As I try my best to fix some of the new faults my Apple computer alerts me of, I realize that these are issues of monopoly capitalism, not technical issues. My ‘out of date’ Apple 5 and 5s phones no longer work with my ‘out of date’ operating system because of some new reason or another. Reasons that are here today, and were not here five years ago when the same system ran fine. The only way I can get my systems linked up, or talking with any of the other Apple products my family own, is to upgrade my software or buy new equipment. I must buy my way out of technical glitches. The recent admission that Apple were purposely slowing iPhone’s down (to encourage people to buy new smartphones) came as no surprise. Of course company’s need to make money but what we have in our hands is evidence of market coordination and control that one of the two firms that dominate IT markets are able to exercise. If I had the time on my hands, tracing these networks to discover these ‘encoded technical glitches’ would make for a fascinating research study. A wide range of technical glitches indicates that I am clearly being ‘funneled’ towards a new purchase – I could be wrong of course, and many glitches are genuine faults. Some technical glitches reveal sources of political and economic contention and that markets are not free, users freedom of choice is massively restrained, controlled and coordinated.
Where does Grime come from? This question has been posed to Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, So-Solid or Heartless Crew and many others. DJ Target from Pay As You Go Cartel has recently begun an interview series on BBC One Xtra to address this very question. With UK artists such as Skepta and Stormzy breaking into American markets, and international newcomers introduced to the rawness of Grime Music, there has been an emergence of interest into the roots of this raw, underground sound. This blog will offer a Bristolian perspective on the roots of Grime – Bristol being an hour and a half drive away from London, and my hometown. This blog will discuss various, interrelated factors that caused Grime to emerge. The most significant include: cultural and musical influences, advancing technologies, tensions between social classes and the establishment, and shifts in levels of wealth and prosperity.
To understand how Grime Music evolved it is important to understand the social and political atmosphere within which Grime emerged. In most accounts of the emergence of Grime these factors are easily overlooked. The most crucial factor, I feel, was Nine-Eleven (9/11) terrorist attacks across America in 2001. From the perspective of a young, working-class youngster, particularly young black youngsters, it seemed that 9/11 gave Tony Blair and George Bush a green light to conspire, declare an ‘Axis of Evil’ and send troops and bombs into the Middle East. The Global War on Terrorism also enabled national leaders to activate police forces against urban youths on the streets. Operation Trident, new stop and search laws handed to the police, and the introduction of Anti-Social Behavior laws, seemed to target and victimize urban youngsters of lower-income households, particularly of African, Muslim or Afro-Caribbean decent. In Bristol I remember a row of around ten police helicopters flying in a straight line over ‘ghetto’ districts of Bristol City. Residents were told that the police were scanning these city areas using infrared cameras to identify council houses where crops of marijuana were being grown. Rightly or wrongly, for those growing weed to earn an alternative income, the state-system was clamping down on any potential earnings.
Tighter government control, authoritarian at times, generated an atmosphere and feelings of tension at a street level. If Tony Blair and George Bush were prepared to lead the UK into an oil ‘War on Iraq’, considered by many demonstrators an act of daylight robbery, then at a street level, gang warfare, robberies, stabbings and even killings were somewhat justified – if the ruling powers are doing it, why shouldn’t we? Since the police are targeting us, criminalizing us, then what commitment do we owe to the state or acting according to ‘civilized’ or socially acceptable rules? The political and state-system was hypocritical every time it told gang members to back down or disarm. Different cultures of violence emerged: gang culture, knife culture and gun culture. There is a famous video online of a clash between Dizzee Rascal and Crazy Titch (Titch, later imprisoned for 30 years for murdering a ‘disrespectful’ MC with Mach 10 machine gun).
The Dizzee vs. Titch clash is still a tense video to watch. Looking back it is easy to see how hostile things were at that time. Undeniably, this was a clash of egos; a fierce lyrical battle between competing MCs that got out of hand. At the same time, gang wars; international war and police hostility would have amplified tensions within this pirate radio studio in East London. For those living in deprived areas during this time, targeted by a hypocritical state system (‘Islamophobia’), then it did feel as if the UK was reduced to a ‘dog eat dog’ culture. This provided the background for the aggressive sound and violent content of Grime Music; ‘grime simply gave East London’s disenfranchised youth a platform; it was the Fight Club of London’s underground youth subculture’.
Another factor in the emergence of Grime was technological, a shift from analogue to digital media formats. Vinyl records, cassette tapes or Technics 1210 turntables were being slowly replaced by CDs, mini-disks and MP3s. Whereas pirate radio stations were once the main outlet for underground music, gradually digital cable channels such as Channel-U became another outlet for unsigned urban talent. Underground acts such as So-Solid Crew or Pay As You Go Cartel that who blew up on cable network channels, were signed and pushed into mainstream markets, eventually performing on BBC Radio or Top of the Pops. Later on, MySpace offered music producers and MCs a free forum for connecting with fans, promoting events and distributing music. Throughout this transition, no longer was an MC or group of MCs a host to the DJ as the main act, but MCs started to become musical artists and the main act over the DJs. Ravers would go to events to see Baseman, Skibadee or Shabba D as much, if not more, as the DJs they were performing with.
