What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

Archive for the category “Cultcha”

I’m Proud of The BBC – Are Labour???

Back in 2010, Mitch Benn – a comedian and songwriter of nearly godlike genius if you ask me, had his biggest hit so far with “I’m Proud of the BBC”, extolling the very real benefits that we all gain from auntie.  Newsround, Newsnight, iPlayer website – the list went on and on. And it hit a chord with listeners and viewers across the nation.

Well, we’ll know what we had if we lose it. The recent reshuffle was nothing more than another stacking of the deck against public service broadcasting as we know it. True, Mr C has moved on, but the tune remains the same – beggar the Beeb, and give a helping hand to Fox – sorry, Sky News.

Does it matter? Well yes it does. Every Government since Harold Wilson has accused the BBC of bias against them, and many have threatened to emasculate the corporation. As part of the fall out of the Hutton Inquiry, the last Labour government may just have started the process. However it was not irreversible, and we are now in a much more dangerous situation.

After all of ten minutes thought, The Coalition decided to cut funding via a freezing of the Licence Fee, then to stop funding The World Service via the Foreign Office. Yes, our Government took one ;look at our greatest soft power asset and said ” fuck it”. And fuck it they have.

As jobs are lost across the corporation, Unions are leading a campaign to stop the cuts – UNITE, BECTU, EQUITY and others, posing an alternative to the cuts – savings on top salaries, and a proper, forward looking policy.

 So where are the Labour MPs? Who is standing up for one of our great national institutions? One that unites us all much more than lousy weather, class snobbery and football? They, shamefully, seem as quiet as the grave, and I call that an outrage of the first order.

 Maybe it is simply an unwillingness to talk about shared culture, or to sound anti- big business. Maybe this is some kind of twisted revenge for Paxman, The Today Programme and trying to be unbiased in its foreign coverage. I don’ honestly know, and if these are the reasons, it must stop now.

Just look at the people throwing mud at the BBC – The Daily Mail, Express, Murdoch, the Tory right and any weirdo who read Ayn Rand and never grew up…

Carlton TV gave us David Cameron, whereas the BBC has given us:

Round The Horne, Miranda, Who Do You Think You Are? The day To Day, Nigella, Panorama and Bagpuss, I Claudius, Absolutely Fabulous!

Sherlock, Fireman Sam, Bruce Forsyth and The League of Gentlemen, The Thick of It, Jeremy Hardy Final Score, everything on BBC Four…

And something that can never be replaced – Sarah Jane Smith – did I mention Doctor Who? 

 

 

apologies to Mitch Benn, hope he doesn’t mind…

 

 

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Defending Offence: A reply to a writers’ question (1)

The reason I have not gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel the real that someone will slit my throat…

(Grayson Perry, quoted by Nick Cohen, pp 50 “You Can’t Read This Book” 2012)

…I worked on this opera about Jerry Springer. And, um, we got accused of being blasphemous, which was, came as a genuine surprise, ’cause it honestly had had really good reviews in the Church Times and Catholic Herald when it first went out in the theatre. So it was kind of weird, it all came a bit out of nowhere. We got 65,000 complaints when it went out on television. The BBC executives that commissioned it had to go into hiding, with police protection. And me and the composer were going to be taken to court and charged with blasphemy. But at the end of June, the High Court threw the case out on the grounds that it isn’t 1508.

(Stewart Lee,transcript from his show “90’s Comedian”, published in 2010, “How I escaped my certain fate…”)

Since its publication, “You Can’t Read This Book” by Nick Cohen has become one of the most important publications of the of the decade for anyone who sees free speech and free thinking as vital to the progress of humanity. After publication, there have been many reviews, mostly positive, of a book that takes an overview of the state of play for anyone who wants to tell truth to power, or simply be well informed. Having divided his arguments into three sections – “God”, “Money” and “The State”, Mr Cohen then rounds on the forces that he sees as being the enemies of truth.

With the lamented early death of Christopher Hitchens, Cohen is perhaps the best contemporary western journalist and essayist we have nominally on the left. I consciously say “nominally’, as he has been alternately the darling and the whipping boy for certain parts of the left liberal commentariat for much of his career. Oh how they loved his well researched attack on Blairism in “Pretty Strait Guys’, and how they pilloried him for his support for the destruction of the Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein, even if it meant supporting an unpopular war. Yet the fair weather friends of the far left, and their careless parrots within the wider currents of mainstream left/liberal thought would do well to cast aside prejudice and read a passionate, well researched and and literate defence of basic freedoms that without which, no truly liberating progress can come about.

I had no real intention to add to the pean of praise heaped upon his latest work, yet in a reply to a post I made on the 18th, I found myself reaching for my copy once again. Jaime Lynch Staunton, a writer and blogger asked the question:

Who is being cowardly and subservient to religion? How?

To do Jaime justice, I will divide my answer into two sections, and two posts

WHO…

In 1989, one of the great English Language novelists of modern times published his latest work. As in previous works, it was an exploration of themes close to his own experience as an immigrant from the Indian subcontinent to Britain. Salman Rushdies’ “The Satanic Verses” was attacked by fundamentalist clerics in Iran (a dictatorship had previously praised his earlier work), and the Ayatollah Khomeni pronounced a fatwa upon him, his publishers, and booksellers worldwide. Numerous attacks on bookstores and translators ensued or we threatened, most notably in Japan in 1991, the murder of an academic translator, and in Italy the stabbing of another. To their great credit, both the British Government and the publishing industry stood firm, and Rushdie has so far eluded his assassins.

There was a backlash, aided and abetted by those who should, and did, know better. Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester South, came to the fore in this country calling for the book to be banned, in effect asking that Britain follow the lead of Apartheid South Africa. Predictably enough, Norman Tebbit weighed in, to kick an opponent when he was down. More disturbing was the response of some other western authors…

Most bizarre of all though, was the noise by a number of eminent writers and authors. John le Carre’, John Berger, Roald Dahl, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and others began a sort of auction of defamation in which they accused Rushdie variously of insulting Islam, practising Western-style cultural colonialism & condescension, and damaging race relations.

(Christopher Hitchens, in “Unacknowledged Legislation, Writers In The Public Sphere”, Verso, 2000. pp.127)

Rushdie even managed perhaps the greatest feat of ecumenicalism, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Vatican, and the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel all issuing statements to the effect that the main problem with the fatwa was not the actual death threat, but the blasphemy committed by the writer.  George Bush the first refused to follow in the footsteps of Vaclav Havel and Irelands’ Mary Robinson in upholding the international promise of the US constitutions’ First Amendment. Germaine Greer defended the rights of book burners everywhere, to her shame.

Eventually, the fatwa was lifted, as part of the ongoing diplomatic efforts of Iran to gain better relations and recognition in the west. Then in 2007, the now Labour Government gave Rushdie a Knighthood for services to literature. Again various radical Islamist organisations claimed offence. Predictably, many on the right criticised the award being given to a writer so firmly opposed to “Mrs Torture”, yet even some of them defended his right to write what he thought, notably Boris Johnson and Peter Hitchens, whilst claiming his work to be “unreadable”. In the same edition of the BBC programme “Question Time”  the daughter of Vera Brittan and Liberal Grande Dame Shirley Williams could not bring herself to support the appointment, saying that it was ill-timed, begging the old partisan question “if not now, when?”.

Now, with the murder of an American Diplomat and staff in Libya, apparently over manufactured offence caused by a grubby little film, and the French call to leave muslim countries over some cartoons, Mr Rushdie has become the subject of another well-funded fatwa bounty.

But of course, this is only one man, and one book. Hilary Clintons response to the supposed “offence” caused by the film “The Innocence of Islam” speaks volumes:

…our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and in our law. We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.”

