Friday, March 24, 2006

The Labour Movement's Long, Withdrawing Roar

DA has a new post up: Twenty years after Wapping. (Apparently it's for Society Today, but their website only gives error messages; even when you try the homepage.) I did suggest that one of my co-bloggers take this as it strays toward his field. So far, however, he hasn't come back.

I think this piece is symptomatic of something. The prose, that is, the construction, the grammar, the allusions, the confidence of the jokes, is courtesy of Dave the "egghead producer". I've doubted him in the past, but that self-description was tongue-in-cheek (if perhaps a little self-inflating at the same time) and Dave can write. Take:
Two decades later, walking as a Times columnist into the same streets where the shouts echoed and the Kurosawa-like battles were enacted between lines of police and pickets, I have little sense of the politics that seemed so dominant in the mid-80s.

Or
Although the brave, blind pickets remained outside Wapping for a full year, not only did they not stop the revolution, they failed even to slow it.

But Dave slowly descends into farce. I don't know (opinions in the comments please) if this is magnificently percipient or self-absolving wank:
The irony is, as Andrew Neill, a prime mover in the events of 1986 said recently, without the Murdoch revolution, excoriated at the time by papers such as The Guardian, the recent change in format by that paper would not have been possible. And for me the irony was that I could walk into Wapping as an employee of News International, and not feel even the slightest twinge of residual guilt. It's a different world now.

I think Neill is both right and wrong. Right in that the unions were extremely change-averse. Wrong in the assumption that there were no other ways. In the 80s, Britain and the US went through the Thatcher/Reagan economic 'revolutions'/'paradigm shifts'. Does anyone disagree with that? DA:
It was to be understood as the shifting of balance from producers to consumers and from labour to management; it was a new chapter in the class struggle.

Quite a bit of Europe (or Old Europe as Donald Rumsfeld would call it) did not. Does anyone disagree with that?
We have comments if you do.
Now look at mobile telephone services. One of the largest growth industries in the past two decades. Does anyone disagree with that? Across Europe, mobile calls and texts are incredibly cheap, and even the poorest people have mobiles now. Not so in the US. Does anyone disagree with that?
The point I hope to make is that I agree with Dave that there have been large changes, but they weren't occasioned solely by the events at Wapping and elsewhere (though these may have helped). Across Europe, and much of the world, newspapers have modernised in the wake of the Guardian. If Dave's thesis were right, Thatcherist/Reaganite countries would be ahead of the rest in the technology sectors which required the overthrow of "outmoded" methods. I contend that this is demonstrably untrue. The technical revolutions would have happened anyway (except where there are powerful interests against their doing so, as in the US).
So far, Dave's written four paragraphs of fluent, intelligent prose (though I disagree with his thesis). He then must have taken a tea break or something, because he drops from an A/A+ essay to a B.
My children regard my description of the media world of my own childhood as being like the famous Yorkshiremen comedy skit of the 60s - an exaggeration of cultural deprivation.

This is both poorer writing (instead of the concrete: the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch; we have the above) and a mis-representation -- the joke isn't reducible to "cultural deprivation": it's as much about pathetic male one-upmanship.
The following paragraph is such a mess that I don't know where to begin. He was writing about 1986; now he feels free to zip back and forth between any well-known media events of the first two Thatcher governments.
The newspaper world was slightly different, with the triumphant Sun proclaiming "Gotcha!", breasts on page three and the same old gently declining broadsheets.

"Gotcha" was of course 1982. Breasts had been on page three since 1968 IIRC (but I'm happy to be corrected on this; certainly "barely legal" 16-year-old Samantha Fox was on display around this time; wouldn't happen now: they've got morality).
Radio was the BBC and a few commercial stations, TV was three terrestrial channels (just about to become four), and the new Video Tape Recorder allowed us to rewatch episodes of Brideshead Revisited. Cassettes were edging out vinyl; the Walkman was two years old, the first brick-sized mobile phones were still a year or so away. There was no such word as Internet and our Search Engines had names like Gerry and Cathy.

