Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe is the author of The House That Buff Built, the upcoming fourth volume in the Harry Palmer mystery trilogy whose subject is homelessness and the real estate industry, racial prejudice against the Chinese in Los Angeles, and the power of major media to set the development agenda.

The Way: confused resistance rather than class consciousness, in a muddled mix of genres
Friday, 01 March 2024 12:10

The Way: confused resistance rather than class consciousness, in a muddled mix of genres

Dennis Broe reviews The Way. Above image: Owen brandishing King Arthur’s sword - Mandalorian much?

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” about-to-be-fired news anchor Howard Beale screams in a television rant, urging everyone to go to the window and yell the same thing.

This scene from the film Network, much honored and claimed to be prescient, in fact represents simply mindless, ungrounded fear, vaguely articulated, not drawn from the specific material aspects of people’s lives and thus open to a kind of manipulation that can easily be converted into simple resentment and will become the basis of today’s populism.

Unfortunately, these ungrounded impulses, now 45 years on in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Reagan, Thatcher et al.’s austerity and neoliberalism, are the basis of the BBC series The Way. Documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis helped conceptualize the three-part series, and there’s evidence of his strengths (eg in tracing advertising industry manipulation in The Century of the Self) but also his glaring weaknesses (eg in the more recent anti-revolutionary, rabidly anti-populist documentary Can’t Get You Out of My Head).

The Way blends a loosely constructed family fiction around the Welsh steel and former mining town of Port Talbot with documentary footage of the 1984 Miners’ Strike, and a mythical otherworldly aspect that summons King Arthur’s pulling the sword from the stone, the lifting of the series title phrase “The Way” from the Star Wars’ Mandalorian code of conduct, and Scottish folklore of a proselytizing Red Monk who kickstarts a town rebellion.  

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Howard Beale’s populist rant in Network 

Into this soup of inluences is thrown the actual condition of the steelworks, with an Indian owner, in the series Japanese, who is always on the verge of closing the plant. The problem – and this is a Curtis mainstay – is that the characters are utterly deceived by a passive mediatized lifestyle. Owen, the lead character, who “can’t remember the last time I felt anything,” is, as his love interest describes, “a drug addict in recovery dealing drugs” to which her response is “I don’t care, it’s not my business.”

This passivity and foolishness influences their actions, as workers in the town strike the plant before it can close, though no immediate closing is threatened. Owen tosses a lead pipe which ignites the carnage with the police, which of course echoes the bone thrown across the ages in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only this time it signals the utter breakdown of civilization rather than its terrifying advance, as in Kubrick’s film.

Wales is sealed off from “Britain”, and thus episode two begins with the family’s own odyssey as they attempt to march to safety in a now open police state. In the series, much hostility is summoned but it remains vague (“The British don’t revolt, they gripe”) with the actual problems of deindustrialization and a devastated economy expressed in generalized slogans.

These slogans do not directly confront the power structure and the massive redistribution of wealth that began in 1980 with the launching of the neoliberal era, just after Network premiered. In that film, people start throwing their televisions out the window, when they mighthave done better by storming the television station and taking over the means of production of the media.

Writers Guild of America 2023 writers strike rev

The 2023 Writers' Guild strike 

The ungrounded populism expressed in both Network and The Way does accurately convey the very real grievances felt by the population – but behind each lies the firm conviction that workers are too coddled and deceived by omnipresent media to be able to do more than threaten irrational action. But this mindset was just recently disproved by the massive strikes in the entertainment and service industry in Los Angeles, and which continue throughout the U.S.

These campaigns and strikes in the U.S. have specific demands, and represent a growing understanding and awareness by workers, not only of their situation but of how to use today’s media for their own purposes. This understanding is not present in The Way.

If the Port Talbot steel plant, along with another plant closes, Britain will only be fashioning steel from scraps and leftovers, rather than making it. The Way, with its muddled mix of genres and its deceived chaotic individuals is also fashioned from scraps – that is, the leftovers and the detritus of the entertainment industry and the subjectivity of its victims, who in this telling offer only confused resistance.  

Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An elite gaze on populism and revolution
Friday, 23 February 2024 11:29

Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An elite gaze on populism and revolution

There are always calls from the right to defund the British Broadcasting Company but they are now being joined by calls from the left as well, as one of the casualties of the genocide in Gaza is the BBC’s own vaunted “objectivity.”

That questioning was on display when BBC staff members wrote a letter published in Al Jazeera stating that the BBC coverage of this current eruption of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was biased. The network spent a good deal of  time humanizing Israeli victims while failing to provide any context and information on the 75 years of occupation before the October 7 attack, thus rationalizing the Israeli response as “self-defense.”

These cracks in the armour are also apparent in the BBC’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, a 2021 six-part documentary television series (now available on YouTube) by the prodigious filmmaker Adam Curtis. Curtis, in what he calls an “emotional history of the modern world”, attempts to trace the roots of the populism which is so much with us today. His reach is wide, encompassing the Mau-Mau in Kenya, Black revolutionary heroes and gangsters, the transformation and gentrification of London’s Notting Hill, Madame Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and the technological revolution which the documentary sees as resulting in mind control.

The reach is wide, but unfortunately the grasp is narrow. This is the Christopher Nolan school of filmmaking – that is, Nolan’s rapid-fire cutting and shooting through history at a pace that makes serious grappling with any moment of that history difficult. It’s Nolan’s scattergun fictional style, applied to documentary.

1971 Hold aloft the red lantern

Curtis finds all forms of revolutionary activity in the 1950s through the 1970s lacking, but his focus on the singular and the bizarre without much context. and almost devoid of an economic analysis which might underpin and ground his “emotional history”, ends up promoting the “chaos” which his elite gaze on the material seems to be so adamantly fearful of.

The montage, the clashing of various aspects of the counterculture as well as his tracking of the growth of digital surveillance and the various musics – reggae, rap, punk – which he uses as a backbeat to his story, suggest a new approach to documentary. However, there is one element that remains of an old and conservative style, and that is Curtis’ own all-knowing narration in a voice that in its supposed ability to grasp this totality remains the stentorian “voice of God.”

He treats populism as an end in itself, not as a symptom and coping mechanism of a wider breakdown of western capitalism. Under neoliberal capitalism, more and more wealth is being redistributed upwards over the time he is discussing, leaving people more and more desperate and searching for solutions that often include demagogic leaders – the best the system allows to be thrown at them.

When he does glimpse of the thought behind the detached veneer of his narration, the results are frequently disappointing. Thus, the Black Panthers were incendiary violent revolutionaries gullibly deceived by police informants, when in fact the Panthers’ greatest and most lasting contribution was the institutionalizing of their program of school lunches for poor children. The Cultural Revolution is seen as mass deception organized by Madame Mao, a disgruntled actor seeking revenge on the Shanghai film artists who had slighted her in the 1930s. In Curtis’ view the Revolution, which brought education to many poor rural Chinese in a country that was vastly illiterate, was only an unleashing of one-woman’s “resentment” that linked to a whole society’s anger at the past. The imperialist West is not blamed or even mentioned as a primary factor in generating this anger. (By the way, the footage of Peoples’ Revolutionary Operas is thrilling.)

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Jim Garrison, who attempted to bring to trial those who he claimed had participated in the assassination of a president, and whose efforts Oliver Stone and the myriad researchers working in the shadows to bring this hidden history to light, is labelled as delusional. Curtis dismisses the possibility that elites participated in a violent coup at the heart of Western democracy as “complete fantasy.”

Behind the imperial voice, the objective and all-knowing veneer, Curtis’ documentary is not a history of populism but instead a history of elite fears of both revolution and populism. Can’t Get You Out of My Head in its frantic pace generates a whole lot of heat, but in the end, not much light. As such, it strikes another blow against the BBC’s false “objectivity.” 

“When I make a movie, all I think about is the profit”: Alec Baldwin's Magic Bullet
Wednesday, 31 January 2024 11:00

“When I make a movie, all I think about is the profit”: Alec Baldwin's Magic Bullet

Published in Films

Dennis Broe explains how profit-making has cut corners in movie-making, especially since the pandemic. Image above: Grizzled outlaw Alec Baldwin 

One of the more hilarious moments of the Warren Commission’s likely cover-up of the Kennedy assassination occurred when Commission member and Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter presented what became known as the 'Magic Bullet Theory'.

