Category Archives: television
A new satellite service from the people who brought you ‘Captive Camera (Gitmo)’, ‘America’s Funniest NSA Surveillance Videos’, the YouTube viral sensation ‘LiveScream direct from the heart of Bhagram’ prison, and ‘The Hanging Channel™’ (the one with the ‘real’ – accept no substitutes – Saddam Hussein billion dollar drop – hosted by Devilish McCall).
Must see screen moments on this new service include (live links to be provided later):
- George Bush snr golfing
- George W reading stories to children when the TT were hit
- Obama watching the snuff film from Abbottabad with Hilary
- Hilary saying ‘wow’ to her blackberry when Gaddafi was killed
and other gems. Do not miss this. Parental misguidance recommended.
(essay on the Hanging channel see here)
just out in South Asian History and Culture – Message me to get a pdf sent (first 50 will get one):
John Hutnyk (2012): ‘Beyond Television Studies‘, South Asian History and Culture, 3:4, 583-590
The good people behind South/South are more informative than most TV Listings pages. Want to know what your co-hosts have been up to? Well, here’s a former Rhodes Scholar – and NATO commander – Wesley Clark now kitted out with all the tricks of the military TV trade… and there’s Terry Crew from The Expendables, and football (Gridiron I presume) strutting his stuff. Add a boxer, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a few others, and Ka-Pow! You really don’t need to watch much of this to realise its the bright new shiny future of TV. You thought a Cathode Ray was a weapon the Martians had – well, scifi or BB never got this real. Set your scheduler to record (or to the vomit setting – its already on stun).
By South/South. This first appeared at The New Inquiry.
Stars Earn Stripes is a freshly pressed NBC drag show reality television series which debuts its two-hour premiere on 13 August, or ‘Monday after the Olympics at 8/7c!’ as its promotional spots blared all throughout the station’s Olympic Games coverage. The emphatic promise of militarytainment—a real NATO ex-general, real ex-Navy SEALS, real ex-Delta Force commanders, real ex-Green Berets, real celebrities, etc.—outranks previous shows of its ilk. It also makes the Pentagon Channel look like the army version of the perpetuated congressional yawn that is C-SPAN. Here is the show’s self-description:
Hosted by General Wesley Clark (retired) and Samantha Harris, “Stars Earn Stripes” is an action-packed competition show that pays homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services. The star-studded cast includes four-time undefeated world boxing champion Laila Ali, actor Dean Cain (“Out of Time,” Five Days of War”), actor and former National Football League player Terry Crews (“The Expendables 2,” “The Newsroom”), multi-platinum recording artist, actor, producer and television personality Nick Lachey (NBC’s “The Sing-Off”), Alaska businessman and four-time Iron Dog snowmobile race champion Todd Palin, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” trainer Dolvett Quince, Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street, and WWE diva, Eve Torres.
In this fast-paced competition, the eight celebrities will gather at a remote training facility where they will be challenged to execute complicated missions inspired by real military exercises. From helicopter drops into water to long-range weapons fire, the contestants will be tested physically, mentally and emotionally. Each will be paired with a special operative from a military branch or one of our first-responder forces, including former U.S. Army Delta Force and Green Berets, U.S. Navy SEALS, U.S. Marines and police officers, who train alongside their partners and compete in the missions with them. Each of the teams is competing for a cash prize on behalf of a military, veterans or first-responder charity.
Take any of the day’s popular television series and you’ll notice they have one claim in common: authenticity. Reality shows based on human affect fundamentally rely on ‘drama’ (let’s imagine it on a spectrum ranging from Dostoevsky to 1980s Mexican soap operas) and not a single one fails to remind viewers how authentic the drama is. Real people generate real emotions that generate real drama. (For a contemporary paragon look no further than Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, and its paratexts.)
Yet unlike other reality shows Stars Earn Stripes cannot and does not aim for authenticity. It can only aim for realness. Realness is the perfect execution of an imitation of the real. Toward that goal, SES has spared no prop nor expense, even hiring retired General Wesley Clark as a co-host. As Supreme Allied Commander Europe Clark commanded the NATO air bombing campaign of Yugoslavia. He is also a former Rhodes Scholar, Democratic Party presidential candidate, and author of Waging Modern War and Winning Modern Wars. He is not filled with hay as some reports suggest. Clark is an essential realness ingredient, and gravely assures viewers, ‘There are no stunt doubles. This is real.’ Then he punctuates that promise: ‘Real ammunition. Real explosives. Real danger.’ Skier Picabo Street was quoted on the show’s Twitter feed: ‘I rode a real fine line between show & reality. What defined that line was the live ammunition.’ In case you needed more reassurance (after all, how could we trust that Wesley Clark is not some silver-haired cardboard simulacrum if the show’s advertisement spots didn’t constantly remind us he was a ’real’ general?) producer Mark Burnett says:
As you know I am a veteran and served in the [British Army] Parachute Regiments. I love the military. What this show is, and what you’ll see, is a love letter, in a fun way, to those who protect and serve us, showing how hard it is to do their job.
Since SES bills itself as a competition show, it could favor a little theatrical pre-game we might call Real v. Realness. I chose three items, but the possibilities are nearly limitless.
Real: Ušće Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Belgrade, as it caught fire during Operation Allied Force’s large-scale air bombing campaign in 1999 under General Clark.
Realness: The show’s promotional photos show (top) a giant explosion behind all eight celebrities and (bottom) Dean Cain, Terry Crews, Laila Ali, and Nick Lachey (curiously the only contestant without a rifle in both pictures, as though not carrying a gun was stipulated in his contract). An unidentified blast mushrooms in the background next to the tagline, ‘They’re not in Hollywood anymore.’
Read the whole post, and indeed, watch the trailer: here.
I have always said Chess would be my Olympic Sport. Here is how I want to play. #goforgold #London2012
Hijacking CCTV Cameras in London
Equipped with an interfering transmitter !Mediengruppe
Bitnik hacks surveillance cameras in pre-Olympic London and
assumes control. The artist collective replaces real-time
surveillance images with an invitation to play a game of
chess. The security staff’s surveillance monitor located in
the control room becomes a game console.
London. On the brink of the Olympic Games. A tube station
in one of the most surveilled public spaces in the world.
!Mediengruppe Bitnik intercepts the signal of a surveillance
camera: Business people making their way to the Underground,
a man in a suit looking for the right exit. From the left,
a woman with a yellow suitcase walks into the frame of the
surveillance camera. She opens her suitcase and activates a
switch. This is the moment when Bitnik takes over. The CCTV
operator experiences total loss of control. The surveillance
image drops out, a chess board appears on the surveillance
monitor and a voice from the loudspeakers says: «I am
controlling your CCTV camera now. I am the one with the
yellow suitcase.» The image jumps back to the woman with
the yellow suitcase. Then the image switches to the chess
board.«How about a game of chess?», the voice asks. «You
are white. I am black. Call me or text me to make your move.
This is my number: 07582460851.»
SURVEILLANCE CHESS – THE VIDEO
Zürich, Helmhaus – from 28 July to 9 September 2012
WITH LOVE FROM ZURICH.
So, with the trajectory of a screaming scud missile, SKY News hones in on the zero-degree-point of trinketization and renders ‘The Fall of Tripoli™’ as a pantomime circus. Pleased as I am with my hats, these guys have rendered the geopolitical as farce better than SZ or KM or BBC et al. How NATO saves (we mean it man).
a draft for a round table discussion on television studies for the journal ‘South Asian History and Culture’
needs a bit more work…
Beyond television studies.
The Kitchen Debate.
The whole world is twitching and the study of television is in the final throes of a long generic isolation, becoming a fully integrated weapon of global war. Or rather, the impossibly naïve view of television as entertainment and television news as mere reportage has reached the endgame of a national-cultural isolation which has been careening towards crisis ever since Krishna hitched his chariot to the Doordarshan platform and Murdoch entered the star-filled firmament to parade as colossus astride a rampant deregulation. Media studies can never be the same now that death by TV prevails (I will explain). New, and varied, work by scholars such as Arvind Rajagopal, Ravi Sundaram, Nalin Mehta, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and M. Madhava Prasad make the old media studies obsolete and the urgency of a fresh look at television, and screen cultures in general, imperative. Television today is a fully articulated geo-political medium, reporting instantly upon world events, flitting from news flash to product placement, ticker tape stock report across the bottom of the screen, station ident in the top corner. Cultural contours of course remain, but now wholly in the service of an all-conquering apparatus, an extended machine, accessing all areas. We should not be surprised that television becomes battle media – we watch 1000-yard stare reporters feeding on other media feeds, and we long ago got used to actors as presidents or god-politician, such that the staged press opportunity is now no more unusual than Amitabh Bachchan fronting a game show.
At last the old national organizational architecture of television and consequently television studies is necessarily put under review. Of course television has long been a global industry with a global logistics, and every ‘international incident’ involves battalions of workers laying cables, assembling cameras, grooming presenters, building sound stages, driving celeb vehicles, rushing here and there. In general, the globalization of television has meant a massive new participation in the production of images, from the somewhat romanticized ‘citizen journalism’ of ‘tele-democracy’,[i] to the live-cam combat footage and embedded reportage of the military and security services, all deploying the latest buzzwords as codex for wider techno-social shifts. We can consider the cable guy, VCR copy shop, dodgy wiring and knock-off brand sets of the parallel second-hand economy of reconditioned media gear – so eloquently described by Ravi Sundaram at Delhi’s Nehru Place, Lajput Rai and Palika Bazaar, where the ‘shops, markets, cable, wiring, cassettes [and] distributors’ – as only the constitutive pirate end[ii] of a mass commercial accumulation that begins much earlier and reaches much further. It begins perhaps when Nixon and Khrushchev debate the merits of colour TV in the famous Moscow ‘kitchen’ debate in 1959. It ends, or rather never ends, with television in every room of every house, every office and mall and beamed constantly everywhere – the 24×7 rule.
An academic industry of course follows in the wake of television, like some sort of camp hanger-on modeled by Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage who sells her children into prostitution and slavery, running after the marching army of the 30 Years War.[iii] Academic studies are in danger of becoming a similar sort of campaign support and the logistical supply troop for a comprehensive cultural takeover – media courses, conferences and journals with critique, scholarship even, when this suits the operatives of commercial advance and technological aggression. No longer a diminutive fuzzy furniture item in the corner of the room – if it ever was, always trying to take over like it did, with aspirations to be the centre of attention – television is now ubiquitous, as a mobile in your pocket, an Ipad platform, an airplane seat, taxi cab, station concourse, large public screen, festival feature, cricket stadium scoreboard, plasma proliferation. Reassessment of the volatile political place of television and the complicity of television studies as market support is well overdue. The whole world is flicker and pixels, coming to get you, already invading.
The context of television’s market saturation is the neoliberal compact of the past 40 years: deregulation, commercialization, privatization on the one side, intervention, penetration and diffusion on the other. For example, Ashish Rajadhyaksha contests an ‘isolationist’ view of Indian television, noting the Doordarshan state monopoly was accused of a narrow ‘Delhicentric’ view of India and he argues for refocused attention to Indian cinemas in a global frame.[iv] M. Madhava Prasad seemingly starts at the other end and takes political, economic and historical factors as key to understanding Indian media and its relation to capital.[v] Both reconfigure the focus of media studies away from the media alone, and away from the old national allegory paradigm. The illusion that the political somehow escapes television was always merely televised, and the economy seems now to perform for TV, while socio-cultural change runs interference for a technological escalation that only sells us more television. It does not matter that we are all always on screen and under scrutiny check in the garrison society. Or rather, it matters only insofar as the global economy is performed as TV, designed, like war, with all of us as screens. A co-constitution of camera and capital, such that the fiction of a single point of view – the camera, or the screen you are looking at now, even when it cuts from angle to angle – is the portal of a total commodification, and condenses the multiple social input of a vast productive geo-political apparatus into the disguised and singular presenter speaking directly to you, telling you your news, encouraging you to laugh or cry, living your life right there, before your eyes, everywhere.
The Hanging Channel.
If we do still want to look at a specific regional televisions, as the scholars mentioned above have been doing, the process does not gain in focus. Rather, the suggested direction to look is outwards, towards ‘geo-capital’. Across Asia[vi] we find many commentators able to point out how the local game has taken on reality talk show formats just as fast and furiously, and just as reified, as anywhere else. Not only the curios of Star and NDTV pan-commercialism, but also the idiosyncrasies of flip channel goddery and the ready access of a global identification, for example of Shilpa Shetty and Jane Goody, or of Osama bin Laden and Barack Hussein Obama. Note already the pairings of TV stars are geo-political, and the alienation effect that such staged pairings should have still does not mean we understand that things are staged: this is not a Brechtian entfremdungseffekt.
The nationalist televisual project become global also fosters an orientalist TV which prevails outside Asia, where Asia itself is vicariously and phantasmagorically screened. Indeed, it is this synchronization of national and geopolitical that has most quickly expanded with the proliferation of screen culture large and small – culture televised, and no longer under pundit control. I am particularly interested in the ways a refocusing of Asia as a theatre of war is performed on TV and, as theatre, is a consequence of a massive labour of commentary, the efforts of publicists and copywriters, advertisers and agents, spin doctors, image makers and propagandists. Entire teams working behind the screens/scenes to bring us all versionings of ‘Asia’ in real time. Yet, the work here, the network, the convolutions of the apparatus and its wiring, infrastructure, logistics and co-ordination, its structure of production and transmission, is rendered transparent in a way that is not different to game show staging, in that even when shown, it remains invisible. Arvind Rajagopal says as much when he notes that ‘Viewers may know that they are gathered and sold to advertisers, but they remain capable of acting as if they did not know this, and as if they thought they were free in their viewing behaviour’.[vii] What I mean here is that the television interface presents itself as direct connection, an inter-fascism, and its alienation effect is erased.
A case in point might be the way we approach the controversy around the images that stage the death of Osama bin Laden. The new geo-political reach of television was never more evident than in the photogenic scene of May 1st 2011 showing Hilary Clinton and President Obama watching the televised (remote closed circuit) Seal Team 6 raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. In the (cramped) comfort of the White House situation room, with a large group of advisors and aides, they seem to express both astonishment and concern. However, we do not see the TV. We do not hear the TV. We do not even see this as TV – the picture is a still, and mute: no static, no radio-cam, no shouting, no pop pop pop shots. The still image is more suitable for the printed press than for television news, and yet this moment is global television in its new guise. Watching television as propaganda in this Situation Room is perhaps not your usual viewing platform, but it is connections like these, in this case a secure Ethernet network with remotely connected helmet-mounted camera feed,[viii] that makes television a cross-border, live-beam, everywhere and anywhere, medium of the political.
If we set aside conspiracy theory doubts about the faking of the killing and the ‘found footage’ that was also presented of Osama watching TV, what we see of ‘Asia’ here on the officially sanctioned publicity release is basically the leaders of the ‘free world’, Presidents, advisors, aides and now us all, gathered around a screen to view a snuff film assassination video. We can be sure that in some sense this is watching ‘Asia’, however perverse. With all the contradictions it implies, this view of Asia says it all – we can even read the hand over mouth gesture of Hilary as muted reference to the guilty contradiction of razing Afghanistan to dust, or not (technically, from already war-ravaged rubble to dust) and invading a sovereign, and paranoid, country uninvited, to kill an old man, himself pictured watching telly in Abbottabad… The double-play of this scene, a snapshot slice of a much wider and wilder scenario, is our changed TV world.
The images are indeed revealing – Hilary and Obama are paired in silence, as are the bloodied Osama we do not see (despite the photoshopped image that circulates on some websites[ix]) and the impotent Osama in a blanket watching TV that we do (much questioned, see below). An alternate pairing would show the situation room crowd with Obama and Hilary, and the images they have seen but which we cannot – the raid itself, the assassination, and presumably the burial-at-sea. Why do we not see all the images? Surely there is actual film of Hilary and Obama watching, of the body of Osama, or of the Islamic funeral ceremony, all chronicled as evidentiary record by the pubic relations and historical-archive conscious administration? It is hard to imagine the White House was unable to record every minute of the attack on some form of in-house VCR, possible a Watergate-style recording device, and that they do not have documentary footage of the situation room itself, or from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (Nimitz class), and so on. There is, of course, the inevitable plethora of conspiracy theories: was it really Osama we see sitting wrapped in an old blanket? He was left-handed but has the remote control in his right; he has himself filmed watching himself but does not look at the camera; the sound has been stripped from the video – although this last is a strangely silent coincidence also replicated with regards to the situation room. Perhaps understandably, there was concern about release of the bloodied body shot, but in the absence of all these possible images, theories thrive, and indeed a vast number of spoof YouTube videos can be seen recreating the events, as well as a graphic novel,[x] animated game-show cartoon and slapstick Saturday Night Live-like comedy routines, all beaming stereotypes of ‘Asia’ abroad in a parallel universe with fan-fiction proportions, deeply implicated in dramatic events.
The snuff film mise-en-scène in the situation room and its spin-off press and video images offer us a new genre identification for deregulated global television. This requires a more urgent aesthetic and socio-critical appreciation of the integrated media spectacle. Innovations in the forms of political television can also be seen in the cockpit-cam of the drone bombers zeroing in on insurgents in the Kush, or the shaky phone mp4 that records Saddam Hussein’s New Year 2006 execution and shown on what surely must eventually become the ultimate satellite offer – the Hanging Channel. I have argued something similar in relation to NDTV 24×7’s mobile phone-in poll around the trial and sentencing of Afzal Guru, but there are many candidates for round the clock horror ready to be screened.[xi] There are the beheadings, torture snaps, and attack drone reels, but also strange sub genres such as the spoof Osama kill vids and what I would call grunt videos – a particular grotesque consequence of sending US teens out on patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq and leaving them later confined to barracks with free time and computer kit to produce music videos with their own night vision footage and soundtracks from AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ – or remixed with even more chilling effect – Marilyn Manson’s version of the same.[xii]
Reality, Cinema, Diaspora.
The reality TV franchise that is the War on Terror in Asia has shown so much more for less than Big Brother’s or Crorepati’s star-studded (Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan) staged scenario production ever could. Cheap to embed, easy to download, the military journalist is a controlled, edited, and carefully screened ideological imaging. The camera is already on the weapon, the footage already beamed back to transmission HQ. Only sports and parliamentary debate offers such easy access to the action – the camera knows in advance where the game will be played, how many bowls will be bowled, and who has the hits. War footage is similar – we only see the highlights, and the camera was already set up in the kit. The image of global television is not Neil Armstrong setting out on the surface of the moon, but rather the stain of screen erasure when the missile-mounted camera is destroyed à la some glorified stump-cam moment writ large. The ideal view of war television, like a bowled wicket in the IPL, is the destabilization of the viewers perspective. The wicket is smashed, the camera askew – all the work that contrived to produce this scene, the training, the technology, the calculation of wages, Duckworth, averages and back room deals is obscured in the thrill of that singular close-up. This is the metaphor for television today, unashamed alienation in a distraction regime high profile, big bucks, product placement spectacle. Only on the Hanging Channel we would not have cheer squads, unless it be those outside the White House chanting ‘USA USA’ the evening Osama was snuffed.
We are dealing here with something that is not only a war scene, but is also the war itself, and the multivariant versions of Asia have always been screened in such narrowcast terms – a double-play of the good guys – temples, Bollywood songs and Sanjay Dutt – and the bad guys – terrorists, gangsters, Ravanna, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Kahn), and Sanjay Dutt. Today its moderate Muslims and unknown terror, the double play at work again. ‘Heat and Dust’ (dir, James Ivory 1983) was the cinematic version, or Art Malik coming to grief in ‘The Jewell and the Crown’ (ITV 1984), or more grotesquely, with Schwarzenegger in ‘True Lies’ (dir. James Cameron 1994). There does not seem to be any reduction in this even with the proliferation of vernacular views of the global, of home movies and camera phone newscasts uploaded directly to the satellite international in the Sky™. There is no sense in which the syncopation of local and global escapes the play of mere colour illustration – and subject citizens from remote to metropole are gathered together to work the scene. At what point would a television studies grapple with the stakes of this and be able to relate the isolated and peculiar details – Osama dying, Obama watching – to the whole? It is possibly useful to remember what Adorno says apropos of Hegel: ‘nothing can be understood in isolation, everything is to be understood only in the context of the whole, with the awkward qualification that the whole in turn lives only in the individual moments. In actuality, however, this kind of doubleness of the dialectic eludes literary presentation’.[xiii]
To be specific is to locate the televisual in the local as global force. This was never more clear when popular sentiment about Asians ‘in the diaspora’ was made more political at the start of the twenty-first century. There was always some politics in diaspora of course, though it is perhaps generous to suggest the US tongue-in-cheek abbreviation ‘ABCD’ for American Born Confused Desi inversely notes a greater diasporic awareness of such issues and has parallels in the ironic use of ‘second generation’ in the UK. Having to distinguish between Hindu and Pakistani, Arab and Bengali, Muslim and NRI, Bhangra and Hip-Hop, cricket and corruption… all this relating of the isolated to the whole became a classificatory blur after 2001, at least for non-Asians. Heavy rotation Asian cinema on late night British TV, for example, was insufficient to disabuse the rest of the British public of its stereotypes of the subcontinent and the threat of otherness. Even the by now standardized choices of ‘contemporary’ British Asian film did little to clarify – ‘Bend it like Beckham’ (dir Gurinder Chadha 2002) but not ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (dir Stephen Frears 1985), ‘East is East’ (dir. Damien O’Donnell 1999) not ‘Wild West’ (dir. David Attwood 1992); ‘Four Lions’ (dir. Christopher Morris 2010) but no critical analysis of the ways an anti-Muslim pogrom had taken hold in the wake of Sept 11, 2001 or July 7, 2005. That the less safe films were on late night rotation, while telly-plays of security service-foiled plots against airlines or sci-fi scenarios with suicide jihadists (see for example US space operas like Battlestar Galactic[xiv] and Carprica) screened in prime time is duly noted.
The televisual rendering of Asians in the diaspora works largely through condensation of the global. The big screen is reduced to the no-go area of the late night small screen of ‘community’. Asian character roles in long-running classic UK soaps (Coronation Street ITV, EastEnders BBC) barely hide their big-ticket clichés; documentary current affairs arranged marriage honour killing exposés appear more often than any other item of interest at home. Abroad, suicide bombings and the Hanging Channel as above. The camera spotlight on Asians is so often documentary, even when it is comedy it is more often a documentary about Asian comedy, so much so that we need to recognize television as ideological apparatus again. This fabricated and staged documentary moment is a point of view illusion, a machine for obscuring the social and collective, and politically charged, character of this cultural production – a cultural effort that necessarily accompanies the war on terror.[xv] A film, or White House photograph, that hides its edits – cut, pan, zoom, montage, time, audio, narrative – develops a symbiotic relationship with the alienated but global commodity circuit, enforced by commercial and military means. Music television suggested another register for a time, but only to confirm the reductions: ‘Paper Planes’ wins an Oscar, Asha Bosle as a ring tone, ‘Tridev’s ‘Oi Oi’ still more inappropriate. Asian identity is conflated in two directions – a specificity that acknowledges a motivation marked by terror in ‘explanations’ of musician Mathangi Arulpragasam’s (M.I.A.) ‘political’ stance ‘reduced’ to the situated trauma of the Sri Lankan Tamil predicament. On the other hand a proclivity for generalizations such as that reporting on UK musician and filmmaker Aki Nawaz’s engagement with Gaza, Bosnia and Tunisia is taken as evidence of a suspect pan-Islamist tendency. Both are ways of undermining legitimate commentary with equally unsubtle questions of motive and context in a wider racist imperialist coding that never reveals its white supremacist undercarriage. Even the July 22 2011 deaths in Norway at the hands of the killer Anders Behring Breivik merge into this commodification via industrial news production. We watch rolling 24 hour cycle coverage which evokes no compassion, only staged ‘compassion’ – behind which you know there are technicians, crew, director and sound operator all just doing their jobs. No contrition from the media for its knee-jerk first reaction assuming the attacks were Al Qaeda or enraged Muslims responding to anti-Mohammed cartoons, and not much more than a contrived apology and business-as-usual as Breivik is identified as a self-declared ‘anti-Muslim crusader’ with a 1500 page manifesto and links to the English Defense League.[xvi]
That the terrorist self-styles as crusader is no surprise, but again media attention focuses upon the lone-wolf, rogue element, and individuation so as to engender control, in the same way that the manufacturing process divides items for management on the assembly line and market.[xvii] This trinketization ignores, even as we see it on screen, the intimate connections and overall tendential movement that should be diagnosed as a new and vicious military-informational complex, modeled and sold with glossy brochure News Corp and ‘dot.gov’ publicity campaign. It starts with so-called humanitarian bombing, moves through years of attritional combat, and extortion, assassination, murder-death-kill, and at best ends up with construction contracts and ongoing client state dependency. At worst, dissolution, despair and destructive neo-fascist entropy. A form of privatization over scorched earth – the policy choice of the crusades, colonialism and now fully global as World War Three. This blowback only begins to show as breaking news if you are not actually watching. If our media studies would only learn not to flinch from the implications, we could see this differently.
If television is a weapon of war by other means, what might be required for an extended critical television studies in this all-seeing but blinkered world? What means are available to take the proliferation of screens and capital seriously? Is it of use to see TV as an extension of the neo-liberal military-commercial agenda and can we turn this into a transformatory research project that would disarm such codings? Can television be redeemed, or must it be always exaggerated to be everywhere and so nothing special at all – merely the fabric of a politics and economy that lies, not so much elsewhere, but upon every surface? The Hanging Channel would offer a 24×7 war, just as it already is, with product placement. Is another television possible? If we tune in another way is there another possible world to see? What would televise differently? Which screen/scene must we see behind and beyond? Let us turn to that vision – for example, variously in RajaGopal, Sundaram, Mehta, Rajadhyaksha, and Prasad – offering a reconfigured mediation of media studies that does not start so much with the screen as with the place where the screen starts – so that we can reinvent television studies in the widest sense. In this way a television that takes seriously the injunction to break with alienation, exploitation and death. If we can, as we must.
John Hutnyk, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
[i] Nalin Mehta’s study of satellite television remains closely tied to the medium of television itself, however much transformed by new modes of delivery. The ‘citizen journalist’ (p248) and ‘tele-democracy’ (p257) are terms that have insider network currency. Mehta, Nalin, 2008 India on Television, New Delhi: Harper Collins.
[ii] For a closely argued study of how media must now be seen inextricably bound up with the staple themes of urbanism, modernity, technological change, aspirations, dreams and desires, see Sundaram, Ravi 2009 Pirate Modernity: Media Urbanism in Delhi, Delhi: Routledge.
[iii] Brecht, Bertolt 1939  Mother Courage and her Children, London: Methuen.
[iv] See Rajadhyaksha, Ashish 2009 Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency, New Delhi: Tulika Books.
[v] See Prasad, M. Madhava 1998 Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction, Delhi: Oxford University Press.
