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- Arun Kundnani The Muslims Are Coming!
- Quid pro Quo (I will eventually explain all)
- Pantomime Terror: MIA as Provocateur. Keynote address at International Centre for the Study of Culture, Giessen. 21 Nov 2013
- Pantomime Terror #music #politics
- Pantomime Terror talk. RMIT 16.12.13
- The Squared Horizon – 6.6.2014 Nottingham Trent
- Terrorism gone to pot (not that kind) #trinket #trinketisation #crimbo
- Trinkets in Critique of Exotica #trinketization
- Pantomime Terror – pre-order
- the end of …
- Capital lectures in Spring term at Goldsmiths starting January 14
- Jai Bhim Comrade – Anand Patwardhan film – must see 14.11.13
- trinkets in The Rumour of Calcutta #trinketization
- ‘”hush now” you have your trinkets”‘ @rustyrockets
- God Complex
- Border residue
- Letters of Blood and Fire – Caffentzis in the UK
- Bonfire night got a whole lot more interesting
- Quid pro quo – talk at Melbourne Uni
- Pantomime Terror trinket of the day.
- Inaugural Meeting of South East London Council for the Defence of British Universities:
- talk at RMIT Melbourne
- Convoys Wharf
- Teach out talk crib notes
Pantomime Terror Lect Vid
- RT @Stealinghome: Get in!! @zer0books have ebook version of Pantomime Terror by @sputnyk on promo, for 99p end of this month http://t.c… 1 week ago
- Zero have the ebook version of Pantomime Terror (by John Hutnyk) on promotion for 0.99 at the end of this month: zero-books.net/books/pantomim… 1 week ago
- Out today. Sighted in Five Leaves. m.facebook.com/browse/likes/?… 1 week ago
- RT @xBorderOps: Read @redlizthompson's account of Manus newmatilda.com/2014/02/25/man… 1 week ago
- Liz: on Manus sbs.com.au/dateline/story… 1 week ago
- RT @SBSNews: #DatelineSBS at 9.30pm: A #Manus Island whistleblower breaks silence on the processing system. bit.ly/1pn92DM http://t… 1 week ago
- and supported by relentless, tirelessly researched cross-referencing, so consider us sold." - Record Collector UK zero-books.net/books/pantomim… 1 week ago
- then Pantomime Terror will be a tough sell. But author John Hutnyk’s polemic is rational, convincing 1 week ago
- Feb 24, 2014: Record Collector UK "If you’re of the opinion that music and politics should generally keep the fuck out of each other’s way 1 week ago
- From Danny Butt (@dannysuma) 18/02/2014 06:51 'activist writing is self-promoting' - excellent hour lecture at... fb.me/2YwN1LDIO 1 week ago
- Spivak lecture at CSDS m.youtube.com/watch?v=ldRL4p… 1 week ago
- The Squared Horizon - 6.6.2014 Nottingham Trent wp.me/pcKI3-1V9 via @sputnyk 4 weeks ago
- theremin for new generation edgard v's = femurdesign.com/theremin/ 1 month ago
- Kaur and Hutnyk ... set out "to think otherwise ... and ... redefine ... what is meant by "transgression." canlit.ca/reviews/we_who… 1 month ago
- Sad to hear of the death of the actor who played Lenin among other great roles. RIP Maximilian Schell #judgementatnuremburg 1 month ago
Monthly Archives: September 2010
Steve Goodman’s book Sonic Warfare (2010) is full of interest and a vibrant new language for making sense of the sonic politics and affect – perhaps we should/must say attention – economies of contemporary capitalism. It also offers a useful note of prudence for those who too readily celebrate the sonic underground as opposition. ‘Global ghettotech’ is the agential site of an important potential, it remains to see whether Kode9 or the role of lecturer carries the day. I am not able to judge the inner dynamic of bass stylings over against scholarly erudition, but I have enjoyed much of the book. Especially so, where the discussion at the end takes up the thematic of piracy, just where perhaps the questions of solidarity and Party organization might have been placed in another kind of analysis. Nevertheless, as I prepare for a different kind of party tonight – at the Black Flag anarchist branded drinking house alongside Goldsmiths – Goodman’s examination of the pirate metaphor for business deserves a listen.
