Recently The Guardian ran an article reporting that India is to crackdown on what are termed “human safaris” where comparatively rich tourists visit the Jarawa tribe people of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
The Jarawa people have long been isolated from the rest of the world and are now being affected by a major road built across their land by the Indian government. A video accompanied the report showing Indian tourists getting the tribes people to dance for food.
Of course we sympathise with the Jarawar and abhor the idea that tourists casually throw them food in order to capture a few second of video footage.
But are we so very different? As a keen photographer I keep an eye on Flickr and, today, I came across this picture which appealed to me. The picture shows a couple of Ugandan children walking down a dirt road carrying baggage on their heads. The girl also carries a large container probably for water. It’s a nice shot. The colours are subtly beautiful and the girl’s expression is interesting.
But take a step back here. How would we feel if tourists wandered around poor areas of America with expensive cameras, capturing images of people struggling with bags and then drove back to their hotels in the evening to eat and drink too much?
I am in no way condemning the photographer of this shot. I have taken similar pictures and have to defend photography as an art form and state that, while the streets of western countries are fantastic subjects for photography the scale is less and less human. The beauty of pictures such as The Long Way Home may be related to their simplicity and humanity.
I guess there have always been disparities in wealth and power between the haves and have nots but these days cheap air travel seems to allow we who live in the rich world to objectify people from the “developing world” without a thought.
Have been creating videos for a musician friend who goes by the named of Zcienze.
Last Thursday evening I was in Tooting and ate in the Mirch Masala which had been recommended to me by a friend. The interior is basic but the food is simple and good with fast and polite service. The only thing I’d criticise is the modern obsession with noise but this is not unique to the Mirch. Modern bars and restaurants seem to deliberately omit noise damping furnishings and consequently one is forced to endure a cacophony of other people’s conversation rebounding off the walls and ceiling. Mirch Masala was by no means the worst, that award might easily go to somewhere like All-Bar-1. Friday I spent in Balham which seems more trendy and the area around the corner of Balham High Road and Bedford Hill seem, to me, to be another restaurant ghetto like many that have sprung up all over London. I browsed around the repetitious identi-kit restaurants and finally opted for the Seascape Fish Bar which is a traditional Fish and Chip shop where I was served immediately and was sitting down and eating within minutes.
I spent Friday night in the Balham Lodge, a beautiful old London house on the corner of Bedford Hill and Hillbury Road, within easy walking distance of both Tooting Bec Common and Balham Underground station. Both the exterior and interior of this hotel are very well maintained and beautifully decorated. My room was a little small and oddly shaped but very clean and functional with TV and wifi.
On Saturday morning I walked a while on the common, the benches sparkling in crystal frost and a mist rising from the playing field. With the sun in my eyes I watched the people walking their dogs and a hoard of people playing football. And the joggers, Ah the joggers. Physical exercise for it’s own sake. Sedentary office workers unwilling to walk to work lest they rumple their suits forced to run around in their underclothes to get their pulses racing. In previous centuries one strolled around parks and along river banks. But now, now one doges the fucking joggers. If they want to run why don’t they fuck off and live in the country?
Obsession with sport has two advantages as far as society is concerned. First it keeps us fit so we can become more productive workers and second the endless discussion of the inanity of the scoring and point systems ensures that our brains are kept in an infinite loop of trivia and subsequently we are rendered too stupid to question anything.
“Play football on Sunday?” – “NO! FUCK OFF! I was too busy laying in bed thinking of ways to undermine the foundations of the corporate-military complex…..or something.”
Earlier this month I watched Newsnight Review on BBC2 and saw Kirsty Wark and Paul Morley discussing the recent death of Christopher Hitchens. One comment of Mr. Morley’s rankled with me. He said “5000 bloggers are not worth one Christopher Hitchens”. “Hmph!”, I grunted and tweeted “…True, neither are 5000 TV critics in black polo neck sweaters”.
It is commonplace for the mainstream media to denigrate bloggers and attention is usually drawn to the mediums very real failings: Blogs can be abusive, poorly thought through, dreadfully worded, awfully spelt and the facts are rarely checked. Many blogs have all these failings and more but professional journalists whining about bloggers are a little like aristocrats sneering at working class speech.
If we invert the failings attributed to blogs we get the strengths of the mainstream media. Like all large organisations, newspapers divide work into specialisations. They have specialist proof readers, specialists fact checkers and specialist editors. Given this production line approach it is not surprising that the BBC scores higher than most amateurs when it comes to “production values”.
Should we, then, ignore blogs? Should we limit our reading to the mainstream press? We may as well ask if we should ignore Rock and Roll. Like Hollywood the mainstream news media are very adept at the techniques of their profession but the industrial approach can produced results which seem contrived and predictable. If blogging has any advantage it is authenticity.
Prior to the printing press most people would have been unable to read and public discourse would have been dependent on numerous personal interactions. A discerning individual would have given less credence to the boor and more to the wit but the onus on differentiating would be down to the individual.
With the arrival of newspapers in the 17th century the news began to coalesce around a standard version of the truth. In the 19th century wire services such as Reuters further accelerated standardisation by providing identical information to its customers. The style or opinions became what differentiated one publication from another.
For as long as I can remember The News Of The World had been full of gossip to be taken with a pinch of salt while broadsheets cultivated a reputation for more accurate reporting. As readers we learned the difference but though the style varied the agenda remained broadly the same.
As with much of our corporate 21st Century, the mainstream news media has come to resemble a cartel. If we visit the web sites of the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, BBC News we see that the agenda is very similar. While they report different viewpoints, they still represent a bottleneck for ideas and information and are effectively setting a standard news agenda at least at a national level.
The Internet is challenging this status quo as was shown dramatically with The Arab Spring and the Occupy Protests. Ordinary people are setting their own agenda and even have their own news wire in the form of twitter. As events unfold in real time the mainstream media are forced to play catch up. It’s messy and difficult but there are as many opinions as there are individuals and the blogosphere merely reflects this reality.
An article in The Economist (December 31st 2011) stated “..it is hard to argue that the internet has cheapened the global conversation about economics. On the contrary, it has improved it.” and went on to say “…blogs have brought experts … out of the shadows.”
The mainstream news media have become a vested interest and, as with lawyers or gas fitters, they scorn the idea that anybody else could do their job. They do this by raising themselves up as gurus and denigrating those who threaten to replace them as incompetent. The mainstream media still provide better standards of quality control but, if all they do is package news and disseminate it through web sites and apps then they are not much different from a blog. The difference is further burred by sites such as The Huffington Post or the Guardian’s Comment Is Free which feed articles written by bloggers into a more professional looking framework.
Certainly the writings of Christpher Hitchens were superior to most amateur blogs but then Mr. Hitchens did not have the encumbrance of earning a living in a different field. One reason that mainstream journalists are competent is that they have spent their professional lives honing their competence. Some, like Mr. Hitchens, may rise further by dint of personal attributes such as individualism, iconoclasm and determination. Others cling to the technical paraphernalia of their profession to distinguish themselves from the amateur. As the mediocre artist relies on dressing in black and a well groomed 5 O’clock shadow so the mediocre journalist relies on grammatical pedantry.
Like any other profession the real threat to journalists lies, not with amateurs, but with industrialisation. Companies are now emerging such as Wordsofworth and Vivatic which outsource article writing and proof reading to individuals via The Internet. Their business model is to source articles from competent but cheap writers and flog them on to multiple sites which use them to pad out advertising. These sites are not looking for inspiration or controversy, they are looking for “content” and they effectively reduce the value of articles to that of filler.
The hope is that new media will provide greater access to public debate and challenge entrenched opinions though this is by no means certain. As some bloggers gain credibility, some journalists will find themselves paid peanuts to write 500 words on cup cakes. Sean Parker, founder of Napster and Facebook’s founding president has said “What we don’t have are good organising tools so that institutions, which have hierarchy which have management, can actually leverage the power of social media to get things done in a consistent and sustainable way”. Presumably Mr. Parker is now developing tools to enable power to be leveraged by consistent and hierarchical management.
We may be living through an interregnum. The Internet is a disruptive technology but its long term effect on public discourse may be to just shake out the chaff. If the mainstream media want to remain relevant they need to focus on nurturing thoughtful journalists who produce pungent and insightful articles. In this respect the blogosphere may be a much needed kick up the arse.
The graph shows usage of the European Central Bank (ECB) overnight deposit facility. This is where banks have been stashing their cash because they are scared of putting it anywhere else. The amount has now increased to €446 billion, just shy of the all time record of €452 billion. The implication, according to BBC2 Newsnight, is that a credit crunch is weeks away.
Having followed the career of Diane Abbott MP for some years I consider her to be a great benefit to the House of Commons. While she is not as technically learned as some, she has a common sense approach that slices through bullshit like a knife through butter and, most of all, I believe that her heart is in the right place.
Now we hear that she has tweeted that “white people love to play divide and rule” and she is being lambasted as a racist. What are we to think?
Personally, I’m getting a feeling of Déjà vu. Back in March last year TV producer Brian True-May was suspended after being accused of racist comments relating to the ITV series Midsummer Murders. When speaking in an informal situation, he was asked if his Ms Marple style/chocolate box program should have ethnic minorities. He answered no and added that “..it wouldn’t be the English village with them”. A friend of mine told me that suspension was not enough and that Mr. True-May should be imprisoned!
The comments of Mr. True-May and Dianne Abbot do nothing to show racism. If we held ourselves to the same standard as we hold other people we would all be behind bars. On the face of it both comments ARE racist but only an idiot would depend on these words in isolation to judge a persons character and the calls for the resignation of Ms. Abbott are merely political opportunism.
As a white man, I understand Dianne’s comments while welcoming her clarification. In truth the baying mobs who chant RACIST have more in common with real racist than do the, usually innocent, people who stumble into these mine fields laid by the mean spirited and the lame witted.
This is not to say that all who utter remarks such as these are not racist, just that the judging of people by a handful of isolated remarks shows a bigotry and prejudice more in keeping with the likes of the BNP. The accusations come from a “them and us” mentality. They are supported by the simplistic idea that racism is a simple yes/no analysis. That anyone whose commitment to anti-racism is called into question must be immediately rejected as evil. Often, I suspect, this attitude is propelled by the fear of the finger of racism being pointed at anyone who dares defend such people.
This week real racism was in the news in the form of the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of Stephen Larwence. When confronted with events such as this, we may be forgiven for wondering whether hypocrisy in the racism debate really matters? While Brian True-May might have lost a few weeks pay and Dianne Abbot a few voters this is nothing when compared to the horrendous suffering by many black people in this country as demonstrated by the murder of Stephen Lawrence..
I believe that hypocrisy in the racism debate does matter. While not knowing anything about Brian True-May I am not willing to brand him as racist for the handful of comments I have been fed during a media frenzy. Similarly nobody with any intelligence or sincerity who follows politics can seriously consider Dianne Abbott a racist.
If we continue to turn on each other every time one of us is accused of racism then we will all learn to disguise our opinions and this will not be a good thing. I am told by English friends who work in America that it is almost impossible to have an intelligent conversation at work. Nobody even tries as they are all afraid of tripping up over racism, sexism, agism or any other bloody ism. Yet do we consider America to be the least racist of countries? The election of President Obama would suggest that they are yet the disgraceful attacks on Mr. Obama indicate otherwise.
The debate on racism has become stilted and the two extremes monopolise debate. The outright racists at one end and the bigoted anti-racist at the other. Each side can be recognised by their obsession with hate. Their insistance on dividing humanity into absolute good and absolute bad. This leaves the rest of us walking on eggshells.
The intermittent witch hunts betray a society desperate to prove it’s anti-racist credentials while neglecting some very real forms of racism which exist in the world today. For example the monopolising of racist victimhood by Israel allows it to settle fundamentalist Jews on Palestinian land while simultaneously throwing the accusation of racist at anyone who dares to criticise. While the Israelis carry out ethnic cleansing Newt Gingrich refers to families who may have lived in Palestine for longer than America has existed as “so-called Palestinians”.
Dianne Abbot has done us all a favour by showing that ANYONE can be caught out saying something stupid which, when one is too lazy to pay attention, can be branded as racist. We should all, therefore, calm down and stop flinging accusation of racism about in such an indiscriminate manner.
The words of Rudyard Kipling may be worth considering:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
…..Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
………daughter…I mean man..woman……..person….human…oh bollocks!
The Economist had an article in their December 31st issue where they listed the necessary attributes of a Republican party presidential candidate if they are to fullfil the demands of the Republican “base”. In the opinion of The Economist a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things:
- that abortion should be illegal in all cases
- that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it
- that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home
- that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame
- that global warming is a conspiracy
- that any form of gun control is unconstitutional
- that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk
- that Israel can do no wrong
- that the “so-called Palestinians” ( to use Mr Gingrich’s term) can do no right
- that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished