Part I and Part II of this article series discussed the themes of housing crisis and limited nuclear war, as represented in the prophetic fiction series Years and Years and in relation to the ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine War, both primarily with concern to British society.
The theme explored in Part III is one emphasized in the second episode and remains a consistent theme throughout Years and Years: Economic Collapse. In fact, the series shows multiple economic crises to be indirect effects of the nuclear attack, thereby suggesting the consequences of an equivalent action in the real world; and more specifically, the political (re)action to it and the ramifications of such an action.
The economic crisis that characterizes Episode 2 thus serves to establish the interrelated themes of geopolitical (re)alignment in the form of international sanctions, the consequence of which is domestic economic crises—that is, the economic repercussions to the sanctioning nation. The narrative of Years and Years has Britain decide to sanction the US in an act of disaffiliation from the American proclivity to wage war, thus disrupting its historically-enduring allegiance to the United States—a geopolitical act that immediately proves to have crucial economic implications. From this setting are derived societal themes more relatable to everyday lives in the form of consequences that directly affect common people; and which are dramatically portrayed throughout the series via the main characters.
Part III hence expands further on the basis of this article series, being that the manifestation of the Russia-Ukraine War and its manifold ramifications can be well examined and, to an extent, forecasted through the vividly predictive lens of the dystopian fiction series, Years and Years. What follows is a succession of themes and subthemes relating to national economics, with each section discussing the relevancy of the fictional representation to the present-day state of Britain and, by extension, the globalized world.
As Years and Years scripts it, one of the immediate repercussions of Britain’s sanctions against the US is mass redundancy. This theme is primarily represented by a subplot of the character Celeste (the mother of the Lyons family), whereby her American-owned company withdraws their business from the UK in response to the sanctions and, consequently, Celeste loses her accounting job without as much as a payoff. The theme is also conveyed through Celeste’s husband Stephen, the successful financial advisor who almost bankrupts his family merely in the process of selling the family house—a grim irony for a financial industry expert*.
*This social commentary disguised as irony and emphasizing dystopia is echoed at the opposite end of the series, in which Daniel (son of Stephen) suffers the typical death of a refugee: he drowns on a rubber boat sailing to Britain (as mentioned in my initial article). Such grimly ironic touches as these – that is, the ‘refugee death’ of a British refugee-housing officer and the bankrupting of financial advisor—and further, the father and son two male leads of the series – are indicative of the totalizing extent to which Years and Years projects the overturning of society.
On the wider significance of sanctions, then, Years and Years thus astutely alludes to the (perhaps underappreciated) reality that – in the interdependent global order of the 21st century – imposing sanctions will almost inevitably produce repercussive effects domestically, one of which being mass job losses.
Automation (You Have 20 Seconds to Comply)
Further still, Years and Years illustrates how the economic consequences of sanctions are likely to instigate mass redundancy from another angle: a boosted incentive for industries to automate and accelerate the rate of automation. This again is primarily shown via Celeste’s career, which is derailed by the effects of the sanctions; for even though she is a highly-qualified accountant, Celeste nevertheless finds that she cannot reacquire a job in this field for one specific reason: industry economization by automated solutions. The redundancy subplot of Celeste thus represents another major theme in today’s world: the replacement of human work by artificial intelligence, a.k.a. automation. Indeed, the episode alludes to the significance of the trend by way of Celeste’s own words to her transhumanist daughter Bethany:
“Maybe you can give me advice! When I went to university, they said accountancy was a job for life. But now, thanks to your lot [i.e. transhumanists], Artificial Intelligence can do my job in one second flat. I’m going to be quite literally redundant, in every way.”
Other references to the ascent of automation include a vignette on the large-scale adoption of drones:
(Manchester TV Presenter): “…with the loss of two thousand jobs across the city. The company says 90% of deliveries will now be made by drone”.
This report cuts to the media coverage of the MP inaugurating the industrial “Drone Park”, declaring it “officially now open!”—at which point he is “…decapitated!” by the blades of a surrounding drone gone astray.
Meanwhile – on the commercial domestic side – the character Rosie meets the housebot “Keith” at the home of her new date, a single father she met at her son’s school. Later in the bedroom, however, Rosie inadvertently discovers certain attachments for “Keith” that reveal it is actually a ‘sexbot’—at which point she abruptly flees the date with what had hitherto seemed a nice, normal man.
Reflecting on the dynamics of the contemporary world, then, Years and Years attests to the trend of political decisions having a disruptive if not devastating impact on the economy; of industries being hampered as a result and typically resorting to increased automation at the expense of workers—and to this chain of developments hence perpetuating the cycle of dwindling employment opportunity. Implicitly, through this representation, the series portends the imminent ‘fast-tracking’ of dominant automation—and that this anti-human power-shift will essentially be catalyzed by disastrous political decisions.
