A small tv-show recommendation

At 9am, every Sunday morning, the Swedish radio releases a two-hour long program called “God Morgon Världen” (Good morning world). Growing up the ascending music intro was the soundtrack to my Sunday breakfasts, a bitter-sweet reminder that the week once again had reached its end a bit too soon. As I moved abroad, I figured that the nostalgia of the program would make me feel a little bit closer to home. On the contrary, the less control I have of my life, the more I find myself replacing the program with the influencer podcast I religiously listen to. Afterall, how can one ever expect an attempt at a thorough analysis of contemporary world events to be comforting? And how could I be so naïve to make that the purpose of it? It’s been years since I watched it, but as I hear the news unravel and listen to heat-of-the-moment interviews a British dystopian mini-series makes its way into my mind. The series is called “Years and Years” and follows a family who year after year watch as the world drastically faces the consequences of climate change, economic recession and the rise of populist authoritarian-like leaders. When I listen to the radio program, it strikes me how genius the show is, because every time the clock strikes 9 I feel like another part of our world fits into the puzzle of years and years. Maybe it is just a sign of maturity, but the older I get, the less dystopian the show seems to be.

Years and years cover picture

“Years and years” follows an extended family of four siblings and their respective families for a period of 15 years; from 2019-2034. Every once in a while they are united through their grand-mother Muriel, who invites them for dinner and events at her grandiose mansion. The show depicts how each year, the future portrayed on our news broadcasts and in our schoolbooks looks more and more like reality. Emma Thompson is cast as political leader Vivienne Rook who wins British hearts at an accelerating rate. In professional settings she goes by “Viv”, states that she does not give a fuck about Israel and Palestine, proposes that an IQ test should be imposed to determined voter eligibility, and illustrates how she can remove any distraction by turning off all electricity in a room through the click of a pen. Stricter immigration rules are enforced, children advance concomitantly with technology, antibiotic resistance becomes increasingly prevalent on the streets of London, queues accumulate outside banks facing bankruptcy and chocolate becomes unavailable. Every event and growing issue seems to determine the fate of the world independently of each other. Nonetheless, each crisis becomes one in the masses. The first episode embodies this the best when a nuclear bomb is dropped on an island off the coast of Vietnam. One of the main characters, human rights activist Edith, is not far away from the scene. Her reports, together with the horrified reactions of her siblings portray the feeling of ultimate catastrophe an event like this would cause, everyone asking the one question on the tip of all of our tongues; “what happens now?”. The answer is simple. Nothing happens. The characters continue their lives seemingly unaffected; safe and sound in their warm houses in the suburbs of London. The world unapologetically moves on, as it always does, even though we expect it to stand still for only a second.

“This is the world we built”

Eventually, each wave of political instability hits the family harder and harder. In the last episode, they sit gathered in front of a christmas table with an empty glare, asking themselves and each other how they got here. Claiming their innocence they blame it on their leaders, the newly elected prime minister Vivienne Rook. In despair, the grandma holds a one minute monologue summing up the whole show, and perhaps the state of the world. Through explaining how the miseries they faced throughout the past 15 years are their fault she grabs both the attention of her grandchildren and the audience. The state of the world is all of our fault, because “this is the world we built”. The world moves on because we accept it. Muriel goes on to paint a euphoric picture of the fall of the Berlin wall, and the fall of the Soviet Union. Of when capitalism prevailed over communism, and the west won. The world state had reached finality. To quote Fukuyama, humanity had reached the end of history.

Aligning with democratic peace theory, suggesting that democracies are safe because they will not enter into war with each other, Fukuyama believed that liberal democracy would be the final ideological stage – and seemingly so did the rest of the western world. Nonetheless, the optimism of the 1990s took a turn. The growth of nationalist right-wing leaders in Europe, hostile immigration policies, and perhaps of most importance, the attacks by democracies on other states to protect their own interests seems contrary to Fukuyama’s statement that the biggest threat to his theory would be boredom. In a similar vein, the oldest brother in the series states after once again watching scenes of disaster after disaster depicted on the news that “we were lucky for a bit, born in the eighties, but turns out we were born in a pause”. History did not end together with the fall of communism in the 1990s, but was put on halt.

