Born today in 1925, Malcolm X, aka Malcolm Little, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. To celebrate his birthday, here is a an excellent and culturally important film, which looks at the great man’s life.
Narrated by James Earl Jones, this 1972 documentary about Malcolm X was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. It is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Alex Haley between 1964 and 1965, as told to him through conversations with Malcolm conducted shortly before his death. Made with the help of Malcolm’s wife Betty Shabazz, this documentary recounts the life and ideas of this controversial leader. In addition to clips of Malcolm X in public interviews and speeches, numerous important civil rights figures are featured, as well as important public officials from the period.
It was about Nuclear War. Of course. What else could it be about? Director Alex Cox on his first major movie, Repo Man. Yes. It was about Nuclear War:
And the demented society that contemplated the possibility thereof. Repoing people’s cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself was the maniac culture which had elected so-called “leaders” named Reagan and Thatcher, who were prepared to sacrifice everything—all life on earth—to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters. J. Frank Parnell - the fictitious inventor of the Neutron Bomb - was the central character for me. He sets the film in motion, on the road from Los Alamos, and, as portrayed by the late great actor, Fox Harris, is the centrepoint of the film.
Alex Cox is cinema’s great wayward genius who has continued to make films against the odds and on ever decreasing budgets. After Repo Man (1984) came his flawed punk biopic on Sid and Nancy (1986), which owed more to Cox’s imagination than fact. But let’s be fair, it’s Cox’s imagination that makes his films so interesting, even when it is demented, as was seen in his 1987 romp, Straight to Hell, which starred Dennis Hopper, Shane MacGowan, Elvis Costello, The Clash and Courtney Love in what was really a semi-autobiographical home movie as comic Spaghetti Western. The film was hated, but not quite as much as his next, the politically weighted Walker (1987), which paralleled the America’s involvement in Nicaragua in the 1800s with American foreign policy in the 1980s:
William Walker was an American soldier of fortune who in 1853 tried to annex part of Mexico to the United States. He failed, though his invasion contributed to the climate of paranoia and violence which led to Mexico surrendering large areas of territory shortly thereafter. Two years later he invaded Nicaragua, ostensibly in support of one of the factions in a civil war. But his real intention was to take over the country and annex it to the U.S. He betrayed his allies and succeeded in making himself President. He ran Nicaragua, or attempted to run it, for two years. In the U.S. he had been an anti-slavery liberal, but in Nicaragua he abandoned all his liberal pretensions and attempted to institute slavery. He was kicked out of Central America by the combined armies of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras.
Walker tried to go back twice and was eventually caught by the Hondurans and executed…
...Walker was made in 1987, in the middle of the US-sponsored terrorist war against the Nicaraguan people. We made it with the intention of spending as many American dollars as possible in Nicaragua, in solidarity with the Nicaraguans against the yanks’ outrageous aggression against a sovereign nation. Then, as now, this was not a popular position with certain people in power. But it was the right one.
Denounced by critics and politicians, Walker finished Cox’s Hollywood career - a damn shame, as it is Cox’s masterpiece, a brilliant piece of cinema, that exhibits the kind of intelligence, humor and political film-making Tinsel Town desperately needs.
While Repo Man may be Cox’s best film, it can only be hoped that the future will see Alex Cox given the opportunity to bring his own particular vision to the mainstream, and not tread water with the so-so follow-up Repo Chick (2010), or gimmicks like Repo Pup.
Once again, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest - that annual shindig where people who should know better represent their country in a live televised song competition. Even if you haven’t heard of Eurovision, you’re bound to have heard some of the past winners, such as: Abba with “Waterloo”, Teach-In with “Ding-a-Dong”, Lulu with “Boom-Bang-a-Bang”, France Gall with “Poupée de cire, poupée de son”, Dana International with “Diva”, Bucks Fizz “Making Your Mind Up” and Johnny Logan, with..well, Johnny’s your actual Mr Eurovision, having won the competition on three separate occasions.
This year the Eurovision has been slightly overshadowed by the (near) bankruptcy of certain Euro-zone countries and their bail out. This financial melt-down has inspired Portugal to select Homens Da Luta with their rousing radical ditty, “The Struggle Is Joy”, as their offiiclal entry into the competition.
