Some might think this bad taste. I think its a hoot, and bad taste. A commercial sell-out I’d missed – Nitin Sawhney, Romain Gavras (who also did the MIA vid I am writing about) Mélanie Thierry working together on a Yves Saint Laurent advert with dodgy choreography by Akram Khan. My thanks to Dr Royona Mitra for pointing me at this in her excellent thesis on Akram’s performances. Finding the vein was my addition though – Thierry/voiceover says in the film ‘I am your addiction’ – even as getting this screen shot was a bit time consuming. Everyone should all know you can’t mainline opium of course, duffer trickster exoticists. The whole film is here: http://belledopium.com/en_CA/artistes.html#/film/
So that’s the first half of November pretty much sorted:
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.
Breivik is identified as a self-declared ‘anti-Muslim crusader’ with a 1500 word [sorry page!] manifesto and links to the English Defense League.[i]
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, and persons, for management on the assembly line and market.[ii] 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.
And on his list of to do things was to start a Norwegian EDL. Gah.
March 4 Justice 4 Demetre Fraser: London, August 13th http://t.co/QogyZUv
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Samsung is shutting down its computer monitor factory in Teesside with the loss of 425 jobs. The plant also makes microwave ovens. It shuts in April.________________________
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What I figure is that pushing the analysis beyond the farrago of an imploding media empire is also an urgent task.
Its not like we’ve never been here before:
‘Alone in his never-finished, already decaying pleasure palace, aloof, seldom visited, never photographed, an emperor of news print continued to direct his failing empire, varyingly attempted to sway as he once did the destinies of a nation that had ceased to listen to him, ceased to trust him. Then last week, as it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane’
So, I bring forward this old post. There are others (search Welles).
In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, and in volume three of Capital it becomes crucial (see here)
But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with a immense collection of commodities, its is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. Even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretation is, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. The collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).
But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.
There are many possible starts.
I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Freddy Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partiality to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.
Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overburdened film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.
Hearst, however, cannot be reclaimed. Conrad suggests that Hearst papers created both the gossip column and celebrity (Conrad 2OO3:145). Andre Bazin Points out that the controversy over Kane as Hearst was a consequence of the rivalry between Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons and her bitter enemy Hedda Hopper. (Bazin 1950/1991:57). Conrad also notes, a page earlier, that Welles had written a forward to Marion Davies posthumously published memoir of her time with Hearst at San Simeon.
Was Hearst’s hostility to Kane reason for the industry to fear exposure, through Hearst papers, of Hollywood’s foibles – sex, payola – or rather its employment of ‘aliens at the expense of American labour’ (Leaming 1985:209)? His support for the working man may well have got Hearst called communist in his youth, but it was always a misnomer.
The importance of rumour in the reception of Kane is clear, but what then of the unspoken exclusions in the Hearst story, the bits of narrative not voiced: Hearst as moneybags plundering the material culture of the world, the arrogance of his taking photos in Luxor where the flash damages the art of millennia… Hearst thought WW1 a financial venture for Wall Street tycoons and his defence of regular soldiers, even deserters, and pro-Irish anti-imperialists was impressive – for example his campaign in support of British diplomat Roger Casement who was eventually hung for seeking German military support for Irish independence. Such campaigning was however not without financial benefit to Hearst’s own purse in the form of ever growing newspaper sales to those who approved of his anti corruption stance. His position on WW2 entailed a meeting with Hitler, but an abstentionism that became a liability. He rapidly became an advocate of anti-communism in the post WW2 era and had campaigned against pro-Soviet U. S. Films from the early forties, such as ‘Mission to Moscow’ and ‘North Star’ (Pizzitola 2002:409).
Hearst, an anti-communist, muck-raking, armaments and finance capital moneybags with a vendetta and a deep resentment (Rosebud)? What then of his concern about ‘alien’ labour? What of his early ‘investigative’ journalism? Despite denials by Hearst that he orchestrated it, Kane, the film, was branded communist, only saw restricted release, got bad early press, and took several years before being recognised the ‘greatest film of all time’ etc etc… the rest is cinema history. Welles was investigated by FBI agent Hoover (Pizzitola 2002:398) and his directing career never recovered, despite The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, he was forever dogged by studio interference and funding troubles.
So lets find that image from the film that encodes it all – a hammer end Sickle on the façade of the Inquirer (see accompanying still). Then the multiple perspectives of the Kane film can be twisted to do allegorical service for a reading of Capital (“hat tip Rough Theory“). Immediately following the newsreel sequence that (re)starts the the film after Kane’s snow globe death, the camera moves through a neon sign and down through a glass window to Susan’s table and the first of five or six interviews which structure the rest of the film. These are not consecutive, temporally concurrent, and can even be contradictory, they do not add up to an explanation of the life of Kane, yet by the end, when the ice of the snow globe has turned to the fire of the furnace that consumes all that collected junk, we do perhaps know a little more than before, can examine things in a more nuanced way, and we maybe even get to know something of Hearst.
The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities
Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.
Bazin, Andre 1950 Orson Welles
Leaming, Barbara 1985 Orson Welles, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson
Conrad, Peter 2003 Orson Welles: the Stories of His Life, London: Faber and Faber.
Pizzitola, Louis 2002 Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press.
Battle intensifies over Bougainville copper
- Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor
- From: The Australian
Bougainville rebels guard the Panguna mine site in 1996. Picture: Ben Bohane Source: The Australian
CLAIMS that Rio Tinto funded the civil war and fostered atrocities on Bougainville are being resurrected as a hurdle to the reopening there of the copper mine, whose proven reserves are worth at least $50 billion.
Today the opposition to the mine is strongest overseas, especially among Australia’s trade unions and non-government organisations. The Australian Greens have also joined the attacks. This is happening just as the reopening, after a full renegotiation of the terms, is winning overwhelming support on impoverished Bougainville; more than 97 per cent support it, according to Bougainville president John Momis.
The day after SBS One’s Dateline program about Bougainville was broadcast on June 26, the Bougainville Copper Ltd share price slumped 18 per cent.
German investor Axel Sturm, possibly the company’s largest individual shareholder, said “confidence in BCL, which is equated with confidence in Bougainville and its people, has been severely damaged. Months of re-polishing Bougainville’s image [have] been spoiled
The program hinged on a 10-year-old affidavit signed while he was in opposition by Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Michael Somare, whose family announced this week that he will retire because he is seriously ill in a Singapore hospital.
Somare, who was foreign minister as Bougainville lurched into civil war, signed the affidavit that claimed “the actions taken by PNG to reopen the mine were not done for any public benefit except derivatively as the money the government made in its joint venture with BCL would trickle down to benefit the PNG citizenry”.
The mine provided the PNG government with about 20 per cent of its annual income when it was forced to close 22 years ago.
Somare signed the affidavit that said that Rio “controlled the government” of which he was a part.
It said: “BCL was directly involved in the military operations on Bougainville, and it played an active part. It supplied helicopters, which were used as gunships, the pilots, troop transportation, fuel, and troop barracks. It knew bloodshed was likely to occur because it instructed the government of PNG to reopen the mine ‘by whatever means necessary’.”
It said that although BCL participated in “the atrocities”, “no provision in the peace agreement addresses or resolves any civil liability or international law claim, which I understand are the issues in this litigation”.
However, Rabbie Namaliu, the prime minister during the first four years of the conflict, told Inquirer that the Iroquois helicopters used by the PNG army were deployed under an agreement he signed with Australia’s then-prime minister Bob Hawke in Canberra.
Nicole Allmann, now living in Queensland and who watched the SBS program, said: “The four Iroquois helicopters that were given to the PNG Defence Force by Australia were operated, maintained and crewed by Heli Bougainville for the PNGDF.
“I worked for Heli Bougainville during the crisis and did all of the invoicing. I invoiced the PNG Defence Force for this and not BCL.”
Namaliu said that “under the state of emergency laws, the controller can command access to any logistics support he requires”.
By the time the government deployed troops, BCL’s staff had left Bougainville leaving vehicles behind, some of which were commandeered. “To suggest that Rio did it deliberately is factually wrong. When I heard about those claims, I thought the whole thing was rather unfair. And Sir Michael is not in a position to make any response.” But after the SBS program Western Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam demanded: “Rio Tinto must reveal the full extent of its involvement in the Bougainville war. And the Australian government must also explain its own role, and what it knew about the role of BCL. It’s time for the whole truth behind it to be known.”
