Celebrations in Austerity Britain

Britishness is very much in vogue lately it seems. Nothing says British cultural identity like losing in competitions (Eurovision, the Euro football tounament, Oscars and even British book awards). Mortifying embarrassment compined with a pretense of social reservedness, rainy days and long queues are the superficial things that many people identify with Britishness.

I don’t care much for what the Jubilee represents, nor am I terribly excited about it. Perhaps its telling that there isn’t really a strong countercultural presence that is visible about an issue like this. I was forced to write a piece about the Diamond Jubilee because as Michael said: ‘Nobody else wants to write one, and we should think of austerity- I, I mean, posteriority’. I included his Freudian slip because austerity seems to be the name of the game for many people in the country.

I am in the technical parlance, broke as shit at the moment, I’m working this weekend simply because I can, and because it will pay me. For my family we aren’t doing too much, although there are talks of a few spontaneous barbeques and my older relatives have spoken fondly of their experiences of street parties during the 1977 Jubilee. I’m happy that lots of people are going to enjoy 2 extra days off, some public sector friends of mine will have 3 days off, so including the weekend, that’s a 5 day holiday. I suppose that’s a reasonable price for a reduced pension.

I’m too busy do celebrate the Jubilee. I won’t be completely miserable about it, although perhaps reserved is a more apt term. I appreciate the positive values of modern Britain. I appreciate the fact that the monarchy is a cultural institution bigger than many things, bigger than football, horse racing or TOWIE. There is something somewhat assuring about tradition. I care not for the divine right of kings and queens, but I find the modern royals relatable, especially when they have scandals and family problems, because what family isn’t without failing relationships, substance abuse and very uncomfortable allegations? The sentimentality of a shared living memory of the Royal family is something very special to the British consciousness, consider the royal wedding last year where Canadian, Portugese, Indian  and Israeli friends of mine seemed to find the novelty of royal families eccentric and fabulous.

Having a shared cultural identity is pretty nice after all. I think its great that strangers who live near each other as neighbours can come together and raise a toast to the Queen. The way I see it is this: when you are in a pub or bar, and the alcohol is flowing, you will toast to anything so long as the conditions are correct for inebriation and/or joy. I’ll raise a glass for the Queen, if the wine is free, and that’s it really: a public holiday is our figurative Chablis. Who would say no to a day off? As it happens, I would, as I can’t afford it right now.

Having something to celebrate is an important thing in difficult times. Although in difficult times, it doesn’t matter what you celebrate sometimes. It’s nice to see the eccentrics come out this weekend to celebrate, eccentricity is the pride of Britishness for me, not to mention its multiculturalism and liberal democratic tendencies. So for me, the Jubilee means in this period of Austerity Britain: a quiet smile for those having fun, getting on with things in a way that doesn’t actually change anything significant in my otherwise dire life and lastly, being obliged to write this blog post.

Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got work tomorrow.


A Year in Review: Dissent

(Ed: Apologies that this is late)

If there is one thing that characterises the year that has recently passed, it is the unifying theme of instability. Whether one is working in the so-called public or private sectors, instability is now a constant that is presumed. A generational gap between the Baby Boomers and those after them is emphasised by a differing pension scheme or position on the housing market. The societal myth of social mobility is more in question now than it has ever been (bar the early 20thC). Jobs and public positions are not stable. Even those in governance and the media are not safe from instability. This lesson has been learned by two differing but related aetiologies.

The first aetiology is that of the larger economic forces coming into play. While the nuances of the financial system are beyond my understanding, I can appreciate that economies and various aspects of financial industries and wider industries have implications on wider society and economy. Government debt in most Western/Northern countries is at a fairly ridiculous rate, and much of the popular media emphasises the short term effects and outcomes of the present day. My point about instability is that government debt has cultivated a political penchant for austerity which in turn has affected wider social features.

Another aetiology comes from the influence of public opinion. Public opinion has shown great force in recent months. From the Arab spring, a movement of individuals from Arab nations continue to display signs of dissent relating to their governance. While these events still unfold, many are curious what the long term implications of these forms of dissent will entail. In the US, and to some extent the UK, dissent has reached a new audience of people through a plethora of causes to express disquiet about the status quo. On the year that Gil Scott Heron died, how fitting is the phrase he is most known for: The Revolution will Not be Televised’. Dissent has been facilitated by social media, from the blatant violation of the injunctions on public figures (addressed in a previous post this year), to organised chaos in the English Riots during the summer. It is certainly an interesting year historically, while many of these momentous events go on around the world, we at Noumenal Realm on a day to day basis are actually living boring lives despite it all, perhaps that is the most disappointing feature of our year in review.  My year has been pretty boring as far as life goes, uneventful, and to some extent that is due to the instability of many things going on.

Sinistre (theme of dissent comes from discussions with Destre)

Cultural Connections: The protest generation

I was currently reading an essay “The Schema of Mass Culture” by Adorno over the past couple of weeks. I was planning to write about it and make some notes, but I need a lot of time to think about it, to connect the dots as it were and I know that any interpretation that I do have is hardly definitive or worth reading. Connecting to the present, I have been catching up on the news events around the world from room with a window facing dull suburbia. With the recent riots behind me, I am observing that there is a protest movement in the USA. There are already internet memes mockingly referring to the sincerity of the movement, which in a way both undermines its seriousness, as well as acknowledges its influence.The phrase ‘we are the 99%’ is coming up a lot.

Around the world, protests are popping up. This is hardly a uniquely pan-Arab phenomena, as so-called ‘developed’ or ‘northern/western’ countries are experiencing moments of civil unrest. Credit rating agencies are looking poorly on the borrowing records of governments, and many pundits foresee more difficult economic times before it gets better. This issue exascerbates already underlying social inequalities, and in a way creating new ones. This is a recipe for civil unrest.

Over the past few years of writing this blog, I’ve noted a certain cynicism (namely, mine) about protest movements in general. I’m cynical that they got hijacked by families of causes, or they are simply not listened to, or that apathy rules stronger. There are a great number of interests groups these days. If we are to look at the UK, there are a huge family of interests which form the broad ‘anti-cuts’ protest movement. In a way I still feel cynical about whether they will make any affective change, but their voices are definately going to be heard. In some way, protest methods have become more plural, more inclusive, and not necessarily more direct-action based (although there’s a lot of that too).

Reading Adorno, I am reminded that certain Frankfurt school representatives would engage with student protest interests, combining praxis with their theory. The social sciences, and to a lesser extent, philosophy, had become relevant to the protest sensibilities of the time. What happened with the protest movements were that they fizzled out, and the failure of which set the cultural tone of pessimism for the 1970s in the manifold of cultural movements. I wonder how this situation will pan out, but I’m certainly not optimistic of the emergence of a world soul, or socialist utopia. Perhaps, like Adorno thought: culture will be schematised to expected conditions and the terms of collusion will be carved out by culture, cutting the protest motive from the jugular. Television popular light entertainment in the UK is at a peak high that it has not seen in decades, a fixation on such a culture seems to be an interesting contemporamous bedfellow of the protest movement. I find something distinctly Adornian about that.


As an institution: on injunctions

Last week we at the Realm addressed the issue of the so-called super injunctions pertaining to limitations made upon the media in the UK. I think within a day or two of the post, a Member of Parliament (John Hemming, Liberal Democrat) using a ceremonial priviledge of breaking the law without retribution had named offending individual, which meant by some legal digression (I’m not the law expert in the family), the media were allowed to mention that the MP had mentioned Ryan Giggs one of the offending individuals whose injunction became referred to as ‘Britain’s worst kept secret’.

Some discussion came to the pros and cons of this MP’s decision. The issue is whether this was an abuse or apt use of Parliamentary priviledge. On the con side, this is a most frivolous affair, to give such public attention in the Parliament to the activities of an entertainment figure is the definition of abusing a serious priviledge. A more nuanced position is to say that there is a case for media outlets to observe a discretionary removal of certain news stories and to break such a legal mandate on any issue is to undermine the institution and merits of such discretionary measures. I will go into this latter point in a moment.

The ‘pro’ position for Mr. Hemming’s decision is that this is an issue not only of public interest because it raises the old discussion of the freedom of the press, it is also an untenable injunction because so many people knew about it and social media cannot easily be controlled. There was the additional suggestion that the representative of the party who imposed the injunction would sue, essentially, the internet (or more specifically, some 70+ thousand people) for voiding the injunction. One might say that this would be a good enough reason to break this injunction, on the basis that it is untenable and it undermines the institution of the judicial and the legislative powers of the land.

[Lemma: It is a fair point to say that the role of social media must be included in a comprehensive legal system, considering the role it has had in the now-titled ‘Arab Spring’, as well as this injunction affair. As a semi-serious, semi-joke point, I suspect that religious leaders of varying faiths are soon going to have to decide whether it is permissable to engage in social media, or the extent and depth of activity within it. Some phenomena are so new and unique that it takes a while to really come to terms with its impact. ]

The ‘disapproval’ camp for Hemming’s flouting of the injunction would say that the institution of legitimate media enforces certain kinds of privacy. Imagine if there were a news story that was going to be issued about the mental health issue of a public figure, or a private medical dilemma that somehow press outlets wanted to make a story out of, for instance if it involved a very serious and personal decision. There is a legitimate case for the parties concerned to make a request to the Press Complaints body to ask for a discretionary media block. This not only is an option for many parties, it is in fact enforced on a daily basis. There are various grounds in which such a media block can be enforced, stories may not be of the public interest and of extreme personal concern, stories pertaining to personal tragedies (especially those not relating to people in the public eye) may bring undue attention to the parties and thus excascerbate their problems. There must be a space for interests such as these.

I am reminded of Kant’s notion of morality in this specific instance. When we enforce or legislate a rule, its value is only accorded as to how we may follow it. If no one follows a rule, it is untenable, and we may say that rule following as an institution may be undermined (if such a rule is serious). The suggestion that the party to the injunction may prosecute many of the people on social media sites, which would lead to a forcible outing of usernames, on such a level of thousands of people makes such a injunction ruling untenable. Denning’s decision as possibly an intended consequence by him, will accelerate the process of making a more comprehensive system in place to the status quo. Holding to a law, like the institution of promise-keeping, is worthwhile insofar as it can be upheld.