite bathroom in the second guest rondavel at Nkandla.

As I read the worrying facts and figures and imagined how Cape Town would deal with an asteroid disaster (including Pam Golding brochures describing the impact crater as a “a spacious hidey-hole for the modern family living off the grid”), I remembered the two great asteroid flicks of the 1990s, The Intelligent One That Made Quite A Lot Of Money, starring Morgan Freeman, and The Immensely Stupid One That Made A Squillion Dollars, starring an electric guitar and an explosion. And I wondered if the reason Hollywood has stopped making asteroid movies is because we’ve slowly realised that it’s not asteroids that are going to get us in the end. It’s poisoned water, or no water, or a nagging cough that turns out to be a global pandemic, or the bees that just go on strike one day. And to be fair to the Jerry Bruckheimers of the world, it’s really hard making a blockbuster about bees:

Fade to black. The urgent, husky voice and duh-duh-duh-duh music from every movie trailer you’ve ever seen. “In a world gone mad…” (Sexy science lady in unsnappable high heels runs into a boardroom: “Gentlemen, it’s the bees. They just…stopped.”)

“One man” (Chris Pratt looks up from doing repairs on his bee-hunting helicopter and reaches for his bee-hunting shotgun) “will have to face his worst fears to save us all.” (Sexy science lady, now wearing a bikini: “Who hurt you?” Pratt, gazing at a crumpled photograph from long ago: “A bee. It stung me on my foot when I was nine.”)

“Now, using science…” (Sexy science lady screams as a bee brutally attacks the honey on her scone; Pratt kicks down the door and puffs smoke at it out of a small watering can with bellows) “it’s time to sting or be stung!” (Pratt, covered in charred honey from climactic air strike on the rebel hive, staggers along volcano rim towards sexy science lady, who is now wearing a ball-gown and tiara from her forced marriage to the wasp king. They embrace. Sexy science lady: “Oh honey!” Pratt grins: “Yeah, I get a buzz outa you too.”) “This summer…Kill or Bee Killed! Not suitable for viewers under the age of 16 or anyone who knows anything about bees or science or anything whatsoever.”

Even this is probably too dramatic, though, because what eventually bumps us off might not even be visible, which is tricky when it comes to film.

“This summer…Tom Cruise is infinitesimally sweatier than he was last summer…In a world almost completely identical to how it was very recently, except for many confusing and worrying changes in climate data, everyone is going to carry on pretty much as normal, until a new normal gradually creeps up on us, and we start doing that version, until the antibiotics stop working and nobody makes it through childbirth any more…”

Nah. Probably wait til it’s out on DVD.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail.