Daily Archives: Sunday, July 29, 2007

  • MOVE, dirs. Ben Garry & Ryan McKenna

    Move Something! by Tom Jennings.
    Review of the MOVE documentary and UK tour, Star & Shadow, July 1st, 2007.
    published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 15, July 2007.Move Something!  by Tom Jennings
    [Review of the MOVE organisation UK tour and documentary, Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, July 1st 2007, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 15, July 2007]
    Screenings of the rugged and raw ‘MOVE’ (2004) have been introduced at venues across the country by the revolutionary back-to-nature organisation’s ‘Minister of Communication’, Ramona Africa. Narrated by prominent radical historian Howard Zinn, film students Ben Garry and Ryan McKenna’s documentary atmospherically details the decades-old Philadelphia government and FBI persecution of the group. Escalating vicious harassment failed to silence their vocal class- and race-conscious environmentalism (itself far ahead of fashion) even after the ‘MOVE 9′ were framed for the murder of a cop during a 1978 siege – culminating in the deliberate slaughter of six unarmed adults and five children on 13th May 1985. When floods of water cannons, tear gas and automatic weapons fire failed to flush out and finish them off, a bomb dropped on their house from a helicopter burnt the whole Osage Avenue block to the ground. Emerging with her daughter as sole survivors, Ramona Africa promptly got seven years for riot.
    Not surprisingly, MOVE has since concentrated on countering official and corporate media lies over these pivotal events, working for the release of those falsely imprisoned. The wider effort now encompasses the cases of MOVE supporter Mumia Abu Jamal (see update in Freedom, 2nd June), the American Indian Movement’s Leonard Peltier and various Black Panther and Black Liberation Movement stalwarts among countless other police and ‘justice’ system outrages. However, the fight against this particular ongoing judicial jihad soon reaches a critical phase with the MOVE 9’s impending parole hearings as their thirty-year minimum sentences expire. The authorities have recently been inclined to leave the organisation alone, given their admirably intransigent stance – but international vigilance and support are now more crucial than ever. Even so, despite understandable preoccupations, MOVE speakers scrupulously encourage and namecheck resistance against the capitalist system’s onslaughts around the world.
    MOVE’s astonishing fortitude, courage and commitment facing the US state’s brutal duplicity stem from 1960s/70s Black activism and the sheer longevity of a struggle characterised by steadfast refusal to collude in domination or remain passive about it. Nevertheless their ideology is only indirectly political, being rooted in spiritual convictions concerning the rationality of instinct – with a resulting confusion of philosophy and science, humanity and animality, and truth and morality giving room for profound contradictions in theory and practice. But unlike many religious bigots, animal libbers, primitivist propagandists or eco-evangelists, MOVE members don’t hide behind hysterical, self-deluding, fanatical rhetoric. Simultaneously humble, open and uncompromising, they engage with anyone actively recognising the unifying force reflected in the campaign around political prisoners, articulated as a common cause anticipating grass-roots rebellious self-determination as the ultimate harbinger of any freedom worth the name.
    * General information and news are available at www.onamove.com/ and www.onamove2007.org.uk/. The MOVE documentary can also be viewed online at www.brightcove.com/title.jsp?title=428944249&channel=219646953. The MOVE Organization’s postal address is P.O. Box 19709, Philadelphia, PA 19143, USA.

  • This Is England, dir. Shane Meadows

    The Archaeology of Aggro, by Tom Jennings.
    film review of This Is England, dir. Shane Meadows.
    pulished in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007The Archaeology of Aggro  by Tom Jennings 
    [film review of This Is England, directed by Shane Meadows, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]
    The latest project from the foremost cinematic chronicler of contemporary Britain is, unexpectedly, a period piece depicting the 1983 rites of passage of 12-year-old Shaun (Tommo Turgoose) finding acceptance among skinhead scoundrels convivial enough to include Milky, a Black lad (Andrew Shim), punks, and even New Romantics. Their summertime teenage kicks are then disrupted by the arrival of the charismatic Combo (Stephen Graham), who has incorporated fascist rhetoric picked up in the nick into a bitter, resentful worldview. Gang members refusing to kowtow melt away, and Combo leads those remaining into National Front meetings and increasingly malevolent racist attacks – until the brutal beating of Milky awakens Shaun from thralldom to this bad surrogate dad.
    Based on writer-director Shane Meadows’ own memories, the flawless filming and pitch-perfect performances beautifully capture the peer group mitigation of adolescent pain metamorphosing into adult conflict. Richard Griffin (Freedom, June 30th) has already discussed skinhead class orientation, diversity and ambivalence (and in the industrial town of my 1970s youth, two-tone adherents included middle-class and Jewish kids as well as working-class misfits into music and style; whereas the most violent were not necessarily racist). However, whether in subcultures or the mainstream, surface multiculturalism can merely mask rather than undermine prejudice. This Is England glimpses such complexity before, regrettably, backing hastily away.
    The best UK social realism painstakingly conveys the texture of experience in precise times and places – here, the fallout from Thatcherism and the Falklands tantalisingly paralleling New Labour and Iraq. However, just as denial, displacement and repression influence psychological development, wider socio-cultural processes weaving dominant discourses into everyday life get lost in translation into individual perspective. For example, vicious attitudes towards Black and Asian people have deep roots in white working-class areas – particularly among ‘respectable’ elders – which eroded as younger generations growing up together suffered similar institutional contempt. Nevertheless, housing, policing and immigration policies consistently revitalise them; so alien ideologists may parachute in to vampirise youth aggravation, but community and official collusion (conscious or not) seals the deal. Of course, such commonplace tacit support for hatred failed to register in Shaun’s awareness, and thus elude This Is England.
    Meadows doubtless understands this problem, but went along with the media marketing spin which Richard Griffin rightly sees as a misconceived attempt “to reclaim the skinhead movement” – whereas greater depth and breadth hover right at the film’s heart. Backstories were developed for the characters during lengthy rehearsals, and Combo being mixed-race fortuitously arose from the fact that Stephen Graham is too (accepting the role with great trepidation). Unfortunately, the golden opportunity to unravel the implications of intrinsic impurity and hybridity throughout this mongrel nation’s history was forfeited by isolating pathology in dysfunctional families – a persuasive, if predictable, macho mythos both in the microdynamics of violence and as metaphor for the disarray of Englishness. The result is surely superb cinema, but higher ambition could have achieved so much more.

  • Utopian (Euro) Visions? by Tom Jennings

    commentary on implicit bias and explicit prejudice
    Utopian (Euro) Visions?  by Tom Jennings 
    [commentary on explicit prejudice and implicit bias, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]
    Good to see Dave Douglass writing in Freedom – Pit Sense Versus the State (Phoenix Press, 1994), after all, is a touchstone for class-struggle anarchism, and I’ll always be interested in what he has to say. Appreciated the crack on Terry Wogan’s xenophobia, too (2nd June issue), but it was a little disconcerting to then read the suggestions for a more participatory Eurovision Song Contest. Sadly, Dave’s inclusive non-competitive “international folk and rock concert” would leave not only me, but many millions, out in the cold.
    I daresay there was no intention to exclude soul, reggae, R&B, bhangra and hip-hop, for example. ‘Rock’ was presumably meant to imply something like ‘popular music in general’ (minus the purely commercial). Trouble is, thanks to ‘progressive’ media like the NME and stars such as Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Morrissey (among many others), as well as official cultural institutions and music corporations, the dominant ideology of pop lionises folk and rock as serious and authentic. Other contemporary formations (along with their exponents, especially those marked ‘black’ and/or ‘working class’) tend to be dismissed as frivolous, degraded, corrupt and dangerous – until they can be incorporated and later safely relegated to a mythical golden age and retrospectively respected after all. The upshot being, therefore, that those at the sharp end now, marginalised and stigmatised (and worse) by such bullshit, know exactly what ‘rock’ means from their perspective. Consequently, it quite easily follows that ships pass in the night …                It just goes to show how otherwise irrelevant, harmless variations in everyday expression can become loaded with whole different realms of connotations, depending on your position and experience. Plus we’re all prone to minor unthinking lapses from time to time (I certainly am, anyway), whereas wankers like Wogan leak whoppers like colanders. Yet while we don’t want to quibble over trivial distinctions and nit-picking recriminations, this does seem a frustratingly tricky kind of subject to tackle publicly without being sidetracked by clashes of taste or having to wade through all that right-on PC crap. And that’s even before wider discourses are taken into account, such as the current vogue for misconceiving ‘racism’ as merely a problem of white working class ignorance, conveniently overlooking how situations are set up and manipulated to start with, in particular historical contexts and with certain interests at stake. Then, hey presto, the only apparent solutions are either outright denial or spurious debates gloating over, humiliating and hammering anti-social culprits (as in the recent Big Brother debacles). Still, without the myriad forms of low-level implicit bias, explicit prejudice wouldn’t succeed in dividing us – and the Wogan piece just happened to include what looks like a hint of the former while forcefully exposing the latter.