No British Foreign Secretary could say the same without contradiction on each point – historical, legal, and practical.

In December 2004, a crowd of up to 1,000 Sikhs protested outside Birmingham Repertory Theatre, some stormed the building, stopping the first performance of the play “Behzti (Disgrace), by the female British Sikh writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. The play explores themes of abuse and hypocrisy within the Sikh community, and is set in a Sikh temple. It is, very obviously, a work of fiction. The play was cancelled after two days of negotiation involving the police and local dignitaries.

The leader of this self-appointed group, Mr Sewa Singh Mandla justified his actions thus:

In a Sikh temple, sexual abuse does not take place, kissing & dancing do not take place, rape doesn’t take place, homosexual activity doesn’t take place, murders do not take place

As reported in The Sikh Times, Steven Glover, writing in The Daily Mail expressed “a degree of sympathy” and found it “hard not to admire” the protesters. It was perhaps no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church in Birmingham, in the person of Archbishop Vincent Nichol would make common cause against free thought in these words:

Such a deliberate, even if fictional, violation of the sacred place of the Sikh Religion demeans the sacred places of every religion. 

Of course, I should not have to remind any reader of the actions of Christian Voice over “Jerry Springer – The Opera”, the protests and threatened protests that forced 9 theatres to pull out of the nationwide tour, the level of threat which sent BBC staff into hiding…

The cumulative effect of these and others religious protests and threats has been, in one writers’ words to “internalise the fatwa”, so that many artists and writers self-censor, much as most did under the great dictatorships of the twentieth century. In the end, all authority, secular and religious, relies more on “the policeman in your head” rather than the policeman on the street. Although there are policeman out there, ready to pounce whenever one transgresses the shifting boundary of “offence”.

In the light of past scandals, the Arts Council is, as in the case of “Jerry springer” much less likely to grant money to any production that could cause offence to be manufactured. It is not hard to find a local politician, of any party, who will readily give voice to any loud “community” based campaign against whatever is seen as against any particular religion. The over used word “respect” is now the mantra when it comes to deeply held beliefs – as if simply believing something deeply enough makes it impossible to challenge. The Commission for Racial Equality conflates religion with race regularly, as do many others, which is insulting on both levels, if you think about it.

So, Commissioning Editors, Publishers, Producers as well as writers all tend to shy away from the new religious taboos – finding much more comforting and safe ways to shock us – a “Booky-Wook” here, a “Little Britain” there, but please, don’t offend the clerics too much eh?

 

Is Batman a leftist???

I suppose that it was inevitable really, amidst the media hype surrounding Nolan’s third and final Batman film, during a US Election year, that something like this would come up.

Rightwing blowhard Rush Limbaugh has tried to start a little Kulturkampf over a cartoon inspired movie – according to Rush (or “fucknuts” as his close friends know him), this years’ extension of the franchise is overtly anti Mitt Romney and big business. Why even the main villain, the Homophobic, tyrannical Bane has a name that sounds like the vulture capitalists that dear Mitt used to work for…

…and the left takes the bait.

On Sunday, Labour List published a post by the Labour Student hack Connor Pope extolling the leftist credentials of the Caped Crusader, to whit;

He uses his great corporate wealth to fight crime, rather than amassing more wealth for its own sake.

Unlike Superman, Green Lantern et al, he has no special powers, just a cave full of gizmos.

He is quite a nice, though haunted, chap.

err, that’s it.

The post is followed by an ever increasing comment thread, as lefties and comic book nerds (the two groups being by no means mutually exclusive) sling fairly polite but meaningless nonsense at each other. This, like much of the Culture Wars of the 1970s and 80s, is besides the point, and also possibly a dangerous cul-de-sac to be driving down in Austerity Times.

For the record, I have enjoyed both the Burton and Nolan Batman films for what they are – escapism and nothing more. In fact, when comedian Reginald D Hunter described Batman back in 2008 as a rich dude who combats street level crime, whilst ignoring corporate criminals, I really see his point, although in the case of such a “Golden Age” comic hero, maybe he misses the point a bit…

In truth, since the 1970s, comics have produced a whole host of left-slanted stories and heroes to follow on both sides of the Atlantic. After cutting my teeth on the Beano, that home of militant feminism (“Minnie the Minx”), proto-Trades Unionism (“The Bash Street Kids”) and sheer joyous anarchic rebellion (“Dennis the Menace”), I moved on, like many boys of my generation top that other childhood staple, the War comic.

Its hard to imagine now, but in the post war years, there were a cornucopia of these – Valiant, Victor, Battle, and the Commando War Library (we could also buy pretty realistic guns firing caps and plastic bullets – all the better to act out our fantasies in the back gardens and parks). Not only did we have these, but pretty much every Sunday afternoon there would be a war movie – Dambusters, The Longest Day, Angels One-Five, Zulu … the list was seemingly endless, with seasonal variations (the Christmas war movie would be Where Eagles Dare or Heroes of Telemark – because they were set in the snow…).

My favourite was Battle, which weekly featured the memorable stories of “Charlies War” – set in the Great War, this had a recurring anti-war theme. Officers were generally heartless toffs, the (graphic) slaughter was portrayed as meaningless, and the hero, Charlie, was an East-End boy who came from grim poverty. Another hero, although I think he may have been in Victor, was Johnny Red – a WW2 RAF pilot fighting with the Red Air Force in the USSR. Naturally, almost every German was a Nazi, every Japanese was a fanatic (“Banzai! AAAIIIEE!!!!), and the Italians were comical. Plucky Brits died mouthing the words “Bought it Tommy…”, and Americans chewed cigars… Even in the 1970s it seems, the Henty-ish picture of the outside world that Orwell wrote about still held sway.

… yet there were, as I have stated, significant rebellions from the normal stereotypes. Being British products, the class war did creep in…

Later on, I graduated to 2000AD and its great left wing satire on the consumerist police state of the future – Judge Dredd, who’s very name came from a Ska protest song. In the Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha you had a critique of racism, Skizz, where the enemy was an Apartheid-era South African scientist, all these and more were, if not avowedly socialist, certainly to the left of the standard comic book. In the early nineties, even the venerable, conservative Eagle got in on the act, and Crisis published a revisionist, anti-Thatcher Dan Dare storyline…

The work of Alan Moore, Wagner, Grant, Morrison and of course Hewlett and Milligan has been, and continues to be subversive – both of the genre and often of society in general, and their influence has spread…

The Dark Horse Aliens Comics have provided much better sequels to the first two films than Hollywood, often dripping with bile against corporate culture.

So, I think that to debate the merits of one classic hero in the context of politics is kinda pointless. After all, while the left was busy fighting and winning the culture wars of the past fifty years, we were also busy losing the far more important economic one. Perhaps it is time to reverse this?

 

 

The Return of Mr C

It seems that 2012 is the year of Olympic Omnishambles for the Coalition, and it keeps on coming.

Yesterday James Murdoch exploded a truth bomb at the Leveson Inquiry, and Vince Cable found out exactly how he was shafted, apparently by not only Jeremy (C)Hunt, but also George Osborne, David Cameron and Alex Salmond, to name but three.

It is highly likely that Jeremy will not be Culture Secretary for much longer. Yet it must not stop there, the documents implicate both George Osborne  and his advisor in secretly lobbying on behalf of News International, and against his own Cabinet colleague. Alex Salmond also rallied to the Murdoch standard, and unsurprisingly the Scottish edition of The Sun backs the SNP slavishly.

Many would also like to know the name of the “Libdem MP, a former Sky employee” mentioned as also lobbying for his former masters. I bet it isn’t Simon Hughes, but apart from that, all bets are off…

Throughout this scandal, Ed Miliband has played his hand well, acting on principle as well as with good instincts. His backing of Tom Watson does him and The Labour Party credit. He compares very favourably with, say the Mayor of London, who firstly called the hacking allegations “a Labour plot”, and has consistently sought to downgrade Operation Weeting and the associated corruption investigations. He and Kit Malthouse have behaved with naked self interest throughout.

One Cheer for Downton Abbey on Ice

Well, one thing about enforced idleness, you get to catch up on the telly. Thanks to a nasty manager in my un-unionised industry, I presently have more time on my hands than I need. So, after watching all of Downton Abbey  in between job applications, I have been watching Julian Fellowes’ latest opus – “Titanic”. Tactfully released (along with the needless 3D version of that film) to coincide with the centenary of the disaster, and in no way a transatlantic cash-in…

Fans of period drama, and of  Mr Fellowes, will be relieved to find that his portentous dialogue is still there, the much sought after period detail (Churchill growls his lines to an officer of the Scots Guards after the Sidney Street Siege), and that the romance of country house living survives – this is still, as Nick Cohen has already noted of Downton, “MTV for Tories”. Fellowes is on record as saying that he wanted to do something different as compared to “A Night to Remember” and other celluloid versions, or Beryl Bainbridges excellent “Every Man for Himself”. He claimed that the previous dramas had focused too much on the upper classes or plebs, and not enough on those he regards as his people – the middle classes.

It may be instructive to know what Mr Fellowes believes the “middle class” is, for his background and upbringing place him far above, say, the average wage earner. It may be better to say that he comes from the “lower-upper class”, as George Orwell described himself as “lower-upper-middle class”. The Fellowes’ are part of that gang that used to be called the yeomanry – not quite aristocrats, but not on their uppers either. Rather let us say that whilst being servants of the true masters, they were also truly masters of servants themselves.  

His middle class is very wide indeed, which fits into most modern british class definitions, including self-definition. This perhaps is why he is so successful, for his country house writings do seem to find a wide audience that can identify with his characters. It allows him to create sympathetic characters such as an Irish Catholic engineer, escaping the hardship and discrimination of Belfast for example. There are some problems at the top, of course, but in general, officers are decent sorts, as are the better sort of bourgeois. Snobbery is highlighted and condemned, yet there is a nasty taste at the end of all of this.

In “Gosford Park”, his first massive hit, Mr Fellowes had the luxury of setting all of the action in one location – the great house. This allowed the author to create his own self-contained society – one which he clearly feels is ideal. in the first series of Downton this theme was expanded upon at length. The lower orders know their place, the Lord is kindly and compassionate, loyalty is a two way street. Suitably enlightened middle class types can be co-opted if they wish – it really is bright and beautiful – provided that the poor man stays at the gate. 

Yet this outwardly paternalistic vision of an idealised Edwardian world shows glimpses of Mr Fellowes’ real conservative prejudices when the Suffragette Lady Sybil attends an election hustings. She is injured in a violent clash with working class toughs who violently object to the pro female suffrage candidate. Mr Fellowes, like all good members of his middle class, has an undisguised fear and hatred of the industrial workers. In the first episode of “Titanic”, in the very first scene, it established beyond any doubt that discrimination against Catholics in Belfast is caused by – you guessed it – working class protestants. The owner of Harland and Wolff Shipyards can state with no contrary evidence that he is an egalitarian employer as regards to religion – flying in the face of historical evidence. This is where we see the pernicious attempt by jolly good Fellowes to rewrite history to suit the modern Conservative Party. And he does this on a scale that is only matched by Boris Johnson in its infamy. It seems that from an early age the young Julian was taught that, as Orwell puts it, “the working classes smell”.

Let us lay his awful prejudices to rest. It is true that workers no doubt did rough-up Suffragettes, as did the police, and Oxbridge students of the Bullingdon type. They were encouraged and led in this campaign of intimidation by the Tories, who mobilised the very worst dregs they could find to physically attack these brave women and their male supporters- especially those from the Independent Labour Party, such as Kier Hardy, MacDonald and the later murdered Grayson. A mainstay of the Suffrage movement were the socialist women, such as Annie Besant and Christabel Pankhurst.

Far far worse is his depiction of the Belfast working class. Modern Conservatives have sought to ignore the “Unionist” in their party name, and to pretend that they had nothing to do with the heightening of sectarian violence across Ireland before 1914. Yet it was they who encouraged the slogan “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right” against the Home Rule Bill. The Tories went so far as to applaud and back the mutiny of serving protestant Army officers at Curragh, bringing Britain to the brink of Civil War. They called for the harshest penalties for Trades Unionists, yet clemency for a potential armed rebellion against an elected government. This is a matter of historical record. Their financial backers in Belfast also armed the UVF with smuggled german rifles.

In point of fact, the great 1907 Belfast Dock Strike showed a glimpse of a non-sectarian future. The strike, mainly protestant led, was solid in both East and West Belfast, and provided the unheard of spectacle of 12th July rallies where mass meetings and marches from working class districts denounced the religious divide. Even the Police mutinied against guarding blacklegs, but I doubt that dear Julian would have anything but revulsion for this. It inspired Jim Larkin and James Connolly, as well as the founding of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union a year later. Those unwashed plebs, the mob that Fellowes so fears, were the real hope of a better life for all, yet he casually, almost nonchalantly slanders a whole people, a whole class.

Period drama can, and has been better than this. Lets hope that The Boat can come in again soon…

I Told You This Would Not Go Away…

Its been quite some time since I last posted, and I was considering stopping altogether. Yet with the News International phone hacking scandal  involving such a variety of the, ahem, “Great and the Good”, i just thought I would leave one post more…

So, Rebekah Brooks, having been arrested, will probably be able to dodge any awkward questions in Parliament, presuming that she is at liberty to attend either the Culture or Home Office Select Committees.

The head of The Met has lost his job, though not his pension, nor his Knighthood. Boris, of course, is waffling as only a former grub street hack can. Lets not forget that during his tenure as editor of The Spectator, he honed his investigative talents by getting old buffers drunk at lunchtime and publishing the results.

His refusal to apologise for calling the allegations against The News of the world “politically motivated codswallop” speaks volumes. He has managed in a trice to rehabilitate the image of Ken Livingstone in the eyes of those concerned by just how close the media and politicians are. Even John Prescott has been vindicated across the land…

And Ed… so far, the boy has done very well indeed. We now need o broaden the attack to include all those grubby little “special interest” cliques that dominate our public life.

My own experience of the Murdoch Empire is very slight, firstly my Great uncle Rab was father of Chapel when the Digger first bought The Sun. An upright, staunchly anti-graft FoC (he started when The Sun had been owned by the TUC as The Daily Herald), he was a bit of a rarity on Fleet Street in those days – honest, soft spoken and non-swearing. the family tale is that after twenty minutes with Rupert, he threw an inkwell at the wall and pronounced “for all the good you’ll do you might as well f@** off back to Australia”. Today, in heaven, Rab is doing a merry jig.

Secondly, a few years ago I was working in a bar near to Westminster, when a tallish grey haired man walked in, requesting our back room for himself and his colleagues. It was a quiet day, so no problem, and around six or seven suited men and women duly filed in, ordering some sandwiches and coffees for what was evidently a working lunch. All was duly prepaered and served, to the satisfaction of the party, and as they made to leave, the bill was presented.

