Friday, 20 March 2009

22 - 'Blind Faith' by Ben Elton

Imagine a divided world where logic has been turned upside down. Where privacy is frowned upon. Where your every move, even at home, is closely monitored. Where language no longer means what it used to.

George Orwell wrote about this in his classic novel '1984'. Ben Elton pretty much copied it in 'Blind Faith'.

Elton, a comedian, script writer and novelist, is obsessed with two main themes: the environment and the impending danger of global warming; and celebrity culture and the rise of reality television. His early novels ('Stark', 'Gridlock', 'This Other Eden') went squarely down the environmental path while two of his later books ('Dead Famous' and 'Chart Throb') analyse the vapid arena of instant fame. In 'Blind Faith' he combines the two in a dystopian vision of a world which has abandoned science and is instead clinging to a bastardised version of religion to support itself, a version where the idea of marriage has been perverted to encourage people to get married as often as possible (apparently, Jesus didn't encourage the sanctity of marriage, it was the fun of the wedding he was promoting...). Your every move, including your sexual behaviour, is watched inside your own four walls by neighbours and the general public on the internet, and posting every single detail of your life on blogs or youtube is mandatory. London is a shrinking, overcrowded, disease-ridden hell, where scantily clad commuters invade each other's private space and where silence is impossible to come by (well, some things never change).

One of the central arguments in the book concerns vaccination, with The Temple (the church-like organisation, obviously overseen by an American umbrella organisation, which controls every aspect of life, including the creation of laws) seeing this affront to the Lord as the poisoning of children and the perversion of God's will. The desire to save his child is the catalyst for the main protagonist's progression from a sullen tacit obedience to society's norms to becoming a rebel with a very big cause indeed; to change society as we (don't yet) know it.

This all makes for an interesting read, and the author does manage to paint a chilling picture of a world without privacy, a world overtaken by the religious right (with slightly more liberal sexual attitudes), but it loses its significance somewhat when the reader is constantly looking for references to Orwell's version of a world gone mad. Trafford might as well have been called Winston Smith because their experiences are eerily similar (give or take a trip to McDonald's). Perhaps Elton thought that in a celebrity-obsessed, past-forgetting, reality-star revering age, he would be able to pass off this kind of literary plagiarism as his own ideas as (art imitating life) nobody really reads books any more. It's more likely that he thought it would be clever to rework a classic novel with more relevant current themes. Whatever the rationale, I don't really buy it.

'Blind Faith' is entertaining enough; however, it's aimed more at the kind of people who are lampooned in the novel, the movie-star-worshipping internet generations with their Facebook pages and lives lived out in public in the hope of being seen and loved (and yes, I know that this is slightly ironic coming from someone who is posting these views in a blog...). It's 320 pages of fluff; easily digestible and over in a matter of hours, a fitting tribute to the disposable age. Do yourself a favour, and read the original instead.

But please feel free to keep reading my blog.