[vi] In this paper I refer to Asia and Asian as a wide specificity that could include Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the diasporic South Asians discussed as ‘Br-Asian’ in the volumes Ali, N., Virinder S. Kalra and Salman Sayyid, (Eds) 2006 A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain, London: Hurst and Sharma, Sanjay, John Hutnyk and Ash Sharma, (Eds) 1996 Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, London, Zed books. This is problematic, as it leaves out many other Asias, East, South-East, Austral- and Middle – this is best discussed by Gayatri Spivak in her 2008 book Other Asias, Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
[vii] Arvind Rajagopal 2001 Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p335
[viii] For an interesting survey of White House information, telecommunications and computing security protocols, see the PhD thesis of John Paul Laprise 2009 ‘White House Computer Adoption and Information Policy’, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
[ix] See for example the comparison of a 2008 image and the 2011 image here: http://todaysnewsnj.blogspot.com/2011/05/osama-bin-laden-corpse-photo-is-fake.html – last accessed 25 July 2011.
[x] Dye, Dale and Julia Dale 2011 Code Word: Geronimo, San Diego, IDW. The authors call this text ‘an American celebration’ – interview with The Associated Press reported in The Guardian 24 June 2011 -http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9710347 – last accessed 24 July 2011
[xi] See Hutnyk, John 2011 ‘NDTV 24×7: the Hanging Channel: News Media or Horror Show?’ Batabyal, Somnath, Angad Chowdhry, Meenu Gaur and Matti Pohjonen (eds) Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change, Delhi: Routledge.
[xiii] see Adorno, Theodor, 1963  Hegel: Three Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, p91.
[xiv] See King, Laura and Hutnyk, John (2010) ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar: Colonialism Reimagined in Battlestar Galactica’. In: Arlo Kempf, ed. Breaching the Colonial Contract. New York: Springer, pp. 237-250.
[xv] See Bhattacharyya, Gargi 2008 Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the War on Terror, London: Zed Books.
[xvii] See Adorno, Theodor 1952 In Search of Wagner, London: Verso, p39.
The three fucking amigos, bastard dingbat flunkies from obsolete piggy pollie parties each singing from the same hymn sheet trying to save face and protect a disgraced plenipotentiary (propaganda wing of Capital). Fuck them. And the faded pundit celebrities lining up to resurrect careers with the odd critical quip, sitting on studio couches alongside spotlight mesmerized reality TV News instant message heroes, with the redhead hung out to twist her curls in the wind as Sideshow Bob while the war rages unabashed. The ferocity of feeling that measures anger, the acute sensibility despite the taunts of crazed coppers, the articulate parallel sphere that insists on the urgent and relevant news not this dumbshow pantomime – give me that. A revolution is brewing, the cauldron is boiling in the wings, the vat will fit them nicely, we’ll pop on the lid and let them boil. Turn off these three stooges of the parliamentary path and lets watch something funny. Parliament, Sporting events, and Kettles are cheap television because the cameras know in advance where the action will be (contained). Close it all down, not just the tabloids and the phantasmagoric sky, we can make it all anew.
An abstract for a talk at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, ‘Television in India’ conference - July 14-15 2009 – Shimla
News Media or Politics Show: Terror Reporting and the Box.
If a regional encounter with the apparatus of television is to be approached critically, it may be the case that an exclusive use of ‘media theory’ is not always the first or best stop. Theories of the televisual and specific mutations of genre formats in a global and postcolonial ‘milieu’ – in this case News and Crisis/Terror reporting – can of course be problematized in the Indian context. A postcolonial/globalisation model may suggest a review of the theoretical frameworks that inform media theory in general, especially in the context of national(ist) and international(ist) pressures. Two examples of recent ‘Terror incidents’ and the ways they have been reported, discussed and presented through television will be considered: the trial of Afzal Guru, and the Mumbai Attacks. Whilst tragic in multiple ways, these events are also made spectacular, emotive and divisive, according to interpretation. Television news has variously engaged in information war and controversy before our eyes, on our screens.
The ever admirable Phil over at ‘a very public sociologist’ has a fine post about the new format of Big Brother ‘Celebrity Hijack’. Offering a blow by blow account of the ‘toe-curling’ first episode last night, Phil reminds us of BB’s racist priors (Jade), justifiably ranting at how crap its looking this time round, and warns of the ‘celebrities to come – Brian Sewell, Kelly Osborne, Joan Rivers and Andrew Loog Oldham [this last I've added as a wish item from my previous].
Well, I suppose I was prepared to be sympathetic to a new panto season version of the anthropology-made-simple that is Big Brother, but nope – they have not redeemed themselves at all. Read Phil’s critique HERE.
Myself, I think the problems are even more obvious and this obviousness finally absolves even the most perverted of us from ever watching the show again [yes, finally I give it up, sad day] – I mean, just look at the NAME of this new format. Celebrity Hijack - ahhhg, Winston would turn in his grave.
[In the end I did go watch on replay - slo mo car crash it was - but I repeat my comment here from Phil's page for those who can't be bothered to follow the links or for those who refuse to endure the show even as 'sociological interest' - that evergreen standard alibi for tv slumming... Thus:]
Phil, do you think we can go so low as to play into Endemol’s sensationalist bad taste game and get outraged that this is the wrong time to try to rehabilitate the idea of hijacking as such, even if in the hands of the lovely wastrel Kelly herself. I guess its a long time since ‘that’ september so its ok, but I don’t suppose they will be inviting any Muslim celebrities to sit in the chair eh?
Could there be some mileage in this as mock outrage for a week or two – then perhaps this cynical sensation-hunting could morph into a recognition of how hijackings have been used in the past to make political points of some significance. Agree with the intensity of the actions or not, the Palestinians offered something more serious than Endemol, and with more cause.
Whatever… Really, I am just amazed that ‘hijacking’ can become pop culture sloganeering like this without comment – I guess its because we never get TV transmissions on those in-flight seat back screens.
I think Aki Nawaz should be invited to do a stint in the BBCJ chair, but even as that’s impossible, I know he’d have had fun.
All that said, Scott McQuire’s article on Endemol and other matters is worth a read: McQuire, Scott. ‘From Glass Architecture to Big Brother: Scenes from a Cultural History of Transparency’, Cultural Studies Review, 9.1, May (2003), 103-123.
For a long time I have wanted to pay homage to the character played by Roshan Seth in “My Beautiful Laundrette”, a Stephen Frears film, written by Hanif Kureshi. Despite some problems with the film itself – ‘we did not fuck fascists, we fucked them up’ said one of my anti-racist South Asian comrades many years ago, there are some delicate touches – tee hee – in the film. The portrait of the vodka swilling, bed ridden, socialist journalist father of ‘white-boy-kissing’ Omar is among Seth’s best (see Desai 2004:vii). Seth has also played a wide range of roles in all sorts of films, including “Monsoon Wedding”, “Buddha of Suburbia”, right through to utter crap like “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom”, his take on Nehru in Attenborough’s “Gandhi” and most memorably, as the KGB’s own Beria in a biopic of “Stalin”.
Mythologicals from the very ‘start’ of film in India, with Raja Harishchandra, and on television from the serialization of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the late 1980s, have become the new stock in trade of media anthropological commentary. It is now a standard opening to mention how many ‘anecdotes abound’ (Dwyer – “Filming the Gods” 2006) about these shows – my own version as I have detailed elsewhere revolves around a TV set manifest as shrine, where the oil burner burns a little too well and the TV is reduced to ash, charred wood, and the short circuiting of an entire bustee area of Kolkata. Apocryphal or not, I can no longer remember. But in those days it was rare to see mention of television or film in ethnography, except perhaps as a knowing guilty indulgence.
Attention to Bollywood film changed all that. No longer was the art cinema of Bengal the primary visual media focus. [Though it took a little longer for diasporic films to get the attention they deserve (see Desai and Gopinath books recently out)]
To some degree we are still working through this opening today. There are a great number of anecdotes and studies of the hindi and other language filmi stars, the politics of film, the national allegory (pace Jameson v Ahmad) and the secret politics of our desires (Nandy) as well as a series of excellent conferences at Jadavpur University, Bangalore, Delhi and so on. Film Studies attest to a burgeoning sophistication. Add to this initiatives like SARAI at CSDS, and I think some of the directions of this conference are such that things can be said to have…
– I do not want to say that new media has ‘arrived’ with an explosion in the subcontinent. I would like to make an argument that there has always been a media sphere in India. That cross platform televisual media (satellite with talkback and audience participation via phone or street interview) has always been an Indian phenomena – television an Indian format accidentally invented by the British (to adapt a cricketing phrase by Ashis Nandy). We have to welcome further research on the various imbrications and innovations that bring the Adda to the screen, that offer cybermohalla, or Media Nagar, even doordarshan, ha ha, or that posit the information age – duly explained on the front page of their website – as Sarai. (though there is something slightly inappropriate in this perhaps – CSDS is not exactly a street people’s scene, nor is it a tavern). In any case, to elect Sage Vyasa and Elephant head, broken tusk, Ganesh, the co-producers of the extended family drama of the Pandava Five, as the patron deities of the media age, is not far-fetched, but I think perhaps there are other possibilities – I think of Karna, the disenfranchised sixth Pandava brother, son of Kunthi – this sixth brother might also prove to be significant.