In the analogue era of decks and vinyl records, listeners and fans typically stuck to one genre of music, had a favorite music shop or a favorite radio station. Youth culture was separated into clicks of ‘Hip Hop Heads’, ‘Junglists’ or ‘R&B Fans’ with their own languages and fashions. Sound systems and DJs began to change this. From a Bristol perspective, London sound systems such as Boogie Bunch, Rampage Sound or Heartless Crew were more popular because they mixed of genres of urban music. I remember Boogie Bunch’s DJ Swing playing a Ragga track at an R&B night and considering that groundbreaking and revolutionary – normally dancehall music was played in the ghetto areas of the city alone. No longer did urban music fans need to go to a strictly R&B night but you could hear a sound system spin Jungle, Garage, R&B, Hip Hop, Dancehall and Soca. Were the DJs becoming more selective, and setting new musical trends, or were the crowds becoming more picky, wanting more variety from DJs? As analogue culture slowly transformed into digital culture, it was more likely a mixture of the two (supply and demand).
In the digital era and the Internet, made music free and more accessible and merged cultures and sounds. Like music fans, MCs did not want to be restricted to one pirate radio station or one specific genre of music. MCs wanted to diversify and embrace a wider range of musical tastes, as well as tap into and make money from different musical markets. General Levi was an early example of a lyricist able to perform across genres, embracing Jungle, Hip Hop and Ragga music. Multi-genre music went in two creative directions. On the one hand, MCs such as General Levi became mixed-genre artists, performing on Jungle, Hip Hop and Ragga tracks. On the other hand Grime Music began to mix and amalgamate different genres into one distinct sound. As I remember, East Connection, Heartless Crew or Pay As You Go Cartel were some of the first distinguishable example of Grime Music to hit Bristol, Swindon or Cardiff. Later down the line, Nasty Crew or Roll Deep with DJ Slimzee, Dizzee Rascal and MC Wiley were to develop that raw and dark sound we know today as Grime Music.
The emergence and evolution of Garage Music played a fundamental role in setting the foundations for Grime Music. Deriving from Soulful House, borrowing baseline elements from Jungle and Drum & Bass music, Garage Music radically transformed the R&B, Dancehall and Hip Hop nightclub scene. The Garage Scene was all about wearing expensive designer shoes, dapper suits, looking intelligent, wearing crisply ironed shirts whilst drinking champagne (‘champagne bubbly’). What came with Garage Music was a real feeling of emancipation, liberation, freedom and joy. Night clubbers felt set free and empowered by this celebratory sounds of Garage. Any aggression associated with badman-Dancehall music (e.g. Bounty Killer’s “Anytime” or “Can’t Believe Me Eye” (1998)) or New York Hip Hop (e.g. The Lox ” We Are The Streets” (2000), DMX “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” (1998)), was momentarily suspended by the smooth vocals and skipping beats of UK Garage (e.g. Roy Davis Jr ft Peven Everett – Gabriel (1996), Tina Moore – Never Gonna Let You Go (1997), MJ Cole – Sincere (2000)). UK Garage or Speed Garage was a motivational music. People would work hard, save hard, dress up ‘stush’, travel long distances and spend hard-earned money in order to enjoy a Garage rave. The clientele was sophisticated, upbeat and intelligent, with less chance of outbreaks of trouble associated with Dancehall or D&B music scenes.
Gradually UK Garage Music got darker as it evolved from its Soulful House roots to what has become Grime Music today. It merged a lot more with the darker elements of Drum & Bass music. MC Bushkin of Heartless crew recently made an interesting point of how Garage DJs began to reduce the vocals on garage tracks, and extend the break beats; amplify the baselines, to allow Ragga, Jungle and D&B MCs to spit vocals on over the tracks. This allowed a greater integration between D&B and Garage. But the mixing, merging and integration was as much social as cultural and musical. In several interviews Wiley or Dizzee, mention being that the tracksuit wearing, under-class, street-youth they represented were often barred from entering the black-middle-class Garage raves by nightclub bouncers. Essentially, in the eyes of the Garage Music scene these Drum & Bass MCs and their fan base represented trouble. Both Wiley and Dizzee would be the first to admit to that.
Gradually, Garage Music became darker, more aggressive, more troublesome, and later evolved into Grime Music. Wiley’s anthem “Wot U Call It?” (2004) is the most noticeable point in the transition from Garage (2-Step, UK Garage or Speed Garage) to Grime. With people speculating about names for the new genre, such as “Eski Music” or “Sub-Low”, it was eventually termed “Grime” by either music journalists or industry employees. Heartless Crews’ MC Bushkin mentioned that nigh clubbers would say to him: “Your music sounds Grimy!” That was a popular term at that time with N.O.R.E.’s thug-life anthem “Grimy” (2001) or Dillinja’s ultra-dark Drub & Bass anthem: “Grimey”.
Whereas UK Garage seemed to represent a cultural celebration of new wave of wealth and middle-class prosperity entering into black communities within the UK (from mid-1990s to 2001), post-9/11 Grime Music signified marginalization, despair, anger and rage against the establishment, as the title of Dizzee Rascal’s cornerstone LP “Boy in the Corner” suggests.
