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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

3 Comments

  1. Josh Marsfelder
    November 10, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

    Very well put: Someone needed to come along and spell out the uncomfortable truths about the BBC and this is about as good an opportunity for that as exists. If nothing else you've got me busily rewriting some of the bits on public broadcasting I'd put in the blog post I had planned for Monday.

    Your indictment of the BBC as being firmly establishment does get me thinking though. Aside from giving one explanation for why I detested this last season of Doctor Who so very, very much (if not making me feel at all better about it) I do have to wonder-What about a show built from firmly radical roots that ends up on public television? Is this by definition a conflict of interest? Are producers of media driven by a desire for positive social change obligated to avoid both public and capitalist outlets? It's certainly easier now with the Internet, but what about content producers who worked in times before then? Does this invalidate their work, or merely force another level of analysis when critiquing them?

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  2. Jack Graham
    November 10, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

    I have to doubt that a show "built from firmly radical roots" would end up on the BBC in the first place. To the extent that any programme is aiming at fundamentally changing society it is incompatible with the BBC, because the whole notion of the public service broadcaster who provides a service to 'the nation' is firmly entrenched in a static view of what 'the nation' is. For a start, it's a nation. Nationalism is built into it. Secondly, the public is a static thing. People are like this, they like this and that, etc., and so we must therefore provide a certain cultural diet. All too often this is riddled with misconceptions based on the class background of people at every level of the institution, from the Reithian patrician outlook of the early days to the modern obsession the BBC has with representing the 'white working class' in certain ways. But the main point is that it's static and it's not seen as being for the BBC to engage in social engineering… maybe a bit of charity work, public information, etc, but be neutral in the politics. Of course, neutrality in politics and economics and so on is really just siding with whoever is powerful enough to want passivity. Given that the whole point of radicalism is social transformation at a root level, yeah there's a conflict of interest. Even with the BBC as an island of non-commercialism, state-affiliated provision, etc (whittled away but real enough) there's still a conflict. Capitalism is a system of relations rather than just an economy, and state/non-commercial entities are part of that system of relations all the same.

    As for whether producers of media who want radical social change have to avoid public and capitalist outlets… no way. Firstly, how can you? It's almost like the argument that anti-capitalist protesters lose legitimacy if they drink a coffee from Starbucks. No, get published by Random House or get on the BBC or Sky1 if you can. Capitalism will sell copies of books called 'Destroy Capitalism Now'. If there's a crack and you can slip through, slip through. But a) be aware of how risky this is (you're liable to get cancelled or rewritten or re-edited or never see the light of day), b) be aware of how the very process of capitalist production and selling recuperates whatever you've made into the commodity system. Doesn't invalidate the work but the work can never entirely free itself (by itself) from the stultifying effects of the all-encompassing system. As you say, another level of analysis is needed. The radical message, if it gets through (and the culture industries are geared to grind up any radical message and spew out pulped conformity instead), can be analysed… but the effect of recuperation through commodification can also be analysed.

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    November 11, 2012 @ 1:49 am

    Wow, thanks for the incredibly detailed and thoughtful response! I was just throwing out half-formed discussion points. I think you've spelled it all out extremely well.

    I'm now wondering about the divisions between "public good", "public service", "service to the nation" and social change. I think you're right about public broadcasting by definition having a kind of stasis and nationalism built into it, I just can't help but think about something like Doctor Who under Lambert/Whitaker/Holmes/Adams/Cartmel and, actually, the show I'm going to be covering on Monday. These are all programmes that, despite their public service pretensions, clearly want to be something bigger, grander, and more toothily radical. There's still very clearly a tension that's built into what they are, but they're certainly reaching. For what it's worth I think you really nailed the difficulties and contradictions inherent in radical media trying to attract a larger audience.

    I guess this ultimately gets back to the big debate we had about "The Wheel of Ice" and whether it's truly possible to have a really radically-minded mass-market franchise. Following a rewatch of a few non-DW shows and having largely gotten over my white-hot Moffat-induced rage of a few months back (though still refusing to forgive him) I have to say I don't know.

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