Have you been to Scarfolk? If you haven’t visited, you really should. You’ll learn about the dangers that babies pose to public safety, the fortifying properties of totalitarian salads, and the basic principles of scarecrow biology, among many other useful things. It’s a place in which the two most important facets are pagan rituals and totalitarian thought control. Rabies is a very serious problem. Best of all, the entire philosophy of the place is communicated via dog-eared paperbacks, stilted pamphlets, bizarre public-information posters, and thuddingly unsubtle PSAs.
Scarfolk is a multi-pronged attack on British culture, it seems, but it will surely resonate anywhere public officials use the deadening power of blandness to terrorize their citizens into conformity. Scarfolk might be the most satisfying bit of sustained satire I’ve encountered since, well, The Onion. It’s so incredibly well thought out and executed that it’s very difficult to do it justice in a blog post of this type. It’s got a little Monty Python in it, some League of Gentlemen, too, and it partakes of the same general wellspring of psuedo “vintage” weirdness as Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz’s Look Around You. What makes it register so deliciously is that, since the primary medium is a trove of “found” filmed and printed detritus, it all works by the power of implication.
Scarfolk is a village in northwestern England that has some become stuck in the 1970s (just like poor Phil Connors in Punxsutawney) until it has become a deathly chilling simulacrum of itself. It and all of its attention-getting materials are the brainchild of a designer named Richard Littler, whose introduction to Scarfolk reads as follows:
Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.
Scarfolk is approximately what you would get if you put Fernwood 2Night, The Stepford Wives, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and say, John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise into a blender. What makes the project so remarkably effective is Littler’s deep command of the peculiar tone of public life in the 1970s, as reflected in the lovingly re-created and vaguely official gibberish and deadpan layout of news reports, well-meant public safety videos, and so forth. At a glance you could mistake one for the real thing (often the printed covers have little stickers on them, just as you would find on the real-life equivalent today). Its primary form of existence is a blog masquerading as the mouthpiece of the “Scarfolk Council” that has dozens of immaculately produced Penguin paperbacks, posters, pamphlets, et al., all with the weathered look of something you might find at a yard sale or a Salvation Army. (I collect Penguin paperbacks myself, so I’m particularly fond of his dead-on renditions of those.)
The source of all this macabre hilarity stems from some vivid memories of how scary the 1970s actually were. As Littler explained to The Independent:
I was always scared as a kid, always frightened of what I was faced with. ... You’d walk into WH Smith [a popular newsstand-type retail chain in the UK] and see horror books with people’s faces melting. Kids’ TV included things like Children of the Stones, a very odd series you just wouldn’t get today. I remember a public information film made by some train organisation in which a children’s sports day was held on train tracks and, one by one, they were killed. It was insane. ... I’m just taking it to the next logical step. ... What if people learned that it was a good idea to have your legs removed, or wash your children’s brains? I’m pushing reality into absurd horror but, because life was already absurd and terrifying, it only takes a nudge.
A book version of Scarfolk is due in October 2014 but I think it’ll be available in the UK only, at least at the outset. There’s so much sheer awesomeness at Scarfolk that the best approach is probably just to direct you to the blog and leave it at that. By all means, visit it and wade around in its glories until your brain cracks in two. But here are two representative video clips just in case of a rabies outbreak or something.