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Full of M.A.G.I.C

[The video clip to Sound of Arrow’s new single “Magic,” a very cheerful indiepop song. It features two children (a presumed boy and a girl) who wake up into a world where all the adults have disappeared from their suburb. They move from their suburb to a petrol station, gather junk food, then move to country where there are large, mysterious beings. There’s much running around and joy, and a Lord of the Flies moment with another child throwing pinecones at them. A friendly monster the boy dubs “Pom Pom” sits with them at a campfire, while others walk far away in the distance. It is, as the title suggests, all quite magical.]

The new videoclip from Swedish band Sound of Arrows is quite amazing. The Sound of Arrows aesthetic is interesting to me not just because it’s so ecstatically jolly but because of the way fantasy figures so heavily. Nostalgia and fantasy can be “lines of flight,” two ways of deterritorialising dominant narratives (though now after having seen the whole of the HBO Game of Thrones season one I stand by my initial assessment of the show as bleakly neoliberal, libertarian even. Engrossing and immaculately staged to be sure but basically an overly pessimistic and reductive view of human nature. But I’m not here to talk to you about jam.)

In “Magic” The influence of the Japanese Studio Gibli animator Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) is quite obvious, and through him to a kind of generational environmental post-apocalyptism. But while certainly interested in humanity’s relationship to nature, Miyazaki’s work is also in some measure often about the survival of Japan in the wake of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear attacks (most explicitly in Grave of the Fireflies, but I agree with Susan Napier’s assessment that it extends much further in allegorical mode. What might Sound of Arrows’ apocalypse be?

Anyway, I think this particular apocalypse can be imagined as emerging in part from the crisis of capitalist realism (to use Mark Fisher’s term), the inability of capitalist narratives to really encapsulate the new reality of a post crash world. In the face of failing countries, huge bailouts of the ruling class and austerity for the poor, the neoliberal consensus (“it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” as Fredric Jameson aptly summed up) is increasingly frayed. So, to return to “Magic,” freed of the adults, capitalism disappears in this magical world. As a deus ex machina, it’s a good one I must admit.

Entwined with the collapse of capitalism as a sustainable system is climate change, the looming environmental catastrophe facing us all. The children move from the confining suburbs (the gate of their house/apartment thing has a distinct animal-pen feel) through the semi-industrial to the countryside, where the environment comes alive. Nature under the influence of the children becomes pure, so pure that nature spirits begin walking the earth as companions to the children.

We have, in the end, come through Enlightenment rationalism back around to the pre-modern “enchanted” world described by Max Weber – the world of sprites, fairies, Gods, wonder, awe, suspicion. The child-gone-wild figure tells us that this kind of fantasy (inherent to modernity, this is Rousseau’s fantasy after all – sentimentalised childhood and the noble savage) is far from innocent when it comes to a racialised anthropological narrative of the “primitive.”

So this is all a fantasy of a particular kind, the fantasy of being outside of culture, united with the nature. But salvaging the detritus of a dead civilisation won’t last forever, at a certain point you need food, shelter, etc. The problem with the nostalgia-of-origins, as evidenced by the ultimate failure of the unsatisfying Battlestar Galactica finale to traverse the nature/culture dialectic in its unsatisfying finale: all this has happened before, and will happen again.

And this is not to judge this short, beautiful video for a political failure when it succeeds so well aesthetically – that it opens up these questions is enough. For what happens when these children grow up?