Thursday, 26 February 2015

More Audio News

Phil Sandifer and I have started to record commentaries for Doctor Who episodes.  So far we've only done 'The Rescue', but the plan is to do some more.  We're both quite happy with the ones we've done, and I think they're a lot of fun. 

'The Rescue' Episode 1 can be downloaded or heard here.

'The Rescue' Episode 2 can be downloaded or heard here.

I'm so pleased with the result that I may use the 'natter while watching' format for future Shabcasts.

Shabcast 1 was a roaring success, by the way... at least in terms of numbers of listens/downloads.  Many thanks to Phil (again), and the Pex Lives boys (again) and to all the people who listened or downloaded.  If you did so because you're a reader of mine rather than a regular Pex Lives listener, then

a) thanks, and

b) you should listen to Pex Lives, because it's great.

The next Shabcast is being planned as we speak, and looks set to be just as good as the first one.  Look for it some time next month.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Knock Knock


So, my pre-ordered copy of the much-critically-fawned-upon 'horror' film The Babadook arrived this morning.  And I've just watched it.

What a load of crap.

Look, I get what was being attempted here.  And it was attempted with a lot of sincerity, and some excellent acting.  But, really, what was the point?  Depression is a terrible thing.  Yes, we know.  We all bloody know.  Even those of us lucky enough to have escaped direct experience of depression know that we have escaped something terrible.  Grief is a terrible thing too.  Likewise.  It's better to connect with and love your kids than to not.  Yes.  I don't have kids and I know that.  These are trite morals.

Of course, there's no reason why you couldn't make a film carefully exploring these issues, delineating the experience of suffering from grief and depression so bad that it paralyses even your ability to love your own child.  But if that's what you want to talk about, do so.  Make a film about depression.  Make a film about mental illness.  Make a film about a nervous breakdown.  Make it with sensitivity, and with the space and attention these issues deserve.  The Babadook isn't that film, though it seems to be under the impression that it kind-of might be.

If, on the other hand, you want to make a ghost story, then make a ghost story.  But don't make a film which uses the aesthetics of the ghost story as obvious and simplistic metaphors for depression and mental illness, especially if you're going to spend the entire runtime of the film essentially screaming "THIS IS A METAPHOR FOR DEPRESSION!!!!" at the audience, as if you blatantly don't trust them to twig.

It's possible that someone who has actually suffered from depression may disagree with me here, and I shall respect that disagreement from my lucky positionality, but it seems to me that all we get in The Babadook are trite morals dressed up in dark cloaks.  'DON'T LET HIM IN' says the book about the monster that will creep into your life through looks and words, attack you in bed, and get under your skin.  Well thanks.  I'm sure people suffering from debilitating depression never thought of that.  The story seems to also imply that, once in, depression is almost certain to lead to murder-suicide if left unchecked... which seems a dubious message to be sending out about the plight of millions of perfectly normal, innocent, non-dangerous people who are suffering from a disease.  Also, depression would appear to be a monster that attacks without much in the way of a social origin.  The monster sneaks into your life because of loss and boredom and family difficulties, not because of wider social problems.  Moreover, the monster must be slain by the lone individual deciding to belt up.  Apparently, according to this film, all you have to do to defeat the monster of depression is to pull yourself together.  Even at the point where you are a slavering, knife-wielding homicidal maniac who is breaking the necks of pets (a cheap, obvious and predictable shot that one, by the way) and attempting to strangle your own kid, all you have to do is summon up the will-power to shout down your inner demons.  Presumably, those people who don't manage to summon up the last-minute grit to simply intimidate the Babadook and lock him in a closet are themselves to blame for the catastrophes that follow.  Your own fault.  Should've been stronger.  This is the most simplistic and offensive metaphorical statement on depression since Paul Cornell had a go for Big Finish.

