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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Film Culture and the Spending Review on APEngine

The people at the marvellous APEngine have published an article of mine on film culture and the spending review, available here. Check out the rest of the site - great stuff.

Official News Sources and Citizen Journalists

Met Forced to Admit Mounted Police Charged Protesters at Wednesday's Anti-Cuts Demo

Scotland Yard has been forced to retract its statement about the use of mounted police charges during Wednesday's anti-Higher Education cuts demonstration. As reported in the Guardian, on Thursday a Met spokesperson categorically stated that "Police horses were involved in the operation, but that didn't involve charging the crowd."

Since then footage shot by a protester has surfaced that clearly shows mounted police charging without warning into a crowd containing school children, at least two mothers who had come to collect children and a pregnant woman.



Somehow the mainstream media managed to miss this and the other mounted police charge.

Citizen Journalists and Agenda Setting

Coming off the back of the citizen journalist footage that forced the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate whether the Met had misled the public over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in April last year, this highlights the value to protesters of on-scene video. After Ian Tomlinson was attacked by a policeman on his way home from work 'anonymous sources', 'eye-witnesses' and police sources were employed to set the agenda in the right-wing press. Sky News, for example: "Police said they were pelted with missiles believed to include bottles as they tried to save his life." Or this headline from the Evening Standard (now mysteriously disappeared from their website, captured here):

 
Without the video shot by protesters that clearly showed a police officer beating Tomlinson before pushing him to the ground this may have remained the accepted truth of the events that led to his death.

This demonstrates the power of authorities, including the police, to set the agenda in the mainstream media's reporting of events, as campaigning journalist Heather Brooke discusses in relation to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the video below. 



Activist video and citizen journalism clearly has an increasing role to play in the countering of this sort of information control by authorities and institutions. Techniques first developed during the anti-road protest and environmental movements of the 1990s (see here from page 81, for example) are now, through mobile video technology, available to greater numbers of people and have been successful in shifting the public discourse about the policing of demonstrations, to a certain extent.

Viva Camcordistas!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

And now, the news from a parallel universe...

Simon Cowell wins award for his contribution to culture and humanity.



"Cowell received the International Emmy Founders Award for 'significant achievements in television that cross cultural boundaries and contribute to our common humanity.'"

This must be the same universe where Blair is a peace envoy and Obama a Nobel Prize winner.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Cultural Shock Doctrine Round-up

A round-up of news on cultural funding post-Spending Review 

1. How do you define 'front line' services in the arts? 

Charlotte Higgins' made a great speech at the Paul Hamlyn foundation awards for artists and composers. Here is an abridged version: 

The great artistic achievements of this country don't start in our rightly celebrated national institutions – the Royal Opera House or the National Theatre or Tate Modern. They start in bedrooms in Bradford and garrets in Glasgow and classrooms in Coventry. They start in grubby student accommodation and after-school clubs and through the energy of surprising and inspiring teachers. People become artists because of a complicated web of interconnecting threads. What happens in your school is hugely important. What happens in your university or conservatoire or art school is hugely important – and we are hearing terrible intimations of what might happen to funding for the arts in higher education. What happens in your town – the local museum, the library, the theatre – is hugely important. Our Government is happy to celebrate our great national institutions but it needs to protect the delicate network that supports them. It needs to provide the solid framework around which enlightened philanthropy can work.

Talking of the spending review... Well, George Osborne's announcing a cut of 15% to the arts really was quite breathtaking, wasn't it – when the actual cut to Arts Council England's budget was 30%. Jeremy Hunt promised us fresh ideas as culture secretary, but I don't think anyone anticipated an idea as creative as this: a completely new way of describing the national arts budget that no one had ever thought up before.

So: Arts Council England is going to be cut by an overall 30%, but Jeremy Hunt has asked them to pass on cuts of only 15% to the "front line".

Asked to define "front line", Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, said that the organisations that the Arts Council regularly funds are "front line" and everything else is not.

According to that definition, the funding that supports national touring for opera and art shows is not "front line". A scheme that offers parents interest-free loans to buy musical instruments for their children is not "front line". Manchester international festival, which has commissioned artists such as Jeremy Deller, Steve McQueen and Joe Duddell is not front line.

As Higgins has argued in another article, "These cuts within higher education cannot be seen in isolation from those to culture in general: to museums, to the theatres, orchestras and other arts organisations up and down the land and to local authority cultural budgets."

2. Boris and Cumberbatch get in on the action

An article in the Evening Standard details Boris Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch's warnings that private sponsorship will not make up for the massive cuts in cultural budgets. Indeed, they actually fell by 8% last year, apparently.

(Johnson worried enough about re-election to have momentary memory laspes that he is a Tory?)

3. Where will the next generation of artists come from? Not from Somerset.

Tory Shire cuts 100% of its arts subsidy. Somerset council voted to end £160,000 of direct grants to 10 organisations, including theatres and a film production company, as part of a £43m programme of cuts across the services.

Charlie Dearden, director of Bridgwater Arts Centre, said 25,000 people were participating in arts and media projects in the county of Somerset, half of them located in deprived areas.

4. And the winner is...

According to the Mail (and reported in BFI Watch) the Government has announced that what remains of the UK FIlm Council's responsibilities to fund film in the UK will be transferred to the British Film Institute.

I'm not sure what to make of this last one yet. It effectively puts institutionalised film policy back where it was before all this Film Council nonsense. But it seems unlikely that this will result in a return to the days of the Production Board. The wider situation has changed - not least because of National Lottery funding. The BFI has changed too. So how will it cope?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Who Are the Thugs?

Montagu’s Daughter would like to publicly condemn the behaviour of a small minority of anti-social yobs. The actions of these thugs do not represent the wishes of the vast majority of people in this country. It is a shame that these outside agitators have managed to hijack the democratic process for their own ends.


Let's hope that the media will not be distracted from focussing on the real issues.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Broadcasting and Union Struggle: A History in Video

The Battle of the BBC

Other people have blogged on the current industrial action by NUJ members defending their pensions against the BBC management retirement raiders. The Worker’s United has a short commentary here and I would also recommend this one on A Very Public Sociologist in which you can get a list of celebrity scabs.

For my part, the current dispute has prompted some thoughts about the history of trade unionism in the media. Firstly, BECTU is sitting this one out which is a big loss – it has a history of relative militancy in the film and TV sector. One of its predecessors, the ACTT, was at the forefront of industrial struggle in the 1970s. In 1973 they commissioned a report, written by Simon Hartog, detailing plans for the nationalisation of the film industry (which can be accessed from this page, if you’re interested). In 1975 the ACTT commissioned Patterns of Discrimination, the first ever trade union report into sexual discrimination in the workplace, and appointed a full-time women’s equality officer. They were responsible for shutting down much of the ITV network for ten weeks in 1979 – what Glen Aylett calls the “granddaddy of television strikes”. They were also central in negotiating the now defunct Workshop Declaration in the 1980s, which for my money is a landmark model for progressive film-making (Amber Films – the only workshop to survive from that era – have details here). While it was never widely adopted, for those lucky enough to work under it the Declaration provided what are now almost unimaginable opportunities for lefties, women, members of ethnic minorities to make films that represented their interests and visions as opposed to the perceived needs of the ‘market’. 

If broadcasting trade unions have been at the front of progressive union policy, the broadcast sector as a whole has been at the front of neoliberal restructuring. Trade union membership in the film and television industries, as in trade union membership more generally, is less than half of what it was 30 years ago. In fact, the audio-visual industries are seen by some commentators as exemplary of the trajectory towards de-unionisation and the attendant casualisation that has characterised the neo-liberalisation of industrial economies since the late-1970s (see here, for example). If that is the case then the current dispute has ramifications for more than the pensions of BBC workers.

And now a look at some past struggles.

A Random History of Trade Unionism in the Media in Video Format 

Report on current industrial action:



BBC One Strike, 1994:



ITV Strike, 1979:



And finally, Wapping Lies, a video on the Battle of Wapping in 1986. This lesson from history precedes Murdoch’s integration into the fabric of the British economy, British politics and British culture. It demonstrates the sort of issues that are at stake at the current time with downward pressure on the pay and conditions in the public sector part of creeping privatisation. As David Puttnam recently argued, it is Murdoch's control over the British media - not the BBC - that is “chilling”.



Here’s hoping the NUJ do better this time around.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Film Policy in the UK and the Spending Review: The Cultural-Shock Doctrine in Action?

The Spending Review and Film

In one of the first posts on this blog I speculated as to whether the closure of the UK Film Council would signal a return to the dark days of the 1980s and the almost complete collapse of British film production. As I said then, the devil is in the detail: how much will overall subsidy be reduced, how will it be distributed? The details of the cuts made to public subsidy for film in the UK are now emerging. What do these suggest?

Cuts or Restructuring?

The following article in Screen Daily outlines the cuts, reproduced via BFI Watch:

film-sector funding outside Lottery funds and the British Film Institute (BFI) has been slashed by over 50% . . .

. . . the annual grant-in-aid budget for film in each of the next four years will be around £18.618m, down from £23.9m in the year 2010/11. After counting the BFI’s newly reduced annual budget, that leaves just £4.655m for all other film activities (excluding Lottery development/production funding which the government has pledged to maintain at current levels). That £4.655m will have to cover:

• inward investment and the work of the British Film Commissioner
• National and regional screen agencies
• research and statistics
• film exports
• certification (assessing which films qualify as British and are therefore eligible for Lottery funding and/or UK Film Tax Relief)
• diversity initiatives
• anti-piracy initiatives
• co-production support
• The UK MEDIA Desk activities
• Sponsorship of work such as The UK Film Centre at Cannes

Cuts had been anticipated but the 50% figure for non-BFI and non-Lottery funding is a stiff reduction and confirms the fear of many in the industry that, while Lottery funding and the tax certification are safe, other areas of the film business will suffer . . .

. . . Meanwhile regional screen agencies are anticipating a cut in funding along the same 15% lines as the BFI.

So these are big cuts, disproportionately placed on certain parts of the subsidised film sector. The tax incentives designed to stimulate commercial feature film production and inward investment are maintained, along with Lottery funding for production. The main cuts are to come from the BFI and the Regional Screen Agencies. The Spending Review can be seen, therefore, as a restructuring exercise for film subsidy in the UK. We can understand it by looking at the structure of film subsidy during the New Labour period.

The Structure of Film Subsidy under New Labour

In the UK Film Council’s first major policy statement, ‘Towards a Sustainable Film Industry’, then Chairman Alan Parker described the UKFC’s strategy thus: "Essentially our intention is to use public money to make better, more popular and more profitable films in real partnership with the private sector, which drives our industry and largely creates our film culture." On the other hand, the “cultural role of the UK FILM COUNCIL has been largely delegated to the British Film Institute and its regional partners." (Here, page 1)

While the separation of industrial and cultural functions proved to be not as neat as Parker would have us think, this demonstrates the structural division between commercial subsidy – primarily via the tax incentive and lottery investment in production – and cultural subsidy – via the BFI and the Regional Screen Agencies – that characterised the New Labour period. As a DEMOS report put it: “The Government and the UK Film Council look to the RSAs to help capture the many facets of British communities”:

To encourage the growth of a sense of community and identity, to identify and empower under-represented and marginalised voices, give support for different forms of distribution, and ensure diversity of access and participation. (Here, pages 20 and 17)

In policy terms, the social and cultural objectives of film subsidy – community, identity, diversity, social inclusion – were placed onto the RSAs and the BFI. The extent to which the Regional Screen Agencies concerned themselves with social and cultural initiatives in practice is a bigger topic than I have space to discuss here, but it is undoubtedly true that they provided a badly-needed inroad to the industry for marginalised social groups. However imperfect they were, these aspects of film policy recognised the failure of the market to be representative of British social and cultural life. It is these sorts of initiatives that will be reduced. We’ve already seen Screen East, one of the Regional Screen Agencies, close (although the circumstances of this are unclear).

So while operators like Clint Eastwood, Dreamworks and Directors UK might be breathing a sigh of relief for the moment, this spells trouble for community film-makers in Leicester or Newcastle. In short, these cuts are not fair; like the more general attack on the welfare state of which they are a part they will disproportionally effect the poorer, more independent and vulnerable sections of the film sector. 

In the 1980s commercial subsidies – the Eady Levy in particular – were slashed leading to the almost complete collapse of commercial feature film production in this country. At the same time, cultural-film subsidy was maintained at a certain level, mostly through BFI Production. This produced some memorable, often oppositional films (My Beautiful Laundrette, Orlando, The Draughtsman’s Contract, Young Soul Rebels).