Grime can be considered a by-product of political and military Blairism. Grime has now become a sell-out scene, not as in watered-down, but sell-out as in commercially successful. Not only are Grime MCs making their mark around the world, but selling out huge stadiums within the UK – for example, Red Bull’s Culture Clash or Dizzee Rascal’s opening of the British Olympics. Any anger, rage and despair embedded within the sound has evolved into mainstream sound; a part of British national consciousness. The fury that Grime expressed, which stemmed from poverty, class and racial tensions, aimed at the corporate and social state-system, is paradoxically vented and celebrated at a national-level.
The views in this blog are mainly my own. Please a comment below if you see the emergence of Grime from another perspective. Thanks for reading.
Adam Curtis’ BBC documentary “Hyper-Normilisation” was a virtual web of lies. In this blog I will show you how to deconstruct his theory by watching the first five minutes.
‘We live in a strange time’, Adam Curtis announces at the beginning of his documentary. Without watching the rest of the documentary, it is extremely easy to understand why. The reason everything is strange is because it is modern and new. Nobody throughout human history has been able to instantaniously communicate face-to-face with a stranger around the other side of the world. Never before, in the whole of human history, have groups of people been able to chase mythical characters down the street, as Pokémon-Go enables us to. Soldiers sat in offices at remote locations can fight wars and wipe out armies; this is new. The majority of us walk around these days carrying super-computers in our pocket, that’s new. These are some good reasons why everything is odd, weird, abnormal or extraordinary. It’s modern, it’s new! – read anything by Antony Giddens on the ambiguous nature of the modern world.
Curtis suggests ‘we all’ live in a Matrix-style reality. And that ‘all of us’ went along with the idea of living in a ‘carefully constructed fake world’ because ‘the simplicity was reassuring’. So, he offers us a really, really simple explanation about why.
What caused this fake world to emerge – what is this story Curtis has to tell us? According to his theory, our fake world emerged in 1975. This was because of two historical events that took place ‘at the same moment’ in two cities of the world in 1975. Let stop here for a moment. Is it feasible that an event in New York and Damascus (Syria) provides the political and economic bedrock that constitutes your everyday reality? It only took two historical events to construct the hyper-reality that you live every day? What happened to forgotten empires, colonisation, world wars, the launch of Sputnik 1, the advent of the Internet, and so on? In fact, what happened to the whole of human history until now? Apparently, there is only one moment in time that actually counts.
Are you reassured by the simplicity of his theory? If you are, then by his own confession, what has drawn you in is his simplified narration of history (two events in two cities). Social theory, after all, reduces the complexity of the world into simplified thinking. The theory of hyper-normalisation is a simple theory about the over-siplified world of simplicity we all live in. Simple isn’t it?
A friend once told me that the key to a good lie is to weave elements of truth into it. Google search controversial or widely discussed news items. Take hot topics such as ‘Banks’, ‘waves of refugees’, ‘Brexit’, ‘Trump’, ‘Russia’ and ‘Syria’ and quickly whisk them up into a simple, all encompassing and easy to digest theory of everything. That is what you get when with Curtis’ theory of hyper-normalisation. These news stories are compelling, affect many modern lives, and they are purposely deployed by Curtis to pull you in. Did you take the bait?
The idea of individualism and self-governance, or the concept of a non-political, economically driven social system runs through the history of Western academic thought. According to Curtis these liberal ideas (economic liberalism) are new concepts, they emerged in New York one day when some bankers refused to turn up to a city-hall meeting. Rather than listen to Curtis, we could refer to cybernetic theory of Norbert Wiener – see J. Mitchell Johnson’s brilliant new documentary “Remaining Human” -, or trace cybernetic theory back to the Marxism, Adam Smith, Enlightenment thinkers, Renaissance thinkers, right back to the philosophies of the Ancient Greeks. In fact, society without political governance would constitute all societies before the city-stat, empires or nation-state systems.
What the documentary represents is a bit of intellectual foolery or mischievous intellectualism. What I find more interesting is the way in which, from time to time, media channels like the BBC and Channel 4 like to toss conspiracy theories out into the public domain. There are never books published following the broadcast, rarely any academic citations, but they manage to tell us ‘all’ how are lives are shaped by evil men on the inside.
To return to the point, all theory is over-simplifying. That is to say, all theory reduces the world into easy to understand concepts and ideas. Bad theory can ruin lives – note that Russell Brand has developed his own strand of hyper-normalisation theory. Deconstructionism, either via way of Jacques Derrida (1976) or Friedrich Nietzsche, searches for the escape routes from all-encompassing, totalitarian theories. These thinkers aimed to expose theorists’ underlying biases and attempts to gain power over others. In many ways this kind of BBC documentary draws people in and gets people thinking or talking about what is healthy or unhealthy about modern culture. It gets them on the theoretical journey, that could then lead viewers down the path to become academic readers. Those intrigued by the idea of hyper-normalisation might one day find themselves reading about ‘hyper-reality’ (Baudrillard, 1994) or Georg Simmel’s theory of ‘hyper-individuality’ (written in 1905). Although Adam Curtis’ documentary is an absolute web of lies, it is useful in these regards. Other than that, beware of false profits.
