Catalan anger and British reporting

It’s interesting to read British broadsheets whilst in the midst of the Catalan-Spanish political crisis about next week’s referendum. In particular, it seems to me that The Guardian is reflecting from the perspective of the Spanish government.

Recording the sound in the street next to mine last night, 20 Sept, 10:15pm

Here in Barcelona, people were in the streets last night, either at the main protest or banging pots and pans on balconies (‘cacerolada’, or ‘saucepanning’), and shouting about freedom. All peaceful, but angry – walking home was quite moving and rather deafening. The outpouring of anger was triggered by the Spanish government’s ordering of its Guardia Civil (national police force that reminds many here of Franco-era repression) to arrest 12 Catalan officials and raid printing premises yesterday morning, resulting in the confiscation of the 10 million ballot papers.

This situation is the culmination of the past few months of planning for the Catalan referendum. The referendum itself is illegal under Spanish law, but the Catalans I have spoken to (whether or not they agree with its taking place) describe it as a last resort. The Spanish government under Rajoy has, they feel, not been interested in taking seriously their claim to independence, or their concerns about the ways that Spain capitalises on the income from Catalonia without reinvesting in it to an adequate degree.

Rajoy’s attitude is seen by many Catalans as the latest blot in a centuries-long series of campaigns by Spanish governments to repress Catalan language and culture and ‘homogenise’ Spain. Rajoy went on television last night to tell the Catalan separatists to stop their ‘fracturing’ and ‘radicalisation’ of their people, and that their activities were illegal. What stunned me – since it’s the first time I have really listened to one of his speeches – was that there was not much attempt to highlight common ground, to acknowledge the feelings beneath the actions, to suggest a way forward for a common future, taking everyone into account. There was just a ‘stop this, and we’ll talk’.

Reading the British newspapers, I’m struck by The Guardian’s focus on the Spanish government’s perspective. An article entitled ‘Is Madrid in danger of playing into Catalan separatist hands?’ says it all. To compare with other broadsheet article titles: The Guardian’s ‘Catalonia divided’ is The Telegraph’s ‘Anger in Barcelona’. The Guardian’s ‘Pro-independence protesters rally’ is The Independent’s ‘Tens of thousands hit Barcelona streets’. (The Times has a pay wall and it’s a Murdoch paper so it can take a walk.) All of these statements are broadly truthful, but with a very different emphasis and level of appreciation of the historical context.

For the moment, the protesting here is a masterclass in peaceful but noisy expression of extreme anger and hurt. It remains to be seen how the crisis will play out next week in advance of the referendum date, Sunday 1 October. Since websites etc. are forbidden to advertise the referendum, there are pages/communities you can sign up to that are entitled ‘1 October: That thing’, or similar. Protests are organised via WhatsApp groups of political activist organisations. All are appealing for activities to be peaceful.


Jaded by the Trump Chatter

I did not go to the women’s march nor feel inspired by it, and I have been trying to work out why. At first I thought it was because I’d been to a feminist protest the week before and needed a break – but there’s more to it.

I am jaded by the way Trump conversation is unfolding – even in the publications that normally offer us some perspective. I recently opened the London Book Review of January 18th and discovered that the first-page article is yet another outline of how misogynistic Trump is. It feels like the new paradigm is simply to keep reminding each other of how angry we are about it. Is it only now that we are angry? Only now, when we see this particular ignorant rich buffoon on our screens on a daily basis? The world was full of misogynistic people in power before Trump. Why didn’t all these people care about that beforehand?

If we reflected for a moment, we might discover that we have more in common with Trump voters than we think. In his article from January 17th, John Pilger reiterates his view that ‘identity politics’ are the scourge of our age. He believes that they are leveraged by transnational capitalism to obscure class, and end up demonising white working-class men who have nothing to turn to but neo-nationalism to make sense of their woes.

He somewhat undermines this argument by referring to Chelsea Manning as ‘he’, making it sound like his opinion is coming from a rather reactionary place. Still, I believe that Pilger has a point: working-class white men are also an oppressed group, and in the conversations about intersectional struggles, not many folks are speaking up for them any more. This is how Trump happened.

Pilger calls out today’s writers for not speaking out against the mechanisms of power. He lambasts journalists for not taking risks, not challenging the status quo, not stepping back and calling out the awkward truths. In particular, he accuses journalists of using identity politics to relieve themselves of the burden of speaking up for somebody, and failing to dig down into the things that are actually uncomfortable: namely, the effects of corporate transnationalism, and the gap between rich and poor in America. In other words, the inequality that the educated liberal ‘elites’ – and often the journalists themselves – benefit from.

The idea that ‘we’ are using identity politics to obscure the issues of class and inequality that we are a part of – that needs to be more widely heard. There is a certain comfort that ‘we’ are taking in reassuring each other that we think it is all quite terrible and shocking and that something must be done. It keeps the focus on Trump and his misogyny. It enables us to avoid asking ourselves awkward questions.

I didn’t go to that particular women’s march because I felt that its politics were ‘misorientated’; they focused too heavily on one (admittedly powerful) misogynist and thereby wilfully obscured part of the issue. I feel that this is a time for a unified approach to liberation. The ‘other’ disenfranchised, those who voted for Trump, would have seen it as a march against them. But what we need is for the disenfranchised to come together and recognise each other’s oppression. This is unlikely to happen because that requires each side to recognise that they are also an oppressor.


Enjoy yourselves! no not like that

The UK government has been busy legislating what we can and can’t see online, ignoring the seemingly important criterion of whether or not the content is harmful to anybody. What’s new?
1916, when the first list of criteria for film censorship was created:

T.P. O’Connor, BBFC President
“We need to keep the masses in check. Let’s censor anything that threatens the social order!” [My summary. For the fuller version, read this book.]
A century later (after two world wars, several failed attempts at building better societies via communism and fascism, countless revolutions across the world, the global civil rights movement and the digital democratisation of information):
Image result for karen bradley
Karen Bradley, Minister for Culture
[same conclusion]
If they paid any attention to research on this matter, they would discover that the activities they have just banned (such as videos depicting female ejaculation) form part of a kaleidoscope of adult activities which, in departing from social norms in online porn, are often empowering to women and other groups. They would also discover that the non-normative activities they have banned are linked to healthier psychological profiles.
Many folk will understandably be reticent to voice their opinions about this. It’s our culture of silence and shame that allows legislation like this to happen.
For interest, here are the reasons O’Connor and colleagues decided that a film could be banned in 1916:
1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
Image result for the cinema its present position and future possibilities
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
25. Executions
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. ‘First Night’ scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to ‘race suicide’
41. Confinements
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialisation of the conventional figure of Christ
Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities, National Council of Public Morals, 1917