Specter claimed – and the Commission agreed – that the same bullet had caused a total of seven wounds to both President Kennedy and Texas Senator Connelly, exiting Kennedy’s neck in the back of the limousine, moving downward then reversing trajectory to move upward and cause multiple wounds to Connelly. The bullet finally ended up in pristine shape on a stretcher at the hospital where they were both taken. All this to prove that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Most scholars of the assassination have put the Magic Bullet Theory to rest but now we have a new Magic Bullet Theory, propounded by the actor and producer Alec Baldwin, who claims that a bullet in a chamber of a gun he did not fire mysteriously exited the chamber and killed the director of photography on a Western, Rust, he was filming at the time.

Unbelievable? A New Mexico grand jury thought so and Baldwin has recently been reindicted for involuntary manslaughter, after an initial charge was dropped, for his role in the death of the film’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. The indictment accuses him of two felony counts, one springing from his role as producer, charging him on the set with “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others”, and the other charging him with firing the weapon. Unfortunately he can only be convicted of one of the counts.

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Baldwin in better but maybe more honest days in Saturday Night Live as penny-pinching fraudster Donald Trump 

Two problems are being exposed here. The first is the contempt of the entertainment and political elite for everyone else. Baldwin, staunch stalwart of the Democratic Party and its corporate wing the Democratic National Committee, founded in the Bill Clinton era, has laid out a defence – “Someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who it is, but I know it’s not me” – that is as implausible as Clinton’s claim, caught in fellatio delicto with Monica Lewinsky, that he didn’t have sex in the Oval office because oral sex is not sex.

Baldwin’s high-priced legal team got the first indictment thrown out on procedural grounds but a new forensic report claiming that he “must have pulled the trigger” has him back in the docks again.

His team then bought off the victim’s husband, trading his silence and refusal to proceed with a civil suit to make him a co-producer on the film. The height of arrogance though may be Baldwin’s claim that the producers have bravely charged ahead and completed the film “as a tribute to Ms. Hutchins.”

Using the death of a promising camerawoman as an excuse to publicize the film is about as cynical a publicity campaign as has ever been waged. What is the family supposed to think when they watch the shots their loved one engineered and then the shots her replacement filmed?

Baldwin appeared in a “surprise cameo” on Saturday Night Live as the evidence was being presented to the grand jury to remind them that he was not too big to fail but too important to indict. Of course if Saturday Night Live, a supposedly satirical revue that gave up that ghost a long time ago, was doing its job, he would have been the subject of spoofing and ridicule rather than the beneficiary of a public appearance designed to sway a jury.

The contempt for ordinary people is similar to Hilary Clinton’s branding of working-class Americans as “deplorables” in a campaign, waged almost solely on the East and West coasts, where she boasted that she was “flying over America.” Baldwin, who plays a grizzled outlaw in the film Rust, and who is beginning to resemble one off camera, was famous on that show for his Donald Trump imitation where he satirized the lawlessness of that public persona, a characteristic he is now flaunting himself.

The second charge, disregard for the safety of others, is in some ways worse and more revealing about the nature of this corner of capitalist production.

Baldwin as producer was at least partly responsible for a set that, because of skimping on a sparse budget and rushing into production, was a maze of tensions and a tempest ready to burst. The armourer, that is the gun handler, a crucial job on a Western, was Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who is now up on manslaughter charges. She was hired at 24 to do a job that required a far more experienced person, because due to a surge in production in New Mexico there was a lack of capable personnel to do that job.

She was also hired as Props Master, a demanding job that is usually handled by a separate person. As an armourer, the inexperienced Gutierrez-Reed had previously worked on a Nicholas Cage film The Old Way where there were two accidental gun discharges and calls for her dismissal.

Armourer was not her first choice of job on a set. Rather than doing either job, she said she wanted to be in front of the camera as a model, which she described as a “burning passion,” which she was “yearn[ing] to turn…into a career,” indicating her mind may have been elsewhere.

 In addition props, which includes weapons, usually has two weeks preparation time before shooting, but because the film was already behind budget, this inexperienced team, which also included a 24-year old equally inexperienced props assistant, was only given one week. The harried Gutierrez-Reed was seen on the set several times, according to one observer, running with guns, a sight he had never seen before.

The shooting that killed the camerawoman and wounded the director Joel Souza was not the first misfire on a troubled set. Another had occurred a few days before, and just hours before the shooting six members of the camera crew walked off the set complaining of long hours, long commutes and not being paid on time. One worker described “3 accidental discharges” and noted the set was “super unsafe.” Another noted that “Corners were being cut” and that the production had brought in non-union workers in order to keep shooting.

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Shipbuilding workers exposed to asbestos in World War II

This kind of under-supervised dangerous work setting, due to penny-pinching in order not to go over budget, where the workers pay the price for a rush to produce product and maximize profits, is nothing new. In If He Hollers Let Him Go Chester Himes brilliantly describes the chaos and danger in the hastily assembled World War II shipbuilding industry in Los Angeles, center of wartime production:

The decks were low, and with the tools and equipment of the workers, the thousand and one lines of the welders, the chippers, the blowers, the burners, the light lines, the wooden staging, combined with the equipment of the ship, the shapes and plates, the ventilation trunks and ducts, reducers, dividers, transformers, the machines, lathes, mills, and such, half yet to be installed, the place looked like a littered madhouse. I had to pick every step to find a foot-size clearance of deck space, and at the same time to keep looking up so I wouldn't tear off an ear or knock out an eye against some overhanging shape. Every two or three steps I'd bump into another worker. The only time anybody ever apologized was when they knocked you down.

This kind of danger is ever present in capitalist factories and carries over to assembly-like Hollywood film production.

The background to all of this is that after Covid, production companies were rushing to get the cameras rolling to provide streamers who were suffering from a lack of product with new films and series. Added to that desire to crank out product quickly were the particularities of New Mexico, site of numerous Westerns, where unionised film workers were stretched trying to cover this surge.

The pressure on Baldwin resulting in this corner-cutting was also coming from the film’s investors. One of them, Streamline Global, was famous for exploiting a provision in the U.S. tax code that allows investors to write off the first 15 to 20 million dollars and is designed to “ease wealthy individuals tax burdens through film investment.”

The provision has accounted for a good deal of fraud as film and television budgets are inflated to create a loss and open up investors for bigger tax cuts. The procedure was described by one observer as “playing ‘the audit lottery,’” meaning investors are hoping in the end they can cheat the government and not get caught taking unwarranted tax credits. 

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Gary Cooper in Loeb’s capitalist and empire fairy tale Fountainhead 

Streamline Global, the name itself boasting of its cost-cutting, is run by Emily Hunter Salveson whose great uncle Gerald Loeb helped found E.F. Hutton which in the ’80s pleaded guilty to 2,000 counts of mail fraud and had the low investor grade of “D.” Loeb produced that pean to capitalism and American empire, The Fountainhead.

The bottom line of the whole enterprise though may be summed up by a saying conveyed to Baldwin, playing an indie filmmaker in 2013’s Seduced and Abandoned, by an investor: “When I make a movie, all I think about is the profit.” It’s a line he may have unfortunately taken too much to heart.

Vienna: city of contrasts and contradictions
Friday, 26 January 2024 10:18

Vienna: city of contrasts and contradictions

Published in Cultural Commentary

Dennis Broe gives us a brief tour of Vienna: its history, museums and galleries. Above image: the restored Wien Museum, site of a city grappling with its past 

What to say about Vienna? A divided city, poised between a gleaming future, voted in poll after poll the most livable city in the world, as a result of its socialist and social democratic reforms, and a torturous past, with both an absorbing intellectual and cultural tradition, in large part thanks to its Jewish population and a breeding ground for antisemitism and perhaps cradle of the Zionist worldview that is currently inflaming the Middle East, or, in the view of the global South, West Asia.

All these aspects of the city were on view this last holiday season as the city opened new museums devoted to its history. There was the newly restored Wien Museum, which did its best to question and foreground aspects of the city’s troubled past, and the Strauss House, a privately owned monument to the three Strauss family members of composers and musicians who had a popular tune, often a waltz, for every occasion. These included “The Revolution March” for the 1848 uprising which saw barricades in front of the city’s most famous landmark, St. Stephen's Cathedral, and the “Demolition Polka” written at the time of the pulling down of the medieval city wall to create the modern ring.

That work was done mostly by migrants, shipped in and then shipped out as the work was finished with the dust from the wall causing pulmonary tuberculosis, called the “Viennese disease,” in the workers and residents for the next five decades after the mid-1850s, and recalling the U.S. use of Chinese to perform the dangerous work of building the intercontinental railroad in the Sierra Nevadas where many of them perished and where, like that on the ring, their work was never acknowledged.

