Posts tagged ‘movies’

11 January 2009

K19 – the Widowmaker

The most intriguing thing about K19-The Widowmaker (starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson) is that it’s clearly been made during the Putin era.

In the 1980s films made in the UK or the US about the Soviet Union, the whole Soviet enterprise was fairly cold-hearted, uncaring, cruel, etc. Whereas in this film there is a clear divide. The (real) captain (Liam Neeson) is a great leader, loved and respected by his men, the sailors and officers are also good three-dimensional characters, with joys and fears. Quite a normal military film — they could be US sailors and officers. But the Politburo and Moscow, now that’s where the cruelty lies. They have no feelings for the men; anti-Americanism is their highest goal. The captain sent by them (Harrison Ford) also has no warmth while he is doing what Moscow ordered.

A line has been drawn: the people on one side; Politburo/Moscow on the other. And at one point, Harrison Ford’s character crosses the line. Becomes one of the people.

This division is much more reminiscent of the way “Putin’s Moscow” is/was represented in ‘the West’, than the ways in which Soviet Russia has generally been presented.

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5 December 2008

Let’s make money

Vodpod videos no longer available.
…posted with vodpod

Excellent new film from Erwin Wagenhofer, maker of Feed the World, Let’s Make Money travels around the world, filming and/or speaking to financial investors, factory workers, top ‘economic hitmen’, cotton pickers, economic and agriculatural experts and many more. Some shocking images of what is being done to make money around the world (in part with money that we give to our banks to ‘safe-keep’, i.e., to invest).

Favourite film moment is one of the juxtapositions of completely incompatible arguments. First we see a long scene showing workers picking cotton in Burkina Faso and hear intelligent analysis of the situation by Francis Kologo. He notes that the USA gives 3 million US dollars of subventions to domestic cotton production every year. “If Americans a liberal, why are they subsidizing their own cotton production? They’re protectionist, but demand that we are liberal.”

Okay, this is perhaps not new information for the audience which is likely to go to see this film. But it is immediately followed by the following comment from Gerhard Schwarz, chief editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung about migration:

All liberals of this world are of the opinion that borders should be open, for goods, for money and for services. It’s more difficult with people. There, you have to think about whether we need to demand some kind of admission fee, like clubs charge admission fees. If you want to join a tennis club, you generally have to pay an admission fee. Not only a monthy or annual fee, like taxes, but a one off admission charge, because the predecessors who are already there, they built the club house, they built the place up; and a newcomer profits from something which he didn’t contribute anything to.

‘Didn’t contribute anything to’? Yes, well. The worrying thing about immigration discourse, is that this opinion seems fairly wide-spread. Contested by films such as Wagenhofer’s Let’s Make Money, aiming to show the interrelatedness of the whole global population.

11 October 2008

Yoda and Foucault

Combining Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Foucault makes far more sense in German, where the same word – Macht – refers to both ‘power’ and ‘force’. But since Foucault never really distinguished between power and force (unlike Hannah Arendt), we can give this tenuous link a go anyway.

The effects of power, in possibly the most cited aspect of Foucault’s work, are not only negative – excluding, repressing, censoring, concealing – but also productive – ‘In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production.’ (Displine and Punish, 1977 [Vintage edition, 1995, p. 194]). Or, in Yoda’s words:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hm? Mmmm.

(Luke shakes his head.)

And well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we…

(Yoda pinches Luke’s shoulder)

… not this crude matter.

(a sweeping gesture)

You must feel the Force around you.


Here, between you… me… the tree… the rock… everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that ship!

Not only does Yoda refer to the productive effects of the force, but also reminds us of a basic discourse theoretical position that power is relational.

Section starts at 2:20 on the video (after another momentous Yoda quote: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”):

24 September 2008

Thank You for Smoking

Thank You for Smoking is a satirical film that should be required viewing for all NGO spokespeople or grassroots activists. Hugely entertaining and highly informative on how to debate, persuade and — above all — never lose an argument.

In discourse theoretical terminology, the key is to create chains of equivalence, that is, to ‘divide social space by condensing meanings around two antagonistic poles’ [1]. Nick Naylor, Vice President of the American Tobacco Academy, i.e., spokesman for the US tobacco lobby, constantly creates frontiers in the social space so that he is on the side of the good and ethical, with his opponents merging into one single antagonistic position.

He links the rights of smokers to general civil liberties (against those who try to deny them those liberties); he connects the defense of beleaguered tobacco corporations to the universal right of the global oppressed to a competent defence (against the powerful oppressors), and presents himself as a man of the people (against the political/health advocacy elites who only aim for personal gain).

A simplified model of equivalential chains is provided by Ernesto Laclau in On Populist Reason [2]

The example I had in mind was that of an oppressive regime – in that case Tsarism – separated by a political frontier from the demands of most sectors of society (D1, D2, D3, … etc). Each of these demands, in its particularity, is different from all the others (this particularity is shown in the diagram by the lower semicircle in the representation of each of them). All of them, however, are equivalent to each other in their common opposition to the oppresive regime (this is what the upper cemicircle represents). This, as we have seen, leads to one of the demands stepping in and becoming the signifier of the whole chain – a tendentially empty signifier. But the whole model depends on the presence of the dichotomic frontier: without this, the equivalential relation would collapse and the identity ogf each demand would be exhausted in its differential particularity.

More on empty signifiers, and an exploration of a less simplified model to follow…

[1] Howarth, D., & Stavrakakis, Y. (2000). Introducing discourse theory and political analysis. In D. Howarth, A. J. Norval & Y. Stavrakakis (Eds.), Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, hegemonies and social change (pp. 1-23). Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 11.

[2] Laclau, E. (2005). On Populist Reason. London: Verso, p. 130-131.

Thank You For Smoking, 2006. Directed by Jason Reitman. Produced by David O. Sacks. Nominated for the Golden Globe Award.

18 September 2008

Real Battle in Seattle

Well over 40,000 activists (40,000 is the lowest estimate) from movements across the world converged in Seattle nearly ten years ago to fight the World Trade Organisation. Now a battle is ensuing over how to represent –and mediatize– this moment in history. The website is contesting the major film “Battle in Seattle” that will be distributed across the US this autumn. It is calling for social movements to reclaim their histories, stories and futures.

[“Battle in Seattle”] is a docu-drama—a fictional story based on real events—that features extensive archival footage. It may shape what most people in the US and around the world think happened for decades to come—unless we speak up. We call for social movements to take action: to reclaim our history, our stories, and our future.

The story of popular resistance to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999 is a story of how people power can change the world. It is a dangerous example for the global elite, and a powerful one for movements.

For eight years, the US corporate media, global elites, and their police have been twisting and marginalizing the truth, in order to invent their own story of Seattle 1999 and the stories of social movements’ resistance and victories. These lies and revisions of history have been used in an attempt to criminalize and repress our protests, movements, and mobilizations.

The movie will be released on the eighth anniversary of the 1999 Seattle anti-WTO uprising and shutdown. It was written by a well-meaning actor-director, but is unlikely to reflect the motives, experience, or thinking of the movements behind the shutdown of the WTO. The potential is high and the possibilities are infinite to interrupt this narrative and claim the history that we helped create.

It’s time that we in the social movements tell our own stories, reclaim our own histories, and publicly fight damaging myths of our movements past and present. We must intervene in the public understanding of what happened, what is happening, and what it all means. Stories are how we understand the world and thus shape the future—they are part of our fight against corporate power, empire, war, and social and environmental injustice and for the alternatives that will make a better world.

The real story of Seattle 1999 is of tens of thousands of people rising up, taking direct action, and changing history; standing up to corporations and governments and winning; joining with movements around the world in our common struggle against the WTO.