Posts Tagged ‘Situationism’

Joshua Bonehill: Hollywood Nazi Troll?

April 30, 2015

I found this interesting little statement by the comedy fuehrer, Joshua Bonehill, on the entry for him on the Rationalwiki site through the link to it on the SlatUKIP page. I’ve posted a number of pieces on Bonehill commenting on his ludicrous attempts to set himself up as some kind of Far Right generalissimo. He is notorious for hacking into other people’s blogs and twitter accounts in order to malign or threaten them. One of his favourite tactics is to claim falsely that they are paedophiles, a particularly vile and dangerous smear. He was also found guilty of making false claims against pub, whose staff were threatened following another of his lies. He claimed that they wouldn’t serve British servicemen in order not to upset Muslims.

Bonehill as Britain’s prospective Fascist dictator, Bonehill posts racist and anti-Semitic material on his blog. He was appealing for people to join his neo-Nazi organisation as members of an elite bodyguard for him, now styling himself the Founder. He was one of the leading names behind a Far Right march against the ‘jewification’ of Stamford Hill, a predominantly Jewish community in London.

The National British Resistance

A few weeks ago he also got in his local paper for launching his latest Fascist party, National British Resistance, in one of the parks in Yeovil. Despite claiming later on his blog that his party’s founding was attended in secret by fifty Fascists, some of whom had flown in from Northern Ireland, the only member of his massive Fascist legion to appear was, er, him.

He pretty much resembles Spode and his Blackshorts , P.G. Wodehouse’s spoof of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in Jeeves and Wooster, though ‘Founder’ Bonehill’s antics include stunts that Spode would definitely consider well below acceptable behaviour. Like being thrown out of Tesco for trying to defecate in their frozen food section, or prosecution for trying to break into a police station to steal uniforms and equipment.

Bonehill and Trolling

According to a statement by Bonehill himself, preserved on the Rationalwiki, all this Fascist posturing may be just that: a pose. Bonehill has said that this is an attempt to create a false persona in order to troll the Far Right and anti-Fascists alike, based on David Bowie’s adoption of the Ziggy Stardust persona in the 1970s. The full statements says

“It was after listening to David Bowie’s iconic album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” on repeat for the best part of a day, I realised that I too could potentially create a “Persona” and play a character but instead of basing my character in the musical world, I’d place him in the political world – Leader Bonehill, the Founder was born.

Firstly I created my fictional and satire news website – this was the Daily Bale – and set about generating headlines which quickly went viral throughout 2013. I was responsible for creating myths such as the campaign to ban black pudding and various other oddities that were quickly picked up upon right-wing groups such as the EDL and Britain First to which went viral.

Very quickly I found myself at the head of a large news network and found that I had the power to make many hundreds of thousands of people believe utterly insane and crazy things under the guise of Daily Bale News. To this day, people still share Daily Bale articles and I believe it will withstand the test of time.

[…]

After the Daily Bale I took upon elevating my persona the Leader and Founder to another level which became the “National British Resistance”. The NBR was a Far-Right Nationalist movement led by the fierce and no-nonsense dictator, Leader Bonehill.

Through the NBR I made many outlandish claims for instance one of them was that I could “heal” the Left-Wing through a rebirth process and I also claimed to be a “Right-Wing messiah”. I stood in astonishment as people were eating this bait and taking me VERY seriously to the point where I became the obsession of many social media users.

It wasn’t until the press and media caught onto my activity and started reporting on me as a real person that the ego started to be transferred into the real world. I was invited to speak at meetings and felt almost forced to display this persona in public and this I couldn’t keep on doing because it fundamentally went against everything I believe in as a person.

Yes – I make no bones about it, for the past 16 months I have been trolling relentlessly at the expense of both the Left and the Right – it has been through this trolling that I am now appearing back in court over Daily Bale articles but this was a price I was prepared to pay and knew that my actions would of course have very real world consequences.

Leader Bonehill came alive and consumed me at times, the ego almost controlled me and took upon a very powerful and possessive role in my normal everyday life. I found myself almost believing that I was a “Right-Wing messiah” and had been sent from another planet to free the people and bring about a new great nationalist age – though this of course in reality was absolute bollocks and would never happen.

[…]

Everything I have said and done, right from posing for photographs or the videos I have made are the result of this “Persona”. These do not represent my real views and can instead be seen as a comical ‘act'”.

According to the RationalWiki site, Bonehill has since taken this down, but it’s been archived elsewhere. The piece can be read at http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Joshua_Bonehill-Paine.

From this, it would seem that Founder Bonehill is a ‘Hollywood Nazi’, the term the Far Right give to those play acting at being Fascists, but who aren’t the real Nazi thing. And there have been any number of them.

The grotesque theatricality of Fascism, with its bonkers leaders spouting their vitriolic nonsense to crowds at from government palaces and the Nuremberg stadium, the whole weird, twisted spectacle of marches, rallies and parades, and the sinister fascination with its regalia – the uniforms, flags, badges, propaganda posters – has attracted a number of characters over the years, who have adopted it not from any sympathy with Fascism, but from a simple desire to shock and upset. To epater les bourgeois.

Hippies and Punk Fascist Styles

In the 1960s there was a Hippy Nazi party in Florida, which probably had no purpose other than to wind up the straights. One section of the Punks in the 1970s deliberately courted controversy by dressing up in Nazi uniform as part of their general assault on staid, conventional society. Sid Vicious apparently wandered around a Jewish area of Paris in Nazi uniform, but surprisingly wasn’t beaten up.

David Bowie

Bonehill claims he was inspired by Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. In fact, the Thin White Duke did was at the centre of controversy in the 1970s because of his apparent Nazi inclinations. He was arrested by West Berlin’s finest for getting drunk and making the Fascist salute outside the remains of Hitler’s bunker on the anniversary of the Fuehrer’s birthday. Or death – I can’t remember which.

Bowie also directly prompted the formation of Rock Against Racism, after he announced on British television that in the elections that year there was only ‘one choice’ to run the country, and so was offering himself as the Fascist candidate.

Bowie obviously isn’t, and never was, a true Fascist of any kind. For all the homosexuality amongst certain sections of the Nazi party, the Nazis themselves hated gay men and sent them to the concentration camps. They also had very strict and traditional ideas on gender roles. A woman’s place was ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – children, kitchen, church. As for masculinity, this was belligerent and aggressive. One Italian Fascist slogan proclaimed ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman’. Bowie’s bisexual, androgynous persona in Ziggy Stardust would have been bitterly hated and denounced by the Nazis, just as it was by more traditional, staid members of the older generation.

And there are two other reasons why the Nazis also wouldn’t have adopted Bowie. Pop music has its roots in the mixture of White American country music, and Black barrelhouse jazz. The Nazis, as racists, hated Jazz because of its origins in Black culture, and what they saw as its permissiveness and sexual decadence. Quite apart from the fact that Bowie wasn’t racist, as shown by his later marriage to Iman, a woman whose name is the Arabic for ‘Faith’.

The impression I had was that Bowie in the 1970s was less a Fascist, than a very confused mam, driven nearly to the edge of sanity by the adulation of his fans.

Laibach and the NSK

Then there’s NSK and the Industrial rock band, Laibach. They were from the former Yugoslavia, and were part of a wider art collective, Neue Slowenische Kunst, or ‘New Slovenian Art’ in English. Way back in the 1980s they produced a very Wagnerian cover version of ‘Live is Life’, by the Austrian pop band, Opus. The video was shot very much in the style of the kind of Nazi propaganda films celebrating the countryside, hiking and healthy peasant values. The whole album, Opus Dei, could be seen as an exercise in the kind of music that would have been produced, had the Nazis decided to cover the Beatles, Rod Stewart and Queen.

According to one, very scurrilous and entirely unreliable website, the group deliberately set out to portray themselves as genuine neo-Nazis, dressing in Nazi uniforms. They did so, not because they really were members of the hordes of European stormtroopers, but simply to frighten and annoy the Yugoslav government. The band themselves were anti-Nazi, some of the images they used in their art was designed by anti-Nazi artists. Matters finally came to head when the band spectacularly announced that they were ending the whole charade at a concert. They apparently declared ‘We are as much Fascists as Hitler was an artist’. The Aryan warriors of the Far Right immediately went into meltdown. I’ve heard tales of British Nazis angrily destroying their records when they heard about how they’d been deceived.

When the civil war erupted in the former Yugoslavia, and real Fascism raised its ugly head in the chaos of violence, terror and brutal ethnic cleansing, NSK fled to western Europe. They’ve still continued to make music. One of their most recent projects was on the score for the Finnish SF film, The Iron Sky. This was about a war between an America led by a female president, not too far removed from Sarah Palin, and a Nazi colony on the Moon founded after the fall of the Third Reich.

Laibach’s imagery and artistic style draws partly on Wagnerian opera and the imagery and non-racial motifs of the Third Reich, but this is very much artistic pastiche. Their album Opus Dei can be seen as a comment on the Fascist cult of the leader, and the Second World War as trans-European international conflict, but there’s no racist or anti-Semitic content in the music or covered songs themselves.

The Imperial league of British Fascists

At a much lower level, there also have been a number of small groups here in Britain that have attempted to pose as Nazis in order to cause panic and outrage. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, the sceptical Ufolks at Magonia reported the furore surrounding the appearance of another bunch of neo-Nazis in the greater London area. This group styled themselves the Imperial League of British Fascists, and were photographed in the local press in Nazi regalia. Further investigation, however, revealed that there was no such Imperial League, and the assembled stormtroopers were merely the supposed informant, who revealed the story to the press, and his mates having a tasteless laugh.

The Fake Nazis of German TV News

Something similar happened in Germany at about the same time. The Fortean Times reported a case, where a group neo-Nazis supposedly filmed in secret goose-stepping about and generally lowering the standards of the Bundesrepublik, were also found to be the film-maker’s own mates in fancy dress. The film-maker had started a scam in which he produced bogus footage of fringe groups performing weird rituals, and then sent them in to the local news programmes on German television as supposedly real events. For which he was paid. He started with the KKK, then moved to the Odinists and Germanic Neo-Pagans before finally being caught with the Nazis. A particularly eagle-eyed viewer noticed that some of the stormtroopers were the same people as the Klansmen and pagans in his other films.

It’s a funny incident, but underneath the comedy is the sobering, horrific reality of the Third Reich and its murder of tens of millions purely because of their race and political beliefs. Contemporary Germany is still coming to terms with the Hitlerdiktatur and its horrors, which means that stunts like this go beyond a joke.

Bonehill – Not Artist, Just Bully

So, if Bonehill is only posing as Nazi as part of some twisted idea of trolling the public and the Far Right, then he’s not the first by any means. Others have done it long before, and no doubt there’ll be similar idiots doing the same in the future as long as the Nazis and their shock value retain some kind of perceived comedic potential.

Possibly the best thing that can be said of many of these individuals, like the German Nazis in the spoof footage, and the Imperial League of British Fascists, is that they stopped when they were finally caught out. Laibach, by far the best of them, knew when to pack it all in and just carry on as rock musicians. Although their music was partly a pastiche of Nazi forms, they had a following, which recognised this as an artistic statement, rather than a genuine political stance , which allowed them to go on long after they had given up the joke.

Bonehill, by contrast, seems to be just a genuinely malign and unpleasant character, who seems to get some kind of perverse pleasure through being personally insulting and persecuting his victims. He is responsible, after all, for posting grotesquely libellous smears against others, including manufacturing a fake image of a Labour election poster for a particularly controversial Black female politico, claiming that she hates Whites.

There’s no artistic value in these antics. Bonehill doesn’t have the musical talents of Bowie, Sid Vicious, Siouxie Sioux or Laibach, and, unlike some of the provocations of the extreme Left, he can’t and doesn’t justify these as Situationist happenings, as Malcolm McLaren did with the excesses of the Punks. It just seems to be personal abuse and victimisation, simply from a bizarre, malicious delight in tormenting others. It’s bullying, pure and simple, no better than the weird personal abuse meted out online by other, normal trolls, who at least don’t try to justify their actions through appeals to David Bowie’s stage antics four decades ago.

This is, of course, assuming that Bonehill is a ‘Hollywood Nazi’. He may well be, but if he is, it appears that there’s also something inside him that enjoys the feelings of malign power he gets by posing as a wannabe dictator.
Whatever the reality is, he’s unpleasant, and it’s long past time the trolling and vilification stopped.

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Adam Curtis and Brooker’s 2014 Wipe: Putin and the Postmodern Politics of Control through Confusion

January 26, 2015

Charley Brooker

Charley Brooker: Master of the Baleful Gaze of Criticism

‘Confuse your enemy and you confuse yourself!’

-General ‘Mad Bloody Butcher’ Cheeseman, The Fall of the Mausoleum Club, (Radio 4, 1985).

I found Charley Brooker’s review of last year, Newswipe 2014, over on Youtube. Assisted by Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over last years’ events, and inveighs against the horrors and stupidity therein, both of themselves and in the media, that reported them. Brooker’s comments are masterpieces of highly inventive scorn and outrage. Cunk and Shitpeas, for their parts, are highly intelligent people, who satirise the news by posing as complete morons for whom even a relatively straightforward film like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ is beyond their comprehension.

Brookers’ angry nihilism, in which he sees recent events and the latest offerings of the world’s celebrity-obsessed media as proof that we live in an absurd, pointless universe, wherein human civilisation is a bad joke about to collapse, and Cunk and Shitpeas’ faux naïve and inane comments are amusing enough. What lifts the show into another dimension entirely is a short film by Adam Curtis, on the way politicians are using the feelings of helplessness created by the terrible events replayed across our TV screens as an instrument of control.

Curtis is the director of the superb documentaries The Living Dead, The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, and How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. These explored how politicians used and abused theories of history, psychology, game theory and simplified models of human behaviour based on computer models, to boost their own power, while depriving the people they claim to represent of the power to change their destinies and better their lives. In this film, he explores how politicians, both those in Putin’s Russia and in Britain, have created an absurd, meaningless view of contemporary events in order to maintain their power by keeping their peoples deliberately confused and off-balance.

Tserkov, and the Politics of Spectacle and Subversion

This tactic was invented in Russia by Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Tserkov, who has spent 15 years aiding Russia’s elected tsar. Tserkov was an avant-garde artist, and important elements from Conceptual art into Russian politics. The Soviet Regime has staged and promoted a series of gatherings and spectacles as part of its campaign to mobilise Russian support. But he has also gone further, giving funding to groups directly opposed to his master and each other, from Neo-Nazi stormtroopers to Human Rights activists. He has also deliberately let everyone know he has done this. This has produced a radical destabilisation of the opposition, as it is no longer clear what is authentic and genuine, and what is carefully staged propaganda. The result is an enervating feeling of defeat.

Tserkov has even found a way to profit from the terrible civil war now raging in Ukraine. Last year he published a short story about how politicians could practise what he called ‘non-linear warfare’. In this, the gaol is not to win the war, but to use it to spread further confusion. The aim is to create a situation in which no-one really knows who the enemy is, or why they are fighting.

Cameron’s Absurd Government and the Politics of Despair

Curtis goes further, and argues that a similar condition is present in this country. Although not deliberate, the confusion created by politicians’ contradictory policies and actions has had the same result. He identifies Cameron as the British counterpart of Tserkov’s shape-shifting, non-linear politician, and gives the following examples of his government’s contradictions and confusion:

* Aging deejays are prosecuted for their historic crimes, but not the bankers, whose actions have created the current global economic mess.

* We are told that President Assad is evil. However, his Islamist enemies are worse, so we end up bombing them, thus helping Assad.

* George Osborne says that the economy is booming, but wages are going down.

* Gidiot says that they are cutting the national debt, but the deficit has actually increased.

*The government is pursuing a policy of austerity, taking money out of the economy. They are, however, putting it back in through ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing is the massive subsidy and bail-outs the taxpayer is giving the banks. It amounts to £24,000
per family. This has not gone to the poor, but to the richest five per cent. It is the biggest transfer of wealth, and could be a real scandal, but nobody knows anything.

Because there is no effective counter-narrative offered to the above policies, the public similarly feels defeated, disempower. The response is ‘Oh dear’.

But, says Curtis, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Baudrillard

Tserkov’s Co-Option of the Society of the Spectacle

From here, it looks like Tserkov took hold of the Society of the Spectacle, and adopted it as a deliberate policy. The Society of the Spectacle was a theory developed in the 1960s by Baudrillard, the French postmodern philosopher. Baudrillard believed that capitalism survived ideological attack, by taking over its opponents weapons and then re-presenting them as spectacles. The forms had been preserved, but their ideological power had been drained and discarded. Way back in the ’90s, one of the small press magazines devoted to the weird and bizarre gave the Glastonbury Festival as an example. When it started, it was very definitely a fringe, countercultural event. It’s very existence was a challenge to mainstream culture. Now it is very much a part of that same mainstream culture. Instead of seeing the bands for free, you are now charged tens, sometimes hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

The former Soviet Union, like all totalitarian regimes, had a deliberate policy of staging fake demonstrations and events in support of the regime. There’s an old story from a very public school teacher, who organised a trip for her girls to the former USSR. One of the planned outings for the day was disrupted by a noisy Soviet peace demonstration. The headmistress duly complained to the authorities, who reassured her, ‘Do not worry, ma’am. This spontaneous display of the people’s anger will end at 2.00 pm precisely’.

Subverting Situationism

Where Tserkov differs is that he has gone beyond this, using the ideas of Situationism and turning them back on themselves. The Situationists were hippy anarchists, who organised a series of spectacles to subvert mainstream, ‘straight’ society. Malcolm McLaren, the founder of the Sex Pistols, claimed to have been a Situationist, but this was just a bit of self-aggrandising hype on his part. The tactic hasn’t gone away with punk and the hippies. It’s still used by contemporary anarchists to use comedy, humour and spectacle to satirise and subvert capitalism and its organs of oppression and control. Tserkov has learned from this, and turned it against the opposition, using the very methods of liberation from capitalism and the state as weapons for their preservation and extension.

Non-Linear War, Vietnam, ‘ Nomad’ and ‘Deathlok the Demolisher’

As for Tserkov’s theories of non-linear war, you can trace these back to the feelings of disempowerment and confusion in 1970s in America created by Vietnam and Watergate. The Vietnam War presented ordinary, patriotic and freedom-loving Americans with terrible reports of their country’s atrocities against another people, all in the name of freedom. Despite the unequal status between the two countries, the war dragged on for decades, and the American public saw the friends and relatives killed, and many of those that returned home stricken with terrible physical and psychological injuries. This result was a feeling of anomie and despair. The nation’s self-confidence took a further blow with Watergate, when even the supreme leadership were shown to be corrupt.

Captain America Forswears his Country

That feeling of alienation and national disenchantment found expression in the comic strips of the day. American comics began to explore political issues, including racism, feminism and the abuse of the media to aid in crime and foment hate. It was perhaps expressed most forcefully by the actions of that most patriotic superhero, Captain America. The Captain is a symbol of everything good and noble in American society. In the strip, he had been created as a super-soldier to fight the forces of evil in the shape of the Third Reich, a storyline followed in the recent film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Faced with his country’s corruption, the Captain changed his name and costume to become ‘Nomad’, a superhero without a country.

Deathlok

Deathlok: Robocop against an Anonymous Enemy

Post-Vietnam disillusionment and confusion found further expression in another Marvel strip, Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok was a cyborg created from the mechanical reanimation of an American army officer. The strip was set in a future America devastated by a terrible war, in which whole cities have been abandoned. To fight the war, the government has taken to creating cyborg soldiers, vicious killing machines like Deathlok, which are engineered to enjoy killing and maiming. A battle with a rival cyborg destroys the mechanisms controlling Deathlok, allowing the human side to reassert itself, and the man inside to go on a quest to recover his humanity. In flavour, the strip very much resembled Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, with its cyborg hero, robotic killing machines and a city devastated by crime and political neglect. Unlike Robocop, which came out later, the strip made it deliberately unclear what the point of the War was, or even who soldiers like Deathlok had been created to fight. The suggestion was that it had all somehow been staged by the government, to divide, terrorise and rule.

There are no cyborgs slugging it out on the streets of Moscow or Kiev, but the depiction of ‘non-linear war’ looks exactly like the shattered America in Deathlok.

Tory Lies Drawing

Shifty Cameron, Austerity and the Enrichment of the already Wealthy

As for Cameron, he is indeed a protean, shape-shifting politicians, adopting guises only to abandon them when he got into power. Remember when he said that ‘this would be the greenest government ever?’ It didn’t take long for that to go once he got his foot through the front door of No. 10, along with his promises about the health service and the abandonment of the market economy so proclaimed by his mentor, Philip Blond, in his book, Red Tory.

The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich is not confusing by any means. It’s been a feature of American politics for decades, where the government has pursued a policy of austerity for the poor, and subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It’s only confusing because the extremes of poverty and wealth created by the banking crisis has thrown into very acute relief.

Assad, Islamism and the Paradoxes of the Modern Middle East

As for Assad, this is the product of Western politicians genuinely not understanding the politics of the Middle East. They pursued idealistic goals that ran in direct contradiction to the perceived good of the nations to which they were applied. Assad and his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dictators, who held power through terror and brutality. Western governments see themselves as defenders of democracy and freedom, and so felt bound to support the popular revolts that broke out in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet however undemocratic these regimes were, they were also secular, Westernising regimes that ostensibly promoted liberal policies of religious tolerance and personal freedom and relative gender equality to an extent which the Islamic and Islamist regimes that sought to replace them did not. The result has been the volte-face from seeking to oust Assad, to trying to combat his enemies in order to preserve his secular, Ba’ath regime.

Time to Reject Failed Neo-Liberalism

All of this has had a disempowering effect, because the parties have moved so close together, that there is little apparent difference between them. They are still attempting to apply discredited economic and foreign policies, while hiding their failures.

It’s long past the time when this situation changed, and politicians began thinking out of the Neo-Liberal box.

Charles Dickens on the Brutality and Rapacity of the Tories

September 29, 2013

Charles_Dickens_1858

Charles Dickens is one of the great titans of modern English literature. His works have been prized, celebrated and imitated since the publication of The Pickwick Papers . The book’s appearance prompted a horde of copies lower down the press hierarchy in the penny journals. The copyright laws were much less rigorous then, and so these, lesser novels all had titles similar, but not identical to those of Dickens himself. His book, Sketches by Boz, was taken and copied by one of the 19th century popular journalists, as ‘Sketchbook by’, followed by a name very similar to Dickens’ ‘Boz’. His books have been adapted into stage plays, films and musicals, most famously A Christmas Carol, which has twice been filmed as a cartoon, and Oliver Twist, which became Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! His novels have also been frequently adapted for television. In the 1970s, for example, many of the Beeb’s period costume dramas broadcast on Sunday evening were adaptations of Dickens. I particularly remember Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield.

Despite his deserved popularity and immense respect, I suspect Dickens’ status as one of the Great Men of English Literature has probably done much to put people off him. People have a tendency to distrust automatically anything that becomes official, established art. One way to guarantee that people refuse to read a particular willingly is to put it on the school syllabus. Moreover, modern audiences are also likely to be left alienated by some of the characteristics of much 19th century writing, such as verbosity and their sentimentality. Boys in particular are likely to be put off him because of his novels’ period character, which associates them with the great 19th century lady novelists Jane Austen and the Brontes. In Superman II, for example, Clarke Kent’s identity as a wimpish square is firmly established, when Superman’s alter ego announces he wasn’t around to cover one incident as he was at home that evening reading Dickens. One suspects that its the kind of literature that such narrow-minded upholders of bourgeois respectability as Mary Whitehouse liked. For those younger readers suspicious of Dickens, I strongly recommend his short story, The Railwayman. It’s one of the classic British ghost stories, and completely amazed me when I read it as a teenager with its complete absence of all the dullness, verbosity and sentimentality I’d expected to come across in his works. Today one of Dickens’ great champions is the thesp Simon Cowell, who has toured in a one man play about the great writer and his life, and even appeared as his hero in a episode of Dr. Who, with Christopher Ecclestone playing the Time Lord. The video below comes from the Guardian, and is on Youtube. In it, Simon Callow takes the viewer around Dickens’ London.

