In ‘The Beast Below’, you – as a subject of Liz 10 and a citizen of Starship UK – get to vote. You get a choice of buttons. You can ‘Protest’ or ‘Forget’.
This is evidently an attempt to express something about electoral democracy.
Every time we are exposed to some unpleasant and uncomfortable fact about our society or our world, or even to a suspicion of some such thing, we are presented with an implicit option to protest or forget. Beyond voting booths, we have a set of these buttons inside our heads. When you hear, for instance, that thousands of dirt poor South Africans were forcibly evicted from their shanty towns and moved to settlements of corrugated iron shacks to get them away from the new $450 million World Cup football stadium, you have the option to kick up a stink or to sigh, mumble some platitude like “tsch, how awful” and then put it out of your head so you can comfortably sit back and enjoy watching teams of overpaid jocks play amidst the McDonalds adverts.
By the way, don’t think I’m being holier-than-thou. I’m just as guilty of this kind of thing as anybody. God knows how many times I’ve found myself scrunching up a Kit-Kat wrapper and only at that point remembering that Nestlé are evil. This is normal human frailty at work, the understandable instinct to flee from guilt, as ‘The Beast Below’ indicates by showing Amy’s reflexive, horrified pressing of the ‘Forget’ button and her subsequent remorse.
So, we are clearly banked upon the sharp and shaley shores of satire.
‘The Beast Below’ presents a picture of Britain as an island in space, a star-traversing city (after James Blish’s fascinating ‘Okie’ novels, collected as Cities in Flight), with tower blocks representing counties… ah, we’re already in trouble. So, everyone from Essex lives in the same tower block? Rich and poor side by side? Maybe there are luxury apartments up at the top, opulent penthouses above floor after floor of pokey little prole cupboards… but we don’t see anything like that, unless we count the private apartments of Liz 10, but she’s a problematic figure anyway (which I’ll get to). You might argue that, in a lifeboat, rich and poor would have to budge in together… but a look at the stats for Titanic survivors might be salutary at this point:
Number of 1st class passengers: 325. Of whom survived: 202.
Number of 2nd class passengers: 285. Of whom survived: 118.
Number of 3rd class (steerage) passengers: 706. Of whom survived: 178.
Much as I hate to give Ben Elton any credit, I tend to suspect that, if the world were threatened with imminent destruction, something along the lines of the scenario described in his novel Stark would be nearer to what happened than what we see in ‘The Beast Below’, i.e. the rich would set up their own escape into space and fuck the rest of us nobodies. Mind you, that would be very shortsighted of them, not simply as they’d be left with only each other to talk to (a grim fate, as Elton’s novel implies) but also because they need us: they live off our labour.…