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Is Children of Earth about the Recession?

I’ve been thinking about the tendency of science fiction to use allegories and metaphors for morals and lessons. I’ve also been thinking about the rather epic and excellent Children of Earth miniseries that the Beeb ran last week and the Americans are receiving next week. With the report from An Bord Snip Nua being released today, it got me thinking about where the recession would force us to make cuts. And who would be the victims. It got me thinking: Is Children of Earth about the recession?

What a load of bankers...

What a load of bankers...

The miniseries contains its share of food for thought, but it’s thrown in rather haphazardly. There are hints of a nation afraid of their own youths (in the international press coverage) which raises questions about the era of the ASBO. The chilling roundtable discussions raise questions about the nature and role of governments. The evil alien overlords are junkies looking for a fix. There’s the continuing trend within Davies’ work of the nobility of the working class, willing to stand and fight. There’s also a very strong theme of sacrifice (which recurs throughout the relaunched franchise) and how easy it is to sacrifice those who you don’t know (as the government quickly rules out their own children, Frobisher copes when he’s discussing children he doesn’t know and Jack is willing to risk the death of the entire human race to oppose the 456), but then we cower when it becomes real and personal as opposed to abstract and theoretical.

Today we had the announcement of a plan to drastically cut public spending in Ireland – nicknamed An Bord Snip. Where will the cuts come from? Who will pay for the past recklessness of the banks in failing to regulate themselves and the government in failing to regulate them when they failed? In Torchwood, the government made a historical deal with the devil to hand over twelve children in return for a vaccine – it’s hard not to see parallels. The reckless risk taking and rewarding of reckless risk taking helped create a vibrant Irish society. Perhaps even more so than it did in Britain. Which was perfect and fantastic. Us regular joe soaps didn’t care how it came about, we were just glad for it. Then, years later, the hole in the markets appeared. Just as the alien extortionist junkies showed up. It’s a perfect metaphor really. Government was having deadly buzz, and then bam, everything suddenly stops and a bunch of young punks start announcing in a cold dispassionate way that the end is coming.

Eventually the banks acknowledged that they needed government aid. Call it what you will: a bailout, a stimulus package. They needed it. In the same way that the 456 needed children. It wasn’t some some sort of biological necessity or unavoidable outcome. The banks could have been careful and carried on business in a straightforward manner – the 456 could have stuck smoking kittens before moving on to the harder drugs. Still, they needed their craving. And the balance of power in the meeting was all wrong. the banks were probably greeted in an ambassadorial suite or a throne room, but they were still the ones who needed something from the government. In the same way as the 456 needed the kids. The both had leverage: give us what we need and crave or civilisation will fall. And the governments sought to capitulate, because there’s no choice, really.

Of course, this being science fiction, the aliens threatened the end of the world through weaponised viruses and genocide, but the banks simply offered the spectre of economic collapse. The aliens wanted “10% of the children of this world”, but the banks settled from billions from the public accounts. The net impact was the same – a lost generation. The children who would be offered to appease those extraterrestrial gods would be the ones to pay for the sins of our past governments. Cuts in social services, education and healthcare will see the next generation footing the bill for the economic bailouts.

When the lobby groups engage in the usual horsetrading on the announcement of where the cuts are needed, it’s almost a certainty that the children will go unheard. That’s really par for the course. When a bunch of electricians coming to a standstill can work to secure themselves a pay rise in this economic climate, you’re be forgiven for thinking the kids might have to do literally the same thing. The problem is that children don’t really speak with a single unified voice, and they can’t collective bargain.

And when the time comes for the politicians to make the cuts, the cynics might believe that they won’t sacrifice their own children. It will be the bottom 10% who didn’t benefit from the boom that will be made to foot the bill.

Maybe I’m looking too hard for meaning in what was a very entertaining piece of television. I can’t figure out where Torchwood themselves fit into this extended metaphor, save as some fantastical figures who Davies wishes could swoop in and save the day. Maybe those are the people that Davies wishes the middle class could be like, grimly accepting that they must also make their own sacrifices and go some way towards sharing the pain.

Or maybe it was just a great piece of television.

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2 Responses

  1. That’s an interesting parralel that I hadn’t thought of. There was a moment where one of the characters pointed out that this would help solve the overpopulation issue, which was an idea that could have been developed further, but nothing specifically linking it to our economic deal with the devil.

    Food for thought. Whether that was intentional on the part of the TW people or not, you’re right, it was a great piece of television!

    • I’d actually forgotten about that bit – thanks! I thought that might just have been Davies showing us how cynic government is (And the Prime Minister Brian Greene? Not a very subtle play on Gordon Brown – his initials are even reversed!), but I don’t know. Davies is very good at incorporating broad strokes (his attitude to the Bush administration can be surmised from The Sound of Drums), but the last time he attempt direct commentary (in The Aliens of London mocking the Iraq War) it was a bit of a disaster. At least – if it was intentional – he didn’t let the message overwhelm the story this time. It’s also possible I’m reading stuff into the material that isn’t there, but I’m sure there is something there – if that makes sense.

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