Off out to vote today on who runs the civil service… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who runs the police… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who runs the army… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who runs the corporations… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who owns and runs the media… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who runs the BBC… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today for a non neoliberal party with a chance of winning… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today for a big party staunchly opposed to imperialist warmongering… oh, no, hang about, there aren’t any are there?
Off out to vote today for a big party committed to saving us from environmental disaster… oh, no, hang about, there aren’t any are there?
Off out to vote today for someone who represents my relation to production… oh, no, hang about, we vote in geographical blocs, don’t we?
Off out to vote today on who runs the judiciary… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who owns most of the land and property in the UK… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who owns and runs the banks… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Off out to vote today on who gets to use economic clout to lobby politicians… oh, no, hang about, we’re not allowed to do that are we?
Yay, every four or five years I get to participate – very indirectly, if I’m lucky – in an electoral system rigged against the expression of unified working class interests!
I get a tiny, very occasional say in choosing which team of essentially identical managers cares for neoliberalism under a vastly unaccountable government system hugely influenced by private interests!
I get to slightly influence one lever of power, while almost every other lever of power in the system is nearly entirely undemocratic and unaccountable!
This is what the Chartists fought and died for! [It isn’t.]
Yay for democracy!
Remember, if you don’t vote, you’ve got no right to complain.
Doctor Who frequently did stories which critiqued capitalism to one degree or another. But there’s an interesting dialectical twist to this, which is that it usually cloaked such critiques in the aesthetics of (for want of a better term) ‘totalitarianism’.
It begins, arguably, with ‘The Macra Terror’… though so much of what that story does ‘first’ is actually just being done openly and consciously for the first time. Other examples include (most graphically) ‘The Sun Makers’, ‘Vengeance on Varos’, and ‘The Happiness Patrol’. I’d argue for a few others to go on the list, but these are the most obvious examples. ‘The Beast Below’ carried on the tradition, as did ‘Gridlock’ before it (albeit mutedly). Yet many of these stories have been subject to readings which interpret them as right-wing and/or libertarian attacks on aspects of socialism and/or statism (often assumed to be synonymous). I might even (overall) support such a reading in some cases. ‘The Beast Below’, for example, is a story which critiques aspects of the capitalist world, but which (to my mind) ends up supplying more alibis than indictments – partially through its use of totalitarian/statist tropes. I think the thing that leaves them open to such readings is their ‘totalitarian’ aesthetic. The (myopic, ideologically-distorted) view of socialism which sees it as inherently coercive and statist can grab hold of the aesthetically magnified symbols of statism which litter these stories.
I think this tendency to wrap critiques of capitalism in totalitarian aesthetics comes from the influence of the Nigel Kneale / Rudolph Cartier TV version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which starred Peter Cushing.
Stylistically, this production appears to have been deeply influential to the rising generation of programme-makers who would write and design Doctor Who in the 60s. The totalitarian affect pioneered visually in that production gets embedded in Doctor Who‘s internal semiotic repertoire as a stock way of expressing worries about social freedom.
This isn’t surprising at all, since the aesthetics of totalitarianism have proven a popular and enduring way of expressing such worries in the wider culture, as the proliferation of SF dystopias has shown. They’re now almost a basic, fallback position for YA books and films.
But we need to do more than just gesture to a particularly influential production. That’s not enough. It’s not an explanation. You can’t just say ‘this production here was influential’. That’s just begging the question. The real question is: why was it influential? What was it about it that made its aesthetics stick so hard?
I think the answer actually lies back in the book. Much of the horror of the book is the everyday horror of squalor – whether it be the squalor of coldness and dirt and forced ‘healthiness’, or the moral squalor of everyday ideological management. Orwell gets the former from his experiences of public school (which he wrote about elsewhere with loathing) and the latter from his experiences of working within the BBC. Even Newspeak is derived from work he did for the BBC World Service in India. …
Fraternal May Day greetings to all workers by hand or by brain, all socialists, and all anarchists. Have a good one, comrades. And implacable hatred, opposition and ill-will to all capitalists and their class allies. Boo, hiss, etc.
This month, both the Pex Lives Podcast and the Shabogan Graffiti Podcast are covering the classic 60s Doctor Who adventure ‘The Macra Terror’ by Ian Stuart Black, sadly junked long ago, and represented nowadays only by a soundtrack and a reconstruction.
Elliot is so smart and erudite that he seems to be on some kind of mission to singlehandedly disprove the old stereotype about actors being thick. And he likes my blog, which proves he’s clever. Our chat was fantastic fun, and I’ve had to edit it down savagely to make the episode anything approaching a reasonable length… but this means I’ve got loads of good offcuts, which may appear in later Shabcasts as something in the manner of ‘deleted scenes’.
This Shabcast is possibly the most shabgraffy Shabcast yet, i.e. lots of Doctor Who and lots of politics… as well as unrestrained ramblings from both of us about stuff as diverse as complicity, conspiracy, CRPGs, The Prisoner (of course), Herbert Marcuse, Universal horror films, Abbott and Costello, Marshall Berman, the Nazi’s Degenerate Art Exhibition and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Should keep you nice and distracted as you toil in the pits.
Shabcast 6 (which will be along later this month) will be Phil Sandifer and myself continuing our discussion about the fascists and the Hugo awards.
Also look out for our forthcoming commentary tracks for ‘The Three Doctors’.
Shabcast 7 is already recorded and waiting for its June release. That’s going to be a special one.
‘Mind Robber’ commentaries (I join Phil) ‘The Rescue’ commentaries (I join Phil) These are best listened to while watching the stories, as long as you’ve seen them once before. If you’re very familiar with the stories, you can listen to them on their own.
Pex Lives Frankenstein podcast (I join Kevin and James, and Gene Mayes) Pex Lives TV Movie podcast (Myself and Josh join Kevin and James) …
The Doctor, Polly and Jamie have been condemned to the pits, to the ‘Danger Gang’, for the crime of proving to the Pilot that his world is run by secret things that constantly order him to not notice them.
The trio are entering the pithead to begin their work as miners, mining the deadly gas that the Colony collects for its unseen masters. One of the Colony’s jolly little work ditties plays in the background. A loud, insanely chipper voice sings lyrics about how happy everyone should be to work and serve the Colony.
The Doctor groans as if in terrible pain.
“What’s the matter?” asks Polly.
“Ooooh, dreadful!” exclaims the Doctor, “Did you hear that rhyme? The man who wrote that ought to be sent to the Danger Gang, not us!”
The Doctor’s concern isn’t for the danger of the mines. It’s for the ugly, crass, aesthetic banality of tyranny; for its kitsch horrors; for its lack of imagination. This might seem like a failure of proper priorities… until you remember that such crassness is a symptom of the infection in the social wound, the same wound in which the macra teem.
In a society that demands you work for hidden, secret, ineffable, insane masters that you never see and can’t control, the mass-produced art that surrounds you is always going to be so much slop. Its function is to soothe, to reassure, to distract. It may not be consciously crafted to do these things, but if it doesn’t do them it simply doesn’t get mass-produced in the first place. In a world so riddled with secrecy and injustice that psychosis becomes a necessary feature of social life, the songs you hear on the radio are always going to hide repressed lunacies within their mindless platitudes. When you are expected to never question and never stop smiling, what chance is there that culture will be anything other than bland, safe, comforting pap?
And shitty, rubbishy, worthless, careless songs hurt us. Songs that side with power are injurious, especially if they’re dripped into your ears day after day after day. Songs that are just ugly and dull, because they are made in the same way as spam, are just as bad. They hurt our hearts and souls and guts.