“A passionate and well-argued demolition job.” – The Guardian
Examines the built legacy of Johnson’s tenure, from his embarrassing follies to the folly of his policies, and wonders if there’s anything that can be learned from letting someone like him have a go at one the world’s great cities.
A neon mirage from the heart of the sandblasted Nevada wasteland, a panorama of crazed dictators, dreamy acrobats, the urban warlords of Hollywood, video game cults, rogue airshow pilots, feral tourists, minituarised landmarks, opium dens, pop art, nuclear war, architecture, music, money a story of limitless scope and spectacle.
“Merges elements of science fiction, political satire, thriller and ghost story; it is alternately – sometimes simultaneously – unsettling, acerbic, pacy, and eerie. Highly recommended.” — Simon Reynolds
It’s the 1980s. Max is a forty-something neurosurgeon with a secret: he has discovered a way to induce suicide in laboratory rats. And now he’s going to track down the band of Nazis who killed his father, and make them the first human subjects of his new technique.
Unholy Land: An Unconventional Guide to Israel seeks dialogue with ancient lands and sacred spaces, along with modern visions of the people who inhabit them and the burgeoning contradictions of their daily lives.
Sadly Repeater writer Peter Berczeller, author of Max: It Should Only Be, died at his home in France last week after a short illness. As the son of a socialist and Jewish politician, Peter was forced to flee Austria in the 1930s, and finally came to America by way of France, where he established himself as a medical internist and writer. Repeater were fortunate enough to publish Max towards the end of Peter’s long and eventful life. Our thoughts are with his wife and children.
It’s the 1980s. Max is a forty-something neurosurgeon with a secret: he has discovered a way to induce suicide in laboratory rats. And now he’s going to track down the band of Nazis who killed his father, and make them the first human subjects of his new technique. That is, if he is able to navigate his Compulsive Bibliophilia Disorder, which is tearing down his New York City apartment from the inside, his sexual obsession with a succession of frizzy-haired, denim-clad student social workers called Arlene, his supremely attractive Aunt Florence, and his Penile Paradox, which kicks in as soon as he encounters any woman he considers unattainable.
Revenge, loss and frustrated desire are never far out of the picture in this darkly comic tale of one man’s journey to oblivion.
“All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.”
— attributed to Reb Nachman of Breslov (1772–1810)
I felt the quote was apposite because it captured the sheer difficulty of achieving an anti-racist acceptance of diversity. As I say in the book: “To live alongside the other is to live on a knife-edge, to walk on a narrow bridge. We are all of us capable of falling, and most of us will at some point.”
There was also another reason why I added the quote. I wanted to add something specifically Jewish to the end of the book in order to remind myself and readers that this is a book written by a Jewishly-literate Jew and that, while I range widely over issues of racism and diversity in the text, it was the issue of antisemitism that led me to write it. And so not only did I add the quote from Nachman of Bratslav, I included the original Hebrew as well. This is where things went wrong…
In the first printing of the book, this is how the quote appears in Hebrew:
ללכ דחפל אל -רקיעהו ,דואמ רצ רשג ולוכ םלועה לכ
And this is how it should appear:
כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד והעיקר- לא לפחד כלל
Hebrew is written right to left. The quote in the book is written left to right. This is a common issue in preparing texts that mix English and Hebrew. I’ve encountered it in other books I’ve published. While I supplied the correct text to my publisher, somewhere in the typesetting process, it reversed itself. The fault is mine: I didn’t spot the error through multiple proofreads. And I am a reasonably fluent reader of Hebrew.
The irony is both obvious and excruciating: A book that makes a passionate case for accepting Jews as they really are, and not as one’s fantasies would like them to be, cannot even reproduce a Hebrew text as it really is. If I haven’t already lost Jewish and/or Hebrew-literate readers by that point in the book, I may well lose them once they read the epigraph. Here is an open goal for critics: ‘the author of this book makes great play of his Jewishness, but he clearly can’t even read Hebrew.’ (This is on top of the fact that, in Jewish circles, this line is repeated and set to melodies so frequently that it is almost a cliché).
But there’s a lesson here too: This stuff is difficult. To speak Jewishly, to both Jews and non-Jews is indeed to walk a very narrow bridge. In fact, to speak publicly at all, in our fractious age, is to confront endless risks of causing offence and being misunderstood. The slightest slip of attention can bring ruin.
The text will, of course, be corrected in future editions.
Strange Hate: Anti-Semitism, Racism and the Limits of Diversity is released on 9th June.
How did antisemitism get so strange?
In this passionate yet closely-argued polemic from a writer with an intimate knowledge of the antisemitism controversy, Keith Kahn-Harris argues that the emergence of strange hatreds shows how far we are from understanding what living in diverse societies really means.
Strange Hate calls for us to abandon selective anti-racism and rethink how we view not just Jews and antisemitism, but the challenge of living with diversity.
Repeater asked me to create a playlist as a soundtrack for my book Infinite Resignation, published this year. To be honest, I don’t have the energy to write elaborate exegeses for each bespoke selection detailing its rarified nuances and subtleties. So I simply listed music that I’ve been listening to recently— sometimes while writing, other times while reading, thinking, resting, waiting, having a coffee, doing nothing, keeping busy, staring at the slowly-turning day and night. If listened to straight through it should take almost exactly 24 hours.
I refrained from including Yoshi Wada’s hour-long Earth Horns with Electric Drone, Morton Feldman’s 6-hour String Quartet No. 2, all of Francisco López’s Untitled pieces played back-to-back (or simultaneously), pop songs slowed down 4000%, or those 12-hour YouTube ASMR tracks of the starship Nostromo. Not sure what unifies it all. Music that slows and stretches out time; the faintest traces of melody submerged within somber textures; impersonally-sculpted, harrowing, subsonic environments; music with a lyrical, black gravity to it; stray sounds lethargically diving under it all into some other nebulous region; nighttime emptiness and melancholic opacity; bilious, rumbling vastness of dying stars. Doubtless I’ve forgotten to include many things that I’ll remember later on… and then, in assembling such vain lists of “favorites” I realize that in fact all music is simply the dub version of the vast and immanent silence that surrounds and engulfs it, and this suffices.
1. King Woman, “Wrong,” from the EP Doubt (2015)
2. Chihei Hatakeyama, Requiem for Black Night and Earth Spiders (2016)
3. Lustmord, Dark Matter (2017)
4. The Haxan Cloak, Excavation (2013)
5. Joy Division, “Passover” from Closer (1980)
6. Slow Walkers, Slow Walkers (2013)
7. Brian Eno, Music for Prague (1998)
8. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Variation #15, performed by Joanna MacGregor (2010)
9. Thomas Köner, Daikan (2002)
10. Eliane Radigue, Kyema, Intermediate States (1992)
11. How To Disappear Completely, Mer de Revs (2017)
12. Gregorio Allegri, Miserere (c.1630), performed by Tallis Scholars (1980)
13. Christina Vantzou, No. 4 (2018)
14. Celer, “Of My Complaisance,” from An Immensity Merely to Save Life (2012)
15. Lycia, “Antarctica,” from Quiet Moments (2013)
16. Dirk Serries, “Microphonics XXIII: There’s a Light in Vein,” from Microphonics XXI-XXV
17. Deathprod, “Dead People’s Things,” from Morals and Dogma (2004)
18. Grouper, Cover The Windows And The Walls (2007)
19. Nurse With Wound, from Soliloquy for Lilith (1988)
20. Keiji Haino, So, Black is Myself (1997)
21. April Larson, “The Second Throne is the Loneliest,” from The Second Throne (2018)
22. Joy Division, “Autosuggestion,” from Substance 1977-1980 (1988)
23. Celestino, “Rest in Alaya,” from Beyond Enemy (2017)
24. Rafael Anton Irisarri, The North Bend (2010)
25. Federico Durand, “Navidad en el Bosque,” from La Niña Junco (2017)
26. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Variation #21, performed by Joanna MacGregor (2010)
27. Harold Budd, As Long As I Can Hold My Breath (By Night), arr. Akira Rabelais (2004)
28. Sarah Devachi, All My Circles Run (2017)
29. William Basinski, Nocturnes (2013)
30. Saåad, “New Helicon,” from Deep/Float (2017)
31. Nico, “Frozen Warnings,” from The Marble Index (1968)
“Daffodils for Wordsworth. Deprivation for Larkin. A trashed tower block surrounded by a toxic landscape pocked with rust-pitted Ladas in a forgotten oblast 2,000 miles from Moscow for Hatherley.” – Jonathan Meades
“A compelling range of passionate voices that together shine a powerful spotlight on the realities of East London’s regeneration, providing a kaleidoscopic compendium of stories behind the generic gloss of the developers’ hoardings.” – Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian
From A Whisper to a Shout takes a closer look at four organisations, and how they are integrating feminist tactics, social media, and political strategies to challenge abortion stigma and promote abortion access.
It’s the 1980s. Max is a forty-something neurosurgeon with a secret: he has discovered a way to induce suicide in laboratory rats. And now he’s going to track down the band of Nazis who killed his father, and make them the first human subjects of his new technique.
A neon mirage from the heart of the sandblasted Nevada wasteland, a panorama of crazed dictators, dreamy acrobats, the urban warlords of Hollywood, video game cults, rogue airshow pilots, feral tourists, minituarised landmarks, opium dens, pop art, nuclear war, architecture, music, money a story of limitless scope and spectacle.
“A short but no-holds-barred attack on the retreat from politics with a capital P… Convincingly argued and eminently quotable…” – Morning Star
Red Set: A History of Gang of Four
“Dooley has been the most patient, informed, balanced, investigative, reasoned and reasonable listener. He has swung his literary sword with both abandon and care, cutting through without drawing blood. He has made us all look far better than we perhaps have deserved. Well, not really – we were fabulous. I expect that to shine through in this book for all his readers to marvel at.” – Hugo Burnham, Gang of Four
In this quarter’s edition of Spike Art Magazine, Repeater publisher Tariq Goddard discusses why Jean Baudrillard is the key thinker of the 1980s.
By the 80s Jean Baudrillard appeared to want to interpret the world in different ways and not to change it. Having already abandoned the role of philosopher as activist and turned away from the kind of work philosophers were expected to do, in his case integrating Marxism and Freudianism in order to revolutionise our self-understanding and effect political change, Baudrillard evolved into a radical sceptic. In doing so he embraced the 80s zeitgeist…
Read the full article in Spike Art Magazine #57 here. Buy Tariq’s latest novel, Nature and Necessity, here.
In his review of the festival for Cult MTL, Ryan Diduck described it as having:
unimpeachably cool programming, airtight organization and access to some of the most unconventional and remarkable venues, including an ornate synagogue in the Jewish District, a decommissioned salt mine and a sprawling Soviet-era hotel called the Forum.
You can also check out our full range of fantastic music titles below:
Maurice El Médioni (born on 18 October 1928 in Oran, Algeria) is an Algerian Jewish pianist, composer and interpreter of Andalusian, Rai, Chaabi, Sephardic and Arab music. This book contains his original handwritten memoirs, translated by Jonathan Walton.
“Robert Barry’s excellent, exhilarating, free-ranging study relishes, and invites the reader to bask in, its sea of scholarly research and the idiosyncrasies and connections it yields.” – David Stubbs, Review 31
“As well as a keen critical edge, it is equipped with an undisguised mad love for the source material, a sense of passionate abandon induced by the tragic/ecstatic synth-pop that pours out of the speakers.” – The Wire
To celebrate Halloween, Repeater publisher and author of Nature and Necessity Tariq Goddard and Resolution Way author Carl Neville reviewed John Carpenter’s live show for The Quietus!
Everyone will have their favourite John Carpenter movie, ours is Escape From New York. Or perhaps Halloween. Or maybe The Thing. But then we forgot, how could we, about They Live, and yes Prince Of Darkness, let’s be honest, is also a great late film. I have a soft spot for Christine, my fellow reviewer doesn’t do soft spots, and neither of us has ever sat through Starman. We are here for the music of course, but equally like the rest of the audience (last seen together at the old Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street), we are also here to reverence Carpenter and pay tribute.
To celebrate the haunting season we are offering 50% off our selected titles for the next 48 hours. What a better way to get into the Halloween spirit than reading about pessimism in Western philosophy (Infinite Resignation) or discovering the unknown in the most haunting and anomalous fiction of the 20th century (The Weird and the Eerie)?
“… a fitting tribute to an author who had the rare capacity to write lucidly about dark and difficult things, to find a lexicon for the interstitial, the underground and overlooked.” – Roger Luckhurst, LA Review of Books
Even when under the tyranny of my father and despite my youth, I understood his rage. If you are Black and you grow up in America, you do not have the “privilege” of not thinking about history and race. I say “privilege” because as far as I am concerned, it cannot truly be a privilege to get only a fraction of the story. From the lack of or very limited representation of Blacks in the media, to the very segregated housing arrangements that still overwhelming rules the day in the US, race was nothing I could claim I did not see.
However, let me pull forth the beauty that I experienced, the beauty that insists despite. There’s the beauty of little brown girls, sitting between each other’s knees as their hair is braided, much like when I braid your own hair. In this act we learn about the magic that is our hair, the beauty, the strength, the tenacity of spirit and of perseverance. When I braid your hair, I am taken back to Brooklyn and reminded of the beauty of brown girls jumping double-dutch, the jazz my father created in the living room, the comfort of sitting on my mother’s lap, of hearing my sister spin yet another bedtime story for me, of my brother teaching me how to ride a bike.
Your grandfather is what happens to so many of us who are the descendants of a conquered people. As the great American writer and poet Langston Hughes once wrote: “What happens to a dream deferred?”7 As Hughes’ poem goes on to wonder, your grandfather, Darlington Brown, exploded.
But before he did, this is his story. I share this story with you, son, only so that you can understand and appreciate the path that has been paved before you. Out of this darkness, your being can be rooted and fertilised. It is important that we remember both the stories of light and those of darkness, and understand that there are lessons to be gleaned from both. It is important that we do not forget these fallen fathers, the men who have come before us, as much as the women. May this story do him justice.
Darlington Brown, or “D.B.” or “Chief,” as he was affectionately called by his crew of friends, was originally from, as mentioned before, an area known derisively as “behind the bridge.” This is an area in the capital of Trinidad, Port of Spain. “Behind the bridge” is a ghetto where the descendants of enslaved Africans paved their own way. And like all other areas dominated by Africans, it is a centre of cultural signifi cance. I am writing these words not just for you son, but to everyone who is from this region and who may be reading my words now. Your grandmother, my mother, once took me there. In Music from Behind the Bridge: Steelpan Aesthetics and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago, author Sharon Dudley shares steelband historian Felix Blake’s words on the socio-cultural concept of “behind the bridge”:
“Behind the bridge” is, geographically speaking, anywhere East of the Dry River which randomly provides a line of demarcation between the city of Port-of-Spain and its Eastern suburbs nestling jauntily on the hills of Laventille […] The other meaning of “behind the bridge” is profoundly sociological, providing clear reference to a person’s socio-economic standing as poor, under-privileged and dispossessed—classic profi le of the Afro-Trinidadian whose ex-slave forebears[sic] had settled in the hills of Laventille and who, three generations later, was still society’s outcast…
It is from behind the bridge that the youth engaged in stick-fighting or Calinda, a martial art, and Limbo — of which Sonjah Stanley Niaah writes in her book Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto:
The Limbo dance, for example, highlights the importance of not only the historical but also the spatial imagination. As a consequence of lack of space on slave ships, the slaves bent themselves like spiders. Incidentally, the lack of space in slave dungeons such as Elmina Castle, with characteristically low thresholds that the enslaved navigated to move from dungeon to holding room to the “door of no return” (now renamed the “door of return”) before boarding the slavers is also obvious to the visitor. In the dance, consistent with certain African beliefs, the whole cycle of life is reflected. The dancers move under a pole that is consistently lowered from chest level and they emerge, as in the triumph of life
over death as their heads clear the pole […] The slaveships, like the plantation and the city, reveal(ed) particular spaces that produce(d) magical forms of entertainment and ritual.
It is from behind the bridge that creative resistance was born, midwifi ng Trinidad and Tobago’s world-renowned Carnival and steelpan, which was born out of the banning of drumming in 1884. Our drumming was banned because the British feared the coded messages being transferred through them; they feared that uprisings would be instigated. Our drumming that kept us close to Africa, that kept us close to the culture from which we came, was deemed illegal, like so many other aspects of our lives. It astounds me how much we as a people have been and continue to be policed, from our music to our hair to our movement. Has there ever been a group of people under more social control than Black people around the world?
On October 10th thirty years ago, London witnessed one of the most remarkable and intriguing cultural events of its modern history. A concert which used massive buildings as a stage-set, relentless fireworks that could be seen across the city, an event which nearly didn’t happen at all due to legal and political fights and which all resulted in huge debt and financial settlements in the courts. Throw into the mix the most 1980s characters possible, from Princess Diana to Jeremy Beadle to Robert Maxwell, torrential rain nearly scuppering the whole thing and a connection to the largest neoliberal construction project the city has ever seen and you have an enticing mix of spectacle, capital, media and drama.
A great hulk of industry stands proud in the Royal Docks, a solid white monolith which seems to relish looking across at the flimsily engineered frame of ExCel Arena across the water. This is old Docklands staring at the new, an apparent solidity and sheer mass of industry looking down upon the young interloper’s service and entertainments economy.
The 1930s Millennium Mills have hung on, surviving the closure of the Royal Docks in 1981 and grand renovation plans including an early 2000s scheme to fill the building with luxury apartments, with an aquarium and extreme sports centre next-door for what Ken Livingstone said would become “an international visitor attraction worthy of Europe’s world class city”. The 2008 financial crisis killed the plans, with Millennium Mills remaining empty for urban explorers and ruin-lustful photographers.
The Mill building is the sole architectural remnant of the Royal Docks which closed in 1981, during the gradual urban emptying of industry and docklands since the late 1960s, leading to a decade of pickets, inner-city deprivation, and unemployment. While in opposition, the docks became symbolic of Conservative ambitions to change political and social structures; a 1978 speech in the Isle of Dogs by Geoffrey Howe, soon to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, called them an “urban wilderness” indicative of the “developing sickness of our society”. He and Michael Heseltine saw the area as a testing ground for the ideological shift they wished for state, markets, economy, and urban centres to make. Once in power, they formed the London Docklands Development Coorporation [LDDC] and acquired over 1,550 acres of land, often compulsory purchased, with pump priming from central government feeding a fund intended to lead to self-sufficiency from sales of premium-rate land on the open market.
In 1986 the London financial markets deregulated, easing stock market transactions, encouraging competition of trading commissions and ending the enforced separation between stock traders and the investor advisors. This created a Big Bang explosion in the industry, requiring larger, open floors and a more global outlook for computerised and automated buying and selling of invisible finance. As John Friedmann pointed out in his 1986 World City Hypothesis, major importance was attached to “corporate headquarters, international finance, global transport and communications, and high-level business services”, and Docklands could offer all three in its new architecture. In 1988 developers Olympia & York [O&Y] broke ground on One Canada Square, a tower to rise high above the flattened docks, acting as a symbol of optimism to the world and centrepiece of a vast Canary Wharf development. At the opening ceremony, architect Cesar Pelli proclaimed, “the reality of a hollow object is in the void and not in the walls that define it”.
Needing to maximise income from land sales in a climate of decreasing property speculation after the Black Monday crash, the LDDC set about projecting a confident, desirable and futuristic image of the area through brand awareness, brochures, and promotional videos, putting Docklands onto a global stage. They had always used image and rebranding as a tool of increasing value, from marketing the docks as a hybrid of Venice and New York to whitewashing existing cultures and place names in preference of a new, on-message “Docklands”. But now new ideas were needed to promote the vast potential of the emptiness in a flailing economy, stating that “cultural regeneration might be a fair description for the process of change for which the LDDC is the chosen instrument”.
The Docklands landscape was a temporal and shifting aesthetic responding to free market economics more than any grand plan. By 1988 some plots had been developed three times, each building sold to a developer who demolished it to make way for a larger, shinier project before selling on. As such, the LDDC’s initial foray into using art to bring attention to the area also looked to pop-up projects, including Peter Avery’s production of Aristophanes’ The Birds and the ICA project Accions and Freeze, a 1988 exhibition of Goldsmiths graduates’ art in a Surrey Quays warehouse organised by Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Michael Landy, and others.
“I think this show here tonight might wake up the city.”
– A spectator at Rendez Vous Houston.
1986 the USA was also struggling with post-industrial reshaping. Houston was in the peak of an oil-slump, unemployment crisis, and real estate collapse. Two months earlier a failed O-ring had caused the space shuttle Challenger to spectacularly break up and explode, killing all seven crew members, live CNN footage providing one of the world’s first live-streamed disasters of the information age. Houston was then a collapsing city where even Texan bravado couldn’t conceal the despair, damage, debt, and mass defaulting of mortgages.
The city needed a kickstart and so the authorities invited French electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre to use the city as the stage for a pop spectacle on a scale never before witnessed. Vast white sheets were draped over downtown skyscrapers transfiguring them into giant canvases for video projections, a backdrop for 1.5 million Houstonians to stare up at amongst searchlights, lasers, and fireworks set to the electronic music of Jarre.
Jarre was a child of the baby-boomer generation and son of Maurice, globally renowned composer of music for over 170 films and TV shows over five decades, most remembered for scoring David Lean’s epics including A Passage to India. This classical heritage lingered in Jean-Michel, who would later enroll to study piano at the Conservatoire de Paris. By day learning classical skills of the institution, by night playing the guitar for several bands including in a brief party scene on film in Des Garcons et des Filles, a 1967 comedy following communally living students in a soon-to-be-demolished derelict house.
In 1968, amongst the cacophony of student protests (internet fan message boards talk of lost TV footage showing Jarre being handcuffed and thrown into a police van), he abandoned the conservatoire and joined Groupe de Recherches Musicales, an electro-acoustic experimental organisation created by Pierre Schaeffer, creator of experimental musique concrete. Jarre’s music quickly found a fusion between the mechanical rhythms developed under Schaeffer and his classical training, with chart success leading to a free 1979 Bastille Day concert for a million Parisians.
Two years later Deng Xiaoping invited Jarre to become the first Western artist to perform in communist China. The mix of largely lyricless tradition and technology that marked the French Revolution deemed safe enough for a somewhat bemused Chinese audience. Then came Houston and its grand civic boosterism.
“Spectacular, imaginative, amazing: words that can be applied equally well to a Jean-Michel Jarre concert or the development of London Docklands.”
– LDDC advert in the Destination Docklands souvenir brochure.
Just as images of the Challenger exploding in mid-air spread across the world, so too did footage of Jarre’s Rendez-vous Houston. In London, media-savvy employees of the LDDC may have seen MTV clips or read about the urban spectacle because while Jarre discussed repeating the concept across other US cityscapes, with meetings lined up in New York and Los Angeles, London’s Docklands would be the next setting for his architectural take-over. The concert Destination Docklands and partnering album Revolutions hung on a three-act structural device of industrial, 1960s cultural and contemporary technological social shifts. As well as offering a stage for the show, this was an opportunity for the LDDC to project its brand identity and message across the world.
As with the transformation of Houston, Jarre partnered with British architect Mark Fisher to turn buildings into scenography. Also a baby-boomer, Fisher had trained at the Architectural Association during their mid-Sixties exploration of radical new ideas for architecture and society: pop-up, portable, inflatable, walking, DIY, ephemeral, and cybernetic. From 1969 Fisher studied for his diploma under Peter Cook as the Archigram founder pushed the architectural agenda towards pleasure, questioning rules of the elite and pulling inspiration from popular consumerism as much as classical tradition. Jarre partnered with him for his architectural extravaganzas after Fisher had already designed The Wall for Pink Floyd and taken his utopian training firmly down the path of spectacle and sensation.
The concert nearly didn’t happen; two weeks before its intended September date the fire services pulled the plug on safety grounds. A frantic period followed in which Jarre visited other cities — the site of Liverpool’s Garden Festival empty since the 1984 event, Glasgow, Manchester, Thurrock, Newcastle, even Alton Towers. It created a media storm and the kind of neoliberal intercity competition now built into national cultural mechanisms. But it may have all been a ruse to scare Newham and the LDDC, and after an extraordinary council licencing meeting for which Jarre flew in, it returned to its site of inspiration, Docklands, albeit for a delayed October date.
Fisher’s visual design of the project was massive. The façade of Millennium Mills had been painted white to offer a vast surface for projected images, part of an enormous triptych including the Co-operative Wholesale Society Mills, an immense 90×100 metres scaffold structure. The concert programme lists some of the projected imagery, offering a snapshot of the curated narrative:
Part 1: Industrial Revolution empires
Part 2: Cultural Revolution
Part 3: Electronic Revolution
At other points the words “employment” and “no employment” were cast over the hulk of the mill, visible for miles across the very neighbourhoods suffering since the docks’ closure. Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds’ worth of fireworks, more than ten times that used for the Royal Wedding two years previously, exploded above the docks with World War II searchlights reflecting from clouds. Later, the previous year’s violence caused by social inequality and deprivation was visually represented by fireworks and projections of flames described by Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates as giving “the impression that the warehouse opposite with its windows red and smoke coming out of them is ablaze”.
“This is where Jean takes a musical […] look, at what he believes will happen to the Docklands area in the 1990s. And of course is using this enormous and clumsy, or clumsy-looking, pair of asbestos gloves for his guitar which otherwise would electrocute him.” – Simon Bates’ live commentary.
At one point an image of a modern office building was projected over the top of the Millennium Mills, giving the slightly macabre impression of a shroud, perhaps a marketing gimmick for the LDDC trying to at once acknowledge and disguise the dirty industry of the area. When Jarre puts on a pair of asbestos gloves to break the green divergent beams of his trademark laser harp, it is impossible not to think of the asbestos embedded into the docks which would have led to the premature deaths of countless industrial workers. An industrial material transfigured to function the new service and culture economy.
The stage formed of ten lashed-together barges shipped from the northeast was designed to float from left to right in front of the crowds, but the sheer weight of equipment and performers rendered it motionless. British autumnal weather deluged the site. Improvised tarpaulins were lashed over equipment while rehearsals saw musicians fighting winds to stay on the floating stage. But despite the technical and seasonal issues, the sheer immensity of spectacle dominated the Royal Docks; footage shows searchlights darting across a sea of static faces starring up in awe.
Jarre’s said his concert was “a tribute to the anonymous victims of every revolution”, dedicating the album to “all the children of the revolution” and “the children of immigrants”. In a coincidental mirroring of The Last of England, the concert ended with Jarre’s song L’Emigrant, a choir of local children – wearing lifejackets in case they fell from the floating stage – offering harmonies to a crescendo of classical and electronic instruments wrapped up in the drama of relentless firework explosions.
“No-one seems to have moved in almost two hours. They’re standing rock still, loving the fireworks and now seeing “Newham” projected in large letters on the two buildings opposite the stage.” – Simon Bates’ live commentary
This was a total spectacle in a Guy Debord sense. The romanticising of empire and industry and the simplification of the area’s history into a neat narrative to further the LDDC agenda, fits his notion that ”spectacular consumption preserves the old culture in congealed form”. Crowds stood on the dockside, once busy with workers, silently facing the Millennium Mills, enacting Debord’s “deceived gaze and […] false consciousness”, their sense of shared experience “nothing but an official language of separation”. In many ways this event was the counter to the rave culture developing over the previous few years which appropriated locations for community-organised parties; this was an on-message, state-sanctified appropriation of place and history to help the wider objectives of the LDDC.
Outside, ticket touts showed the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that would have made Thatcher proud, selling £30 tickets for £50, making £2,000 in an afternoon. While inside, away from the raked seating and vast tract of post-industrial land for the 100,000 punters, sponsors and businessmen enjoyed the corporate entertainment. A video produced by the main sponsor, the Carroll Foundation Trust, intersperses the performance and visuals from the stage with footage from the corporate marquee, businessmen mingling with dignitaries, sponsors, and celebrities. This is where Gerald Carroll worked the room, shaking hands and posing for photos, inviting the key figures of the period to his party. Princess Diana. Robert Maxwell. Jeremy Beadle.
“Our society is built on secrecy, from the “front” organisations which draw an impenetrable screen over the concentrated wealth of their members to the “official secrets” which allow the state a vast field of operation free from any legal constraint, from the often frightening secrets of shoddy production hidden by advertising, to the projections of an extrapolated future.” – Guy Debord
The artist Derek Jarman, who had filmed The Last of England around the site a year before Jarre arrived, said of authority, “all I saw was deceit and bankruptcy”, and in 1992 some of those walls surrounding the hollow voids of finance collapsed. Robert Maxwell, who along with his son Ian received a “special thanks” from Jarre in the liner notes of the live album, drowned after leaving the Mirror Group’s pension scheme drained. Gerald Carroll, who in 1986 put his entire business portfolio, assets, houses, and art into his Foundation Trust, saw his speculative empire collapse in massive debt and allegations of fraud. Hollow objects. The promoters of Destination Docklands ran up spiralling bills from the delay, weather, and sheer scale, leaving countless suppliers and workers unpaid for their work seeking damages in the courts – the projected façade of the spectacle concealed the failures of its production.
Even counter-cultures got absorbed into the late-Eighties neoliberal race for profit. The warehouse rave scene was turning from community-led right-to-the city activation of redundant spaces into an entrepreneur-led business. Saving money earnt from gambling to enter property development, Tony Colston-Hayter turned raves into vast pop-up festivals, inviting media attention and consequential police pressure against the rave scene. His PR manager Paul Staines, then working in a Conservative Party right-wing pressure group and now as blogger Guido Fawkes, considered Colston-Hayter one of “Thatcher’s children” with an entrepreneurial spirit “pushing the boundaries of free enterprise”. This was when the culture industry exploded, and everyone wanted some of it, or to benefit from its glory.
“We’re live on Radio 1 in stereo, on FM. We’re broadcasting the Destination Docklands concert as it happens from, guess where, from Docklands, with 100,000 people. It’s freezing cold here. On my left-hand side are camera crews from Brazil, the USA, from Canada, from Germany, from all parts of Europe, from Australia, from New Zealand. They are absolutely frozen but hypnotised by what’s happening on stage and in and around the docks.” – Simon Bates’ live commentary
Destination Docklands was one of the first globally mediated cultural events on this scale, incorporating the music, dance, fireworks, architecture, and awed crowds now firmly embedded in contemporary pop culture. Fisher would continue to revolutionise the large-scale pop spectacle, developing the superstructures that U2, the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and Elton John carry around the world – the lo-fi radicalism of 1968 subsumed into the late-twentieth-century capitalist drive for sensation and scale. This sense of event is now rolled up with neoliberal hypergentrification and push for vast capital returns on urban redevelopment. The launch of Canary Wharf’s tower in 1992 and that of the Shard in 2012 were mediated affairs with live music, lasers, and searchlights.
The visuals of industrial workers, Queen Victoria, colonial success, pop revolution, and James Bond that congealed the Millennium Mills in light were witnessed again for the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony up the road in Stratford. Seen by a global audience of a billion, the ceremony was executive produced by Fisher and had similarities to Jarre’s sequenced narrative of eras set to a classically infused pop beat. No modern-day event is as spectacular as the Olympics, loud enough to distract from the compulsory purchasing of land from profitable businesses and rooted communities to make way for the grander and shinier cultural offerings planned to follow the few weeks of sport.
Millennium Mills has now been scrubbed clean for the next chapter of its life. The docks it sits within have been undergoing another cleansing since the 1980s to form a “new piece of the city”. There is no space in that new city for the narratives that Jarman explored in The Last of England, or for the complexities which Jarre acknowledged and discussed in interview even if the spectacle of his concert didn’t allow so much space for nuance or subtlety. There is now no room for other narratives to the prescribed, official one. The trajectory of neoliberal urban politics since 1988 has taken us to a place where it has become harder to separate the function of art from the wider capital economy. It is now so deeply enmeshed within the very physical changing face of London, even if it’s only a sacrificial veneer or a popup spectacle moment. The Millennium Mills have not only survived throughout, now a single white tooth standing as the history and architecture has been extracted but have been repeatedly co-opted into the changing representation of the area.
Fifty years ago, on 26 August 1968, the Beatles released their highest selling 45 rpm — the “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” single. While Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” garnered the most attention and is commonly regarded as one of the Beatles’ most perfect songs, John Lennon’s “Revolution” is arguably the song with the most interesting story in terms of its politics, and its afterlife in one of the most seminal and successful advertisements of all time.
“Revolution” was composed by John in Rishikesh in India where the Beatles were meditating with the Maharishi following a tumultuous year which saw their manager, Brian Epstein, commit suicide, and in which they had encountered extraordinary opprobrium from the far-right in the USA, who bitterly resented John’s off-hand statement that the Beatles had become “bigger than Jesus”. While the Beatles meditated, the global politics of 1968 exploded: Martin Luther King was murdered, the violent Prague Spring marked a turning point in Soviet history, the American War in Vietnam raged on, the Cultural Revolution was afoot in China and major riots and protests erupted in London, Mexico City, and, most notably, Paris. John decided that the time had come to explicitly address politics, as he explained, “I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you or whoever listens and communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say’”.
At this time the Beatles were transforming from loveable mopheads who toured singing romantic jingles into studio-based psychedelic avant-garde bohemians. They were moving away from boy-girl love songs and towards evangelising about romantic philosophy, as marked by songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Fool on the Hill” and “Nowhere Man”. While each of these songs were intended as interventions into how people should live their lives, none of them were directly political. Indeed within 1968, the very idea of political pop music was a rarity and mostly something edged towards by “underground” bands like the Doors and Jefferson Airplane.
“Revolution”, John’s step into direct political expression, takes the form of an imagined dialogue between himself and a would-be revolutionary. However the latter remains silent, and instead we hear John’s numerous rebuttals. Each verse begins with refrains of limited agreement from John such as, “You say you want a revolution, well we wall want to change the world”. In each third refrain, John establishes his critical distance and sings “but if you’re talking about minds that hate, all I can tell you brother is you’ll have to wait” as well as the famous line “But if you carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”. Then follows repetitions of the line “don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” The song was recorded in London’s Trident Studio in a slow bluesy version with John lying down to sound more meditative. Interestingly, in one line he sings “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out… in”, suggesting that he was ambivalent about his actual political stance. Disagreement followed between the band over the song’s commercial potential and eventually John agreed to re-arrange the song into a more hard rock upbeat version despite his concern that the lyrics would now be more difficult to understand. The faster version was far harder than the norm in the 1960s; as producer George Martin recounted, “We got into distortion on that, which we had a lot of complaints from the technical people about. But that was the idea: it was John’s song and the idea was to push it right to the limit. Well, we went to the limit and beyond”.
The fast version, in which John does not sing “count me out.. in” but simply “count me out”, was released as the single alongside “Hey Jude”, while the original slow version appeared on the White Album, which was released later that year. A third version also appeared on the White Album named “Revolution No. 9”, though it bears little resemblance to the other two versions. It is in fact a scramble of electronic sounds and nonsensical phrases (“take this brother, may it serve you well”, “the twist, the Watusi”). John later told the press that the sounds of “Revolution No. 9” were meant to mimic what actual revolution would sound like.
Upon release, the “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” (featuring the rock version) record rocketed to huge success, selling eight million copies and being their most successful 45rpm ever. Within the media, attention fixated upon “Hey Jude”, which was widely acclaimed. “Revolution”, by contrast, received little attention: for example, the Record Mirror review simply wrote “flipside: pacier, punchy but on a less spectacular scale”, while Record Retailer managed to be even more concise “flip: faster, more compact”. When the White Album was released later that year, “Revolution No. 1”, the original version, also received little commentary (the Melody Maker reviewer wrote “it’s different, softer, with the words clear”). “Revolution No. 9”, however, attracted plenty of criticism, with the same critic declaring: “There is, in fact, no music in this cacophony of sound: the sort of noise you get when you spin the selection along the short wave at two in the morning. Noisy, boring and meaningless, which can only be some private joke for the Beatles’ inner circle.”
If the mainstream music media were largely unmoved by “Revolution”, the reaction within the leftist press was a stark contrast, as they seemingly went into competition with each other in search of harshest condemnation. Ramparts declared “Revolution preaches counter-revolution”, the New Left Review called it a “lamentable petty bourgeois cry of fear”, the Village Voice wrote “It is puritanical to expect musicians, or anyone else, to hew the proper line. But it is reasonable to request that they do not go out of their way to oppose it.” The Berkeley Barb sneered “Revolution sounds like the hawk plank adopted in the Chicago convention of the Democratic Death Party”. Black Dwarf dismissed the song as “no more revolutionary than Mrs. Dale’s Diary” (Lennon wrote in response saying “I don’t remember saying Revolution was revolutionary — fuck Mrs Dale”). However some critics attempted more ambiguous interpretations, for instance Greil Marcus wrote, “The music contained a message of its own, a message of its own, a message of its own, a message of excitement and freedom, which works against sterility and repression in the lyrics… The music doesn’t say ‘cool it’ or ‘don’t fight the cops’”. Other notable responses to “Revolution” include Nina Simone’s parody re-writing of the song to insist upon immediate revolution, while Charles Manson’s “Family”, in their build-up to their vicious homicides, parsed over every cut in the White Album with “Revolution No.1”, in particular, apparently telling them that the time for peace and love was over.
So how are we to assess “Revolution” today? In the context of the Beatles’ wider political commitment to love as the ultimate revolutionary force (best exemplified in the song “All You Need is Love”), it might be more astute to regard the song as an instance of what Jeremy Gilbert refers to as “acid communism”; a sort of tactical commitment to the revolutionary potential of yoga, meditation, veganism, sexuality, drug consumption, etc., rather than anti-leftist counter-revolutionary politics, as it was regarded by some at the time. Moreover, the various iterations of “Revolution” might each be regarded as very different types of political statement. As per Greil Marcus’s review, which notes how the hard rock arrangement seems to contradict the “repressed” lyrics, we might ponder the problem of how political content appears in popular music. Popular music theorists like John Scannell, for instance, note the affective capacity of popular music is often most intensively experienced at a physical level (i.e. it might make us want to dance in a particularly sexually charged way) and that this somatic capacity can be more meaningful than the content of the lyrics, leaving us with the possibility of a far more ambiguous reading of the song. Indeed given Lennon’s own ambivalence, most explicitly expressed in “count me out… in” lyrics as well as the alternative renderings of the song, we might best conclude that “Revolution” is a song probably best not read beyond its own ambivalences. Yet the song is often heralded by the right, listed for example, as one of the great conservative rock songs by National Review, and used in the campaign trail by none other than Donald Trump himself. This is partially because the song’s history was only beginning in 1968.
By the 1980s, an era in which the so-called “flower power” of Sixties idealism was being superseded by materialism and yuppy culture, and which began with John Lennon being violently shot to death outside his home, “Revolution” was about to receive a new lease of life when the Oregon-based advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy sought to use the song in an advertisement to launch a new air bubble gimmick for Nike shoes. Wieden+Kennedy had just succeeded in using Miles Davis and Lou Reed songs in their adverts (an ad for Honda scooters using “Walk on the Wild Side” finished with Lou, sitting on a scotter wondering “why bother walking?”) and they clearly relished the challenge of being the first agency to obtain permission to use an original recording by the Beatles. In selecting the song, the agency had departed far from the brief, which was grounded in having a straight-forward product-centred ad, yet when the idea was pitched to Nike, the client’s response was “You’ve given me my Lou Reed!”
The process of obtaining permission was complex, unlike other campaigns where it was possible to use Beatles songs in ads in the form of cover versions — for example, “Taxman” was used by H&R Black tax advisers ¾ but obtaining the rights to use a Beatles’ original recording was another matter. In 1985, Michael Jackson had outbid Paul McCartney to buy the performance rights to a whole catalogue of Beatles songs and it was his representatives who contacted Yoko Ono to solicit approval on behalf of Wieden+Kennedy. Ono, it seems, managed to persuade Capitol/EMI to release permission. Janet Champ, who was part of the team that came up with the idea of using “Revolution” for the spot, remembered the matter as follows:
What made me feel really good about having this spot was we wrote Yoko Ono and we went and told her what the idea was — I didn’t get to go, but we sent the idea to her and we asked her what she thought about it — and she loved it… And the Beatles were all behind it, too, so once they said it was all right, we felt pretty good about it”.
Ono later explained to Time magazine that she didn’t “want to see John deified” nor for “John’s songs to be part of a cult of glorified martyrdom” but instead to be enjoyed by a “new generation”, “to make it part of their lives instead of a relic of the distant past”. The deal reportedly amounted to $250,000 for EMI and another $250,000 to SBK Entertainment World for the copyright and entailed a media campaign that cost between $7 and $10 million. The deal complete, Janet Champ recalled the day EMI’s master tape of the Beatles recording arrived at the agency in Portland:
We had the master tape right in our hands of the song and we got to put it on and hear all the mistakes and you know [reverent pause] the actual master right out of the vault from Abbey Road and they played it on separate little speakers so you could hear when Ringo dropped the drumstick or somebody made a mistake and it was so beautiful and clear. And everybody in the recording studio came in, came out of the halls all the way down to this rom to hear this for the first time. That was a great moment.
For Nike, who commissioned the ad, the stakes were enormous, and it was their first step into major scale TV advertising. Their sales were plummeting, largely due to Reebok absorbing market share as part of the 1980s aerobics fad. Reebok’s sales had risen from $3.5 million in 1982 to a staggering $307 million by 1987, leaving Nike reeling. Nike CEO Phil Knight recalled the moment as follows:
Until then, we really didn’t know if we could be a big company and still have people work closely together. Visible Air was a hugely complex product whose components were made in three different countries, and nobody knew if it would come together. Production, marketing, and sales were all fighting with each other, and we were using TV advertising for the first time. There was tension all the way around. We launched the product with the Revolution campaign, using the Beatles song. We wanted to communicate not just the a radical departure in shoes but a revolution in the way Americans felt about fitness, exercise, and wellness.
The ad was edited by Paula Greif and Peter Kagan, who had just been nominated for best editing, best cinematography, and best art direction at the 1987 Video Music Awards. Notes from post-production meetings indicate that an overall theme in “revolution in fitness lifestyle” was being sought but it was about “feeling good”, not “looking good”, and hence a frame with a man combing hair was removed. “Unfortunately , NIKE is a ‘macho’ company,” the notes read, so the original opening frames of three shots of women were eliminated.
Like the original three songs, there are three versions of Nike’s Revolution — two were hard-rock versions, with one softer version with doo-wops. It was the hard rock version that was the major spot and it consisted of very jerky black-and-white hand-held camera film, with a few archival inserts, that shows Nike athletes and ordinary people participating in a variety of sports at various levels of seriousness. There are whites, blacks, men, women, and a toddler. A woman plays air guitar and a huge laughing crowd runs into the ocean. As Scott Bedbury, who later became Nike’s advertising director described it, the most striking image was the toddler
running with his arms raised out in front of him, legs turning as fast as they could to keep pace with his upper body. His torso was tipping forward as only a toddler’s can, when discovering what it’s like to run full out for the first time. These images were not merely evocative and beautiful but meaningful, particularly in juxtaposition to each other. The message behind this medley of images marked a new outlook for Nike: the Nike brand now spoke to old as well as young, to women as well as men, to world-famous champions and obscure street athletes, using different images but the same voice.
The ad can be interpreted as offering a theme of empowerment and transcendence and a personal philosophy of everyday life, and part of the ad’s success is how this philosophy is reinforced by the song. The clip from “Revolution” includes the opening guitar barrage and the closing yelps of “alright”, but only a few lyrics: “you say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world… But if you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”
The ad was a massive success — Nike orders increased by 30% immediately and sales doubled over the next two years. Moreover, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy had struck marketing gold, and the ad’s philosophy of empowerment and a personal philosophy of everyday life became the basis of their marketing positioning for the coming decade and laid the foundations for Nike to become one of the true giants of branding. As the sociologists Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson argued, from that point onwards, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy started to stand out in what they described as the cultural economy of images. The sheer scale of their domination within this supposed “sign economy” is staggering to behold. By 1991, Nike held 29% of the global athletic shoe market and its sales had exceeded $3 billion. Indeed Wieden+Kennedy, a small rookie agency, had finally established themselves as a major player in global advertising at the vanguard of the creative side of the industry.
Yet the use of “Revolution” by the Beatles attracted controversy too. Time magazine wrote “Mark David Chapman killed him. But to took a couple of record execs, one sneaker company and a soul brother to turn him into a jingle writer”. The Chicago Tribune described the ad as “when rock idealism met cold-eyed greed” and the New Republic commented “The song had a meaning that Nike is destroying”. Yet what meaning Nike was destroying was a puzzle. A rock critic for the LA Reader wrote “When Revolution came out in 1968 I was getting teargassed in the streets of Madison. The song is part of the soundtrack of my political life. It bugs the hell out of me that it has been turned into a shoe ad”. John Doig, a creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, remembered anti-Vietnam demonstrations with “bloody police truncheons coming down and Revolution playing in the background. What that song is saying is a damned sight more important than flogging running shoes”. “Revolution”, it seems had apparently morphed considerably for some listeners from a “petty bourgeois cry of fear”, all catalysed by a sneaker spot.
The most significant response was the $15 million lawsuit filed by Apple Records against Nike, Wieden+Kennedy and Capitol Records in an attempt to half the airing of the commercial. Apple claimed that, even though Nike had legally obtained permission for the rights to the music, it had used the Beatles “persona and good will” without permission. This charge is peculiar given how the ad producers had understood that the Beatles themselves had apparently approved the spot. The explanation perhaps lies in the sequence of unsuccessful suits Apple Records had filed against Capitol/EMI, through which the Beatles’ company had attempted to regain control over royalties derived from new formats like CDs. Reportedly the action was settled confidentially and out of court, after the campaign had run its course. Later, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy used “Instant Karma”, a solo song by John Lennon, in an ad, perhaps reflecting its better relationship with Yoko Ono, while Apple, EMI and Capitol agreed that no Beatles version would ever be used again to sell products — truly the Nike Revolution was a one-off.
Despite the massive boost in sales for Nike, the critical attention generated by the ad appears to have festered on Nike with long-term consequences. Negative press coverage on Nike started to accumulate, focussing on its patriarchal culture, its labour abuses, the brand became accused of tempting young black kids into buying athletic shoes they couldn’t afford and even blaming Nike for occasional murders. By today, in anti-globalisation protests, Nike is typically identified as one of the most offending “bad apples” of the corporate world. Dating from the Revolution campaign, Nike emerged as a target: big enough, salient enough, and suspect enough to draw fire across a range of issues. The long-term impact of using John’s song was thus to attract attention from an audience poised for broad-scale critique.
We can recognise the moment of the Nike Revolution ad as having not just launched Nike into the stratosphere of brands, but also helping to concretise the everyday wearing of sports shoes. Writing these words thirty years later in a university library, it is striking to note that the majority of students come to study wearing shoes designed for professional sports activities. The fact that this apparently strikes nobody as even slightly odd speaks to how we are living in the legacy of extraordinary marketing campaigns and market transformations. Indeed, the possibility that so many people are wearing these shoes is because John Lennon, meditating in Rishikesh, decided to address the politics of 1968, reminds us that the collision of culture and politics in the medium of advertising creates the most unpredictable outcomes imaginable.
Alan Bradshaw is the author, with Linda Scott, of Advertising Revolution: The Story of a Song, from Beatles Hit to Nike Slogan.
There is a terrifying moment in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four just after Winston and Julia have spent their final stolen afternoon together in the attic room of the old antique dealer. Believing themselves to be alone they begin discussing their shared hope that the ‘proles’ are ‘storing up in their hearts and their bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.’ (p. 251) They reflect bitterly on the fact that, compared to the surplus of hope the ‘proles’ must have in their heart, it is absolutely hopeless for the two of them, and that they are indeed already dead. It is at this point that they hear a voice coming from behind the picture on the wall:
‘We are the dead,’ Winston said.
‘We are the dead’, echoed Julia dutifully.
‘You are the dead,’ said an iron voice behind them.
Suddenly ‘Big Brother’ is revealed as all they had feared – all knowing, all encompassing, all powerful and total. Everything is lost. In that single moment their paranoiac fears about ‘Big Brother’ and ‘The Party’ are irrevocably confirmed. They are not alone: they have been set up, watched, and followed by the Thought Police from the very beginning. They have been manipulated and finally exposed as ‘thought criminals’. As had always been destined, the last vestige of their humanity will now be crushed in the ‘Ministry of Love’ behind the door of ‘Room 101’.
For me, and many others, the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the USA was an equally revelatory moment, where the true horror of ‘democratic’ tyranny took to the stage, and a new dark age of ignorance, hatred, war and oppression slithered nakedly into view. Trump’s election finally confirmed what many of us already knew had been happening for several years but were either afraid, naive or too optimistic to fully admit. The months since have consisted of a series of seismic shocks that have left many people reeling – feeling disorientated, fearful, uncertain and hopeless. The fragile social consensus that appeared to underpin some of the most basic elements of our shared reality field has been violated and much of it now lies in ruins. In truth, these alliances have been under attack for a very long time, but as in the final dying days of a besieged and defeated city, the last eighteen months has seen the citadel of that reality suddenly stormed and sacked. Living as we are under a new regime of enemy occupation, the fundamental coordinates of language, truth and reality are being reconfigured in the most brutal fashion. Old certainties, axioms and values are being dismantled by the extreme right. Every day it is as if that regime is telling us, over and over again, ‘You are the dead’. Things seem locked into an endless cycle of impotent shock and outrage. As the American political analyst and historian Thomas Frank wrote in a recent Guardian column, the liberal commentariat seem confined to a never-ending ‘parade of the aghast’ ‘with all the skills of the journalist reduced to a performance of perturbation and disgust.’
In the days following Trump’s election I felt a strong need to re-read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It turns out that I was not alone: sales of the book soared in the immediate aftermath. Its speculative and futural symptomatology feels intimately connected to the present ‘post-truth’ era with its terrifying nihilism; and ‘The Party’s’ ultimate denial of rational human agency where 2+2=5 is all too bitterly familiar. As Orwell writes – ‘Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.’ (p. 61) A new American empire, controlled by elites, is fully engaged with the vigorous creation of its own reality through a sustained project of neurolinguistic programming ranging from immigration, health care, social welfare, race, gun control and taxation. By any means necessary. Orwell’s doublethink has become alternative facts. The currents of this right-wing neoliberal construction have been there for all of my life, steadily eroding the previously held consensuses around the social contract, socio-economic objectives, cultural norms, values and beliefs. It is clear that we now stand, nearly two decades into the new Millennium, upon a socio-economic and cultural landscape as dramatically altered by neoliberalism as that of the physical landscape of the Grand Canyon by the Colorado River. We undeniably exist in a very different reality – a ruined, ignorant, greedy, violent, divided, and stupid one. Reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four at this point in history is a very painful experience – it reads like a dire warning that went unheeded, a precise analysis and diagnosis that was ignored, and a final confirmation, if one were needed, of what the future became. Last year I felt such a strong need to immerse myself back in the purity of that experience, to dwell in its confirmatory narrative and dystopian vision, like a person senselessly clutching onto a hospital letter confirming their inoperable cancer.
I found that my old copy of Orwell’s novel had gone missing, probably in one of the many house moves we’ve made in recent years, and I had to buy a new copy. Whilst the latest Penguin edition has an entirely new introduction by the American novelist Thomas Pynchon, the familiarity of Orwell’s novel was somehow reassuring. We embody a history of the things we have read throughout our lives, and we can read the outline of ourselves from the map of our reading. An irreducible aspect of all of this reading, and no less influential upon what we believe we have become, is what might be called ‘history itself’, the times as they exist outside the text, the place ‘in’ which we carried out all of our reading. All the books we read in our youth, throughout our teens, twenties and thirties, were not only seen through our own eyes but were readings inflected with the times in which we undertook them. There is a doubling of our own age and the broader age within which we read, that make the books what they are for us and what we become for them. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book I first read in 1984 when I was 15 years old, remains one of the key books of my life in this double sense.
When I got hold of the new Penguin edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four I decided to begin by reading Pynchon’s introduction, which is not something I usually bother doing. I’ve always skipped such introductions, sometimes because of the risk that they usually give away too much of the story, but more often than not they are simply unilluminating and dull. But the idea of the arch post-modernist Pynchon providing the introduction to this novel intrigued me, and there was certainly no concerns about plot reveals as I already knew the events of the novel so well. Pynchon’s introduction provided me with a real shock. Looking back I’m not quite sure what I expected him to write about Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, but I was extremely surprised by what he did. In a mere 21 pages Pynchon did that very rare, but all-too-welcome, thing; he suddenly and irretrievably altered the way I thought about both Nineteen Eighty-Four and our present predicament.
Towards the end of his introduction Pynchon turns his attention to the conclusion of Orwell’s novel, i.e. the crushing of Winston and Julia by The Party. He writes of our particular fears for Julia, who believes that she could resist and beat the regime with ‘her good-natured anarchism’:
“They can make you say anything – anything – but they can’t make you believe it.They can’t get inside you.” The poor kid. You want to grab her and shake her. Because that is just what they do – they get inside, they put the whole question of soul, into harsh and terminal doubt. By the time they have left the Ministry of Love, Winston and Julia have entered permanently the condition of doublethink, the anterooms of annihilation, no longer in love but able to hate and love Big Brother at the same time. It is as dark an ending as can be imagined. (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxii)
Indeed it is. I’ve never forgotten the words of O’Brien to Winston in Room 101 – ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.’ (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. 307) He goes on, ’We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.’ (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, pp. 308-9) When I read this as a 15 year old in 1984 I was appalled, fascinated and terrified by its anti-humanism, nihilistic certitude, stark presentation of state control, and its overall lack of hope. As Irving Howe, writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four, says – ‘Orwell has imagined a world in which the self, whatever subterranean existence it might manage to eke out, is no longer a significant value, not even a value to be violated.’ (Howe, ed. 1984: Texts, Sources, Criticism. New York: Harcourt, 1982. p. 322) It is interesting to note that the ultimate devaluation of the human is reflected in Orwell’s original title for the novel, The Last Man in Europe. Pynchon, however, makes a quite startling suggestion. He notes that Orwell’s bleak and nihilistic ending ‘strangely, is not quite the end’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxii) There is the appendix, ‘The Principles of Newspeak’. Orwell, as Pynchon explains, went to some effort to keep this appendix intact at the end of the novel despite serious misgivings on the part of publishers. He cites Orwell responding to an American publisher’s demand for him to remove it – ‘A book is built up as a balanced structure and one cannot simply remove large chunks here and there unless one is ready to recast the whole thing.’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiii) The question remains, however, why end such a bleak novel as this with a scholarly appendix? What is the balance in the overall structure being cast by it coming after the end of the novel? Pynchon’s answer to this question is powerful; he suggests that the true answer may well lie in its ‘simple grammar’. The appendix is consistently written in the past tense, which suggests ‘some later piece of history, post Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Newspeak has become literally a thing of the past.’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiii) It suggests a temporal perspective beyond that of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and more importantly, given that it is written in our own pre-Newspeak English language, it suggests a future where the society of Big Brother and the Party have been defeated. ‘The ancient humanistic ways of thinking inherent in standard English have persisted, survived, and ultimately prevailed, and that perhaps the social and moral order it speaks for has even, somehow, been restored.’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiii-xxiv) For Pynchon the perspective opened up by the grammar of Orwell’s perspective offers a degree of hope otherwise not contained in the main body of the text. Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest that it sends ‘us back into the streets of our own dystopia whistling a slightly happier tune than the end of the story would have warranted.’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiv)
Despite having read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four numerous times since that first time in 1984 I have never personally left the novel whistling a happy tune in the streets of my own dystopia. There never seemed to me to be anything at all suggestive of redemption and restoration in the novel. However, I found Pynchon’s observation undeniably seductive and entirely convincing. It is difficult to make sense of the reflective appendix given the overwhelming inevitability of Big Brother’s absolute power in the novel itself. The more you think about the presentation and form of the appendix (i.e. its grammar) the more it appears as something written from a completely alien vantage point (albeit in familiar English), literally presented by a visitor from another world at some distant point in the future. This stark incommensurability resonates with something pervasive in the ‘streets of our own dystopia’ where the neoliberal socio-economic hegemony has achieved an almost naturalistic state of being, what Mark Fisher called ‘Capitalist Realism’. The ideology of late capitalism seems not only all pervasive and inevitable, but entirely natural, where imagining the end of the world is easier than trying to imagine the end of capitalism. The axiomatic grammar of capitalist realism renders it absolutely inevitable and permanent. There seems so little hope of resistance given the absolute lack of any convincing alternative. Neo-liberal capitalist ontology has spread its tentacles into every fibre of our existence, its body having become so totally swollen as to have taken up all available space and air in the world.
The current state of things seems as bleakly dystopian and final as the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Just as the novel suggests an arrest of history where it will always be 1984, signified by apparent permanence of the proper name Nineteen Eighty-Four, we also seem to have slid into ahistorical inertia where it is permanently the year 2000. And yet…here is Pynchon suggesting that Orwell’s reflective appendix indicates that something different happened, an alternative order prevailed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, human resistance finally overcame the machinic ideology of Big Brother and the Party, where 2+2=4 again. The reflected reportage on the history of the principles of Newspeak in the appendix suggests that the world of Newspeak dies at some unidentified point beyond Winston’s story, and that this world is now nothing more than a relic, a dead subject to be studied. The novel is transformed from being a form of speculative dystopian fiction to a weird form of mythical historicism that acts as warning about a wayward path once taken by human beings. Political sci-fi becomes redemptive sci-fi. I subsequently discovered that Pynchon was not the only person to have commented on the grammar of the appendix and how it signals the possibility of hope and restoration; the author Margaret Atwood made a similar point in a 2003 article for the Guardian:
The essay on Newspeak is written in standard English, in the third person, and in the past tense, which can only mean that the regime has fallen, and that language and individuality have survived. For whoever has written the essay on Newspeak, the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is over. Thus, it’s my view that Orwell had much more faith in the resilience of the human spirit than he’s usually been given credit for. (Atwood, ‘Orwell and me’, the Guardian, 2003)
Andrew Milner, author of the book Locating Science Fiction, notes both their observations about the appendix, and argues that ‘they are surely right: the ‘Appendix’ is internal to the novel, neither an author’s nor a scholarly editor’s account of how the fiction works, but rather a part of the fiction, a fictional commentary on fictional events. And, although Atwood fails to remark on this, it is anticipated within the main body of the text, by a footnote in the first chapter, which assures us, again in standard English, in the third person, in the past tense, that ‘Newspeak was the official language of Oceania’ (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. 6).’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. 123)
In a 2003 review article written when Pynchon’s introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four first appeared, titled ‘Pynchon brings added currency to Nineteen Eighty-Four’, David Kipen notes how
Pynchon’s essay uses Nineteen Eighty- Four’s almost always skipped Appendix, ‘The Principles of Newspeak,’ to reverse-engineer a crack of daylight into Orwell’s hitherto unforgiving midnight of an ending’, and describes Pynchon’s introduction as ‘the finest, deepest, sanest new 20 pages around…[that] wipes the floor with just about anything else published this year.
When I read it last year, the revelation about the appendix completely altered my understanding of Orwell’s novel. Yet Pynchon also goes on to make a further subtle observation about what Orwell was suggesting as being responsible for finally overcoming the nihilism of totalitarian rule. He cites a particular photograph of Orwell taken in 1946 where he is pictured with his two year old adopted son Richard. In the photograph Pynchon cites, the young boy is ‘beaming with unguarded delight’ with Orwell holding him ‘gently with both hands, smiling too, but not smugly so’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiv). Pynchon reads this photograph as if it is a moment of a discovery on Orwell’s part, a moment of finding ‘something that might be worth even more than anger’. Pynchon notes earlier in the introduction the extent to which such anger was precious to Orwell and how he had ‘invested blood, pain, and hard labour to earn it’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xviii), and that when he came to write Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1947-8 Orwell was ‘imagining a future for his son’s generation, a world he was not so much wishing upon them as warning against.’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiv) Pynchon reminds us that, politically, Orwell was impatient with dire predictions of inevitable dystopia and remained confident in the capacity for ordinary people to change anything. ‘It is the boy’s smile, in any case, that we return to, direct and radiant, proceeding out of an unhesitating faith that the world, at the end of the day, is good, and that human decency, like parental love, can always be taken for granted – a faith so honourable that we can almost imagine Orwell, and perhaps even ourselves, for a moment anyway, swearing to do whatever must be done to keep it from ever being betrayed.’ (Pynchon, Intro to Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. xxiv-xxv)
If Pynchon’s first observation altered my understanding of Orwell’s novel, his second had a more powerful existential affect. It seemed directed at all of the feelings I was returning to the novel with, right now. In an uncanny way it seemed to be speaking very directly to me. Pynchon’s introduction, written in 2003, does seem oddly attuned to our current times, and if one didn’t know any better one might believe that it was written for all of those who, like myself, would one day soon come running back to Orwell’s novel from the dystopian streets of the present. Pynchon takes the opportunity to remind us that this is not merely a bleak novel of dystopian confirmation, but a dire warning about the road that will take us there, a journey of seemingly inevitable ruin infused with a strange seed of redemption and hope. Orwell’s novel, he argues, is redemptive science fiction. I returned to Nineteen Eighty-Four wanting to immerse myself in a static and fatalistic analysis of totalitarian dystopia; Pynchon prevented me from doing that. It provided me with an abrupt interruption and a shift of perspective where I caught a glimpse of the simple possibility of an alternative future. This is a future rooted in the redemptive humanism of a child’s smile that emanates from an ‘unhesitating faith that the world, at the end of the day, is good, and that human decency, like parental love, can always be taken for granted.’ In fact, it was confirmation of this, something that I know intimately from spending every day with my own young son as he slowly comes to terms with, and navigates his way around, the world, that immediately sprang from my rereading of Nineteen Eighty-Four. That was not quite the confirmation I had expected. The first time I read Pynchon’s thoughts on the photograph it brought to mind something the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze had written in his final published essay ‘Pure Immanence’, which had also made a deep impression upon me when I read it over fifteen years ago. There he writes of small children:
Very small children all resemble one another and have hardly any individuality, but they have singularities: a smile, a gesture, a funny face – not subjective qualities. Small children, through all their suffering and weaknesses, are infused with an immanent life that is pure power and even bliss. (Deleuze, ‘Pure Immanence’, p. 30)
Equally, the smile of Orwell’s son in the photograph is not simply a subjective quality. As Pynchon suggests, it is emblematic of something immanently powerful, something singular ‘worth even more than anger’. It is nothing less than life expressing itself through the indomitable gestures of the child. And it is this indomitability which grounds the sheer nihilistic dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four as a warning rather than an historical inevitability. The smile of life is the unassailable light in the darkness, the intangible, imperishable and enduring substance in the nothing of the now. My own son is the same age as Orwell’s in this photograph, and as I read the introduction, I felt an instinctual truth in Pynchon’s observations. They ignited something new in my mind, not dormant or forgotten, but something else. Something new, unsuspected and alive. Amid the hopelessness and despair I was feeling post-Trump, his words actually confirmed something else, something different, something other than the darkness of the present. And it is simple, like a pure sober note rising out of the cacophonous discordant noise of the present crying “Look for the smile, listen for the laughter”.
It is there. Like in the simple grammar of Orwell’s appendix. The hope is right there because life is right there. A simple shift in grammar allows the light stream in. We need to shift our own grammar of existence, to gravitate towards alternative spaces of imagination outside of the present world. Because this present world is not all there is. It is not inevitable. It is their world, it is a terrible simulacra of a real world, but it is not our world. It holds sway merely by default. We are trapped in their world, and there we are the dead. We have become instrumentalized, commodified, banalised and reduced. The simple fact though is that they are the dead. The imperative, if we are to ever escape, is to try and strip ourselves back to nothing in the terms measured by their impoverished coordinates; we must become progressively less and less in the reality field they have imposed upon us. We must disinvest from the naturalised grammar of the present existence. We must drift away from the consensus fields we have been conditioned by them to believe as being all there is, from the inevitability of greed, selfishness, self-interest, nationalism, consumption, violence, anger and entertainment. We need to disconnect from the dead network of drives and desires we presently think of as the real world by treating it as something definitively of the past, as a dead-end and a distraction. We need to progressively disappear from their world and start appearing in our own. It is our task to develop an altered grammar to challenge this dead present, to develop the ideas, policies and practices of the future, and to try and keep them alive and available until what currently seems to be politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. Part of this altered grammar is to begin to think and to talk about what else is possible as something realisable, as an inevitability to come. Yet, in what looks like a weird and violent form of ascetic futurism, we must continue to survive in the present by always remaining anchored to that simple yet powerful note of faith in the real world, in all of that life that emanates so generously from the child’s smile – we mark it with words like human decency, goodness, kindness and love. All future alternatives worthy of real life will flow from them.
In this edited extract from 1966 and Not All That, Sanaa Qureshi discusses the relationship between football and nationalism, and whether football can be used subversively to achieve social justice.
1966 and Not All That (paperback + free ebook and free shipping to the UK) is currently half price as part of our World Cup sale, which runs until England are knocked out of the tournament!
“I enjoy making revolution! I enjoy going to football!” — Antonio Negri
Despite an increasingly globalised world, where in the last ten years, football clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have become global brands, international football remains understandably pinned to the idea of triumphant nation states. Thus state orders are reinforced and a popular nationalism is commodified. As part of this, England’s World Cup win in 1966 remains, justifiably, a great source of national pride. The memories of that victory continue to fuel contemporary ideas of what success for the national team looks like.
In 1996, thirty years after the famous win, England hosted the European Championships and St George’s flags, for the first time in my short life, were inescapable. Perhaps it was because England were facing Scotland in the group stages or because England were hosts, but somehow, the Union flag, with all those colonial traumas stitched into its fabric, was replaced by the St George’s flag as the English patriot’s symbol of choice.
However, somewhere amidst the fervour of late 1990s “Cool Britannia” and New Labour, the St George’s flag also became the divisive symbol of the bullish, racist nationalism of the British National Party. Virtually no broadcast or news story about the BNP came without the familiar sight of the red and white flags or supporters adorned in England football shirts. With the far-right party picking up council seats and their candidates contesting parliamentary elections and holding on to their deposits, their rhetoric became mainstream. Thus, the St George’s flag became synonymous with modern English fascism. Moreover, the formation and subsequent rise of the English Defence League (EDL) was closely linked to a subculture of football fans coming together against their imagined enemy of Islam. Members often seen draped in football paraphernalia, specifically England shirts, routinely take part in violent street demonstrations.
It is undeniable that English nationalism, footballing or otherwise, is viscerally bound up with an aggressive racism that demarcates who belongs and who is the unwanted Other. Invariably, there are groups of people, particularly those who have been targets of the BNP or EDL, that are reluctant to embrace the English national team and the associated aggressive patriotism.
Yet despite, or perhaps because of, how vigorously England, the St George’s flag and the support of the national team has been hijacked by the isolating politics of nationalism, people believe the potential for subversion is even greater. Individuals and groups from minority communities in Britain have sought to reclaim the idea of Englishness from the far-right and to broaden the understanding of what it means to identify as English. Progressive ideals have been situated underneath a banner of nationalism that purports to be inclusive, welcoming and multi-cultural. England shirts have been worn proudly, the red and white a signal of support for a new, refreshed demonstration of Englishness.
Movements to reclaim and rebrand words and cultural associations have been favoured as a means of asserting alternative theories and ideas, albeit incrementally. However, it is difficult to assess how useful or sustainable this attempted reclamation can be without the accompaniment of the wholesale reframing of the issue, in this case, the concept of the English nation state. Further, can it be considered realistic for people of colour to reform an identity whose values are intrinsically bound up with whiteness?
Feelings of alienation are often exacerbated when international football tournaments come around and the success of the nation state appears to be so heavily hinged on the success of the national football team. Fifty years on England’s famous victory football has irrefutably shaped what English national success looks like and at the same time continues to provide a tool to interrogate what Englishness looks like. The commodification of nationalism through international sporting events thus serves as a useful means to understand how collective identities are fractured, formed and expressed through football.
The relationship between nationalism and football is complex and often fraught with reactionary politics. However, the sport also serves an important role in the formation of collective national identity in post-colonial states. Famously, Algerian players in the French league formed the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in 1958, a team that exported the desire for Algerian self-determination and liberation from the French throughout North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Europe and Asia. Similarly, the Iraqi national team’s achievements in the 2007 Asia Cup were set against a backdrop of continued violence, occupation and logistical difficulties. Victory brought together an often fragmented country and a sense of Iraqi national pride was keenly felt throughout.
French success in the 1998 World Cup, which was also held on home turf, was heralded as a defining moment in the previously difficult narrative of integration. With a team led by the inimitable Zinedine Zidane, French-born to Algerian parents, and composed of players whose backgrounds told a story of French colonialism, this was supposed to be a turning point in French race relations. Instead, it has come to signify the shallow understanding of racial, economic and social inequality that continues to plague French society. The World Cup victory of a multi-cultural France allowed the French state and media to temporarily plaster over deep fissures without addressing the root causes of discontent. Owing to the universal nature of the game, the cohesion and success of a football team can be very easily translated into populist notions of unity and togetherness. Likewise, these concepts are often inspired by the collective spirit integral to team sports.
Despite its limitations, international football is situated in a unique position, where individual relationships with the state coalesce into either a collective sense of belonging or unbelonging. To be able to understand how people and communities relate to their national football team is to gain an insight into how they relate both to themselves and where they live.
The burgeoning cultural and financial potency of world football has benefited from an increasingly networked, globalised world. Football has grown in stature as a worldwide game, transcending borders, languages, races and religions. The simplicity and the aesthetics of play have contributed to its ascendant popularity, whilst free-market economics have encouraged both the corporatisation and commodification of the game.
Investment in stadium infrastructure in England was kick-started by the birth of the Premier League and the virtual end of live-televised league football on free domestic channels. Ultimately, the transformation of how the sport was both accessed and managed lay in the increased exposure provided by Sky TV. Principal income streams switched from match-day takings, including tickets and merchandise, to the ever-growing sums from TV deals, while the football stadiums became sites for executive boxes, naming rights and touchline-to-touchline advertising and sponsorship.
In line with neoliberal economics, the influx of new money did not remove inequality but instead exacerbated it. Well-established football clubs that already had money were able to tighten their financial grip on professional football, whilst those at the lower end of the spectrum continue to drift further away, facing administration and a future of financial uncertainty. As television money pours into the English Premier League, the maldistribution of wealth is a salient reminder of the society it is situated in.
Alongside the increase in capital flows, labour flows have also predictably broadened, bringing players from all over the world to the top European leagues. This mobility of labour not only diversified talent but also undoubtedly improved the standards of football across the world, especially Europe where many of these players sought to forge careers. However, with this movement arose ample opportunity for exploitation, particularly of young Africans, who were trafficked on false promises to jobs that didn’t exist. With such vast quantities of money thrown around at the highest levels of professional football, the potential for injustice is amplified, particularly in the search for social mobility and economic security. From countries still in recovery from the economic and social destruction suffered under British colonialism, professional football in Europe is considered a viable route out of poverty for many young men in Africa. Not dissimilar from the movement of migrant labour into often precarious, low-paid work in bad conditions in Western Europe, football is not exempt from its role in oppressive labour practices, nor is it very far removed from the spectre of colonialism. Flows of labour from the African continent also mirror neo-colonial resource-extraction models, with players viewed as raw materials that have their value added in the European academies. With fortress-Europe recklessly weaponising borders as a means of deterrence to incoming migrants, it is likely that this will only worsen in coming years, with only the most economically profitable allowed entry.
In England, the very foundation of the Premier League is the well-functioning football club, complete with the consistent exploitation of the lowest-paid workers, from club cleaners to catering staff. Despite the millions pocketed by star footballers, those at the other end of the spectrum, those who make matches possible, often scrape by on minimum wage. The astronomical increases in player wages and commercial revenues have not yet trickled down in any meaningful manner. After a lengthy and well-fought campaign by the Living Wage Foundation, the Premier League committed to ensuring all top-flight clubs will pay workers a living wage. However, this was stipulated to just include directly employed workers, excluding contracted staff, who are also often on precarious, zero-hour contracts. This short-sightedness on the part of Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore demonstrated a real lack of desire to effect lasting change in labour policies not just in football but as an example to all employers. With burgeoning social and cultural influence both in England and the rest of the world, campaigners should use the football industry as a soapbox from which broader social change can be encouraged. Furthermore, for football to remain the most popular sport in the world, it should be willing to recognise its complicity in upholding systems of oppression, especially those from which it directly profits.
Amongst all the debates about whether football can be subverted to achieve social justice or if there is even a space for radical politics in a multi-billion-pound industry, one key thing stands out. Belonging. Whose game is it? Who should be most invested in the redemption of this beast? Those who are the architects of the spectacle or those who watch on, delighted? Numerous campaigns and movements speak about returning football to its roots, nostalgic for a time when football was the preserve of the working classes. Although it is true that football has been made successful through working class labour, the sport has always been controlled by the wealthy, capitalist classes. Codified in public schools, football was initially introduced to working class men as a means of civilising them. It is clear therefore that any reclamation of the game cannot take place at the top level — community-focused, fan-owned clubs are outliers, exceptions. To accept that this global game is too powerful, an uncontrolled monster, is not to give up on it. Instead, it allows us to focus on our communities, our local teams, our supporters groups, to direct our resources where we find utility. It offers up the potential for strength and solidarity beyond tribalism, to join up movements of resistance, from Palestine to Algeria to the militarised borders of Europe. It gives people a space in which to create a game in their own image.
Football is not separate from the society that supports it; rather it is irrevocably tied up with the most unjust systems of racism, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and capitalism. This, however, is precisely why the potential for resistance is so huge and necessary. The collective spirit in football, whether it’s on the street or in the stadium, is unparalleled. This is what must be harnessed to unsettle and destabilise systems of power, to liberate occupied peoples and to imagine a game that we can be proud of.
In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon’s classic account of colonialism, he wrote:
If sports are not incorporated into the life of the nation, in the building of the nation, if we produce national sportsmen instead of conscious individuals, then sports will quickly be ruined by professionalism and commercialism.
If it is too late for football to be used to build, we must be willing to use it to destroy.
This is an edited extract from David Stubb’s 1996 & the End of History– available here and currently just £4.50 including UK postage in our half price World Cup sale.
1995 may have been the year that Britpop burst through, but 1996 was the year in which it loomed largest and was most overbearing, Oasis in particular, despite not releasing an album that year. 1996 was still a year of Conservative g overnment, but so commanding was Tony Blair’s lead in the polls it was clear he was Prime Minister elect. It was possible, in 1996, for him to bask in the unspoiled glow of his triumph in bringing the long Tory nightmare to an end, untarnished by the many compromised decisions he would make almost immediately on taking office in 1997, beginning by accepting a £1 million donation from Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, only months later to grant exemption to the motor racing organisation from a general ban on cigarette advertising. All of that was to come; in 1996, he was still practically an honorary Oasis band member.
1996 was also the year of Euro ’96, in which English footballing hopes were bound up with the worlds of both comedy and music. It wasn’t just Baddiel and Skinner’s collaboration with The Lightning Seeds, “Three Lions”, but the sanguine, laddish, retrograde mood engendered by Britpop and Loaded. It wasn’t just football that was coming home, but the general sense that after the dark Seventies and the fragmented Eighties, Britain (led by England, of course) had rediscovered its mojo, the spring in its step, the spirit of Hurst and McCartney, the white heat of a bygone era.
Games Without Frontiers (paperback + free ebook and free shipping to the UK) is currently half price as part of our World Cup sale. His new book Authentocrats, was published last week – buy it here.
“Sport is a battle” is the metaphor we are now required to live by as football fans. The club must survive and prosper at the cost of everything else. However, this formula changes somewhat in international football, where the “need” for victory is often sutured unquestioningly to the national cause. Curiously, this relationship seems to intensify even as the sense of common purpose between clubs and communities fades. This came to light in a peculiarly candid way during the predictable period of recrimination following England’s equally predictable early exit from the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Even before the players had set off for home Harry Redknapp, the geezerish and journalist-friendly cockney who had been passed over for the England manager’s job in 2012 because of a pending court case, turned up in the press claiming that a number of English internationals were in the habit of begging their club managers to withdraw them from the national squad for friendly games. The allegation was stark: that some English players regard playing for their country not as an honour, but as an annoyance. England coach Roy Hodgson and his outgoing captain Steven Gerrard cannily took the sting out of Redknapp’s comments by asking him to name names, but the matter did not drop entirely. Former England striker and current light-entertainment go-to Ian Wright wrote in his column in the Sun newspaper that any player found to have shirked international “duty” without good reason should be required to phone the parents of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to explain their decision to drop out.
This was imagined on Twitter in plenty of bleakly funny versions of how the transcript of such a call might read. Palpably, the suggestion was a piece of attention-seeking on the part of Wright, who has never, it seems, got over his early-career rejections or his marginalisation in the 1990s England team by more rounded strikers such as Alan Shearer. However, it spoke to something in England’s present-day ideological make-up, namely a resurgent patriotism of symbols which regards Englishness, whatever that might mean, as somehow under threat. The role the football player takes in this set of beliefs is intriguing. Wright was playing to the idea that the default setting for footballers is a patriotic one, that they feel a sense of pride in national symbols which extends beyond their utilitarian, team-bonding value. By linking this version of patriotic obligation to that of the soldier’s, he tacitly insists on the relative unanimity of nationalistic sentiment amongst the working-class communities that both footballers and the rank-and-file military are drawn from.
While one does find the occasional player, such as Serbia’s Siniša Mihajlović or Croatia’s Zvonimir Boban, for whom patriotism is obviously a very real and visceral thing, it seems plausible and even likely that the average international player uses it as a motivational tool, a way of rationalising responsibility to the footballing cause. There’s a ludicrous misrecognition on the part of the right-wingers doing their Queen-and-country act in the stands who think the men on the pitch automatically share their blood-and-soil mentality: footballers, like most sportspeople, tend to focus themselves out of any formal political identification and even, in some cases, vaguer political affects. Presenting footballers as exclusively patriotically motivated is a form of fantasy about working-class politics, which is to say that it suits certain agendas to treat the “proles” as intrinsically nationalistic, thus implicitly turning anti-nationalistic (typically socialist) politics into an illegitimate bourgeois charade. And here lies the true equivalence between footballers and soldiers. The majority join the military because of the route it offers out of poverty, regardless of the narrative which states that they do so through an unmediated love of the patria. This narrative has, both in the UK and the US, a double function, simultaneously masking socio-economic inequality and lending affective “credibility” to those countries’ ridiculous joint-enterprise neo-imperial wars. The linking of footballers to soldiers, then, has as its ultimate outcome an intensification of the militarisation of British society, the same phenomenon, in fact, that we witness when, on the occasions when England score a goal at an international tournament, the footage cuts away to show soldiers watching the game from whichever theatre of operations they have been sent to in the latest stage of the quixotic War on Terror.
That said, the determinations of an intensified seriousness in the visual language of the football media are not limited to society’s broader militarisation. One thinks of the way that various England internationals from the present and the recent past, such as the aforementioned Gerrard, John Terry and new captain Wayne Rooney, seek to present themselves to the nation. The media consensus around the England team emphasises their surfeit of passion, which supposedly exists in inverse proportion to a shortfall of technical ability and tactical nous, but to actually watch an England game is, very often, to be struck by the cowed performances and expressions of players we are supposed to think of as possessed of leonine bravery and aggression. These are rarely performances full of sound and fury but lacking in signification: in fact, they are bereft of all these attributes.
Gerrard’s career is almost precisely coterminous with the Blair – Brown – Cameron era in British politics. In this period, the affective aspect of politics has intensified in counterpoint to a more generalised “waning of affect”: being seen to “care”, or to share in spuriously “common” desires which have replaced genuine collective purpose, seems to be regarded as a far safer bet electorally than possessing either proven competence or the potential for developing it. At the same time, and this is something which takes us once again to those portentous kit advertisements, the tenor of branding has changed significantly, with the governing maxim no longer “this product is great” but “this product is invested with passion”. We’re passionate about conservatories! We’re passionate about crisps! We’re passionate about dog food! However much it cloys with us, it is hard to believe in an individual who is not to some extent invested in aspects of these values, for who would want to be perceived as not caring?
To be regarded as wrongly or cynically motivated is something which footballers must deal with constantly: no wonder Gerrard, Terry, Rooney and the like must seek not only to play football well, but to come across as adequately invested, when they and the rest of their profession are subject to constant slights about the essential worthlessness of what they do. For all the substantial material recompense playing the sport earns them, there are few jobs which invite more clamorous accusations of social irrelevance and metaphysical inanity. This is an issue which comes up every time there is a big international competition. Of course, football becomes unpleasantly ubiquitous during the World Cup, with the main sufferer of this ubiquity being not those who don’t enjoy the game but, counterintuitively, those who do. The unpleasantness is a consequence of ubiquity’s tendency towards dilution, which has the consequence of football being turned into “footie”, that abstracted version which lends itself to all kinds of dismal exercises in masculinist and nationalistic identity formation. Watch the footie on telly last night, mate? Well, no, I went to the football last night. If you spend every weekend of the season following a team, it is pretty easy to come to feel alienated during the World Cup or European Championships, when the sport becomes the preserve of geezerish dilettantes and the themed ladvertising kicks in. It’s at this stage that I usually start to feel sympathy for people who dislike football entirely.
That’s until things turn up like the irritating 2014 meme imagining an alternate reality in which archaeology, rather than football, dominates the media and archaeologists are paid thousands of pounds a week. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup in Brazil, this became the definitive plaint on the behalf of the non-believers, the document tasked with articulating to football fans just what it means to be on the outside of the festivities. Despite the fact that I can imagine what it must be like, for the precise reason that I largely feel the same, for the non-football fan to be bombarded with “footie” for a whole month every second summer, I couldn’t identify at all with the meme.
Let’s think, first of all, about why it is specifically archaeology which replaces football in this ostensibly harmless thought experiment. Why not, say, “shopping” or “military history”? I have no score to settle with archaeology – who would, honestly? – and appreciate the discipline’s substantial, if not politically unproblematic, contribution to the sum total of human self-understanding. However, the field does have certain connotations which are useful in particular forms of self-presentation. Archaeology carries with it an image of wistful past-gazing, of laudable knowledge-foraging, of being the kid who ignored football in the playground because they were too busy digging away in the corner looking for clay pipes or Neolithic man. For all of its fascinations, it is also a realm in which the humblebragging, self-anointed geek enjoys considerable social capital.
In other words, it’s just the kind of thing which appeals to that online constituency Jacques Lacan anticipated when he said that thing about how les non-dupes errent, how the non-dupes are mistaken. That it is the not-fooled, the people who “see through stuff”, who are the most taken-in ideologically, has always had a considerable degree of appeal, but never more so than in the era of internet atheism, an age in which meme factories like the smug I Fucking Love Science pour out quotable rationalism seemingly by the second. Lovely archaeology coming on as a substitute for aggressive, alpha-male, avaricious, irrational (and, though the piece would never dare mention it, largely working-class) football seems to me the kind of notion that really speaks to the aren’t-bees-more-fascinating-than-Jesus, calling-Valentine’s-Day-Hallmark-Holiday, Stop-Kony crowd.
But, lest we fail Practical Criticism 101, let’s go back to the text itself. The point of the meme, remember, is to induce some sort of artificial parity between football and archaeology – to ask us to imagine if archaeology, presented without additional ideological freight, and football, presented likewise, swapped places in the cultural imagination. However, the writer cannot resist the opportunity to start introducing other elements into the equation almost as soon as it has been established, finding subtle ways of embedding value judgements. Here, it’s imagined that archaeologists acquire the same, “worst possible” behavioural traits that the media at large attributes, with consummate dishonesty, to all footballers. The rationale for doing this is not, as it purports to be, to get us to imagine archaeologists on an alcohol-fuelled rampage in Mayfair, but to remind us that football players are uncouth (working-class) louts who provoke “scandal”.
Then there’s another dig. Having hypothesised an archaeologist who would “act” like a footballer, the writer reminds us what an archaeologist would be doing when they’re not up to no good, namely “searching the past for answers”. That’s to say that their professional activity would still be of considerable value, inviting a comparison to the implied “pointlessness” of football. Such purported pointlessness is a classic canard of a hypocritical utilitarianism which locates value (or “point”) in, say, BBC4 documentaries about archaeology or Scandinavian crime dramas, but not in competitive sport. This, I suspect, is an aspect of that classic piece of political equivocation by which utilitarianism is good for the working-class goose, but not appropriate for the middle-class gander, one which seems to be reserved largely for football.
The World Cup starts today ! ! Which means that for the next four weeks, football is going to be everywhere. Or as Joe Kennedy sums it up so well in his Games Without Frontiers:
Football becomes unpleasantly ubiquitous during the World Cup… The unpleasantness is a consequence of ubiquity’s tendency towards dilution, which has the consequence of football being turned into “footie”, that abstracted version which lends itself to all kinds of dismal exercises in masculinist and nationalistic identity formation… The sport becomes the preserve of geezerish dilettantes and the themed ladvertising kicks in. It’s at this stage that I usually start to feel sympathy for people who dislike football entirely.
And to celebrate the “unpleasantly ubiquitous” nature of football over the next month, we’re offering 50% off our football books (including Joe’s), plus one on Russia, from today until England are knocked out of the tournament.
A unique 50th anniversary collection of superlative writing and new football thinking.
“… an enjoyable collection of essays by a cadre of distinguished football writers […] that examines the tournament from many angles, with the informal but informed tone of the best fanzines.” – The Guardian
As the campaign in Ireland to Repeal the 8th reaches its climax, here’s a guide to some movements from the US that are combining feminist tactics, social media and political strategies to challenge abortion stigma.
Abortion. Can we finally stop whispering about it?
Abortion has been around almost as long as pregnancy. Historical records show separate references to abortion techniques as long ago as 3000 years BCE in Egypt, Greece, and China, and major world religions did not forbid it. Even the Catholic Church permitted abortion until the moment of ensoulment, believed to occur at the time of quickening, the first time the pregnant person can feel movement of the fetus. No one before the nineteenth century believed abortion was taking a human life. Traditional Hebrew religious law did not consider a woman pregnant until forty days after conception, allowing a window in which abortion was morally acceptable. Some classical interpretations of the Quran permitted abortion before ensoulment, defined here as the moment when an angel breathes the spirit into the fetus at 120 days, while other interpretations approved abortion conditionally for valid reasons. Still other schools of Islam forbade abortion entirely.
As a secular society, the US history of abortion is mostly the history of its regulation. Pregnancy termination was widely practiced but completely unregulated in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. An induced abortion before quickening wasn’t even considered an abortion but a pregnancy that had “slipped away”. The earliest regulations, such as Connecticut’s 1821 law, the first on record, were legislated to protect women from being poisoned by dangerous abortifacient drugs sold by unscrupulous vendors. These early laws were poison-control measures, not abortion restrictions, and they did not challenge the concept of quickening or women’s right to make decisions about their pregnancies. Their autonomy over their bodies was preserved by what the law omitted. By the mid-nineteenth century, the emerging medical profession sought to restrict abortion to take control of the procedure — and everything else related to pregnancy — away from women and midwives.
The American Medical Association (AMA) was formed in 1847 and provided physicians with an infrastructure from which to organize an anti-abortion campaign. The basis of the campaign was professional issues, as the organization moved to medicalize pregnancy and childbirth; but from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, racist and anti-feminist messages are easy to read in some early anti-abortion campaigns. Dr Horatio R. Storer, a prominent advocate of banning abortion, expressed anxiety about Mexicans, Chinese, Blacks, Indians, or Catholics spreading into the American West instead of native-born white Americans. He was opposed as well to the concurrent push from women to enter medical school. Storer also took issue with quickening: he argued that it is not a fact or a medical diagnosis, “but a sensation” based on women’s bodily sensations, leaving doctors dependent on women’s judgment and self-understanding.
By 1890 abortion was criminalized in every state, although it wasn’t treated exactly the same in each. In some places it was permitted only when necessary to save the life of the woman, while in other areas women could receive an abortion in a doctor’s office or even at home. The latter practice ended in the mid-twentieth century as new methods of controlling abortion were implemented by medical and legal authorities. By this point in the 1950s, somewhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal, unsafe abortions were performed every year, according to Dr David Grimes, a former chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was also mid-twentieth century when activists began to work for the repeal of abortion laws and restrictions. This grassroots movement pre-dates what is now known as second-wave feminism.
The first activists to advocate for abortion access in terms of women’s rights, Patricia Maginnis, Lana Phelan, and Rowena Gurner, came together in California in the early 1960s — first Maginnis and Gurner in 1961, with Phelan joining in 1965. The group they formed, the Society for Humane Abortion (SHA), worked tirelessly for more than a decade to educate the public about the issues. They delivered presentations about abortion at conferences and in classes, and in 1969 published the satirical guide The Abortion Handbook for Responsible Women. To maintain SHA’s tax-exempt status, they created a second group, Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (ARAL), which eventually grew into the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL). After the 1973 US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, the group’s new leadership shifted its focus to keeping abortion “safe and legal” and changed its name to National Abortion Rights Action League (still NARAL). In 2003, the organization changed its name to NARAL Pro-Choice America, stating that they faced a hostile political climate for abortion and the new name “underscore[s] that our country is pro-choice”, according to then-president Kate Michelman. It’s surely no coincidence that the new name completely omitted the word abortion.
Several US states revoked criminalization of abortion and allowed termination of pregnancy before twenty weeks in 1970: first Hawaii, then New York, Alaska, and Washington. Also in 1970, a young, impoverished Texas woman named Norma McCorvey found herself unintentionally pregnant for the third time and challenged the state law prohibiting abortion. Texas laws were then the most restrictive in the nation. Because both abortion and unmarried pregnancy were considered so shameful, she was referred to in court documents as Jane Roe to protect her privacy. By the time the US Supreme Court ruled in her favor, on January 22, 1973, it was too late for her to abort, but Roe v. Wade made it legal for every pregnant person in the country to make a decision to end a pregnancy in the first two trimesters, for any reason.
It must be recognized, however, that Roe was decided on the basis of the right to privacy, grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment and judicial precedent, not on the basis of equality. Numerous critics, including current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have commented on how the decision “is as much about the doctor’s right to recommend to his patient what he thinks his patient needs. It’s always about the woman in consultation with her physician and not the woman standing alone in that case.”
Abortion opponents soon began working to limit abortion access, and in 1976 Congress passed Illinois representative Henry Hyde’s proposed prohibition of Medicaid funds for abortion for indigent women. The constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment has been upheld repeatedly, even its prohibition of medically necessary abortion. Activists working today from a reproductive justice framework note that while the right to privacy is now well established, it is essentially a negative right; that is, a right to be left alone. No positive right to abortion is established, making it functionally accessible only to those who can afford it.
In the forty-four years since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, individual states have enacted 1,074 abortion restrictions. Of these, 353 (27%) have been enacted just since 2010. Restrictions include mandating medically inaccurate or misleading counselling prior to the procedure; requiring a waiting period after abortion counselling, thus necessitating at least two trips to the facility; mandating a medically unnecessary ultrasound exam before an abortion; banning Medicaid funding of abortion (except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest); restricting abortion coverage in private health-insurance plans; requiring onerous and unnecessary regulations on abortion facilities; imposing medically inappropriate restrictions on medication abortion; and imposing an unconstitutional ban on abortion before viability or limits on abortion after viability. In this climate, talking about abortion is ever more important — to break abortion stigma and to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible, abortion must be visible. Instead, abortion has been increasingly stigmatized and shamed since Roe v. Wade was decided.
Organizational/structural stigmas include such examples as the way abortion is physically separated from other healthcare, including gynecological and obstetric care, and inconsistent training available in medical schools. The community level of stigma includes the risk of being labelled promiscuous or careless or worse, another illustration of how abortion is highly stigmatized in the US. Individual-level stigma may be the most variable, as personal experience varies; the discourses of stigma in the community, organizations, government/structures, and media frequently influence individual psyches and experiences. All of these are discursive; that is, created and maintained through language and communication. This discursivity is integral to how they work.
For instance, consider the idea that abortion is stigmatized because it contradicts “ideals of womanhood”. Kumar et al. identify three archetypes that characterize the so-called essential nature of woman in the popular imaginary: a sexuality focused on procreation rather than pleasure; the inevitability of motherhood; and a nurturing instinct. When a woman voluntarily terminates a pregnancy, she is believed to be rejecting all of those archetypes — even though a majority of women who have abortions (59%) are already mothers and the most common reasons cited for seeking abortion are about family responsibilities. Yet voluntarily terminating a pregnancy challenges the moral order of patriarchal culture. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, named other beliefs about women that abortion decisions and access challenge: “There’s this thought that women are just too scattered, we’re too impulsive, we are too hormonal, we can’t make good decisions for ourselves”.
Most central, according to theories of abortion stigma, is the implicit tension about female sexuality: when, why, how, with whom. Did she use contraception? (That means she intended to have sex!) Is she too young? (She’s not ready to make this decision!) Did she choose the wrong man? (Perhaps someone others think is wrong for her.) And so on. Legislation regulating abortion is the most overt example of language that judges women for deviance from these feminine archetypes and further stigmatizes abortion with the lingering stain of criminality.
This is not to suggest that women are themselves ashamed of sex or sexuality, or even that all women feel stigma about abortion. Those who have terminated pregnancies are a heterogeneous group — in no small part because they are a large group. More than one million women in the US have abortions each year and estimates are that by age forty-five one-third of women will have had an abortion. It is also believed by demographers that abortion in the US is underreported. But abortion secrecy rules are well documented: two of three abortion patients anticipate experiencing stigma and a similar number (58%) feel the need to keep their decision from friends and family — an unfortunate trend, as social support is a mitigating factor in experiencing stigma. The pressure to keep abortion secret is strong enough that even when the procedure is covered by private insurance (about 30% of cases) two-thirds of those patients will pay out-of-pocket rather than have it appear on their medical and insurance records. This may be another factor in heightened stigma in the US; anecdotal evidence suggests that abortion is less stigmatized in the UK, where it is covered by the National Health Service.
Norris et al. (2011) suggest that additional reasons for abortion stigma may lie in the discourse of personhood attributed to the fetus. Advances in fetal medicine, such as 3D fetal photography and advanced fetal surgery, have facilitated this, as has the proliferation of anti-abortion legislation.
Morality and medicine, like fact and fiction, are entangled in many of these state laws enacted to restrict access to abortion. The Guttmacher Institute (2016), a research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights, reports that at least half of the fifty states have imposed regulations designed to deter women, such as mandatory counselling, required waiting periods, required parental involvement for minors, mandatory ultrasound imaging, and prohibitions on the use of Medicaid funds. A separate report documents the proliferation of regulations known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers), which focus specifically on clinics and providers, mandating clinic requirements in such categories as corridor widths, distance from hospitals, admitting privileges for providers, and more. A 2016 US Supreme Court decision (Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt) struck down the latter type of regulations. The state law in question had already closed nearly two dozen clinics in Texas since 2013. In the three years since the law took effect, an estimated 100,000 Texas women have self-induced abortions. The number could be more than twice that, depending on how it is calculated. The court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt concluded “that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion [and] each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access”, as well as being violations of the Constitution.
Many state regulations seem frankly designed to shame and stigmatize, as well as impose additional burdens on the process. Some regulations appear intended to influence women against abortion with bad science. For example, six states require abortion providers to advise women that the procedure can result in severe mental health consequences, despite repeated research showing this is not true. Yet no state requires that pregnant people be informed of the research linking unintended pregnancy and childbearing with adverse mental health outcomes. Kansas, Texas, South Dakota, and Arizona require that the pre-abortion counselling session include a statement that abortion may harm their ability to conceive in the future. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has affirmed that “that one abortion does not affect your ability to get pregnant or the risk of future pregnancy complications”. Five states still mandate that materials or counselling be provided informing women of a potential link between abortion and breast cancer — a link that was debunked almost fifteen years ago when the National Cancer Institute convened a workshop of more than a hundred of the world’s experts on the subject, who concluded that abortion does not increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. This finding has been affirmed by ACOG and the American Cancer Society, as well as a panel convened by the British government in 2004.
Equally egregious and insulting are the mandatory waiting periods, required in twenty-seven states. These “cooling-off periods” range from eighteen hours to three days after pre-abortion counselling before patients can receive an abortion, and usually exclude weekends and holidays. These regulations are based on the belief that women choose impulsively to terminate an unintended pregnancy, or perhaps have not considered the full impact of their choice; that is, that upon termination, they will no longer be pregnant. State legislators presume that women cannot make good decisions. Research has shown that women are actually less conflicted in abortion decisions than people making decisions about other medical procedures. A recent study of Utah’s seventy-two-hour waiting period found that most clients (91%) were just as certain after the three-day wait; 17% reported that waiting made them more certain. Previously published studies by the same researchers have shown that waiting periods increase the cost of the abortion and cause logistical hardships for patients. Civil rights lawyer Danielle Lang (2016) writes, “The argument goes as follows: Women, whose natural role is mother, would never in their right mind seek to terminate a pregnancy. Their choice therefore must be a result of bad influence, coercion or undue pressure.” Fifteen states even require pre-abortion counselling to inform the woman that she cannot be coerced into obtaining an abortion. It’s difficult to imagine other medical procedures being treated in this fashion, such as a three-day waiting period to have an aching tooth pulled or gaping wound stitched up, with a warning that no one can compel you to have those stitches. In his recently published memoir, abortion provider Dr Willie Parker extends the comparison to cancer, writing:
A woman who decides not to pursue treatment and to shorten her life in order to be clear-minded for as long as possible is considered “brave”. A woman who decides to take radical action, to undergo surgeries and try every experimental drug in the pipeline is a “warrior”. Even patients with lung cancer are not blamed and judged for smoking in the same way that women who seek abortions are blamed for having sex.
These regulations may individually seem minor, but their impact and reach are significant. Gold and Nash (2017) point out that seventeen states have at least five types of these restrictions that flout scientific evidence, and 30% of US women of reproductive age live in those states. Their review examines ten categories of restrictions; 53% of US women live in a state that has at least two of these restrictions.
In addition, abortion stigma has been effectively weaponized by anti-abortion activists. Protestors have used shaming and insulting language — such as calling patients “murderer” and “slut” as they enter clinics — and created overt barriers at clinics across the country. Despite the FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) and the presence of volunteer escorts, anti-abortion zealots regularly show up at clinics to engage in prayer vigils and so-called sidewalk counselling, as well as to mob the cars and taxis of clinic patients and their companions and to photograph patients and providers without permission. “Sidewalk counselling” often consists of repeated interrogation about whether the patient has Jesus in her life, or slut shaming. A 2017 mini-documentary about clinic protestors produced by Rewire News shows anti-abortion activists acknowledging that they write down license plate numbers of clinic staff, which prompts anxiety and fear among clinic employees.
Abortion stigma reaches beyond those who have the procedure: abortion providers and clinic workers also experience it, albeit of a somewhat different nature. This has to do in part with structural forces of current medical practice. For instance, most abortions occur in women’s health clinics, which increases their isolation from the rest of healthcare. This was initially a strategic choice by proponents to maintain sensitive and women-controlled care of patients. Today it has made providers easy targets – literally and metaphorically – for abortion opponents. They are subject to harassment and violence and their clinics are singled out for regulations that other kind of outpatient medical facilities are not. The scarcity of abortion providers today results in some doctors becoming de facto abortion specialists (which is not inherently troublesome, as many physicians and surgeons develop expertise in particular procedures). The stigma is greater if they perform second-trimester abortions. Although providers experience these sources of abortion stigma on a continual basis, they can counter them with belief in the value and necessity of their work. On the other hand, unwillingness to disclose their work in public or social settings can increase the perception that abortion work is unusual or deviant, and reinforce the stigma. Family and friends of the patient may also experience abortion stigma. Male partners have reported ambivalence, guilt, sadness, anxiety, powerlessness — the same range of emotions felt by women who seek abortions.
Kumar has cautioned researchers to avoid “conceptual inflation” in defining abortion stigma, noting the importance of separating stigma analytically from prejudice and discrimination as it is both a cause and a consequence of inequality. To understand the power dynamics, the concept must be narrowly defined. When abortion is highly politicized, as in the US, “greater conceptual clarity is needed on the power differentials that create and maintain abortion stigma such as those related to race, age, and class”.
The precise nature of abortion stigma comes into clearer focus upon examination of women’s stories of abortion experience. Two documentary films released in 2005 featured personal stories of abortion: I Had an Abortion by Jennifer Baumgardner and The Abortion Diaries by Penny Lane. Both films had the explicit purpose of making abortion narratives public, widely shared, and without shame. Both films feature individuals stating that the shame of unintended pregnancy is greater than the shame of abortion. Joh in The Abortion Diaries tells her interviewer it was upsetting to her “that somebody knew that I’d messed up. ’Cause that’s what it was considered, that if you got pregnant, you messed up.” Baumgardner reports a male friend who has been part of more than one abortion (not uncommon for an urban, single, heterosexual dude approaching forty) who says it’s not the abortion that’s shameful, it’s the pregnancy. A 2016 HBO film, Abortion: Stories Women Tell by Tracy Droz Tragos, shows little change in the intervening decade. While the new film differs from those from 2005 in that it includes stories of women who elected to continue their pregnancies and stories of abortion protestors as well as abortion stories, the theme of abortion stigma is still strong. In a Newsweek interview, Tragos references all the women she spoke with who could not tell their stories on camera, fearing repercussions at work or at home, saying they found “some solace in even talking about [it] and being heard”.
Smith et al.’s recent interview study of reproductive decisions among young women in the American South found stigma attached to both pregnancy and abortion. Within their Alabama communities, “young women faced with an unintended pregnancy were often deemed ‘fast’ and labelled ‘heathens’ or ‘whores.’ Participants described how women can be the target of accusations and gossip regardless of their pregnancy decision”. A few participants reported losing friends when others, especially parents of their friends, learned of their pregnancies. Interview studies of adult women have also found women reporting disapproving attitudes from friends and family members, as well as loss of friends and boyfriends over abortion decisions. Reproductive justice activist Loretta J. Ross (2016) suggests that respectability politics today leads to more abortion shaming in our era of accessible birth control and legal abortion because now women are seen as both moral and intellectual failures for not using contraception, whereas a previous generation of young women with few options might be chastised only for their risky abortions.
Shame and secrecy surround nearly every reproductive health event; menstruation and menstrual disorders, miscarriage, and breastfeeding all follow widespread cultural norms of concealment and secrecy. For instance, Seear (2009) reported average diagnostic delays of eight years in the UK and eleven years in the US for endometriosis, due largely to stigma that normalizes menstrual pain and enforces silence. Miscarriage is also difficult to discuss and widely misunderstood, yet common: it occurs in about one-fourth of pregnancies in the US but 55% of Americans believe that it is rare. A national survey about miscarriage found that while most respondents knew that genetic malformation is a possible cause of miscarriage, substantial numbers agreed with the following incorrect causes: lifting heavy objects (64%), having had a sexually transmitted disease in the past (41%), past use of an IUD (28%), past use of oral contraception (22%), or getting into an argument (21%). Among survey respondents who had experienced miscarriages, 47% reported feeling guilty, 41% reported feeling that they did something wrong, 41% reported feeling alone, and 28% reported feeling ashamed.
This reproductive secrecy imposes a norm of silence around any reproductive experience that does not meet patriarchal ideals of femininity, such as adhering to the roles of good wife and good mother; in other words, there is no acceptable social discussion of miscarriages, abortions, or the decision to be childless by choice. The invisibility of these common experiences belies how normal they are. For example, many women in Gelman et al.’s study did not learn how common abortion is until they had one. They told researchers how surprised they were at the packed waiting rooms, expecting that “it would be me and maybe like one or two other people”, as one informant said.
Ellison suggests that this “cultural censorship of an experience shared by so many women reinforces an inflexible tension between cultural ideals and women’s lived realities”. This can be seen easily among Smith et al.’s young informants, who report that unintended pregnancy is both shamed and a common occurrence in their communities. These young women learn to regard abortion as even more shameful, reporting that they’ve been told abortion is irresponsible, immoral, selfish, and “you’ll get sick”, making abortion invisible in these communities. The women told the researchers stories of friends and family members who had obtained secret abortions and of miscarriages that they suspected were “hidden” abortions.
While the rate of unintended pregnancy has declined considerably over the last decade, it is still a common occurrence everywhere in the US, at 45% of all pregnancies. Twenty-one percent of all pregnancies end in abortion, leading to an annual total of more than one million pregnancy terminations. Both abortion and unintended pregnancy show a downward trend, with the most likely explanation “a change in the frequency and type of contraceptive use over time”, especially long-acting hormonal methods such as IUDs. At current rates, one of every four American women is likely to have an abortion by age thirty, and one in three by age forty-five.
But abortion stigma and shaming of women who seek abortions, their supporters, and abortion providers shows little decline. There is, however, a bold new movement of feminist activists challenging and resisting abortion stigma. These groups rely heavily on the internet and social media platforms to share stories and inform others about pending legislation and judicial decisions, as well as to promote participation in traditional activism, such as protests, meetings, and rallies. One of their shared goals is to normalize abortion by talking about it. These groups include #ShoutYourAbortion, Lady Parts Justice, We Testify, The Abortion Diary, 1 in 3 Campaign, Sea Change, Shift (affiliated with Whole Woman’s Health Alliance), My Abortion My Life (a project of PreTerm clinics of Ohio), Rewire, URGE (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equality, which uses the hashtag #AbortionPositive), Abortion Story Project, Project Voice, and probably many more. In the interest of time and space, I will focus here on #ShoutYourAbortion, Lady Parts Justice, We Testify, The Abortion Diary, and 1 in 3 Campaign. These five were selected partly for convenience, but also because they are among the most visible of these groups and they represent use of diverse social media channels: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, websites, and podcasts.
#ShoutYourAbortion (SYA) is, according to their website, a “decentralized network of individuals talking about abortion on their own terms and creating space for others to do the same”. The SYA slogan says, “Abortion is normal. Our stories are ours to tell. This is not a debate.” The hashtag emerged in 2015, from a Twitter conversation between Amelia Bonow and Lindy West, in response to a congressional vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Bonow wrote on Facebook about how grateful she was to have had abortion accessible at her local Planned Parenthood affiliate when she needed one the previous year, and with her permission, West shared her story on Twitter, with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion.
Lady Parts Justice (LPJ) was founded by comic Lizz Winstead, filmmaker Arun Chaudhary, and marketing CEO Scott Goodstein. LPJ and their sister organization, Lady Parts Justice League (LPJL), produce satirical, informative videos about anti-reproductive rights legislation, including parodies of popular songs and television shows re-worked with messages related to current abortion legislation. LPJL provides USO-style support to independent clinics all over the country, performing comedy shows that serve as entertainment for clinic employees and as fundraisers for clinic needs, often in regions that seldom see popular comedy performers tour. LPJL has also helped escort patients, planted a protective prickly bush in a fencing gap to block protesters, painted fences, counter-protested anti-choice activists, and thrown dance parties in parking lots for escorts and staff.
We Testify, a program initiated by the National Network of Abortion Funds, “is dedicated to increasing the spectrum of abortion storytellers in the public sphere and shifting the way the media understands the context and complexity of accessing abortion care”. It is a leadership program designed to support people of color in building their power and telling their stories. Renee Bracey Sherman, We Testify Program Manager, is the author of a resource guide for public abortion storytelling published by Sea Change.
The Abortion Diary podcast was started by Melissa Madera in the summer of 2013, after Madera had kept her abortion experience secret for thirteen years and seen the impact that finally telling her story had on her family, her friends, and herself. She chose the platform of podcasting to create a safe space for sharing stories “because, more than anything else, I wanted to listen”. By the beginning of 2017, she had collected more than two hundred abortion stories.
The 1 in 3 Campaign is the oldest abortion story project on the internet, and features the largest set of abortion stories published online, and the only bilingual collection, with stories published in English and in Spanish. More than a storytelling platform, 1 in 3 is also an organizing hub for college students working on reproductive justice issues on their campuses. It was created in 2011 by Advocates for Youth, an organization dedicated to supporting sexual and reproductive rights for young people.
Each has unique strengths and emphases. For instance, #ShoutYourAbortion centers visibility and politics of recognition, while Lady Parts Justice uses feminist humor as a tool of political analysis, and We Testify and the 1 in 3 Campaign use story-sharing to politicize themselves and others. All are working to normalize abortion, as they politicize supporters through narrative, online outreach, activism, and consciousness raising. For imagining a world without abortion stigma does not require that we celebrate abortion, only that we acknowledge it openly and without shame. A world without abortion stigma is also a world in which women can experience a vibrant sexuality, including access to comprehensive birth control and reproductive health services without shame, and one in which talking about those experiences is neither forbidden nor required.
An edited extract from Authentocratsby Joe Kennedy, out on 21st June from Repeater
The Nine Yorkshiremen of the Apocalypse
On the Friday evening before the June 2017 United Kingdom General Election, a special edition of the BBC’s political debate show Question Time was broadcast in which Theresa May, the leader of the Conservative Party, and Jeremy Corbyn, who we’ve met already, were invited to York to answer questions from a curated studio audience. Because May had refused a head-to-head debate, the would-be prime ministers spoke separately, and Corbyn found himself on second. May had already endured a vexing time, being forcefully challenged over Conservative cuts, particularly to the NHS, and a related public-sector pay-freeze in a way she clearly found difficult to parry. As the audience had been handpicked for balance’s sake, it was clear that Corbyn would have to endure a similar temperature of scrutiny, but the themes of his interrogation were pointedly different.
By lunchtime the following day, the image of those who took Corbyn to task had imposed itself on the consciousness of not only many on the British left, but on the public at large. Nine audience members’ faces had been screen-grabbed and corralled in a composite image, swiftly circulated on Twitter, Facebook and beyond, which was designed to demonstrate the uniformity of the debate’s conservative Continue reading “The Nine Yorkshirement of the Apocalypse—an extract from Authentocrats“
Is the “death of politics” simply an inevitable sign of the times, going hand in hand with climate change, technological development and postmodern malaise? Or is it the intentional result of right-wing engineering?
“… a wonderful spark, critiquing capitalist society from the refreshingly new perspective of psychopathology. It will surely awaken many future debates around pathology, performativity, and where to locate failure within the capitalist system.” – Social Text
Our new catalogue is out! Click the link below to view it online and browse the full list of this year’s titles, including upcoming books from Jim Dooley, Eugene Thacker, Alan Bradshaw and Linda Scott, Mark Fisher, Dawn Foster and more.
“A riveting read from beginning to end, [Shooting Hipsters] serves as a decent guide for protesters in how to effectively convey their message to the public and best use the media to their advantage.” —Dazed & Confused
This book is an invitation to get lost within varied landscapes of its pages: middle-of-nowhere Australia, the minds of Susan Sontag and W.G. Sebald, and, most prominently, the proverbial forests of all of our childhoods.
In what ways could we imagine a world different from the one in which we currently live? This is the question addressed by the essays and conversations in Futures and Fictions, which explore possibilities for a different “political imaginary”.
Part memoir, part theory, A Life Lived Remotely tells the story of the transition to the digital age through our relationship to work. Following the author’s journey as she left her 9-to-5 for the world of freelancing and working remotely, it outlines and reflects on what it means to work from home, how it affects our daily lives and our relationships, and how it is tied in to the development of the internet and our increasingly digitised world.
From today you can read an extract from the fourth chapter, “Synthesizer, Sampler, Mixmaster, Spy”, in The Wire.
In the beginning, there was the word. The word was a voice. The voice had a speaker. And the speaker knew the magic words. Fast-forward thousands of years to a time when humans behave like robots and robots behave like humans. Nobody knows the magic words anymore. Computers don’t distinguish between messages of love or hatred. Microchips make music and war with indifferent equivalence. All word, every voice, is now code. It has been for years.
Having moved to Copenhagen, Denmark from Brooklyn over eighteen years ago, Brown attempts to contextualise her and her son’s existence in a post-colonial and supposedly post-racial world in where the very machine of so-called progress has been premised upon the demise of her lineage. Through these letters, Brown writes the past into the present – from the country that has been declared “The Happiest Place in the World” – creating a vision that is a necessary alternative to the dystopian one currently being bought and sold.
You can read more about Lesley-Ann and her work in the Huffington Post:
The Isle of Minimus is a neon mirage from the heart of the sandblasted Nevada wasteland, a panorama of crazed dictators, dreamy acrobats, the urban warlords of Hollywood, video game cults, sinister boatmen, rogue airshow pilots, feral tourists, minituarised landmarks, opium dens, pop art, nuclear war, architecture, music, money, the sixties, the nineties, the post-nineties… a story of limitless scope and spectacle.
“Have you ever eavesdropped on the conversations of the brilliant people at the table next to you, and wanted to jump in and interrupt, to ask your own questions? Art and War […] is sure to make readers feel that way.” – 972 Magazine
“A smart multi-stranded thriller, set in a terrifyingly plausible dystopian near future […] all the crystal-ball chops of a William Gibson book but with far more references to 80s rave tunes.” — LeCool
“…merges elements of science fiction, political satire, thriller and ghost story…. unsettling, acerbic, pacy, and eerie. Highly recommended.” — Simon Reynolds
It’s the 1980s. Max is a forty-something neurosurgeon with a secret: he has discovered a way to induce suicide in laboratory rats. And now he’s going to track down the band of Nazis who killed his father, and make them the first human subjects of his new technique…
Selda Bağcan- legendary Turkish psych-folk pioneer, sonic and political radical, thorn in the side of the Turkish govt, and inspiration to Dr Dre & Mos Def -is playing at KOKO London this Sunday, 18th Feb (more details here)