Tracking the future.
Susannah Breslin, mildly dislocated by jetlag, perversion and the London chill, grimaces at the elderly Vauxhall Bridge Road locals staggering around the smoky little pub in beer-smeared football-fan facepaint. Susannah’s a writer, over here in her occasional role as a presenter for the Playboy Channel’s SEXCETERA to cover an English bukkake shoot. Bukkake is a Japanese innovation in porn video wherein groups of men masturbate en masse over a single girl. A successful bukkake concludes with one brain-damaged woman looking like she’s had a bucket of cake icing upended over her head. It transpires that most of the male participants pay to attend. Ninety pounds sterling to jerk off like an ugly ape in humping season along with a dozen other fellow middle-aged married businessmen who’ve probably all told the wife that they’re off on a salesman training course in Slough. Bukkake made it to America a few years ago, and now it’s here in Britain; the cutting edge in depersonalised, heartless, gutless sex. Which is why it fascinates Susannah. But Susannah tracks the future of commodified sex. In her head, she’s already moved on.
She gleefully tells me of Rob Black, an American pornographer already in trouble with the law and facing an obscenity charge. He was apparently instructed by his lawyers to keep a low profile and behave himself. But he’s a second-generation porno guy, and has the family honour to uphold. He has therefore invented what is termed The Ass Milkshake. This involves several men ejaculating into one woman’s rectum, and then introducing milk and cream into the cavity with the aid of a speculum. The mixture is then decanted out of her backside into a glass, and presented for her to drink.
And you know that, somewhere, Rob Black is wondering how he’s going to top that before his court case.
In Japan, of course, bukkake is history. Susannah describes to me the new fetish video craze there, which I can only term Dizzy Girl Spinning Eye Movies. A girl is set to spinning around on the spot in a bedroom. Around and around. Soon, she’s too dizzy to stand up. She falls down on a bed. And the camera zooms in hard on her eyes, to see her eyeballs spinning around in their sockets, circles within circles. That’s the money shot, in porn terms. Spinning eyeballs.
Susannah grins and takes another sip of German beer.
In Germany, of course, courts were coming to the conclusion that inviting cannibalism fetishists to your home, killing them and eating them does not constitute murder. Armin Miewes got an eight-year sentence for picking up a man on the internet with seductive enticements to (quoting from his Usenet posts) “eat your horny flesh.” The victim came to Miewe’s home, where Miewes hacked his penis off. They ate it together. And then the meal got into a warm bath and waited to bleed to death while Miewes sat in the kitchen and read a Star Trek novel. After a while, Miewes decided dinner wasnt dying quickly enough. So he stabbed the silly bastard in the neck and ate him.
“Eat Your Horny Flesh” is going to be a band name inside three years, I swear.
Sometime after Miewes decided it’d be too much like hard work to grind dead boy’s bones into flour, the police came to visit. Being German, they came right out with it, and asked him directly if he had eaten human flesh. Miewes gave the classic answer: “I might have done.”
Turns out that if you want to be eaten, the diner is, at best, guilty of manslaughter. And will be out on the street in four years, tops.
Welcome to the future. It’s the world you’re living in.
People are disappointed with the future they’re living in. Since 2001, the refrain has gone up, louder year by year: “This is the future. Where’s my flying car? Where’s my fucking jet pack?” Pre-millennium, we were living in an unprecedented density of imagined futures, and we assumed it was all waiting for us around the corner. And here we are, around the corner, and none of it is standing here.
All that means, of course, is that 98% of our predictions have failed us. Which shouldn’t have come as much surprise. We treat science fiction as predictive fiction, which it isn’t and should never have been. William Gibson’s NEUROMANCER loses none of its fictive power for failing, as Gibson himself recently said, to predict mobile phones. Mobile telephony has proved a technology of massive change — not least of which has been in the field of fiction itself. Possession of a tri-band handset makes about a hundred years’ worth of thriller plotting irrelevant. My own GLOBAL FREQUENCY graphic novel has fallen foul of the future. It’s currently being adapted for American television, and we’ve run into an unexpected problem. When I developed the mobile phones that the members of the Global Frequency extreme rescue service carry, I was working at the hard edge of available technology — two years ago. Today, a Treo 600 smartphone from Palmspring does pretty much everything the GF Phone does. So I’m having to consult with a futurist at Nokia to ensure the TV version of the phone does more than something you can pick up at the supermarket.
It’s not the future we expected, being able to shoot video with a telephone and wirelessly beam it into someone’s hand on the other side of the world. I don’t know that anyone predicted that people could be driven to orgasm by images of a girl’s spinning eyes. Evan Bataille would have looked twice at the Ass Milkshake. Somewhere, there’s a mouse with a human ear growing out of its back, and a rat that produces monkey sperm. Mars is being explored by two motorised skateboards. Wernher Von Braun, who designed a Mars expedition for a crew of two hundred using available technology in the 1950s, would have shat blood in anger. Space, in his conception, was a heaven to be reached with power and glory. He would have sneered at the rocket sticks the rovers were launched on — where were his mighty chariots, to shake the ground in their passing? — and blanched to discover that his great machines and two hundred heroes had been dropped to make way for a couple of glorified rollerskates. He would have concluded that something evil had happened, and that this was not his future.
No nuclear space arks, no jetpacks. Robot skateboards and butterflies that glow green.
We all forgot that the future is yet to be written. No-one knows how it’s going to turn out. The best we can do is track the future as it happens, and use our fiction as a tool with which to understand where we are.
By the time you read this, everything in it will be history. The future’s a moving target. That’s why it needs tracking.
March 15 2004
(Â© Warren Ellis 2004. Written back then for a magazine, pulled from them when they wanted all the rights, never published. Since the time of writing, Rob Black has been acquitted, the Japanese have moved on to countless other things, and Susannah’s hip deep in her next novel, PORN HAPPY)