Category Archives: bus

Undercover Transports

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Dragnets of London

Dragnets of London (for Raul).

John Hutnyk

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?’

Her: ‘Scheherazade’

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.’

[time passes]

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.’

US: ‘sigh’

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.

offenders are using public transport

Criminals on our buses. So we better check their tickets cos we want them to pay full fare right! (Far Right – from the lovely people who brought you points based immigration, endless queuing, lost passports, deportations to Iraq, and the generalized cretinization that is the UK Border Agency). Worse than Homeland Security I think.

The sharp-as-a-tack-smart Emma informs me of the Home Office’s boneheaded formulation:

“‘Intelligence has shown that failed asylum seekers and other immigration offenders are using public transport on a regular basis. Previous operations on public transport routes have resulted in identifying and arresting failed asylum seekers and also removing them.’

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/about-us/freedom-of-information/released-information/foi-archive-immigration/929-immigration-checksa8cf.html?view=Html

See also here, here and here.

Fee Fi Fo Fum – I smell the spin of terrorisuMI5

Pantomime Terror lecture abstract. Latest version, still to be worked up. I am rethinking all of this, its provisional, its hesitant, its giving me a headache (of course) and it has to be ready soon. Yikes. And this is supposed to be the fun part!….

We are called upon to ‘report any suspicious baggage’ by constant repetition of security announcements at train stations and airports. Rather than provide a robust security service, such announcements seem to generate a new low level and everyday paranoia. The war on terror is generalized and does not happen ‘over there’, but almost absentmindedly occurs to each of us everywhere: the paranoia infiltrates our everyday lives and become normalized. The terrorist is right there beside us – behind us, among us. Watch out! I will argue that these announcements are part of a new kind of popular culture pantomime, with villains and heroes, and absurd storytelling to boot. That this happens alongside new legislation, new legal and administrative powers (detention, DNA, CCTV, MI5 Security ‘notes’); and stop and search security policing focused upon Muslims (and unarmed Brazilians shot on the underground) is the dark underbelly of the performative. Restrictions on civil liberties and ‘limits’ to freedom are proclaimed as necessary and debates about these necessities no longer raise concern – we assume someone is watching out, and we will report the suspicious bags if we see them. It is clear that spaces for critical contest are mortally threatened in contemporary, tolerant, civilized Britain.

Exploring the metaphor of Pantomime might be a way to comprehend the dysfunctional aspect of present times. This discussion reviews critical work by the musician Aki Nawaz from the band Fun-da-Mental in the light of pantomime performance. Nawaz was castigated as a ‘Suicide Rapper’ for his 2006 album ‘All is War’, but those that did so missed the nuances of his critique. Fun-Da-Mental’s earlier work relating to insurgency struggles, anti-colonialism and political freedom in the UK is assessed and contrasted to the farcical present climate where a 23 year old woman can be incarcerated as a ‘lyrical terrorist’, and both a 16 year old boy and a Nottingham University researcher can face charges of terrorism for downloading material from the world wide web. It will be argued that we might best see this as a kind of bizarre storytelling scenography – where repetition and stereotype do ideological work for security services who have no idea who the real enemy is, or if there is any enemy at all. In demonizing those who would raise critical questions, the ban upon ‘thought crime’ has become very real. And it seems as if the only vocal outcry is musical.

In this context, the work of scholars that search for the meaning of ‘suicide bombing’ lines up alongside that of the MI5 Behavioural Sciences Unit in providing inadequate and insufficient understandings of the current conjuncture. If the opposition communicates in culture, and Whitehall’s Research Information and Communications Unit counter with ‘spin’, we are either in a grave predicament, or everyone is treating this as a game. Denouncing the demonization of Aki Nawaz and the like as equal to the creation of pantomime villains, the presentation will argue for a more engaged critique of “culture” and assess a certain distance or gap between emancipatory political expression and the tamed versions of multiculturalism accepted by/acceptable in the British marketplace.

Invite to the lecture here. [The picture is from the Guardian news report on the MI5 behavioural Science Unit Operational Briefing 'note' which informed us that terrorists are ethnically 'diverse', mostly british nationals, not 'mad and bad' and might be either male or female, young or old, and have a range of qualifications from none to degree-level... Guardian 21.08.08]

Spectacular Transports

Terrorists: you ignore them for ages, then a whole bunch come along at once. Or so it seems, as the everyday profiling of Muslims as threatening others reconfigures how we all move about the city. An old fashioned racism based on looks, surface and skin has risen to unquestioned prominence at the very time when discussion of race transmutes into talk of religion, ways of life, and civilizational virtues. We hear over and over in the mainstream press, and from the Government, talk of a clash of values, integration and of the need for community cohesion. This old ‘new’ racism is blatant and its prejudice is clear. Policy by scare-mongering and tabloid popularity poll. There is also a theoretical parallel to this in the work of scholars who write today about ethnicity, identity and culture, and even in the work of those who ostensibly would offer up radical critiques of the way the war of terror has been prosecuted by those in power.

Profiling is designed to fill us with dread. A culture of fear and anxiety provokes shivers and panic, has us tingling with unease. Everywhere I look I see intimations of this story – as I commute to work, railway station announcements warn that my belongings may be destroyed if I leave them; I am told not to hesitate to ask someone if an unattended bag is theirs; a general air of uncertainty pervades the tube; fellow passengers are almost too careful and too polite to each other; I suspect them of moving far away from anyone with even a hint of a beard and a backpack; and we all move away from those with Brazilian good looks (because we remember Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by police at Stockwell). I avert my eyes and read my newspaper (a free advertising sheet, with minimal – often sensationalist – news); and even at home I am not spared, a constant stream of bombings on screen. Myriad incidents conspire to make us squirm.

This squirm is strangely marked by a transportation theme, and an iconic one, which – as I will suggest – is inflected with an unexamined uncanny aspect. It will be easily accepted that the red double-decker bus is the globally acknowledged symbol of London, you can buy trinket sized models of them in the souvenir stalls. As everyone knows, the bus became even more potently symbolic after the devastating bus and underground attacks on the morning of July 7th 2005. Indeed, we are continually forced to recall the horrific details: on that day three tube carriages and a number 30 Routemaster were destroyed, leaving 52 people dead.

The real face of terror for me is a delinking of cause and effect in relation to this incident and the bombing of this particular bus: it is what I will call a transportation mutation and a blindness of representation. It is my argument that as commentary turns to religion or culture, any critical response to the scene of the ripped open vehicle becomes somehow silenced, and that we become blind to what this image means. I am invoking here the terms used by Susan Buck-Morss and Slavoj Žižek in books that address issues of terror and violence. Along with Alain Badiou, they refer to such atrocities, and to the actions of suicide bombers, as mute, blind, silent and disconnected. This was also the perverse refrain of former British Prime Minister Blair in defending British foreign policy in the wake of the London bombings (‘there was no link between last week’s bombings in London and the Iraq war’ 25 July 2005 BBC).

In his 2008 book Violence, Žižek calls terrorist attacks and suicide bombings a ‘counter violence’ that is a ‘blind passage a l’acte’ and an ‘implicit admission of impotence’ (Žižek p69)? I find this not dissimilar to how Badiou, writing of September 11, 2001, starts his essay on ‘Philosophy and the War on Terror’ by saying ‘It was an enormous murder, lengthily premeditated, and yet silent. No one claimed responsibility’ (PolemicsThinking Past Terror, offers ‘the destruction of September 11 was a mute act. The attackers perished without making demands … They left no note behind … A mute act’ (Buck-Morss 2003 p23). It should be said she qualifies this with a question ‘Or did they?’, but the suggestion of an absent verbal – mute – message is something we should attend to, listen closely, consider again, and not just with our eyes scanning for evidence (hint: on the side of the bus, see inset), but with our ears and minds as well. In a similar tone, we might pass over the curiosity that Žižek chooses the infirmities of blindness and impotence to characterise the terrorist suicide bomber, as if the twin towers of September 11, 2001 in New York indicated a scene of masturbation (too much and you lose your sight) and castration (impotence, symbolic castration of the towers, mummy daddy, the old psychoanalytic staples are invoked, later it will be called a parallax). 2006 p15). Susan Buck-Morss, in her book

The point is that these theorists all agree on an absence of meaning that sets these acts apart. Badiou and Žižek’s claims about suicide bombings recall earlier comments by Buck-Morss on New York, where she suggests that the ‘staging of violence as a global spectacle separates September 11 from previous acts of terror’ and, as we should underscore, all three, dwell upon the absence of message: ‘They left no note behind … Or did they?’ (Buck-Morss 2003:23-4). More uncompromising and perhaps mischievous, Žižek in Welcome to the Desert of the Real, presents the event in his own peculiarly Lacanian perspective:

“The spectacular explosion of the WTC towers was not simply a symbolic act (in the sense of an act whose aim is to ‘deliver a message’): it was primarily an explosion of lethal jouissance, a perverse act of making oneself the instrument of the big Other’s jouissance” (Žižek 2002:141)

I for one am not satisfied with this. The task of a critical commentary is not just to stop and stare. It is also not just a matter of listing ever more details of the symptomatic eventuality that has to be pathologized. We might do more than read surfaces if we look closely at one such revealing detail, that has, curiously, been thus far ignored.

The scene of the July 7th tragedy is captured in widely circulated images of the wrecked bus in Tavistock Square, taken by US based photojournalist Mathew Rosenberg. One of his pictures, appearing in most newspapers the next day, showed the bus from a 45% frontal angle with a disturbingly ironic film advertising placard visible on its side. This was for the film The Descent, due to be released the next day (2005 dir. Neil Marshall). The Descent was a schlock horror-thriller about inhuman monsters in a cave visited by a group of friends who become lost and are subsequently killed off one by one. The cave is the least of the coincidences however, as Londoners read reports and looked at grainy mobile phone video footage from the dark underground. Could we even begin to understand this horror? And were we ready to absorb the irony that the portion of the film placard left on the side of the bus after the explosion clearly displayed a message for us all. Tangled metal and stunned commuters foregrounded by a torn but still legible placard. It says: “Outright Terror, Bold and Brilliant – total film”.

Hasib Mir Hussain was said to be the bus bomber (generally accepted as fact, although questioned by bus passenger and witness Daniel Obachike in his book The Fourth Bomb). Hussain detonated his bomb some 50 minutes after the three tube explosions. Speculation was that, having planned to also blow up a tube carriage, he had lost his nerve and was fleeing the scene, perhaps accidentally setting his bomb off while trying to diffuse it (there were reports of him fiddling with his rucksack). Because the bomber is dead, it is not possible to ascertain whether Hussain had intentionally targeted this particular bus. But some seem ready to decide, for example, my sociologist colleague Victor Seidler says the Tavistock Square bus bombing was ‘unplanned’ (Seidler 2007:10). Whatever the case about the bus – and I tend to think it is a gory coincidence – the thoughts and motives of a suicide bomber are never readily available even where the bombers leave messages and – in the case of Hussain’s co-conspirator, Mohammed Sidique Khan – bequeath us justificatory ‘confessional’ videos to be broadcast after the event. We have however to analyse these with something more than anxious fear. The interpretive work of reading the sign on the bus means refusing the broad brush that paints these bombers as merely mute and blind, even as we put names and faces to them – the very gesture which allows fear to proliferate. To profile and to silence is a double-play that only confirms the ‘bold and beautiful’ success of this terror, this atrocity.

Of course we can only watch those images for so long. Indeed, the image from the side of the bus seems to have been erased. It was not ‘Total Film’, despite the terrible irony, and it looks as if we cannot bear to discuss this much at all. Instead, we have a different mode of commentary, in which – I want to note this as irony too – we see a lot more Muslims on the news than ever before. Bombers Hussain and Khan are off-screen, but the frequent presence of Muslim community leaders as ‘spokesmen’ on British television news talkback is a part of a larger project, in part orchestrated by Government and its agencies (police, media) to manage the postcolonial nation in a context of war. Carefully selected ‘moderate Muslims’ must be identified, shaped and disciplined into a discursive non-fighting force – a class of persons of colour, compliant in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect (pace Macaulay’ minute) – while ‘extremist’, outspoken or otherwise non-compliant figures serve as characters fit for demonization, scaremongering and foreign policy justification. The good cop bad cop scenario is transmuted here into a management of appearances – the good community leader is set against the aggressive, often ridiculed, aberrant complainant. Brown skins are offered on screen in dual roles. Scratch the surface of appearance and what we have is a struggle over national identity, a contested arena of civil freedoms and a lost opportunity for real debate.

That the debate scenario of televisual news is a colour-coded fashion show is counterfactually reinforced by the continued parade of white models, white presenters, white authority – but I am no longer persuaded that the mere fact of having brown faces on television is a step towards equality. Visibility must mean something more – such that while we might now insist the skin tone of the speaker matters not so much as the speakers’ allegiance or not to a set of ideas, the degree that those ideas may more or less conform to a white supremacist agenda is itself reinforced again by skin. Rather than the contours of distraction and anxiety, the theoretical arabesques about jouissance, or of mute and blind violence, a louder and wide-eyed debate must be had now. Much has already been said, but the meaning is obscured and if we refuse to read the signs before our eyes. I think this is a part of a general obfuscation, a general avoidance. There are some that talk about war-on-terror fatigue – we are no longer capable of paying attention to the impact of this war on our day to day lives – but I think it amounts to a strangely deflected reaction to the suspicions that we know are everywhere present. In full face profile, the upfront discussion we need about everyday racism on screen and on the buses might then filter through our convoluted anxieties and point towards better understandings, and a more robust defense of those under attack. It is unacceptable to see brown faces accused and detained, having to deny wrongdoing over and over (as was 23 year old ‘lyrical terrorist’ Samina Malik, as well as so many other ‘suspects’). This war of terror as it plays out in the city means Muslims are subject to stop and search, special investigations, harassment and inconvenience, train stations and airports are an ordeal, suspicious looks are just a step away from violent attack and a rendition flight to Guantanamo. The face of racism renewed is that Muslims today are required to ‘get their house in order’, or they must ‘leave’: a spurious double play that sets a superficial tone for media commentary and excludes deeper perspectives. We cannot remain mute nor turn away blind to a racism that wreaks such pervasive destruction upon us all.

For publication in “Stimulus Respond”, issue four.

references cited:

Badiou, Alain 2006 Polemics London: Verso.

Buck-Morss, Susan 2003 Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left, London: Verso.

Seidler, Victor Jeleniewski 2007 Urban Fears and Global Terrors, London: Routledge.

Žižek, Slavoj 2008 Violence, London: Profile Books.

Žižek, Slavoj, 2002 Welcome to the Desert of the Real, London: Verso.


http://daniel77witness.blogspot.com/ [accessed 24 march 2008]

Dragnet Goldsmiths

Another Dragnet tonight, this time directly outside Goldsmiths’ award winning Library (lovingly captured in its Lewisham Way facing facade here by my trusty SPV mobile device…)

Transcribed below are brief conversations with the Police, asking the obvious questions, before the dragnet operation ended (they were wrapping their ‘operation’ up when I came by, so there was a sense of ‘shows over, on your way sir’ – which of course I took as an invitation to linger. After all, I am an Oyster Card carrying member of the great London public, innit).

Opening:

Me: 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: hmmm, why do you need so many police, isn’t this overpolicing?
Cop A: Most people around here welcome this.
Me: no, no, no, we all think its outrageous. You don’t need to do this, you should go catch some real crooks (corporate types, politicians, the Speaker of the House of Representatives….)

Later:

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.
Bikeboy: Its getting dark and my light is broken
… [some meaningless blather, bikeboy rides off]
Cop C to Cop B: They’ll make up anything round here.

I asked another cop who was in charge:

Me: 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 overpolicing
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.
[time passes]
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: This is over-policing, how do I make a complaint?
Cop F: Where do you live?
Me: Why do you want to know?
Cop F: You can complain to the duty officer at your local station,
Me: Don’t you think this is overpolicing?
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: 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. The University is filled with people who have a keen sense of history, but the putrid stench of 1933 was in the air.

Yup, again and again.
.

Bus Prowlers

Another bus dragnet style check on the 436 route today – about 25 police, ticket inspectors and officious looking I presume immigration inspectorate types stopping buses and examining all passengers, paying particular attention to profile groups.

This sort of sting is another perverse pantomime terror, targeting commuters on racial grounds under cover of ticket-checks and ‘protecting’ the citizenry from the threat of terror – the suburban terror threat on the 436 from Lewisham to Paddington. Pah.

Of course they spend half their day standing around chewing the fat (see pic) but this sort of swoop happens too often without comment. And we have to do more than heckle.

cats

Elena tells me: “Marc Twain said: “While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats”. And sends this pic from Vienna to add to the buses as trinkets collection no doubt – we will take over the world eventually. Thx.

And while we are on the subject of Cats. Perhaps I will start a reading list to add to my ‘Politics of Cats’ piece in an early Stimulus Here:

For starters:

Soseki Natsume 1905/2002 “I am a Cat” Berkeley: Tuttle Publishing.

Kurt Vonnegut 1963 “Cats Cradle” New York: Dell Publishing.

Then add:

Burroughs 2000 “Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs” which has lots to do with his cats, like Fletch. Grove Press.

more to come…

Terrorvisionaries (part two)


A talk at Nottingham University Politics department last night gave me a chance to elaborate my worries over new media anthropology in South Asia, pantomime terror and the hanging channel – following on from the talks I’ve given about the Mohammed Afzal case and the DIY Cookbook video from Fund^da^mental. The notes below presume you have read the earlier posts which are linked at the relevant points (sorry, a bit clumsy and it presumes a lot eh – still, these are notes to myself really – just a little more public than usual – but then all our data seems to be very very public these days, thanks to the chancellor and the lost personal details from the Child Support Agency – ha).

Televisonaries (part one) here should be read first, then come back here to read this post, but half way through slot in the DIY Cokbook and Bus posts as indicated after about four paragraphs…

Thus:
‘Terrorvisionaries (part two)':

The second example of cross platform public media storytelling is a diasporic one that involves my British-Pakistani mate Aki Nawaz. I have detailed the Aki story elsewhere, so merely refer you again to the links here.

In “Echographies of Television” (Derrida and Steigler) Derrida notes that televisual recording both captures immediacy more and can be more readily edited and manipulated, such that there will need to be a change in the legal axiomatics of the courts (p97 and 93). There is much that Derrida has to say of interest on television, the archive and justice, but sometimes Gayatri Spivak is much better on Derridean themes than Derrida himself. She apparently was working on the text of the Mahabharata – let us hope she will take it up again, and perhaps share views on elder brother Karna. Though he is not exactly subaltern, his position on the side of the Kauravas is at least interesting and the archival exclusion is operative, gridded over by a counter-female patriarchy and, as national and global reworkings of the narratives insert stories onto developmental teleology, neoliberal hype as well. The archive in Spivak is difficult, requires more effort than we usually can manage (‘more’ – persistent, language learning, privilege-unlearning, patient, painstaking scholarship) but her work on terror, suicide bombings and planetary justice is inspirational.

On the telematic, Spivak is more epistemological than Derrida – for her media would be something like knowledge, reason, responsibility, and so something to be conjured with, interrupted in a persistent effort of the teacher through critique to rearrange ordained and pre-coded desires. Not just to fill up on knowledge but to further transnational literacy and an ethics of the other. On terror: the ethical interrupts the epistemological. There is a point at which the construction of the other as object of knowledge must be challenged: ‘the ethical interrupts [law, reason] imperfectly, to listen to the other as if it were a self’ (Spivak 2004:83 “Boundary 2″, summer 80-111).

The task suggested here that seems most difficult to get our heads around is to accept complicity in a way that makes possible an identification, ‘alive to visible injustice’ (Spivak 2004:89) as well as ‘not to endorse suicide bombing but to be on the way to its end’ (Spivak 2004:93). Is there a message we can hear without an automatic move towards punishment or acquittal? Here the ethical and archival task of knowledge is to learn to learn what is in the mind, and what is the desire (or motivation?) of the suicide bomber. DIY Cookbook does something like this in a different way.

7/7 – buses, camera phones – Aki in the Guardian, backpacks, Charles De Menezes, DIY Video. As already riffed in the earlier posts on the Buses and on DIY Cookbook, here and here

Then return to the current post to continue:

The point is that here again an anthropology of media can be said to have made important moves to acknowledge cross platform significance in the media – saturated India – but also we might note that the acknowledgement that music tracks are a crucial make or break component of Bollywood film marketing only barely begins to get at the range of issues to be discussed in this field today.

The war on terror has achieved something that was previously only hinted at, partial, or only aspirational with regard to the place of South Asia in the world. Blown forcefully into the frontal lobe attention of all political actors, the obscurity of the previous Afghan wars, the regional nuclear detente, the peasant insurgencies or rural and hill tribals, these are no longer ignored. Front and centre, Islam on display, Pakistan a strategic player, India on alert. What multiculturalism and Bollywood could do only in a marginal and somewhat exotic way is exploded by a new visibility. But this is not just a media scare. Visibility maters where something is done with it – it is the first opportunity for a politics of redress that would build upon this (global) attention.

Call centres, news media, satellite, language, popular culture, tourism, humour, obscenity, gender, sex, digitization (of tradition), software and diaspora (India 2.0) all this suggests that media studies in this area are taking a broader scope and have advanced beyond the ‘coming of age’ stories that greeted Ramayana and Mahabharata, live cricket, and Bollywood on cable. This is to be welcomed.

Yet all is not rosy in storytelling land.

For all the publicity Sarai has garnered, it remains a small operation run out of CSDS. What it stands for however is more important – a still somewhat neglected area of academic and creative interest, deeply marked by a version of a technological cringe – the idea that new media is somehow new to India – and that the old politics are not also played out in the new news formats.

The exotic story of the new media arrival is the same orthodox binary obscurantism that ensures that stories of India abroad are either about rustic romance and tradition, morality, and colourful clothing, or else they are the dark side of communal violence, suicide bombing and disaster – the mismanaged nation post departure of the British, or blamed on Islam/Pakistan/Moguls/or Maoists. More nuanced positions are lost in favour of ‘the invisible or the hypervisible (stereotype)’ (Gopinath 2005:42). The ideological message here is that an India untainted by the ravages of imperial plunder might be preferred, and the NDTV ideal would have the Mahatma reading the news, but unfortunately the crisis is upon us, and in a flap chaos prevails. Anthropologists join the military effort (New York Times October 2007).

If we were to understand this material not only in juridical terms, or as requiring a transformation of the protocols of legal evidence and admissibility (no doubt this is necessary, as Derrida says), but also recognising that comprehension of media storytelling perhaps requires an appreciation of a wider sweep of mythological knowledge or epistemological reference (as Spivak might suggest), then to read the stories of Aki Nawaz as pantomime, or Mohammed Afzal as melodrama is somehow also warranted. This is not to disavow or diminish the urgent politics around the immediacy of these events – to challenge the demonization of Muslims in Britain, to oppose the death penalty and torture, to defend an individual from trial by media. But it is also to recognise something that shifts at a more general media level, where journalism gives way to SMS poll popularity, court procedures mimic docu-drama, tabloid sensations become the tactics of security services and similar.

To develop this is to recognise how patterns of melodrama and performance are played out in the way these events come to our attention. The pantomime season at Christmas is now matched with a sinister twin in July that commemorates the bus bombings with an equally ideological storytelling round – teaching kids fear and hate just as much as Christmas teaches them commoditization. The idea that pantomime is educational, rather than Orientalist – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – is just as much training in stereotype and profiling as are the melodramatic terror alerts each July (and September). These are constructed ‘panics’, each no doubt grounded in real evidence, solid intelligence, and careful analysis by Special Branch and MI5 – as Charles de Menezes and Mohammed Afzal both surely can attest. Aki Nawaz as ‘suicide rapper’ might almost be funny if it were not symptomatic of a wider malaise and complicity in our media reportage – a failure to examine critically and contextually what is offered up to us as unmediated ‘news’. What did it say on the side of the bus if not ‘Total Film’?

One way perhaps to disrupt the walled enclave or ‘green zone’ that is civil society, polite discussion and public commons also known as the privileged space of television news might be to hark back to older storytelling forms.