‘piracy… some commentators have noted … has become just another business model. When the most banal popular music is simultaneously mobilized as a weapon of torture, it is clear that sonic culture has reached a strange conjuncture within its deepening immersion into the environments of the military-entertainment complex’ (Goodman 2010:190)
The proposal Goodman has in mind here is the suggestion by Matt Mason that we think of piracy as the business model of choice for late capitalism (he means very late capitalism). This argument, more fully manifest in The Pirate’s Dilemma, sounds to me as if it is a logical extension of the capacity if Capital to adapt to hybridity by hybridizing itself. We have head this routine before. Romantic attachment to the newest so-called innovations of expanding capital has a pedigree as old as capital itself. Not for nothing was old beardo sticking it to the bourgeois professors who deserved nothing less.
Today, the attention economy is the pedestrian versioning of an explanation for hybrid or pirate capital, a development perhaps advancing on the neo-liberal parrot-talk of accellerationism and speed fetishism, but still unable to provide a diagnostic adequate to an opposition that could win. Insert details of Mao’s Party programme here/disregarding any disconnect consequent of the Badiou and Žižek auto-poetic personality cult (see the comradely love-letter to SZ at the end of Badiou’s latest Communist Hypothesis 2010).
Piracy of the creative high-seas low-fees kind is of course the navigation beta chart of future commerce lanes.
Indebted to Mike Davis’s problematic books Ecology of Fear and Planet of Slums, Goodman is at least full of interesting detail when he links pirate radio, pirate media, online file sharing, and ‘ubiquitous, decentralized insurgency networks such as al Qaeda under the slogan ‘piracy funds terrorism’, deciding that ‘the early-twenty-first century is a strange time to be an audio pirate’ (Goodman 2010:179). But this is a broad and abstracting brush nevertheless. The trouble with the import of Davis’s ideas on slums and cities is the undifferentiated mass flow perspective of the source commentator – like Žižek’s gloss on the slum as well, there is no nuance of distinction – the mass remain a mass of the old type, or even less organized. Hardt and Negri’s multitude are waiting in the wings and all we are left of wonder from afar at the coming conflagration. The migration of the ghetto-tech massive is celebrated as a threatening mutation of the global nervous system, a ‘rhythmachinic takeover of space-time’ (Goodman 2010:173) but not much more. Where this is dangerous is that there is an elevation of the commentary over the participation – the cult status of the DJ over the crowd, the named glory of the author is not far away. Badiou proclaims himself the last Maoist in France – a frankly Quixotic gesture. Davis does about the same for L.A. The real ecology of fear is, I think, a guilty anxiety of those intellectuals interpreting, while also wanting but unable to organize, that greater mass of those who will change the world. What we get here is a strangely familiar distanciation of the commentary, which of course then is readily lined up to do duty for the transformation and restoration of a new mode of capital.
‘Youth culture has reinvented, or rejuvenated, capitalism to the point that piracy has now become just another business model, a mutation from subversive cultural weapon to business plan; the situationist projection of art into the everyday becomes merely branding’ (Goodman 2010:181)
It is to Goodman’s credit that he is fully alert to these dangers: ‘sonic war machines’ he says, ‘may emerge out of turbulent, underdeveloped urban ecologies, but their bottom-up nature does not in itself constitute an index of a moral or political higher ground. Caution should be shown … in celebrating the pirate economies of music cultures’ (Goodman 2010:194).
The caution here should be about whether or not we trust the rendering of youth culture mouthed by the academy (including ventriloquist exhibit a: yours truly). A similar note of caution might be useful for all those scrapping around for a metaphor or a diagnostic code for making sense of the new war economy attention and acceleration hype of hybridized mutant youth digital sonic shared p2p capital2.0 today. To coin the terminology of appreciation is still merely to coin – that is, to offer up a market coding currency to those that will thrive on the ideological mismatch of critical commentary and institutional stasis. New formations of the eversame do not move us towards an alternative to capital; only joining the mobilization of the ghettotech troop surge, the creation and mobilization of the people’s army, can.
