Why the birds are angry

Listen up, Glenn Beck: Angry Birds is a socialist analogy

Late one night, while hurling animated birds at a fortress containing smug little green pigs, I began to wonder if "Angry Birds" - the smart phone game that's sold over two million copies - could be seen as a socialist analogy.

For those who haven't played Angry Birds, the premise of the game is this: malevolent pigs have stolen all of the birds' eggs and barricaded themselves in wonky citadels, in preparation for inevitable avian retribution. The player's goal is to catapult (understandably) "angry" birds at these structures, in order to topple them, kill the pigs and reclaim their eggs.

I Googled "Angry Birds socialism", to see what the internet had to say about it. The first result was an article on tech news site TG Daily about ranting US radio show host and Tea Partyist Glenn Beck linking the game to the far-left.

“Ah", I thought, "Glenn Beck denounces Angry Birds as socialist propaganda. How like him". Then I read the article properly. Beck wasn't condemning Angry Birds, he was using it for his own means. According to Beck, the birds represent the "wealthiest one per cent of society". The pigs are the "mooching" poor, who have stolen the rich birds' hard-earned eggs. This logic is completely upside-down. Beck has tried to claim Angry Birds for the right and it's now my personal mission claim my favourite iPhone game for the left.

First things first. The birds aren't rich bankers and businessmen, they're disgruntled workers. Birds don't "earn" eggs, as Glenn Beck's warped logic would have you think, they make them. The eggs represent the worker birds' industrial output, the profits of which have been harvested by the capitalist pigs (could this be any more obvious?).

What's more, although the birds come in several different colours, the original bird is red. Coincidence? And it's also interesting that the capitalist pigs happen to be green - the colour of (cue drum roll) the US dollar.

And as if all this weren't enough to set the player's political compass twitching, some of the pigs wear soldiers' helmets and even crowns. None of the birds have helmets. They're a ragged band of unarmed freedom fighters. And the crowns? Could this possibly be a more blatant anti-monarchical message?

So, Mr Beck, you can spit all the bile you like about liberalism. You can foam at the mouth about gay marriage and abortion. But Angry Birds belongs to the left and there's nothing you can do about it.

 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Photo: Nadav Kander
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Sarah Hall's dark short stories are fragments of lives wrenched out of alignment

The displacements in Madame Zero are literal, figurative and occasionally fantastical.

There’s no story called “Madame Zero” in Sarah Hall’s new collection: the title floats enigmatically above this dark and memorable set of stories. A passing mention of “Cotard. Capgras. Madame Zero” gives a clue, but the reader has to scurry for it.

In the 1920s a patient presented herself to the French psychiatrist Joseph Capgras with what the latter identified as an unusual form of the Cotard delusion, a mental illness characterised by a radical sense of disconnection from the self. Some Cotard sufferers think parts of their body have vanished; some think they’re dead and rotting. Capgras’s patient felt that she wasn’t there at all, and gave the name Madame Zero to the non-being who had replaced her.

With this, a lot becomes clear about Hall’s second collection of short fiction. So many of these stories are about characters who have vanished, become strange to themselves or stepped out of the centres of their own lives.

The displacements are literal, figurative and, occasionally, fantastical. In the opening story, “Mrs Fox”, for which Hall won the BBC National Short Story Prize in 2013, a woman who “dreams subterranean dreams, of forests, dark corridors and burrows, roots and earth” is out for a walk with her husband one morning when she transforms into a vixen. “She turns and smiles,” Hall writes, in language whose imagery edges close to horror. “Something is wrong with her face. The bones have been re-carved. Her lips are thin and the nose is a dark blade. Teeth small and yellow. The lashes of her hazel eyes have thickened…”

The story quietly updates David Garnett’s strange little novel Lady Into Fox from 1922, but its fascination with the wild – in humans, in nature, in the borders between the two – continues a theme that runs in Hall’s work from her debut novel Haweswater (2002) to her most recent, The Wolf Border (2015).

It finds an echo in “Evie”, the collection’s final piece, in which a married woman becomes wild in a different way, exhibiting cravings, confusion and promiscuity that first baffles then arouses her husband. Her radical changes, however (“She’d walked carelessly across the tripwires of their relationship, as though through a field of mines, as if immune”), turn out to have a dreadful neurological cause.

Other stories experiment with register, style and genre. Written in downbeat medicalese, “Case Study 2” takes the form of a psychiatrist’s report on a patient: a wild boy found on the moors who turns out to have been brought up by a secretive communal cult. As the therapist begins to “re-parent” her new charge, getting him to say “I” instead of “we” and teaching him about property and possessions, Hall drip-feeds hints about the community he has left, whose slogan “All of one mind and all free” soon acquires a threatening resonance.

The points in this story about connection and selfhood give it an aspect of fable, but at root it’s a weird tale; take away the leached and wistful tone and the doctorly equivocations and we might be in The Twilight Zone. Hall has written counterfactuals and science fiction before: her novel The Carhullan Army imagined life among a group of armed feminist rebels in dystopian Britain, while The Wolf Border, written before the referendum but set in a newly independent Scotland, looks more alternative-historical by the day. 

Similar impulses power several of the stories here. “Theatre 6” portrays a Britain living under “God’s Jurisdiction”, in which the Department for the Protection of Unborn Children insists all pregnancies be carried to term. Other imaginary societies are evoked in “Later, His Ghost”, a haunting piece of cli-fi about a Britain devastated by high winds (originally published in this magazine); and in “One in Four”, a four-page chiller set in the middle of a flu pandemic. Hall is no world-building nerd, however. Her focus is always on the strangely displaced characters (harried anaesthetist, obsessed survivor, suicidal biochemist) at the stories’ heart.

A microclimate of unease also hangs over the stories in which nothing weird is visibly going on. In “Luxury Hour”, a new mother returning from the lido meets the man with whom she once had a secret affair; going home, she imagines her child “lying motionless in the bath while the minder sat on a stool, wings unfurled, monstrous”. “Goodnight Nobody” evokes the crowded inner world of Jem, an Eighties child with a ThunderCats obsession (but her mum works in a mortuary, and the neighbour’s dog has just eaten a baby…). And “Wilderness”, my favourite from this collection, conjures stark prickling fear from its description of a woman with vertigo crossing a creaking viaduct in South Africa: “The viaduct was floating free, and sailing on the wind. It was moving into the valley, into the river’s mouth. It was going to hit the hillside, and heave and tip and buckle.”

These aren’t particularly comforting stories; they’re fragments of lives wrenched out of alignment, told by or featuring characters who are frequently incomprehensible to themselves. But their poise, power and assurance are very striking indeed. 

Madame Zero
Sarah Hall
Faber & Faber, 179pp, £12.99

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder