Monthly Archives: June 2007

  • The Lives of Others, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

    Rehabilitating Big Brother, by Tom Jennings.
    Film review published in Freedom magazine, Vol. 68, No. 12, June 2007. (including reader’s comments and author’s reply}
    Rehabilitating Big Brother  by Tom Jennings 
    [film review of The Lives of Others, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 12, June 2007]
    Bogus history, liberal wish-fulfilment, bourgeois triumphalism – no wonder ‘The Lives of Others’ won an Oscar,  reckons Tom Jennings
    The German film The Lives of Others has been touted as a corrective to a wave of fond media memories of the GDR communist dictatorship, which collapsed in 1989 along with the Berlin Wall. So, rather than this ‘Ostalgie’ (as in 2003’s internationally successful comedy Good Bye, Lenin) downplaying the ubiquitous, miserable repression prevalent in the East, writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut goes to considerable lengths to realistically portray the paranoia, privation and social poison and petrification surrounding citizens thanks largely to the notoriously vicious and omnipotent secret police, the Stasi – who Simon Wiesenthal famously described as worse than the Nazis in their implacable domestic menace. Meticulous design, staging and scripting and static, desaturated cinematography scrupulously convey the drably cramped mid-1980s ambience within whose confines corrupt Party bosses and evangelistic apparatchiks spy on, mess with and casually wreck the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to attract their malevolent attention – with the excellent cast capped by a magnificent central performance from Ulrich Mühe as Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler.
                    A diligent, highly-efficient and treasured investigator, interrogator and enforcer, Wiesler’s archetypally arid authoritarian character (complete with empty personal life) gradually decomposes after being assigned to dig dirt on comfortably loyal playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), whose actress girlfriend Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck, as little more than a femme fatale plot device) is suborned into betraying him by Wiesler’s lascivious lizard of a boss – Dreyman himself only acting against the regime by whistle-blowing in a West Berlin newspaper when a friend commits suicide after years of harassment. Wiesler’s growing conscience, helped by close proximity hidden in the attic to Dreyman et al’s spontaneity, passion and freethinking (not to mention lust for Christa-Maria) leads him to conceal evidence, and when discovered he is stripped of his position and sent to steam open mail. In the epilogue after reunification, Dreyman discovers the extent of the surveillance he suffered and realises Wiesler’s sacrifice. The latter, now working as a postman, later stumbles across Dreyman’s new book which is dedicated to him.
    This affecting and convincing tale of psychological transformation has attracted huge audiences and acclaim, being judged the best foreign language film at the 2006 Academy Awards. However, widespread unease about the film’s political and historical accuracy is pooh-poohed by von Donnersmarck as a few simpletons engaged in irrelevant and/or baseless nit-picking – citing the ‘authorities’ consulted in making it while conveniently ignoring all those who objected. Ironically, such peremptory dismissals bear an uncanny resemblance to the smear tactics usually accompanying intelligence agencies’ more sinister and unsavoury practices – but then there’s no rule against arrogant pricks making good art, and The Lives of Others is undoubtedly an impressive, powerful effort. But it is a bit rich coming from an aristocratic West German whose feelgood agenda coincidentally resonates with an increasingly assertive Stasi apologism. It also pre-empts meaningful comparisons with both the contemporaneous West German ‘Berufsverbot’ (covert government blacklisting where many thousands were deemed politically unfit for employment) and the abuse of today’s surveillance technology in the entrenchment of power which is already apparent even before the hard-, soft- and liveware is fully onstream.
    The focus on lone heroic resistance by the servants of power once humanistic sympathy for creative expression is awakened implies that only individual integrity, overcoming all odds, can be the source of social salvation. Obviously, agents of evil seeing the light is to be welcomed, but here it specifically diverts emphasis from the inexorable oppression of a bureaucratic system of control which allows little, if any, space for autonomy among functionaries. The logic of the Stasi structure was to fragment operational tasks – much like any modern corporate fascism – so that internal monitoring prevented exactly the kind of rogue activity which enables our hero to find a moral centre. Thus there is no record of any Stasi man ever behaving like this (and those caught ‘betraying’ the organisation faced execution, not demotion). Many informers filed innocuously convincing fictions, but the circular criteria by which citizens were defined as ‘suspect’ – obsessively elaborated by administrators as the scale of intrusion accelerated along with the proportion of the population actively collaborating – tended to render each item of irrelevant data further evidence justifying ruthless persecution. This would be a central concern in any exploration of the close relevance of Stalinist repression to today’s more sophisticated surveillance societies – but here we merely have stereotypically bad apples up the hierarchy who cause the problems.
    Meanwhile former Stasi employees now organise openly and aggressively to rescue personal and collective reputations, vilifying and intimidating as liars and ‘ordinary criminals’ those victims, dissidents and opponents who attempt genuine debate about the present ramifications of this period of recent history. This campaign has considerable political clout yet never acknowledges culpability among those ‘just following orders’ – let alone the appalling suffering caused over four decades and despite overwhelming proof from archives now in the public domain. The film surely offers a chilling indictment of East Germany’s real-life Orwell-meets-Kafka nightmare, but its final expression of gratitude to one sad nasty Stasi bastard for his decency following an unlikely redemption is as nauseating as it is disingenuous.* It trivialises von Donnersmarck’s pretensions towards universal human values almost as much as the narcissistic vanity of his pampered celebrities, whose sublime visions are supposed to inspire us poor grunts to aspire to transcend our pathetic stations in life. The Lives of Others thus learns nothing from a century of political history and makes no contribution to struggles against tyranny. On the contrary, such age-old high-handed cultural conservatism habitually and happily colludes with the marginalisation of those with the temerity to question the entire edifice of official claims to ‘civilisation’ – consequently leaving the mechanisms and conceptual frameworks of totalitarianism completely intact for future generations of control freaks to exploit.
    * explained with great clarity by Anna Funder in ‘Eyes Without a Face’, Sight & Sound, May 2007. See also my essay review of a far more subtle and interesting surveillance thriller, the Glasgow-set Red Road, in ‘Closed Circuit Tunnel Vision’, Variant 29.

    The Lives of Others

    [commentary by Brian Bamford, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]

    Tom Jennings’ fascinating review of the Oscar winning film The Lives of Others (June 16th) is too systematic and consequently misses a vital point. The point is that the Stasi secret police agent Gerd Wiesler may be of an “arid authoritarian character” who is “one sad nasty bastard”, but the film shows him to be a sincere bastard. Though Mr Jennings may well be a postmodernist to whom sincerity and good faith are not relevant it seems to me in terms of this film and perhaps our understanding of totalitarian regimes it is very important.
    It is clear from the beginning that Stasi Captain Wiesler believes in the virtue of what he is doing as a means of promoting ‘socialism’ and protecting it from what Jennings might call “arrogant pricks [like, perhaps in the film, Georg Dreyman] making good art”. This is contrasted with the attitude of Wiesler’s bosses (both in the Stasi and East German Party) who lack his sincerity. As Jennings suggests this film is a portrayal of corruption. By corruption here I mean betrayal of the ideals of state socialism, and the film shows how members of the apparatus betray the ideals of state socialism in the interests of career advancement and personal gratification.
    Wiesler comes to be aware of the bad faith of his superiors and is transformed in the course of a just over two hour film in much the same way as the hero in Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom on the Spanish Civil War had his mind changed by events and he ripped up his communist party card. This is difficult to portray because as Bertold Brecht pointed out people don’t change at that rate in real life.
    Jennings says “there is no record of any Stasi men ever behaving like this [Gerd Wiesler]” and that his “unlikely redemption is as nauseating as it is disingenuous”. Interestingly those anarchist critics of last year’s Spanish film Salvador Puig Antich, the young anarchist executed by garrotte in the 1970s, also questioned the authenticity of his being befriended by a prison warder in one of Franco’s jails. Yet we know that George Orwell, when a member of the then illegalised POUM on the run from communist authorities in Barcelona in 1937, was met with praise and a handshake when he confessed his ‘illegal’ allegiance to a senior official (see Homage to Catalonia). Similarly recently a former senior manager, Alan Wainwright from Mold in Wales, has exposed the blacklist operating in the British building trade on a blog on the internet and the Department of Trade & Industry has just begun an inquiry into it. Moreover, Stuart Christie, in his latest autobiography Granny made me an Anarchist, writes of 1975 when he and his companera were still living in Wimbledon and a police inspector called and “advised me that ‘a number of people’ were extremely annoyed” and “he recommended that I would be well advised to get out of town …” Strange things do happen, and under any system of government it is reasonable to believe that deviance is possible within the hierarchy, even among the Prussians of East Germany.

    The Afterlives of Others [commentary by Tom Jennings, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 16, August 2007]

    Brian Bamford (14th July) is quite right – my review of The Lives of Others (16th June) glossed over the “sincerity and good faith” of its East German state intelligence goon betraying his masters. After all, the film’s mainstream hype gushed relentlessly along those lines – praising its ‘moral’ about the civilising redemptiveness of High Art soothing the savage beast, but hardly hinting at the questions I raised. And OK, “sad nasty Stasi bastard” was harsh – but, hey, Brian, can I get some poetic license, or is that too “postmodernist” for you? Besides, reaching Captain will have been no picnic – he was so good at torture, he taught courses for the lower orders. Sticks in the craw somewhat, applauding his decency, no? Specially as, if his superiors had been Stalinist zealots with integrity (rather than slime) he would probably have carried on wrecking lives regardless …
    Even then, I described Wiesler’s transformation as “affecting and convincing” – not, as Brian claims, “nauseating [and] disingenuous”. That was my reaction to the film’s final expression of gratitude to him for letting Dreyman off the hook and leaving his privileges intact. As symbolic resolution to the whole state socialist episode, this reeks of fantasy and false closure rather than ‘truth and reconciliation’ – with psychological disavowal, philosophical sophistry and historical amnesia allowing the writer/director to pronounce from his own elevated social status while entirely overlooking the vast majority of ordinary folk who suffered most (and still do in the continuing debacle after the West’s ‘victory’). Perhaps, moreover, this reflects the ‘political unconscious’ of the comfortable classes in general.
    Still, the argument that high-ranking whistleblowers and turncoats may develop benign motives is well taken – plus yer average footsoldiers doubtless have qualms too. Yet there is no record of Stasi officers actively sabotaging investigations (complaining more or less publicly years later is another matter; and anyway the records can’t necessarily be trusted!) – at least with Schindler’s List there was a documented historical Schindler. But the main point, surely, is that the film not only invites identification with the powerful, but further implies that change hinges entirely on their vicissitudes – a staple propaganda ploy of Hollywood and its pale imitations (whereas organised grass-roots collective dissidence or struggle scarcely registers – and when it does, individual heroes usually pull the strings there too). In general, my reviews seek neither to be authoritative nor objective (and could never be “systematic” in covering all the angles) – here merely exposing the avalanche of bourgeois mystification otherwise plaguing the media public sphere.

  • The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, by Adam Curtis, BBC 2

    Paradise Mislaid, by Tom Jennings
    Television review published in Freedom magazine, Vol. 68, No. 10, May 2007Paradise Mislaid  by Tom Jennings 
    [television review published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 10, May 2007]
    BBC 2’s ‘The Trap’ documentaries can’t see beyond the false dreams of freedom they expose, argues Tom Jennings
    Pitched to unsettle received wisdom about democracy and liberty, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom screened in March to complete Adam Curtis’ documentary trilogy exploring the modern history and contemporary significance of conceptions of the individual self. First The Century of the Self (2002) excavated the deployment of psychoanalytic theory in the development of seductive advertising and public relations techniques for manipulating unconscious desires, enticing citizens into governable thralldom to consumerism. The Power of Nightmares (reviewed in Freedom, 13th November 2004) then interpreted the subsequent moral and social bankruptcy of Westerm liberalism as facilitating the complementary political backlashes of neo-conservatism and Muslim fundamentalism. Both series charted specific professional elites persuading wider sectors of society of the ‘truth’ of their discourses by pandering to their sundry agendas – whereas, more ambitiously, The Trap purports to uncover the underlying philosophical paradoxes of the pursuit of individual freedom now apparently ending in utter subjugation.
                     ‘Freedom of choice’ these days is, to Curtis, strangely vacuous compared to the claims of state and capitalist institutions. Voting for Tweedledum or Tweedledee or buying this or that brand scarcely justifies global poverty, environmental destruction and war, yet the scientific measurement of such superficial and ephemeral details of behaviour and attitudes supposedly reveals our essence – therefore being the best guide to what policy should tackle. Such truncated empirical visions of human nature, and the liberties appropriate to it, date from the 1950s when the mathematical predictability of poker players was generalised to the nuclear standoff. The robustness of US Cold War strategy then ensured the currency of assumptions that people are purely rationally self-seeking sociopaths. Congenial maverick theories in evolutionary genetics, anthropology, psychology and economics suddenly echoed the zeitgeist once attention turned to the costs of welfare, exploiting popular disillusionment with the unaccountability, corruption,  malevolence, or plain wrong-headedness of bureaucracies and traditional organisations. The hugely profitable model of society as a collection of isolated paranoid narcissists has since become political common sense as the better managerialism of capitalism.
    The Trap’s audacious thematic sweep is matched by its visual style – with a rhetorical collage mirroring the way ideology jumbles theoretical principles, via real-world practical techniques derived from them, into more or less rigid systems of belief and action. The dizzying montage of archive news footage, cult cinema and sixties TV, overlain with equally eclectic and dissonant soundtrack and voiceover, stitches together a progression of concepts and assertions with both emotional and (arguably) rational logic – entirely appropriate to contemporary society where so much information is taken on board with simultaneous multimediating glitter and subliminal gloss. Uniquely in mainstream media, Curtis explicitly demonstrates how politics disciplines us in the age of Spectacle. Instead of brute force (held discreetly in reserve), a far more subtle, multilayered cunning of reason persuades us that its complex, sophisticated – but extremely partial – sets of suggestions are coherent, established facts brooking no argument or alternative.
                    The predictably tiresome criticisms of the programme’s intellectual accuracy – that it misunderstands and misrepresents game theory, sociobiology, anti-psychiatry, liberal philosophy, neoliberal economics, etc – thus miss the point, as do charges of pessimism, paranoia or conspiracy-mongering. The influence of ideas in general practice may often be achieved deliberately and cynically, but by no means necessarily so – though certainly irrespective of their ‘purity’ or ‘correct’ usage. Then, when crystallising into powerful discourses of management and control, they acquire an implacable material force of their own – both from the effort that powerful groups exert in moulding them to maximally serve their interests, and in dealing with widespread and energetic resistance to resulting powerplays on the part of those made subject. So, in order for political opposition to exploit the inherent weaknesses of ruling ideas (rather than reacting blindly against them), it is sensible first to grasp their mechanisms of operation.
    Curtis certainly captures the irony that, in ‘properly’ implementing Thatcher and John Major’s hamfisted market reforms, New Labour’s farcical systems of targets, incentives and sanctions are comprehensively wrecking public services and intensifying inequality, just as the crusades for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan conclusively pre-empt its possibility. What is missed, in neglecting the central organising role of economic power in the disposition of resources, is that appealing to the disinterested selfishness of individuals and then punishing them for their collective inability to comply is a tremendously productive (if schizophrenic) mode of social engineering. Apparently also justifying privatised intiatives to meet the shortfall, it legitimises the mobilisation of ever-more penetrating, microscopic, authoritarian methods of monitoring and regimentation – thereby more deeply entrenching newly-ascendant sectors of capital (e.g. information and media technology and management), and rendering genuine solutions around local autonomy and grass-roots control increasingly out of reach and out of sight. The question, then, is who will be capable of seeing through the fantasies of a better life as the regulated performances of programmable robots – their architects, planners, functionaries and shareholders; or us billions of postmodern rats eternally terrified, tempted and tortured round their mazes?
                    The Trap’s narrow focus further ignores earlier crossovers of science and statecraft, nourishing waves of colonialisms and technological revolutions with similarly ridiculous and limited notions of humanity and civilisation to validate the forms of suffering imperial domination favoured at the time. Retrospective appreciation of the appalling damage done by the transparently fallacious fits and starts of the history of ideas – long before being nailed and superseded by later generations of research – proves the continuing rational necessity to distrust scientific certainty just as much as the miracle cures spun in party politics. The conceptual frameworks within which truth claims are made, assumptions required for practical application, and likely ramifications of and potential recovery from these collapsing or failing (not to mention the types and distribution of possible benefits accruing or precluded), only receive adequate attention when powerful interests are threatened – otherwise being trampled over in the haste to cash in. Hence the lunacy of GM and nanotechnology, pathetic mass sedation of misery and frustration with Prozac and Viagra, manic production of novelty to pollute existential voids, and towering heights of belief in and commitment to human endeavour manifested in transient public opinion surveys and reality TV. This is no trap of misguided pragmatism versus exhausted idealism, as Curtis seems to conclude, but of the constitutional insanity of hierarchical order based on the superior knowledge wielded by leaders and experts. Acknowledging this, of course, would be a fundamental paradigm-shift too far – for him, the Beeb and for liberal democratic capitalism in general.

  • Freedom Writers, dir. Richard LaGravenese

    Blackboard Whitewash, by Tom Jennings
    Film review published in Freedom magazine, Vol. 68, No. 10, May 2007.Blackboard Whitewash  by Tom Jennings 
    [film review of Freedom Writers, directed by Richard LaGravenese, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 9, May 2007]
    A snappy MTV spin on the long and dishonourable Hollywood tradition parachuting privileged super-pedagogues into inner-city educational warehouses, Freedom Writers’ ‘true story’ exemplifies the dishonesty both of the genre and the underlying philosophy. Hilary Swank plays Erin Gruwell, a young teacher who “really wanted a school that had diversity, that had been affected by the riots and could be this wonderful eclectic mix of races and economics and cultures”. Choosing Wilson High School, Long Beach (California, post-Rodney King) – which “included every ethnicity under the sun, with kids who could be headed off to Harvard or to jail” – her patronising cluelessness strikes lucky when The Diary of Anne Frank resonates at just the right stage of Gruwell’s intuitive group therapy. Classroom 203’s ‘unteachables’ realise the common suffering in their segregated communities and, via Shakespeare and Homer, become uplifted into diligent scholars believing they can be “anything they want to be”.
    Breathtakingly ignorant or dismissive of abundant relevant material, like Black literature, hip-hop culture, or local history (Black Panther community self-defence in early gang development; the Crips/Bloods truce after the LA uprising and its joint working group producing a sophisticated, eminently practical regeneration plan, for example), Gruwell merely equates gangs with Nazis – exonerating the authorities for the warzone mentality despite colluding in the ghetto floods of guns and drugs, withdrawing welfare and ruining public education. Choosing literary expressions from the distant European persecutions of Jews or in Bosnia likewise prevents the US state’s domestic genocides and global adventures (so salient to Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans) – let alone the present daily grind of oppression and exploitation – being either sources of empathy or targets of critique.
    Such conventional liberal agendas thus absolve prevailing power structures from blame while honouring their most ‘enlightened’ fractions as uniquely capable of dispensing top-down salvation. Comparably massive denials of historical, political and social reality then purge complexity from the youngsters’ lives, with dramatised diary snippets mapping their alienation as the price paid for individual aspiration. Nothing wrong with broader horizons, of course, and writer-director LaGravenese does implicitly posit their escape as exception rather than rule (marginally redeeming the clichés) – only Gruwell’s two extra part-time jobs pay for the teaching resources withheld by school managers; and (we learn), she promptly abandoned the front line for university educational evangelism. Yet in intimately detailing her trials and tribulations, but merely schematically sketching the desperate depths of her charges, Freedom Writers renders the latter essentially passive, malleable objects of its heroic missionary. Progressive humanistic transformative trappings notwithstanding, the mission is still unmistakably ‘business as usual’.

  • John and Jane – Ashim Ahluwalia – 2005 – India – Doc

    adrin neatrour writes: There are four characters in Ahluwalia’s movie. When we are introduced to them for the first time they are all lying down in sleep induced by exhaustion. As the movie progresses we can understand their sleep as an unconscious state in which as they lie prostrate, the succubus of desires slithers across their beds and penetrates their bodily orifices taking possession of their desires. Here are lie the deterritorialised servants of the great corporations.John and Jane – Ashim Ahluwalia – 2005 – India – Doc
    Viewed Star and Shadow Newcastle – 23 May 07 – ticket price £4-00

    Ahluwalia’s opening sequence is a series of freeform shots of Times Sq  NewYork. The camera pans and soars through the blazing lights of the consumerist iconographies that represent an architecture of possession. The basis of the structure that shapes John and Jane is the interplay between the people and the architectural forms that condition their interactions. 

    Ahluwaria’s film is characterised by regular cuts to the exterior of the call centre which is a large contemporary glass clad building evincing the manifest quality of wealth generation.   At night the building glows like a seductive beacon.  Its triangulate form, its solidity of function its representational evocation contrast with the tired workers within it, with the fragile human lives whose belief systems occupy its psychic skin.   The interiors of this edifice comprises two architectural systems: real and virtual.  The real space is functional organised for corporate wealth generation and the direction of mind to this purpose:  the virtual architecture of computer defines role.   Inside the skin of the building there is a land of certainties vigour and action that has a timeless aspect. In contrast outside life is characterised by sleepness.  One of the workers is enraptured by America and as Ahluwahlia records his paean to the USA’s modernity we are shown an image of modern India,  an extraordinary track along a row of some twenty vast apartment blocks that appear to have been plucked from a belt development project of a large US city.  The character only sees the dreams he is not alive to what is happening here now in front of him.  