Whatever the case, the media space of India has always been one of a certain density. I want to explore just two examples today where the convergence of television and other media seem to raise questions of an explosive character that might lead one to do as Omar’s papa did in Thatcher’s Britain – grab a bottle of vodka and take yourself to bed.
I once wrote a critique of the way South Asia and its diasporic cultural production (music and music video) was consumed as exotica. Still earlier I described how and entire city was constituted through various media – books, films, stories as a phantasmagoric site of poverty in need of benevolent Western aid. Today I want to look more closely at the dark side – the telematic mediation of terror – or terror-vision.
The first case is that of Mohammed Afzal and the English language news channel NDTV…
On December 13th, 2001, little over two months from another now overdetermined date, five men (at least) piled out of a white ambassador car that had driven into the grounds of the Parliament building in Delhi. The winter session was on, and guns blazing these miscreants/terrorists attacked, killing 9 people and then dying themselves in a hail of bullets, having failed to set off their car bomb as the detonator had been damaged in a collision with the President’s parked vehicle. Military deployed and border with Pakistan sealed, Terror legislation and terror threat level on high for a year, high profile court case, debate all through the press. Much to discuss.
As many commentators have said, it was a fairly incompetent raid. But among the commentators, Arundhati Roy for example, in ‘The December 13 Reader’, has questioned the swift ‘case cracked’ response of the police in arresting and bringing to trial four accomplices of the dead attackers. The reader published in December 2006, as well as a commentary on Kashmir published by the brother of one of the accused (Geelani, a lecturer at Delhi University), raises a whole series of disturbing questions that have become fairly common knowledge, but also something of a media circus – Vikram Chandra hosted a teleconference in a boxing ring to illustrate the stakes involved…
Three of the cases were eventually dismissed, only Mohammed Afzal was found guilty and sentenced to hang, so as to appease the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation. Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, had been a 20 year old border crossing militant youth in Kashmir, but had ‘surrendered’ to authorities in the early 1990s and then enrolled at university in Delhi. His experience with said authorities was of course not all pleasant – tortured and found to be ‘clean’ by one Davinder Singh, a man who proudly ‘tortures for the nation’, chillies and petrol enemas being the facilitators of storytelling here (even petrol seems to get the red hot vindaloo treatment now) – Afzal’s video ‘confession was judged illegally obtained and unsafe by the Supreme Court, making his conviction based upon serious, yet ‘circumstantial’ evidence of him being seen by a shopkeeper buying the mobile phones and explosives used in the Parliament raid (the phones left in the Ambassador), renting rooms to the five men (or were there in fact six attackers –CCTV footage restricted) and having possession of the computer upon which the fake ID cards were made, well, at the very least this is circumstantial. Media signs proliferate.
Found guilty and slated for hanging on October 20 2006, the television station NDTV screened Afzal’s video confession. They did so without mentioning that this was five year old and discredited piece of footage. It turns out, from reports by a Police Inspector, that this video was version three of a rehearsed statement. NDTV omit to mention the Supreme Court rejection of the footage, all the while allowing an on screen SMS commentary to announce, the ‘collective conscience’ view, that terrorists should hang, that Pakistan was behind it all, that the national institutions of law must be respected and due process must take its course. Let him hang.. At this time, Afzal’s execution was being reviewed on appeal, but the SMS poll seems to have decided his fate. The death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court on January 12 2007. Only a plea for clemency by his wife forestalls the hanging. President Abdul Kalam has yet to decide.
I am particularly interested here in the justice process as it is played out through the televisual public sphere. Arundahati Roy and other prominent intellectuals speak out, television stations set up opposing views and spokespersons of note. This is an elite mohalla discussion with commentary by SMS and phone of the lynch mob variety. I have written about the Hanging Channel as a satellite slot that could aggregate scenes such as Saddam Hussain’s hanging, movies like the Dead Man Walking, and reality TV scenario of the Afzal appeal, with SMS voting to allow the people to decide. For me this is quite bizarre.
NDTV then go on to host the successful show Airtel Scholar Search UK – a mobile phone company sponsored reality TV vehicle to bring a media and cultural studies scholarship student to Cardiff (they will get a surprise – winner announced September 22, 2007) also management students to Warwick, etc. A great publicity coup for UK teaching factories, in which the cultural construction of fantasy India and tamed public spheres proceeds apace (it was once thought the university was a place for rampant intelligence, now its sold like soap in TV, not even as smart as Crorepati).
The rest of this, discussing Derrida, Spivak, Steigler, I’ll save for another post, but the second example retold the story of the buses and my mates Aki and Dave’s singalong bomb song: DIY Cookbook. See Here and here.
Also see Sacred Media Cow
This post from Anti-Popper is brought forward to here to inaugurate a new series of ‘posts from the past’ – historical division – sci fi. Heh heh. The humanity of Adama and Jameson – is doggited.
“Saturday 16 December 2006
galactica: my friend the blob
“I can’t find my ancient copy of Battlestar Galactica 2: The Cylon Death Machine, and it hurts. Of course, because I’m such a fan of the current series, it doesn’t seem likely that a novelisation of the original, cheesy Battlestar Galactica would have a place in my heart, right? I mean, my brother got me Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions for my birthday — I couldn’t possibly like this kind of trash, which barely passes for “real” science fiction, right? But I was a big fan of the original Galactica, for two reasons:
While it was undoubtedly drab in comparison to Star Wars, Galactica was shown frequently enough on TV to simply work its way, on a rhythmic level, into my playground fantasies when I was seven years old. And it’s not as if I hadn’t found “finer” sf, either — I was also reading Isaac Asimov’s robot stories at the time.
By fleshing out all the aspects of the show that were atrophying under the family-oriented network TV regime of the day, the novelisations made Galactica seem so much better than it really was. Like many media tie-ins, Robert Thurston’s first couple of Galactica novelisations were based on the original scripts, and written several months before shooting. In Galactica’s case, this meant Cylons that weren’t clumsy walking toasters who couldn’t shoot straight (a last-minute change dictated by the network), but murderous lizards who (according to Thurston) thought bitchy thoughts about their superior officers, waited impatiently for promotions, and were driven crazy by the itches that developed under all that heavy armour!
Writing about my loss of The Cylon Death Machine is particularly poignant for me because the event is so recursive. From what I can remember, the novel’s narrative was interspersed with extracts from Commander Adama’s personal log — The Adama Journals — in which he muses about all sorts of seemingly random and inconsequential shit in the middle of the tactical emergencies of the time. Adama’s log is, of course, very bloggy. In this log, he finds the time to mourn how so much Caprican culture was destroyed in the apocalyptic Cylon attack on the Colonies. But rather than honour high culture, Adama chooses to remember pulpy kids’ science fiction: his own favourite childhood book was called something like Sharkey the Star Rover, and featured the insterstellar wanderings of an orphan human boy, Sharkey, and his best friend, an alien blob called — of all things — Jameson. Adama requests of a search of all the archives in the fleet, but alas, the book is lost forever. Just as I’m not quite sure whether I remember this book correctly, Adama wonders if his memory of Sharkey The Star Rover is accurate. Sharkey loves his alien friend Jameson, who receives much racist abuse from other humans. And yet Sharkey also wishes Jameson were a real boy, instead of a blob, so that he could hold him, and thus physically express his love.
I miss The Cylon Death Machine, and thus, Sharkey The Star Rover.”
Posted by jebni at December 16, 2006 10:44 AM | TrackBack”
A new figure of fun in British media has an ominous underside, and yet on reflection I think does more politically than the mischief of the usual court jesters. The television comedy of ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and the efforts of Sanjeev Bhaskar on ‘The Kumars at Number 42’ were welcome insofar as they promoted manifestations of ‘multicultural comedy’ as part of a tolerant and inclusive tradition. But this is not the whole story, and I think the popularity of such shows now reveal some disturbing new anxieties. The question of who comes to visit the Kumars at Number 42 is a matter of mirth on television, as various celebrities sat with an ‘average’ – actually quite wacky – family to talk about their latest cultural product: a film, a play, their new book and so on. As a light entertainment early evening format it was a great success. But such questioning of the neighbours and the to-ings and fro-ings of their associates is a much sharper confrontation elsewhere in Britain, especially in the years after the London bombs of 2005. The figure of the terrorist in Asian garb is the new manifestation of the scapegoat; the Asian next door becomes a stereotype and scare-mongering figure. Alongside the Kumars we now also witness special squad investigations and high profile closures of streets; the police cordoning off areas of middle English suburbia; the nightly news interviewing people living on the same streets insisting that ‘he kept to himself’ or ‘they seemed like normal people’; and scenes of the suspects being driven off to interrogation and detention under the anti-terror legislation. I see this as a sinister kind of theatre in Britain today, and I think it can be linked to other seemingly innocent comic aspects of British performance culture. This paper attempts to unpack the scripts…
So, I will try to link this back to music and politics (as usual) as it follows upon my interest in alternative modes of story-telling. Reconnecting with my earlier playing round with Pantomime terror, (at recent talks in Melbourne and Auckland) and delving further into the stories of the Thousand and One Nights. Where our narrator is no longer subject to singular despotic terror, for which her tales achieve an improbable reprieve, but rather I have:
“A speculative dream version of the story of Scheherazade herself; whom I imagine has this time been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them with the production of a narrative that provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but the production of this narrative can never set her free and she will never become queen (the despotic kings are otherwise engaged: Tony Blair and G.W. Bush are already hitched to each other and a legacy in Iraq, and perhaps hitched to history in the same way Nixon was to Watergate and defeat in Vietnam). Of course it’s the case that my dreaming of Sheherezade is only a conceit – even as I cannot imagine what so many years in detention can do to anyone. A thousand and one terrors assail us all”.
