The Haunting of Bly Manor, our misguided idolatry of money, and the capricious spectre of mortality. Here’s some different things I’ve been thinking a lot about this past month. Maybe there’s something here to interest you too?
THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR
Perhaps it’s because we’ve all been forced to settle into an endless low-key dread by this wretched pandemic, but haunted house tales and ghost stories seem both weirdly comforting and life affirming at the moment. Stuck at home, unable to travel, haunted by the poor decisions of your past? Relatable content!
I loved modern gothic horror The Haunting of Hill House when I watched it earlier this year, and so I was very ready to see what this next instalment in the anthology series would bring. I wasn’t disappointed. Unlike the more overt scares that began to roar to life towards the end of the first series, The Haunting of Bly Manor is a steady, simmering beast that leans heavily into mood and isn’t afraid to play with form. If you can get past the constant drone of little Flora’s ‘perfectly splendid’ refrain (which eventually explains itself, I promise), the series builds a compelling portrait of fragile, imperfect people condemned to ride in the slipstream of a long dead matriarch’s everlasting rage. While many of the original cast are back in key roles, newbies Ameila Eve, T’Nia Miller and Rahul Kohli are fantastic additions, and the two children at the centre of the story, played by Amelia Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, are near perfect.
Also, I have to say it – I am in love all over again with Elliot – sorry, I mean Henry Thomas – who is in his own odd way perfectly suited to this series. While it’s the younger cast who capture our imaginations, and the public spotlight, more readily, Thomas’s understated performance in both series have left their mark on me. He has both times played a shell of a man, a ghost himself haunted by the actions of his past (pop culture fans, swoon!), and done so with an uneasy honesty that at times is mesmerising. It makes his transformation into the evil alter-ego of Henry Wingrave in this series all the more chilling – that wide-eyed smirk after so much pain and angst is, like everything in the Haunting world, subtly but brutally terrifying.
ON OUR MISGUIDED UNDERSTANDING OF MONEY
In his fantastic long essay published this month, journalist Rick Morton takes a no-holds-barred view of our culture’s fraught and tenuous understanding of money. Having grown up in poverty himself, Morton’s distinctly personal approach to teasing out how our society has warped our understanding of money pulls together the many interconnected ways money shapes the way we see others and ourselves, to pretty much everyone’s detriment. Written within the context of Australia’s current political climate, Morton examines the ubiquitous lie of meritocracy peddled by the Morrison government through its policies, and how both socially and institutionally we conflate the state of having money to a state of moral superiority. We hold poor people in such contempt that they by definition become responsible for their own poverty; a falsehood that sadly and infuriatingly, whether we care to admit it or not, underpins the very fabric of our world.
I read this only days after research on an Australian Basic Income made the news. A new study has looked at the costs and implications of introducing a form of universal basic income here, and I confess, it looks both appealing and practical. Replacing various welfare support payments, like Jobseeker and Youth Allowance, the ABI would be a standard payment of $18,500 made to all Australians regardless of their income, only tapering off for individuals who fall into the highest tax bracket, and there would be no rules or restrictions on how that money could be spent. The payment would alleviate many of the key social and cultural impacts that Morton talks about in his essay, the most compelling one being the constant fight-or-flight state people inevitably live with when they have no guarantee as to whether there’ll be money in the bank or not next time they check. Sure, 18 grand isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a hell of a lot for those with nothing, and the small, incremental benefits of the system as a whole to our economy and general wellbeing are exceptional.
Yes, there are detractors to this idea (isn’t there always when it comes to taxes and social good?) but economically, I find the idea enormously attractive. I can’t help but believe that de-stigmatising the idea of welfare payments in this way would take a key pressure off people who are already battling with the burden of a low income. No means tests, no proving you’ve applied for jobs you don’t really want or aren’t there, no constant invalidation of your worth by confusing bureaucracy. I mean, if everyone’s on welfare, crude, baseless ideas of ‘dole bludgers’ and ‘welfare queens’ begin to lose their rigidity. Yes, people will always find ways to pick on and look down at those they perceive as beneath them, but at least people will be forced to use slightly more imagination in their mockery.
And think of the mental weight lifted for those who find themselves suddenly jobless, or disabled, or temporarily sidelined by our fast-moving world. I think about the comfort a regular payment would bring to those with insecure work, or insecure lives – knowing that there’ll be an extra $355 in the bank by the end of the week regardless of what happens is a small but definite cushion in times of need. And for those of us with comfortable work and means, what could we do with that extra cash? Savings yes, but also – starting a new business, investing in a business, plugging it back into the economy, feeling more able to donate more widely and regularly, putting it towards a home, a family, a much needed holiday – the list is endless, and encouraging.
Personally speaking, it would free those of us whose work is not immediately income generating; writers, artists, performers, musicians as well as researchers, journalists, academics (the list goes on) could have a moment to breathe between gigs and actually pursue projects worthy of their professional capacity and personal interests rather than taking whatever job comes their way just because they need the money. Think of the benefit to us all in that scenario…
I doubt we’ll see any kind of universal payment in this country soon (certainly not with the conservative government we currently have, regardless of the economic and bureaucratic benefits a strategy like this may offer), but I live in hope, and in hope of what it may bring for us all.
CALL YOUR MUM. AND EVERYONE ELSE.
The vagaries of our existence have been writ large for everyone this past year as we wander about in the unease brought upon by the coronavirus. The past month has been particularly hard for my family. At one point, I had three uncles in three seperate hospitals, and no idea what would happen to any of them. We experienced the awfulness of losing a dear, dear loved one as well as having to navigate the already fraught and stressful realities of nursing homes and lawyers, and in the midst of this heightened state of pandemic-mania no less.
Our own mortality then, and that of our loved ones, has come into stark focus as we assess our place in this new world order. Hopefully, you’ve come to appreciate the thin film between life and death. I think I have, or at least can sense it as a more tangible thing as time ploughs on. Whether it’s illness, or accident or a rogue spider bite, any one of us could be gone in a moment. Just like that. Death weirdly is a bit like that – even when you know it’s coming, it still feels as though it happens ‘just like that’. Does that sound morbid? I guess it does, but only if you focus on the death part.
I’m not sure what impacts our global isolations have had on you, but for me, having to attend a “Covid Safe” funeral has made me think a lot about the isolation many of my relatives must be facing. If I’m honest, I am unsure whether, at the end of this pandemic madness, we’ll all be closer as a family, or more disjointed than ever.
So what the hell is my point? Focus on the life bit, I think. Call your mother. Call your aunts and uncles and cousins. Call your friends and people you always say you need to reach out to, but never do. Send a text message if it’s easier. Or a postcard! You won’t regret it. That’s a truth I am coming to understand very, very deeply. No matter the outcome, you will never regret it.
Stay safe lovelies x
(P.S. Happy Halloween!)