Its 30 years since Edward Said delivered Orientalism and though I might have some quibbles with what has happened in the wake of that text (too many historical studies, not enough now) I do believe it alerts us to something important and not yet nearly resolved. I can’t help but think looking to old texts might help us rethink new ones – hence the Mahabharata and the Arabian Nights as away to refocus television…

The Mahabharata rehearses a fratricidal drama that tears everyone apart. Pakistan and India are not referenced there, but the tale of brothers split and fighting is a well worn trope, such that I think its time to move to other stories as a break. For me, its not so easy, inducted into the Arabian nights as a child, I feel betrayed because…

Instead, I imagine Roshan Sethi as a new kind of despotic Shahjah, entertaining Scheherezade only by email or SMS – because she was caught, detained and then by ‘special rendition’ she was interred in Guantanamo Bay, she texts out intermittently to Roshan. Forlorn drunken fool, her anguished reports reveal her having been interrogated all day yet again to the Gitmo Military Intelligence. This version of the 1001 nights is particularly obscene, but because Omar’s father is drunk in bed, watching Bollywood reruns, or Stephen Frears’ later fluff, the story just cannot get out. This is politics, its good to think something might more might be done today.

The character played by Roshan Seth might rant against the kind of journalism that enables this new cretinized media propaganda, but more than sozzled rants are required.

[image is the Nation logo - it should be spinning but blogger can't cope]

Bombs don’t go bump in the night …

So there are Bombs that don’t go bump in the night … The new/not so new development in wartime-Britain this week is that relatively mundane places … a trashy nightclub, a regional (!) airport, a carpark … have become targets™. And, more importantly, this targeting is an admitted consequence of robust security at more prestigious and high profile locations: according to ‘an intelligence source’, symbolic targets are now ignored in favour of a policy aimed at a more general destabilization, by way of ‘easy to make’ car bombs (‘Independent’, 1 July 07). Suddenly (how sudden?) Mike Davis is required routine reading on all sides, as the anniversary of ‘7/7′ approaches. [see buses]

The surprise is not that there was a car bomb (which was defused), but that it took so long for London to get one of its own. I am not suggesting that Davis’s bestseller tome on ‘The People’s Air force’ hurried this traffic along, but as a vehicle of critical thinking some will find his book so predictable that it stalls any attempts to read all the way through. On a slow news day speculation as to motive and meaning of this thwarted/botched attack on a trashy London club gains more space than might be warranted. Or rather, the space that warrants conspiracy theorizing-cum sane calculation of the anticipated blowback of the bloodless coup that installs Brown in place of Blair (don’t blink) means that all news seems to wash over us, seamlessly now … we are left contemplating jazz … Even the terror alert is business-as-usual today, there’s no surprise when here in paranoid London the return-to-normal is unseemly fast. The Pride march (the London one is a week after NYC) was the manifest character of this return to normal (how ironic) … and it hardly registers that the very first reports pondered whether the bombers were really targeting the gay parade, when it turns out it was more likely to be the so-called “hen’s nights” frequenting the razzle-dazzle club who would have been splattered, bleeding forlornly, from Piccadilly Circus through to Park Lane.

The burning vehicle outside Glasgow airport evokes other flaming cars in the traffic of images in our time. Recently a sports presenter narrowly escaped death after tumbling a rocket powered dragster end over end in a field for a TV show … he was soon on heavy rotation celebrity talk-back … here ‘Top Gun’ car porn still has its heroes … And then an anniversary tabloid tele-exposure of Princess Diana had her dying in her drink drive accident Paris smash, aired just before her 46th birthday party … the boy-Princes made a point by staging an event immediately after, as public concert … the ‘candle in the wind’ spluttering once again, with feeling … I think we need a vehicular appreciation of the war … instead of the tread of the Panzer tank tearing up the paved cities of Europe as they did just 60 years ago, a burning jeep tries to squeeze through the revolving doors of the arrivals hall at Glasgow. Instead of buzz bombs, bus-bombs, I guess. Travel gets invested in warfare once again, with a new fold … the stirrup and the war machine I think D&G were on about, now transmuted into transport terror … and there are close links between troops on the march and the unfolding violence of grammar … the ellipses in these sentences here are both tank tracks and a tribute to Burroughs, scourge of mere Mildred Pierce style reportage … the dots trace an absence you can do more with as ‘no-man’s land’ than as writing. Mind the gaps in the story, the pieces out of place, the jig-saw yet assembled, the cell is still at large … paranoia takes hold and strangles you in sequence …

… and every moderate Muslim is called upon to alibi yet another round of random stop, search and harass procedures … yet another escalation of quivvering anxiety … yet another set of calls for increased police resources ‘in order to cope’ … and an ever more robust assertion that the murderous blitzkrieg of foreign intervention that provoked this entire debacle will not be dulled … the new Premier continues with the old … and democracy on the march will be carried forcibly, if need be, to those who deserve it so much … we are on the bus and the destination is marked ‘Crusade’ …

Tickets Please

Diary entry: Yesterday on a bus trip through New Cross I witnessed police officers explain, in escalating tones, that the demand to know why the bus was being delayed was misplaced because officers were ‘assaulted every day by people without tickets’. This seems perverse and twisted. Travelling in a uniformed strength-in-numbers group of twenty, some of whom were armed, suggests that the excess enthusiasm of the transport police for ‘ticket inspection’ will soon again result in further deaths like that which was visited upon Brazilian tube traveller Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell in 2005. Such a repeat scenario seems especially likely 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 ‘pig nation’ flunky in charge raised his voice and muscled up to her. No need to guess that any other appellant might have not got off the bus so freely. We applauded her courage, but somewhat meekly.

Context: On the 11th of May 2007, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) cleared 11 officers of any ‘wrong doing’ in the shooting of Brazilian tube passenger Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell in 2005. The IPCC left four senior officers, including shoot-to-kill Commander Cressida Dick, to await a separate report into issues of ‘health and safety’. Menezes was gunned down on Commander’s orders in the wake of the fear and paranoia the possessed the capitol after the tube bombings of July 7, 2005. An unarmed man slaughtered on his daily commute.

Let me try to address the ‘health and safety’ issues directly. Are we living in a healthy place when the police – indeed armed gangs – aggressively patrol our everyday lives (to serve and protect??). I think of the other nodes of travel which have become over-determined sites in the ‘war on terror’. Of course airports have long been strategic, and the vision of tanks lined up outside Heathrow is always not far off (they were stationed there on high alert in February 2003).

Such is the danger to the health and safety of tube travellers, and other denizens of the city, that by the middle of 2006 the ‘Kratos’ shoot-to-kill policy that targets suspected terrorists had been called upon 250 times, with close use in seven instances (and this is according to Scotland Yard Chief Ian Blair, then also under fire in relation to the bungled Forest Gate raid BBC 3 October 2006).

The ancient figure of Kratos was son of a Titan and said to be the personification of force – that itself is revealing, as an outdated old mythological name is resurrected at a meeting of the political police and MI5 in 2003 (“Panorama” 8 March 2006) to stand in for yet more unregulated police powers (M15 and Kratos are ‘secret’), to be recklessly deployed on public transport. We are the enemy. On the tube, on the buses. And not safe on bikes (see picture, then this).

What shall we do about the explosion of fear and hyperbole that turns the police and their controllers, commanders and apologists into a paranoid armed band of killers?

I do not know her name, but on the bus in New Cross yesterday we were shown the way.

More on Jean Charles de Menezes via search.

Memory Games Spectacle: Bread&Circuses

The trick of today is media induced loss of short term memory. The relentlessly insipid everydayness of the news means that patterns of ideology are overlooked, dismissed as coincidence or conspiracy. The day after Lord Levy is arrested and the prime minister asked to ‘help the police with their inquiries’ the next day’s headlines report a new terrorist threat. How often such ‘breakthroughs’ in the war on terror come after 6 months of investigation should be plotted against otherwise embarrassing headlines that the government would rather bury. That the media overlooks such coincidence is certainly unremarkable. What was the name of the Labour Party press officer whose memo declared on September 11, 2001 that the day would be a good one for the release of any bad news?

This is not a specialty of only the British press. My friend and head of film studies at Jadavpur University, Abhijit Roy, was arguing for an analysis of media events as spectacular but soon forgotten sensations. I am broadly in agreement with this, especially when considering the electoral prospects of, say, the CPM after Nandigram (or New Labour after Blair). Having moved quickly when forced to recognize the need, Buddhadev Battarcharjee has probably started to learn that the complexity of events look less convoluted from a distance of months or a year or two. Come the next polls who will remember details beyond the 14 figure of those killed by police (even as the number of dead is higher, the first given figure is lodged in minds) and that Buddha acted swiftly to diffuse the conflict? An understanding, and deft manipulation, of something like a spectacular sensations theory of media is just what a contemporary Machiavelli would offer as counsel for a leader today.

Did such counsel come via the figure of Mandelson for Blair? The comparison does not scan because the Italian was more interesting, but flattery also will help line one’s nest with favours, so no surprise. The spectacular is more often than not left unspecified, which is very useful: being open to dexterous turnings, twistings, convolutings makes content serve whoever masters its massage.

Hmmm, forgot what I was trying to say… mumble mumble… the spectacular is not smooth space either… and its images are fleeting … the first pic is of some hand prints on a wall on Rafi Kidwai Ahmed Road – I guess the old code would have to have noted they recall other hand prints commemorating immolations, sati etc., – but these were done by kids on the day of the bandh; the second pic is a snap of the TV news on Nandigram; the third is of a bus ticket collector in traffic a couple of days after the bandh – business as usual. I did not get a pic of the burnt out bus, but I add this to an emergent bus theme, also pictured here.

On the Bus – I mean, on the side of the bus. 7/7 attack anniversary.