The task now is to find stories for the Kumars. Or find ways to stop laughing at the welcome departure of Tony Blair to the land of television chat shows… the blood dripping onto the sofa… I’m glad he’s not moving in next door to me (though his old next door neighbour is moving to Number 10)… cue that Grundy theme music…
On friday we have a protest meeting about the Afzal Guru lynching planned in India. Many are disturbed by the trial in which a Kashmiri man, picked up after an attack by some ‘miscreants’ on parliament, was allegedly tortured into confession, which was then telecast, and the courts decided Guru was to be hung.
Afzal Guru was not actually a part of the Dec 13, 2001 attack on the Parliament in Delhi by five men – who were all killed in the action – but he was picked up with three others the next day under the ‘Prevention of Terrorism’ act.
A stay on execution was gained by campaign groups when the hanging had been scheduled for October 30th 2006, but the television station NDTV screened the confession, and questioned whether it was extracted under torture (as the court itself had been forced to admit). The bizarre thing is that the television station then held a text message vote on whether he should be hung. Did that really happen – a television SMS text-in vote to promote a hanging? Alongside the Shilpa Shetty – Jade Goody et al racism row on Celebrity Big Brother here in London (with international diplomatic impact and commentary by Prime Ministers and more), we can only conclude that today, increasingly, television is terror-vision, as entertainment and as news. Both are worse, as Lenin would say. The televised hanging of Saddam of course also comes to mind, such that I now think a Hanging Channel on satellite cannot be that far away. Especially as it is also reported today that Britain’s prisons are ‘full’. I can imagine Rupert Murdoch will happily fund such a channel for SKY, with OJ Simpson as guest compere perhaps.
I’ve written on the displacement that the racism row on Big Brother achieves elsewhere (Jade was racist, but bombing Afghanistan and Iraq and sending still more troops is more … here) and I’ve written on Saddam’s Swing (here), but I am afraid that writing, and even filming – remember Injustice – seems somehow inadequate in these terror-vision days. Last night I went to a benefit screening of the Peter O’Toole vehicle “Venus” organised by English Pen for the Writers in Prison programme. O’Toole being nominated for an Oscar the day before, seems like something. But writing against death, torture, detention, war… all I can do I guess is turn up and, like PEN, however meagre my rants in comparison to their campaigning, to keep on saying such stuff to whoever few may listen, if they have open ears, to whisper, to suggest, to promote the rumour of another potential…
Writing as a way to open ears,
a pen as a spike to the brain…
The details for the friday protest and case background are:
“TORTURE, LIES AND A FABRICATED CONFESSION:
NO DEATH PENALTY FOR AFZAL GURU!
PICKET OF THE INDIAN HIGH COMMISSION,
Friday, 26 January 1.30pm-4.30pm
India House, The Aldwych, London WC2
(nearest tube: Holborn)
On December 13, 2001 the Indian parliament was attacked by five men. They were killed by the security forces but even today their identity remains a mystery. Three other men, who according to the police masterminded the attack, have also not been found.
However, on 14 and 15 December, 2001 the investigating agencies together with the Special Cell of the Delhi Police picked up four persons, all Kashmiris, and charged them with the offence of conspiring to attack the parliament under India’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
After a nationwide campaign for a fair trial, two of them, Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani and Navjot Sandhu who was jailed along with her newborn baby, have been acquitted of all charges, a third, the husband of Navjot Sandhu, has had his death sentence converted to ten years in prison. But the fourth Afzal Guru was due to be hanged on October 20, 2006. A stay on his execution has been obtained by the Save Afzal Campaign through a Mercy Petition, and he is now being held in Tihar jail inDelhi. But he is still facing a death sentence.
Who is Afzal Guru?
AfzalGuru was involved with the JKLF for only three months in 1990 when large numbers of Kashmiri youth were attracted to the movement. During these three months he neither received any training nor took part in any activities. For details see his wife Tabassum’s letter:http://justiceforafzalguru.org/background/tabassum.html
After he surrendered he was constantly picked up by security forces, asked to spy on people and also routinely tortured. He eventually decided to move toDelhihoping to be left alone but even here the notorious Special Task Force caught up with him and continued to harass him.
His trial was a mockery of justice since he was denied an opportunity to defend himself – he did not even have a lawyer.Afzal was not involved in the actual attack on the Indian parliament and he did not kill or injure anybody and the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that there was no direct evidence against him, only circumstantial. However the court has sentenced him to death because in their words the“the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender… The appellant, who is a surrendered militant …is a menace to society and should become extinct.”
Abu Ghraib style torture and media collusion
In the Special Cell of the Delhi police Afzal was kept naked for two days and beaten mercilessly – once by a man who later appeared as a prosecution witness; police officers urinated in his mouth saying ‘This is the way you can break your Roza(fast)’. After he was tortured he was handcuffed and made to sit on a chair and forced to ‘confess’ at a media conference. But television broadcasts did not show the handcuffs and did not show the men who tortured and humiliated him. On the 15 and 16 of December 2006, New Delhi Television (NDTV) re-ran the ‘confession’ several times although they had been informed that by now that the Supreme Court of India had rejected it and the High Court had reprimanded the police for it. The programme was accompanied by remarks such as‘See how natural, how truthful, how fluent his statement appears’ and ‘Who can believe that such a statement can be given under torture’. They then invited viewers to act as a virtual lynch mob by soliciting SMS messages from them asking whether Afzal should be hanged in light of the tape telecast by them.
Right-wing Hindu chauvinist forces of the Sangh Parivar have continually harassed members of Afzal’s campaign while calling for Afzal to be hanged.
Afzal Gurufaces a death penalty although:
- There is no direct evidence against him and he is known not to have injured or harmed anyone
- The Courts have found that the investigating agencies deliberately fabricated evidence and forged documents against him and others accused.
Currently Afzal is waiting for the results of a Mercy Petition but the decision of the courts is extremely uncertain. Even after enormous efforts by his campaign he is being denied basic rights in prison – he is not allowed to go out of doors for even half an hour of sunlight and the Red Cross who have access to Kashmiri prisoners have not been allowed to visit him.
SAVE AFZAL GURU!“
See you there.
Homesickness is hard to sustain when things seem to lurch still further towards cultural doom. This little photogenic scenario did it for me this morning: – a post by Ange from Melbourne where the state watches a little too closely. Howard’s cops having released 28 photographs of people they want to talk to in connection with a recent protest. It makes me feel even more happy that you can see these pics on The Age news site in what looks like a flickr type slideshow format.
“January 18, 2007: In the wake of the protests against the G20 in Melbourne, and as numerous arrests continue to take place, police tonight released a series of photos, each one euphemistically labeled “person of interest.” Police are indeed perfecting their methods of surveillance and control …” [archive S0metim3s]
That bit of surveillance no doubt has more value as a curious juxtaposition with the scenario everyone is watching too closely in London – the Celebitchy Big Brother race & bullying scam. BB/C4 offer us a screen onto which to project the vicious underside of the war on terror. Amply exposed on Lenin’s tomb, from where I nicked the image, but reminding me of things said about other similar distractions from the main game. Despite my previous fascination with BB, this rich Celeb version makes me ‘homesick’ for the unadorned nastiness of the cop-photo-shoppery above. Below I include some choice excerpts from what is an (almost twice as long) excellent post from L-T:
“The whole point of Endemol’s shit-fest on Channel 4 is to force together personalities so incompatible that normal human comity would be impossible, never mind solidarity under the stress of sensory deprivation and constant surveillance. … I suppose we had better be grateful that the recipient of the abuse was not a Muslim. If she was, we’d be hearing from many quarters that Muslims are far too sensitive about legitimate criticism. “Ah, complaing about being called a ‘dog’, is she? What do these Muslims have against canines, I wonder?” Had those who burned the effigy in India been Muslim, we would no doubt be hearing about the sinister Islamic threat to free speech. Not that it matters what religion she adheres to inside the ‘house’, eh? Shilpa Shetty is variously a “dog”, a “Paki” (this bit C4 denies, saying the word was “cunt”), someone who – being from India – must be unhygeinic and eat with her hands, thus giving other housemates “the shits”, someone who both needs to “go back to the slums” and also visit them for the first time and be “real”, someone who is “trying to be white”, and someone who should “fuck off home”. … The reactions have been, er, interesting: Channel 4 greasily asserting that there has been no overt racism, titter titter (as if we didn’t know that they had assessed their candidates down to the last tic, and fully expected outbursts of racism); New Labour politicians covering their already hideously mired flanks by uttering obsequies about tolerance; David Cameron saying that anyone “who doesn’t like this racism, there’s a great regulator, its called the ‘off’ button.” The latter is a curious response, surely designed to tickle the fancy of racist Tories and those obsessed with whatever is called ‘the nanny state’ this week.” [L-T]
- John Hutnyk said…
- Feeling a bit Jaded now? It is disappointing me a lot that all over the commentary on the Shilpa Shetty – Jade Goody Big Brother scam people are debating whether its racist or not, class or not, bullying or not [yes, all of the above, of course], but no-one seems keen to see this as a much bigger and more revealing displacement of the unspoken debate and politics we know is right there in front of us but the press and the piggy-pollies refuse to have, or are unable to have. That is the peculiar spin-cycle that makes up the contemporary system-wide racism of the global order. It amazes me that the Prime Minister has to face discussion of BB at question time in parliament, but carries on bombing, killing, destroying Afghanistan, and Iraq, regardless. And with little time for questions of anything that matters, it all gets displaced into television (and The Trial of TB was another example of the same). Even the much beloved Russell Brand suddenly feels the need to preface his comedy routines with seriousness, but does not make the displacement equation. Is it only my dysfunctional take on things that makes me see this as the ‘dream-work’ of the war on terror? For me this is the consequences of foreign policy as clear as day, but we cannot debate that. The double take is cod-outrage, and the February 15 2003 mobilisation against the war remains unanswered. Ahhh, damn it, f only there were opportunities for Davina McCall to interview Blair after he was voted out of the house…
- 12:04 AM
I hate to have to say so, but I am disappointed it has become mere entertainment, and yet this was probably all that would ever have happened. – ‘So much murder death kill on my TV’ I wrote back in September, and tonight I am watching a tele-novella style sit-com called ‘The Trial of Tony Blair’. It is so badly acted, but in a way amazing that Channel 4 have got away with so much (its on E4 satellite right now, on terrestrial later in the week). The best line so far has been Blair berating the guy who was going to publish his memoirs with the line about how leftists and the chattering classes were the ones who hated him. Well, this TV show is definitely chatter TV. It’s such a shame it washes over us with minimal effect. Blair is in jail now, about to be extradited to the Hague, probably gonna get out of it through becoming a catholic or having a seizure. So I figure I should retrieve, if only for some sort of twisted version of what passes for the record, my post from last September. Now the fantasy has come true I want fiction to be even more real [and Josiah Bartlet to run for Prez again]. Here below I repost and run shrieking into the wild…
People’s Tribunal on the Many and Varied War Crimes Trial of Tony Blair
I was invited to a small workshop at Tate Modern last friday (with folks like Chantal Mouffe, Mike Shapiro, John Armitage, Naeem Mohaiemen and many others – the ‘overly romantic’ Bernadette Buckley was enthusiastic) to discuss the possibilities for an ‘Art’ event next year at Tate. One of their big events, well funded, they were looking for suggestions and dominant thinking was along the lines of having a conference on Art and War and maybe commissioning an artist to do a ‘piece’. My humble contribution, based on frustration and fury at so much murder death kill on my TV, was to denounce the idea of yet another coffee chat and champers soiree for the elite about artists and contemporary conceptual arabesques that are worthy but do little but pat us on the back for being alienated angry and helpless art lovers. The issue for me is what would be adequate to win the war against the terrorists and criminals that run our lives and ruin so many others (cf Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran…). So, lets instead have an event in the turbine hall that does something that at least suggests the direction in which adequacy might be found – the People’s Tribunal War Crimes Trial of Tony Blair. Gore Vidal as the prosecutor, I guess Chris Hitchens as the defence. Who to get as judge to do the thumbs up or down at the end still open? And some other logistical matters to be decided… The thing to do afterwards will of course require more than touching faith in legal process, but a successful people’s tribunal at the most successful gallery in the world could also then help legitimise the people’s march on Westminster to ….
The point was made that it does not matter if this degenerates into farce or parody of ‘the law’ or ‘the courts’ – when the law suggests there might be a non-criminal way to bomb Afghanistan/Iraq etc, then anything that gets masses of people fired up enough to do more than march past Westminster to Hyde Park is better. Thus instead to rather march into the halls of power and turf out the jokers that sit on those plush chairs (boards of directors, lords and lairds) means something that seems more like justice (not legal justice, but people’s justice) might be on the cards.
Idealistic? Overly romantic? Perhaps. But always possible, and necessary now more than ever.
Its not all that often that I get really homesick, but this item twanged a few lumpen-nostalgia chords. The article contains some choice quotes. Councillor Roz Blades in particular seems the most stupid with her ‘television from Harlem’ quip, and the very idea that there are ‘anti-hoon laws’ makes me not at all surprised that ‘flares were thrown’ and ‘police were pelted with bottles’. I do want to know how this is related to the Cronulla beach race trouble of a little over a year ago? So, is there a racial element to this? I mean beside Councillor Blades’ racist analogy? From afar it seems like normal Dandy friday night entertainment – people brought their sofas out to sit and watch the burn-outs in style. I suppose they trashed the DVD store because it did not have enough rental copies of the video of the hoon event…
This is from Melbourne’s newspaper The Age:
Burn-out crowd goes on the rampage
This Blockbuster Video store was trashed and looted by a mob of youths early on Saturday.
Photo: Justin McManus
Six men face charges after a crowd turned on police during an illegal burn-out gathering in Melbourne’s south-east early yesterday.
More than 1000 people, including women and children, congregated at the corner of the Princes Highway and Elonera Road, Noble Park, on Friday night for a regular illegal burn-out session, but police cordoned off the intersection soon after 1am yesterday and the crowd became violent.
A DVD store was trashed and looted, and police were pelted with bottles.
A pizza shop and an electrical goods store were also damaged, two bus stops were smashed, bins were set alight and road signs destroyed. Witnesses reported seeing flares thrown.
“My reaction is complete and absolute horror,” said Roz Blades, councillor and former mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. “In 30 years in this area, I have never seen anything like it. It looks more like something you’d see on television from Harlem.”
Fifty extra police and the dog squad were called in to control the situation. Six men, aged between 18 and 32, were arrested and released but are expected to be charged with traffic and criminal offences.
Police seized five cars, some under new anti-hoon laws.
The busy corner, with a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant on one corner, has been a favourite Friday night hang-out for hoons and their fans for decades.
Cr Alan Gordon, chairman of Dandenong Council’s community roads reference group, said the site’s popularity had been growing, attracting some 2000 people last weekend, many bringing couches from which to watch the illegal burn-outs.
The trend attracted extensive talkback radio coverage last week, which witnesses said added to the hype and the push towards violence, similar to the build-up to the Cronulla riots in December 2005.
“They are just Aussie kids going out for a Friday night,” Cr Gordon said.
“It just amazes me that they are so organised: the radio, SMS, their website. They are just so well equipped. I would never have thought we’d have this sort of thing in Melbourne, but now we do. It’s a bit of a shame.”
He said the police and council had worked closely last week to prevent violence at the burn-out events, but to no avail. “A lot of the residents around here have been here for many, many years and I don’t think they are going to take things into their own hands, but I think they expect both the council and police to work together to fix the problem,” Cr Gordon said.
“Police and the council have been working together this week and look what we’ve got to show for it.” He described the police response of about 50 officers and a dog squad as inadequate. “I would have thought you would have had more police. Fifty or 70 cops, compared to over 1000 youths, isn’t enough.”
Victoria Police acting Assistant Commissioner Gavin Barry said although extra traffic units were in the area on Friday night, “we had no way of knowing that the gathering would become so hostile and threatening towards police”.
Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said officers were “hopelessly outnumbered” and called on Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon to urgently audit police resources.”
I have been watching harrowing reports from Guantanamo detention camp on the late night news. They shine lights in the eyes of those unjustly interned there – the camp has been open for five years – they play loud music at all hours (see Eroica), they interrogate and interrogate, forcing narrative (this is not just storytelling, though I glossed it as such for effect) and force-feeding those who protest their rights; and we now hear more and more and cannot avoid recognizing that the guards do much worse, much worse… beatings, broken ribs, degrading and sadistic tortures, deaths…and we have known this for too long…
While the inmates in their cages in the camp might be in danger of slipping from our memory, yet they are the brutal truth of our world today. Television has to do more than this to wake us up – I see it as the real Big Brother house, this is the Palace of Dreams, this is the Home of the Brave. This is where we really live, but do not see.
The way in which we manage to accept and excuse continued detention without charge or trial, deaths in custody, atrocity and crime, makes me think we need to rewrite our books and change our thinking. How to do this? Perhaps a shot of philosophy – what if we were to think of the scene on screen as a possible contemporary parable which is displacing or radicalizing the old cave scenario in Plato. Guantanamo might be our new founding myth – an indictment of the way we think, and a guide to how we might rework our ways so that it is not truth and the sun we seek, but justice and redress.