Badiou, Alain 2010 The Communist Hypothesis London: Verso.
Davis, Mike 1999 The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster New York: Vintage.
Davis, Mike 2005 Planet of Slums London: Verso.
Goodman, Steve 2010 Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Masson, Matt 2008 The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism New York: Free Press.
Sokari Douglas Camp
I am honoured to introduce this collection by Sokari Douglas Camp.
Sokari’s sculptural works – made in metal but moving fabric – are like an analytical textbook that deals with contemporary issues while also offering a passionate call to arms. The pieces that you can see in this brochure, but which must really be met in the flesh, question and comment on topics of importance and controversy, demanding answers from us all. Confronted with these weighty statements, I feel that, as with the best books and most challenging writers, I am being asked to think differently than I do – perhaps this is the whole point of art, and of reading, and of thinking. Sokari’s works do it over and over – there is much to them and they start a conversation. They ask us all to think why injustice prevails, why (all) people matter, why we have this world and not another?
Anger transmuted into a provocation that stands in the way – on the corner of a patch of grass or on a pedestal in a square, both ornamental and demanding – and more and more she comes with the questions: Why is this happening? Where are the people? Who will care? Do you not recognize yourself here?
These works are not simple reactions to the particular controversies they depict. Their meanings are not contained in terms of ‘straight’ representation of oil spills or racist attacks or similar. They elevate a political diagnostic to the monumental, but also exist very much at a human level. Life-size moulded bronze or beaten steel statues that also celebrate the everyday in a context where global forces – colonialism, oil imperialism, migration and genocide – buffet and wear away at our puny corporeal selves.
This work is an affirmative critique, celebrated in bodies and dress and performance. The huge metal pieces have the power to move.
There is a deep timeliness in Sokari’s art, a relevance and urgency that offers a longer and wider reach into significance than much that is indulgent or, dare I suggest this, complicit and wilfully obscurantist in art today. These issues, read here in metal, are more urgent and the responses more durable than most commentary would allow. We know we need these provocations, and we need them because of and despite the fleeting treatment of ‘issues’ by television news and broadsheet press. Sokari’s work is current affairs in concrete, manifold machine music, solid social science – each work drops to the pavement as perpetual presence and everyday enthusiasm. Her works are joyous, angry, complicated simple conversations with the world now. Planetary interpretation. Asking us to change. Alchemy.
Keep Calm and Carry On:
Low Level Anxiety in World War Three London
- John Hutnyk
Video provocation – we will watch Sri Lankan Tamil rapper Mathangi Arulpragasam’s recent Romain Gavras-made video promo for her track ‘Born Free’ from the new album /\/\/\Y/\ – so as to discuss the way stereotypes that are knocked down just get up again. We can then consider the efforts, and difficulties, that have occupied South Asian musicians, writers, filmmakers and commentators in the context of the permanent repetition of an ideological “terror” that has to be called World War Three. The talk surveys some of the absurd and worrying scrapes South Asian musicians have gotten themselves into under the new civil (un)liberties environment of the contemporary city.
Consideration of transliteration and repetitions in music – from Edgard Varese’s (mis)understanding of Hinduism, through Adorno and Twelve Tone, the work of Zappa, South Asian Hip Hop, up to Slavoj Žižek’s appreciation of Freudian witticisms – can set the political context of the track in relief. In the video the reference is to immigration crack-downs in the USA; on the album the association is with Sri Lankan army execution of Tamils. Can we think music (musicology, hip hop scholarship, pop) without addressing a wider syncopation? The predicament of Samina Malik, the UK’s ‘lyrical terrorist’, arrested in 2007, will also be noted.
