I think I actually got through most of my notes on the Astrolithic Megapunk episode, but here they are anyway for reference and transcription reasons.
Fisher compares Children of the Stone to Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy, which is an interesting comparison largely because it’s not obvious at first glance. One thing that is readily apparent in a lot of Burroughs’ writing is that he perceives the universe to be an inherently hostile place, perhaps even anti-human. But that hostility is something completely different to what we see in cosmic horror.
You can kind of sum up cosmic horror in broad strokes with two main ideas – the first being that there are horrors in this universe that are literally incomprehensible, and trying to comprehend them will drive you insane. The second idea is that humanity is insignificant. We are completely below the notice of the Elder Gods and other entities, and if they kill us in great numbers it will only be as a side effect of some other action.
In Burroughs though the evil recognises us, and probably it recognises things in us we would rather not admit were true. It’s an intensely personal hatred aimed directly at you, and able to emanate from anyone, or indeed anything in your vicinity. The forces of control might be ubiquitous and largely arbitrary, but if they choose to target you, they will do so with all the intensity of someone bearing a personal grudge.
So in Burroughs, control is stifling, it’s dehumanising or even anti-human, it is a ubiquitous system that must be battled at every junction. In contrast, what we see in Children of the Stones is a seemingly benevolent system of control.
Beyond Hendricks’ need to feed on star energy, he seems genuinely concerned for his little human pets. He wants what’s best for them, and whilst there does appear to be a hollowing out of a person’s truest self when they undergo the happification process, they do still appear (outwardly at least) to be, well, happy. It doesn’t appear to be an anti-human system of control, but it is thoroughly anti-individual. It’s tied into a common thread in British Folk Horror – and Hot Fuzz – the overriding importance of The Greater Good.
The apparent benevolence of Hendrick in Children of the Stones is something that Burroughs never would have considered. For Burroughs, loss of autonomy or self is unconscionable – it is always an attack by a hostile alien presence that must be warred against.
But then in this dichotomy between the hostile and benevolent faces of control is also reminiscent of Matrix Resurrections versus the original movie. In the original movie Cipher was a villain because he was willing to sell out his friends in order to gain re-entry to the matrix, and in Resurrections it’s shown that maybe the choice to remain inside is understandable. Not good, or helpful, or healthy, but reasonable. And I think that part of the film is timely, because in the wake of the pandemic and the onrushing climate crises we’re due to face in the coming years, a lot of people will prefer to stick their head in the sand. Why walk away from Omelas when you can happily watch your Disney+, play Fortnite, get food delivered to your door by underpaid gig workers, and forget about the suffering child imprisoned in the city’s dungeon. These dystopian dreams of a metaverse peddled by Zuckerberg and others are simply the logical endpoint of this tendency toward blissful ignorance. It will literally obfuscate the myriad very real problems of the very real world for a clean and sterile corporate reality.
So back to Children of the Stones. The show was made for kids, and because of that focus it means the effects of the happification that we see are quite skewed – it makes children creepily happy, sociable, non-violent, and very good at maths. But it leaves the question of how it would actually affect adults, how would it alter their behaviours and beliefs, and would it turn them into perfect happy workers ready to slave away for capital?
It’s easy to imagine that in our age of economic precarity and massive wealth inequality, an adult might undergo a process like this if it meant they were freed from depression and anxiety, maybe guaranteed a decent job – and hell, even a place in an actual community, seeing as capitalism has done a great job of atomising our society.
And then that notion leads me to start thinking about technocratic control. Every week there’s a new start-up planning to use machine learning and invasive apps to make people better, more efficient workers. It’s tied to a pervasive idea that Fisher railed against in his writings, particularly Capitalist Realism – that whatever is wrong with a person is a) a purely personal failing and not a reflection of the increasingly hostile social systems they’re struggling to live under and b) fixable if we just have the right data.
Burroughs would find this horrifying – the perfection of the hostile and anti-human systems of control he recognised, predicted, or possibly seeded. What would he have us do? Smash the control images, smash the control machine.
As Burroughs wrote in Naked Lunch: “You see control can never be a means to any practical end. … Control can never be a means to anything but more control … like Junk.”
The people at the top have become control addicts, fuelled by technocratic ideology and bullshit beliefs like longtermism. They all see themselves as Hendricks-Petros, above it all, controlling the rest of us for our own good.