A year ago tomorrow the July 7 tube and bus bombings took place. Terrible. Blowback. Sublime. Whatever your evaluation, opinion, fear, craziness – its the case that the whole thing has become a political football and some folks this week are playing for penalties with flippers and snorkel in a way that can only remind me of Grosso and Henri. Blair trying to play the blame card, moderate Muslim ‘leaders’ trying to suck up, everyone managing to avoid discussion of the reasons and the ongoing open wounds that are Afghanistan, Iraq…

Even some highly respected theorists seem incapable of a open eyed examination of the issues, the grievances, the consequences of global imperial war (on terror): both Buck-Morrs and Zizek have noted that those who attacked the New York Trade towers on September 11, 2001, left no ‘message’ and ‘no list of demands’ – suggesting this absence of explicit message offers a new fold in the practice of dissent. Is it that they want to suggest/agree with the popular understanding that these ‘terrorists’ are only crazed fanatics raged against us, and nothing more? This is poor analysis if so – the ‘reading’ of intent and the characterisation of ‘terrorists’ as fanatics strikes me as something that needs a more careful examination. Not conspiracy theory, but discussion of the ways we talk ourselves into compliance with Blair, accepting the profiles, conceding to the demonisation of Muslims etc etc (shooting on the train, armed police with kill orders – operation Kratos) and other militarisations of everyday life.

Was there really no message? – the portrayal of the fourth bomber on July 7, 2005 as the younger of the lads who had, somehow, chickened out and failed to set off his bomb on the tube, then gets on a bus and ‘accidentally’ the bomb goes off … this should also be reconsidered. Check the bus, check the choice of bus – not that it was on the way to Hackney Wick, but check the image on the side of the bus. Apologies to those who would like to think this was not an organised act of resistance, but there does seem to be a message here. War of terror indeed. Not a matter of profiling, but of examining the ways the event of July 7 (and Sept 11) is managed as an alibi for continuing global violence, bombings, occupations and absolute failure to think through the outcomes achieved on the back of 500 years of global capitalist wealth extraction.

Of course the press misrepresent, but then so does all critique that does not always worry at this question of the co-constitution of outlook and action, prejudice and project.

I think its fairly boring for intellectuals to comment (Zizek, Buck-Morrs) that today protests (the Sept 11 bombers) have ‘no list of demands’. Its not quite so clear cut, but when Zizek, for example, points out that there were no demands, and no ideological program, beyond some claim – as far as he knows – for recognition, and a wish to make an impact, we should take a moment to look. We live in a universe which celebrates the absence of ideology, the dangerous reflexive society (of Giddens) gives rise to the gesture of fascism but not fascism that restores order and dignity (to those of the homeland) but rather now a fascism which would attribute meaning as only a gesture, and achieves this as a totalitarian control. So we comply with fascism when we accept those commentators who would have us avoid thinking, so as to spin the images on our screens. But we do know its not like that, we can actually see the signs on the bus.
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Guardian becomes News of the World II – return of the Nawaz


So, though we heard it first in the guest lecture Aki gave in class at Goldsmiths in Spring term, finally The Guardian found a stupid headline to put above the press release Nation put out to promote the new Fun^da^mental album. Accusing Aki of terror, support for Osama, un-British sentiments and punk sensibilities… you got to read the story for a laugh (click the link at the end).

Aki of course is a past master of provocation (aka Proper-Gandhi gives it away). Yet this strategy, straight out of the Andrew Loog Oldham school of promotional work where ‘no publicity is bad publicity’, is still a risky move. Not least because the Guardian can turn itself into some sort of News of the World style tabloid for a day (the headline itself – G-had and suicide bombers: the rapper who likens Bin Laden to Che Guevara – is particularly stupid but references all the storm in a tea cup fears that surround us today, and manages to tap Che on the shoulder as well. Aki as a rapper rather underplays his diverse activities as impresario of the global juke box over the past 20 years. The photo they chose is also particularly grand. In the print version of this Ladbroke Grove ensemble (the Guardian Unlimited one is slightly cropped) there is an English flag to the right of the picture. The bus in the background on the left is behind a young lad with a backpack – ooooh! significance, July 7 London bomb anniversary next week – and Aki himself is trying to look angry, but you can tell inside he is smirking at the absurdity of this scene.

All that said, its a dangerous strategy as well because the authorities that have the power to do such things just may well get the wrong end of the night stick and actually think this father of four is some sort of threat to the Nation. Well, perhaps he is, and its a good thing too – we all need to threaten a rethink of the dubious policies of Blair and the clones, of the terror war they are waging worldwide, of the domestic demonization of muslims, of the crushing of civil society (what civil society – that its too civil is the problem) and of the stifling numbing dumb dumb dumb of the press. And lets take a lesson from Nepal, which this week repealed some of its ‘anti-terror’ laws in the interests of civic freedoms. Zindabad!

This is just part of a music show – the new replacement for TOTPs perhaps – and we can all see its only a minor power play in an obscure corner of the culture industry, but still Aki Nawaz is just the sort of threat we need much more of, in the sense that we have to debate, discuss, challenge and change – and absolutely none of this requires any heavy handed police interventions, or worse.

[And to the guy on the train who found my comments on this news story interrupted his dumbass reading of Hollinghurst and accused me of being a 'lecturer from Manchester Met' (huh - why would that make me 'a Guardian-reading liberal'). So sorry, but - you mugwump - before trying a bit of push and shove, have a think - you are lucky I did not reckon it worth the a bruise on my forehead to help you sleep. with the fishes..]

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1807542,00.html

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