Centre for Cultural Studies PhD seminar 2010-2011
4 Oct - John Hutnyk – introductory and organizational discussion (no pre-reading)
11 Oct - John Hutnyk –
Mussell: Three pages from “Social and Political Thought”
Adorno: ‘What National Socialism Has Done to the Arts’ from “Essays on Music”
Adorno ‘Critique’ – a 1969 radio address, From “Critical Models”
18 Oct – John Hutnyk
Ronell: ‘The Question of Stupidity: Why We Remain in the Provinces’ from “Stupidity”
Ronell: ‘On Television: the feminization of the World’ from “Fighting Theory”
25 Oct – Scott Lash
Sloterdijk: From “Terror From the Air”
1 Nov – Scott Lash
Badiou: ‘Mathematics and Philosophy/Philosophy and Mathematics’
15 Nov – Matt Fuller
Agre: ‘Towards a Critical Technical Practice’
22 Nov – Matt Fuller
Guattari ‘The New Aesthetic Paradigm’
29 Nov – Alison Hulme
Lefebvre: from “Critique of Everyday Life” vol 1.
6 Dec – Richard Iveson
Derrida: from ‘The Beast and the Sovereign’ and
A.Benjamin: ‘Particularity and Exceptions: On jews and Animals’
24 Jan – Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay
Tarde/Durkheim: ‘The Debate’ from “The Social After Gabriel Tarde”
31 Jan – Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay
Joyce: ‘The Social in Question’
7 Feb – Luciana Parisi
James: ‘The Stream of Thought’ from “Principles of Psychology”
Whitehead: ‘Expression’ from ‘Modes of Thought’
14 Feb – Luciana Parisi
Clarke: ‘Meat machines’ from ‘Mindware’
Bateson: ‘Criteria of Mental Processes’ from “Mind and Nature”
Churchland: ‘Introduction’ to “The Engine of Reason”
28 Feb - Bernard Stiegler
7 March – Bernard Stiegler
14 – March – from this date on - PhD student presentations each monday including into summer term….
I am against non-partisan writing, and, not altogether randomly, want to refer to Lenin to support this, where he writes:
“Down with non-partisan writers. Down with literary supermen. Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat” (Lenin 1905 Party Organisation and Party Literature).
In a way that long anticipates the post-structuralist interest in the political importance of the structures of information dissemination, Lenin wrote in 1905 that:
literature must by all means necessary become an element of … party work … Newspapers must become the organs of the various party organisations, and their writers must by all means become members of these organisations. Publishing and distributing centres, bookshops and reading rooms, libraries and similar establishments — must all come under party control (Lenin 1905 Party Organisation and Party Literature – emphasis added)
Still earlier Lenin had placed the founding of the party newspaper at the beginning of the project of founding a party:
“We can and must immediately set about founding the party organ — and, it follows, the Party itself — and putting them on a sound footing” (Lenin 1899 An Urgent Question).
In this text Lenin says that discussion and haphazard or eclectic communist work is ‘amateurish’ when it is not all organised in “such a way that it is reflected in its entirety in one common organ” (Lenin 1899). The whole of What is to be done? takes this up in detail. Lenin offers a deconstruction, or rather demolition, of the arguments of the ‘opportunists’ who opposed the founding of Iskra. The need for such a ‘common’ forum, of course in no way implies the homogenisation of all communist work into the one mold (as if this would be desirable, possible or meaningful at all). But it does demand organisation and discipline.
Marx, writing on the Paris Commune, singled out the writings of academic ‘gentlemen’:
the working class can afford to smile at the course invective of the gentlemen’s gentlemen with the pen and inkhorn, and at the didactic patronage of well-wishing bourgeois-doctrinaires, pouring forth their ignorant platitudes and sectarian crotchets in the oracular tone of scientific infallibility (Marx 1871 The Civil War in France)
This is much more than just a critique of the the ‘science’ of the institutions, and everyone is well aware that all writing is marked with the circumstances in which it is situated. Writing and reading are co-constituted together in a variety of highly charged political contexts and along with paying attention to the institutionalised ‘politics’ of academic writing and of the mainstream media, we are also obliged to look at the ways these contexts bare upon all writing. The trace of ‘objectivity’ is still apparent in so much work from the left, especially academic and journalistic work — as if by some agreement with the higher privilege of serious writing we have forgotten the invective and politics of leaflet and pamphlet styles.
