"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 103
When I saw how long this set of three chapters was, how short the last bunch, and how little time we have left in September, I thought about just writing one last big post. I changed my mind when I saw the rest of Oryx and Crake covers I hadn't used yet: surely I had room for two more. Today's cover isn't a triumph of design, but it's perfect for these chapters with the pigoons.
. . . seven pigoons have materialised from nowhere. They're staring at him, ears forward. Are they the same as yesterday's? As he watches, they begin to amble in his direction.
They have something in mind, all right. He turns, heads back towards the gatehouse, quickens his pace. They're far enough away so he can run if he has to. He looks over his shoulder: they're trotting now. He speeds up . . . Then he spots another group through the gateway up ahead, eight or nine of them, coming towards him across No Man's Land. They're almost at the main gate, cutting him off in that direction. It's as if they've had it planned, between two groups . . .
He reaches the gatehouse, goes through the doorway, pulls the door shut. It doesn't latch. The electronic lock is nonfunctional . . . They'll be able to lever it open, pry with their trotters or snouts. They were always escape artists, the pigoons: if they'd had fingers they'd have ruled the world . . .
Could they be any more menacing? Nowhere else in Oryx and Crake does Dystopia overlap with Horror so effectively. We may have a smoother transition into October/November than I had thought!
("Vulturising" to "Airlock")
So how did Jimmy get from the Martha Graham Academy to a No Man's Land where people are hunted for their meat by pigoons? It's the cliched "long story"--but one worth recounting because his journey seems to parallel society's own trajectory toward that end. Or perhaps I'm just scrambling around for easy answers again. But can we say that when Liberal Arts schools justify their existence with mottoes like "Our Students Graduate With Employable Skills", we can be certain that it's the beginning of the end? If not, then what is the cultural red flag that marks the point of no return?
Maybe there are a whole bunch of related red flags which all go up at the same time. But if I had to pick one, I'd say it is the idea behind the game we all played a few meetings ago: if you accept the Blood and Roses premise that a price can be put on both human achievements and human atrocities, then pretty much anything is for sale, aye? Or rather, even if it can't be sold, people will still be willing to pay for it . . . as Jimmy finds that out during the interview for his first job.
"What people want is perfection," said the man. "In themselves."
"But they need the steps to it to be pointed out," said the woman.
"In a simple order," said the man.
"With encouragement," said the woman. "And a positive attitude."
"They like to hear about the before and the after," said the man. "It's the art of the possible. But with no guarantees, of course."
"You showed great insight into the process," said the woman. "In your dissertation . . ."
"If you know one century, you know them all," said the man.
"But the adjectives change," said Jimmy. "Nothing's worse than last year's adjectives."
"Exactly!" said the man, as if Jimmy had just solved the riddle of the universe in one blinding flashbulb of light . . .
Did I ever tell you about one commission that I was offered several years ago, when most of my money still came from freelance writing? It was from an entrepreneur who was marketing s3x toys and who needed a writer for the copy on his Web site. And honestly, while he was describing the project to me, a whole constellation of fantastic, creative ideas came twinkling together in my mind. If I took the job, I knew, I'd do it really, really well--and probably go beyond his expectations, because my best stuff is always surprising. And the shocking ending to this story is . . . I didn't take it. =P
But I have written promotional copy. A friend hired me to write the brochure for an EFL academy that she was starting. Since I believed that she would offer the highest quality service, I didn't compromise my integrity by selling her school. Yet I did use a lot of "that year's adjectives"--and I did hint at possible perfection . . . steps in a simple order . . . encouragement and a positive attitude . . . but no guarantees. No one would have enrolled otherwise--and they might have thrown their money away on one the substandard, fly-by-night EFL outfits instead. But it does seem wrong that the legitimate businessmen and the snake oil salesmen rely on the same bag of tricks to close a sale. (Ooooh, CLOSE! . . . But that's last year's verb. LOL!)
I can understand why Jimmy finds his AnooYoo job stultifying. He has to peddle "improvement items" that come with no objective way to measure the "improvement." At least OrganInc Farms could produce internal organs for successful transplants and NooSkins could deliver (if only temporarily) on its promise of youthful beauty. That is, at least Jimmy's father sold his ideals for something he could still defend as good. Not that Jimmy can strain at the same rationalisation: he has never even seemed to have ideals. Still, it would have been interesting to see whether promoting ReejovenEsense's products would have been easier on his psyche.
Within Paradice, said Crake . . . there were two major initiatives going forward. The first--the BlyssPluss pill--was prophylactic in nature, and the logic behind it was simple: eliminate the external causes of death and you were halfway there.
"External causes?" said Jimmy.
"War, which is to say misplaced sexual energy, which we consider to be a larger factor than the economic, racial, and religious causes often cited. Contagious diseases, especially sexually transmitted ones. Overpopulation, leading--as we've seen in spades--to environmental degredation and poor nutrition."
Basically, the first initiative is a kind of magic pill for society--but one that needs to be taken by individuals. An "Ask not what your country can do for you . . ." pill, which comes with special benefits for you as well. A spoonful of sex to make the medicine go down. And Jimmy gets to do the ad campaign. Thinking back on this, I should have smelled something fishy at this point: why do you need an ad campaign, which presupposes a mass market, when your product is clearly targeting the people who sit above the masses? Why does Crake want Jimmy there?
Then there's the Paradice Project, which would give paying customers "totally chosen babies," including very beautiful, very smart children who eat only grass, and whom vegan "parents" would pay through the nose for.
Compared to the Paradice Project, even the BlyssPluss pill was a crude tool, although it would be a lucrative interim solution. In the long run, however, the benefits for the future human race of the two in combination would be stupendous. They would be inextricably linked--the Pill and the Project. The Pill would put a stop to haphazard reproduction, the Project would replace it with a superior method. They were two stages of a simple plan, you might say.
Do you hear that? . . . Shhhh! Listen! . . . There! Did you hear it? . . . It was the sound of Pope Paul VI burying his face in his hands. As far as I know, Margaret Atwood is not Catholic, but that didn't stop her from getting to the truth of nature through the truth of art. Paradice, indeed!
And do you know what this reminds me of? LTG's thoughts on the adoption industry (Read at your own risk! Bwahahahaha!) and how we've been seduced by all its adjectives. I do think that adoption became fashionable in Christian circles primarily because of the political pro-life movement, which means it is, at root, a way to brag about your politics. What better endorsement of yourself than the incongruous brown children in your family photos? It's certainly a more visible testimony to your charity than spending all the money you used for the adoption to support the child's real mother. In any case, it's "cred" that your own offspring, who aren't designed to eat grass or to do anything else exotic, could never give you.
Five years ago, when I started this blog, I ranted a lot about single mothers and was very pro-adoption. Anything to keep a baby from growing up without a father, you know? But now I see that I need to take most of it back--because it hardly does good to a fatherless child for him to be made motherless as well.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 10 to 12?
1. Is advertising a necessary evil or something that we can easily do without?
2. What is the hottest new "improvement item" in your part of the world?
3. Finish this sentence: "If only children could _____, they would be perfect!"
Image Source: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood