If you think the total breakdown of society only happens in movies, take a good look around.
What floor would you end up on? In this week’s homegrown sci-fi flick ‘High-Rise’, adapted from the 1975 novel by JG Ballard, the inhabitants of a sleek Thames estuary tower block are separated not just by wealth and social status but by elevation. At ground level live the drone-like masses; in the middle, Dr Laing (Tom Hiddleston) and his caste of chattering professionals flirt, fight and fuck; in the penthouse, architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lords it over the lower orders. It’s hardly the subtlest metaphor for the class struggle, but it is uncomfortably close to the reality of London life in 2016.
You really don’t need to look to the movies for dystopia: it’s right here in this city. We have housing blocks with ‘poor doors’, where lower- income tenants are forced to slip in through the back so that higher-paying residents don’t have to clap eyes on them. We have anti-homeless spikes that stop London’s skyrocketing population of street dwellers (up by almost a third in a year) sheltering in office-block doorways. We’re building ‘affordable’ homes that no one can afford: the average wage would need to rise by 266 percent before a working Londoner could actually buy one.
Sure, one man’s dystopia can be another’s paradise: doubtless the financiers, architects, planners and politicians responsible for all this truly believe they’re transforming London into a spotless, aspirational city of the future. But we’re in danger of ignoring the fact that thousands, even millions of Londoners could be sliding into an apocalyptic poverty trap that they’ll never be able to fight their way out of.
Luckily, modern dystopian movies like ‘Mad Max’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ can show us the way. What’s needed is a small but important shift to something closer to those fun, feelgood blockbuster dystopias we’ve all been lapping up at the local multiplex. The only way things will change is if we’re prepared to stand up and fight back – to become the Furiosas of Frognal, the Neos of Newham. Because, frankly, if Russell Brand is the closest we’ve got to a Katniss Everdeen, we’re probably screwed (though it would be a lot of fun to watch him shoot at Boris Johnson with a longbow).
Mercifully, the battle for dystopian London won’t involve fending off genetically modified attack dogs or tangling with evil artificial intelligences. All it will take is a little commitment, and a spot of research. Dig around online and you’ll quickly find your nearest housing action group or homeless support charity. Go sign a petition, join a march and get your voice heard (and we don’t mean badgering the owners of the local hipster pop-up; those guys may be douchebags but they’re not the real enemy). Encourage your MP to vote against the forthcoming Housing Bill. Join the Coalition Against Poverty, give your time to refugee support groups, donate to Shelter and Crisis, use your local shops and make damn sure you vote in the mayoral elections. It may not seem like much – but it’s better than just banging on the ceiling.
Want more ranting and raving? Read Sonya Barber's column on why pop-ups should pop off.