Grey-Hair came up to the bar, disdain dripping from his very visage. He demanded that the bill be halved. When it was politely pointed out that he had seen the menu and prices before he ordered, his air of peevishness intensified, and he produced his business card. Sadly, its not one I have kept, although I seem to remember it did say “News International” at the top, and seem to recall the words “Legal Department”, or something to that effect, on it. The upshot was that I, to my eternal shame, caved in and reduced the bill and this upright example of our fine legal tradition got what he wanted.

Sadly, no names, no pack drill, but I was reminded of this with the exit  of the two top legal officers in Wapping last week, with generous payouts, that some might speculate could be seen as hush money. It also reinforced to me the utter contempt that those who work in News International and NewsCorp have for those of us not lucky enough to do the same.

Instead of offering unwanted advice to Tom Watson et al, all I can do is congratulate them for what they are doing on behalf of us all.

There are just some of the questions that we need answers to, to whit:

  • Just when did News International start paying The Metropolitan Police for information?
  • Where was this money stated in the accounts?
  • How stupid would a Policeman have to be to believe that £1,000 was all he could get for information on confidential Royal phone numbers? ( I would have held out for at least £10,000)
  • Will any Police, either serving or retired, who are fingered in the ongoing investigation lose their pension?
  • Just how many times in the past two years has Mayor Boris Johnson met with  the Murdoch family, employees of News International, and in the case of Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charles ( an old Etonian who was at school with Boris and David Cameron)?
  • The same question for both David Cameron and George Osborne, who recruited Andy Coulson to the Conservatives in 2007.
  • How deep are the links between News international and Robert Peston, who seems to get a staggering number of inside “scoops” here? 
  • If you have to spend a Christmas dinner with Rebekah Brooks, what do you talk about?
  • What does Inspector Gadget think about all this? Worried that that elusive Sky serialisation will disappear?

So, Are Miles and Anna Zombies Too??? (I Hope So…)

“Zombiegasm!” A freshly-minted word to describe the after effects of watching the pilot episode of “The Walking Dead”  last night. Tense, well adapted, underplayed. Everything you want from the Zombie Apocalypse. And it got me thinking about the politics of horror – especially our cadaverous selves, reanimated.

With honourable exceptions, such as True Blood and Matt Haig’s “The Radleys”, those other horror staples, the Vampire and the Werewolf are in most cases deeply conservative. Vampires tend to hark back to ancient aristocracy, and are almost always rich and seductive – glamourous in the original sense. If any social context enters the story, generally it has much more to do with disease, sexuality or social contagion from the “other”. Indeed, most Gothic literature, Mary Shelley aside, is pretty conservative in tone – castles, banshees, eternal truths, decay and corruption – sounds like a typical Tory manifesto…

Werewolves likewise are generally seen as simply a throwback to our primeval past – bloodlust and a lack of control. It is almost as if Rousseau’s “back to nature” philosophy  comes horribly to life in the form of the Wolfman, after reading a little bit of Heidegger.

However, the modern Zombie of cinema, graphic novel and now small-screen, is a different kettle of entrails altogether…

Although the folkloric Zombie has existed for centuries, and the film “The White Zombie” was made in 1935, the modern Zombie craze started in 1968, with George A Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. Now a much loved black and white classic, audiences were treated to something new in Horror ( and indeed in other) movies – a powerful black hero. This was the year that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were murdered. The year that the world first heard of The Black Panther Party, the year of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. This was on purpose, and Romero’s tragic ending, with the hero gunned down by rednecks was an indictment of how he saw US society and its racial divisions at that point.

Since this first film the gore quota has been upped to meet demand from an increasingly jaded public, yet liberal, and even anti-capitalist themes litter the genre. From “Dawn of The Dead” with its Zombie Mall to “Day of The Dead” with its critique of corporate America and class society, politics has been present in a way that many other mass-market films shun.

Both the excellent “28 Days Later” and its sequel “28 Weeks Later” actively promote a political vision of todays society, with swipes at genetic engineering and the Iraq Occupation. Even the much loved zom-rom-com “Shaun of The Dead” hits on something when we see the two lead male characters so out of touch with current events that they do not realise the apocalypse is upon them.

