Going Forwards, Facing Backwards

This is the final chapter from my book England’s Discontents, Political Cultures and National Identities. Drawing on the preceding analysis within the book, this chapter tries to assess the prospects of constructing a new historic bloc (Gramsci) out of the crisis of the Neo-liberal, conservative and liberal power bloc that has fractured but not yet been dislodged as the dominant policy paradigm.

On Intellectuals

This essay explores the social and political role and significance of the intellectuals within capitalist society. It sets out to define the intellectual and the nature of what they produce (ideas) and their relationship to broader class relations. It shows how key Marxist thinkers provide the basis for a socio-economic understanding of the activities and products of the intellectual. At the heart of transforming the current role of the intellectual within the existing divisions of labour, lies the project to democratise the social role of the intellectuals.

The Dialectical Image: Kant, Marx and Adorno.

This chapter from the anthology Marx at the Movies explores the origins of the dialectical image in the philosophical architecture of Kant and the implications of his aesthetic turn in the Third Critique. I then trace the importance of cognitive metaphor in the work of Marx before turning to the way ‘images’ and concepts were dialectically reworked  in the philosophy of Benjamin and Adorno. I connect these debates to film by thinking about how the figure of the zombie in the work of George Romero dialectically reconfigured the thematics of alienation around the living and the dead.

Beneath the Bias, the Crisis: The Press, the Independent Media and the Scottish Referendum

This essay examines the coverage of the Scottish referendum of 2014 by the press in the context of a multi-nation state with diverging political cultures. Evidence of press bias is assessed but the essay argues that the more interesting question is why, despite the bias, there was some neutrality or even pro-independence views, given that the referendum posed an existential threat to the British state? The essay argues that the political crisis was also a crisis for some sections of the press, who in a complex and contradictory context had their un-reflexive Unionism mitigated. Signs of historic re-alignments amongst the Scottish electorate – especially the working class vote – threw the press on the defensive. The essay also considers the role of the independent media and the use of the internet and social media to facilitate a grassroots campaign for independence, which again made the press look out of touch with popular currents. The political and media crisis is situated in the context of the contest between neo-liberalism and social democracy and draws on the work of Gramsci to theorise the relationship between media and politics.

Surveillance and Class Interests in ‘Big Brother’

The television series Big Brother, which Channel Four has contracted the rights for until 2006, is in fact rather more than a television programme. It is better understood as an evolving multi-media, multi-platform technological experiment, trailblazing free terrestrial television into the brave new world of what Dan Schiller calls, digital capitalism. 1 The political economy of Big Brother is inseparable from larger institutional and economic trends which have seen huge capital investments in new communication and information technology. Along with the economics of Big Brother, as a text, the series is also a cultural mediation of leading edge developments within capitalism, particularly concerning the increasing importance of surveillance and the capacities which that gives elites for further social control and manipulation. Precisely how we conceptualise the relations between different social levels, the cultural and the economic in particular, has been the central problematic of the base-superstructure model. I want to offer an ‘unpacking’ of that model in the course of a materialist analysis of the techno-spectacle. In doing so I will clarify, via a critique of Althusser’s notion of overdetermination, the meaning and importance of the concept of mediation. I will also draw on some concepts developed by Fredric Jameson in The Political Unconscious, for textual exegesis, integrating them into some of the political economic mediations Jameson is often criticised for missing.

Aesthetics and Class Interests

Anglophone Marxism has very largely taken a disappointingly unproductive ‘orthodox’ position on Kant’s aesthetics and as a result has cut itself off from or disavowed its genealogical relationship to an important philosophical resource. The closure on Kant’s aesthetic philosophy by the bourgeois intelligentsia is accepted by Marxism but the evaluation is merely reversed from the positive to the negative. This essay, part of the larger project explored in my book Red Kant, argues that we can construct a plausible alternative reading of Kant that neither concedes anything to bourgeois thought but also rescues the aesthetic philosophically for historical materialism and its focus on the key question of class interests. The argument is fleshed out through a critique of two other mutually contesting accounts of Kant: Bourdieu’s sociological critique and Ranciére’s philosophical affirmation. Both, I argue are problematic readings of the Kantian aesthetics.

The Condition of the Working Class: Representation and Praxis

This essay reflects critically on the political context production, process, ideas and strategies of our feature length documentary film The Condition of the Working Class. It explores why we were inspired by Friedrich Engels’ 1844 book of the same name and how that connects with the neo-liberal capitalist project that has dominated the political scene internationally for several decades. We conceptualise our film as constellation, in the manner of Walter Benjamin, between the 1840s and the contemporary moment. The essay explores the production process of the film which involved setting up and working in conjunction with a theatrical project. The essay explores how the question of class emerges within the production process, especially the geographical terrain of the city, just as it did for Engels. The essay reflects on the theatrical work of John McGrath and its connections with our own work. In the final section of the essay, the authors consider the finished film in more detail, analyzing how the film focused on the process of theatrical production and contextualised that process within wider spatial and temporal frames. The film and the theatre project explore the possibility of reconstituting in a microcosm, a working class collective subject, that has been atomized and demonized by 30 years of neo-liberal policy, that in the context of the present economic crisis, seeks to drive its project even further.

Failing the Public

James Chapman’s revisionist account of the censorship of Peter Watkins’s 1965 drama-documentary The War Game, argues that the outcome was the result of a diverse plurality of factors arranged with no strong pre-structuring of the outcome. In this reply to Chapman’s essay I argue that by any plausible account of what happened, The War Game was censored for politically motivated reasons, that it was not done in an open and transparent manner, that the state was intimately involved in the BBC’s decision and that there was nothing ‘ad hoc’ about the process.

The Performing Northern Working Class in British Cinema: Cultural Representation and its Political Economy

Brassed Off (Mark Herman 1996), The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo 1997),  Little Voice (Mark Herman 1998) and Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry 2000) are a cluster of recent British films which represent an embattled Northern working class transgressing personal, gender and/or class boundaries that take them into uncharted spaces via public performance. A retro music based culture industry comes to be seen as some sort of amelioration of circumstances and/or (a sometimes temporary, sometimes permanent) transformation of the self. These films are fairly typical of the story which mass culture likes to tell about class: namely that it is always on the decline rather than changing. This narrative of decline in turn implies that class is not an on-going element in the production of such signifying practices and that therefore the epistemological powers of class analysis have waned. In response this essay situates the films within their context of an international political economy and the strategies of the Cultural Transnational Corporations that produce them. Brassed Off functions within this discussion as an example of how nationally grounded conditions of production with a public service remit can offer more scope for engaging with class relations.

Working Title Mark II: A Critique of the Atlanticist Paradigm for British Cinema

This essay explores the economic and cultural subordination of British cinema to Hollywood. In particular it analyses how the subsidiary mode of corporate organisation allows Hollywood to ‘drill down’ into national and regional cultures and talent. It offers a case study of Working Title, a nominally ‘British’ company and Billy Elliott to show how the subsidiary mode works and with what culturally detrimental effects.

Utopianism and Film

This essay situates the debate about utopianism and film in relation to the question of utopianism in Marxist cultural theory. It discusses the work of Walter Benjamin, Fredric Jameson, Richard Dyer and Alan O’Shea and works towards a critical synthesis of their positions, especially around the relationship of class to more affective categories such as energy, authenticity and so forth. It then critically evaluates the 1980s version of Gramsci that was popular in the 1980s and argues that here Thatcherism’s supposed hegemony was exaggerated. The discussion is brought together in an analysis of the British film Local Hero (1983) to explore how the question of utopianism must be historicised at a level that is responsive to the shifts and currents and contradictions of popular culture.

Television News and the Symbolic Criminalisation of Young People

This essay combines quantitative and qualitative analysis of 6 UK television news programmes. It seeks to analyse the representation of young people within broadcast news provision at a time when media representations, political discourse and policy making generally appear to be invoking young people as something of a folk devil or a locus for moral panics. The quantitative analysis examines the frequency with which young people turn up as main actors across a range of different subjects and analyses the amount of speech and in relation to which subjects young people acted as news sources. It finds a strong correlation between young people and violent crime. A qualitative analysis of four ‘special reports’ or backgrounders on Channel Five’s Five News, explores the representation of young people in more detail, paying attention to contradictions and tensions in the reports, the role of statistics in crime reporting, the role of victims of crime and the tensions between conflicting news frames.