Aside from how dodgy the film's implications are when it comes to serious, real world issues, there is also the question of how the film disrespects the uncanny and the hauntological.  It repeatedly hammers home that we are seeing a mental breakdown rather than an actual haunting.  This is why, despite the hyperbole of reviewers which is larded all over the DVD case, the film isn't remotely scary.  It never takes the monster seriously on his own terms.  It never pays enough respect to the monstrous.  It refuses to be even faintly mysterious.  It puts little ironic clips of classic shockers on the TV that the protagonist stares at in a depressed fug, thus showing us the raw material from which she fashions her dark illusions.  It insists on explaining everything.  Every creepy glimpse or sound is clearly contextualised as a dream or a hallucination, or as a metaphorical depiction of a mental state.  The Babadook attacks a car and causes a car crash... but we are left in no doubt (through heavy implication) that what we have just seen is an accident caused by a woman's depressed and wandering mind.  The little boy in the film believes in the Babadook as an outside force, but the way he talks about it is clearly meant to imply an unconscious perception on his part that his mother is haunted by the demon of depression.  This leads, as the film progresses, to the boy's utterances becoming increasingly gnomic, as it becomes crucial for him to produce dialogue which furthers the metaphor.  This shows a contempt for the thought-world of children, which becomes nothing more than a kind of cargo-cult-style attempt to comprehend the doings of adults.  Speaking of which... even the origin of the spooky book (the best thing in the film, aside from the acting) is explained in a line about the protagonist once having been a children's author.

As with The Innocents - another wildly overrated 'horror' movie that everyone seems to think is a masterpiece except me - the aimed-for ambiguity fails in a way that smells of the film-makers' contempt for anything actually uncanny, resolving downwards into a crashingly literal co-optation of hauntological aesthetics in the service of an ostensibly more serious message.  (At least The Babadook manages to ultimately treat the psychological problems of the protagonist with sympathy, unlike The Innocents, which takes a patronising and misogynistic tone about a character who is, when all is said and done, depicted as nothing more than a prudish, repressed hysteric.)  In both films, the hauntological is disrespected, denied its own integrity and narrative reality, denied its own power to both mean and to defy meaning, denied its own power to be inexplicable or horrifying for the sake of it.  It is denied these things because it is being used for the purposes of inaccurately and simplistically expressing a psychological state.  It is clearly being put in a subordinate position, mined for usable material while its own potential is ignored.

The fundamental problem with using the horrific in such a specific and sceptical way is that it neutralises the power of the horrific to tug at threads deeper than those we know about, and thus to suggest the deep unknowability of ourselves and the world we live in.  Horror often tries to say stuff about the real world, or promote a salutary moral, via a depiction of the return of the repressed.  But it ultimately relies upon the repressed returning in a way that represents a fundamental rupture with what we like to think of as the real world.  The haunting in The Shining has political valences which refer to actual social issues and/or historical horrors, but because it is the story of a literal haunting rather than self-consciously a visualisation of 'just' a mental breakdown, it also insists upon the idea that there is a 'real' faultline in reality that we might fall into.  I don't believe in the literal supernatural, but I find uncanny fiction a far more powerful reflection of my experience of the world than 'realism', especially realism which cannot tolerate symbols and metaphors unless they be clearly announced as such.  The uncanny vision is of a reality riven by cracks, cracks that we all might suddenly tumble into without any understanding of what is happening to us, and with no potential for understanding it.  That's the experience of modernity, for me.  I'm not saying 'realism' has nothing to say to us.  I just generally think it fails to get at the experience of modernity in quite the way managed by the uncanny.  And it should say its own stuff without misusing the uncanny in the capacity of a disrespected servant.

When the boy is being thrown around by the evil force near the end of The Babadook, the way it happens directly in front of his mother's outstretched arms clearly informs us that we are seeing her dissociative perception of her own violence.  She sees what she herself is doing, and inserts gaps of empty space between her hands and the violence they produce.  This is a perfect summation of the film.  In conception and execution, it is very clever... but the ultimate effect is banal, limited and boring.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Do You Ever Just Feel Tired?