Döbling Wien Karl Marx Hof

Red Vienna: Karl-Marx-Hof, built between 1927 and 1933

The city’s reputation as the most livable in Europe begins with affordable housing, with 40 percent of all housing either public or subsidized by the city, and 60 percent of all tenants living in these homes. It was during the time of Red Vienna, following World War I, that large scale housing was built for the city’s poorest. They moved out of the hovels that barely sheltered them to modern apartments with electric and gas, then and now supplied by publicly owned utility companies, like the majestic and cheap transit system consisting of subways, buses and trolleys seamlessly crisscrossing the city.

As in any global city, public housing is now being contested with the omnipresent cranes, the sign of new private apartment complexes and condos being erected. As the Wien puts it, housing “is becoming a commodity” and, as the exhibit said disapprovingly “fixation on ownership does nothing to foster solidarity.”

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Ominous cranes dot the landscape 

The city continues to be one of the great centres for both performing and visual arts, especially music. The latter was on display at the Vienna Concert Hall where the Vienna Symphony under the baton of 83-year-old conducting phenomenon Christoph Eschenbach performed a spirited, energetic, and passionate rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Opus 35. It was led by Bloomington Indiana’s own Joshua Bell’s superb phrasings on an equally spirited violin, followed by a more conventional number from the opera Eugene Onegin and the holiday staple Ballet-Suite from The Nutcracker.

On display also was Raphael’s tapestry designs at the Kunsthistorisches (Art History) Museum, one of which featured the evangelist Paul getting help from above to strike down a rich man who refused to share his wealth. This gave the lie in the present to the latest neoliberal guilt-assuaging mechanism known as Effective Altruism, which in Sam Bankman Fried mode simply translates as “steal as much as you can and give a little back loudly.” Then there was Michelangelo’s anatomically perfect male nudes at the Albertina, culminating in a room full of Egon Schile’s twisted contorted male and female nudes, the expression of desperate sexuality in a world, amidst the first World War, in pain and chaos.  

A Tortured History

Behind every great fortune is a great crime, and Vienna’s fortune was founded on kidnapping and ransom. In the 12th century Richard the Lionheart, returning from mass looting during the Crusades, was discovered in disguise and captured when he used gold coins lifted from the Byzantine empire. His British kingdom paid a huge amount to redeem him and it was with this money that Vienna built its city walls.

Speculation in the city also reached a frenzy when the crash of the Viennese stock market in 1873 triggered a global recession that also devastated the U.S. economy, and resulted in a rapid monopolization and the Gilded Age era of the robber barons.

The city does unfortunately have a history of rabid anti-Semitism, openly paraded during the fin-de-siecle administration of its mayor Karl Lueger. Lueger, founder of the Christian Social Democracy Party, did bring the city’s utilities—transportation, gas, water and electricity—under public control but he rationalized these takeovers by xenophobic means as a method of warding off British attempts at controlling the city.

Vienna’s globally famous culture was defined by the likes in psychology of Freud’s psychoanalysis and discovery of the unconscious, in drama by, according to Freud, his “double,” Arthur Schnitzler, by the Expressionism of painters like Max Oppenheimer, whose work is on display at the Leopold, and Oscar Kokoschka (at the Albertina modern), and in music with the twelve-tone discordant compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, an explanation of which is on display at the Schoenberg Center, all originating from a Jewish milieu. At the same time, and possibly as a reaction, Lueger gave open expression to Jewish stereotyping and enflamed prejudice.

Two of the city’s most famous one-time residents were formed in this crucible. Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, which is currently threatening to lead the world into a full-scale war in West Asia (The Middle East), originally favored assimilation for Vienna’s Jewish population. However, because of the virulence of the antisemitism in the city he turned instead to embracing a Jewish separatist homeland and state – now the apartheid state of Israel.

The other famous visitor, from his hometown in Linz, was Adolf Hitler, who arrived in the city during the last three years of Lueger’s reign and hatched his own lethal form of antisemitism.

There is a statue of Lueger at the Volksoper (the People’s Opera), which the mayor helped found and which over the holidays revived an operetta from the time of the Nazi invasion ,overlaid with a contemporary plot about its Jewish producers and directors’ fear of what will happen to them.

The more interesting Lueger statue though sits opposite the MAK, the Museum of Applied Arts, which boasted a fascinating exhibition highlighting both the creativity and wastefulness of fashion and the textile industry which alongside the arms industry and the Pentagon accounts for over 10 percent of the worlds CO2 and 20 percent of its water pollution.

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The Lueger Statue graffitied 

The statue presents a heroic Lueger posed atop the workers of the city of whom he claimed to be their champion. The interesting thing about the statue though is that in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and defaming of slave traders’ statues in Europe, it has graffiti markings all over it. The back of the statue has the word “Nazi” scrawled on it and the front says, “I never felt so free,” markings made in 2022. The city left both the statue and the graffiti, a fitting way of both displaying and commenting on this conflicted and tortured period of its history.

The Not-So-Distant Nazi Past

According to the Wien Museum, when in 1938 the Nazis marched into the city, even they were surprised by the virulence with which the Viennese persecuted and robbed its Jewish population. As detailed in the 2023 novel The Vienna Writers’ Circle, Freud, before leaving the city, was required to provide a complete accounting of everything he owned. Today, visitors to the Freud Museum will find much of his collection of African and other artifacts which he was forced to leave when he moved to London.

This systematic looting was carried out by the vacuously named “Department of Property Transactions” and included stealing artworks, particularly by Max Oppenheimer and Oscar Kokoschka. Oppenheimer’s abundant and important work was sidelined because it had to be left when he fled (there is a painting in the Wien donated by a Gestapo officer) and Kokoschka’s pioneering Expressionist work was drained of its energy in exile, except for a brief anti-fascist mural period during the war.

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Max Oppenheimer, whose career was disrupted and paintings were looted by the Nazis

The novel, whose central characters are a pair of upper middle-class Jewish writers, who were part of Freud’s circle which met regularly at Café Mozart, details an identity change ring to erase their Jewish past so they can continue writing and publishing under their new Aryan names. Except for one major incident though – as Chekhov says when a gun appears in the first act it must go off in the final act and this one does – theirs is a passive resistance. It contrasts with a recent article in The Guardian which describes the work of a Viennese woman in exile as part of the Communist-led Österreichische Freiheitsfront, the Austrian Liberation Front, where women, who could carry messages more easily, constituted the communications connective tissue of a group that actively gathered information and ultimately helped sabotage German factories.

This past is now being questioned, but in some ways the questioning is muted, a testimony to the persistence of the Nazi past. At the Wien, there is a room where the story is told of an attempt at denazification which quickly is snuffed out. However, the information is concealed behind a series of closed doors, so visitors opening the doors will get the story of the restoration of the past – but those not wanting to hear the story can simply walk through the room without opening the doors.

There was a similar reticence in the Natural History Museum’s exhibit “The Changing Arctic,” which is very good on the shrinking of the Arctic to the point where the continent now absorbs half the solar energy it did in 1980, and in pointing out that the Austrian Alps are expected to be entirely free of ice in the next 50 years.

However, there is not a word in the exhibit about the geopolitical strategic nature of the continent as the source of now more easily mineable minerals. Siberia, the largest bordering land mass, was seen as the grand prize if the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine on Russia had succeeded in breaking up the country.

The story told behind closed doors at the Wien is devastating. The denazification period effectively ended in 1947-48 when the Allies (U.S., British, French) started the Cold War, with the new enemy being the U.S.S.R. The story quickly changed in Austria from its citizens lining the streets to support Hitler, to Austria being the first victim of Hitler.

What followed was a rapid re-entry of former Nazis back into power. The Albertina Modern for example details how Oscar Kokoschka had to go into exile, but a lesser Expressionist artist Herbert Boeckl who joined the Nazi Party in 1941. In 1946 he was censored for failing to register as a former party member, but by 1952 was reinstated and represented Austria at that year’s Venice Biennale, the top national honor for any artist.

The actress Paula Wessely, star of the Nazi film Homecoming which justified the invasion of Poland, by 1948 was playing a half-Jewish victim of the Gestapo. When a bombed-out and then rebuilt Staatsoper, the national opera house, reopened in 1955, the opening night conductor of Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio was Karl Bohm, a Nazi sympathizer who the Allies had banned from public appearances.

This year’s world-renowned Vienna Symphony New Year’s concert featured a long video intermission about two boys who romp in the town of Linz over the music of Anton Bruckner in this, his centennial year. However, the lilting green fields and the mediaeval churches never hint that this, Hitler’s hometown, was the site of a massive German wartime arms industry. The Wien does an excellent job at disgorging this history – but it’s one that in its display is still kept in the closet.

Peace and Death

Finally, two exhibits summed up where we are today and where we have come in 2023. The first, “Peace,” at the Judenplatz Museum in the square that houses a memorial to the Jewish dead in the Holocaust, had an excellent piece by a Palestinian artist literalizing the prophet Isaiah’s words about transforming swords into ploughshares, with a rifle on top that then transmutes into a shovel below.

The museum points out that the Hebrew word for peace “shalom” and the Arab word “salam” are nearly the same, but then also features an exhibit with the Oslo Accords, which were supposedly the blueprint for a Palestinian state, written on toilet paper – which is exactly what they have been consigned to.

The problem with the exhibit though is that at various points it presents peace as a thing of the past, after October 7th in Israel and after the Russian special military operation in Ukraine. These events the museum states have “destroyed all prospects for peace for the time being.” This is false. At the moment when peace becomes a political issue, i.e. a ceasefire in Gaza and a negotiated settlement in Ukraine taking Russia into account in any consideration of European security, the museum denies its efficacy, which leads one to conclude that peace was not a real position but only a politically expedient one, used in the museum world to solicit funds.

A far more telling summing up of 2023 was to be had at The Dom, the museum of St Stephen’s Cathedral, whose exhibit “Being Mortal” might rather simply be titled “Death,”. And 2023 was a year not of peace but of death, in Ukraine, in Israel, in Gaza, with more death on the way as we usher in 2024 in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Iran and with a potentially new killing field involving global war in Taiwan.

The images in the Dom are startling. There are James Ensor’s skeletons seeking warmth in his 1896 “Death Chasing a Flock of Mortals”; Max Beckman’s 1916 frail, stretched-out victims of World War I, waged by the French and German elites on its working class in “Assault,” to the star of the show Alfred Kubin’s corpselike faceless woman, not a Florence Nightengale angel of mercy but an angel of death, with her hand over the mouth of a lifeless corpse of a soldier in bed.

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Gunter Brus’ “Young Death” at the Dom Museum 

“Young Death” is Gunter Brus’ 2020 watercolour depiction, in the tradition of Ensor and Kubin, of a skeleton in tattered black garb that suggests the toll on the planet’s youth by Covid, drugs and war.

And finally there is Jan Bruegel the Younger’s “Triumph of Death” a reimagining of his grandfather’s painting where death is even more all-encompassing and omnipresent than in the original – this version was painted in 1602, two years into Europe’s most vicious killing based on religion, the 30 Years War.

If “Death” was a more fitting summation of 2023 than “Peace,” that theme also resounded at the end of the Staatsoper’s magnificent staging of Richard Strauss’ Elektra. The end result of all of Elektra’s scheming to revenge her father’s death by having her brother kill her mother results in Electra herself being strangled by the ropes suspended from the headless giant of her father that looms over her.

Her revenge condemns her, as death shadows even the most comfortable European cities and as the world, often propelled by the excuse of revenge, seems to move inexorably toward more confrontation and destruction.

Mr. Bates Goes to London: The Post Office scandal and the series that exposed it   
Thursday, 11 January 2024 14:05

Mr. Bates Goes to London: The Post Office scandal and the series that exposed it  

A simple four-part television series, Mr. Bates vs The Post Office, has prompted the head of that agency to give back her title as a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for her part in wreaking havoc in her corner of the “empire.”

It’s led to the proposal of special legislation to immediately compensate wrongly accused post office employees with £600,000 each, and has now involved every major political party including the Conservatives for being connected to the global corporation Fujitsu that produced the faulty system, and also Keir Starmer, head of the so called “Labour” party, for falsely prosecuting postal employees.

The TV series which has the whole country in an uproar, over what has been called one of the biggest “miscarriages of justice in British history,” details not only the unfairness of one particular system. It also – and this may be what it has struck a chord as well – exemplifies the current and growing attack on service industry workers and the communities they represent, strengthened by the accelerating process of automation which Artificial Intelligence is promising.

MR BATES THUMB STRAPS

Mr. Bates opens innocently enough with Toby Jones’s Welsh small-town Post Office manager agreeing with a customer over a complaint about the high price of stamps that indeed it is “daylight robbery,”— ironic because we’re about to witness a systemic daylight robbery —and assuring an elderly woman who cannot remember where she put her pension certificate that he has been keeping it for her.

