Whilst throughout his work Hargreaves retains a certain fascination with the individual as a tool of resistance and agent of social change, he generally prefers to frame his exploration of this with characters who enact it inadvertently – often through clumsiness, silliness or being particularly accident-prone. It is these characters who triumph most emphatically when we consider his output as a whole.
Clearly written with Debord in mind, the confused and confusing Mr Topsy-Turvy falls very much into this category. If Situationism needed a literary hero, Mr Topsy-Turvy would fit the bill - if only he knew it himself. Moving through a metropolitan environment rather than the semi-rural suburbs more commonly found in Hargreaves, his act after act of unintentional détournement leaves the city in a state of considerable malfunction. Taxis crash, streets come to a standstill, and consumers tumble down the escalator in a department store - all due to seemingly innocuous, innocent behaviours such as speaking in jumbled up sentences, or wearing one’s socks on one’s hands.
But why this narrative insistence that our hero should appear so oblivious to his impact? Is it that Hargreaves views the rebellion of the unconscious as somehow more authentic than organized collective action? Or, more likely, does he wish to side-step his own misplaced need for moral equilibrium? One suspects that Hargreaves prefers to see capitalist power relations crumble through the benign acts of a Chaplinesque fool, rather than through an open revolt whose perpetrators he would then feel he must punish.
This is all most disingenuous of course, and Hargreaves betrays Mr Topsy-Turvy’s total grasp of the situation when the character insists on hanging the pictures in an art gallery upside-down. We note, furthermore, in the disarranged utterances of a newsreader at the end of the story, that Mr Topsy-Turvy has decisively infiltrated media culture and turned it upon itself. For a man so unaware of the chaos he will cause, he certainly seems to know how to target his efforts. His sudden and mysterious disappearance owes only to the sheer magnitude of his impact. It is not that he is gone – he is everywhere. His ascension complete to the realm of signs, he occupies now the very structure of thought. That is, he is language itself.
And it is with this radical transformation that Hargreaves declares Mr Topsy-Turvy the most genuinely subversive of all the Mr Men. Whilst Mr Tickle, for instance, might well bring temporary disruption to the accepted order of things, Mr Topsy-Turvy far surpasses this. Like a countercultural virus, he infects and fundamentally alters the system he traverses to bring about enduring change.