    There are four characters in Ahluwalia’s movie.  When we are introduced to them for the first time they are all lying down in sleep induced by exhaustion.  As the movie progresses we can understand their sleep as an unconscious state in which as they lie prostrate, the succubus of desires slithers across their beds and penetrates their bodily orifices taking possession of their desires.  Here are lie the deterritorialised servants of the great corporations.

    Indian weirdness – a documentary – but with the disturbing feel of a drama.  As I watched the four stories of the call centre workers unfold, something in its form kept me thinking that this was a scripted drama.  I found myself looking at the performances of the participants and wondering where they had found such consummate actors.  The acting in the documentary was superb: understated using physical nuance rather than hyperstated faciality and gesturation that is the norm in the west.  What I saw in the performances was the fact that the four participants were  in a critical sense full time actors and actresses.  These workers aren’t just employed to do a job, they are employed to adopt become and be remodelled Selves.  They are trained and coached to be what they are not.  The outer skin of their Indian-ness has fallen away and they have been taught how to become products of the dream, the dream of wealth and riches foretold that is the unwritten but promised nexus of the work contracts they have all signed.   In order to work for the US company that runs the call centre the workers are required to slough off the skin of their Indian culture and put on a new American identity to serve the ideology of the corporation and to enable the workers easy relaxed interface with John and Jane – the emblematic average Americans who are the customers served by the call centre.

    It starts with your name.  The call centre workers discard their own names and their identities are fused with a new American name which the workers chose for themselves – Sanjit decides to be Dave, the woman chooses to be Rachel.  The new nomenclature accompanies an intensive course of Americanisation central to which is the identification of the American way, including Christianity as being a superior form of life. This process of indoctrination follows tried and tested methods (bonding to the company ideals by gradated reward systems, inculcation of the company’s banal mantras of success{“It’s not over till I win”}, the depoliticisation and destabilisation of individuals through concentration on a personal achievement and  success ethos with failure being the fault of individual attitude) that are documented both in descriptive and satirical literature (such as Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House).  The point of the process is so that the Indians workers in Mumbai can take up their stations in the call centre and sell products to the Americans on the other end of the line. The reason that they are always sleeping is that they do long 10 or 12 hour shifts and work to the American time zones.  

    At one level this is neo-colonialism at its most invasive where the workers of Mumbai vie with each other to take on the identities of their oppressors and to distance themselves from their own society and culture and compete to adapt the ways and manners of a foreign and invasive economic force.  At another level this is a mutual embrace in as much as there are other processes at work and there are other questions  raised in John and Jane.  Is the call centre Corporation able to exploit an aspirational void at the heart of Indian culture?  The film does not actualise this issue, but Indian society is still dominated by caste, and there is no easy escape out of status assigned at and by birth.  And these call centre workers do not appear to be high caste Brahmins. They live out their hard working lives in high density work and urban environments.  They are educated but the caste system constrains their hopes and chances of social mobility and economic betterment in a society where new images of affluence and consumption increasingly penetrate the traditional psychic barriers.   Lower caste Hindus, the untouchables try to effect escape from the system by converting to Buddhism, Islam or Christianity.  The Indian call centre workers are converting out of the constricts of Hinduism to the unabashed ethos of American self improvement and consumerism.  The one worker in John and Jane who quits the call centre does so in order to pursue another route out of the Caste system – the entertainment industry –  as he takes up modern stage dancing.  It’s also interesting that the icon admired by one of the other call workers is Elvis.  Ahluwalia captures in effect a marriage of convenience an arranged contract that generates circuits of intensity that link and entangle the purposes of the call centre and the aspirations of those who work for it.  The corporation calls for submission of the will: the workers wish to be born again.   

    We never see any actual images of the disembodied beings who occupy the space at the other end of the telephone line.  We only hear them.  Almost without exception they are the voices of old very tired people.  They are offered discounts, special deals, inducements etc by the young call centre workers of Mumbai.   As their voices carry through the telephone system onto the track it sounds as if it is the dead who are talking.  These Americans are the voices of zombies, living corpses who are being fed and kept alive by specially trained cadres of duped self hypnotised young people.  What is happening is that the dead are consuming the living.   These young opportunistic misguided men and women from India are living out a zombie movie in which they the unwitting are being fed to the undead.  As it moves through all the fantastic dark humorous interaction between the workers and their American customers,  John and Jane turns into a living horror movie.  The dream is in fact a nightmare. But the workers in John and Jane cannot either tell the difference or awaken.
    adrin neatrour

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