Menialization (The White Man’s New Burden)
Primarily through the character Stephen – the head of the Lyons family – Years and Years presages a societal revolution that entails the menialization of skilled workers; that is, an employment crisis in which middle-class workers are reduced to menial forms of employment. Having near-bankrupted the family and, as a result, lost his professional credibility as a financial advisor, Stephen is depicted as a humiliated man in being reduced to working multiple minimum-wage jobs which are, therefore, under relatively slave-like conditions. Celeste too is reduced menialization, having to taking three jobs and one of which is data mining—that is, whilst the ongoing humiliation of Stephen – having been kicked out of their makeshift family home (i.e. staying at grandma Lyons) for infidelity to Celeste – has him resort to taking “about five jobs”, his bicycle courier gig being the one most frequently highlighted throughout the series.
Thus the underlying impression delivered from Episode 2 onwards is that the middle class in Britain (and probably in the affluent West in general) will undergo an abrupt process of demotion to the working class conditions they had strived to avoid for over a century. Furthermore, this regressive employment revolution is shown to have been instigated by a chain reaction of crises: from war, to sanctions, to Financial Crisis.
Banking Crash (Financial Crisis 2.0)
Closely related to the theme of mass redundancy is that of banking crisis, since the latter is shown to have precipitated the former in Years and Years; specifically in the second episode, which revolves around the rapid development of a nightmare financial scenario that begins with news of multiple bank collapses. This alarming situation directly affects the Lyons parents (Stephen and Celeste) who, having just deposited the money from the sale of their house into their bank, find that they cannot access their account online the next morning. Given the surrounding banking crisis, the couple become deeply unsettled yet whilst trying not to panic, instead deciding to go to the bank and withdraw the money in person.
Hence the setting of the climactic scene is outside the bank itself, where the Lyons couple anxiously queue – along with a horde of other account holders – to enter the bank for the withdrawal of their money and indeed their savings—only to be coldly informed that no one will be granted access. Unsurprisingly, the anxious queue instantly becomes a riotous mob, desperately trying to force their way into the premises—which of course they cannot*.
*The policeman stationed on the street to enforce the queue is shown to bluntly inform Stephen that no exceptions will be made, even if he is a “Gold Star” client and personally knows the manager. It is therefore notable that even the policeman joins the mob upon hearing the announcement from a staff member inside that “I’ve been told to lock the doors. Sorry!”, as this effectively confirms the permanent closure of the bank. Thus, in yet another subtle writing touch to accentuate the sense of social upheaval, we see a policeman flip from strictly guarding the bank to angrily banging on its windows, yelling at it “You’ve got my money! You’ve got my money! Give me my money!!”
Through the central story of the Lyons family Years and Years thus illustrates how entire savings can so easily be wiped out in an instant due to banking crashes, the severe consequences of which being unavoidable for the vast majority of people. In so doing, this major subplot presages a financial crisis even more serious than the infamous crisis of 2007-8. Furthermore, the impact such banking crashes have on the lives of ordinary people is similarly emphasized, as the plot next turns to the Lyons’ distraught experience of an abrupt downgrade in quality of living. Indeed, we see the formerly upper-middle class family essentially reduced to homelessness, saved only by grandma Lyons with whom – having fortunately retained her large house – they ambivalently move in.
Galloping Inflation (Cost of Living Crisis)
While not being depicted greatly or referenced directly, a society mired in an acute cost of living crisis is implied throughout Years and Years. What appears to be a state of ‘galloping inflation’ – that is, a rate of inflation defined by rates of price growth higher than those of moderate (creeping) inflation, but lower than those of hyperinflation – is alluded to via offhand signs embedded throughout the series.
A minor refrain in series is the mention of how ridiculously expensive it has become to live in London, most notably expressed by a complaint at the £12 cost of a cup of coffee. Even more memorable are the back-to-back references to the price of petrol, being shown to cost £130 and £120 in respective scenes. Furthermore, the characters in each scene – as they fill up and pay for the petrol – make no comment on the price, thus indicating that this inordinate price for an essential product has become the norm.
Additionally, one of the characters is shown to pay via contactless card, meaning that the limit for this method of payment must be at least £120. This visual detail is therefore yet another signifier of galloping inflation, in that a very high limit on contactless payment has evidently become necessary in order to facilitate the convenient purchasing of everyday necessities.
