“We’ve done it. Nice little world. Well done the West. We’ve made it. We survived. What an idiot. What a stupid little idiot I was. I didn’t see all the clowns and monsters heading our way, tumbling over each other, grinning. Dear God, what a carnival.” –Years and Years
I never heard of the UK TV show Years and Years when it was released (in 2019) and when I stumbled onto it among my HBO streaming options a few months ago, I thought it looked like a comedy (granted, I didn’t read the description).
I then read this article from The Atlantic about the show and its prescience about the times we are now living in. At moments it feels breathtaking how much it seems to predict about what we are already going through, but perhaps if we had been paying attention all along (as one character reminds us) we’d have seen all the bright, flashing signs that we were screaming at us about impending disaster (or, as is the case, disasters plural, e.g. increasingly insane politics led by monstrous, inhumane idiots, the loss of meaning of words, economic ruin, climate crisis, pandemic… sound familiar?). And yet, just as the article from The Atlantic highlights, you notice almost right away that life goes on. You (as the characters did) thought everything had been “settled” at the turn of the century – the future was bright, and since then, it’s been one confrontation with darkness after another.
This is where Years and Years excels: spectacle as a backdrop to the tragedy and misery of everyday life – refugees’ struggles, marital affairs, love interests fucking robots, minor corruption, and all the helplessness of being just one person or family trying to hold it together and somehow swim against the tide that’s washing away all of society’s closest-held (but fragile) norms and values (things so easily abandoned when challenged). Yet, mundane daily life continues on.
The way I think about it is… as I do any time I’ve been in a situation with even a hint of hardship: you can and do get used to anything. That’s how something like Trump’s never-ending and escalating horror show continues: it ends up becoming normalized (the spectacle in the backdrop). Our brains cannot process and retain that much incoming information, let alone do something about it. Yet, tested, stretched, strained, people live on, move forward even if they imperceptibly have to become someone entirely different or other to survive. In this six-part series, which speaks better than anything I’ve seen lately, to these fraught times, there is the overwhelming sense of doom and the tiniest glimmer of hope – all tinged with the uncertainty that seems to, more than anything, fuel us all.
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