40 Alaia gives me a grilling

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40   Alaia gives me a grilling

The grilling I was expecting to receive later and elsewhere from Alaia occurs here and now instead, when she and I are dragged into a spare bedroom by Evelyn, who evidently reckons this will be the place to provide us with adequate time undisturbed. I suspect Evelyn is right in this, because when she led the two of us out of the sitting room, Rik and Shigem were just embarking on a new and complex set-up of camcorders, clip-lights and television, this time with Kim in the hot-seat, in search of newly exotic flavours of infinite video feedback. Not that there's anything for us three to keep secret from Rik—but we can't, of course, have Kim or Shigem overhearing any discussion about my spying into people.

In addition to this being a spare bedroom, one end of the room has been taken over by Evelyn as a working area of her own. A Friesian-cow design covers a desk-chair in front of a messy desk, amongst whose fertile clutter I spot a pink mp3-player hooked up to a pair of good speakers flanking a framed photo of that Adewale guy as Adebisi in Oz, with the mark of a lipsticked kiss on its glass. (How just adorable.) Alaia stands in the middle of the space, I sit on the cow chair facing the middle of the room and Evelyn reclines on the bed.

Now that Alaia knows about my imagination-cloning deal, from Evelyn's private explanation to her earlier, she disapproves of it on aesthetic grounds and she lets me know it. "Jaymi: the point of Sound & Vision was to enrich the world and remind people of what's fine and most valuable in themselves, and here you are making a tacky corporate cartoon."

"Well," I squirm, "not everything that we put out, as a species, is going to be high art, you know."

"No, but you know damn well that this corporate cartoon thing's going to be designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, like some toxic daily newspaper or some horrible piece of shit on TV. Whatever the details of it, its flavour's going to be exactly like a tabloid, obviously—in other words, vile puke-making idiocy and vile puke-making ugliness. It'll appeal to the most putridly mediocre impulses in every one of the tens of millions who see it; and by engaging with those impulses, it'll strengthen and perpetuate them, without question. You know it will. That's real damage, right there—real damage that Jason's client company is doing, and I know you can see that. Whenever a powerful company pulls that same old weary poisonous shit, it's unforgivable, every single time it happens. Are you disgusted? I am! It lets every last one of us down, as a species." She folds her arms and glares at me.

None of that surprised me at all, but I can tell Evelyn wasn't expecting it. "Alaia ... this sheep thing'll be pretty dumb, sure," she says. "But where's the harm in it?"

Alaia smiles at her, with affection but a hint of sadness somewhere, deciding what to reply. At last she says: "Look, I just find the debased things in our cultural output hideously ugly. I believe they've cheapened and saddened and slowed down the achievement and potential of the human race as a whole. And there's a small but significant part of me that's remained in a state of permanent, low-level shock, throughout my life, that at least a large minority of people don't see and feel the same."

Now it's Evelyn's turn to decide what to reply. "I understand," she says. "But it's just a stupid cartoon. And if it wasn't going to be this stupid cartoon, then it would be some other stupid cartoon instead. That's just how things are, so what's the big deal?"

"You're right, that's how things are—and that's the problem. For me that's a very big deal, because I'd like us to evolve from that ... and Evelyn, we could evolve."

Evelyn gives her a look both admiring and sceptical. "Then we'd better hope for some good luck, 'cos I know what people are like."

"Yes, but people can improve. And I'll do what I can in that direction. Talking of which," she turns to me, "this secret deal with Jason basically adds up to snooping on people. And stealing intellectual property from them for commercial profit. You know that, don't you, Jaymi?"

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