This easily overlooked detail is further notable because at the time Years and Years was first broadcast in May 2019, the limit in the UK for contactless payment was £30 (which it had been since 2015)—the purpose of the method originally being to deter thievery. Less than a year later (2020) this limit was raised to £45; and about a-year-and-a-half later (2021) it was raised again to £100. Thus in a mere two-years following its mundane depiction of a tripled-plus contactless limit, Years and Years has presaged a seemingly minor development such that it reinforces the momentous societal themes delivered so comprehensively through the drama.*
*Even as written in the script (i.e. in the mundanity of the dialogue) the scene indicates that the hyperinflation of fuel prices has become normalized. The script also specifies (i.e. predicts with specificity) the increased limit of contactless payment:
Viktor: 120 pounds, thank you.
Ralph bleeps his contactless card (limit now £200).
Viktor (cont’d): Anything else, sir?
Ralph: No. That’s just fine. Thanks.
NHS Fast Track (Privatization)
An economic downturn, let alone a crisis, gives the government more political leverage in furthering the trend of privatization; that is, the outsourcing of essential social services traditionally provided by the state. This theme is most conspicuously alluded to in the context of the National Health Service (NHS), long touted as the crowning achievement of British society.
The scenes in question feature grandma Lyons who upon suddenly losing her eyesight is helped by her granddaughter – the transhumanist Bethany – to diagnose the problem. How does she do this? Via the A.I. webpage of the NHS, whereby the laptop webcam is used to scan the patient’s eyes before instantly displaying the diagnosis:
“Diagnosis: macular degeneration. 96% definite. Please make an appointment with your nearest healthcare specialist.”
Thus the advent of the ‘A.Eye’ test, this being yet another example of the automation trend supplanting human performance of social roles, in this case the examination and diagnostic process from state medical services.
Cut to Muriel’s meeting with the GP (general practitioner) and the doctor informs her that the condition can now be surgically cured—but:
Dr Farooq: I’ve got to point out, there’s a waiting list of three years, but we can NHS Fast Track you for £10,000.
In the real world, ‘NHS Fast Track’ is an actual service designed to give priority to people whose health is deteriorating rapidly, aiming to ensure they are provided what is likely to be end-of-life care, i.e. instead of allowing the patient to die whilst waiting in a queue for assessment or treatment. In Years and Years, however, this NHS ‘fast track’ service appears to have been converted from an ethical protocol into an economical one, suggesting that medical treatment in general – most significantly, surgical procedures – will have this fast track option, thus allowing patients who are desperate to bypass years of waiting for what could be life-changing treatment.
The obvious downside of this healthcare development is that the ‘fast-tracking’ of treatment will inevitably amount to the ‘slow-tracking’ of health service in general, for this is invariably what the process of privatizing public services begets to those who cannot afford the privatized option (which Muriel’s treatment essentially represents, if not in name). Indeed, the exploitation of people’s desperation by an increasingly parasitic economic system is highlighted by Muriel’s response to the £10,000 fast track option:
“That’s all the money I’ve got in the world. That’s everything. I mean, that’s every single penny I’m going to leave for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren, and, well. Sod them. Yes please. Book me in, thank you very much. It is a terrible, terrible world, and I want to see every second of it.”
And so even dear old grandma is instantly reduced to “sodding” her own grandchildren for the sake of retaining a basic quality of life—courtesy of the “fast-tracked” National Health Service.
Conclusion: The Dream is Collapsing*
The terror of a nuclear showdown climaxing the first episode of Years and Years is thus parlayed into the horrors of economic collapse from the second episode onwards. Specifically, the international sanctions as a political response to the nuclear attack are explicitly and repeatedly cited in the series as having disrupted regular trade and business, such that society suffers abrupt and severe economic consequences. Hence the focus of the second episode is to make palpable the nightmarish facets of the economic ‘fallout’—primarily as experienced by the middle classes, for whom the impact of personal financial cataclysm is perhaps felt most traumatically.
This global ripple effect of war and international sanctions illustrated throughout Years and Years has hence become pertinent following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ensuing war, and the geopolitical responses to the ongoing conflict concerning which all nations have been obliged to participate; for the predictive acumen of this series appears to be loaded with foresight with respect to the ramifications of this war, particularly from the perspective of Britain. Indeed, the theme of economic collapse established in Episode 2 forms the basis from which Years and Years projects its overarching prophecy of the series: a chain reaction of disruption from which Britain and modern civilization face ‘years and years’ of disastrous consequences, most of which having long been unimaginable—such as…
Part IV is a four-star party, starting soon (—and it doesn’t give a **** if you ‘disappear’…)