How the charts were overthrown

“Things fall apart” mused WB Yeats, “the centre cannot hold”.

Simple words, yet potent. In times of instability, either personal or historical, they have unfailingly echoed through my mind. At the moment, they seem particularly voluble.

Instability marks our present time like a rash: one which refuses conventional antidotes, and which with every passing day appears yet more terminal to the major organs of our society.

The print and televised media, once so powerful it imposed the adjective ‘mainstream’ on itself, is dying. Neoliberalism, if not quite slain, appears to have been muted. Polling companies, the modern-day oracles to their twittospheric congregation, have been humbled. Things, need we be reminded, really do fall apart.

Stretch our neck beyond the self-indulgent political parapet, however, and we can see this phenomenon within wider culture. Since its inception in 1969 the Official Charts Company has compiled weekly lists of the highest selling singles and albums in the UK.

The charts, however, have come to symbolise more than just what sound is most pleasing to the population’s ears. They have been the rule-makers of idealism; the triangulators of normativity, providing a soundtrack to our mall-wandering existences.

This reputation has been endowed on the charts because, like polling companies, their mechanism for gauging what we think and feel is seemingly infallible.

The internet – with its infinite array of streaming sites and music-sharing platforms – jackhammered this illusion. And it was always illusory: a 90s nationwide investigation found Banghra –traditional Punjabi music – to be the most widely sold genre in the UK. As its sales were made predominantly through independent retailers, and in cassette form, the charts company failed register its popularity.

A similar negligence was commonly afforded to garage and grime artists, who mainly distributed their tunes through pirating platforms. The latter’s recent surge as a genre broadly coincides with alterations made to OCC methods for compiling sales data.

The apparent spontaneity of the charts, therefore, is heavily orchestrated. Artists who feature prominently in mainstream shopping outlets will be disproportionately favoured by compiling organisations.

Who decides which artists are on the front shelf? Major record companies, who can pay millions in marketing and sponsorship fees, ensuring that our ears keep ringing to the sounds of Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran et al.

A system of impenetrable dullness is thus manufactured, self-assured in its ability to reproduce itself ad infinitum. Yet the system has ignored Yeats’ observation: in the past few years, its solipsistic sanctuary has been rudely interrupted.

The first tremors came in 2009, when a Facebook campaign raging against the Cowell machine sent Killing in the Name Of, the anti-authoritarian anthem, to number one. Four years later, Margaret Thatcher’s death inspired Ding Dong the Witch is Dead to hit number two in the charts. Earlier this year, Captain Ska’s Liar Liar – a savage polemic against Theresa May that sent BBC HQ in to a censorphilic frenzy – reached number four.

Despite their popularity, these songs were typically written off as anomalous; the self-indulgent anti-authoritarianism which had no legitimate justification or majority support. The ‘Liar’ would be coronated, Cowell would continue writing our Christmas carols, Thatcher would remain a sentimental speck in every sensible layman’s eye.

The recent election decisively returned Socialism to the mainstream, both as a political demand, and as a critical lens of analysing social events, figures and phenomena. With hindsight, these tracks appear as symbols; as simmering precursors to a seismic change in mass culture.

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead is an illuminating example. It represented a belief that Thatcher was not only a bad politician; she was symbolic of an ideology – neoliberalism – which was so callous and toxic that her death could be celebrated. In the height of the coalition government, with an anti-austerity movement largely confined to the streets, it was permissible for pundits to write this belief off, and for regulators to censor it as insensitive.

ding dong the witch is dead
Today, as the consequences of deregulation and market-omnipotence become starkly evident around housing, defenders of ‘Thatcherism’ seem notably absent.

It is the context, rather than the content, which defined these songs. Songs with explicit content – misogynist, homophobic, even political – are, after all, ever present within the charts. The line which these particular songs crossed existed beyond glitzy anodyne bubble which pop listings wishes to reside. The implication of this is stark: the charts are not, as they claim, neutral free-markets. They have political parameters and these boundaries must be respected.

To dare to dissent; to break through boundaries that have been impermeably erected, is the ultimate aesthetic virtue. Such a movement demands attention; refuses to compromise; and with perseverance and tenacity it can lay to waste all who wish to silence it. Our era shows this to be the case, and be it in our music, our politics or our communities, these lessons should encourage us to do the same.

To breach an echo chamber and sing the unsayable is to dare to dissent. That these songs were built by grassroots movements determined to change a narrative of presumed impermeability is remarkable. That their adversaries – the X Factor (is it still going?), Thatcherism, Theresa May – are now confined to the bin of the past, is testament to their success. These songs now exist as stories which should inspire.

Pictures from: and and


The ‘Deceased of Living’: Zombies in Utopia

By Matthew Higgins

The utopian fantasy of today’s people in the West, is to live in a zombie apocalypse like those from the golden age of Hollywood remakes.

Here, they can riteously battle the undead with acquired arms and looted ammo, drive quad bikes through abandoned showrooms and squat atop famous monuments.

They can drain countless car batteries, gorge on left over snacks and ride the amusement parks without having to wait in line.

Everything is in a state of transience, a warm shower can be enjoyed without the cost of environmental concern, and the primal needs for exercise and hunting things violently are nicely intwined with the intellectual wants for civility and order – by hijacking large armoured vehicles and spraying double fisted uzi rounds into hordes of the undead.

Duty has become a fact of life freed from existential turmoil, and no one is for want of anything, not even walker’s crisps.

Sadly, these soft-headed delusions of zombie apocalypse reflect a grim contrast to the society which stands in place of them…

Following the months of the first zombie outbreak, the sensationalism in the media seemed hard to justify, given the lack of casualities involved, and the swift efficiency by which the military-industrial complex came to dispatch the threat within a matter of hours.

The same level of ineffective disorder might have transpired had a pride of giraffes escaped from a wildlife enclosure during rush hour.

But below the surface of crowds, could be sensed a lurking frustration;

A sinister disenchantment masquerading under the phony sentimental relief, for those who had kept relatively safe during the ‘disaster’

“Thank goodness so few people got hurt.”

“It’s a good job they weren’t fast running one’s like the one’s you see in them films.”

These were the sorts of things one might typically overhear whilst sweeping cigarette butts off club balconies under the nautical twilight of ongoing civilised despair…
Shaun of The Dead Simon Pegg store

‘Zommunism’ became a homely internet punching bag, for keyboard commentators to pour their derision and self-doubt into, to distinguish themselves from older generations who foolishly abided the false promise of Zombie utopia on their flat screen dopamine devices.

Others claimed the suspicion of a false flag.

The wahhabis had since weaponised zombies as recyclable fodder for their suicide bombing campaigns; launching a novel pretext upon which the Eurasian heartland could be raped of natural resources and plagued by civilian deaths.

There were comments about those who had been supplying the zombies, and accusations about who the true zombies were, to bully those who could not identify such obvious facts as –

“Nowhere in the Qu’aran does it provide any instructions on how to raise members of the unliving…”

And as conflicts reigned absurd across hotspots of geostrategic interest on the world map, things began to grow increasingly strange at home.

There was no denying that zombies were great for the economy, manipulated to perform tasks that were unlikely to meet the standards of the native unemployed.

But protests aiming to thwart the spread of the undead had been rejected by the courts, who insisted that ‘subhuman legislation’ should primarily protect the sovereign rights of private ownership.

The doctrinal thesis of the mainstream media held that, without zombified labour, the economy would simply tank. There would be too much competition from other industrialised nations harnessing the effects of a zombified workforce to maximise their GZP (gross zombie produce).

You can imagine the disappointment of this ‘strong and stable’ apocalypse.

The threat of pandemic loomed not from the savagery of overnight carnage, quietly longed for in the dreams of ordinary citizens; but due instead, to the bumbling inertia of beauracratic injustice.

What had happened to good ol’ fashioned ‘shooting zombies’ in the face and gorging on snickers in the hands of these lawyers and politicians?

Where was the comaradery to ease all this suffering and pain?

But there was none.

No one with an ounce of civilised belonging in their hearts would ever personally identify with these perverse suicidal longings, of tearing the economy to shreds and violently purging the undead with valiant sex appeal; not unless they were joking among friends, ironically – if insincerely – to flatter such inconceivable thoughts.

To be continued… here:

Photos by and<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-141″

Corbyn and the corporatocracy: John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man


Thomas Jefferson once claimed if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Today, the children of Jefferson’s beloved nation don’t seem to have taken the hint. A Newsweek survey found that three-quarters of Americans didn’t know why they had been involved in the Cold War. Around two-thirds of respondents to a National Geographic poll couldn’t find Saudi Arabia or Iraq on a map of the Middle-East, while a Washington Post survey in 2005 found 70% to believe that Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for 9/11.

In the midst of this amnesiac haze, 2004 saw a book reach the top of the New York Times bestseller list that threatened to teach the citizenry a thing or two. John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man would go on to sell more than a million copies; yet it contained unsettlingly weird chapter titles for the average American reader. ‘Panama’s President and Hero’; ‘The Saudi-Arabian Money Laundry Affair’; even the Bible-Belt antagonising ‘Jesus seen differently’, in which Christ appears to Perkins – not as a blonde and blue-eyed Californian – but as an Indonesian beggar.

Perkins’ personal story is, however, unambiguously riveting. He plays an ‘Economic Hit Man’, rebelling against a sanitised upbringing by entering the corrupt and conniving world of the ‘corporatocracy’. His official role as ‘Economic analyst’ belies his true role as an Empire builder, forcing nations around the world to take on prohibitive loans while paying American corporations for their infrastructural development programmes.

The narrative contains everything a good thriller requires: crime, intrigue and Jesus hallucinations, eventually ending in our protagonist’s cathartic renunciation of his evil ways. CEHM’s bad guys are really bad: corporate bosses, Saudi kings, Ronald Reagan; its heroes on the other hand – defiant populists like Omar Torrijos and Jaime Roldós, leaders of Panama and Ecuador respectively – are inspirational.

This, however, isn’t a novel. In what novel would the heroes die in secretive and mysterious plane crashes, and the villains keep on winning? Our tendency in the developed world is to regard the assassinations, corruption and corporate ownership of poorer nations as tragic yet detached political concerns. Stories like Perkins can almost feel fictional in this way; his dramatic writing style, though powerful, threatens to leave us with a sense of detachment to the events it recounts.

This ambivalence is all the more unsettling given the tragedy of it all. Take Perkin’s account of a mammoth Ecuadorian oil rig: 75% of its profits go directly to the (American) oil company, while of the rest, three quarters goes to paying off national debt, and ‘less than 3% goes to the people who need the money most, those whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and potable water’. It is impossible not to feel the injustice; but when it is happening so far away, we have a tendency to overlook.


Change, however, is in the air. Reflecting on the indigenous Ecuadorians affected by the oil rig, CEHM concludes that their desperate situation means ‘All of these people…are potential terrorists’. Last week, in the midst of the present electoral circus, the leader of the opposition dared to echo this view. His wording was cautious, measured, tentative; yet its symbolism cannot be underplayed.

Jeremy Corbyn is a pacifist, a socialist, and a lifelong critic of Western foreign policy and its vast network of corporate interests. Should he walk in to Number 10 on June 9th, his victory will legitimise a field of previously fringe views regarding global politics and the location of power.

This poses a serious threat to what CEHM calls the ‘corporatocracy’. Corbyn will be entering a political conflict with an international order ruthless in its disposal of regimes that oppose it. Perkins’ book tragically illuminates this, and if we are, as progressives, to regard his narrative as detached from own political moment, we risk falling prey to the very same mechanisms Perkins once was complicit in.

Over half of our stock market is foreign owned. Hinckley Point, the controversial nuclear facility under construction, is funded by China and France, while our Trident missile programme is, predominantly, American. With the help of modern Economic Hit Men, Britain is being colonised. As it is, the distance we feel from Perkins’ stories of Panama, Ecuador, Singapore and Iran should be drawing in.

Yet for most, it remains an invisible subject within political discussion. In his essay The Lion and the Unicorn, George Orwell claimed that most of the British public were unaware of the Empire their society was built on. Today, that ignorance lingers, both regarding the active role we take in ensuring the dominance of modern corporate Empires, and how that same system is expanding its control over our own domestic landscape.

Reading Perkins’ book today, with less than a week to go until the impossible dream of the British left may be realised, is humbling. Jeremy Corbyn may overcome the machinations of his own party; of the mainstream media; of the most entrenched political establishment in the world. It would be nothing short of a miraculous achievement should he do it. But Perkins’ book is a warning: far greater opponents will lie in store. The tragic stories of Omar Torrijos and Jaime Roldὀs are reminders, moreover, that their destructive capabilities must not be underestimated.

Americans may (mostly) be able to point to the UK on a map of Europe. But this will not exempt us from the consequences of disobedience. Were their closest ally to turn red, America will act, just as they have done throughout much of the world. After he was elected Labour leader, an anonymous General told the Times that a coup would ensue should he be elected Prime Minister. Suddenly, the events of Perkins’ book seem a little less distant…

Picture from:

Who is Ed Sheeran?

Who is Ed Sheeran? What is Ed Sheeran? Well. He’s a man. A small, ginger man with tattoos and wristbands and a worn out guitar. He’s also a man who’s headlining Glastonbury, and whose latest album, ÷, has taken up a position of embarrassing dominance in the UK charts.
÷ indulges in the crass aesthetic docility of commercial music with a vampiric lust. Put a couple more voices on it and you have a One Direction record. Give it a female chanteuse, and these could be the anodyne pop hits of Ariana Grande, Rita Ora et al.
Pop music, by which I mean music deliberately targeted towards mass consumption, is self-consciously conservative in this way.

The artistic content of figures like 1D and Sheeran remains so imbued with our conscious awareness and sympathies to the people, these icons, these ubermenschen, that it is rendered impossible to analyse their work for any pure, intrinsic value. Doing so misses the whole point of their popularity, and they (Sheeran and co.) know it.

Yet as identities constructed through popular culture go, Sheeran remains something of a perversity. He is credited with (at least co-) penning every song on ÷, which remains the depressingly low barometer from which pop authenticity is attributed. But he also represents a divergence from that culture’s scale of perfection in a sense which his new album, for all its generic production, identifies.

The album begins with Eraser, a first-person reflection on his journey from a ‘small town’ to the awards and recognition of today. He tells us in a slurred monologue that ‘when the world’s against me’s when I really come alive’; that he’s ‘caught in the trappings of an industry’.

If Sheeran represents the aspirational pinnacle of our culture, he remains convinced of his outcasted, insurgent status. The album’s ubiquitous reminiscences on parochial romances and alcohol-fuelled travailles enshrine this image. He is resolutely not some detached celebrity leading a hyper-idealised, exotic existence.

This is the nuance to Sheeran’s identity. It may not mark him as a totem for counter-cultural subversion, but it’s enough to get him on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night, a space unlikely (though not unimaginably) to be occupied by Harry Stles any time soon.
It is an identity which speaks to a world in which brazen opulence is starting to appear a little tactless, and where the Brexit/Trump effect is politically awakening millions of Millenials on both sides of the pond. Some are mobilising to the soundtrack of Beyonce and Kendrick, while others are clambouring after artists like Sheeran to anaesthetise the shock. ‘Life can get you down so I just numb the way it feels’, he sings on Save Myself, a sentiment which my own near-comatose state responded well to by the latter half of the album.

But is this auburn-headed crooner really able to wholly mitigate the tide of our political moment? On What do I know?, Sheeran’s Lennon-esque proclamation of music’s ability to ‘change this whole world with a piano’, the singer tells us how ‘everybody’s talking ‘bout exponential growth, and the stock market crashing and their portfolios while I’ll be sitting here with a song I wrote saying love can change the world in a moment, but what do I know?’ Sheeran is leading his sizeable band of supportive outsiders against ‘everybody’ still fixated with these abstract and incomprehensible signifiers of our world. He wants to put us on a little wooden boat, pick away on his rustic guitar and sing to us about his maladroitness until we snuggle up against his unkempt beard and fall in to a dream full of innocent Irish jigs.

Commercial culture’s capability to construct the models to whom we aspire is diverse. Sheeran is self-consciously antithetical to what we could call the mainstream of the mainstream. He is correspondent of the people, but nonetheless is conservative in his critique of the spectacle. If One Direction teach us how to conform, it is Sheeran’s task within popular culture to teach us how we should resist: in the most banal, generic and pacified way possible.


Pics from:÷_(album)

Utopia in tofu: Simon Amstell’s Carnage

It is hard to think of too many modern day counter-cultures as derided as Veganism. Characterised by those on the right as a temporary fad without appreciation for the Hobbesian realities of existence, and by those on the left as a white bourgeois cause celebre which disingenuously attempts to align itself with more pressing emancipatory movements, it remains almost universally taboo to raise its concerns in polite discourse.

This is what Simon Amstell does, and, moreover, on that paradigm of mainstream cultural conversation, the BBC. His mockumentary, Carnage, is in every sense a Swiftian satire. It incites laughter only to challenge more strikingly the ethical impulses of its audience, and it constructs an alternative reality only to castigate more savagely the horrors of our modern society.

For Carnage – and the word adopts a biting contextual double entendre – is visibly ubiquitous. Amstell’s film spells this out obliquely: that we are butchering, raping and maiming other living beings at an unprecedented level; but more than this, the devastating consequences of our carnivorous glutton are becoming more an more evident. Footage of chronic obesity, climate disasters and epidemics are intersected with the fetishised objectification of animal flesh and milk in popular culture.


The film’s acerbic juxtaposition of the two only reaffirms their interconnectivity.
From this abjection, however, Amstell diverges from much mainstream fiction in not evoking the pastiched genre of dystopianism. This is not a satire which follows the analysis of Black Mirror, or Margaret Atwood, or any of the infinite fictional pronouncements of our post-Trump demise. Amstell claimed that Carnage was originally conceived of as a manifesto, and behind the often eye-watering comedy, the film’s polemicism remains its piece de resistance.

The definition of this Utopian piece is all the more effective in its relative novelty. Utopianism was thought to be dead at the feet of post-modernism, which sought to deconstruct all grand narratives of modernity’s distinctiveness. That dystopia arises from a similar sensibility has been ignored, for it remains a fictional space within which our masochistic reactions to societal inadequacies can absolve us of guilt.

We may as a species be destroying ourselves, but at least the Dystopian writers can mark themselves out as prophets, as those who saw the apocalypse on the horizon.
But this form of tragedy belies the truism it inversely affirms: that just as we can envision apocalyptic destruction through our present material situation, so too can we envision harmony.

Amstell’s imagination of the future is replete with images of communal amity, from the polyamorous youngsters frolicking in a field, to the more hard-hitting community group trying to deal with the grief of their former actions. What we see lies antithetical not only to our present culinary practices, but to the personal relations of modern neoliberal society, which continues to strip away such community spaces, and promote instead a hyper-consumptive individualist identity.

This provides the context for this modern re-emergence of the Utopian genre. The economic conditions which drive modern Capitalism are undergoing a historically unprecedented transition. The potential of 3-D printing, bio-engineered food and automised labour is the potential for an end to poverty, resource exploitation and the subjugation and oppression which it causes.

In Carnage, this new context of modernity is visualised sardonically, in the VR headsets and nut cheeses of Amstell’s utopia. The expansion of these new methods of production do not just extend to our cultural luxuries. The care, agricultural, service, medical, and construction sectors are all on the cusp of revolutionary transformations. With it, the need for arduous human labour is relinquished. It is a context of astounding possibility: so astounding, that it may even eradicate the oppressive nature of human’s historic relationship with other living beings.

Carnage is a comedy in the truest sense of the term. It is a conflict which carries within it the potential for resolution, not just of its imagined world, but of our reality too. What is reflected in its fiction is an ideological movement too significant and sizeable to not now also be considered a reality. Something is growing here, and as the film articulates, it cannot be confined by the terminology of veganism. But it has the potential to free us all.

Featured picture:
Other images are stills taken from Carnage (2017)

What if… Pokèmon Go had taken over the world?

There were wires visible beneath the sign, sporadically shooting sparks through the air which melted in to emptiness. Above them, only the R and both As remained of what had once been this Pret a Manger store’s luminescent nomenclature, now a symbolic vestige from society’s carcass.

It hadn’t been the first to go.

First had been Starbucks. Suzanne thought bitterly of that day the coffee chain had decided to coincide the appearance of a Rhyhorn with the release of its new white chocolate Frappuccino in all London branches. What had occurred was carnage. Stores were destroyed, staff had been assaulted and white chocolate Frappuccinos, rather than establishing themselves as a new symbol of decadence for the caffeine-fuelled metropolitan bourgeoisie, were hurled with nihilistic abandon from trainer to trainer. 4 people had died, Starbucks made losses of over £200 million, and 134 Rhyhorns moved from augmented wilderness to virtual ball.

That was just the beginning. Rare Pokémon suddenly began appearing in public places with brazen spontaneity. The police had issued public orderings; the government had demanded an end to the mayhem, while spiritual leaders from all faiths urged followers not to give in to these false idols. But nothing could stop the mob.

Suzanne remembered the day her branch of Sainsbury’s, where she’d been working for 2 years, met its end. It had been an ironically bright October morning: 2016 if she recalled correctly, not that such trivialities as dates mattered much now. Her colleague, Oscar, was back from a weekend away in Magaluf, and had returned with a tattoo of a big cock down his right thigh. They had laughed. Perhaps that had been the last time she had experienced laughter? It was hard to tell. Their conviviality had been disrupted by the blonde trainee Annie, usually so bubbly, standing then white as a sheet, phone in hand.

“Annie, what is it?” But still she stood, mute.

“Come on love, looks like you’ve seen a ghost” chuckled Oscar, but the atmosphere had turned cold. Everyone in the store now waited for Annie to respond.

She raised her arm slowly, waveringly, and pointed towards the vegetable isle.

“Th-th-there” She stammered, almost inaudibly.


Now she was crying. Her lip vibrated with a palpable fear. She was only 19, the poor girl. No age to go.

Before she could get it out, before any of them could rush over to check her phone, the distant roar erupted. Within minutes, there would be dozens of people, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, armed with various weapons and smartphones. And they had no interest in organic yoghurts, or hydrated fennel, or discounted capri-sun. Suzanne’s final, lasting image had been that of Bruce, the 61-year old Carribean security guard, with one single tear running down an expression of complete helplessness. He had just become a grandfather.

But that was the past. That was in civilisation. That was when the biggest issue on our minds was Britain leaving Europe. Now there was no Britain. There was no Europe, for all Suzanne knew, although how far the Pokémon-go virus had spread was impossible to deduce now the last radio signals had gone. Through her long-vision poke-goggles, she took in her surroundings: embers of fires still burnt in the streets, and in dark corners, apparitions of Ekans’, Rattatas and Zubats whistled gleeful squeals.

She perched under what had been the Pret counter, but she wasn’t interested in selling lemon cheesecake tubs to the Instagram-addled mothers of yesteryear. She could see others taking up positions within the charred frames of nearby shops. Two men dressed in what looked like 19th century striped pyjamas and old army helmets peered out from the balcony at Pizza Express. Within the disembowelled sediments of an Abercrombie and Fitch store, some Pokémon trainers feasted over the rotten corpse of a fox. It would be good to taste meat again, Suzanne thought.

And then it appeared. At first it barely caught Suzanne’s attention: merely a spotted Pokémon in the area making its way towards them. But then the fluorescent dot from her Pokegoggles grew larger. Others were aware now too: the fox flesh went untouched; someone opened up a parasol frame in Pizza Express, as if to say: ‘I am prepared for anything’.

It floated around the corner, past Sainsbury’s Local, with an ethereal elegance. Light shimmered from all aspects of its being, as if within it lay the truth of life’s eternity. Its movements were deliberate, yet majestically unrushed, and on its face a look of what can only be described as absolute empathy and humility was crafted in to features of preternatural perfection. Suzanne gasped: had anything of such beauty ever walked this undeserving earth?

It was a Mew. Maybe the Mew. She had thought it a myth, a far-flung fancy of the cult-minded cheats and scoundrels hoping to lure in the young. But here, in front of her, Suzanne could not deny existence; in some ways, she felt maybe this divine apparition transcended human existence, and belonged among the stars and gods above.

She crumbled to the floor, her face flooded with a mixture of deferential tears and blubbering snot juices. Her dignity, her pride: what were these trivial matters, now she had glimpsed heaven’s infinite prize? Others fell likewise in awe-inspired genuflection, casting aside gnawed fox legs and old Ugg shoe boxes, the false idols of an older, weaker age. Above them all, Mew surveyed the spectacle calmly, like Alexander on the banks of the Ganges, and was pleased.

The R fell from the Pret a Manger display.Pw0Xz9

Pic from

My Beautiful Launderette and White Resistance to Globalisation

Stephen Frears’ 1985 movie My Beautiful Launderette is a wonderful piece of political cinema. The narrative centres on Omar, a young Pakistani living in South London, who runs a launderette with his secret lover, Johnny, a white fascist played by a young Daniel Day-Lewis.

The launderette is presented to the viewer as a microcosm of Thatcherism, with more nuance the further you look. Ambitious Omar begins the film on the dole, but, when placed in charge of a family business, achieves success through hard work and aspiration. This success, however, is also achieved through several questionable acts he commits with Day-Lewis’ character: selling drugs, robbing houses and manipulating family members. And then there’s the question of race. Omar’s English minority status tunes nicely with the neoliberal ideal expressed by his uncle, Nasser: that there’s ‘no such thing as race in the new enterprise society’. The beating which Johnny, Omar and his Uncle Salim face at the hands of white nationalists suggests otherwise. The racial power structure of England, though diminishing in a post-Imperial context, which remains a powerful reality for those defined outside white national boundaries. Thatcher’s British Nationality Act enshrined these boundaries, and the Falklands War symbolised to those within them that she would defend them by any means possible.

How things change.

Donald Trump has effectively mobilised this sentiment to steer himself in to the Oval Office, while on this side of the pond, Nigel Farage promises to lead a 100 000 strong march in defence of a populism of a distinctly insular identity. Amid the apocalyptic prophecies and general malaise, it can be easy to avoid macro-analysis of how a previously disenfranchised constituent of predominantly white old men came to hold such sway. But data on income growth across the global economy has foreshadowed recent events. It shows that for the bottom 10% of global earners, little has improved since the late 80s (it should be taken in to account that this data only reaches 2008: the proceeding years since the financial collapse have greatly increased these discrepancies). For those between 10% and 75%, growth in that time has been solid; yet above 75% there is a huge drop which doesn’t increase until around percentile 90, before extending near-vertically when reaching 99.

That range – between 75 and 90% – holds within it the vast majority living in first world Western countries. While their incomes have been stagnating and in decline, they are seeing those with greater wealth surge, while traditional industrial and manufacturing jobs are swallowed by the developing world. Moreover, to the white working- and lower-middle classes in Europe and North America, that moneyed elite is becoming increasingly heterogeneous, be it along lines of gender, race or sexuality. These changes pose a threat to a nationalism still influenced by Imperialist and conservative-Christian formulations of normative identity. This is the group mobilised not just by Brexit and Trump, but throughout former colonial powers in the west, from Denmark to Hungary. It is a group which feels both material alienation and loss of identity, and as Johnny is warned by his fascist friend, ‘everyone has to belong’.

At the climax of Frears’ film, one of the fascists takes a metal bin to Omar’s launderette window and hurls it in. They had previously found employment there, yet they felt no connection to their work environment – and were actively repulsed by working for a Pakistani who, as one of them articulates, ‘came over here to work for us’. Could there be a greater symbol than this of recent political events? In the voting booth, many on both sides of the Atlantic have chosen to pick up their own metaphorical missiles and throw it in the direction of an economic system which has failed them, and a liberal identification of power which no longer looks like them.

Throughout the film, the fascists are positioned on the liminal cusp of the action by cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, particularly in the foreboding scene before their attack, where they stand, armed and waiting, around the launderette. This is liberalism’s hubris: to have assumed that xenophobic nationalism would forever remain on the fringe. That it has remained – indeed increased – in conditions of economic stagnation, is neither surprising nor particularly new. The answer is not to renounce democracy and populism as some are suggesting. Nor is it to pander to articulations of xenophobia in attempts to reconnect. Those losing out in the global rat race must share the prosperity of their society. If they aren’t, the next reaction may be more shattering still.

First published on Dec 2016