It’s easy to see the parallels in lifestyle between Moon’s lone worker and those of us in living solitary isolation — but we must take inspiration from Sam as we prepare to return to the world. (Warning — Spoilers!)
Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009), is an SF film set in the not too distant future. Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is a blue-collar working man supervising a lunar mining operation, with his only companion being an industrial robot, Gertie (voiced by Kevin Spacey). We join Sam as he approaches the end of his three-year posting, visibly physically and mentally deteriorating as he prepares himself for the return flight.
However, when Sam suffers what is presumed to be a fatal accident whilst away from the base, we discover that he is a clone, one of hundreds in storage. The newly awakened Sam makes an unauthorised trip and is shocked into this realisation when he rescues his injured predecessor. Both have to recognise that everything they thought was true was in fact a lie, their beautiful wife has been dead for years and their baby daughter is a teenager being raised by the original, real Sam. Previous incarnations have lived and died on the base, incinerated believing that they would wake up on Earth.
With the aid of Gertie, they hatch a plan, returning the dying clone to the accident site, and awakening a new unsuspecting clone, whilst ‘new’ Sam escapes to Earth to blow the whistle on the company.
It’s easy to draw parallels to Sam’s life and to those millions of us in solitary isolation. We exercise, we work if we can, we watch old TV shows, our only contact with friends and family over video link, our only physical companions being houseplants and computer assistants. We explore hobbies, our hair and beards grow uncontrolled, we fall into food routines to differentiate the days, and dream of friends and past loves.
Meanwhile, we discover that most of our job was essentially meaningless, could be done without spending hours commuting every day and that it seems we are infinitely replaceable or surplus to requirements. Were you asked why you hadn’t volunteered for furlough? How did that make you feel?
What we are discovering, as our various governments react to the emergency, is that things like homelessness were completely unnecessary and could be immediately addressed, that unlimited funding for public healthcare is available after decades of cutbacks, and that the most valued and crucial workers in our society earn little more than minimum wage. The massive arsenals of nuclear weapons, ships, fighter bombers and drones are all utterly useless to defend us from the greatest threat to life and civilisation we have faced in centuries. The world can function without hundreds of thousands of international flights, without freeways, without millions of barrels of oil produced per day.
We have discovered that our way of life, and the very basis of our society and economy, is a lie.
We are not valued individuals, working for the betterment of society. We are worker drones, servicing computers that service the stock market, so that those in power can have more. We are statistics on a daily tally of death, suffering and disease. We are a curve on a graph, looking for that day when the line begins to flatten, indicating that the same number of people are dying every day. And this is a good thing. 20,000 or even 40,000 dead is a ‘success’.
We wait for the day when we will return to our old lives, back to the world we once knew, back to ‘normality’. But that normality was a lie, and not something to which we could, or should, easily surrender. At the same time, those in power are realising this and are very worried about how the pretence can be maintained, how the people can be made or coerced into surrendering even the freedoms they enjoyed before they discovered the truth.
Any dissent to these measures will be viewed as ‘ungrateful’ and set against the bleak fate of those less fortunate millions reduced to penury through no fault of their own.
As we are released from isolation, and the ‘economy’ is stimulated to recover, we will see increasing and continuing constraints on our freedom, on rights that were hard won in easier times — at the very moment these rights and protections are most needed. Workers will be asked to work without overtime pay, without holiday, without guaranteed sick leave and other benefits. They will be required to submit to mass surveillance, in and outside the workplace as the work/life balance is blurred. And any dissent to these measures will be viewed as ‘ungrateful’ and set against the bleak fate of those less fortunate millions reduced to penury through no fault of their own.
We have seen a lot of speculation about how the world will be forced to change, but this is unfortunately naïve. The people with the power, from the super- capitalists and the authoritarian dictators to the billionaire tax evading ‘captains of industry’ will remain in power and will defend their positions to the last. They will spin their pretend benevolence, they will paint themselves as victims, in the falsehood that the pandemic has been a great ‘leveller’, observing no racial or class boundaries, and that ‘we are all in this together’.
I have no doubt that the sycophantic British media will laud Boris Johnson as some kind of conquering hero when he finally returns to ‘lead’ the country. We’ve already seen the frankly ridiculous comparisons to Churchill and other wartime leaders.
As always, it is the working poor and particularly those from racial minorities that hold those ‘front-line’ jobs who have suffered most, those most under financial or moral pressure to put their lives at risk to work without the minimum protective equipment required.
The supermarket assistants, truck drivers, utility workers, healthcare professionals will not see some fantastic re-evaluation of their worth to society. They will not have their pay and benefits increased or their basic working rights respected. How many student nurses are currently risking their lives for no pay, faced with thousands in student debt? How many doctors working back-to-back shifts are actually as a result earning less than minimum wage? How many hospital workers are still being expected to pay for car parking at their places of work? If this isn’t changing now, from where will the impetus come for change once the current crisis has passed?
But let’s not forget, we are applauding them for five minutes every Thursday evening, and the new UK Labour Party leader wants to give them all a medal for gallantry.
If we are to maintain this new world view, to push for real change and not return to ‘civilisation as we know it’, we have to take another pointer from Sam Bell.
The old Sam, the deceived and dying clone, is once more abandoned in the crashed tractor, serving his purpose in death as he served capitalism in life. The ‘new’, enlightened Sam, well aware of the true situation, returns to Earth to make sure that there is no return to business-as-usual and demand the life to which he is entitled.
As we emerge from our solitary isolation and return to the world, we will have to leave our old identities behind with their tacit consent to the old order. We have to come back with resolve, determined to re-claim our identities, our real lives, and whilst defending and re-stating the rights and protections we already possess, we must change the world to claim what is ours.
We can’t do this on our own. We have to enlist the help of others as Sam did, we have to work together to achieve this goal, we have to organise.
The end of the lockdown will just be the beginning. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric, the public holidays and street parties that will inevitably follow. There needs to be a re-ordering of the very structure of our society. As the body’s defences unite to fight the virus and encourage healing, we have help our society recover from the disease of rampant capitalism and consumerism.