I hope then that it is not too strange to take up the metaphor of the fire-screen in Plato’s cave and rework it as a spark for Guantanamo. There could be many associations with the screen and the flame and this seems as good as any a place to start. In an overdetermined and well known passage, Plato presents us with a primordial cave in which we are offered the image of shadows flickering on a wall. Those watching the shadows – which flicker because they are caused by a fire in the cave – are incredulous when an early release tells them of a greater light, of the sun shining outside the cave, which reveals greater truths. As the story goes, the proto-television shadow wall retains its viewers, who after all are chained to the scene and cannot look away.
That this Plato-routine is mere storytelling is well known – and so it is with a great number of other scenes of media screen and fire. Television hardly moves us. Yet fire, as we know, is both creative and destructive. It is endlessly fascinating (more than television) – ‘hard to light, it is difficult to put out’ – a malevolent spirit (Bachelard 1938/1987:64). A symptomatic examination of flames on the screen might remind us that this is a political place – think of grainy images of the Reichstag fire, of the Hindenburg zeppelin crash, of the burning monk during the Vietnam war, and of late night reruns of Cinema Paradiso. Nevertheless, Plato’s cave establishes the precedent with those shadows on the wall – television, fire and political narrative are inexorably linked from the start – and so I also want to invoke a mythic register as perhaps more than as metaphor, or as heuristic device. I have in mind myth as it might have been narrated in a ‘reverie’ of those gathered around a camp-fire not unlike the one in the cave or as told to the interrogators. There are any number of televisual and cinematic moments that might provide a kind of archive to enable this – I invite readers to come up with their own greatest moments in flames, but let us always remember the storytellers of Guantanamo that we barely hear. The long questionings, the beatings, the torture, the loss of life – though not yet all dead, the dying…
To cite television news reportage as a burning issue under a register of fire is a kind of contrivance no doubt, but a necessary one, and it allows us to rethink storytelling as politics, and so television as ideological social origin myth. The only trouble is that this extravagant metaphorics could lead almost anywhere, and if we free associate television with fire, light, luminosity and insight we might merely meditate upon knowledge and vision, the daylight (let there be light…), the lantern (Zarathustra…) and the lamp (Aladdin…). Stories are not enough here. As if enlightenment were an unproblematic advance (as an alternative to detention camps and god-bothering leaderships on crusade, it surely is… but), fire is also a weapon (literally as fire-power, and also as firewater). So burn your TV. And burn down the camps. Though it destroys, fire may also cleanse. It is divine avenging spirit and productive furnace of hell, with Lucifer it is both the fall and purgatory. May Day though is the celebration of both Beltane and workers’ power; fire produces both steam and ash; energy and residue. It is made by friction or a spark; a smouldering beginning or a sudden crash of lightning; the image of god, spirit, cherubim; yet also hocus pocus, and obscurantist smoke and fug; fiery, inflamed, incandescent, excited; related both to flagrant and flamboyant. Why then is it that so often television does not at all encourage that ‘reverie’ that Bachelard identified in fire (this is also discussed in Moore 2000:130 Savage Theory). Late night TV is especially evocative of the narcoleptic camp-fire – flickering shadows the only light lulling us towards unconsciousness. The embers of the late late show shine with a soporific glow and contemplation need not be profound. We need that torture light smack in the eyes.
I hope old Plato will turn in his cave (and perhaps see the sun). The inmates of Guantanamo do not have sets in their cages, but they are the screen on which our social conscience is shown, and it is found wanting.
For all those in detention everywhere, and for Kadhr, Bisher, Hicks, El Hadj Boudella, the Bosnian Six, Abbasi, Sharif, Shah and all the others.
Saddam Hussain has been remade into a modern myth, reminiscent of him 2 millennia ago who was nailed on the cross by those god-botherers who thereafter suffered with the Christ-sickness and deified a carpenter. Saddam was no carpenter, but was the CIA-installed puppet of cold war skulduggery in the middle east – and now, having offended his gun-toting buddy Rumsfeld at some point perhaps, this martyr for a new millennium is set up with a founding narrative that repeats, as farce, a history with which we have already much conjured.
Think of Saddam’s palaces – the pay-off for his earlier compliance before he went rogue – they were often seen on news reports in the early flush of the arrival of US troops in Iraq. Beautiful palaces with ponds and the like. I have observed such scenes on screen somewhere before have I not – yes – at Herod’s place. In the Superstar version of Christ, there was talk of ‘walking across swimming pools’ and ‘turning water into wine’. JC Superstar was more all-singing, all-dancing cinematic than Saddam’s rope trick ending, but PM Blair’s reluctant, forced and late condemnation of the way it was done was very much like a rerun of Pilate washing his hands of dereliction and delegating the case elsewhere. And Bush is guilty too – whether we want to call those that hung Saddam US patsies, or if we recognise a certain modicum of vicious revenge, it is, as Slavoj Zizek has said, strange that there was no talk of dragging Saddam to the Hague tribunal. Instead we got a show trial and a show-business hanging, on prime time TV over the New Year when we were all at home with the family to watch.
Zizek has also compared the US to Rome, and found them lacking: “recall the common perception of the United States as a new Roman Empire. The problem with today’s America is not that it is a new global empire, but that it is not one. That is, while pretending to be an empire, it continues to act like a nation-state, ruthlessly pursuing its interests” (NYT 5.1.2007). The trouble seems to me that, rather, the timing is all too convenient, such that the troubles of Rome 2000 years ago do resonate with the troubles of US as faulty empire today. It took a good while for the Christians to extricate themselves from the lions and topple Caesar and all that, and of course there was the nasty middle ages and inquisitions and all sorts to get through… But what has been achieved with the televisual hanging of Saddam is perhaps a glorious sequel. An epic story of struggle and the next greatest story ever told – but instead of Max von Sydow (Christ in the 1965 version) or Cecil B. DeMille directing, we are likely to get Mel Gibson, as director and hopefully star (Mel as Saddam doing his own stunts – you’d have to laugh). Opening soon at a cineplex near you.
Lets remind ourselves of some of the lyrics:
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine.
That’s all you need do, then I’ll know it’s all true.
Come on, King of the Jews.
Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made around here.
You are all we talk about, the wonder of the year.
Oh what a pity if it’s all a lie.
Still, I’m sure that you can rock the cynics if you tried.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.
If you do that for me, then I’ll let you go free.
Come on, King of the Jews.
Pilate’s refrain (slower):
Don’t let me stop your great self-destruction.
Die if you want to, you misguided martyr.
I wash my hands of your demolition.
Die if you want to you innocent puppet!
Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.
Don’t you get me wrong.
I only want to know.
Now we do have mass communication, but it seems we also need long memories. And, I’ll wager, ear-plugs.
[pic - from the audition: Much hand-washing needed, Rumsfeld leads the way, but Bush, Blair, Brown and Prescott also need a scrub. 'What's the buzz, tell me what's happenin, what's the buzz...'.
Disclaimer: Please note that I do not endorse any carpenters in any form, not even Richard and Karen; nor musicals, unless they star Barbara Stanwyck ("Lady of Burlesque", "Roustabout" - with Elvis Presley, and "US Canteen" to name a few)]
Addiction confession. A kind of love story for our times. I’m hooked. Though I’m not sure I can convey exactly how extreme the pleasure of this summer transgression has been. Like blue bubbles of joy popping underwater but inside your brain. Embarrassing perhaps to admit the forbidden as guilty pleasure. The scandal that will face me after this. My very own first confession (Foucault shall be deployed). But there is something wholly addictive in the affirmation of the spirit – its so cheesy – but it is still worth more than the unavoidable feelings of despair – murderdeathkill – that confront us in the present state of the world (Lebanon etc.). A crazed fantasy at the end of the day, an escape from the real is always worth the compromise – when tomorrow’s guilt trip is the only possible plausible path – and frankly the innocent or not so innocent pleasures of capitulation to planned and artificial joys can be a kind of life affirmation. And that is always more now than avoiding or abstaining. Whoa! Celebration. There is no reason not to take it to the extreme and to celebrate life, love, performance and a degree of madness – wanker – that is not otherwise freely available today.
Whatever alternative or parallel lifestyle might be implied. Indulgence plus decadent abandon. The possibility of a life where the crap of terror-war can no longer dash my head: Afghanistan, Iraq, Labour Party, lying bastard piggy pollies, bureaucracy and a loveless commercialism – anything that offers the possibility that all that is evil might be ignored is worth the cost. I know it’s an abdication from the facts, I know it is a alibi, I know it is pseudo fabricated artificial phantasmagoria. But it is so much better than the waking world. I cannot always be here, coherent, serious (the struggle is grim). Gimme a break. Gimme indulgence. Why not make it compulsory – keep us all attached to the matrix feeder tube. Mainline – the only freedom we can achieve on TV.
What is it – without thinking I am happy to offer myself over to the extreme, extravagance, the excess, and the exuberance of a flaming madness… let me indulge… there is no recall, no backing out, once admitted one is a lifer, no remission, no rehab, no recovery, no remorse – in it to the grim bitter (sweet) finale. It is not as naïve as the West Wing (a fake democracy substituting for the real fake democracy) – no, a radical rethink, an observed decadence, scrupulous in the acute sense. Hot topic Hot topic. Vote now.
“he must be an angel” – of course I want Pete to win. Its been priceless – I am hooked on BB.
Oh brother: “I’m cooking an egg for the very forst time, ah humm”.