Both the low-budget Brit Flic “Zombie Diaries” and Romero’s own “Diary of The Dead” pass powerful comment upon the information age and its incessant blather – to paraphrase Gil Scott Heron, the Apocalypse will be live, it seems…

In “Day”, for once there seems to be not strong black character – until you realise that the leader of the Zombies, who can seemingly think and operate machinery, is black.

In Resident Evil, besides the gratuitous shots of Mila Jojovich, there is the Umbrella Corporation, behind all the evil that is visited upon our world.

The 1980s “Re-Animator” was staunchly opposed to the regime of “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, and made no bones (pun intended) about it.

Further than this, who are the Zombies? Why, they are us aren’t they? The contagion is no respecter of sex,class, privilege or race. To escape or defeat the infestation, we will have to co-operate (even the mighty Mila). Individualism, rugged or otherwise tends to lead to death, authority is often portrayed as corrupt or powerless. The heroes are for the most part ordinary men and women, not super heroes or grandstanding leaders. The rich seldom find comfort or security in their wealth. Selfishness is punished.

The flip-side of this is the latent fear of “the mob”, one which liberals worldwide have, and in a Zombie horde, I suppose they see their worst nightmare of Democracy – unthinking consumers, intent on only one thing, oblivious to their own decay.   But this is outwheighed by the other portrayals and themes outlined above.

Possibly the finest exploration of this and other themes comes in Max Brooks’ “World War Z – an oral history”. This is both a homage to and parody of the Studs Terkel oral history style books. It also posits some very interesting ideas as to how humanity might survive such a holocaust, if at all…

So double-lock the doors, sit back and enjoy – Its The End Of The World As We Know It – Do you feel fine?


Egg And Zombies Anyone???

Much excitement in the Clem household tonight as we await the first episode of “The Walking Dead” on Channel Five…

Andrew Lincoln (Egg from “This Life”) has joined the burgeoning ranks of Brit talent wowing U.S audiences on the small screen – House, True Blood, Lost – it seems that we can finally “do” American accents as well as act our socks off…

Well, will finish this much later, after episode one, and I will discuss the politics of the end of civilisation…

Plus Ca Change…

I have been reading Les Miserables for the first time recently. Which is odd, as Lady P could tell you about the strange obsession I have with the cheesy musical when drunk, and the stature of Victor Hugo as a writer commends it straight away…

… possibly, like many of those classic books you meant to read sometime, it just slipped my mind. So far, it is simply phenomenal, and I just wanted to quote a little passage that seems to apply now as it did when first published;

“…success is an ugly thing. Men are deceived by its false resemblances to merit. To the crowd, success wears almost the features of true mastery, and the greatest dupe of this counterfeit talent is History. Juvenal and Tacitus alone mistrust it. In these days an almost official philosophy has come to dwell in the house of Success, wear its livery, receive its callers in its ante-chamber. Success in principle and for its own sake. Prosperity presupposes ability. Win a lottery prize and you are a clever man. Winners are adulated …

…they call a painted face beauty and a richly attired figure majesty.They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star shaped footprints of a duck in the mud.”

Les Miserables,Part One, Book One, Chapter Twelve. Victor Hugo 1862

If you haven’t read this novel, then I should point out that that this first book deals with “An upright man” – the Bishop of Digne, an honest, modest, thoughtful Christian Gentleman, pivotal to the story. In these chapters, Hugo expounds upon the difference between being successful in this world, and being good. In his view, it is the latter that should be lauded to the skies. It is a refreshing change from our own mainstream media today, imagine the pages of Hello filled with genuinely good people… not easy is it?

Hmm, step forward Sir Philip Green, Simon Cowell, David Cameron, Boris Johnson et al – you were first identified back in 1862. By a Frenchman who was spurned by his countries’ literary establishment, but loved by the people.

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