In 1942 Mao Tse Tung addressed a Yenan meeting on the topic of ‘Stereotyped Party Writing’ and the role of writing within revolutionary activity. Developing an earlier essay on the Party’s style of work, he presented eight points of criticism against the boring eight part essays of ‘stereotyped party writers’ — using “poison as the antidote to poison” (Mao Selected Works, Vol 3 p.56). His indictments are as follows:
• against the filling of endless pages with verbiage, against the writing of long and empty articles that few if any will read. “We are in the midst of a war, and we should learn how to write shorter and pithier articles” (Mao SW3:56).
• against writing that strikes a pose in order to intimidate people. “Some stereotyped party writing is not only long and empty, but also pretentious” (Mao SW3:57). It is important to explain concepts, and to avoid the patronising attitude that privileges intellectual work over other activities. The difficulty entailed in this at the same time at which educational work is considered of utmost importance must be kept in constant tension.
• against writing that “shoots at random, without considering the audience” (Mao SW3:58). “Some comrades, however, are shooting without a target, shooting at random, and such people are liable to harm our work” (Mao SW3:42). “We must propagate materialism and dialectics” (Mao SW3:49)
• against “drab language … [against writing that is] wizened and ugly … without a shred of vigour or spirit” (Mao SW3:59).
• against complicated sets of headings that do nothing to attend to the problems under discussion,that name rather than analyse. Mao says: “In order to solve a problem it is necessary to make a systematic and thorough investigation and study. This is the process of analysis … and it is needed; otherwise, faced with a chaotic and bewildering mass of phenomena, you will not be able to discern where the problem or contradiction lies” (Mao SW3:61).
• against irresponsible writing which harms people wherever it appears.
• against writing which jeopardizes the revolution. If you have observed little, do not write. If you have nothing useful to say, do not write. Similarly, if there is something to be said, something you have observed, you must write.
• against the poisons of subjectivism and sectarianism, which harms the organisation and the work of people sympathetic to communism. Subjectivism, as described by Mao in a 1942 essay Rectify the Party’s Style of Work, includes a muddled separation of ‘theory and practice’ in which those who constantly talk about this link are the very ones guilty of maintaining the separation. “How is Marxist-Leninist theory to be linked with the practice of the revolution?” Mao asks. If the Marxist-Leninist method of dialectical materialism is “an arrow” to be shot at the target of the revolution, then those people who “stroke the arrow fondly, exclaiming, ‘What a fine arrow! What a fine arrow!’ bet never want to shot it” are the most harmful. “These people are merely connoisseurs of curios and have virtually nothing to do with the revolution” (Mao SW3:42). Sectarianism within the oganisation and against cadres of other like-minded organisations is “usually wedded to the doctrine of ‘me first’” (Mao SW3:44) and indicates an individualist pride that does not always help — “After reading a few Marxist books, such comrades become more arrogant instead of more modest, and invariably dismiss others as no good without realizing that in fact their own knowledge is only half-baked” (Mao SW3:48).
[From an internal communist party discussion paper written in 1992 - only recently decoded by the compatibility services of Mac OSX!]
JAZZA Festival 2010 @ the Scala in Kings Cross, London on the 12th & 13th October. The event marks the official launch of the much anticipated Gilad Atzmon/Robert Wyatt/Ros Stephen’s new album ‘For the Ghost’s Within.’ (Domino Records) which is performed on both evenings by the Orient House Ensemble, the Sigimos Strings Quartet and the amazingCleveland Watkiss on vocals. Also performing – Mercury nominated folk phenomenons: the Unthanks sisters, Seb Rochford, Alex Garnett, Pete King, Oren Marshall, Palestinian hip hop from Stormtrap & DJ Eren, troubadour Rory McLeod, virtuoso oud-player Nizar Al-Issa and Sarah Gillespie’s quartet featuring Gilad Atzmon. Jazza Music Festival is organized in association with the Free Palestine Movement, leading advocates for the humanitarian rights of Palestinians and the right of free access throughout Palestine.
Please come and show your solidarity with the Palestinian people under siege in Gaza!
TICEKETS £20. Door 7.30
TUESDAY 12th OCTOBER 2010
Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen Album launch ‘For The Ghosts Within’ with the Orient House Ensemble,
Sigamos Strings & Cleveland Watkiss – vocals.
WEDNESDAY 13th OCTOBER 2010
Shathayah (Ramallah Underground)
Robert Wyatt/Atmon/Stephen Album launch ‘For The Ghosts Within’ with the Orient House Ensemble,
Sigamos Strings & Cleveland Watkiss – vocals.
*The Jazza All-Stars* featuring Peter King, Seb Rochford, Alex Garnett, Oren Marshall & Gilad Atzmon
WATCH ROBERT WYATT SPEAK ABOUT JAZZA HERE
Join us this Saturday 25th of September as we continue to disturb Ahava’s unlawful business, which profits from the sale of stolen goods manufactured in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
The fascist English Defence League and the zionist federation have promised to show their support for the state of israel, hence this call for a mass mobilisation!
Bring flags (Palestinian and Irish), banners and friends,
In solidarity, Free Palestine Activists, London
Saturday 25th September, 12pm-2pm outside Ahava, 39 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9DD, close to Leicester Square tube station.
Working notes for a sci-fi novella (after accelerationism):
Theme: The romanticism of those who would escape to a world without Skynet is Skynet’s greatest weapon. A boys-own fantasy for which foot-soldier anarcho-neo-cons are fully trained and computer literate, knowing the blue pill will bring on an Armageddon for which they have prepared all their lives, in which they will be heroes, have warrior wives and send loyal lieutenants to certain death. Of course what they really want instead is the red pill of an endless deferral, in which they have all the time in the world – indeed, more than all time through the recombinant feedback loop of time-travel-altered futures, with Eloi-friendly-replicants sent to protect and serve, displacing inevitable Borg dominance one episode at a time… The John Conner god complex requires a transcendental observer using the force to manage the time shifts – Guild Navigators or the Weyland-Yutani Corp itself perhaps – happily ventriloquizing conspiracy theory with theological Jedi-speak and Deleuzo neo-liberal buzz words.
At best this is concrete poetry with a phraseology that signals its own black humour. At worst, the new horizon has three levels of myopia: first, an unapologetic ethnocentric and Eurocentric metropolitan class privilege in which the non-west is always an undifferentiated dystopian slum gridded over with vectoral finance flows and gap-year flexi-workers on the make. A second affliction is the abstract esoteric framework disconnected from agency and any semblance of political organization – the untermenschen believe and know the movement will be there for them, and will creatively transform and terraform all, but they can do nothing to make this happen but wait upon the coming of Lensman Thead. And thirdly, the clerical crypto fascism of the god complex, grinning at the coming conflagration with no idea how to oppose a Capital with tanks that will only ever change when compelled by struggle.
And in the time before Skynet, which is always yet to come, there will be 8ft pixies and a forest enhanced with fairy lights. Perhaps a point-of-view android to sucker in the kids. Hey Boxey.
Topical this week, but its always been true that the way the pages crumple one by one as they burn is strangely fascinating….
Via the link is a chapter length text I wrote some time ago (currently under consideration for Space and Culture). Given a certain newsworthiness in relation to the eye-popping-mad pastor Terry Jones, some people might like to read the preview version:
Sexy Sammy and Red Rosie? From Burning Books to the War on Terror.
Abstract: Writing within the sonic register of a soundtrack that plundered the diasporic mindset of a certain ‘London’ massive, Hanif Kureishi was widely criticised for his contribution as writer to two films in the 1980s: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). Less lyrically perhaps – and less filmic – Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was famously set on fire in Bradford in 1989. There is a soundtrack here that can map the anti-racist sexualities, street riots and book-burnings that are taken to mark the mobilization of a diverse and complicated British-Asian presence on the streets of the UK. The point that interests me here is the reconfiguration of the streetscape of diaspora and terror in the years since these films and the burning of the book. The figure of Rosie is interesting because her cultural politics helps occlude an older engagement that was first displaced by identity concerns and is now overwritten with sinister consequences. The street musicians that accompany her urban meanderings embroider affect in a way that segues easily into a culture industry resignation. Burning streets and books (not particularly good in themselves) are replaced with a more virulent racial profiling in contemporary times – a constant anxiety about and accusations against Muslims, and by extension all British-Asians, made uncomfortable (at best, bombed into democracy elsewhere). Sammy forlorn.