In this phase of neoliberal restructuring we appear to be witnessing the opposite strategy: the maintenance of subsidy to the commercial film sector at the same time as the withdrawal of state support for the cultural sector. This is the cultural-shock doctrine in action.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Spending Review 2010 and Cultural Funding Cuts

How badly has Cultural Funding been slashed in the Spending Review?

Museums and Galleries breathed a sigh of relief at cuts of 15% - and admission will remain free.  Similarly, the British Film Institute came in at 15% although this should be seen in the context of earlier cuts to promised, badly needed investment.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has had its budget cut by 24%.

Arts Council England has been particularly badly effected with its budget cut by nearly 30% over the next four years.  This is the top end of what was expected, but what will it mean in practice?  Clearly it is difficult to know at this stage.  As Nicholas Serota, the Director of the Tate, previewed in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago:

"A 10-15% cut in cash terms over four years would be a challenge of the kind that arts organisations regularly surmount; more than this will threaten the whole ecosystem, cutting off the green shoots with the dead wood, reducing the number of plays and exhibitions, discouraging innovation, risk and experiment and threatening the ability of organisations to earn or raise money for themselves."

According to Alan Davey, the Arts Council's Chief Executive, this will mean the end of at least 100 organisations.  That sounds like a conservative estimate to me.

Fair?

The Con-Dems ludicrous mantra is that the cuts are both neccessary and fair, or even 'progressive'.  The evidence does not bear this out.  For example, Jeremy-culture-vandal-Hunt has asked the Arts Council to attempt to limit cuts to its 850 Regularly Funded Organisations - big theatres, opera houses, that sort of thing - to no more than 15% meaning that the rest must be made up from cuts to administration and other programs.  Programs such as Creative Partnerships and Find Your Talent that focus on cultural provision children and young people from disadvantaged communities.  In the cultural sector, as in society more generally, the savage attack on the welfare state will affect the poor disproportionately, but at least the likes of George Osbourne will still be able to go to the opera.

I'll leave the final word to Ian Brown, West Yorkshire Playhouse artistic director:

“As a direct result of these government reductions there is the potential that a whole generation of people will lose out and be unable to enjoy the fruits of a complex and diverse cultural landscape. I strongly believe that these cuts will make no, or very little, impact on the UK’s deficit and that what we are looking at is a very conservative approach to subsidised arts funding.”

Conservative indeed.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

George Carlin Explains Political Economy

"They've got you by the balls"

This clip has been circulating the internet.  George Carlin explains political economy.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

No Pressure Backlash Roundup

A Selection of the More Interesting Responses to the 10:10 Campaign Video No Pressure

As a final follow-up to a number of previous posts (here, here, here), there's a selection of responses to the No Pressure film discussed in the Guardian, here.

Climate Safety has an interesting discussion of the failed tactics used in the film here. For example:

Of course, its easy to be critical of any attempt to engage the public with climate change – it is a formidable challenge finding the right way of encouraging people to embrace low-carbon lifestyles. But gradually, social scientists and climate change communicators are starting to piece together good evidence on how to effectively communicate climate change. The recent report by the Climate Change Communication Advisory Group (CCCAG), a network of climate communication academics and practitioners, set out seven principles for communicating climate change to mass audiences:

1. Move Beyond Social Marketing

2. Be honest and forthright about the probable impacts of climate change, and the scale of the challenge we confront in avoiding these. But avoid deliberate attempts to provoke fear or guilt.

3. Be honest and forthright about the impacts of mitigating and adapting to climate change for current lifestyles, and the ‘loss’ — as well as the benefits — that these will entail. Narratives that focus exclusively on the ‘up-side’ of climate solutions are likely to be unconvincing.

a. Avoid emphasis upon painless, easy steps.

b. Avoid over-emphasis on the economic opportunities that mitigating, and adapting to, climate change may provide.

c. Avoid emphasis upon the opportunities of ‘green consumerism’ as a response to climate change.

4. Empathise with the emotional responses that will be engendered by a forthright presentation of the probable impacts of climate change.

5. Promote pro-environmental social norms and harness the power of social networks

6. Think about the language you use, but don’t rely on language alone

7. Encourage public demonstrations of frustration at the limited pace of government action
 
Finally, in probably the best discussion of the film that I have read, Luna17 describes it as "perhaps the worst campaign video I've ever seen." Luna goes on:
 
The basic failure here is its perpetuating of the myth that reducing carbon emissions is primarily a matter of individual responsibility, thus depoliticising the whole issue of climate change as well as misrepresenting the reality of what drives it. There's no sense that some forces in society - the aviation industry, say, or oil mutinationals - might perhaps be disproportionately responsible.
 
What I find especially nauseating is that in a number of the examples it's the higher-status individual - teacher, boss - who is enlightened about climate change while its their 'inferiors' - pupils, workers - who are ignorant and irresponsible. It is deeply snobbish and reinforces the mistaken idea that the elite is already 'on board' with tackling climate change, but now ordinary people need to be similarly convinced. 
 
I couldn't have put it better myself.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

10:10 No Pressure Video: The Backlash

The Richard Curtis directed 10:10 campaign video No Pressure has prompted a furious backlash from climate change deniers.

Yesterday evening the 10:10 campaign issued the following statement:

Sorry.

Today we put up a mini-movie about 10:10 and climate change called 'No Pressure’.

With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain's leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis - writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill and many others – agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn't and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.

As a result of these concerns we've taken it off our website. We won't be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.

We'd like to thank the 50+ film professionals and 40+ actors and extras and who gave their time and equipment to the film for free. We greatly value your contributions and the tremendous enthusiasm and professionalism you brought to the project.

At 10:10 we're all about trying new and creative ways of getting people to take action on climate change. Unfortunately in this instance we missed the mark. Oh well, we live and learn.

Onwards and upwards,

Franny, Lizzie, Eugenie and the whole 10:10 team

Criticism

Montagu spent a bit of time this morning scouring the interweb to get a feel for the criticisms of the No Pressure film. The general line of argument is something like "eco-fascists want to explode CHILDREN who don't agree with them" which represents a massive sense of humour FAIL on a film that was clearly meant to be a joke. Rather than reproduce the more ludicrous criticisms here lets take what can possibly be defined as the more "sophisticated" end of the climate denier spectrum as an example.

James Delingpole is a climate change denier and occasional Telegraph journalist that has been described by George Monbiot as specialising in "ill-informed viciousness provided for free by trolls on comment threads everywhere, but raised by an order of magnitude."

Delingpole argues that "With No Pressure, the environmental movement has revealed the snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy beneath its cloak of gentle, bunny-hugging righteousness."

Snarling, wicked, homicidal misanthropy? The extent to which the criticisms of the film reveal the hysteria of climate change deniers is entirely predictable. More surprising is the speed at which the 10:10 campaign capitulated to this, clearly deciding that No Pressure had become a propaganda own-goal in the space of a few hours. This shows the effectiveness of the climate change deniers at setting the agenda in online discourse.

However, it may also reveal some of the limits of the 10:10 campaign: the attempt to package a message about climate action in a simple, acceptable, a-political way. Perhaps the speed at which the campaign had been taken up in the mainstream - celebrity endorsements, Sony, David Cameron and so on - had given them the confidence that they had their finger on the Zeitgeist? The No Pressure film itself has a simple message - everyone should do their bit - and packages it with a mixture of light-hearted shock and celebrity endorsement. The negative response - removing and, for a time, attempting to suppress the video - demonstrates how this tactic can run into problems, shying away from genuine conflict at the first sign. Maybe they should have stuck to their guns a bit more and given the film some time to reach the right people? Or maybe made a stronger political argument about the obstacles to climate change action? You are never going to persuade hysterical climate change deniers like Delingpole, a man who lists his "likes" on his blog as "Margaret Thatcher; Ronald Reagan; English tradition; the American Way". I'd suggest exploding him.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Franny Armstrong's No Pressure Video and Climate Change Activism

Richard Curtis has made a short video to publicise the upcoming 10:10 campaign initiative.



Nice.

A previous post discussed the radical potential of the 10:10 campaign.  This video makes an interesting follow-up. It is a series of short-sharp-shock films that appear to be custom designed for distribution through social networks as an internet meme. They come with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Gillian Anderson, David Ginola and Tottenham Hotspur ("The first football club to sign up") and present a simple, clear message about reducing carbon emissions through activities like cycling, changing light bulbs and insulation.

In this way it is a good example of one of the current trends in media activism. This focusses not on addressing systemic barriers to climate change solutions, but on individual activity. It does nothing to create strong ties between activists as part of a grassroots movement (one of the stated aims of the 10:10 campaign), but instead relies on weak ties generated through social networking. Further, in adopting the established conventions of commercial advertising and integrating itself with celebrity culture, the radical potential of such campaigns are blunted - and radical campaigns are surely what are needed. In this way it is exactly what Micah White was criticising in the previous post - "To increase click rate, they water down their messages and make their 'asks' easier and 'actions' simpler." No pressure indeed.

It will be interesting to see how effective the 10:10 campaign turns out to be. Hopefully I am completely wrong and billions of people across the world will radically transform their daily lives giving governments no option but to drastically redesign the organisation of the advanced industrial economies and channel resources into a sustainable but fair production model based on human need.

The Limits of Online Activism

Following a previous post on strategy and tactics in climate change activism, below is a post written by Micah White at the Adbusters blog. White argues that the "future of activism is not online; it is a spiritual insurrection against pollution of the mind. And that begins with turning off our screens." This is an interesting article and I am fully aware of the irony of reposting it on this blog...

Rejecting Clicktivism

The world is in desperate need of a cultural revolution. While some of us slave to produce objects we will never be able to afford, others toil to consume luxury items they do not need. Neither lives a fulfilling life, neither is happy and both play a role in the continued desecration and evisceration of the earth. Consumer society is founded in this vicious cycle that chains some to the factory workbench and others to the screens in cubicles. It is an increasingly inhumane cycle that is spiraling out of control, dragging humanity into the abyss of climate wars and cultural insanity. That much we know. But what remains unclear is how to change the situation.


One answer that has come to dominate all others is that the future of activism is online. Dazzled by the promise of reaching a million people with a single click, social change has been turned over to a technocracy of programmers and “social media experts” who build glitzy, expensive websites and viral campaigns that amass millions of email addresses. Treating email addresses as equivalent to members, these organizations boast of their large size and downplay their small impact. It is all about quantity. To continue growing, they begin consulting with marketers who assure them that “best practices” dictate crafting a message that will appeal to the greatest number of people. Thus focus groups, A/B testing and membership surveys replace a strong philosophy, vision for radical change, and cadre of diehard supporters.


It is no wonder that their campaigns soon resemble advertising: email messages are market tested and click rate metrics dominant all other considerations. In the race for quantity, passion is left behind. But with each day they find it harder to elicit a response from their “members”. Soon, they hit the pitiful online-activist industry average: less than one in twenty of their members are clicking on their emails, the rest just hit delete. (It is a well-known secret within Bay Area progressive organizations that a 5% response rate is the norm.) Thus, despite their massive, gargantuan list size, they can only count on rallying a minuscule response for any of their actions. To increase click rate, they water down their messages and make their “asks” easier and “actions” simpler. Soon, the “click to sign” deception is rolled out and simply opening an email link is treated as signing a petition. And yet, while their membership list grows larger, the active portion of their base disappears. And what is worse, as well-meaning digital activists soon discover, they are being outdone by disingenuous advertising campaigns posing as true agents of change.


Thus, we find ourselves in the bizarre situation where the celebrated international climate change organization TckTckTck with 10+ million members and 350+ partner organizations – including Greenpeace, 350, WWF, OXFAM etc – is covertly run by Havas Worldwide, the world’s sixth largest advertising company. Havas’ clients include Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, BP and the rest of the ones who are to blame.


By turning activism over to the technocrats, we’ve done a great disservice to the noble tradition of rabble rousing that has brought humanity every egalitarian development. We’ve exchanged the difficult process of engaging in real world struggles for the ease of sending emails and clicking links. And I say this knowing that digital-activists agree and a new generation are only too eager to offer their services, hawking themselves as the pioneers in the cutting-edge field of turning email addresses into bodies on the street. But we must resist their claims to expertise and their successes defined by quantity. The way forward will not be through the mediation of the screen.


Activism, when properly conceived, aims at revolution by striking at the root. It deploys an essential critique of society that cannot be resolved, or recuperated, without a major cultural shift. Each era must find and hone that critique and with persistence use it to repeatedly attack the prevailing social order. The essential critique of our generation is the mental environmentalist perspective which understands consumerism to be a plague upon the earth supported by pollution of our mental ecology by advertisers.


The future of activism is not online; it is a spiritual insurrection against pollution of the mind. And that begins with turning off our screens.

****

Update:

There is a rebuttal to White's piece in the Huffington Post by Angus Johnston, where he argues:

"The American student movement of the 1960s wasn't directed by any national body. It wasn't, in the main, financed or facilitated by pre-existing groups. It was built at the grass roots by students who stood up when they saw their fellow activists on television or in the papers, or received newsletters from national organizations and letters from friends at distant campuses. It was a movement sparked by social networking, and it was a movement that transformed the campus and the nation.

And now, with the help of contemporary social media, a new generation of campus activists is doing it again."

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Guardian Film Power 100 List: Hollywood Owns UK Film Culture Shocker!

The Guardian has just published its Film Power 100 list – a list of people who wield “the greatest influence on which films you get to see when you go to the cinema on a Saturday evening, or turn on the TV to catch a movie.”

Their methodology: “Our definition of power is this: the ability to shape the experience of film viewing in the UK. That means it's not just a list of British film figures. Nor is it a run-through of Hollywood moguls: everyone on our list has to have demonstrable influence within the UK.”

Montagu’s analysis:

So, who controls British film culture? The answer, unsurprisingly, is Hollywood. With the exception of Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, the top ten people are all Hollywood figures. Vaizey himself only made the list because he is currently deciding which British institution will be in charge of giving the government’s £30m subsidy to Hollywood after the abolition of the UK Film Council. Working Title producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner come in at number 12, which itself is a reflection of the need to orientate British films towards Hollywood and the American-dominated international market in order to be successful, which is basically what they do. The first figure who can make a genuine claim to be relatively independent of Hollywood is Danny Boyle who comes in at number 31. We have to get to 33 places down on the list before we see a British production company represented – Channel Four’s Commissioning Executive, Tessa Ross, which is a reflection of C4’s continuing and longstanding importance. At 36 we have Christine Langan, Commissioning Executive at BBC Films. Geoff Andrew, Head of Film programming at BFI Southbank is the only British Film Institute figure to make the list, which is, perhaps, surprising.

Will this influence Vaizey in his current negotiations? Probably not.

This is not really "news", but it is a problem. It's not a problem in reductively nationalist terms, which is how the national cinema issue often plays out - a cultural equivalent of the "British jobs for British workers" slogan. It's a problem because it demonstrates the extent to which the decisions about what people get to see in this country - and elsewhere - are determined by a tiny minority of distant, unaccountable power players. The Guardian Film Power 100 list is a reflection of a profoundly undemocratic film culture.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

RIP UKFC: Geoffrey Macnab's Obituary of the UK FIlm Council

Geoffrey Macnab gives his obituary to the UK Film Council in October’s Sight and Sound.

This piece is worth a read for the insight it sheds on the debates that took place when the UK Film Council was formed, particularly the elusive desire for a sustainable, large-scale UK film industry.

As Macnab says, “the furore over the announcement [of the closure of the UK Film Council] underlines just how dependent on public funding the British film industry remains. It also reminds us how bitter the debates about public film policy have always been.”

He continues:

“We’re now at the end of a cycle. The UKFC is faced with abolition and the public film-funding model will almost certainly have to be redesigned. It was telling that in April 2010 the UKFC announced that its current chairman Tim Bevan would chair a think tank to identify ways of ‘growing UK companies of scale’. This, of course, was exactly the goal back in 1997, when the government awarded the three lottery-backed franchises worth more than £90 million over six years. The truth is that in 2010, over half of independent production companies are loss-making.”

The goal of a self-sustaining film industry is no more realistic now than it was back in 1998, or 1968 for that matter. The question is now, as it was then, how to sustain film-making in this country.

Any ideas let me – or Jeremy Hunt – know.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Climate Change Activism Debate: Jamie Henn vs George Monbiot

Is this the start of a major debate within the climate change activist community? Veteran activist and commentator George Monbiot has been taken to task by the co-founder of climate change campaigning website 350.org, Jamie Henn. The debate so far is interesting, not only because it may be the beginning of a debate within the climate change activist community in general, but also because of what it suggests about media strategy and tactics in the fight against global warming - or more specifically, the fight to get governments to act over global warming.  To explain...

Henn's article in the Huffington Post attacks an article of Monbiot's on Guardian.co.uk. In the original, Monbiot discussed the poor prospects of any sort of meaningful deal on climate change at the upcoming summit in Mexico in December. Monbiot - not being one to mince his words - argues that, with the failure of Copenhagen and the impending expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, "there is not a single effective instrument for containing man-made global warming anywhere on earth. The response to climate change, which was described by Lord Stern as 'a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen', is the greatest political failure the world has ever seen."

It's not hard to see why Henn would take this personally. 350.org, founded last year, grew from the Step it Up campaign founded by Bill McKibben in 2007. It exists, according to their website, in order to "create a grassroots movement connected by the web and active all over the world. We will focus on the systemic barriers to climate solutions, changing political dynamics whenever possible. At the same time, we'll get to work implementing real climate solutions in our communities, demonstrating the benefits of moving to a clean energy economy." Just the sort of instrument that George finds lacking in the current Green Movement, then.

To this Henn replies: "I think there is an instrument, but it isn't policy prescriptions or solar panels: it's the Internet." Henn continues: "Thankfully, there's a new movement that's been building up outside and inside the established environmental groups. All around the world, there's a new set of Young (twittering) Turks that are shaking up the status quo and offering a new way forward."

This debate raises questions about the centrality of new media to contemporary political activism, especially within the environmental movement. The 10:10 campaign, founded by McLibel and Age of Stupid director Franny Armstrong, is a good example of the strengths and limitations of this brand of Internet activism. The 10:10 campaign proposes a global day of action on the 10th October 2010 and the idea quickly spread across the world through the power of the Internet. At the same time, beyond creating press coverage, giving celebrities opportunities to demonstrate their green credentials and persuading people to recycle, its potential as a political force is unclear. In Britain it is so radical that David Cameron signed the British government up for it like a shot. How much of an effective or lasting impact will the campaign have on October the 11th?