Baudrillard J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, USA: The University of Michigan Press.Derrida J. (1976) Of Gramatology, America: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
The recent attacks remind us of the war we are all involved in, the great majority of us without choice. Like it or not, we just find ourselves involved. What will the solution be? How should the French respond to the recent bloodshed in Paris? The Young Turks discuss on their YouTube channel in America. Without democratic referendum, the solution will continue to be tighter border control, more population surveillance, and more foreign air strikes in the name of global security. Our gut feelings would tell many of us “No”, but what say do we have in the mater?
More surveillance, more control and increased military-political power some would argue is the solution, and France has already closed off its borders for internal population control. For others the such a outcome is just inevitable; and the solution seems a problem in itself.
This solution keeps with tradition since Paris has always been a city of surveillance, absolutley. ‘It is still a matter of debate as to whether Haussmann built the new boulevards of Paris after 1853 primarily for the purposes of military control over a restive population or as a mean to facilitate the easier circulation of capital within the confines of a city straitjacketed in a medieval network of streets and alleys’, David Harvey (2003) noted in his book written after the 9/11 terror attacks and second invasion of Iraq. The question draws our attention to the pressing modern, or “post-modern” issues of power and internal/external, nation-state surveillance on the one hand, and then the associated, sometimes conflicting issue of capital accumulation on the other.
Eventual Parisian, Michele Foucault, made predictions about the future world that was emerging, that we are now living in; and his theory of bio-power managed to score close to the mark. Bio-power ‘was without question an indispensible element in the development of capital’, Foucault wrote, ‘the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic process’ (1998: 140-141). Like Lyotard, his turn away from Marxist theories of capital accumulation, historical materialism, towards theories of power, surveillance and knowledge was the result of a revolution in France that failed to come about.
The darker side to Foucault’s theory of bio-power, what Giddens’ would refer to as the ‘dark side of modernity’, informs us that there will unfortunately be little internal or external escape from this vicious loop of bio-power, increasing security, increasing surveillance and increasing counter-terrorism.
The technologies of surveillance (i.e. mobile phone, the Internet, GPS) is what gives all terrorist attacks their “viral” form and character. These are the same technologies through which we express our appeals for life.
Bio-power is a vicious cycle. ‘Wars’ Foucault wrote, ‘are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone; the entire populations are mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of life necessity; massacres have become vital’ (137). In order to live in civilized societies, securely, as many of us do, they certain amounts of death will need to be administered on our behalf.
The theory of bio-power would offer a feasible explanation as to why, without referendum, without democratic choice, and conducted on “our” behalf, David Cameron announced to the UK that ‘Jihad John’ was killed as the result of a drone airstrike. His speculation was based upon the information generated by a collaborative force of international, military intelligence agencies. This death was administered by military powers, and very few of civilians of Western civilizations can control neither the processes nor the outcomes. In some ways his announcement tried to reassure families in “secured” nations that they can now rest in peace. Increasingly however we should begin to understand – as Foucault did – that security and civility could come only at that price. Of course then, revenge was imminent, since such horrific occurrences will return with ongoing, karmatic-like consequences.
On the other hand, Harvey’s neo-Marxist theories of ongoing capital accumulation points – worryingly – to the necessity of capitalism to access raw materials and foreign markets as a means of stabilising the economic system and postponing inevitable market crises. Foreign intervention, foreign invasion is a systematic necessity to the economic system that delivers us cheap food, cheap commodities and the Christmas shopping we must all do. Our presence in the Middle East is fundamental to ongoing economic prosperity. We are tied, economically committed, to securing these geographical locations since without security in this area, advanced globalised economies would risk systemic failure. If the environmental crises are not enough to warrant the urgent development of renewable energy resources, then economic dependence on Eastern oil must add a more crucial driver, since counter-terrorism seems to stem from the ongoing and forceful extraction of raw materials from the Middle East.
European outrage about the neglect of the preservation and protection of the lives of Syrian refugees not only demonstrated the technologies of surveillance (social networking media, the Internet) that make us aware of the negative, external effects of foreign intervention and the politics of administrable Death, but the politics of administrable Life, reminding us about this current age of bio-power and how affects our everyday lives.
As I write this I can hear police sirens echoing through the streets of Cambridge, as has been the case since the terror attacks in Paris last night. Without being informed that the UK is in a state of high-terror alert, I can only assume that it is. I possess little to no empathy for the terrorists yesterday and neither I do not empathise with drone-pilots of advanced nations. We need to get past this reoccurring loop of administered death and revenge.
If we are trying to think “progressively” about future societies, secure societies or even an idealistic or utopian Society, then there are two theoretical loops that we need to decouple ourselves from; to be found in their theories of Foucault and Marx/Harvey.
- Foucault M. (1998) Right of Death and Power over Life. The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: 1. London: Penguin Books, 135-159.
- Harvey D. (2003) The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
I was delighted to discover that plans had been made at the G7 summit to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. Oliver Burkeman’s article on the Guardian Website, “We’re all climate change deniers at heart”, brought home a lot of personal truths about my relationship with nature. It also raised concerned about how much responsibility “I” (or, “We”) should personally take onboard for causing environmental damage.
There seems to be an environmental blame game going on here that forces some of us to become climate change deniers. Very few of members of advanced societies are willing to take onboard the civil responsibility for walking further (rather than driving) to purchase organic ingredients, or digging deeper into our pockets to support local producers, or turning taps off in between brushing our teeth and washing our faces, or approaching politicians or supermarkets with demands for more environmentally friendly produce. Quite simply because someone else, somewhere else, is doing more damage to the environment than us. Climate-change, and all environmental issues, are mixed up in this general, ecological or environmental contandrum. Call it “Nature” if you will.