Key words: street, queer, riot, British-Asian, book-burning, Kureishi, Rushdie
Continue reading the full chapter here .
Dr Cristobal Bianchi and his examiners (Irit Rogoff and Pavel Buchler). Congratulations.
Dragnets of London (for Raul).
I was on my way home on the number 436 to Lewisham recently when a woman did something I thought was both impressive and unusual – she spoke out against the delay caused by the 20 police who had boarded our bus. She scolded them for wasting her time and for picking on certain passengers that, she said, should be left in peace to get on with their travel.
We have become accustomed to these all-too frequent Metropolitan Police (MET) dragnet style interruptions. Such hold-ups are now quite common in my part of London, a predominantly black suburb, where ticket checks are used as a cover for an immigration shakedown – itself justified as part of anti-terror vigilance. I watched the police officers explain to the woman, in escalating aggressive tones, that her demand to know why the bus was being delayed was misplaced because officers were ‘assaulted every day by people without tickets’. This seems a strange and disproportionate response to a legitimate query from a member of the public. Travelling in a uniformed strength-in-numbers group of (more than) 20, some of whom were armed, suggests an excess enthusiasm of the transport police for ‘ticket inspection’.
We might be concerned that such policing will soon again result in further deaths like that which was visited upon Brazilian commuter Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station in 2005 (shot seven times in the head by officers, no-one charged). There have been other unexamined incidents of deaths in police custody and the UK has an appalling record in terms of prosecution of official crime (see the 1999 film Injustice directed by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood). Another tragedy is primed to happen especially where commanders readily deploy disproportionate aggression if challenged by an impatient commuter. She was young, white, articulate, and had the sense to back down when the Officer in charge raised his voice and muscled up to her. No need to guess that any other appellant might not have got off the bus so freely. We other passengers, a few anyway, applauded her courage, but somewhat meekly. It does seem that a new anxiety pervades the streetscapes of the metropolis – a consequence of dubious foreign wars and suspect geo-politics, conjoined with institutional racism and a creeping resignation. Not many complain, but at least in this instance, someone did.
I was glad to have met her. We exchanged a few words:
Me: ‘That was great, well done.’
Her: ‘How can they do this, its intolerable.’
Me: ‘What is your name?’
This response is hilarious and smart – she identifies herself, sensibly choosing an alias, as the fabled storyteller who tames a despot with patient narrative over many many nights. Speaking truth to power, in coded repetition, Scheherazade offers a moral discourse through fantasy tales, Sinbad the Sailor and so on. Eventually the despotic ruler relents his power. The trouble is, I never saw Scheherazade again. But I remember her lesson – you do have to speak up.
Several months after the above incident, the MET have assigned dedicated public relations personnel to their inspection teams. Whenever I have seen the dragnet I have made a point of following that woman’s earlier tactic, and each time experienced the full force of MET customer relations, extending to a total bureaucratic run-around when trying to get a complaint about this heard. This is documented below in brief conversations where, while asking the most obvious questions, I find something very provocative – the ways speaking out can be channelled and contained are also to be examined.
In this first exchange, the ‘team’ were wrapping their operation up when I came by, so there was a sense of mild irritation with my questions, a kind of ‘shows over, on your way sir’ tone – which of course I took as an invitation to linger.
Me: [polite, ironic] ‘What’s all this then?’
Cop A: ‘We are looking for people without tickets, you’d be surprised how many we can arrest in a day.’
Me: [politely] ‘Hmmm, why do you need so many police, isn’t this over policing?’
Cop A: ‘Most people around here welcome this.’
