A short protest story

‘Zimmer Land’, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Read it here in about 35 minutes.

In relation to the 2022 Winter Olympics, thinking about how we can use literature to protest…

Adjei-Brenyah uses satire and surrealism in a near-futuristic story to, ironically, paint what I think is probably a rather realistic picture of the experience of being a black male in modern-day America.

The narrator works at a live-action gaming centre, where people pay to live out their heroic fantasies – ‘identifying who was stealing money at the Work Jerk module’; stopping a ‘terrorist plot during the Terror Train module’; and fighting with, ideally killing, ‘a young man who is up to no good or nothing at all’, under the pretence of protecting their home and community.

The story plays on the American Hollywood ‘hero’ fantasy; the American obsession with guns and violence – ‘Almost all patrons (84 percent when I’ve been on the module) grab the gun on pedestal B. Almost nobody uses the holophone [to call the police]’; and American racism.

It’s ridiculous. Who in their right mind would think it acceptable, let alone desirable, to relish in fighting with, and shooting dead, a complete stranger? (specifically, one who happens to be a black male, as in the Cassidy Lane module). And, good god, why would a sane person allow a child to participate in this? And that’s the point: using satire – exaggerating the situation; turning it into a game; making it into something hundreds of people pay to do, daily, for their own gross entertainment – draws attention to the absolute ridiculousness of the real-world situation.

Why would a black man work in a place like this? The protestors, who themselves use racist terms to criticise his decision, certainly don’t understand. But our narrator argues ‘it was better for me to get fake blasted ten or twenty million times a day than for an actual kid to get murdered out of the world forever.’ It’s a sad and sobering thought.

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