The Lorax is on at the Old Vic until 16 January. Go see it. It’s brilliant. It’s colourful. It’s fun. And it’s the best commentary on the state of a nation you’ll have seen in a long time. It’s an excellent reminder that sneering at people who give a shit is shit and if you do, you should stop it right now.
I’m convinced that Dr. Seuss books, particularly the Lorax, shaped my values and world view more than anything else. I was obsessed with reading the books over and over as a child. I love Dr Seuss’ psychedelic rhyming narrative so I worried the play wouldn’t live up to expectations but it very much did.
It’s not a spectacle cum west-end musical type production. In fact it doesn’t fill the space at times. But it’s joyous, colourful and clever. It’s striking how good a commentary it makes on London life in 2015 and on the work, buy, like, die culture of metropolis living in general. It exposes the poverty of the supposed gains were trading in for our freedom to live in a state of civility. The Once-ler tears up his promise of a regulated business model of Thneed production when seduced by The Bigger Better Things. He goes full turbo capitalism when faced with the prospect of a bigger desk and chair. A bigger desk and chair. It’s perfect. It shows up the absurdity of it all.
It’s also a great comment on how facts and science are deemed insignificant in the face of media and The Bling when it comes to our collective judgement. The TV viewers drop their skepticism and concerns when the Once-ler puts on a Bling-tastic Thneed showcase at his factory. None of the facts change, Thneed production is still causing environmental and social devastation but the Once-ler sure can put on one hell of catwalk show with flashing lights and a great DJ! So he’s in the good books again. Expose eshpose! Hey presto, the viewers <heart> the Once-ler.
The Lorax is the dude that get gets shat on for giving a toss. Or in less metaphorical terms, he’s the guy who gets sneered at for calling out the impending crisis and for trying to stop it. This is synonymous with the prevalent discourse that giving a shit about anything that doesn’t gratify immediately is a cop out. All The Funz only equals a succession of minute long head rushes. If you say yes to a long walk but no to balloons you are No Fun. In a way this makes sense; it’s a defence mechanism London 2015 has developed for dealing with the fact that we have no money and no time to dream of any future, let alone plan for one. But this attitude also incapacitates us from thinking collectively about solutions, so that we can have more space to dream, be and own this city.
The Lorax, Nye Beven, founder of the NHS, and countless others over history have fought for Progress; that is making things better and brighter for more of us. They thought laterally and they thought big. They had ambitions and sights bigger than themselves and that was generally commendable not prime sneer material. We live in a weird reality when the burden of proof is on those who want life to be better for more people, to prove that they are ok in the head. It’s a double weird reality when you’re supposed to not give a shit about anything but yourself and maybe your immediate family, AND only seek pleasure in The Bling. Empathy is seasonal, only ever allowed at Christmas, and only when it’s channelled through sanctioned philanthropic institutions. Beyond that giving a shit makes you an idiot apparently.
If sneering is the appropriate response to someone giving a shit, shrugging is the only response to bad news. Were supposed to respond to policy decisions like we would a volcano erupting: A sad inevitability. It’s as if there aren’t actual people responsible for blowing London back to an era of destitution. The correct response to the privatisation of our National Health Service a looming end to a universal postal service, 600% rise in benefit sanctions on people with mental health issues, homelessness in London rising by 38% etc, is to shrug and scroll. Just reach over for your phone to check your feed in search of that dopamine hit to kill any urge to think about the destruction of the very premise of civil life let alone do anything about it.
Joy & empathy
The Lorax loses his cool, and finally walks away because he doesn’t get why the Once-ler is set on killing the joy and is baffled by why he lacks empathy and foresight. He’s totally unseduced by the story of bling. Now I -like anyone not living in a cardboard box in 2015 – have been seduced by The Bling in some form at least. Regardless though, I’m with The Lorax here: Where is the joy and where is the empathy? I’m not a critic of The Bling because I’m no fun, but because it’s no fun. It’s shit and soulless, and a poor substitute for the good life, which is now out of reach. No amount of X-Factor Instagramed Facebook Likes are as good as having a laugh with friends, and the time and space to do it in.
I, like the Lorax, want to hang out under Truffula Trees with my mates without some property developer coming round and drilling into my head-space and ruining the party. And in London, it’s happening to us every day. Every day your umpteenth favourite spot is bulldozed to perk up some rich person’s short-term profit, inflate GDP and add to the growth figures. And we’re supposed to shrug, like the people responsible don’t have names and addresses, and scroll down our feeds for light relief instead.
I don’t buy the Once-ler’s I-once-was-a-poor-boy sob story as an excuse for his drive for short term profit at the expense of his and everyone’s future. Just as I don’t buy the sneerer’s vision of activism’s outcomes. The idea that fighting the doom avalanche is action in vain is frankly a defenceless argument. If you look at history and basic facts, the seed of progress was often planted by a small group of people declaring that some trajectory was shit and needed to change. Fukuyama is an idiot, and Thatcher was a twat, so don’t believe the hype. As the dumb-ass Once-ler finally sees at the end UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Don’t be that guy. Be part of history. Don’t settle for the shit.
You are not alone.