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 risks, difficulties and expenses”. Meanwhile the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival offers its attendees “informal networking and brainstorming sessions with business, community and industry leaders” while its “president” describes himself as a “social entrepreneur”.
Examples can be seen throughout the cultural sphere (see my previous piece on film festivals and anti-capitalism for more). What we have here are examples of the “striking disparity” identified by Darressa, between a social change media that sells its consumers into passivity, and an audience of citizens with the capability of constructing their own reality. Speaking of the trajectory of his own organisation, California Newsreel, Darressa goes on:
Newsreels filmic escapism merely offered our viewers a moralistic catharsis, a frisson of otherness from an increasingly homogenised global mass culture. In short, we confused decontextualising our viewers from the contexts of their daily life with giving them the tools to intervene directly in that context.
Where film making practices and Film Studies as a discipline is concerned, it is possible to reverse the trend of increasing colonisation, and its affects on the texts being produced, by taking a series of discernable steps whose purpose is to secure the internal interests of those practices against the external interests of colonising systems. Fundamental to this process is the re-connection of social change and revolution, as well as the identification of issues that affect working class communities and the production of films towards the end of rectifying the unacceptable situation we find ourselves in. As Salter goes on: “Despite the corrupting influence of some institutions, social practices connected to the common goods of communities, can act as bases of resistance to colonisation”.
The following film is an attempt to contribute to these ends.
For more on the Foundation for Community Change visit their website.
To read Larry Darressa’s full piece go here.
You can download Lee Salter’s piece, entitled “Journalism in the Academy” here.