Muriel places desensitization as the main cause for this. Through using the symbol of the one-dollar t-shirt, she explains how we let year after year pass in a paralyzed state because it is the most comfortable for us. In the end, it boils down to the t-shirt we find on sale as the weather becomes gloomier, and the thermostat creeps closer  to the zero mark. It is cheap, and would be convenient to keep warm. At the moment, comfortability is prioritized over morals. The exploitation of workers and resources that have been used does not matter, or can be exempted just this one time. Everything the t-shirt represents, all the crisis it causes through the inequality it enhances does in the moment not matter. Eventually, the t-shirt leads to discontent and economic recession, leading to the election of leaders such as Vivienne Rook. Muriel draws a parallel with the self-automatic check outs. Although we may have hated them when they first appeared, now they are everywhere, replacing employment opportunities, and above all, making shopping more convenient for us. Although we are well aware of the consequences of these actions, the inability to grasp them, desensitizes us to them.

To prevent the high level of gang-criminality in Sweden, the police force is now allowed to convict people based on what they are wearing. Since October they are also allowed to listen to and supervise suspects in secret before the prosecution has started – all for preventive purposes. When these legislations were enforced, they were met with substantive criticism; it infringes privacy, alienates and enhances stereotypes. Arguably, it has the opposite effect of prevention, intensifying the segregation and gentrification encapsulating the very core of the issue. Godmorgon Världen’s (Good morning world) has a panel, made out of various political representatives. These changes i are in the panel justified through relating it back to previous developments in the police force that were at the time seen as dangerous, but did not end up having the detrimental effects on democracy we expected. Therefore, it is acceptable to enforce these measures even though they may infringe on fundamental rights, because it only does so to a small extent. Essentially, these changes are justified by the fact that they will only affect a small part of society. Muriel’s monologue pinpoints this; she points out how we are critical toward the implementation of self-automatic check-outs, but fail to take action if we are not the group directly affected by it. This rhetoric is exemplified in years and years as “Viv” states that she does not give a fuck about Israel and Palestine, a populist statement desensitizing the population toward events that do not directly affect them. This narrative facilitates the paralyzed state of the world, allows for a deep breath of relief, and for buying that one dollar t-shirt.

The importance of avoiding this, and the danger of not doing so is reflected everywhere, including my own study. International law is a dense programme, requiring analysis of several ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) cases per week. Many times I find myself questioning why this matters. Why is it of such grave importance to read a detailed judgment of 10 pages on provision 2 of article 10 ECHR on the freedom of expression about the wording of an article. How can these judgements make a difference in the bigger scheme? But if we show carelessness toward these issues and are encouraged to remain careless, whether it regards an ECHR judgment or a change in the procedures of the police force, how are we going to know when to start caring? In 2019 IPCC released a report on climate change, stating that we had only two years to drastically reduce our emissions in order to stay under 2 degrees of global warming. Now the two year mark has come and gone, and we remain in a dangerously similar position to 2019. We accepted and adjusted.

Every episode in years and years gets slightly darker, but the characters keep on adjusting. In 2030, not getting chocolate is the norm, as opposed to 2024, when it would have been received with shock. Every episode features at least one scene of the fireworks in London forming the numbers of the new years, accompanied by fast pace music of high tech keyboard sounding like tangents striking against each other. Years and years depicts an ever changing world, demonstrating how time never, ever, stops. The very nature of years and years confirms that history did in fact not end in 1989. The pause has to come to an end. The challenges creep closer and closer up on the characters. As the week reaches its end once again, I turn on the radio, patiently listening through the panel discussions, local stories and world-wide commentaries. Eventually, the radioactivity from the nuclear bomb catches up with Edith.

By Fanny Thiel

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