Monthly Archives: August 2008

  • Couscous, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche (France 2007)

    The Fine-Grain of Community. Film review by Tom Jennings, published in Freedom, Vol. 69, No. 15, August 2008
    The Fine-Grain of Community, by Tom Jennings

    Tom Jennings is captivated by Couscous and its sympathetic but unflinchingly honest portrait of an extended family struggling to make various ends meet.

    Writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film details the bonds and fissures within a French-Tunisian clan and social network beset by sundry economic, cultural and institutional pressures in the Mediterranean port of Sête, where the fishing and shipbuilding industries are rapidly declining. The film’s title (originally Le Graine et le Mulet – semolina grain and mullet; couscous’ contrasting main ingredients) emphasises the patterns and texture of daily existence, and its central set-piece mealtime scenes directly echo classic French family melodrama – though in a socio-economic milieu alien to the familiar upper-middle-class complacency. Superficially resembling Robert Guedigian’s downbeat Marseille-based social realism, here the manipulation of script, structure and pacing interconnects multiple levels of reference and significance to give an epic, novelistic feel. Fortunately this doesn’t detract from the specificity of characters and situations – Kechiche and the largely non-professional (but completely convincing) cast hailing from the background portrayed and intimate with the trials and tribulations tackled.
    Facing redundacy after refusing to sacrifice craftsmanship to ‘flexibility’, world-weary 60 year-old ship’s carpenter Slimane (an impressively restrained Habib Boufares) collects fish from trawlermen mates and distributes them to his ex-wife Souad and their children’s families – whose responses (to him, his news and the fish) reflect their own diverse dilemmas and difficulties. The mullet eventually surface in Souad’s renowned Sunday-lunch – Slimane is not invited, but sons Hamid (unemployed) and Majid (an inveterate womaniser) deliver some to the low-rent hotel owned by his new partner Latifa. They suggest he return to the Tunisia he left as a young man, but instead he spends his severance renovating a rotting hulk into a floating restaurant showcasing Souad’s couscous. Latifa’s teenage daughter Rym (the superb Hafsia Herzi) helps negotiate the patronising, prejudicial, dismissive town bureaucracy, and everyone pitches in preparing for an opening night to seal official licensing. But Majid disappears for an assignation with the centrepiece semolina still in his car-boot, and the film ends with Slimane running round in circles in pursuit while Rym and his Tunisian friends entertain those gathered with traditional music and bellydance …

    Couscous skilfully deploys, and undermines, prevailing multiculturalist discourses which misrepresent the immigrant experience as exotically (and dangerously) distinct from a supposedly indigenous mainstream – emphasising many interacting dimensions of difference which only translate into ‘otherness’ from a wilfully separate perspective. This family is thoroughly integrated in terms of local employment, neighbourhood and marriage, embodying a range of relationships with ‘native’ French and people from other backgrounds. Cross-cultural contrasts may result in enrichment and/or conflict, with outcomes impossible to simplistically attribute to tribal cliches – compare, for example, Majid’s betrayed Russian wife, bereft in isolation, with Slimane and Souad’s fully embedded estrangement. Furthermore, drawing on roots and customs can reinforce collective memory, practice and orientation; but may also represent defensive constraint – the illusory allure of looking backward when Slimane considers giving up, or the compulsion towards kin cohesion effectively colluding in Majid’s destructive philandering while keeping Latifa and Rym at arm’s length.
    Crucially, issues of race and racism, while not denied, are only decisive when modulated by class division and hierarchy. Thrown on the modern economy’s scrapheap, Slimane rescues its rejected flotsam – not just the boat, but himself and what social and cultural capital he can muster – and gambles on his own account. Ironically, self-commodification in the post-industrial service sector entails artificially singling out, objectifying and amplifying those very markers of special identity that hitherto nourished everyday life in concert with all the other influences. Now, providing a niche-market ‘ethnic’ product means simultaneously appealing to, competing with, and satisfying the disciplinary gazes of the middle-class establishment. The business community leaders, local government functionaries, hangers-on and tourists are thus conflated here in the restaurant’s homogeneously grotesque, increasingly drunken patrons seeking suitably aestheticised touristic experience while remaining oblivious to the underpinning mundane human dramas reminiscent of working-class struggles to survive and thrive the world over.
    The film’s bravest risk is to suspend this climax on an unbearably drawn-out knife-edge, with no way to predict the result. Confronting his desire to leave an enduring legacy after a disappointed life, our scarcely authoritative patriarch sets events in motion with his secular ‘loaves and fishes’, but heroic individualism is decidedly beside the point as he flails helplessly at the mercy of others. The kids stealing his moped crystallise his waning agency, leaving younger generations to work it out for themselves – with prospects hinging on the balance of internal forces as much as external limits. Nevertheless, the strengths and shortcomings of the elders appear uncannily reflected in their descendants, though recomposing in very different circumstances. If the daughters’ invocation of engagement, perseverance and solidarity can overcome pride and resentment and help galvanise the sons from their reluctance to act responsibly, the cultural matrix inherited from the past – whether concerning music, food or love – could clinch the blending of capabilities in fruitful directions. Devised partly as Kechiche’s tribute to his own father (a friend of the lead actor who died shortly before filming), Couscous succeeds well beyond his aim “to show all the complexities of this Franco-Arabic family … looking to a future which does not necessarily mean the denial of their own identity”.*

