Critical Social Theory and Cultural Commentary

Friday, 24 December 2010

Fück Christmas

Let us all join with Richard Dawkins at this festive time of year as he highlights the inherent violence of the Christian message. We are all stained with sin therefore god must send his son down to brutally sacrifice himself in order to forgive us. Yay. Humbug!

Image shamelessly lifted from B3ta.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Cablegate (lol)

The Vince Cable affair raises some interesting issues both in terms of the way today’s revelations emerged and more broadly the substance of the News Corp-BSkyB takeover deal, as well as Vince Cable’s place in government over the past few months. The Telegraph had clearly got no intention of publishing the complete record of Cables' comments with its' reporters, given its antipathy towards the afore mentioned deal, and so it therefore fell on the BBCs' Robert Peston, aided by a whistleblower, to swing the metaphorical axe. I imagine the BBC may live to regret this given the now near certainty of the deal being finalised. But, then again, maybe this is not all that surprising given recent comments by the BBC director general Mark Thompson, saying that Britain needs a channel like Fox News! And likewise, this stinks to high-heaven of Peston, a former Sunday Telegraph editor, 'getting one over' his old bosses. Whilst I'm certainly not in favour of secrecy in general I'd be very much inclined to side with the current Telegraph editors on this one. Given the moral outrage we've seen from the Murdoch Media Empire directed towards Wikileaks and Julian Assange in the past few weeks, it would certainly be difficult to have much if any sympathy if the Telegraph had manage to cover the story up. However, there is more to this story. Although Cable has survived with his job for the time being, the consensus is that this is unlikely to last much into the new year, with friend of the Tories, David Laws slated for a return. One can clearly see in the comments that Cable made to the Telegraph's reporters - whom he thought were constituency members - a clear moral unease and insecurity in the role he has played in the coalition. It has been no secret that Cable has never been the most trenchant supporter of government policy within the Cabinet, and he sought to justify his continued position there to the journalists, talking about 'picking his fights' and saying 'all we can do in opposition is protest'. He likewise talked about Cameron's secret plans to abolish winter fuel allowance, insinuating that he was fighting a valuable rearguard action behind enemy lines. Whilst this may have been the case to an extent one can't help but wonder whether any of this was really necessary in the first place for Mr Cable. He could have stopped this coalition government before it ever got off the ground, and that was definitely the opportune moment... before the juggernaut had started rolling. When he finally loses his job to the neo-liberal Laws, Cable, I imagine, will ask himself whether it was really worth compromising his principles in the first place (surely they're only good as long as they are adhered to, no?) Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end for the coalition, and he'll end up leading a backbench rebellion of Lib Dem MPs, but I think Cable may well have overestimated the influence he actually has. His own influence in government seems to have been increasingly marginalised, and its questionable whether he is really willing to lead a Lib Dem revolt, or even whether the Lib Dem backbenches have any stomach for the fight. Government patronage, with the prospect of a place on the front benches may be too much for many of them. As for the takeover deal itself I find it particularly galling how the European Commission can be so hostile towards Google yet see nothing wrong with Murdoch's dominance of news media in the UK. I think many people on the Left will likely echo my own position that its difficult to have a whole lot of sympathy with the position Cable has put himself in, having kept schtum during the past few months. Whilst I'd relish a 'war' on Murdoch this clearly isn't going to happen any time soon, and although I'd like some positive spin-off from this whole saga, unfortunately the position of the government seems like it may well have been strengthened here. We all know what a government united in its neo-liberal fervour and backed by a strengthened Murdoch Media Empire is likely to entail for the rest of us.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Follow the Money

'Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama', Jane Mayer
Writing for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer has written a fascinating article describing how funding by Charles and David Koch has been used to promote the Tea Party movement, and deny climate change whilst obstructing pollution control and public health measures in the United States. Mayer points out the irony of Tea Party rhetoric that is directed against 'special interests' in Washington whilst in reality being directed by the mother of all corporate 'special interest' lobbying/financing campaigns (read 'corruption'). Koch industries, controlled by two of the richest men in America, the Koch brothers Charles and David (they kicked their other brothers Freddie and William off the board), has funded numerous think tanks and foundations supposedly offering neutral and impartial policy advice. Rather conflicts of interest have been their modus of operandi writ large, advancing their companies' profit margins above all else. Koch industries has been prosecuted and fined for numerous pollution offences and the robbery of Indian oil - after which they set their private investigators on members of a Congressional Committee - whilst perhaps most worryingly of all, their money seems to have had a very real effect in undermining public confidence in climate change science. Thus, there should be no doubt in any persons' mind as to who is really behind and benefitting from the undermining of serious attention to problems of climate change and conservation; the rich and powerful! I struggle to understand how anyone can care so little about the natural environment of this planet, and its amazing diversity of life. No amount of money could ever make me not give a shit about this planet. It also gets me that the only proposal our planet has for tackling climate change is 'carbon trading' with the creation of another bullshit market. WTF?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Berlusconi and Media Asymmetry

Silvio Berlusconi... the man is a caricature of himself, a stereotype of the reactionary, robber-baron, arch-bastard villain of the left. His hero is Napoleon Bonaparte (yes, he even bought his bed), he's been involved in just about every scandal and gaffe possible, yet still managed to hold on to power thanks in no small part to his control of the country's media and judiciary, as well as 'allegedly' buying off the legislature in this weeks crucial vote, after his own followers had finally grown sick of his antics. His chosen tactic of survival at present involves picking off (some would dare say 'buying') members of opposition parties and attempting to co-opt them into his government, whilst appealing to the need for 'strong government' to remedy the economic instability that the PM and his cronies have helped create; benefitting as ever from the chaos that the Italian electoral system throws up. Whilst the outside world seems to have a morbid fascination in seeing just how long he can actually last in the face of mounting popular revulsion towards him, the reality for Italians (and 'others' living in Italy) is very different. Italian politics is portrayed by the rest of the world's media as a joke and decidedly inferior due to the inherent character flaws of the Italian male, exemplified by Berlusconi. Thankfully, they got some revenge when a twitter feed being displayed on giant TV screens at the EU summit in Brussels was hijacked today, with 'tweets' of abuse from Italian users labelling him a 'Mafioso' and a 'Paedophile'. In an environment when politicians and businessmen seem to be increasingly impervious to any kind of rational criticism it pays to remind them just how we really feel, and make their lives as uncomfortable as possible, something that established media are unable and unwilling to do given their corporate ties. It therefore falls to forms of new media to provide a tool with which an alternative political discourse can be disseminated. Of course what I have in mind hear is something a little more high-brow than simply throwing abuse at Berlusconi, as fun as that may be. The video below by David Harvey is the best example I've come across of a new media presentation that seeks to portray a complex political message (the financial crisis and Marxist critique of capitalism) in an accessible and easy to understand manner.

N.B: For anyone interested further in the Berlusconi phenomenon, here's a recording of an interesting lecture by Stephen Gundle called, 'Berlusconi in Historical Perspective'.