Me: [politely] ‘No, no, no, we all think its outrageous. You don’t need to do this, you should go catch some real crooks, you know, corporate types, politicians, the Speaker of the House of Representatives….’ [the controversy over MP’s expenses was current news]
Later, to a different officer:
Me: ‘Why do you need so many police to check tickets on one bus?’
Cop A: ‘This is a message to people, we are being noticed. You noticed.’
Me: ‘Even when just one ticket inspector gets on the bus we notice.’
Stand around a bit, watch the slow process of a lad get a caution for riding his bicycle on the footpath:
Cop B: ‘Why are you riding on the footpath, its against the law.’
Bike-boy: ‘Its getting dark and my light is broken.’
… [some meaningless blather, bike-boy rides off]
Cop C to Cop B: ‘They’ll make up anything round here.’
I asked another cop who was in charge:
Me: [formal] ‘Who is the ranking officer?’
Cop D: ‘Why, do you need something?’
Me: ‘I want to make a complaint?’
Cop D: ‘Why?’
Me: ‘I think this is over policing.’
Cop D: ‘People think this is the free bus.’ (the 436 aka the free bus).
Next to him, a female cop:
Cop E: ‘You could talk to the sergeant.’
Me: ‘Him there?’
Cop E: ‘Yes, but he is busy now.’
Me: ‘He’s not that busy now?’
Cope E: ‘Just tap him on the shoulder.’
Me: ‘Surely that’s more your style than mine.’
I meet the ranking officer:
Me: [polite formal] ‘This is over policing, how do I make a complaint?’
Cop F: ‘Where do you live?’
Me: [taken aback] ‘Why do you want to know?’
Cop F: ‘You can complain to the duty officer at your local station.’
Me: [insistent] ‘Don’t you think this is over policing?’
Cop F: ‘Most people don’t think so.’
Me: ‘I disagree. Most people here probably don’t think this is a good thing.’
Cop F: ‘You are entitled to disagree.’
Me: [exasperated] ‘Not for long it seems.’ [gesturing to the 25 uniformed cops hovering around the bus]
And so yet another micro moment of the creeping fascism of contemporary Englan’ passes at 6.05PM on a monday night on Lewisham Way.
Another day, another routine: Stopping to quiz yet another bus dragnet gang with a colleague, this time we are referred immediately to the public relations London Transport operative ‘Daniel’. This sort of discussion, reproduced below, has become a perverse kind of sport. I know it does little, and now I know the cops see public complaints as a kind of sport as well. Nevertheless, as they say in the Homeland – ‘If you see something, say something’.
A conversation between ‘Police Liaison Operative Daniel’ and two unidentified subjects of the realm, designated as ‘US’:
US: ‘[polite] Why are you stopping this bus here today?’
Daniel: ‘We are arresting people without tickets, booking them for crimes.’
US: ‘Is it an arrestable crime to go without a ticket?’
Daniel: ‘Most people without tickets commit other crimes.’
US: ‘So this is a kind of entrapment? You could just hand out fines.’
Daniel: ‘We are keeping the buses safe.’
US: ‘They are not unsafe because people don’t have tickets. Why are these officers armed? Are those guys immigration officers?’
Daniel: ‘Look, we could be out catching terrorists in the ethnic suburbs.’
US: [incredulous] ‘Sorry, which suburbs, how could you tell? Do they teach you about profiling?’
Daniel: ‘Oh, I know the profile very well thank you. Is there anything more I can help you with?’
US: [exasperated] ‘How can we make a complaint about over policing?’
Daniel: ‘You can complain to me.’
There is no question that the border and border policing has moved from the airport and ferry terminal to the centre of the city and the micro-moments of everyday life. The border is right there on the street, caught between mild-mannered individuals and institutional authority, uniforms on the bus, exclusions and deportations before your eyes. A million minute forms of repression that amount to a generalized war economy. Always under suspicion, ready to have you tickets checked, your bags examined (announcements remind you to never leave them unattended), security fear becomes everyday and the power of the authorities to detain anyone that ‘looks the part’ becomes routine. A border has been crossed, a border has been crossed… we run willingly into battle.