    * Abdellatif Kechiche, in Ginette Vincendeau, ‘Southern Discomfort’, Sight & Sound, July 2008, p.47.

  • The Ghost, by Robert Harris

    A Groupie’s Revenge. Book review by Tom Jennings, published in Freedom, Vol. 69, No. 12, July 2008.
    A Groupie’s Revenge, by Tom Jennings

    The Ghost, by Robert Harris

    This bestselling novelist’s latest interrupts his blockbusting broad-brush historical revisionism, from Fatherland (1993; what if Germany had won WWII?) through Imperium (2006; ancient Roman skullduggery). The Ghost is contemporary; considerably less ‘thrilling’; and narrower in scope, following a worldweary ghostwriter for recently-retired UK Prime Minister Adam Lang to a posh New England resort to hack together hagiographic memoirs. Harris does, however, persist in fictionalising pivotal periods in terms of corruption, conspiracy and complicity among the Great and Good hitherto hidden from mainstream accounts meekly swallowing their platitudinous rationalisations. Here there’s also the obvious hook of Blair’s ‘legacy’ and a spate of superficial political autobiographies trading on present difficulties – although, of course, any resemblance to this novel’s characters is purely coincidental …
    The portrayal of the vapid narcissism of power is decidedly deliberate, nonetheless, as is the murderous conjuncture of corporate unaccountability, elite greed, institutional arrogance and cynical media dishonesty. So the protagonist appropriately proposes to “put some heart” into his spin; whereupon he’s hard-pressed to find any. Skeletons and closets, conversely, proliferate. Not only did the ghost’s predecessor expire in suspicious circumstances, but government support for Bush involved a whole swathe of betrayals – personal, ideological, national – stretching back decades. Maintaining their secrecy threatens our hero too, and the enjoyably daft romp accelerates after he gets a shag with Cherie (sorry, Ruth Lang) and support from a dashing, charismatic ex-Foreign Secretary (who could that be?) clamouring to nobble his former boss as International War Criminal. Finally the dastardly CIA plot is revealed (and covered up) – New Labour was a dirty trick all along.

    … Or, if not that, an exceedingly big bad apple infecting an otherwise noble enterprise. But wait! Wasn’t the writer cheerleader-in-chief embedded in the Third Way offensive? The Sunday Times political journo by Blair’s side during that heady 1997 election night? Who got in a strop when his chum Mandelson sunk (oh yes, and over the Iraq invasion)? Methinks something’s rotten in the isle of Harris, too – strong whiffs of bad faith permeating this extraordinary rendition of chattering-class tabloid malice; its solipsistic tone of action unravelling inside spiteful fantasies; the vanity of self-justifying hindsight paralleling the delusions of paranoia, where the world really is out to get you but not for the reasons your hubris assumes. Beneath the manifest content, the real conspiracy is neoliberal capitalism’s continuity since Thatcher, nurtured and hawked by lickspittle think-tanks and academics pimping economic sophistry to highest bidders both sides of the pond. Labour ‘modernisers’ partook of this poisoned font from the get-go,* learning the codependence of business prosperity on authoritarian states and the art of selling voters out – whereas evil spooks absolve both professional suckers and the entire discursive architecture which insists ‘there is no alternative’.

    * see meticulous research by Lobster editor Robin Ramsay published, for example, in Variant magazine and books including Prawn Cocktail Party (Vision, 1998), The Rise of New Labour (Pocket Essentials, 2002), and new collection Politics and Paranoia (Picnic, 2008).

    The Ghost, published by Hutchinson, is out now in paperback.

  • Gone, Baby, Gone, dir. Ben Affleck (2007)

    In the Best Interests of the Child. Film review by Tom Jennings, published in Freedom, Vol. 69, No. 12, July 2008.
    Tom Jennings is relieved that Ben Affleck’s first film as director, the thought-provoking Gone, Baby, Gone, avoids the ham sentimentality of much of his acting

    Its UK release delayed in sensitivity to the Madeleine McCann case, Gone, Baby, Gone’s child abduction scenario bears scant resemblance but probably boosted box-office by association. Here, news-team vultures descend on Dorchester, South Boston, Massachussetts, as single-mother Helene McCready (a magnificent Amy Ryan) laments her disappeared four-year-old, Amanda, shepherded by steely-eyed police and neighbours and family rallying supportively. Director Ben Affleck and the story’s creator Dennis Lehane hail from these parts, while protagonist PIs Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) have lived there all their lives. Passionate attachment to the ‘hood is reflected in the latters’ conduct and the camera’s naturalistic pans around inner-city blight, alighting on variously battered and beleaguered, resigned and/or residually energetic residents – many also cast in minor caricatures complementing consistently fine acting by star-turns.
    Despite high-minded pronouncements by cop supremo Doyle – who lost his own child to kidnappers – and ace detective Bressant (Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris lending grizzled gravitas to proceedings), official inquiries falter. Specialist skip-tracers tracking down debtors and errant spouses, the reluctant Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by Amanda’s aunt. Local confidence in their discretion immediately yields clues – the involvement of notorious gangster Cheese and missing drug-money; Helene’s substance-abuse and corresponding suspicious unreliability; her boyfriend’s sudden violent death clinching the link. No longer patronised by the police for naïve amateurism, the investigators uncover the cash and broker its exchange for the girl at a remote flooded quarry – but she’s believed drowned when the botch-up leaves Cheese shot dead. Doyle is sacked for tragic incompetence and retires to the sticks; everyone sees closure achieved. Only Kenzie’s not so sure, and a subsequent spiralling descent into the violent degradations of paedophilia and addiction eventually reveal depths of duplicity at all levels even he’d never dreamed.
    These last unlikely plot twists serve to undermine our assumptions as cultivated so far – and Kenzie and Gennaro’s, leaving them disagreeing over a final dilemma so fundamental as to terminate their professional and romantic relationship. Nevertheless, ultimate judgements and justifications concerning rights, wrongs and likely consequences remain suspended. Not only are heroic rescue, reassuring redemption, and cautionary tragedy refused, but the conservative grounds upon which viewers might expect such outcomes – from banal Hollywood crime-action pulp to the parallel (but no less fantasy-ridden) morbid tabloid shock-horror over current affairs – are comprehensively undercut. Such disquieting limbo was obviously deliberate, and scriptwriting decisions altering and cutting the source novel wholesale pass the buck to us even more starkly. This is the film’s unusual strength, but discussing its effectiveness necessitates spoiling the suspense – so anyone not wishing to know the score should look away now …

    In The Best Interests of the Child

    Unbelievably enough, the entire saga constituted a conspiracy choreographed by Doyle in connivance with his lieutenants down to Helene’s disapproving relatives, with varying material, malicious and purportedly altruistic interests and moral righteousnesses interweaving, spiriting the lass to ‘safety’ while her mam drank in the bar. The ensuing host of casualties, whether dead or bereft – unmourned criminals, Bessant and his partner, written-off lower-class dupes – were blithely sacrificed, pawns for the patriarch’s peace of mind retiring from burdensome power. Out the window also went all pretensions of institutional credibility as, crucially (and, predictably, eluding the critics), the scheme’s success hinged on accepting at face value the normal scripts, cliches and homilies of governance, public welfare and basic decency among higher- and lower-order model citizens obeying the law. Nonetheless – although the film sadly loses Lehane’s meticulous characterisations (particularly of Kenzie and Gennaro) and dialogue conveying the full convincing texture of attitudes in action – viewers were given several hints among the red herrings that things weren’t as they seemed.
    Two especially stand out. Encouraged to perceive Helene harshly through circumstantial implication and the harsh glare of unforgiving attention, we never once glimpse her actual everyday relationship with her daughter. Comversely, Doyle’s parental fitness is unchallenged, despite his known trauma and willingness to wreck lives to heal it. Who is the child, to him, beyond a substitute salving private pain? Do his influence and affluence – displaced from urban hell to rustic idyll – guarantee saintly credentials in arrogating to himself godlike choice? Then shouldn’t all the suffering children be saved from the vicious agony of the ghetto and the evils impoverishment produces? Even if the manner of its accomplishment adds to the oppression and injustice nourishing desperation in the first place, simultaneously precluding youthful renewal? While, irrespective of increments of positivity which might (arguably) transpire, serving the selfish desires of those in positions to exploit the system to advantage? … Anything for a happy ending?
    No. The relentless message from media and politicians is to abandon the irredeemable poor, demonising any deviation from passively respectable defeatism. The innocent purity to be protected here, then, is the lingering quasi-religious illusion that things might turn out right by trusting the benevolence of those in charge and believing their rationalisations. Whereas, surely, if a single soul spared is the best to hope for, this betrays an utmost cynicism – the complete collapse of legitimacy of the status quo to match its guardians’ insincerity. But Kenzie won’t give up on his people (or himself), following simple ethics, fulfilling his promise – returning Amanda to her mother – when others see Greater Good colluding with thoroughgoing corruption in a broken society. Even he suspects he chose wrong, in the final babysitting scene mournfully contemplating prospects, Helene again out on the razzle. Yet with no individual correct answer to a collective quandary, maintaining honesty and integrity and nourishing it around you may represent a pragmatic faith preferable to fairytale wish-fulfilment making token exceptions to busted-flush rules. Credit is due to Gone, Baby, Gone for going against the grain, rendering such thorny issues even conceivable on mainstream screens.

    Gone, Baby, Gone is released on DVD in September.

  • Happy-Go-Lucky, dir. Mike Leigh (2008)

    Prozac Attitude. Film review by Tom Jennings, published in Freedom, Vol. 69, No. 14, August 2008.
    Prozac Attitude, by Tom Jennings

    Belying his miserabilist reputation, Mike Leigh’s new film Happy-Go-Lucky celebrates incorrigible optimism – but with the usual twists, finds Tom Jennings

    After virtually unremitting gloom in Mike Leigh’s family dramas All Or Nothing (2002) and Vera Drake (2005) [1], it’s telling that Happy-Go-Lucky’s refreshingly light tone most strongly parallels Johnny’s cynical nihilism in Naked (1993) railing at Thatcherism’s social wasteland. Here, Sally Hawkins’ pitch-perfect portrayal of thirty-year-old primary-schoolteacher Poppy anchors a loose, patchwork narrative also set in North London bedsitland, whereas this single-character study (with superb supporting performances) wards off hopelessness with an insistently positive outlook on adversity – the catchphrase “It makes me laugh!” echoing many of the writer-director’s previous protagonists. Risking sinking under the weight of her own cliches, Poppy nevertheless conveys sufficient complexity and subtle depth to convince – whose intelligible strategy to cope with an apparently fast-deteriorating world moreover retains a motivation to cultivate in everyone around her a sense that life is worth living. The film’s tensions and dynamism then emerge from various manifestations of negativity testing the considerable effort required to sustain this philosophy.
    However, this is no superficial, conservative, feelgood ‘chick-flick’ – despite bright and breezy, colourful lighting, design and widescreen cinematography mirroring Poppy’s garish grunge, wide-eyed sunny non-conformism and all-round Prozac attitude. Straightaway, her joking, self-deprecating banter falters when a sullen shop-assistant won’t cooperate – pretending things aren’t so bad sometimes being simply insulting. Likewise, an ostensibly carefree lifestyle of aimless diversions – particularly with fellow-teacher, flatmate and best friend since college, Zoe (wryly commenting that being grown-up is hard) – palls as pressures to transcend extended adolescence are palpable for all concerned. Inspirational teaching can’t single-handedly ameliorate the damaging domestic environments of the kids, older colleagues are patently unfulfilled by work, and the spin on regular Leigh themes of inter-generational relations and the demands of adulthood is reinforced by the unhappy hostility of Poppy’s two sisters (self-pitying student; straitlaced suburban housewife) counterpointing her zany complacency.
    Happy-Go-Lucky’s women persevere with each other loyally, differences notwithstanding, but three dysfunctional male incarnations interrupt Poppy’s gaiety more decisively. Patience and concerned curiosity uncover the abusive source of a little boy’s bullying, which may still be preempted, while genuine feeling in a night-time encounter with an angrily incoherent homeless man hints at deeper empathy with the anguish of life falling apart. And rejecting the judgmentalism of others is no narcissistic defence because, in the sequence of driving lessons forming the film’s core, even her bitter, paranoid, utterly reactionary instructor isn’t written off. Scott’s conception of education as rigid hidebound rule-systems obviously contradicts her intuitive expressivity but, while rejecting his authoritarian excess, she persists in trying to understand where he’s coming from – which he mistakes for mocking and flirtation, responding even more obsessively and inappropriately. Then, in yet another structural balancing act, her new, rather drippy, social-worker boyfriend allows gentle caring, good humour and the possibility of passionate commitment to coexist – before the camera finally draws back as Poppy and Zoe muse on what the future holds …

    It’s hard to convey the full richness of a Mike Leigh film in a few short paragraphs. Refusing Hollywood’s cardboard cut-out conventions and heroic individual transcendences, he plays with and undermines the generic expectations of melodrama, satire, tragedy and farce in favour of minor crises or tipping points accompanying the slow accretion of painful and pleasurable experience bounded by the intransigence of a heartless world. His preference for characters from lower-class backgrounds originated in a middle-class childhood in a downmarket district of Salford where a keen sociability was fed by encounters with less privileged folk trumping the stultifying conformity of his own household and others like it [2], leading to a lifelong distrust of pretension and pomposity. From this, the strength of his ensemble pieces often lies in the generosity and goodwill found within social networks, but such phenomena are never glibly asserted and frequently overshadowed by the depression and petty malice arising from frustrated needs. Thus points of identification, alienation, sadness, hilarity and antipathy oscillate as viewers recognise themselves and others in characters simultaneously lamented and applauded, but whose integrity is always respected. The work then “aspires to the conditions of documentary” in accurate depictions of real life at specific times in identifiable places, while simultaneously representing ambitious artistic contrivance in building believable human mosaics from scratch [3].
    Exhaustive individual backstories are built in close collaboration with the cast, gradually extending into collective improvisations and rehearsals from which the script is developed. The vast bulk of detail developed in this process subsequently echoes in the final product only in informing behaviour and interaction, where the actors don’t know what will happen before the characters would. Arriving at similar preoccupations to those of cinematic naturalism or social realism, the use of these entirely different means and methods gives the films their direct intensity of impact and honest, sympathetic ambivalence concerning the tragicomedies of ordinary life where relatively unexceptional situations conspire to close down or open up anyone’s potential. Happy-Go-Lucky’s central concern, indeed, is finding a suitable orientation to contemporary tragicomedies and potentials in a context where such widespread political pessimism inclines many to give up altogether. Embodying a vulnerable struggle for maturity while determined not to lose the childlike enchantment with the world that can imagine and provoke renewal, Poppy perhaps tentatively reflects – in typically sly, understated fashion – Leigh’s own ‘socialistic’ and ‘anarchistic’ impulses and hopes [4], since he takes such great pains to acknowledge the uncomfortable texture of mundane daily life precisely in order to “reveal the transformative potential that is continually being generated within it” [5].

    1. see my review of the latter in Freedom, 5th February 2005.
    2. see Amy Raphael (ed), Mike Leigh On Mike Leigh, Faber, 2008.
    3. discussed in detail in Raymond Carney & Leonard Quart, The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
    4. see, for example: Michael Coveney, The World According to Mike Leigh, Harper Collins, 1996; and Howie Movshovitz (ed), Mike Leigh: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
    5. Garry Watson, The Cinema of Mike Leigh: A Sense of the Real, Wallflower, 2004, p.23.
    Happy-Go-Lucky is released on DVD on 18th August.

  • Immigration, the Inconvenient Truth, Channel 4, and the White season, BBC2

    The Great White Hopeless, by Tom Jennings.
    Television review of Immigration, the Inconvenient Truth, Channel 4, and the White season, BBC 2
    A rash of TV documentaries explain away tense British resident-immigrant relations with typical middle-class prejudice in reproducing forty years of media and state-managed mystifications of the ravages of capitalism, according to Tom Jennings.

    Great White Hopeless

    Shock, horror! Television bosses recently made the surprise discovery of defensive, backward-looking racism among the depressed, so-called ‘indigenous white working class’. Purporting to explore this phenomenon, BBC 2’s White Season (screened in March) and Channel 4’s Dispatches, Immigration: The Inconvenient Truth (April) focussed on recent UK population trends. Each resurrected Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech as the most appropriate interpretive prism through which to understand hardening attitudes towards immigrants and the electoral gains of the BNP (who vocally applauded the series). So although countless interesting and enlightening aspects of the subject crop up in passing throughout all nine programmes, many important issues are ignored altogether. The clear editorial direction imposed on the material – neglected poor white natives blame migrants for their woes, and that Powell was (kind of) right – is legitimised and reinforced despite being repeatedly undercut even by much of the partial and selective evidence gathered.

    The Beeb’s hotch-potch started with the classic observational elegy of Last Orders. The ex-Labour committee members of Wibsey Working Men’s Club bemoan its decline, with support having haemorrhaged for decades – yet regretfully cite the overweening problem of Bradford’s growing Asian population. No one’s quite clear on cause and effect, or why mainstream politicians are uninterested in the impoverishment and social breakdown of their community of “forgotten people”. Meanwhile the destruction of local industries which depended on Asian labour, or the blatant manipulation of the race card by all municipal parties and media ever since, are hardly mentioned – let alone countervailing voices with a less jaundiced and prejudiced and more critical awareness of the situation. With the pattern set, complexity is obliterated completely in Denys Blakeway’s putrid glossing of Rivers of Blood with contemporary allusion – ‘forgetting’ that the whole analysis, its assumptions and predictions, were completely wrong for 1968 (never mind now) despite Powell’s best efforts kickstarting the poisonous national chauvinism that Griffin etc inherit [1]. The disavowed subtext? If middle-class white people wish-fulfil themselves as “last bastions of civilisation”, alliance with boneheads becomes respectable.
    The following programmes more or less subtly put the boot into the white underclass. White Girl fictionalises a Northern teenager (from a 2006 Channel 4 documentary) finding refuge in Islam from a dysfunctional home – whereas such narratives could apply to any class, race or creed. The Primary’s Birmingham school with kids of 17 different nationalities just about copes despite inevitable difficulties – by implication, in this context, thanks to the utter absence of white working class people. The Poles Are Coming! then looks at Eastern Europeans in Peterborough working more diligently in worse conditions than locals tolerate in construction and agriculture. Though focussing on infrastructural and planning chaos and the fracturing of community by the buy-to-let slum-landlord epidemic, migrants themselves are squarely positioned as the problem’s cause – with anti-social workshy white youth in the background making it a crisis. Finally, All White in Barking gestures towards ‘balance’ in comparing old-school Essex responses to the global influx – one pensioner glaring hatefully at African residents and organising BNP stalls, apparently without registering that his kids and grandkids are colour-blind and/or mixed-race; while another couple transcend similar hostility and suspicion by befriending Nigerian and Albanian neighbours, and an elderly Auschwitz survivor squires his Ugandan carer at a local Jewish community dinner.