The band have come up with “a politics-packed staging of their routine” which, as the Wall Street Journal reports, includes:
...red-and-green lighting to commemorate the country’s 1974 revolution, outfits symbolizing Portugal’s history (which, apparently, shares a lot with that of the Village People), and lyrics that tackle the Lusophone nation’s parlous economic state: There’s no point in tightening the belt
There’s no point in complaining
There’s no point in frowning
And rage is pointless, it won’t help you
Indeed, the €78 billion ($115.69 billion) financial bailout the country agreed with the IMF and EU last week will likely cause the Portuguese economy to contract by around 2% in 2011 and 2012, meaning that Homens Da Luta can’t afford to do too well when it comes to the voting, as hosting the competition next year — the winner’s honor — would likely add to the country’s budget problems.
Many people advise you to watch out
Many people wish to silence you
Many people want you to feel resentful
Many people want to sell you the air itself
This, surely, is a thinly-veiled reference to the multiple downgrades suffered by the country recently and IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn saying the package will require a “sacrifice” by the Portuguese people.
Moreover, just as some question the compatibility of the EU bailout package with the bloc’s treaties, Homens Da Luta, are being purposely vague with their lyrics in order to stay on the right side of Section 4, Rule 9 of the Eurovision Song Contest, which, just to recap, states that “No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the Eurovision Song Contest.”
This kind of specific political message is what saw Georgia’s 2009 entry excluded on the grounds of it’s Putin-baiting lyrics, bringing an unprecedented convergence to geopolitical tension in the former Soviet bloc and magenta sequin disco hot pants. According to Homens Da Luta, though, the message is more of a generalist call to feel good about Portugal.
“Our song doesn’t speak badly of Germany or any other country,” lyricist Jel told the BBC. “We go to Germany to show Europe that Portuguese people are not sad people. We are happy people who want to live with all our brothers in Europe.”
Portugal’s Homens Da Luta sing ‘The Struggle Is Joy’, after the jump…
Know your rights, for there is something going terribly wrong in the UK at the moment.
The Police have been arresting people on suspicion they may be about to commit a crime. It’s a bit like Minority Reportbut without the psychics.
In the UK you can be arrested if the Police:
have reasonable grounds for suspecting you are about to commit certain offences
In other words, if they think you’re up to something naughty, you’ll get done: or, ‘We’re all criminals now, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all nicked.’
This was what happened to ex-professor of anthropology Chris Knight last week, when he (and two others) were arrested on suspicion of causing a possible nuisance. The nuisance was a piece of street theater, London, where Knight and others planned to re-enact the beheadings of Royalty.
It is also what happened to Charlie Veitch, a former city banker who was arrested last week on “suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.”
The connection between Knight and Veitch was the Royal Wedding, which allowed the Police to arrest anyone they thought might be planning, or, thinking of causing an offense.
But Knight and Veitch were only two of the 70 people arrested in pre-emptive raids of suspected protestors prior to and on the day of the Royal Wedding.
Nearly 100 people were barred from entering Westminster on the day of the wedding.
Now this is where it gets surreal: one demonstrator was arrested for singing ‘We all live in a fascist regime,’ to the tune of “Yellow Submarine”, as the Guardian reported:
About a dozen policemen grabbed the singer, sparking a clash with his colleagues, changing the mood of a small and peaceful gathering as he was handcuffed and bundled away. “He had articles on him to cause criminal damage,” explained Chief Inspector John Dale, to loud protests.
“You just incited a peaceful situation into violence,” shouted a bystander.
Police said they made a total of 52 arrests, which included 13 at Charing Cross railway station, where people were found to have “climbing equipment and anti-monarchy placards”. There was also 21 arrests made during raids of five squats in London on Thursday morning.
Officers also swooped on five people, three of whom were wearing zombie make-up, when they entered a branch of Starbucks on Oxford Street. They were arrested “on suspicion of planning a breach of the peace”.
They were all handcuffed and held in a police van and gave their names as Amy Cutler, 25, Rachel Young, 27, Eric Schultz, 43, Hannah Eisenman-Renyard, and Deborah, 19, an anthropology student at the University of East London.
“We’ve been pre-emptively arrested under suspicion of planning a breach of the peace,” Cutler told the Guardian from the police van. “We went to Starbucks to get a coffee and the police followed us in.”
“We were just dressing up as zombies,” said Amy, who was wearing a “marry me instead” T-shirt. “It is nice to dress up as zombies.”
While the right to peaceful demonstration in the UK is not absolute, it is “a vital part of a democratic society and has a very long and respected tradition in the United Kingdom.” Now with recent legislation brought in to deal with a range of threats, from terrorism to anti-social behavior, there is the a very real possibility that this “respected tradition” is being slowly taken from the British people.
Below Charlie Veitch‘s arrest and interview on ITV News, plus, 3 zombies, who were arrested, tell their story.
More from Charlie Veitch, plus interview with the arrested zombies, after the jump…
The photograph of a dead Osama Bin Laden currently being touted on Indian TV news (and elsewhere) is almost certainly fake. As suspected by DM’s Marc Campbell and confirmed by the Daily Telegraph the image is photo-shopped, as can be seen above.
Bin Laden’s body was reportedly buried at sea. No official photographs of a dead Bin Laden have as yet been released.
News reaches Dangerous Minds that one of the organizers of tomorrow’s Government of the Dead’s Right Royal Orgy / Zombie Wedding has been allegedly arrested for “potential breach of the peace.”
The Metropolitan Police is concerned over professor of anthropology, Chris Knight‘s intentions, to be-head of effigies of the Royal Family with a guillotine. Last year, Mr Knight, a professor of anthropology, made national headlines over his support for the student demonstrations at Tory HQ. In 2009, he took part in the “Hang a Banker” demonstration.
The Right Royal Orgy which will take place in London, at the same time as the Royal Wedding is advertised on Facebook as follows:
The Government of the Dead requests the pleasure of your company at The Right Royal Orgy mass bed in, love in and touch up in the shadow of the working guillotine!
Bring sumptuous trappings, extravagant and outre costumery, and duvets decorated with ‘blessings’ and ‘wellwishings’ for the royal nuptials.
We will gather from 10am in Soho Square, and process via Eros statue Piccadilly to bare our tidings of great joy to one and all in Westminster!
Yes folks, there will be a spanking new working guillotine on hand! The Hell’s Grannies’ team of tricoteuses will be directing the entire operation! Remember this is YOUR celebration! We’re paying for the party, so it’s OUR party! The invitations must have been lost in the post what with CUTS to the ROYAL MALE!
Suggested costume themes: Bunga Bunga bloc; Hieronymous Bosch bloc; Bloody Naked/Sluts v Cuts bloc; Big Penis bloc; Sheela-na-Gig bloc; Executioners bloc; Hell’s Granny Tricoteuses bloc (bring your knitting needles); Bunny Girrrll Bloc (is the year of the Playboy Bunny’s revenge!); Werewolf bloc; Balaklava Body bloc…and more than you can ever imagine!
casting couch auditions for Marie Antoinette (with cake!) and naked BUTTlers now on…
all genders need apply to the bunny boss!
The Guardian confirms that Chris Knight has been arrested, along with Camilla Power and Patrick Macroida. The 3 activists were arrested outside Mr Knight’s home at 18.15 hours on April 28, as they were preparing to drive their theatrical props, including a home-made guillotine and effigies, into central London when three police cars and two police vans drew up near Knight’s home in Brockley. Fellow activist Mike Raddie told the Guardian:
“Chris was arrested first. He lay down on the pavement opposite his house to make the arrest difficult,” said Raddie. “He was pulled up by four police officers and two bundled him into the back of a van.
“Camilla was put in the back of one of the police cars. Patrick was dressed up as an executioner when he was arrested.”
Raddie said the police also seized a van containing the group’s props, which included a wooden guillotine. “It’s a working guillotine but it doesn’t have a blade – just wood painted silver,” he added.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “This evening, 28 April, officers arrested three people – two males aged 68 and 45, and a 60-year-old woman – in Wickham Road, SE4 on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and breach of the peace.
“They are currently in custody at Lewisham police station.”
A Channel 4 film crew were present during the arrests, filming for the Unofficial Royal Wedding,which is due to air at 19.10pm on Monday May 2. Some of their equipment, which was in the activists’ van, was also confiscated.
A petition calling for Ai Weiwei’s release has been started by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Addressed to the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China (Minister Mr. Cai Wu), the statement reads:
On April 3, internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing airport while en route to Hong Kong, and his papers and computers were seized from his studio compound.
We members of the international arts community express our concern for Ai’s freedom and disappointment in China’s reluctance to live up to its promise to nurture creativity and independent thought, the keys to “soft power” and cultural influence.
Our institutions have some of the largest online museum communities in the world. We have launched this online petition to our collective millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. By using Ai Weiwei’s favored medium of “social sculpture,” we hope to hasten the release of our visionary friend.
Architect, photographer, curator and blogger, Ai Weiwei is China’s most famous and politically outspoken contemporary artist. As Ai Weiwei’s latest work is unveiled in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, Alan Yentob reveals how this most courageous and determined of artists continues to fight for artistic freedom of expression while living under the restrictive shadows of authoritarian rule.
As one reviewer noted:
If you found yourself thinking that you were watching Mission: Impossible rather than Imagine, you could have been forgiven. Alan Yentob had clearly been banned from meeting Ai Weiwei in China, and so one of their interviews was conducted over a webcam, with Yentob sitting in the dark, like some spymaster of the arts.
This was even before Ai had been put under house arrest to prevent him from attending a party he arranged to celebrate the demolition of his studio in Shanghai (a studio which the Chinese Government had asked him to put up in the first place…). All of which prompts the question: what does that say about the place of the artist in China?
The US and EU have spoken out over the detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei, in China. Police detained the 53-year-old at Beijing Airpport, on Sunday morning, as he was going through immigration. No one has been able to contact Ai Weiwei since.
It has also been reported that 8 of his studio workers were arrested at the artist’s studio in the north-west Beijing. They were questioned for several hours and then released. According to Art Lyst:
The police visited the studio several times last week in an attempt to intimidate the artist and his supporters.Dozens of police officers also raided the hotel rooms of supporters of Tan Zuore on Wednesday morning in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. They were there to testify on behalf of Tan Zuore a well-known writer and human-rights advocate on trial, charged with subversion. The group had also been planning an event, in June to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre of civilians by government forces, during the Tiananmen Square protests.
Mark Toner of the US State Department called for the artist’s immediate release, and added, “We obviously continue to be deeply concerned by the trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detentions, arrests and convictions of human rights activists for exercising their internationally recognised human right for freedom of expression.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague said, “I call on the Chinese government to urgently clarify Ai’s situation and wellbeing, and hope he will be released immediately.”
He also said, “The development of independent civil society and application of human rights under the rule of law are essential prerequisites for China’s long-term prosperity and stability.”
The Guardian reports that the EU delegation to China is concerned by the increasing use of arbitrary detention against human rights defenders, lawyers and activists:
Citing Ai’s case, it added: “We call on the Chinese authorities to refrain from using arbitrary detention under any circumstances.”
France and Germany earlier appealed for the artist’s release. “Ai Weiwei being taken away is not surprising to us; we just didn’t think it would happen now. I don’t think he had expected that either ... Let’s hope for the best,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer.
Pu said he had agreed to represent the artist if anything happened to him, but added that he had not been able to discuss the issue with Ai’s family yet. “The police had not given any kind of notice to the family – we can’t start the procedures. Even if they detain some kind of street thug, they have to give a notice within certain time, but for Ai Weiwei there is no information,” he added.
Ai has repeatedly clashed with authorities over his outspoken criticism. Friends are particularly alarmed by the length of his detention and the scope and co-ordination of the police operation. Officers have removed dozens of items, including documents and computers, from the artist’s studio.
His wife, Lu Qing, told Reuters: “This time it’s extremely serious. They searched his studio and took disks and hard drives and all kinds of stuff, but the police haven’t told us where he is or what they’re after. There’s no information about him.”
Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer, told Reuters: “I hope he doesn’t have to face trial or be jailed,” he said. “But sometimes the things you don’t wish to happen could happen.”
Weiwei was due to visit London for an exhibition at the Lisson Gallery next month, a spokesperson for the gallery said: “We are dismayed by developments that again threaten Weiwei’s right to speak freely as an artist and hope that he will be released immediately.”
However, Ai Weiwei is not the only Chinese artist to have been detained, as the Guardian reports:
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said four artists from Beijing were detained on 24 March after a performance art event in the Chinese capital where some pieces touched on the crackdown and the “jasmine revolution”. An anonymous appeal for protests akin to the Middle East uprisings, which was posted on an overseas website, appears to have sparked the campaign against critics.
Artists Huang Xiang, Zhui Hun and Cheng Li were criminally detained for “causing a disturbance” by officers from Songzhuang police station and Guo Gai was also taken away, probably because he had taken pictures during the exhibition, CHRD said.
No one could be reached for comment at the Taihu detention centre, where the four are reportedly held. An employee at Songzhuang police station said: “I don’t know about the situation,” then added: “Actually, it is not convenient to talk about it.”
CHRD, which has been keeping a tally of the number of detentions, says in total about a dozen people have disappeared and 26 criminally detained in the latest sweep, with five released on bail. Another three have been formally arrested and one has been sent to re-education through labour.
Asked about concerns for the whereabouts and safety of those reported missing, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told a regular press briefing last week: “China’s judicial authorities work independently. China, as a country under the rule of law, protects its citizens’ basic rights and freedoms – including freedom of expression – but citizens while exercising their rights have an obligation to abide by the law and should not bring harm to the public interest.”
While Ken Loach has his own film called Route Irish, which deals with “the most dangerous road in the world” (aka Baghdad Airport Road), coming out later this month in the UK, Irish film-maker, Eamonn Crudden made his own Route Irish back in 2007, but his dealt with the protest movement at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Crudden spent several years putting his documentary together, which documented:
...the emergence of the Irish antiwar movement between 2002 and 2006 and of the broad popular opposition to the US military use of Ireland’s civilian Shannon Airport in the build-up to, invasion of, and occupation of Iraq.
The documentary follows a loose network of activist groups, individuals and politicians through the story of the rise, fracturing, sudden decline and then disappearance of this movement and then retraces the way in which their combined efforts, energies and strategies served to effectively tear away the Republic of Ireland’s veneer of neutrality and non-alignment in the post September 11th era of the ‘War on Terror’.
The background to the story begins after the September 11 attacks, when the Irish government offered the use of Shannon Airport to the US government. Shannon is one of the three primary airports in Ireland, and is the country’s second busiest. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the Irish government still allowed the US military to use the airport. This was a highly controversial decision and sparked a series of demonstrations and a challenge to the High Court.
It also sparked a series of direct actions by demonstrators. In January 2003, a woman smashed a nose cone and attempted to cut fuel lines of a US Navy jet with an axe. Her trial led to her acquittal. Then in February 2003, a group called the Pitstop Ploughshares vandalized a US Navy aircraft at the airport. Members of the group were tried three time. They were eventually all acquitted.
A 2007 survey found 58% of Irish people opposed the use of Shannon for prosecuting the Iraq war.
Cult film director, Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Walker) said of Crudden’s video essay:
“Route Irishis an excellent documentary. It deals very very well with the frustrations of a peace movement. It tackles some complex matters which aren’t usually discussed or even thought about.”
Bonus trailer for Ken Loach’s ‘Route Irish’, after the jump…
On August 28 1963, the same day Martin Luther King delivered his landmark “I have a dream” speech, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, writer James Baldwin, director Joseph Mankiewicz, and actors Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, and Sidney Poitier, sat down in a CBS studio to discuss Civil Rights in America. It was an historic moment, one that would be difficult to imagine happening today, amongst Hollywood’s glitterai - especially when Mankiewicz let’s the cat out of the bag:
“Freedom, true freedom is not given by governments; it is taken by the people.”
The composer Kurt Weill was born today March 2 1900. Best known for his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht on The Threepenny Opera,Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Der Jasager and The 7 Deadly Sins, Weill was a committed socialist, who believed music must serve a socially useful purpose. However, it was politics that eventually split the brilliant partnership of Brecht and Weill, as the musician felt the playwright was pushing too far to the left without question, or as Weill joked, he felt unable to set the Communist Party Manifesto to music.
Weill was married to the brilliant actress and singer, Lotte Lenya, who starred in The Threepenny Opera and later played the SMERSH assassin, Rosa Klebb in the Bond movie, From Russia With Love. With the rise of Hitler, the couple quit Germany and moved to America, where they worked in Hollywood (as did Brecht).
Though Weill’s music is best associated with cabaret and political theater of Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s (influencing John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical Cabaret), he also wrote two symphonies, several cantatas, a great number of songs, set the poetry of Rilke and Walt Whitman’s Song of Myslef to music, and worked with Ira Gershwin on the Hollywood musical Where Do We Go From Here?. Weill died of a heart attack in 1950.
To celebrate Weill’s birthday, here is the brilliant Lenya from 1962, in fine form, singing a selection of her husband’s best known songs “Mack the Knife”, “Pirate Jenny”, “Sarabaya Johnny” and “Alabama Song”. This clip has sub-titles, but that’s unimportant, when compared to the quality of her voice and performance. The production was filmed by Ken Russell for the BBC’s arts series Monitor, and the segment was introduced by legendary arts editor, Huw Weldon.
Prelude to a Revolution features prison interviews with Huey P. Newton, co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Newton was born 17 February 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. The youngest of seven children, his family moved to Oakland, California in 1945, where they lived at various addresses in the Bay Area. Though poor, Newton later claimed he and is family never did without food or shelter. However, he did claim in his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide he was “made to feel ashamed of being black.”
“During those long years in Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience. Not one instructor ever awoke in me a desire to learn more or to question or to explore the worlds of literature, science, and history. All they did was try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process nearly killed my urge to inquire.”
In October 1966, after involvement with various radical groups, Newton and his associate, Bobby Seale formed the Black Panthers, an “organization working for the right of self-defense for African-Americans in the United States.” The Panthers changed American politics, and famously drew up a “Ten Point Plan,” a manifesto which called for, among other things, “black community self-determination, full employment, decent housing for black people, an end to police brutality, and an immediate end to all wars of aggression.” They also brought in a series of social programs (community schools, free breakfasts, self-defense classes, armed citizens’ patrols) that offered an alternative to the capitalist system. At the time, it was said Newton “could take street-gang types and give them a social consciousness.”
In 1967, Newton was involved in an incident that led to the death of a police officer. Newton was shot in the stomach, and though no gun was found on his person, was charged with manslaughter. In 1968, he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to 2-15 years. In 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent mistrials, the California Supreme Court dropped the case against Newton.
Huey Newton: Prelude to a Revolution was filmed while Newton was in prison, it is a powerful and thought-provoking film, and gives great insight into Newton’s ideas and hopes for the Black Panther movement:
“We view each other with a great love and a great understanding and we try to extend this to the general black population and also oppressed people all over the world. I think that we differ from some other groups simply because we understand the system better than most groups understand the system. With this realization we attempt to form a strong political base based in the community with the only strength that we have and thats the strength of a potentially destructive force If we don’t get freedom.”
The novelist Ewan Morrison came to prominence in 2005 with his excellent collection of short stories The Last Thing You Read. Since then, Morrison has written three novels, Swung, Menage and Distance, which are amongst the best new fiction published in the UK over the past decade, and if you haven’t already, do go read him.
Ewan’s a clever man, a former TV Producer and Director, who has now created Tales from the Mall, a project he describes as ‘a book of short stories and facts about shopping malls, it’s a compilation of aural history and urban folklore; it’s also an ongoing video project. It might turn out to be a new kind of book app.’
Over the past few months, Morrison has been interviewing staff at various malls thru-out Scotland and the north of England - cleaners, car park attendants, retail agents, designers, town planners and security guards:
‘...recording their tales, confessions and anecdotes and on the way discovering a lot about how the modern world actually works and how consumerism effects and transforms people on a subconscious level.
‘People actually love shopping, and hate themselves. The two things are connected.’
He has compiled this information into short stories, some of which he has made into animated video clips. Now, in an exclusive interview with Dangerous MInds, Ewan discussed his thoughts, ideas and ambitions for Tales from the Mall:
‘I know that Malls sound boring - it must seem a bit like writing about airport terminals or trains stations, but it’s not. Malls are, it turns out, one of the most important subjects in the world. They are really the homes for the worlds leading multinational corporations and are portals to the non-space of globalisation.
‘Malls create cultural conformity and eat away at the values and traditions in all countries they move into. They also spread virus like. GAT, NAFTA, the IMF, the World Bank – these international trade and loan agreements are all about malls. “We will give you this billion dollar loan on the condition that you privatize certain tracts of land and facilitate these corporations” – that’s how Malls spread.’
This spread has been aided by recent political and cultural events.
‘Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the developing world has been hit by a shopping mall pandemic, while ironically in the US malls have started dying-out at capital moves east and the US landscape has surpassed the point of retail saturation. The UK jumped on the bandwagon in the Thatcher era, and now is building new malls to deal with the problems caused by malls.
