The ’97 album hit me out of the blue seventeen years post its release into this now-blessed world, yet, Radiohead’s OK Computer probably has to be the jam the people of this pre-dystopian land should listen to. However, since and before the time I academically obsessed over its musical contours, there has been one song from the album that seemed singularly genius to me. It was probably because of the hidden-in-plain-sight technique, or its description of a helpless apathy the mind falls in after eons spent in worry, concern, inside a web of social despair.
As a generally over-analytical person, it is hard to not care. The phrase “I couldn’t care less” has been uttered often; while trying to not nervously sweat out the fact that the knowledge of endless judgment has crippled my sense of mental exiting/apathy, an indispensable tactic if you’re both an escapist and a people-person.
But “No Surprises” is more than forcefully turning a deaf ear to the crash of a world crumbling: it is the musical equivalent of hiding under a blanket, crushing face into the embrace of a pillow as your demons, both interior and exterior, crawl under your skin. It is resignation in its final form, that no matter what, one needs stable ground to rest, no matter how undulating, tedious, devoid of excitement it is – a flat, boring existence after the chaos of a spiralling world, bereft of its demands, with “no alarms and no surprises”.
This age brings with it new changes like the latest smartphone update: not a single day passes without another tinkering of a futile government to regulate its masses, or another multi-national, capitalist enterprise bringing tiny nuggets of revolution in the form of technologically-advanced trinkets. The latest Samsung Gear brings with it the superb utility of a stylish #minimalist watch packed with the efficiency of a smartphone. It’s funny that we remember the time when millennials got excited on seeing their parents with a tiny wireless telephone that had a clock in it. Consumers hungrily purchase the latest while last week’s technological innovation has barely exited the back door, and it’s a vicious cycle that everybody’s happy to entertain, so much so that self-awareness, every time it peeks, despairs at the self-indulgent quagmire we’ve dug for ourselves.
Youth has taken the beating to the brow: as a personal observation, it is hard to find a single person who has managed to keep their wits around without losing part of their souls to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, to rattle off a few of the many diseases that plagues 21st century adolescence and the still-growing psyche of the young adult. It is with a disillusioned mind that one goes to experience the rest of the wonderful life they’ve been promised by motion pictures and society –the possibility of fame, money, power, love (disguised in innumerable garbs) – ultimately to give up, but not “settle down”, like the elders want you to, but realize, that life is better living it on one’s own terms – no matter how self-centred, for the sake of self-preservation.
And this is where the hopelessness of staying in a far-off cocoon, begins its slow devastation of the self. The state of affairs around the world – ceaseless violence, state-sponsored terrorism, religious fanaticism that insists on spilling the blood of the blaspheming – irrational, blind, insane and inane (at the very least, for I run out of decent adjectives without resorting to name-dropping); incessant racist and sexist monologues and acts, and intra-community (caste disputes, honour killings, to name the “headliners”) hatred spell the basic first sheet of any newspaper. So much so that things considered outrageous like child molestation and sexual assault of aged persons have become everyday occurrences. The usual morning read becomes a series of scandalized yet whispered, almost non-existent sighs. Horrific rapes and murders are but commemorative of the failure of humanity as a whole, and governmental apathy is but the beginning of the withdrawal of humanity’s sympathy.
Who, then, can blame the youth for their cataract, for not being able to visualize a future without corruption, without scandal, without hatred or fear or at least, nausea? We all but are dreamers yearning for a utopia. Daughter’s “Youth” goes “we are the reckless, the wild youth”, yet all we are, are playthings dreading the day we shall be tossed into the donation bin – and so we sing the anthem for the doomed youth. The war poet, Wilfred Owen’s ominous poem, revealing the futility – only the reality – of war, becomes the first chapter of the saga of destruction the 21st century dream is writing for itself. Even the great hopeful American dream seems to have become a shrivelled hope for no college debt, no student loans, an adequate, if not non-soul-sucking job and a decent roof to raise above one’s head – if not one’s head itself. In the quest for aiming higher, to be non-conformist, we have returned to conform with our initial mundane roots, with no alarms, no surprises, stuck in a glass bowl we are relieved to be in, for the sake of familiarity, if not anything else.
And it’s cruelly apt that the visuals show Thom Yorke, the frontline vocalist, with his face trapped in a glass bowl gradually filling with water, choking the words – flashed in reverse across the screen, like reflection from a prompter – out of his visibly uncomfortable face, reaching a crescendo when the water engulfs the entirety of the bowl, and abruptly releases its vice-grip, draining itself along with the blood from his face. It becomes an almost unexplainable metaphor for the struggle for survival, for a generation fixated on the thought of instant relief, release, revival.
We love chaos, we love the furore that youth arrives in all its splendour. But it makes one wonder whether the cries have subsided enough to hear the crash and fall of a dystopia, only arriving, only beginning to rear its ugly head. And if, in some form of unconscious awareness, we have resorted to clutching our blankets and shrouding ourselves, to a form of wilful ignorance that refuses to hear the cries of the rest of fallen mankind –because we have nothing to boast of but apathy and selective capacity for caring, as our only survival instincts; whether we cry ourselves to sleep every night just so the world won’t turn its blame game towards us for daring to save just ourselves from the carbon-monoxide stranglehold.