Pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science. Unattended, suspect, or precocious children are removed by police and destroyed in controlled explosions. The elderly are put down at birth to stop them becoming a burden. Your personal space is rationed, the under-10s are conducting dirty protests, and even the birthday cards are possessed by the angry spirit of a suicidal daytime-TV presenter. But don’t worry–you are being watched while you sleep. Isn’t that reassuring?
Welcome to Scarfolk.
Scarfolk Council is a blog documenting lost artifacts from Scarfolk, a fictional British town where the 1970s play over and over again, ad infinitum. Creator Richard Littler draws on the paranoia, bigotry, and occult fascination of the ’70s, along with a sharp eye for retro-inspired design, to create wonderful fake public information posters, books covers, safety notices, and how-to-guides brimming with humour, satire, and the surreal.
The ’70s cast a shadow over my late-’80s/early-’90s childhood: the horrific safety videos that my under-resourced primary school still used to terrify us into submission; board game boxes that made gaming look like a living death (recently parodied by Cryptozoic’s Portal tie-in); and racist television repeats on our brand-new cable channels. It seemed like a lost decade, a festering wasteland of bigotry, homophobia, and sexism mixed with the old-fashioned puritanism of Mary Whitehouse and her supporters. Everyone everywhere seemed permanently on strike (giving rise to the less-nice-than-it-sounds three-day working week), and everything was grey and brown, except the kids’ TV show Rainbow, which was terrifying.
One of my favourite parts of Scarfolk is the authentic look Littler gets for his artifacts–they are hauntingly real, often causing a double-take. I especially like the little details: the charity-shop price stickers, the tattered covers, the subtle manipulations of period photos that reward a second or a third look.
Scarfolk isn’t just an exercise in twisted nostalgia; the blog’s best moments are often satirical. It riffs on modern concerns regarding state control, surveillance, immigration, and the destruction of childhood innocence. Very few aspects of modern culture escape the Scarfolk treatment. Recently, Hallowe’en, Remembrance Day, advent calendars, the refugee crisis, and even the flood of Star Wars merchandise have been tackled. By reflecting these subjects through the lens of ’70s attitudes, we see that our own era has not moved on quite as far as we might like to think.
Scarfolk is not just a blog–there is a book, Discovering Scarfolk: For Tourists & Other Trespassers, the trailer for which can be seen here. It tells the story of a father’s quest to find his family after they become stuck in Scarfolk, and combines lots of previously-unseen pictures with a rather demented narrative regarding a murderous cult that worships office stationery. Sadly, the transfer to paper makes some of the pictures a little indistinct, making the book a poor place to start your Scarfolk obsession, but a good place to go if you are hungry for more.
Scarfolk has a way of lingering in the mind. Every time a strange story is told in these parts it’s followed up with “If you cannot imagine it, just think what it would be like.” I have to resist ending my work emails with “For more information, please re-read.” And every time something bad happens to my friend Colin (and he is a bad-luck magnet of neodymium strength), I post this Scarfolk artefact on his Facebook wall. Oh, how we laugh at his tears.
Scarfolk is high British surrealism, where darkly comic satire can sit side-by-side with extreme silliness. It reads as if the Ministry of Information has been taken over by The League of Gentlemen, and it has a nihilistic cleverness that reminds me of Monty Python in their darker moments. I am a huge fan, and can’t wait to see what Richard Littler unearths from the Scarfolk Council archives next.
For more information, please read this article again.
Editor’s Note: The indistinct graphics in the Discovering Scarfolk: For Tourists & Other Trespassers book are probably from print errors in an early publication. Creator Richard Littler states that, “the problem has since been corrected and even the smallest texts are now legible.”