I spent a fair bit of the nineties playing the popular pro-suicide computer game Lemmings. It had fairly rudimentary graphics and was deeply, deeply frustrating, but it was also immensely satisfying whenever you actually managed to save a whole bunch of the diminutive grassy-haired basket cases from nonchalantly shuffling off the edge of a steel girder to splatter their brains over the floor en masse, which, in any one game, lots of the little fuckers did.
It’s a harrowing concept, if you think about it: bestowing an 11-year-old with responsibility for a sprawling army of cute little rodent-types hell-bent on ambling about doing nothing, apart from themselves in. That kind of thing could leave some serious mental scars on an impressionable, fertile young mind – Lemmings was like the pixelated equivalent of handing your kid a bag of sick kittens to chuck off a bridge.
But everyone played it until they had bleeding eyes and fingertips like leather, and in most cases, ironically, for that reason alone – because everyone else did. And the game is kind of a metaphor for the situation its erstwhile fans find themselves in now, in their adult lives – we’re all lemmings, intent on following the masses, opining popular opinions, desperately trying to avoid destruction while careering headfirst towards it.
Take swine flu: as much as I like to think I can see through all the doom-mongering headlines to what’s underneath – countless publishing companies printing words designed to terrify us into picking up their reactionary rag to find out how to survive long enough to catch the bus home, when all they’re really arsed about is subsidising their spiralling advertising revenues and the fact they have no suitable replacement model to glean cash from the online news free-for-all – I still find myself getting sucked in.
I’ve been resolutely cynical about the pandemic so far – see here and here for proof. But with the UK now having among the most confirmed cases in the world, the situation has clearly taken a turn for the worse, and while there’s a remaining slither of rational thought in my brain that continues to strive for the morose facts and figures to be put into some sort of sane context – for instance, I’d be interested to learn the total amount of people in the UK that have carked it over the past week of afflictions that aren’t swine flu – I have started toeing the line and, well, being a bit scared.
For a start, I use that foul-smelling booze-infused hand gel now. I enter a quiet panic every time someone sneezes some swine flu out anywhere near me on the tube. I even saw a picture in the paper of someone wearing a SARS-style face mask and, for a split second, wondered if that meant I should be wearing one, too.
It’s not just swine flu, though; I’ve capitulated on other topical issues, too. Like Michael Jackson. I’ve always loved his music and have a well-worn copy of his greatest hits CD but, for one reason or another, I’ve never actually owned ‘Thriller’. But at the weekend I bought it while shopping in Sainsbury’s. An impulse buy, but one I’m listening to as I write this – would I have been doing that today if the baby-dangling mega-star hadn’t died three weeks ago? Probably not.
Talking of Michael Jackson, I found this snippet of Vincent Price’s hilariously camp ‘rap’ at the end of the song ‘Thriller’, which sounds a little bit like it was picked out of a lost property box around the back of the haunted house at Alton Towers, profoundly apt against the backdrop of swine flu hysteria:
The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom.
It’s not our fault, all this – it’s how we’re programmed. To appropriate a quote from ‘Fight Club’, courtesy of Tyler Durden, we’re not beautiful, unique snowflakes; we’re all just the same decaying organic matter as everything else. Basically, we just want to do, say and think the same as everyone around us.
So whether or not swine flu will prove to be humanity’s ‘dinosaur moment’ and wipe us from the face of the planet, it doesn’t matter. Like the lemmings, we’ll all just shuffle around worrying about it anyway.