Counter-violence in the Arts and Education
Sep10

Counter-violence in the Arts and Education

In 1995 a University of California student, Paul Alexander Julitainen, made a film called Herbert’s Hippopotamus: Marcuse and Revolution in Paradise. One of the film’s highlights is an interview/exchange between German philosopher, Herbert Marcuse, and a journalist, wherein the latter attempts to elicit the professor’s advocacy of violence, referring particularly to student-led rioting over the Vietnam War. Finally conceding to at least the idea of a ‘counter-violence’ on the part of the students in their response to the belligerence of the state, the journalist nevertheless continues to pine for sensationalist simplification: J: If I understand the theory there is supposed to be some redeeming virtue for participants in violence, that it lets them work out their frustrations and get them out of their systems, and that this somehow does them some good, and that therefore it is a positive social good to engage in violence. HM: No, you see, that I consider a vulgar psychological interpretation, which is, in addition, not applicable here because it completely overlooks the motives and objectives of the protest movement. But there is, we talked about it, a difference between the violence of defense and the violence of aggression. J: Well there was certainly violence against people in the Paris riots. HM: Counter-violence. That I have seen. The students were perfectly peaceful, and the police got orders, first to clear the core of the Sorbonne, and then to clear the streets. And you know that they don’t exactly do that in the way of a nursemaid singing a baby to sleep. J: Counter-violence is okay, in your view? HM: It’s not a question of whether or not it’s okay. It’s a question of when and where it is necessary, necessary in order to keep alive yourself and what you stand for. Ironically (though not unsurprisingly) Marcuse was then labeled an advocate of violence by the mainstream media and was eventually forced into retirement by UC management. It is worth bearing these kind of power structures (right-wing politics, mainstream media and their confluences within education) in mind. What I want to do here is apply Marcuse’s idea of a counter-violence in a broader sense to the everyday work of academics, teachers, artists and those who recognise the violence inherent in the process of sublimating public needs to those of capital. The focus is on the changing nature of funding streams, and a proposed response to that change that involves the retention of some form of independence from the pervasiveness of the market, if this is at all possible. To illustrate this change I use a brief and by no means total example of two different...

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Building Bristol: Memory, Monuments and Power
Jun04
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Lila (age 5) on Gender, Capitalism and Exploitation
Jun04
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Film Festivals and the Neo-liberal City
Jun03

Film Festivals and the Neo-liberal City

This essay will show how the history of film festivals is tied to the historical process (ongoing) of the neo-liberalisation of cities. If we take seriously the prospect of film festivals as nodes of anti-capitalist resistance and facilitators of what Habermas calls communicative action, we need to understand the extent to which they are currently bound up with, participating in, and even used by dominant systems such as the economic and political. It is important to understand how, historically, they have been wielded in a geo-political struggle for hegemony, and how their functioning within the city adds to the malaise of governing phenomena perpetuating the ‘society of the spectacle’. Looking at festivals in this context gives us an insight into the broader functions of capital, specifically “how local cultural developments and traditions become absorbed within the calculi of political economy” (Harvey 2013: 100), a good question to ask when faced with the extreme and ongoing bureaucratization of public goods such as health and education, not to mention the injection of widely unchallenged parlance regarding the creative and knowledge ‘economies’ into the cultural sphere. Film festivals, then, have always been on the frontline in the battle for territorial as well as ideological space. The problem (or solution) is that we are only now realising their potential for anti-capitalist agitation, right when a large number are springing up all over the world under the sanitised and largely unconsidered auspices of ‘human rights’ and ‘activist’ film festivals, which, far from positing fundamental change as a possibility, are primarily spaces of ‘niche market’ accumulation which I suspect Solanas and Getino (1969) would identify as part of the left-wing arm of capitalism.   This essay can be broadly divided into three sections. Firstly, I look at one of the relations that defines the role of film festivals: namely their subservience to the practice of city marketing. This leads into an analysis of the history of film festivals as entwined with the historical conflict between capital and dissent, the primary focus being on the relation between the festival circuit and avant-garde film movements. Looking at the former as microcosmic representations of broader political and cultural fluctuations, the final section highlights the ongoing proliferation and marketisation of film festivals, drawing some conclusions as to how those interested in film and politics might make positive interventions against capitalist ‘development’.   Film festivals have always played a role in broadcasting positive representations of the cities in which they take place. This is part of a wider practice called city marketing, which “was recognised as an essential activity for cities that wanted to compete in the global arena. The...

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Quick Thoughts on ‘Social Change’ Media
Oct21

Quick Thoughts on ‘Social Change’ Media

This short piece looks at what Habermas would call the ‘colonisation’ of ‘social change’ by external interests such as those of dominant systems. I am thinking particularly about the colonisation of what has been called ‘social change media’ by profit driven motives, and the way these motives neutralise the radical potentiality of films and film festivals. I conclude with a short film that is an appeal for crowd funding by the newly formed Foundation for Community Change, an initiative that aims to facilitate working class collectivisation in Bristol. In this way I hope to highlight what Larry Daressa has called “the striking disparity between the programs produced [within the category of social change media] and the needs of the audience they purport to serve”. In an essay entitled “Political Mimesis” Jane Gaines points to developments within Western thought since the 1970’s that have seen social change “decoupled from revolution”. This process has been congruent with the solidification of neo-liberal hegemony and the demise of the mainstream political left. As Stuart Hall notes, the key principle to understanding this political shift is the contradiction within social democratic governments that come to act as a point of discipline rather than advancement of working class interests, as they seek solutions to a financial crisis that are agreeable to capital. This contradiction sets the precedent for a re-working of principles across the entire political spectrum, or what Hall has identified as the “swing to the Right” that has occurred within politics and society over the past forty years. Ramifications of this process can be seen across the board. My focus, however, is on the colonisation of practices within education and the media, as the internal interests of those spheres are increasingly subordinated to the profit motives of capital. Salter outlines the problem as such: Practices tend to be situated within institutions…practices are colonised when pressured to adjust to the pursuit of external goods rather than their own internal goods and the goods of the communities in which they take place. When external goods dominate, the practices are prevented from facilitating human flourishing.  This problem can be seen in the extent to which an increasing number of film festivals whose ostensible goal is the instigation of ‘social change’ hold this to be a vehicle for ‘social entrepreneurialism’. Examples include the Social Media Film Festival, which screens “films about social media, social change and technology” for two days a year in The Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. The main sponsor is LeClair Ryan, a law firm that specialise in corporate law and litigation, or helping “clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimising their legal...

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