350.org states that "we think the voice of ordinary people will be heard, if it's loud enough." But without an effective political force to channel that voice the danger, surely, is that it will be ignored among thousands of other decentralised and local actions. The Internet may be a useful tool to spread and coordinate activities, but it is surely a mistake to see it of itself as an effective instrument for containing man-made global warming. Monbiot asks "So what do we do now?"  Hyperbole aside, Henn is forced to answer "I don't really know either." 

Henn finishes by asking "we're doing our work, what about you?" This seems a bit rich considering Monbiot's record: founder of The Land is Ours campaign, banned from Indonesia and so on. While he can be a polarising figure his commitment to fighting climate change and finding effective solutions and strategies cannot be denied. Further, he has always championed direct action alongside strategies that aim to work within established political channels.

It will be interesting to see how this conversation pans out.

Finally, to do my bit and spread the word, the 350.org video:



Sunday, 19 September 2010

Unfriend Coal

Unfriend Coal, Greenpeace spoof on David Fincher's new Facebook film, The Social Network.



The Social Network's tagline is "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies." Clearly Greenpeace is one of them.

Cultural Shock Doctrine Part Two - Hunt Attacks Progessive Cultural Policy

Jeremy-culture-vandal-Hunt (who is fast becoming a favourite subject of this Blog) used his speech at the Media Festival Arts in London to reiterate his “long term commitment to the arts sector”. Hunt talked of sharing pain, future growth, blah blah blah...

But what shape is this sector going to take? Hunt also took the opportunity to take a swipe at instrumental aspects of cultural funding under New Labour, according to The Mail:

“Public money will no longer be given to arts organisations simply because they hire a high proportion of women or ethnic minorities”. The “days of securing taxpayer funds purely by box ticking – getting cash simply because a diversity target has been hit – are now over.”

This suggests a number of things about the politics of the cultural shock doctrine.

Firstly, the idea that organisations were hiring a high proportion of women or ethnic minorities to get cash is laughable – the problem has always been that were not hiring a fair proportion, ie one that reflects the population as a whole, the local area or the audience. Instrumental policies, where they actually existed, were designed to address systemic racism and sexism by increasing diversity to more equal levels. Attacks on policies that attempt to make the cultural sector a more equal place are, of course, quite natural Tory territory.

Secondly, there has been a popular and sector perception of this sort of reverse discrimination going back to the cultural industries days of the Greater London Council in the 1980s. However, the extent to which this ever informed creative industries policies in their post-1997 incarnation is debatable (The Mail can only give the example of one book of ethnic minority poetry, although, to be fair, this may represent poor journalism). New Labour were able, through the discourse of the creative industries, to draw together the genuinely politically progressive sections of the cultural sector that developed in the 1980s behind the idea of market-led diversity. To take an example from film policy:

“Diversity is both a catalyst for creativity and is key to the success of the UK film sector. However, the profile of the sector’s workforce shows it has a long way to go before it can demonstrate that it is inclusive of the diversity of contemporary British society. Inevitably, this has a significant impact on the stories that are told, the way they are told on screen, the levels of access to film for potential audiences and, in terms of content and portrayal, the images of Britain and the concepts of “Britishness” around the globe.” (Report here, page 5)

This is a reflection of a cultural policy that managed to align a progressive cultural politics with commercial interests. While this discourse paid lip-service to diversity, multi-culturalism and so on, its real focus was always the market. It therefore found it hard to interfere with areas of the market that worked but also happened to be white-male dominated. As a result, New Labour cultural policy was seemingly unable to make a case for diversity that is not based on commercial success; a moral or political argument, for instance. As mentioned in a previous post, after thirteen years of this, research has shown that the film industry is still inherently racist and sexist. Furthermore, in employment terms the cultural sector is more male dominated than the rest of the economy (63% compared to 53% - figure here, page 47). The idea that the last thirteen years were a bonanza in public funding for members of ethnic minorities and women regardless of talent or quality is a myth promoted by arseholes such as this one.

For the Tories, attacks on this sort of thinking are a coded way of attacking the principle of anything remotely politically progressive in cultural policy in general and clearly they are signalling that they are withdrawing support and political influence from the liberal cultural intelligentsia. Further, this works to deflect criticism from the cultural shock doctrine – the cuts in cultural funding are about withdrawing the tax burden created by rampant political correctness and restoring cultural authority to the white middle-classes, as opposed to hamstringing the cultural sector. As Kristine Landon-Smith argues in the Newstateman, “we are seeing a retrogressive new conservatism at work.”

At the same time, this ties into a genuine hostility to the cultural management mechanisms favoured by New Labour – the hysterical emphasis on targets, application forms, report-writing; a bureaucratic centralised system which effectively stifled autonomy.

New Labour came to power in 1997 with a relatively coherent cultural policy developed during time in opposition with clear differences to their predecessors. Cultural conservatism was to be dispelled in favour of modernisation; the heritage industries became creative industries. So far the ConDems have only demonstrated slash and burn dressed up as right wing dogma. We can undoubtedly expect more of this sort of thing in the coming months and years.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Creative Industries are Bollocks - Podcast on Media Studies and Higher Education

Montagu came across this Podcast on the Culturalstudies website which may be of interest to anyone anticipating the destruction of Higher Education. US-based academic Toby Miller interviews Des Freedman and Natalie Fenton from Goldsmiths on the cuts being made to the sector and challenges facing media studies as a subject. This is an interesting discussion about the development and influence of the creative industries discourse.

The creative industries discourse is one mechanism through which media and cultural studies are being increasingly geared towards the perceived needs of industry and business. This is, of course, part of a wider political-economic process and linked to fashionable concepts of the post-industrial economy, the knowledge economy, the information society, and so on. It's important, therefore, to develop a sophisticated and piercing critique.

"It's bollocks" - Fenton.

In the second part of the interview Fenton and Freedman talk about their research which is also worth a listen if you are that way inclined.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Culture Vandals from Magdalen College

In a recent article, Evening Standard columnist Sasha Slater recounts her time at Magdalen College, Oxford. Magdalen College is, of course, the illustrious institution at the centre of the Laura Spence scandal of 2001. It is also the former College of no less than five members of the Cabinet including George Osborne, William Hague, Chris Huhne, Dominic Grieve and Jeremy-culture-vandal-Hunt.

Slater remembers:

“A drunken student (now a company director) swinging, Tarzan-like, out of the windows of the Junior Common Room gave an ancient sculpture of a greyhound a swipe with his feet and smashed it to smithereens on the flagstones below. Undaunted, the president of the college, who should have known better, borrowed a beautiful full-sized mirrored sculpture of a winged unicorn from the flamboyant artist Andrew Logan. This was erected amid great fanfares but only lasted a couple of weeks before the same student snapped its horn off. Andrew Logan's response was unprintable.”

I wonder if this is the sort of education that prepared the Culture Secretary to lead us through these tough economic times?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cultural Shock Doctrine: Arts Funding Cuts and Neoliberalism

Further to a previous post, the cuts in arts funding in the UK are starting to take effect.  The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is expected to be one of the hardest hit in the upcoming spending review and is anticipating cuts of up to 40%.  Culture-vandal Jeremy Hunt already announced the closure of the UK Film Council.  According to Trisha Andres in the Guardian, we can now add to this list arts services and schemes specifically targetted to the young such as the Arts Journalist Bursary Scheme and the Find Your Talent Scheme.

Along with cuts to University places, apprenticeships and jobs the ConDems cuts are already hitting young people hard.  Unemployment among the young (under-18s) is already 33% and for those without GCSEs it is as high as 50%.  77% of the decline in employment has been felt by young people (under-24s).  Figures here.

On the other hand we have corporate culture-vultures waiting in the wings for their share of reconstructed neoliberal art once the flames die down.  For example, Rena De Sisto at Merrill Lynch - who has the Sith-like job title of Global Arts and Culture Executive - has argued that:

"The government proposes that the arts community adopt the US-based approach to arts funding, with less dependence upon public and more upon private funding sources.  In fact, the British arts community already has a tradition of private philanthropic and corporate funding, so the difference with the US is really one of degree.  And while the US may be further along the curve, with its longer, more comfortable relationship with private funding for the arts, in both nations the arts sector can benefit from new approaches to working with corporations.  Similarly, many types of companies can and do benefit greatly from supporting the arts.  But some fundamental changes need to occur to unlock this opportunity."

De Sisto argues that the days of public support are over and that arts organisations must allow companies to "extract sound business benefits, such as access for employees, brand visibility and client outreach opportunities."  Doesn't sound much like a culture to me.

This is, of course, nothing new.  The Thatcherite attack on the cultural welfare state was always predicated on the wider attack on the post-War social democratic settlement and this represents the latest phase of neoliberal restructuring.  For example, Richard Luce was Minister for the Arts in Thatcher's government when he made this statement in 1987:

“there are still too many in the arts world who have yet to be weaned away from the welfare state mentality - the attitude that the taxpayer owes them a living.  Many have not yet accepted the challenge of developing plural sources of funding.  They give the impression of thinking that all other sources of funding are either tainted or too difficult to get.  They appear not to have grasped that the collectivist mentality of the sixties and seventies is out of date.”  (Quoted here, page 30)

This again shows the need for opponents of cuts in arts and cultural funding to join the dots and link-up with the wider campaigns to defend public services.  And ideally this would be a grassroots campaign that is led by the people who have most to lose from a barren neoliberal-corporate culture, not by Damien Hirst.

Friday, 10 September 2010

This is England 86: Politics and Nostalgia Part One

Montagu has been eagerly awaiting director Shane Meadows’ first foray into television with This is England 86, a four-part spin-off to his outstanding 2006 film This is England. The first part screened on Channel Four on Tuesday night to generally positive reviews (the Telegraph described it as “astonishingly good”) and a solid audience share.  This is quality British television in the making.



Meadows is an interesting director; a maverick of new British cinema, his films blend the irreverent ‘underclass’ humour that was put into effect so successfully in Shameless with a sense of genuine commitment to working class community, culture and experience, particularly from the perspective of children and young people.  This means that his often biting and ludicrous satire very rarely becomes patronising.  Meadows stands firmly inside the tent pissing out.

This is England contained the thematic preoccupations that have defined all Meadows’ films: the exploration of marginalised and periphery working class communities and experience; masculinity, childhood and adolescence.  However, it also marked a new, more explicitly politicised edge to his films, set at the height of Thatcherite jingoism during the Falklands war and critiquing far-Right politics.  The final scene where Shaun throws a Union Jack into the sea was a marvellous cinematic antidote to the popular nationalism and racism given space to expand by New Labour’s foreign and domestic policies of populist racism.

Andrew Higson, in a discussion of heritage costume dramas of the 1980s, identifies a tension between the visual spectacle of nostalgia and a more politicised social critique.  From this point of view nostalgia, as one of the central genres or modes in British film, can be seen as inherently conservative and in opposition to the more progressive traditions of realistic British cinema which have tended to focus on the here and now.  Of course, this opposition has a long history in socialist politics in which we can see nostalgia allied with conservatism in trying to “role back the wheel of history” (in Marx’s phrase).  This makes This is England 86 an interesting prospect politically.  Does the nostalgia of the series undercut its potential to offer a social commentary on recession and unemployment in the present?  Meadows himself clearly does not see any incompatibility:

“Not only did I want to take the story of the gang broader and deeper, I also saw in the experiences of the young in 1986 many resonances to now - recession, lack of jobs, sense of the world at a turning point.”

On the other hand, the appeal of the series might be found precisely in a depoliticised, backward facing nostalgia. For example, the preview event in Sheffield:

“For the creation and promotion of this event, Fuse Sport & Entertainment and film specialist elevenfiftyfive are collaborating to curate a live, interactive experience, taking fans back to 1986 where the cinema will be transformed into a working man’s social club, including a live performance by a local Ska band, free sausage rolls and monster munch to boot!”

From the evidence of the first part in the series, nostalgia for the 1980s has been placed more centrally than politics, particularly in terms of iconography - from soda streams to shell suits and scooters.  At points this seemed clumsy and overbearing.  On the other hand, the performances of Vicky McClure as Lol and Joe Gilgum as Woody were fantastic and a female central character is a well-needed departure from Meadows’ usual nearly exclusive focus on masculinity and men.  We shall delay a final analysis of the political potential of nostalgia in This is England 86 until it has run in its entirety.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Blacklisted the Movie


From the Reel News Facebook page:

First ever public showing of BLACKLISTED, the new documentary (15 mins) about the illegal Consulting Association blacklist containing personal details on 3213 building workers who had raised concerns about safety or unpaid wages. The secret database was used by multinational construction firms to prevent trade unionists from gaining employment. The blacklist is a continuation of a vindictive attitude by building firms towards un...ions going back many decades. The film shares first hand experience from 12 blacklisted workers (including Ricky Tomlinson) about their fight for justice.