Environmental sociologist Raymond Murphy (1994) raises the issue of environmental accountability. On the one hand, more accounts (as in calculations or metrics) are being taken about environmental resources, waste outputs and environmental destruction by those in higher positions of power (experts, researchers, academics). On the other hand, accountability for environmental destruction is being distributed out. This accountability for environmental degradation is dispersed between developed nations and “undeveloped” nations (or, “under-developed” nations), multinational corporations and local businesses, urban and rural communities, celebrities and non-celibrities, and so on. How accountable are you for environmental degradation?
The term and concept of “collective actions”, or the ‘slow workings of complex impersonal systems’ that Burkeman refers to , denotes a disproportionate assignment or blame, in so far as some collective actions cause more damage than others.
– Let’s just make it clear that what are often refereed to as “undeveloped” nations are often the most advanced and developed nations in terms of environmental and ecological sustainability. –
I think the most import and fascinating issue is that of the distribution of environmental accountability between individual consumers, or “Us”, and multinational corporations, or the ‘industrial elite’. While environmental damage can be considered the result of “collective action”, some should be held more accountable than others; some have profited financially more than others; some have accumulated more power than others. The exploitation of nature has always been an integral part of wealth and power accumulation.
Why should I feel accountable for environmental destruction by not separating my plastics from my food waste? Especially when there is a huge cloud of industrial pollution hovering over cities in Latin America or China, or bombs being dropped in Bagdad? What personal responsibilities should “we”, as members of advanced nations, take onboard in light of the environmental degradation caused in the international trade of agrochemicals? What personal sense of responsibility should I feel in light of the ecological footprint that the launching of a remote sensing, satellite into outer space? Why should I cycle out of town to visit the farmer’s market – and pay extra for the produce – when the supermarkets in my city profit more from selling mass-produced, non-organic food?
Each of us seems to shift the blame from one source to another. Either our next door neighbours is using their hosepipe during a summer’s drought and hosepipe ban, which tempts us into using our own; or, we are constantly in an uproar about how weapons of mass destruction – damaging to human populations and to natural environments – are being deployed around the world without our democratic consent.
– Fu*k it then, I will use water my garden, why care if no one else cares?
Q: Why should I fly less or have less children if Jeremy Clarkson and collogues get paid to test-drive supercars to their absolute limits?
These political or military elites, the ruling classes or company owners, also have a much different worldview than your average citizen of the global economy. The environmental damage viewed from above – from satellites and drones – paints a much different picture of the earth than the general public can observe stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work. We need these elites to gather scientific information about climate change, implement economic goals or policies, inform citizens about dangers, stand up and make changes. It is beyond the capacity of the average consumer to inspect each product in their shopping basket as to determine its environmental footprint. We need to trust the future in the hands of trust-worthy, uncorrupt, leaders.
We can theorise collective action and accumulative results, but quite clearly some have more power and wealth to action social change, social or economic reformation than others. The G7 goal to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century matters because the ideas of the experts and ruling elite are being put into action. These ideas can bring about a more fundamental change than any one, everyday individual can achieve on their own. This is not to abdicate each individual of industrial society from their environmental responsibility, but hopeful this move (followed by lots of other movements) will lead advanced nations into the right direction, at least.
In this light, our “moral licensing” will be much more valid if we believe that our actions are legitimate to those of a greater society, and the ruling ideas of the time. This is a step towards changing the environmentally unfriendly narrative, or metanarrative, of our current epoch. However, we need to get the accountability balance right, between agency (what we individuals can personally do) and structure (what the politicians, scientific experts, corporate and military elites) can do.
Murphy R. (1994) Rationality & Nature: A Sociological Inquiry into a Changing Relationship, Oxford: Westview Press.
If Jesus did actually exist but was not the son of God, as many Christians around the world believe, then what kind of person was he? Many would say delusional or possibly even mad. One thing is for sure; he was defiantly egotistical. Imagine considering and believing that You and only you have been given authority by God to walk around the planet Earth making universal declarations to people about how they should or should not live their lives.
English stand up comedian and actor Russell Brand has recently diversified his career into three directions: (1) an apolitical politician (paradoxically), (2) an unqualified academic slash cultural theorist, slash sociologist, slash social physiologist, slash, neo-Marxist, slash critical theorist or perhaps even an all round academic don of the arts and humanities without a masters degree or doctorate in philosophy (?!?), and finally (3) he has also become a spiritual guru and claims to espouse universal truths that many of us are being held back from by a marginal, 1% ruling class of capitalists around the world. While I enjoy Brand’s sense of humour sometimes and sympathise with many of the social issues he comments on (he does pick out evocative topics after all), I consider that this combination of points one, two and three are not just slightly worrying but bloody dangerous.
For starters, I do not believe that the Church or any form of religion or spiritualism should have any direct influence on democracy, politics or the general running or a national society or nation state. I am a disestablishmentarian then. Many have pointed out the paradoxical position that Brand has features in all types of political debates while attempting to be as “apolitical” as possible.
