What’s so interesting about Cummings is that although he seems to share some of this deep scepticism about democratic politics and politicians – too slow, too trivial, too easily spooked – he cannot fully embrace it. After all, tracking public opinion in a clear-eyed, unsentimental way is what he does, perhaps better than anyone. He is a genius at it. In the end, his blog reminds me of the old Woody Allen joke: “The food here is terrible!” “Yes, and such small portions!” Cummings thinks that British politics is broken, that the two main parties are ready for the knacker’s yard, and that most of the political class couldn’t strategise their way out of a paper bag. And yet he can’t resist trying to play their game. He wants to abolish the Labour party. He also wants to teach it how to win the next election. He’d like to put quantum physicists in charge of the government. He’d also like to see Rishi Sunak boot Boris (and Carrie) out of Downing Street. He wants to burn it down. He also wants to make it better.
You can try to glean life lessons from Stan’s arc, but I feel like they’re all relatively obvious: thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet, and so on. The harder thing to process is the twofold ambiguity of his life.
There’s the factual ambiguity of who created the Marvel pantheon, which is a dilemma that will probably never be resolved. And then there’s the moral ambiguity of asking whether he was a “good” man or not, which is a similarly unanswerable question, albeit for different reasons. The human mind wants to reject ambiguity; we want to say some things are incontrovertible facts and that the people we like or hate are objectively good or bad. But the reality of existence is uncertainty: constant, chaotic, and infuriating. You can either lie to yourself for certainty—and, to be sure, we all have to do that for certain aspects of life—or you can be honest and confront the answerlessness of the world.
Before he was Mr Interactive, Charlie Brooker was Mr Dystopia, creating disturbing, prescient vistas of the very near future. What if the prime minister had to have sex with a pig, live on air? What if anxious modern parenting turned into 24-hour hyper-surveillance? Even Nathan Barley, his 2005 comedy co-written with Chris Morris, came eerily to pass. That eponymous, portfolio-careered hipster could have been written yesterday. “That makes me sound like a wrestler,” Brooker says, not without satisfaction. “A really mean, horrible wrestler. Here he comes, in the blue corner: Mr Dystopia.”
It’s not so much that he predicted things, and then they happened, he says. Rather, Black Mirror plots were “extrapolations of whatever was already happening”. The pig plot was inspired by Gordon Brown’s Gillian Duffy moment, when he called a Labour voter a bigoted woman and “had to go and apologise, and it became this bizarre circus of calamity. I was just watching it thinking, ‘No one’s in charge here.’”
‘If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.
These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.’
‘Thirteen minutes after the note came the tweet. “Following further evaluation this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision,” wrote Buckingham Palace. “The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.”
“When the statement dropped about her health it was obvious, and suddenly no MPs would talk,” the Whitehall correspondent says. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs stopped responding to messages.
Across at what was once known as Fleet Street, time stopped.’