Channel 4 was 1982. The Walkman was 1981 or 2. I remember I had a friend who could drive at that time who'd had a job for an early mobile company. He'd drive to an allocated point and they'd ring. When they didn't, he'd ring them. Some shouting on the now well-known format "I can't hear you ... what!? ..." followed. He concluded cell phones were doomed. How we laughed.
What year is Dave talking about? It seems to be 1982, the year he left the NUS, but what's his point?
I can't quote the next para. The temptation to vomit is just too much. Dave quotes John Birt who described the late 80s as "by far the most extraordinarily creative period ever in UK broadcasting, ..." Readers who want a clue as to when the real creative period was may choose to follow the link.
And then he's on to writing rubbish. He thinks CNN was a success: I favour the alternative hypothesis that it peaked too soon. The Gulf War destroyed it. It's a relic now. People visit it like the pyramids, at least partly out of pity. DA thinks "rolling news" is great. I have BBC 24 on my (very basic) NTL package. The only time I've watched it (after the first day's experimenting) was in September 2001. Sometime in the evening I discovered that everything I'd seen had been on BBC1 the whole time.
Those values themselves, are far from immutable. Where once you couldn't say "fuck" in print or on television, but you could say "coon", now - as Jerry Springer, the Opera proved, taboos that seemed almost eternal have been broken within a generation.

Oh, so it wasn't Ken Tynan then?
In the paragraph before that, Dave asked rhetorically:
If everyone can create their own personalised broadcasting or media world, how do you bring that sort of society together, and hope that it can share values?

And after:
In a cursor's click the seeker after sensation can find an assortment of paraphilias that would have once taken a lifetime of trawling pornographic bookshops to locate.Technology changes society.

Technology changes society. How? If I understand this, there was always "an assortment of paraphilias" at the same time, technology has created "an assortment of paraphilias". I'm no Freudian (though Dave may be one), but I do like the idea of the "polymorphously perverse" (though if I had to use polysyllabic Greek words, I'd go for "polyvalence".)
I think Dave's asking the wrong questions. If a group of people meet some criterion for a "society" they don't need to be brought together. The Decents (certainly Norman Geras) seem to believe that some values are transcendental, and perhaps self-evident to boot. How can we not share these? If Norm is right, Dave has no need to worry.
Hold on. [Counts on fingers.] Nah, that can't be right.

3 Comments:

Blogger Matthew said...

Aaro spot, and it's a bit strange:

DAVID AARONOVITCH

It has come to this at last: boxy comments telling Tony that it’s time to go. Some, I guess, will do it with savage pleasure, others with ponderous sadness. The intelligentsia, on the whole, have never loved Blair. He reminded them, at almost every step, of what losers they are. It will be fabulous listening to those who claimed, in 1997, not to have illusions, now telling us how their disillusions have been shattered.

No politician has understood as well as Blair has how the world has changed, and few have had as much courage in deciding what to do about it. And had there been just one silo full of weaponised anthrax found in Iraq, the last election would have been a procession. The reality (and he loves realities) is that he lost most of his mandate at the 2005 election, and that trust was the decisive factor.

Blair was far more magnificent over 9/11 and 7/7 than he was disappointing over party funding, and he and Gordon Brown have taken this country towards a new settlement between dynamic capitalism and social solidarity.

But he is no longer the best vehicle for his own project. This autumn he should tell the Labour Party conference that this is his last speech as leader. Then he should write his memoirs. With me, preferably.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2102177,00.html

3/25/2006 07:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Absolutely magnificent. Incoherent, illogical AND pompous. Lesser minds would have settled for one of these - but not our Dave...

3/26/2006 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

The problem for the Blair groupies is that (a) they won't know what to do with themselves once he's gone, (b) this is largely because hero-worship of Blair seems to be a substitute for anything resembling ideology/political philosophy (c) the haven't as yet found a plausible 'anyone but Gordon' candidate (though I suspect Cameron may yet fit that bill).

3/27/2006 11:38:00 AM  

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