In the wake of the Chapel Hill murders, people of Left-wing persuasion have been doing a lot of talking about the double standards which are applied to murder when it's Muslims being murdered by non-Muslims rather than the other way round.  All very true.  If a Muslim had been the murderer in Chapel Hill, and his victims had been non-Muslim, we'd now be hearing the mainstream media (let alone the conservative media) talking about 'terrorism', the pundits would be giving us their standard reheated 'clash of civilisations' rhetoric, pontificating about the inherently violent nature of Islam, asking Muslim 'community leaders' to address the cancer of extremism in their midst, etc etc etc, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.  Hell, Charles Windsor might even open his empty head again to release some more racist platitudes about the need for Muslims to 'conform' to 'our values' (there is no 'us' or 'we' or 'our', Mr Windsor.  Please fuck off).  There certainly wouldn't be anybody desperately trying to spin the murders as nothing more than a dispute over a parking space, or the product of the singular demons of a lone nut.

But we don't actually need to theorise what might have happened if the skin colours and/or religions of the victims and killer in Chapel Hill were transposed.  We've seen it demonstrated for us in the real world, time and time again.  You'll have heard of Lee Rigby, the young British soldier horribly murdered by two Muslim men in May 2013.  If you were living in the UK at the time, you will hardly have been able to miss it.  I think people were actually obliged by law to mention it on TV at least once every half hour.  You may not have heard of Mohammed Saleem however, an 82 year old Muslim man who was stabbed to death by a Ukrainian student in Birmingham (I didn't know non-Muslims were even allowed in Birmingham!).  It happened the month before Lee Rigby was killed.  To put it mildly... it wasn't quite the media sensation that the Rigby murder became, despite the fact that Saleem's killer was later convicted of planting bombs in three Mosques in the Midlands (so it probably wasn't about a parking space).  The Rigby murder (which was utterly horrible and senseless, let's be in no doubt about that) unleashed an upsurge of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK, despite being roundly and publicly condemned by just about every prominent Muslim, and every major Muslim organisation, in Britain.  Needless to say, the wave of violent, anti-Muslim bigotry was not covered in depth by the media.

But I mustn't talk about this stuff.  Jonathan Freedland will accuse me of starting a who's-the-most-picked-on 'arms race'.  I mean, surely there are higher priorities than the frequent violent Islamophobia in Britain.

Some people still criticise Israel, for instance.

By the way, I do just want to make one observation about the Left reaction to Chapel Hill.  If you're on the Left, or a liberal, and you're condemning the Chapel Hill murders, and decrying the double standards of the media, and you're not also at least occasionally speaking out against the wholesale slaughter of Muslims and Arabs by Western governments (chiefly but by no means only the USA), and the support given by Western governments to regimes that violently oppress Muslims (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Israel), and the double standards of the media on these subjects, then guess what... you're a fucking hypocrite!  Congratulations!

Shabcast 1

The long-threatened Shabogan Graffiti podcast - or Shabcast - is finally here.  Nobody asked for this, but you're getting it anyway.

Episode One is available to download here, bandwidth kindly provided by the very nice Pex Lives podcast fellas.  In a classic example of arrogant Trot entryism, I've infiltrated Pex Lives with two guest appearances on their podcast and am now barging to the front and taking over their bandwidth.

This first episode is basically a gargantuan, rambling chat between me and Phil Sandifer of TARDIS Eruditorum (which apparently I've been saying wrong as well as periodically spelling wrong) and other insanely long projects, with all the boring bits edited out (mostly the bits when I talk, or a couple of rubbish questions that didn't lead anywhere... this being the first 'interview' I've conducted since I was a journalism student about 712 years ago).

If you want, for some perverse and unfathomable reason, to listen to two men you don't know talking about television for pushing three hours, then today is your lucky day my friend.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Lost Post

“Twenty-eight minutes past,” said Felix, looking at his watch.  "Nothing."

The Doctor consulted the black plastic Casio with a broken strap that she kept in her pocket.

“I make it 3.26,” she said.  "Any moment now."

They were standing behind some empty flower tubs at the centre of a roundabout.  Every now and then a car would swoop past, but essentially they were alone.  A spray of chilly drizzle floated all around them.  It was almost frozen, and felt curiously oily.  Each droplet turned as bright gold as a cinder as it flew under the beams of the street lamps.

They'd left the TARDIS stuck half-way out of an Off Licence several streets away.

"How do you know there's a roundabout around here?" Felix had asked.

"If we walk far enough in any direction," the Doctor had replied, "we're bound to come across one.  Roads need to diverge, you know."

And, sure enough, a roundabout had eventually presented itself.  It was deserted, so they had strolled across the broad ring of tarmac to the little grassy hill at its centre.

And there they stood, side by side, like strangers waiting for a bus.  They did not speak for quite some time.

"Are you sure you've got this right, Doctor?" asked Felix at last, who was feeling wet and sick and cold, and increasingly sure that the Doctor was playing some kind of game, the aim of which was to fob him off.

"The instructions were quite clear," she replied tersely.

"But I thought one had to wait at a crossroads at midnight," said Felix.

"That's if you're waiting for the Devil.  We're not."

"I don't think we're waiting for anyone," said Felix sulkily.  "I think you have been misleading me.  Again."

It was a little while after this that they checked the time.  As they did so, a figure appeared on the other side of the roundabout, riding a bicycle.  The bicycle and its rider emerged from a patch of darkness between street lamps, without having entered it first.  The pedaling figure seemed simply to have formed itself from the darkness.  It began rolling slowly around the roundabout in what looked like a cloud of mist.  It had swerved into view and trundled up onto the centre of the roundabout almost before Felix and the Doctor had realised what was happening.

The Doctor consulted her Casio again.

"Twenty-seven minutes past three in the morning," she announced, waggling her Casio in Felix's face, and sounding more smug than Felix had ever imagined possible.

Felix did not respond.  His attention was fixed on the thing that had just appeared in front of them.

One cloven hoof remained upon a still pedal.  The other rested on the ground.  It made the wet grass sizzle and steam and char.

“Shall we finish the argument later?” asked Felix in a hoarse whisper.

"Just because you're losing..." muttered the Doctor.

The creature stepped off its bike and leaned it against a flower tub.  It was short - though still taller than Felix - and stocky.  Its legs bent backwards like the hind legs of a goat.  Every visible inch of its skin - or rather his skin, because the creature was clearly male - was a dark, lava-like red.  The red was coated with a thin layer of fine white hair, which had a silkiness to it that was oddly disturbing.  The creature's fingers ended in long, black, tapering claws.  He had a long and goatish face, and glowing yellow eyes with vertical slits for pupils.  His long nose ended in widely flared nostrils which overflowed with yet more white hair.  A white goatee beard pointed forwards from his chin in a curled tuft.  It looked like a beckoning finger.

He was wearing the uniform of a postman, very much like that worn by Herr Beckmann, the postman who had cycled around Felix's home village in Germany in the years of his childhood... except that it also reminded Felix of the drivers who had brought post to his section of trench.  The resemblance was undeniable, if more than slightly offset by the cloven hooves that emerged from the trousers where boots should have been, and the two conical horns which stuck out through the top of the peaked cap.

The creature had a large leather satchel slung over one shoulder.  A long, red, forked tail swished back and forth behind him, occasionally wrapping itself around one of his legs like a snake climbing a tree.  It looked worryingly prehensile.

Both Felix and the Doctor drew back.  Not so much because of the appearance of the apparition as because of the waves of heat, and the smell of brimstone, which radiated from him.

“This is all very literal,” said the Doctor under her breath, sounding bored.

The creature cocked his head on one side.  He looked down and seemed to notice his body for the first time.

“Yes,” he rumbled thoughtfully to himself in a voice that sounded like the cracking of faraway thunder, “it is literal, isn’t it?”

He turned back to the Doctor.

“You must be a very literal minded person,” he boomed.  His mouth split open in a grin, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth.  "Surprising, given everything I've gathered about you... Doctor."

If the Doctor was dismayed or surprised at being recognised, she gave no sign of it.  She simply flicked the brim of her top hat in acknowledgement.

"I suppose you've read about me," she said, sounding even more bored than before.

"Indeed," said the entity, "you turn up in correspondence a lot more often than most people... and in such varied correspondence too, sent by such varied people in such varied places, over such lengths of time.  And so much of the correspondence about you seems to end up in my hands..."

"I imagine Felix is responsible for the shape of your current iteration," said the Doctor lazily.  "I should've expected it after I told him we were going to see the Mailer Daemon."

The Mailer Daemon bared his teeth in amused satisfaction.

"You're very good at changing the subject," he boomed.

“Do you mean, Sir, that you would appear different if I had been expecting something different?” interrupted Felix, addressing the creature and pointedly ignoring the Doctor's implied insult.  He was determined not to let this encounter get sidetracked.

For a while, the Mailer Daemon seemed to consider his reply.  He trotted from side to side, looking down at Felix, his tail swishing.

“I am a metaphor,” he said at last.  “Reality is metaphorical, therefore metaphors are real.  But metaphors are still made by people.  No matter how real they are, or become.”

He fell silent and gazed at them haughtily, as if expecting applause.

“Well I’m certainly glad we cleared that up,” said Felix.

“I can look how I please,” said the entity, almost kindly, as if relenting, “but I have so much work to do, I tend not to concentrate on my appearance.  I often find that I have unwittingly adapted myself to the expectations of those I meet.  Not that I meet many people face to face.  I generally prefer to manage my business out of sight, behind the scenes.  And, of course, when I am not within sight of someone, I don’t really look like anything at all.  It is your perception of me which creates my physical presence.”

“It sounds as though you are admitting to being an hallucination,” said Felix.

“Such beautiful English," said the Mailer Daemon.

"Thank you," said Felix.

"I am made of words,” said the Mailer Daemon, shrugging, “which is why I appreciate such things.  And, to answer your point: all things that are made of words are, in a sense, hallucinations."

He watched them for a moment.

“Most things are made of words,” he added as an afterthought.

"We're being lectured on epistemology... or is it phenomenology... by a metaphor," said the Doctor.

“The word ‘metaphor’ means ‘to carry meaning’,” said the Mailer Daemon.  “I carry meaning… literally,” and he twitched a shoulder to indicate the satchel which dangled from it.  Felix noticed for the first time that it seemed to be bursting at the seams with papers and parcels and bundles.

“What are they?” asked Felix, pointing.

“Meanings that have been displaced,” said the creature sadly,  “Failures of communication.  Subtexts nobody picked up on.  Messages that were never sent, or which went astray.  Copied and cut paragraphs which were accidentally never pasted.  Crossed-out sentences.  Things that circulated for years, never arriving anywhere.  Things addressed to people who were not known at that address.  Things returned to sender.  Lost letters.  Lost emails.  Emails which were sent and then deleted unread.  Things that failed to happen because words never travelled from one place to another.”

"Lots of spam in there, I imagine," said the Doctor.

Felix didn't know what to make of this remark, but waited to see if he could pick up a sense of what was meant by listening to more of the conversation.

“No,” said the Mailer Daemon flatly, and with an unmistakable touch of pride.

“Why not?” asked the Doctor, “doesn’t spam have meaning?”

“Not all meanings are worth saving and curating,” said the Mailer Daemon.

“Who are you to decide?” asked the Doctor, with a sprinkling of frost in her voice.

“I am the Mailer Daemon,” said the Mailer Daemon simply.  “If I didn’t decide, who would?  I exist because these things need deciding.  The sheer weight and volume of the decisions which needed to be made was what brought me into existence.

“Besides,” he said, looking intently at the Doctor and raising a white eyebrow at her, “haven’t you ever made similar decisions?”

The Doctor blinked.

“Perhaps,” she said, after a moment, "But I only read things that are addressed to me.”

Felix wondered if that was even close to being true, or whether - like many of the Doctor's ethical pronouncements - it was meant as a general statement of principle, to be upheld when possible and discarded if necessary.

“And," continued the Mailer Daemon, "when things - for whatever reason - don’t reach anyone who has the right to decide, that’s when I take on the responsibility of caring for them.  Nothing should ever be entirely lost."

"On that subject," said the Doctor, affecting a sudden breeziness, "my friend here was wondering..."

"I can speak for myself," interrupted Felix, who was nevertheless pleased that the Doctor had remembered he was there, and that he had an agenda of his own.

The Doctor held up an apologetic hand and turned away slightly, though Felix could sense her continued close attentiveness.

Felix turned to the Mailer Daemon.

"Sir, do you have anything in there..." he glanced meaningfully at the creature's satchel "...addressed to me?"

"Oh yes," said the Mailer Daemon immediately, "I do.  As the Doctor already knows."

The Doctor said nothing.

The Mailer Daemon opened the satchel and plunged one of his arms down into it.  His arm disappeared into the satchel far further than he should have been able to, which made the Doctor's lips twitch in amusement.  After a few moments of rummaging, he drew out a single letter clutched in his red, clawed fist.

The letter was old and faded and crumpled, and the creature's hand was making it wilt with heat, but Felix recognised the colour of the envelope, and the handwriting scrawled across it.

"This was sent to you from Germany, from the village where you grew up, from a few streets away from your family home.  It was the last letter sent to you from that particular address.  It was sent only a few weeks before you..." and here the Mailer Daemon flicked his yellow eyes up at the Doctor "...went missing in action."

"Why did I never receive it?" asked Felix, who was feeling tremulous with the thumping of his heart.

"The lorry carrying this batch of letters... went astray in some heavy fog," said the Mailer Daemon.  "It wandered too close to a British machine gun emplacement.  The bullets ignited the petrol in the tank.  It happened the very same day that a British ship carrying letters from Dover to Calais was sunk by a German submarine.  That was a busy day for me."

Felix held out his hand.

"May I?" he asked.

"Of course," said the Mailer Daemon. "It is yours, after all."

He started to hand over the letter and then paused.

"But be careful, young man," he said, glancing up at the Doctor again, and then back down at Felix with a thoughtful furrow in his red brow, "some things are lost for a reason."

Felix hesitated.

“Are you saying I shouldn’t read it?” he asked.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do,” replied the creature, “that’s not my job or my business.”

He glanced at the Doctor yet again.

"It's nobody's business but yours," he said.

"I'm his friend," said the Doctor, suddenly striding forwards, flushed and passionate.

Felix looked around at her and, seeing the care in her eyes, he felt all his annoyance with her melt away.  But he also felt fear rising inside him.  It was confirmed.  There was something in the letter that she didn't want him to know.  Not for sinister reasons, but for reasons of compassion... which was, if anything, worse.

"Roads must diverge, you know," said Felix, looking into the Doctor's eyes.

The Doctor subsided unhappily, thrusting her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket.

Felix turned back to the Mailer Daemon and held out his hand again.

“I always knew deals with the devil had catches,” he said.

“I'm not the Devil," the Mailer Daemon growled sadly.  "The Devil is always in the details.”

And with that, he handed over the envelope.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Red Kangs Are Best

I very much enjoyed the latest episode of the Pex Lives​ Podcast, which looks at 'Paradise Towers'.  During it, Kevin and James' guest Jane (of achairforjane​ and many fascinating comments - and an amazing guest post on Lost - at Phil Sandifer's blog) suggests a Marxist reading of the story in which the Rezzies are the consumerist bourgeois who ascend a few levels via the system which later consumes them.  Totally valid and satisfying reading.  (And I'm grateful for the lovely shout-out, as always.)

I think, however, that it illuminates a certain interesting ambiguity about what constitutes a  'Marxist reading' or a 'Marxist analysis'.  I know Jane and the Pex Lives boys already know this, so this isn't in any way meant as a criticism of any of them, but I think a 'Marxist analysis' would really have to constitute more than finding some way in which aspects of the narrative function as an allegory of some aspect of the class struggle.  I hold my hands up: that's often what I do here, and it doesn't really cut the mustard.

To do that is to bring Marxist categories to a text, but still to treat a text as something that exists somehow outside its own origins and function within the forces of production.  A more proper sense of the term 'Marxist analysis' would be to critically evaluate the story in the light of the circumstances of its production - in individual terms, in terms of material/technical circumstances, in terms of the overall system of capitalist cultural production, and then also in terms of broader Marxist categories like 'the culture industries' or 'ideology' or 'hegemony' (with different Marxists probably stressing this or that aspect over another).  I personally would want to argue that a proper Marxist analysis of a text, or any artifact of cultural production, would also focus at least as much upon the social circumstances of its consumption, circulation, distribution, exchange, commodification and financialisation.  For my money, too many Marxist critics (of lots of things including - but also beyond - texts) have overstressed the node of production, which is only one node in the circuit of capital.

I'm often said (by people who kindly link to me on social media, for instance) to have written a 'Marxist reading' or 'Marxist analysis' of this or that.  This makes me more than a little uneasy, to be honest, because I'm not usually anything like as rigorous and scholarly as I would need to be to meet even my own standards for such a thing.  Generally I just react to texts in a very individual way, with my Marxist views inevitably forming the backbone of my response.

I worry that people with, perhaps, no other exposure to Marxism than me, might take me as a meaningful representative.  Ye gods, I hope not.  I am an amateur and, despite having gone to University, I consider myself effectively an autodidact.  One of my purposes here (beyond simply amusing myself and indulging my vanity) has been, via the conduit of a popular TV show, to maybe bring a bit of Marxism (or just critical leftiness generally) into the thinking and reading of people who might otherwise not encounter it in our barren age.  I worry that someone out there might read me and then think they know what 'Marxist criticism' is.  I may be vain, but I know my limitations, and I hate the idea of doing my own beliefs a disservice, even in a very small way.

I've reacted to 'Paradise Towers' in a way that is actually a bit more properly Marxist than I usually manage.  In this post, I at least gesture towards a proper Marxist contextualising of the story (i.e. I mention the dawning neoliberalism of 1987 as a context for the production of the story, for the way it references modernism, which I also historicise very briefly.)  Even so, I'd hesitate to claim the status of a 'Marxist analysis' for that post.

And I wouldn't want to claim that I always even do as well as I do in that piece.  My 'essay' about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for instance, has been called a 'Marxist reading' or 'Marxist analysis'.  I'm really not sure it qualifies.  It gestures in that direction towards the end, but I think of it as a personal reaction which has a background in my Marxist convictions - something quite distinct.

Going back to 'Paradise Towers', and addressing some of the things said in the podcast...  Jane doesn't actually say that the Rezzies represent capitalists or capitalism, but she nevertheless uses the word 'bourgeois' to describe them.  Now, that's right - I agree.  They clearly (through their aesthetic representation - something Jane is very hot on) signify a certain stereotypical middle-class, middle-brow social position which is deeply associated - and not inaccurately - with a strata of people in bourgeois society who combine the passive, the complacent, the ressentimental, the reactionary and the aspiring.  But we should remember to separate the 'bourgeois' from the 'bourgeoisie'.  The Rezzies are not capitalists.  (To be clear: Jane doesn't say they are.)

Similarly, neither are the Caretakers.  Here I have a more serious quibble with Jane, because she says they are the proletarians in Paradise Towers.  I don't think that's right... or rather, I think it needs nuancing.  Jane mentions elsewhere in the podcast that the Caretakers are costumed in military style... but they are explicitly not the military, because the military took all the rest of the males away to war.  The Caretakers are the police.  And the police are not proletarians.  In capitalism, the police are ultimately aligned with the class interests of the capitalist class.  They are, essentially, defenders of private property (and of the peace of the system which normalises and legitimises private property) against people who don't own anything.  (This is one big reason why the end of 'Paradise Towers' clangs for me, at least politically.  If you wait for the police to align themselves with anybody other than their masters, you will wait forever.)

Jane goes on to say interesting things about how, if viewed as proletarians who have achieved positions of authority, the Caretakers can be seen as an illustration of how power corrupts any class.  And that's true too (as long as we expand a bit on what we mean by 'power').  Jane takes this observation on to see a polemic against Stalinism lurking within the story, with the Caretakers as being a kind of nomenklatura, and the Chief Caretaker as a General Secretary.  I think it'd be dangerous to generalise that into any kind of ahistorically-detached model, but it isn't inaccurate as a description of what happened in the Soviet Union.  A segment of the working class achieved political power and then, detached from the rest of the class (owing to historical circumstances that 'Paradise Towers' almost acknowledges via the business of the male population disappearing into a war), they become a bureaucratic tyranny.  (Jane also stresses - in an almost neo-Trot way - that the Stalinists are merely posturing as being in charge while capitalism still runs the show in a hidden form below the surface.  All lovely stuff, and music to the ears of someone like me who accepts the argument that Stalinism is the political expression of authoritarian, bureaucratic state capitalism.)  But I don't think you need to go as far as post-Civil War Soviet Russia to see what the Caretakers represent.  In capitalist society, the police are just what Jane describes: a layer of the working class that is detached from the class position (and therefore the class interests) of the rest of the workers.  Even in openly capitalist society, the Caretakers are there.

Kroagnon, by the way, doesn't really convince me as a manifestation of capitalism... though, as a representation of the authoritarian inner-core of some variants of modernism, he obviously reflects capitalism because modernism is part of the cultural logic of early-C20th Euro-American capitalist culture.

For me, 'Paradise Towers' is not really a picture of a capitalist dystopia so much as a picture of a post-industrial one.  The theory of the post-industrial is about to be massively in vogue in Britain as 'Paradise Towers' appears.  It's an idea that is aloft on the postmodernist wind.  It ties in with certain non-Marxist or pseudo-Marxist Left impulses to declare that capitalism is changing beyond the ken of classical Marxism.  And it also ties in with impulses within the burgeoning neoliberal Right to claim that capitalism is changing beyond the ken of even old-style social democracy.  The response of the anti-Thatcher Left is to point to post-industrialism as a kind of social dysfunction.  An understandable (if ultimately unsatisfactory) position which, I think, we see mirrored in 'Paradise Towers'.  None of this makes 'Paradise Towers' any less angry and wonderful (I adore it, by the way), but it marks the circumstances of its production as being within the cultural context of early-neoliberal Left thinking.  It also allows us to loop back a tad and join this ramble up in a notional loop of logic... because it illustrates the distance between finding a Marx-friendly allegory within a narrative, and actually analysing said narrative using a material-dialectic method (not that I'm claiming to have done more than gesture vaguely towards that here.)

Oh, one more thing.  During the podcast, Jane asks James if he thinks Mel has changed at all during the course of the story.  James says she's learned a Moral of the Week.  I agree, and I've been trying to think how to formulate the Moral of the Week that she learns.  I've decided that it would be best expressed as: 'a monomaniacal obsession with swimming pools can be fatal under certain extremely specific circumstances'.