.

Dickens is partly celebrated for his work defending the poor and describing the hardship and poverty of the lives of ordinary people in 19th century Britain. Indeed, his surname has become a byword for conditions of grinding poverty and squalor in the word ‘Dickensian’. Dickens himself consciously wrote some of his novels both as works of social criticism, but also actively to improve the conditions of the poor. Horrified at the respectable middle classes’ indifference to the suffering of the labouring poor, he wrote A Christmas Carol. This transformed Christmas from a relatively minor holy day into the massive festival that it is today. As a socially engaged writer, Dickens could and did write bitter pieces sharply attacking the Conservatives. In 1841 the Liberal magazine, The Examiner, published his ballad, The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version. It was a parody of a traditional ballad celebrating the virtues of the gentry. The hero of the traditional ballad shared his good fortune with his social inferiors, in the line ‘while he feasted all the great, he never forgot the small’.

Dickens wrote his satirical versions after the reforming Whigs had lost office and been replaced by Peel’s Conservatives, and the country was in the middle of a depression. The poem attacks the Tories for their corruption, brutal and oppressive laws, and their savage oppression of the poor to enrich themselves and the other members of the aristocracy. Cheekily, Dickens states as a direction for the poem’s performance that it should be said or sung at all Conservative dinners. It shows that what could be described as agit-prop literature long preceded the Communist party. The blackly humorous suggestion of performance venue and the bitter satire of the poem itself very much reminds me of the same mixture of humour and bitter social criticism in much contemporary radical, popular protests following 1960’s Situationism. This leads to the question of whether Dickens, if he were alive today, would be marching with the demonstrators, neatly attired in top hat and tail coat, and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Here’s the poem:

‘I’ll sing you a new ballad, and I’ll warrant it first rate,
Of the days of that old gentleman who had that old estate;
When they spent the public money at a bountiful old rate
On ev’ry mistress, pimp and scamp, at ev’ry noble gate,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old laws were garnished well with gibbets, whips, and
chains,
With fine old English penalties, and fine old English pains,
With rebel heads, and seas of blood once in hot in rebel veins;
For all these things were requisite to guard the rich old gains
Of the fine old English Tory timnes;
Soon may the come again!

The brave old code, like Argus, had a hundred watchful eyes,
And ev’ry English peasant had his good old English spies,
To tempt his starving discontent with fine old English lies,
Then call the good old Yeomany to stop his peevish cries,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old times for cutting throats that cried out in their need,
The good old times for hunting men who held their fathers’ creed.
The good old times when William Pitt, as all good men agreed,
Came down direct from Paradise at more than railroad speed …
Oh the fine old English Tory times;
When will they come again!

In those rare days, the press was seldom known to snarl or bark,
But sweetly sang of men in pow’r, like any tuneful lark;
Grave judges, too, to all their evil deeds were in the dark;
And not a man in twenty score knew how to make his mark.
Oh the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

Those were the days for taxes, and for war’s infernal din;
For scarcity of bread, that fine old dowagers might win;
For shutting men of letters up, through iron bars to grin,
because they didn’t think the Prince was altogether thin,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

But Tolerance, though slow in flight, is strong-wing’d in the main;
That night must come on these fine days, in course of time was
plain;
The pure old spirit struggled, but its struggles were in vain;
A nation’s grip was on it, and it died in choking pain,
With the fine old English Tory days,
All of the olden time.

The bright old day now dawns again; the cry runs through the
land,
In England there shall be deear breat – in Ireland, sword and brand;
And poverty, and ignorance, shall swell the rich and grand,
So, raly round the rulers with the gentle iron hand,
Of the fine old English ~Tory days; Hail to the coming time!

Great literature transcends the ages, and speaks eternal truths about human nature, politics and society. What is shocking reading this is just how much is true today. The line about the silence of the press in the face of horrific oppression and abuse just about sums up much of the modern press under Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclay twins and the rest.

Source
Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013).