After the film, blacklisted workers, Reel News, MPs and human rights experts will take questions and discuss the ongoing campaign against blacklisting and the implications for all trade unions today.

Chair: Steve Acheson (Blacklisted Electrician and UNITE Manchester Contracting Branch Secretary)

Speakers:

John McDonnell MP

Professor Keith Ewing (Institute of Employment Rights)

Shaun Dey (Reel News)

Chris Murphy (UCATT Executive Council)

plus Blacklisted building workers from UNITE and UCATT

Monday, 30 August 2010

How to Fund Film in the UK? The Tax Credit System

The longstanding debate about film policy in the UK seems to have been reignited by the closure of the UK Film Council.  The latest addition has been producer Matthew Vaughn's call for changes to the Tax Credit system.  Under Vaughn's proposal, Tax Credit would be treated as capital investment and used to leverage a share of Hollywood profits back into the British industry.

The Tax Credit system was one of, if not the, central plank of New Labour's film policy, giving a 20% cash rebate to outside films (which in practice means Hollywood) that chose to spend money in the UK.  The rationale was that Hollywood is a global industry that will outsource production to countries with the most favourable conditions and therefore the strength of the British industry was dependent on getting a slice of this action.  This essentially sought to characterise the British film industry as a cheap service provider, particularly of post-production facilities but also of studio space, for runaway Hollywood productions.  In order to qualify films must be official British films or official co-productions (what qualifies as officially British deserves a post of its own) which encouraged Hollywood into linking up with British production companies.

It is this that allowed the UK Film Council to claim films like Harry Potter, The Dark Knight and Mama Mia! as successes of the British cinema, despite their obvious orientation to the international Hollywood-dominated market place and the fact that the primary beneficiaries of their profits are foreign-based companies.  It's the cinematic equivalent of the Chinese government claiming that its ability to provide cheap shoe-stitchers makes Nike a success story of the Chinese sports industry.

What Vaughn proposes is that the Credit system be treated as investment which can recoup a return to the Treasury which can then be channelled into independent British productions.  Vaughn argues that:

"the point is that the studios need capital and will pay for it, so the tax credit does not have to be free.  The studios will argue that asking for any kind of return will undermine the UK’s appeal as a location.  We disagree.  Certainly there are other jurisdictions with attractive incentives, but every incentive programme has its limits.  Looking at the UK’s position as a production centre, the country has a strong hand and should play to it.  In today’s cash-strapped world, 'soft equity' is a valuable commodity for studios and producers alike."

So could this work?  The first problem is that Hollywood will be loathe to accept even the principle that it should share its profits.  The Hollywood studios are well organised and quite capable of acting together when their collective interests are threatened.  The relative size of Hollywood productions means that shifting even a couple of them away from Britain will have serious consequences for the sections of the British industry which are dependent on such investment.  I expect Prague and Canada are waiting with bated breathe.  So it is a risky strategy.

Secondly, this does nothing to challenge the system through which Hollywood controls the international market, which is distribution.  That is where the real money lies.

Finally, even if it could be successfully applied, this plan would mean a change of policy.  It would require the political will to base film policy on the principle that the successful sections of the industry (Hollywood) should subsidise the less successful (independent British companies), essentially redistributing wealth from massive organisations like Fox and Disney to smaller organisations like Vaughn's company, Marv Films.  While Vaughn's proposals are relatively modest - he does not, for example, suggest that the money recouped would be channelled into non-commercial films - they still require interfering with what is a nice set-up for Hollywood.

Under the current policy-makers I just can't see it.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Should we Defend the UK Film Council Reprise

Like I said in the previous post, the New Left Project website is excellent.  And to prove it they have published my defence of the UK Film Council, a slightly revised version of an earlier post here.  Very nice of them.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hollywood's Politics

There's a good interview with Matthew Alford over at the consistently excellent New Left Project website.  Alford has just written a book on Hollywood films as propaganda for the American empire.

This is a longstanding and interesting debate: the extent to which Hollywood is dominated by whinging pinko liberals, as the American Right has it, or whether it is best understood as the ideological arm of American capitalism and imperialism.  Or does it matter?  Film studies has tied itself up in knots with this stuff for years, from the rejection of all film narrative as inherently reactionary which was fashionable in film theory circles in the 1970s and 1980s to the more recent drive to resuscitate and depoliticise the concept of entertainment.

As a useful antidote to the more ludicrous intellectual contortions that have attempted to make sense of film and politics, Alford puts it simply: "Nothing is ‘just a story’ – films are part of a socialisation process, just as we read Fairy Tales in part to help children make sense of the world. Of course, if someone asks you what article you’re reading in newspaper, it would be rather truculent to reply ‘It’s a propaganda piece consistent with establishment interests’. It would be more worthwhile though if you investigated the content of that article, identified its sources and what it omits, how it fits in with other material in the same newspaper, and so on. It’s the same with Hollywood – it does not suit corporate owners when audiences recognise the obscenity or the idiocy of the political messages they provide but this is best exposed systematically."

As such, Alford notes that "The US first declared a ‘War on Terror’ in 1985. Hollywood has stuck closely to Washington’s line ever since, including the trend for Islamist villains in the mid-1990s (True Lies, Executive Decision), as the ‘clash of civilisations’ theory was gaining traction. More recently, we have had movies like Munich, Back Hawk Down and The Kingdom that support the notion of Western benevolence in the quest to stamp out Islamic terrorism.

With regard to 9/11 itself, no major studio has thought to question the government’s narrative despite the incredible popularity of alternate takes on that day’s events. The Pentagon and the White House warmly embraced United 93 and a string of other similar films."

But Alford, what about all the exceptions?  Doesn't Hollywood make many films that critique the myths of American capitalism and Empire?

"There are a few, but look what happens to them… Genuinely critical films such as John Cusack’s War, Inc and Brian de Palma’s Redacted opened in just a few dozen cinemas in New York and L.A. Disney told its subsidiary Miramax to ditch Fahrenheit 9/11, which led to Miramax’s bosses leaving to create a new company. CBS, NBC and ABC all refused to advertise Michael Moore’s DVD in between news programming. The pattern is familiar."

This looks like a solid, interesting and useful bit of research and Montagu can't wait to read it.