    A better title for the Dispatches trilogy, fronted by son of Somali immigrants Rageh Omaar, would have been ‘Immigration, the Convenient Scapegoats’. Relentlessly suppressing evidence to the contrary, the narrative consistently asserted that we all subscribe to ‘swamping’ logic, using a specially-commissioned YouGov public opinion survey which bore all the hallmarks of such spurious, tendentious pseudo-science.
    Trusting viewers to swallow outrageous extrapolations from flimsy ‘proof’, even cursory attention revealed confusion about who counted as Britons or ‘settled migrants’ or their descendants, and what difference this made to assertions of immigration being “a problem” or “in crisis”.
    The clumsy Yes/No questions disallowed considered responses and virtually ensured inaccurate results, whereas many of the empirical findings were clearly far more ambiguous than the simplistic editorial agenda permitted. So, by the third episode, the apocalyptic tone had subsided somewhat. But instead of the obvious need to question the whole basis of official nationalist and multiculturalist discourses, the tangible awareness that global economics had something to do with it prompted a retreat to the favoured culprit – the inflexibly hopeless white working class unable to compete in the New World Order. But the visible desperation and hardship twisted into resentment in many places is only part of that story, which the BBC and Channel 4 had neither the bottle, desire, nor wit to follow up [2].
    To conclude, then, as I argue elsewhere [3], this current affairs coverage disingenuously maintains “distinctions between those whose survival is most imminently threatened and the comfort zones of aspirational experience – just when the economic and structural conditions which underwrote the flight from drudgery for the twentieth century’s new middle-classes unravel before our eyes … [P]rofessional media tourists avoid the countless people making horizontal links, conducting joint operations, productive relationships, cultural exchanges and social interactions at the base. Thus a view of society is reproduced as no more than interlocking networks of exclusion zones, where the only negotiation between dimensions of difference – whether biological, social or economic – occurs on the state’s terms at its own designated, tightly-policed sites, carried out by the market’s credentialled experts. In which case converging material situations, interests, expressions and struggles among foreigners, natives, underclasses and the new nearly-destitute simply disappear from view”. Furthermore the best corrective can be found where rivers of blood literally flow from the vicious intersection of capitalist structural adjustment and national state ideology – yet South African militant shantydwellers counter xenophobic violence insisting: “Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies” [4].

    1. see Institute of Race Relations, ‘Rehabilitating Enoch Powell’ (
    2. … on this occasion, anyway. In less threatening contexts the fortunes of the ‘white tribe’ have, for example, been cheerfully charted by Michael Collins – though scrupulously avoiding the politically conscious and active – in The Likes Of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Granta, 2004) and The British Working Class (Channel 4, 2005).
    3. in ‘Craven New World’, Variant 32, pp.9-12 ( See also ‘The End of Tolerance’, Daniel Jewesbury’s useful discussion of UK racism in the same issue.
    4. in a statement by Durban-based Abahlali baseMjondolo, ‘No One Is Illegal’ (