Ludlam claimed that the war drove half of the population from their homes, and that “the conflict claimed 15,000 lives”. This total remains guesswork, although many did die who would have survived sickness before the war. Many additional deaths also occurred on mainland PNG because of the impact on health care of the sudden loss of government income.
A report in Socialist Alternative earlier this year said “it is a sign of the madness of capitalism that Rio Tinto did not close down BCL”.
The publication praised union efforts at the Rio Tinto annual meeting in Melbourne last year to oppose the mine’s reopening. The union members included “a delegation of miners from Hunter Valley, maritime workers from the Victorian branch of the MUA”, and the CFMEU (Mining and Energy section). It said that “if you wondered why socialists say Australia is the major imperialist power in this region, here’s your answer”, the Bougainville conflict.
The BCL executive chairman Peter Taylor, who is also now president of the Australia PNG Business Council, denied the allegations made in the affidavit signed by Somare. He recently led a business delegation to Bougainville, in what was the first visit to the island by a BCL chairman for more than 20 years.
Somare’s affidavit is being used in a class action initiated a decade ago in California, being conducted by the famous contingency fee lawyer Steve Berman.
This action, another barrier to reopening the mine, has already been struck out once, but has been reintroduced because it has become a crucial test case for the extraterritorial reach of US courts.
Its original US connection was that it was backed by Alexis Holyweek Sarei, a former Catholic priest and diplomat who married an American former nun, Claire. He said that if he returned to PNG from California, where he was living, he risked “grave harm”.
But he did return, and a year ago was elected to the Bougainville parliament, which strongly backs the reopening. He is one of the 20 people named in the action.
Lawrence Daveona, an executive member of the Panguna Landowners Association that represents the people who own the mine site, has declared the association’s full support of the moves to renegotiate the Bougainville Copper Agreement, and its opposition to the court case. The case, which accuses Rio Tinto — 53.58 per cent owner of BCL, with 19.06 per cent owned by the PNG government and 27.36 per cent by other shareholders — of war crimes, was set up by US lawyer Paul Stocker, now 87, a friend of Somare who once lived in PNG.
Stocker has said: “I can’t think of anything (Rio) did that wouldn’t make Adolf Hitler happy.”
The case claims Bougainvilleans who worked for the mine, “all of whom were black”, operated in “slave-like” conditions.
Mekere Morauta, PNG prime minister when the class action was filed, said at the time that even if successful if would not be enforceable in PNG because of the Compensation Act there.
Bougainvilleans will vote within four years on whether they want to split from PNG. This heightens the stakes for the reopening of the mine, with Bougainville wishing to secure the lion’s share of the revenues, and also possibly some or all of PNG’s equity.
The determination of BCL to reopen the mine itself, underlined by chairman Taylor, creates a formidable obstacle to potential competitors. China is the likely buyer of most of the mine product, and Chinese interests have been associated with Bougainville.
Momis was formerly PNG’s ambassador to China.
But last weekend a group of Chinese businesspeople who had expressed an interest in investing in real estate on Bougainville were barred by landowners from visiting the mine site at Panguna.
One landowner, former combatant Chris Uma, said: “We did not fight for the Chinese to come over.”
Since today in Bradford there is the 30 years commemoration of the struggles around the case of the Bradford 12, and next saturday (23rd July 2011) a similar event in London (see here), I repost this review of ‘Where there is Light’, a novel by one of the perpetrators – an appreciation of the quietly explosive writing of Tariq Mehmood:
Face up to the fight
Tariq Mehmood, ‘While there is light’, Manchester, 2003, Comma Press, pp220, �7.95
The travails of those who fight imperialism are long and brutal. Families torn asunder, friendships stretched and broken, lives crushed against the bars of prisons and the kicks of cops.
Tariq Mehmood’s novel mixes clarity of reflection with bittersweet agonies and a pained lament for loss. The loss is not only consequent upon the cruel conditions of an updated and as yet unfinished Raj – though the ways the legacy of colonialism plays out on the workings of northern England and north Punjab are not simply contemporary – and the lament is not just for the family, but for the stalled and failing political movements that would be a possible resistance.
Against the several significant historical backgrounds that shape the (so-called) post-colonial condition, Where there is light recounts the tale of Saleem Choudry returning to his parental village in north Punjab. The novel utilises three texts to tell its multi-sited tale – the first: a letter the disgruntled labour-migrated worker son writes to his mother, but which she cannot read; the second: the cassette tape recording the heart-torn and weary mother prepares for her son as she faces death, to which he cannot listen; and the third: the police-violence-extracted ‘confession’ which identifies Saleem as the ringleader of the Youth League fighting racist skinheads in Bradford in the early 1980s.
In these contexts, characters recount – more or less lyrically – various predicaments. The legacy of the partition violence with which England left a parting gift of train-filled bodies, hacked to death in sectarian frenzy, is one memory. An unrelated consequence is the position of disaffected youth, whose heritage could be the anti-colonial and workers’ movement but who, through seduction and distraction, are disconnected from their romantic and revolutionary roots. In place of the movements they try to build are the old religious hypocrisies that are but the first cry of an oppressed mass, misled by a self-interested leadership with thought only for comfort.
Saleem is arrested as a ‘terrorist’. This is a fictionalised account of what came to be known as the case of the Bradford 12, when Asian youths were charged with conspiracy after the discovery of petrol bombs. Saleem, out on bail, is flying back to Punjab to see his mother. A letter he had posted in a drunken rage the day before follows him through the post. He arrives too late to meet his mother (hospitals full of shit while the government builds atomic bombs). Scenes of lament and a difficult homecoming to a place that is no longer home are punctuated by a harrowing account of the arrest scene in Bradford and the interrogation, with full English police-style beatings, in the lockup before the trial.
The story works in these multiple places and concurrent times, along the way providing a meditation – angry, not passive – on a range of difficulties that are the lot of the ‘returnee’ to the site of colonial extraction. Saleem was sent to England as a boy to earn money for the family, from that country where the streets were paved with gold (but they were not). Returning to Pakistan, the sex scene in the movie The saint is censored, the passport and customs officers impose their delays and extract their percentage cut, the dilemma that values the life of a fly but not of kin relations is matched by the alacrity with which friends, and devout community leaders, pursue the duty-free booty with which Saleem returns. A well read tourist might recognise this lot, but not likely.
Self-mocking mockery of mock pieties, perhaps the portrayal of the whisky running business scam is the most blatant example of a hostility to religious hypocrisy that must be replaced by a more organised resistance. There are positive portrayals: the old mates from school who have not forgotten the one who left – even as they make merry with the desire to go themselves. In one sequence the contract that requires one both to give and take is considered fair trade for the prize of entry to Valaiti (Britain), despite full knowledge of what the prospective migrant will be forced to endure. Foreign, Vailaiti poison (cigarettes) is even better than local lung-rasping pleasures.
The one who inducts Saleem into the subtleties of communist solidarities – poignantly a white father who rescues him from a beating at the hands of his fascist son – is clear and insightful in his analysis of the mill workers and who profits most from those who labour under capital. Payara Singh tells of the heroes of the Punjab: of Uddam Singh and Baghat Singh, who fought the colonials with no thought for their own gain – a history that Saleem has to struggle to preserve – if you do not understand your past, how can you have hope for your future? The Manifesto is quoted, thought the words are mislaid.
Solidarities become a major theme. In the end those interrogated in the youth movement betray each other under duress, but we know the wider campaign mobilised a larger alliance and won the case for the Bradford 12, establishing self-defence as a legal defence in law. This is particularly important to remember today, as alleged ‘terrorists’ are routinely detained in the UK, profiled again as the enemy by the jihadis, Bush and Blair. By the end of the novel Valaiti has become England, Saleem is not a Trot but he reads, the cops know they are not going to win the case (but they make the charges in any case) and the movement continues.
Saleem does not know all that yet, but his personal resolution – he plays his mother’s tape, reads the letter, signs the forms – mean a realisation: that his history is one that requires him to face up to the fight (while there is light). He will return to struggle again.
come to the 30th Anniversary of the Bradford 12 meet.: Details here.
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.