Book Review: Apocalypse TV by Jonathan Bowden

WRITTEN by Jonathan Bowden, a man well known for his opinions on Art, Philosophy and far more besides, ‘Apocalypse TV’ is a dialogue written in the classic Platonic style, with the two characters – Friedrich and Thomas – designed to represent Nietzsche and Aquinas alike. But only very loosely, because the pair are really only shown defending the respective values of these philosophers and they are permitted to exist in the contemporary world. The dialogue itself is compelling, but despite the fact that it is essentially an intellectual joust between the decidedly amoral and the traditionally Christian, at no time does it descend into insulting or disrespectful behaviour. It reminds me of a famous quote by G.K. Chesterton in relation to his late brother, Cecil: ‘We debated constantly, but we never argued’. But although the characters do address one another as ‘Friedrich’ and ‘Thomas’ within the book itself, they are rather curiously initialled as ‘J’ and ‘S’. I can only surmise, therefore, that the more philosophical names were adopted originally but then never incorporated within the final draft. Judging by some of the political references, too, ‘Apocalypse TV’ was clearly written in the early-1990s, but the overall message is just as relevant now as it was back then.

The work is comprised of six chapters, or conversations. Each of these takes place at a precise location, something which often adds to the atmosphere. The first of these, ‘Sex, Death, Fred and Rose,’ debates how murder and violence in modern-day Western society are viewed by the liberal establishment. Thomas, as you’d expect, believes that criminals of this kind are endowed with original sin, whilst Friedrich makes it clear that there will always be a darker side to human nature and that it often has a crucial role to play in the wider scheme of things. The chapter also examines the way in which crime is punished by the law.

The next debate, ‘Hitler Was A Federalist!,’ looks at the issue of imperialism and the way political structures have been imposed by the liberal intelligentsia. It also concerns morals, something Nietzsche discussed in several of his own works, but although Thomas often has the ability to identify a certain problem, it is usually Friedrich who manages to put things into the correct perspective without allowing the former to embroil him in yet another debate about religion.

‘Room 101, Downing Street’ is possibly the most political chapter in the book, concentrating on the hypocrisy of party politics and the often contradictory labelling and colour-coding of the various parties and movements themselves. Elsewhere, Friedrich and Thomas discuss the issue of censorship, the Jewish Holocaust and the ambiguous manner in which genocide is treated in both the media and by those who inhabit the realms of academia. Each of these subjects is looked at in relation to the manner in which certain controversial issues are greeted – and consequently dealt with – by the Orwellian establishment.

‘Alien Nation’ deals with conspiracies, among them UFOs, satanic abuse and those allegedly cataclysmic diseases said by an hysterical media to herald the end of civilisation as we know it. The tone is very tongue-in-cheek, to say the least, but there is a more serious dimension to these matters because – as Bowden points out admirably – such tales are often used to scare the life out of the masses and thus help to consolidate the liberal regime and its grip on power. The role and consequences of drug-use is also discussed, with the author pointing out that, contrary to popular belief, it is detrimental to human creativity.

The subsequent chapter, ‘Art Attack,’ deals with a subject close to the author’s heart. Bowden has discussed some of his views about Modern Art and the Turner Prize in the pages of this very magazine, and here he elaborates further on the contrived nature of contemporary Art forms which, effectively, have each been influenced by Art produced in the twentieth century. The pair are heard discussing their visit to a recent exhibition in which some of the participants were bourgeois favourites like David Hirst and Tracey Emin. The author makes a good point about the inability of Modern Art to actually shock people, as the media likes to claim, as well as the fact that the more realistic – and, thus, unimaginative – exhibits are invariably given the most pretentious-sounding names. Bowden also mentions the transience of Modern Art and the fact that Hirst’s work, in particular, is already in an advanced state of decay. I certainly found myself agreeing strongly with one particular exchange:

 

S: For man is but dust, and until dust he will return.

J: No, no, old man, I’m not with you there. Man thrusts forward, moves on to new planes of creativity. The individual dies, but his creations live on. [pp.191-2]

 

Bowden is convinced that as Modern Art continues to fall into decline, Art itself will have gone full cycle, or at least that it will eventually return to the age of Futurism where it all began and for which the author clearly longs:

 

S: But what you’re saying is that we may go forward to the past.

J: Or back to the future. [p.201]

 

The final debate, ‘Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your PC’, briefly summarises many of the issues discussed in the book. This time the dynamic duo find themselves aboard a coach, going to Edinburgh, and the conversation turns to Marxism, anti-Semitism and the usage, origins, selectivity and crass hypocrisy of political correctness and its attempts to contain and nullify ideological dissent.

What I like most about this book – apart from the fact that I tend to agree with Friedrich 99% of the time – is the wry humour that rears its head occasionally and keeps the feet of our intellectual adventurers firmly on the ground:

 

J: Could one even imagine the existence of Shakespeare’s writings without tragedy and pain? If everything were reduced to the blandness of the music we’re being forced to listen to in this hotel –

S: And the biscuits –

J: I quite enjoyed them, actually. [pp.55-6]

 

But Laurel and Hardy it most definitely ain’t and Friedrich – or ‘J’ as he appears in the book – can be quite ‘merciless’ when he wants to be:

 

S: Well, I’m interested in people’s disabilities, and believe people should be helped if they need it, but I don’t want other people’s handicaps thrust in my face.

J: Absolutely. Particularly if they haven’t had a wash for a couple of days. The fact is, I do not go all gooey-eyed when the Elephant Man turns up on my doorstep.

S: Does that happen often?

J: Fortunately not! If it did, I’d say to him: ’Just wear a sheet, you suppurating bastard!’ [p.209]

 

            ‘Apocalypse TV’ is like spending several hours sitting in a room with Jonathan Bowden and his Christian alter-ego, which, depending on your opinion of Jonathan Bowden, could be pleasant and stimulating – which is my view – or monstrously obnoxious, which I’m happy to say is the view of the establishment!

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