‘Malls are not just places where some people shop. Malls are all about temp labor and sweatshops and unsustainable resources being repackaged into cycles of planned obsolescence. Malls are about the artificial manipulation of desires and the expansion of sexualised youth culture into our daily lives. They are about making everything including people, increasingly disposable. They are about living on credit and working in repetitive jobs that make you desire an escape. You see, this is fascinating.’
From his many interviews, Morrison has uncovered what he describes as some “astounding” things. For example, the “check-out girls” or “till Jills” suffer from high instances of deja-vu and amnesia; mall car parks are often used as a “try-out space” by some transvestites; malls have even become a safe, go-between space for divorced parents to hand the kids over to each other on restricted visitation times.
‘I’ve also come up with a theory about how consumerism is encouraging divorce, and how the sexualisation of retail has resulted in malls being magnets for extreme behaviors.
‘These are important facts of recent history, which can only really be told through the medium of storytelling. I’ve quite simply been retelling other peoples tales, in much the same way Dave Eggers did with Zeitoun.’
But Morrison has been doing more than re-telling tales, he has also invited stories, poetry and videos from the public, via his site and through The List magazine, all of which have been ‘eye-opening, very telling and moving.’
‘One is about losing virginity, another is about losing a child, another is about shoplifting, and another still is a poem inspired by a mall fountain. I’d like to get more of these coming in.
‘Doing this project shown me the hundred small ways that people resist and modify consumerism in positive ways every day, even those at the bottom of the pecking order who clean up other peoples crap from shopping mall floors. Some of the funniest and deepest tales have come from cleaners and car park attendants. The biggest discovery of all is that mall workers have really funny, dark stories to tell, and that storytelling is a really big part of how they make their anonymous, repetitive jobs bearable.
‘So as well as stories that I’ve re-told, and a few I’ve made up, the idea is to have a book- as-portal, which has at its core nine key stories (named after retail outlets) and around that people can contribute their own mall tales into a growing archive which is open ended and open access.’
This possibility of an app for the project means the book ‘would keep growing over the years as new audio, video and written material comes in from other people. After a decade the thing could be immense.’
‘The idea however is not to castigate, critique or damn shopping malls. but to treat them as a culture in much the same way that historians and archivists treat dying tribes or folk songs. I’d originally thought that Malls might prove barren ground – that really consumerism is empty and has no stories to tell – but I turned out to be wrong. There’s an amazing diversity and richness in people’s mall tales.
‘Over time I realised I wanted to dig out the history of malls and how they’ve come to dominate the globe, and it turned out no-one had actually compiled a decent and readable history yet. So that too has become part of the project.
‘The history of the mall is really the history of American style capitalism. On the local level, I was amazed how the self identity of my city - Glasgow - is blind to it’s own reality. People from Glasgow still tend to look back with nostalgia’s soft focus to the days of heavy industry on the River Clyde. The fact is that Glasgow has had a life post-post industrial decline. It is perhaps because Glasgow is so full of old communists that the reality has not been accepted – Glasgow is now the UK’s leading mall city. It has the second largest amount of retail space per head, next to London; it has five vast malls, one on each of its tributary roads. Its central street is the only one in the UK that has a mall at either end, which makes it “the seventh largest retail avenue in the world”. So part of my project has been to own-up to the fact that Glasgow is incredibly consumerist, and to find out how the city came to be like this and how it operates. How it effects people.’
Ultimately, Morrison believes the mall will die out:
‘I predict that Malls will start shutting down in the UK, as they have done in the US, and also that we will start to see malls targetted with violence, vandalism and political demonstration in the coming years of austerity– as people look for a representative symbol to blame and attack. Bricking a building is easier than attacking a brand logo. Malls in Europe will burn, as the department stores they put out of business burned back in the late 80s.’
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With the current uprising in Egypt, and the recent events in Tunisia, it is timely to have a look at Videograms of a Revolution, which documents Romania’s popular revolution that led to the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Complied by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica from over 125 hours worth of amateur footage, news footage, and excerpts from a demonstrator-controlled Bucharest TV studio in late December 1989, their documentary tells the story of “how the mediated image not only records but engenders historic change.”
John Butler’s superb latest animation T.R.I.A.G.E. is a speculative tale showing how:
A sick and failing area is swiftly restored to sound financial health
T.R.A.G.E. is an acronym for
Of course, triage is “the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition.” With this in mind, any similarities between actual events is purely intentional.
Bonus animations by John Butler ‘Unmanned’ and ‘Sub Optimal’ after the jump…