For someone who has studied “media and culture studies” for an undergraduate degree and attended advanced lectures on discourse theory, deconstructionism, ideology, mass media, etc. then listening to Brand’s off the cuff analyses of the FOX News Network in the US is just painful. This is the most bigoted and atrocious news network in the world so I would fully support anyone’s criticisms. Sometimes he does manage to extract some general “truth” from FOX’s propaganda through his analyses for his “True News” network. However, by and large the word “Truth” is something all social scientists are skeptical about these days. After all, different types of Truth have been used by dogmatic leaders throughout the past to legitimist the most heinous crimes. Because Brand wants the general public to become more critical of bias news channels – which he or anyone else should – then why should we not also be critical about his version of the news, or the Truth?
What legitimizes Brand’s version of the Truth? This for me is the scariest part. It all boils down his personal, subjective or “spiritual” experience of life and the universe. At the end of almost every Trews report he makes appeals to the universal, collectivised source of energy and love, which apparently we have all become disconnected from through the division of labour, capitalism, consumerism, the mass media, and so on. The universe, as in every solar system, planet, person, molecule, cell, atom, etc. legitimizes his own thoughts, his own arguments, and his opinions and converts it into a “Truth statement” which is entirely and universally valid. How can anyone argue against such universal Truth? Well, quite simply no one can. There is no arguing with someone who honestly believes that her or his opinion is universally absolute.
Throughout history there have been rulers of civilizations that have had access to the universal truth; Egyptian Kings, Chinese Emperors, religious leaders, and even cult leaders. The whole idea of the Enlightenment movement was that through science and philosophy, rational critical debate, then we could overcome blind faith and dogmatism to create a more just and fair society that is no led by rulers who blindly believe that whatever they say is universally true, forever. Russell Brand seems to overlook this point. Not only should spiritual faith re-enter politics and science, but we should accept that his spiritualism and universality is the only true, valid or reliable source of knowledge.
To sum up then, according to the universal logic of Brand then at the very core or epicenter of politics, science and education, and religion, is Russell Brand. His understanding of the universe goes beyond all worldviews (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam) and binds them together in a universal “Force”. This force, energy and ‘collective universal consciousness’ is used to legitimise every argument he presents to us on the topics of religion, politics, critical theory, and so on. I am of the opinion that this force and this universal energy is simply his own universally inflated ego, which appeals for followers (people he calls “Trusers”) like all forms of religion or cult leaders have throughout the past. If critical media theories are to teach us one thing, then that is to remain critical to the media and not be easily led by universal appeals.
Lots of undergraduate students struggle with the idea of The Culture Industry. For many students these days the Frankfurt School’s theory has lost its relevance. Possibly, during the build up to the First and Second World War, when the Power Elites used mass media much more as a propaganda tool to instigate world wars, the notion of the culture industry as a critique of may have been liberating to a few. These days Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of modernity and theory of the Enlightenment as mass deception is just out of date, elitist and rather depressing to read. It depicts humans as zombie-like, morons who are systematically oppressed by a massive social mechanism; an “Iron Cage” as Weber called it, or a “unicity” as Lyotard termed it; “bio-power” to Foucault. Subsequently, The Culture Industry theory lacks agency to such an extent it reads somewhat like the contemporary conspiracy theory. We humans possess agency, the idea of The Culture Industry is too structurally-deterministic.
But the students I have spoken to during supervisions generally empathise with the idea of the culture industry; there seems to be “something there”. They are not entirely sure what, but the ideas hold to an extent. But their refusal to accept these out-of-date arguments seems to rest on the liberation that large cities, the Internet or communication technologies delivers; we live in a new world now, one of communication, knowledge sharing, imagined communities, hope and change.
I entirely sympathise with their opinions. I studied Media and Culture for my undergraduate and then Social and Cultural Theory for my masters. I tended to reject totalitarian theories of social structure for more nuanced theories of social power dynamics. My opinion has been changed after studying industrial agriculture and industrial food production systems.
The vast majority of the students tend to focus on the overwhelming complexities of cultures, sub-cultures, resistance groups and so on. They largely reject the notion of monoculture, global-culture or mass-culture. The content of their research is generally content analysis: the culture we consume on television or through fashion magazines. Focusing on the immaterial aspects of culture (ideas, language, semantics, fashions, trends, ideologies, etc.) and how they merge, influence, permeate, hybridise or intertwine. This is all fine, great indeed, but does it really constitute an adequate or even holistic understanding of culture?
The problem that I find, and I have been guilty of this in the past, is there is very little emphasis on the material or physical tools, machines, automobiles, transportation networks, communication networks (telegraph poles, fiber optic cables, wireless routers, servers, etc.) that deliver the media content or cultural content to us. We are too fixated on the celebrities, fashion models, personas or branding to accept the television sets, satellite networks or mobile handsets that deliver us the imagery as cultural artifacts. “Culture” or the cultural forms that are often analysed are songs, literature, artworks, poems, fashion items, hairstyles, etc. rather than chemistry, physics, technologies, mechanisms, wood, plastics, metals, and so on that mediate or enable this cultural content. In Marxist terms, the emphasis is generally on the culture or systems of ideas, or ideologies of a societies rather than the material, economic “base-structure”, which is by-and-large massively overlooked. We are only seeing one side of the coin.
Samsara reemphasizes the point about modernity, the Enlightenment and mass culture that it is so easy to overlook or take for granted in our everyday lives. What gives us modern people or “post-modern” and “post-industrial” people this sense of freedom, autonomy, liberty, independence or agencies are the material, objects or things of culture that surround us; such as underground sewage systems, taps, sinks and plumbing, radiators, light bulbs, cars, trains, busses, washing machines, lawn mowers, computers and mobile phones etc. With all of these cultural artifacts in place, we have less physical work to do in our everyday lives. Post-modern people don’t have to walk to get water, wash dishes and cutlery, prepare meat and cook with our bare hands, move geographic locations to communicate with other people, and so on.
Different machines or specialist sectors of society do much of our “life work” for us that we no longer recognise these social systems or material objects as relevant to our lives. We look back at the metanarratives of history as constructed events and the idea of Truth as a falsehood or mythology. We do not consider that the chemicals we put in our hair or in our mouths everyday, or the perfume or cologne we spray on our bodies, or the chemical preservatives in our food or milk as the end products of thousands of years of scientific endeavor. Science has always been socially constructed, as too is the truth that it has aimed for. The truth is scientific discovery continues on, as to do the rational and systematic cultures it encourages, and we are “privileged” enough to benefit from thousands of years of backlogged scientific disputes, processes and knowledges.
What gives many of us postmodern people the right to argue that we have agencies or that we are free-people, are the material, industrial, mechanised, and now computer automated processes that take place beyond our local horizons. It will always fright, shock and disgust us to see chicks being liquidized, cows being slaughtered or pigs being caged in pens for their entire lives, because the advanced division of labour or specialization of work roles in our contemporary society has become so advanced that we have become preoccupied by the end products; what appears on the shelves or on our screens; the Phantasmagoria; the social spectacle. We never see the cotton fields where the materials are grown to make the clothes we wear; we rarely visit the sewage works where our bodily wastes are disposed of or recycled; certainly many of us would be put off eating processed meat if we were to see the materials used to compose these “crafted” foods.
We can celebrate the pluralism and diversity of our postmodern and multicultural societies and much as we like, however, at another level of postmodern societies we neglect that there are very standardised, uniform and systematic processes in place that work twenty-four hours around the clock to deliver us with the food we consume and convert into energy, the materials that construct our city landscapes, the clothes that we use to keep us warm or attract attention. Samsara reminds us that The Enlightenment movement is as strong as ever, and The Culture Industry (singular) is still in tact, and that we also need to maintain some level of critical awareness of these industrial processes that give us this sense of entitlement to liberty and autonomy. We would be deceived to think otherwise.
More importantly, as we watch chickens being systematically herded up by machines; mono-crops being grown on “auto-farms”, production lines of workers packaging the food we will eventually eat, we should also remember how people are also systematically herded, processed, commoditised, packaged and put into cubicles. “The World Factory” a group of nine Chinese sociologists called it in an open letter about labour exploitation and worker suicides. That is the challenge if we are to understand modernity fully. And, any right-minded and critically engaged student will react against these claims. Arguing for complexity, diversity, choices, possibilities, changes and potentials to confirm their sense of agency, to confirm their own sense of power, control and self.
Maybe its too depressing to research these particular dimensions of postmodern life? The Culture Industry is depressing; Samsara is a depressing film to watch. While medics have to deal with cancer victims, firefighters have to pull mangled bodies from wreckages, or Chinese workers have to package meat on conveyor belts; why should we consider that sociology or culture studies (the humanities) should neglect the more depressing flip side of postmodern lifestyles?
‘56% of employers say flexible working is good for business’, the Department for Business’ Fourth work-life balance employer survey (2013) declared today. What did the report say about the employees who find they have to work on flexible contracts?
There are clearly downsides to working in such conditions and I have come to learn that there are five rules for survival when working in flexible job-roles. These can be taken as five rules on how to survive as flexibility increases, or they could be taken as five arguments why increasing flexibility in employment markets demands more government intervention.
Before letting you know my rules of flexible employment, I must point out that they are written following my own working experiences. Following my graduation, and after six months of unemployment, in the fallout of the 2008 Financial Crisis, I was desperate to work again. A new international language school opened up in Bristol in the old Custom’s House. The company was originally based in Switzerland and I managed to score a job as one of their first English language teachers in Bristol.
Rule 1: You need to be flexible in your attitude towards unpaid labour. I was handed a weekly rolling contract when I began working for the company. After two years of working for the company this weekly contract did not become a permanent contract, not only for me but also for the other twenty teachers they eventually employed. The teachers were only paid by the hour for the classes they taught. This is the oldest trick in the book for language teacher employers because it means that teachers do not get paid for lesson planning, extra supervision, homework and essay marking, presentation preparations, company meetings, and so on.
Rule 2: As a teacher, you are also expected by be “flexible” and adapt to the company’s direct demands. You could be informed a week in advance that your hours have changed, been dropped, or increased. That means you also have to be flexible about your weekly income and figuring out how to pay bills or save money. The option of taking onboard other work to increase your income is blocked since you have to wait on hand-and-knees to discover how long you will be needed next week – or, if worst comes to worst, if you are not needed at all.
Rule 3: You have to be “flexible” in your considerations about leisure time or free time. Since some lessons start at 9am and others finish at 5pm throughout the week, you find yourself in the school working a fairly typical “nine-to-five” job. It came as a shock to some teachers when it was announced that the school had decided to open until 9pm in the evenings during the summer – suddenly some teachers work working “nine-till-nine” with lessons planned at intervals throughout the day. Although the £13 (ish) per hour payment sounds good initially, by the time you divide your working week by paid hours, you discover you are earning as much as you could working behind a bar or driving a bus – although working much harder in your “professional” teaching role.
Rule 4: Working for a private educational company also means that you have to be entirely flexible and adaptable to the company’s customer’s needs. The average class-size was seventeen students and since many of them have paid a lot of money (especially by their own countries’ standards) to study English in England, then as a teacher your classroom performance has to be impeccable. (Try some simple maths (£13ph ÷ 17) to begin to discover what a killing such companies are making). If you do not perform to their expectations, then – as I witnessed several times within the company – your weekly contract will not be renewed. Meaning: you’ve been fired. Being flexible also means that there is no one you can appeal to if you are unfairly dismissed. Being flexible in this respect also means telling the customer’s exactly what they want to hear (regardless of how well they might not be learning English).
Rule 5: Flexible employment can be so flexible that you should simply forget about any form of fixed employment laws. As I have witnessed working for this Swiss company, some companies do not have to include sick pay, overtime, bonus payments for bank holiday working, redundancy payouts or pensions. These traditional ideas regarding employment contracts were reduced to mythology. It is light of such loose employment contracts that the government can just shrug its shoulders when intervening between employer and employee relations. It is no wonder then that ‘56% of employers say flexible working is good for business’, since it means that they get low paid, hard workers (fearful of loosing their jobs next week).
It seems to be a fairly typical practice for the government to put the onus for the structural change they peruse onto individual agents (everyday people). The report is premised on this idea: ‘employers were asked whether they had received requests over the last 12 months for any of the types of flexible working’. Or: ‘The survey explored issues relating to the patterns that employees work, in particular the use of zero hour contracts, long hours working and on-call working’. While it is probably very likely that some people would like more flexibility in employment, to put the onus on the employees or the public, for this demand for flexibility is bizarre. It overlooks the contracts handed out by companies as I had discussed above. And, what about this idea: that some employees have no choice but to work within a country that is becoming increasingly flexible in its employment laws? A document such as this does noting more that to solidify “flexible” employment contracts. This primarily serves the employers, the companies, who can continue to employ people on a very fluid, wishy-washy contracts. Employees become even more disposable as companies adapt to market forces.
I can say what I want now because I am no longer under the threat of not having my weekly contract renewed. (I do worry sometimes about being able to get a good reference?).
A “Wordie,” created at: http://www.wordle.net
The clouds ‘give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text’, so you can see from the text which words are the most prominent in my “online mind” if you like.
Dumbfounded. The only word to describe the feeling I had when I discovered that I would be studying for a postgraduate PhD at the University of Cambridge. I began my academic career at the age of thirty, studying at what some Brits refer to as a “red-brick” university – an old “working-class” polytechnic that later transformed into a “prestigious” university (English classism, I know, I know). After doing fairly well there, I went back to work and felt that laborious “9-to-5” lifestyle slowly grinding me down and sapping me of the will to live. I returned to the University of Bristol to study for a masters of science (MSc) in social and cultural theory, which was a real step up the social ladder for me. Again, my results there were fairly good too.
My advice to anyone applying to do a PhD course is to take a gap year out after finishing their master’s degree to get in touch with a range of potential supervisors, network, email and visit departments, while at the same time taking a look around for funding options, working out expenses, etc. Doing a master’s degree is very stressful and with some universities closing their application deadlines in December – the time when most master’s students are in the thick of their studies! – delaying your application by a year can reduce that stress and give you time to get a cracking PhD proposal together. What is more, you can really take time to think about what it is that you really want to study for three years, and, discover what niches there are in the knowledge market. That would be my advice.
While discussing my PhD application with a friend, I mentioned, cheekily, that I was considering applying to Cambridge. Their response was: “Well, someone’s got to do it: so why not you?” This prompted me to email the sociology department with my research idea, to, which they replied: “Yes! Very interested. Please apply a.s.a.p.” It wasn’t as easy at that, after applying online I had to negotiate my place and make sure that my project sounded realistic and theoretically/methodologically viable. This must have been the case because after going back and forth with my potential supervisor for months, I was eventually offered a place. And, like I’ve already said, the only way to describe my feeling was: “Dumbfounded!”
So, in terms of climbing the academic ladder, I have gone from the University of the West of England (#56) to the University of Bristol (#15) to the University of Cambridge (#1). – see here. There are several important reasons I have been able to climb this ladder, too in depth to mention here now, but my advice to any students looking to get on and up would be just to believe in your own talent, be realistic about your abilities and goals, be prepared to interrogate yourself and an academic with ideas and a human with real feelings and real bills to pay.
Anyway, this is the next part of the blog. I will keep anyone out there in the online “Blog-Sphere” informed about life at Cambridge and helpful advice on what to do and what not to do. Furthermore, I’ll be dropping some social commentary on the differences between studying and living at the top of the University League table as compared with being further down the bottom. Bottom line: “Stay tuned!”. Peace.