I thought it only right to sit down and re-read 'Brand Loyalty' five years after publication. I’ve known the story a long time – over twenty years in its various incarnations, but it’s a couple of years now since I’ve read it. I wondered what the last few years might have done to it and me. Because I do believe that perspective changes if not the narrative itself, then at least our perspective of narrative – which is why I’m a great believer in re-reading books.
And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Well, pleasant probably isn’t the right word. Uneasily surprised I suppose. This book has history. Which is a strange thing for a book ostensibly set in the future, right?
In the 1990’s, conceived as a TV series it was considered too bleak even for Channel 4. How times change eh?
In 2010 when I finally published it – all other avenues having been exhausted, I determined that it would be my final word on how I felt about life, the universe, and everything. It has and hasn’t fulfilled that function. Of course I still write, but I’m writing differently. ‘Brand Loyalty’ was me looking into the future, my own possible future and the future of us all, and not liking what I saw. From a personal point of view, Helen has a life I fear may become mine – and I don’t fear it any less today than I did 5 years ago. For me 'Brand Loyalty' was the Ultimate vision of the future and that's not something you want to keep reworking.
In 2012 when I last read ‘Brand Loyalty’ I had lost some confidence. Not in the story itself but in the power of narrative. That coloured my reading. I wondered what the point of any of it was. Who cared what I wrote? Who really ‘got’ it? So I turned my back on it, pointed myself forward and got on with life. I feared it was too much ‘my’ story and not enough something that communicated on a more universal level. I suppose I let go of it as a part of myself. And moved on.
But in 2015, five years after first publication and some 20 years after the story first came into my head, I felt I owed it to the book to revisit it. And I’m glad I did. I was expecting that it would be ‘old’ news. It’s not. I worried that technological advance might have made some of my concepts seem unreal, unlikely or just wrong. But I stand by my suggestion that the likes of Facebook and Twitter increasingly support ‘productive consumption’ and not much else. Social networking has become social media and the myth of any of this being about us and our ‘friends’ is fast disappearing. We are all part of big data. We are part of a crop of data to be harvested. The Project doesn’t seem so far fetched to me now. Nor, indeed, does Ultimate.
Reading ‘Brand Loyalty’ in October 2015 I discover that I’m holding a mirror up against today’s society time and again. This is not just a dystopic vision of the future, it is a post-capitalist novel. I suppose it was always a post-capitalist vision but post capitalism wasn’t conceivable in the 1990’s, or even obvious in 2010. Yet the last year has seen a flurry of books on post-capitalism from authors like Naomi Klein and Paul Mason . In general the zeitgeist seems to be to point out that capitalism is just a stage in our collective journey, and one that needs to be overthrown. In ‘Brand Loyalty’ I believe what I’ve written is a book which shows what a post-capitalist society could be like – and not in a good way. While others try to show that we can create a better world out of the ashes of post-capitalism, ‘Brand Loyalty’ stands testament to the alternative. And, worryingly, from today’s reading, I find we are rather further along that road than I feel truly comfortable with. Read it as a fictional dystopia if you will, read it as a mirror to our own society if you dare – but I suggest that if you are at all interested in who we are as a society and where we may be headed – you read it – or if you’ve read it – read it again. Perspective, as they may one day say, is everything.
And certainly – REALITY IS WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO BELIEVE.
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