Book review – Russel ist krank

Rüssel ist Krank is allegorical work detailing an illness affected elephant, presumably named Rüssel, and his nameless friend/carer - a mouse who is attempting to help Rüssel on his road to recovery.

little russel(Editors note: This review will contain spoilers. If you have intent to read this book in the near future then skip the last sections.)

Rüssel ist krank presents a dark, dystopian view of present day society. An excellent example of modern post-post-modern work, it contains absolutely no text and uses coloured line drawings to convey the unravelling story. The author's ironic use of bright colours mixed with troubling anthropomorphisation generates an ironic and often disturbing sense of comedy.

Rüssel is clothed elephant inhabiting a strangely comical human style house. Rüssel is sick. Although his sickness in never explicitly stated the opening passages show Rüssel with his arm in a sling, sporting a walking aide. His treatment, administered by a kind of mouse-like creature, does not lean towards the traditional remedies for physical injuries.

Russel in bedOn the surface it is a moral tale where the ridiculousness of the cure exemplifies the authors distain for the current trend in modern medical practises of treating all injuries with drugs, creating unnatural dependencies to the major pharmaceutical companies.

Running inside the lines of this tale an allegorical warning unfolds, taking a vicious stab at the world of commercial television and the zombification of civilisation by media ownership.

russel gets tongue depressedThe treatments administered to Rüssel start innocently enough. Simple remedies that are often the initial reactions by a parent or guardian when a child has a cold or flu - the carer brings Rüssel a glass of hot lemon tea. These days such a treatment would not even be regarded as a medicine and the infirm Rüssel is has no reason to attach any subverse meaning to such a gesture.

The simple treatments do not affect Rüssel in any noticeable way. He is still sick, with large dead eyes. The treatment steps up a level. The carer uses a tongue depressor to examine Rüssel's throat. The unsuspecting Rüssel does not question why such an examination would be required for a physical injury - he has no reason to. The mouse has developed a trust bond with Rüssel, and Rüssel's defences begin to ease.

These opening passages are used brilliantly by the author as a representation of the power of media manipulation. Rüssel represents the cynical, suspicious, inquisitive youth. Untrusting of modern society. Questioning information that shapes their lives. Television, and in particular commercial television, is regarded as the pinnacle of media evil. As the youth grows they realise that a well developed cynicism and suspicion will allow them to live bitterly along side the media, consuming the rare useful and insightful gems, without having to reject social normality outright. The hot lemon tea does its work.

russel gets needleThe book takes a dark dramatic swing. Insidiously the "carer" becomes the "dealer" and Rüssel finds himself in no position to react. He has become dependent on a medication that was not even needed to cure his sickness - an expensive and addictive placebo that replaces the simple home remedies of the past. The lines between sickness and health become blurred...

...Society has become addicted to a force it had mocked for so long. Slight unconvincing jabs at particularly obvious media manipulations is all they can muster. The hidden powers can sense their impending victory. The hapless consumer struggles to remember what it was that they were fighting against. The lines between television and reality become blurred...
russel gets huge thermometer shoved in his bottomA chart on the wall plots his declension. Rüssel is a broken elephant. The drugs have taken from him his beliefs; his self respect - everything that separates elephants from mice is gone.

The television viewer. Undisturbed by the ironic use of war protest imagery used to sell petrol. Indifferent to the lazy unemployed on Today Tonight. Unfazed by the latest incarnation of Australian Idol. Television becomes devoid of subtext. The viewer enters a limbo of photon indifference, as if a great big thermometer has been jammed up their bum, rendering them incapable of action.

russel and mouse, happy at lastThe process is complete. Rüssel and the television viewer alike have been dismantled as free thinking beasts and rebuilt as normal members of society. Gone are their cares. Gone are their concerns. Lobotomised, they find joy in childlike novelties and meaningless , oops, gotta go, Simpsons is on.