Our prophet of Doom this week hails from the great state of Minnesota where he’s a professor of Philosophy. In his time away from class, Ronin has penned a dystopian tale that harkens back to the dark whimsy of such authors as George Orwell, Phillip K. Dick and Aldous Huxley. Let’s learn more about his newest book, Same Song, Different Beat, and the world that inspired it.
Copper: What was the spark that urged you to write Same Song, Different Beat?
Ronin: The idea for this book began forming about ten years ago. I noticed entertainment seemed almost entirely predicated on nostalgia. Nothing new was being produced. This isn’t really true, there’s new stuff produced all the time. But the media with money behind it no longer seemed interested in doing anything new. That was at the height of the zombie craze. Every movie from the 1980s was being remade for no reason at all other than the brand recognition. This was obviously commerce devouring art. A bunch of stiffs in suits seeking a bankable title from the past. It’s a good business plan, frankly. You have what they call a ‘built-in’ audience and that audience’s children, which becomes the new audience. Nowhere has this been more apparent than with the Disney Star Wars movies. They carted out the old coots from the original trilogy and killed them off while introducing ‘new,’ younger characters. I realized a dystopian book today should point out how the general public seems content consuming the same old stuff, over and over. In the process of plotting the book, I realize the book itself was treading familiar ground, which is how I stumbled onto the dual-purpose title, Same Song, Different Beat. There’s not much ground to cover in dystopian literature anymore, so you have to present things in a way that, at the very least, seems different.
Copper: Were there any dystopian novels or movies in particular that influenced you?
Ronin: 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, I think, were the most influential. Those books have really proven prophetic. Not to discount the others, but just look at how accurate Orwell and Bradbury were. The only thing Orwell got wrong was that we carry the television spying on us everywhere we go. They’ve found so many ways to consolidate control of the masses through cell phones. Had you told me this is how Orwell’s nightmare would come true, say, twenty-five years ago, I would have laughed. I would have said, There’s no way the masses are that gullible. Wow, have I been proven wrong! The thing Bradbury got correct was the fact that we the people invited this nightmare we’re currently enduring. In Fahrenheit, the fire chief (I think he’s the character that does this, it’s been a while) points out that it was the people who asked for the books to be burned. Social media, egged on by corporations, has conditioned the masses to police each other’s speech. It’s genius, in a Machiavellian way. Another huge influence, though not as obvious, is Shutter Island. I have always hated that Teddy turns out to be crazy. Shutter Island is part of a larger batch of stories told over the last thirty years or so in which an individual detects something is very wrong in the society around him/her/them and almost always that individual ends up being insane. I think this is a very dangerous message. We know darn well individuals who point out flaws in society are persecuted all the time. Art should be championing the Cassandras out there who take the risk of speaking up. Folks will have to read the book to see how I deal with this particular concern.
Copper: What social media platform seems the most likely to usher in a dystopian world?
Ronin: That’s a great question. As I mentioned, the small, select group of people who seem to have all the power have manipulated things so that we the people monitor each other. There is no Big Brother. Just a nosy neighbor or a predatory narcissist on Twitter. And if we’re being honest, Twitter seems to be the platform the establishment is most protective of; This was demonstrated rather graphically when Elon Musk announced he would purchase it. I’ve never seen so many nasty little busy bodies shriek in terror all at once. Musk doesn’t even need to buy the platform now. He proved the establishment considers Twitter a major weapon in the manipulation of the masses. I’m on Twitter, but I rarely visit and when I do, I try to stick to promoting all things horror and science fiction, my loves outside of philosophy. If I begin to stick around and read the alleged ‘political opinions’ on Twitter, I’m compelled to tell people exactly how stupid they sound. And, of course, that’s not the correct way to go about discourse. But a platform that only allows 280 characters per communication, well, it’s begging for misunderstanding and conflict. That the current owners of Twitter do nothing about this, I think, is criminal.
Copper: If we lived in a dystopian world that permitted only one song to exist, what song would you like it to be?
Ronin: If the state were in charge, I’m sure it would be Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Or maybe REM’s “Shiny Happy People” (the State, as always, being unaware of the origins of either of those songs; similar to Republican candidates playing “Born in the U.S.A.” at their rallies). If I got to choose the song that would help me get through a dystopia, as cheesy as it may sound, I’d vote for “Sailing,” by Christopher Cross. When I was a child, I had a portable cassette recorder/player. I couldn’t afford to buy new tapes from the record store. My parents were very strict and wouldn’t let me use their record player, so I couldn’t buy 45s either. So, I kept my tape recorder by a small clock radio I had at my bedside. I’d keep a tape cued up to record on and if a song I liked came on the radio, I’d hit the record button and hope I got the beginning of the song. I had a primitive, early rendition of the ‘mix tape’ with songs like “Back in the Black” and “Give Me the Night” on it. As a child, I guess, I didn’t differentiate genres of music. If the song sounded nice, I liked it. “Sailing” was a particularly soothing tune. Today, if I need my own nostalgia fix, “Sailing” takes me right back to that time. Like all nostalgia, the feeling ignores the turmoil of growing up poor in rural Minnesota. I just remember being younger, much farther away, in terms of time, from the finish line. All existential angst disappears for the few minutes that song plays.
Check out Ronin’s book on Amazon! (links in descriptions may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)