A Slap in The Face for the Apathetic
I’m sure I am not alone in feeling scared, uncertain, angry, and powerless in the current political climate. Between Brexit and Trump, the world is a scary, unsettling place. As always, when in doubt, it is often best to bury your head in a book which challenges your world view or at the very least serves as a suitable distraction from the horror of day to day life. That’s my motto anyway, cumbersome as it is.
The world-weary volume serving to distract from the news of Nazi protests and impending nuclear doom this week was Begat: an entertainment for the Trump epoch by Richard Major, writing as Felix Culpepper, published by Indie Books.
Begat is a blackly comic satire set in a gloomy university populated by dullards and lazy, disaffected students. As per tradition, they create a mascot, an imaginary student which soon begins to grow ‘monstrous’ as the students empty the worst of themselves into his social media accounts. As Julia, the narrator of this gruesome tale and a University administrator watches in horror this ‘meta-student’ dominates social media, rises to unbelievable power, and sets in motion a terrifying chain of destruction.
Richard Major has degrees in history, literature, and theology. He has taught at a number of universities across the globe and has worked as a journalist and commentator. His previous work features Felix Culpepper, the guise under which he has published Begat, as a merciless assassin who also happens to be a classics tutor at Cambridge.
In true Frankenstein form, Begat begins with the construction of a man out of disparate parts. However, the lazy construction of Armilus Lightborne, the gruesome monster at the heart of this tale, sets in motion a horrifying change of events. One by one, students start to shape his online presences with the worst of themselves, spewing vitriol, shame, and anger into the world under the guise of Lightborne’s uber disenchanted and therefore utterly compelling persona. The grinding, numbing slog of social media is highlighted here in vivid, nauseating relief. The paucity of language afforded online is expressed in stupefying text speak exchanges in which these students only spill the obscenest of their guts. In Lightborne these disaffected youths create a grotesque golem for the modern age, a repository for all the filthy fakery of modern life.
“Missing meals, losing nights, they toiled away on their cyberdoll. When they emerged they walked like automatons, so drained they barely saw me…”
As Lightborne grows in popularity, he begins to take over the lives of his ‘fellow’ students. They toil endlessly away on his essays, building his profile on campus and online until the cult of Lightborne starts to spread out into the rest of the world. From minor student entertainment to global popularity the meteoric rise of this cyber Frankenstein takes over the lives of everyone who comes into contact with him. The dogma of Lightborne grows and becomes all encompassing. Every word uttered, generally incoherent or meaningless, whether vile diatribes or ill-informed musings, becomes gospel.
“The end of things was suddenly tangible; the nature of the human universe had reversed, wits were begging to sit at the feet of dunces.”
a faceless, talentless cyber ghoul can stir the world into an apocalyptic frenzy
A seismic shift occurs across the UK, suddenly students are turning down places at Oxford to attend this bleak institution, desperate to absorb some of the mythical glory of Lightborne. The traffic visiting his website is tremendous and soon starts to seep into the national and international discourse. The world is watching, desperate for nuggets of wisdom from this online prophet, nervously awaiting his analysis to see if they are in his favour or cast into the bleak abyss.
“As always in this affair, it was nothingness that did the trick. Lightborne’s total electoral silence produced, in the minds of those who heard it, satisfaction: a mania of satisfaction.”
As Lightborne becomes a symbol for the disillusioned, the angry and the weak, his power surges into the upper echelons of politics. Despite his total intangibility, the people have spoken- his silence is his strength and his refusal to debate means he is somehow above the scrum of other politicians. In this, Begat is a modern interpretation of the Emperor’s new clothes- from Julia the narrator of this tale, who knows the truth of Lightborne’s origins, to the people in supposed positions of authority who cower in the face of rabid mob hysteria, everyone can see the truth but somehow no one can bring themselves to challenge it.
“…and thus by almost every dead head lay a small bright silver screen. The effect, in the dim light, was of votive candles in a crypt.”
As the story builds to a horrifying, yet believable conclusion it is clear to see the comparisons between the monstrous effigy created and the current cultural climate we inhabit- a place where intellect and experience are openly mocked, where the worst of ourselves is poured out anonymously across Twitter, where hideous, faceless monstrosities abuse and defame each other with impunity. Into this mix, a figure like Lightborne, a lurid, grisly, and outrageous speaking Id is a prime figurehead for the vacuous, the mean spirited and the disillusioned. Begat is a terrifyingly palpable vision of the future, a world where a faceless, talentless cyber ghoul can stir the world into an apocalyptic frenzy.
This is a book for those of you who fear the rise of social media demagogues and the increasingly hysterical, ravenous desire for the ‘everyman’ politician, one who has nothing of merit to say but is full of buzzwords, clichés and pandering to the worst of humanity.
Begat is a slap in the face for the apathetic, a sucker punch for those who doubt the danger of mass hysteria and the power of our modern social media gods and a macabre illustration of the eagerness with which we line up to destroy ourselves.
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