We then move to Hampshire where Jo, whose post office is also a bakery and fruit and vegetable stand, arrives with fresh buns, and finally to Yorkshire where a third sub postmaster Lee, who like Alan and |Jo is accused of stealing by the new Horizon automated system.

Lee represents himself in court, believing in the fundamental fairness of the British judicial system and leaves owing not only the money he is accused of not balancing but also the legal costs of the trial – a total of £321,000.

Each of the three is told that they alone are to blame, that it could not possibly be the Horizon system, implemented by Fujitsu, the largest IT company in Europe. They bear the brunt of the prosecution alone, with Jo told it is particularly heinous that she is stealing from public funds.

Finally, Alan gets all the sub-postmasters together in the small town of Fenny Compton, itself a symbol of little people fighting back which the investigating “suits” have never heard of. He tells them that they “never have to worry about being alone again.” And thus begins a legal struggle which is now at the heart of British politics.

The series is terrific at spotlighting, not only a particular miscarriage of justice, but also a more systematic attack on both the collectivity of workers in the service industry and the almost gloating at their replacement by cold, impersonal machines which claim to be more accurate but in fact are as prone to error as any human.

Unlike Jo’s baking and Alan’s kindness and understanding with his customers, the Horizon black box lights and beeps, responding only with a recorded “Thank you for waiting.” An array of “suits” from the Post Office hierarchy then show up to accuse Jo of stealing because their system has inaccurately double posted. They are reminiscent of the suits that appear as well in apartment buildings that have now been purchased by even greedier landlords and announce a propitious increase in rent.

Jo and Alan are priests, confessors, therapists and promoters of collectivity in their small part of the world while the machines and the impersonal corporate forces behind them are cold and ultimately, when they err, irrational. h

The automation, defended by the Post Office director Paula Vennells as perfect, is instead prone to error and recalls a recent article in The Financial Times which clams that the hurried rollout of AI, in the haste to replace employees, is now being delayed by what the article calls an “alarming” tendency to return inaccurate information and “hallucinate” by “generating plausible-sounding responses that have little relation to reality.”

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Toby Jones leads a stellar cast 

Mr. Bates also represents a progressive trend in series TV, in which the British documentary tradition, going back to John Grierson (one of whose most famous films Night Mail details the work of the Post Office) is now being incorporated into fiction.

The series takes its place alongside last year’s This England, about the inhuman costly bungling of Covid policy by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives. It demonstrates the impact on audiences that a well-constructed and politically acute series can have, and thereby counters the American documentary series trend which at the moment is floundering and obsessed only with “true crime” progranmmes.

Kudos also to Toby Jones, who goes back and forth between HBO big-budget series, Game of Thrones, and playing stalwart, down-to-earth types in British series such as Don’t Forget the Driver, and who here leads but does not overwhelm a stellar group of actors. These are the kinds of series we need more of and it is hoped that its effect on political life will redound on television producers and foster the creation of more series like this one.

One more just war or just one more war?  The New York Times and all the military propaganda that’s fit to print.
Tuesday, 26 December 2023 10:02

One more just war or just one more war? The New York Times and all the military propaganda that’s fit to print.

The so-called 'Biden Neocons' are part of the Uniparty of Democrats and Republicans who have minor quibbles but one major agreement. That is their unequivocal support for the American military, and more important behind that, American arms manufacturers. This is the United States of Raytheon (whose former board member is now the Secretary of Defense) and General Dynamics.

So the question is why the about-face of the American corporate media, who are now beginning to question the Ukrainian war? And make no mistake about it, they are questioning it. The New York Times recently ran two stories which finally hint that it’s ‘La Débâcle’, as Zola named the French collapse against Germany in 1870.

The first began to confront the ‘shanghaiing’ of Ukrainians off the street and sent to the new ‘Eastern Front’ to be mowed down by the Russians at a moment when anyone on the internet can watch people being snatched at bus stops and pulled into this ‘democratic’ army, while the Russians report finding on the aftermath of the battlefield the corpses of women and young and old men. The ‘Eastern Front’ recalls the old Hogan’s Heroes joke about where the German prison commander Coronel Klink always threatened to send Sergeant Schultz if he was too lenient with the prisoners.

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Hogan’s Heroes and the threat of the Eastern Front

And the Ukrainians are right to be afraid. These are killing fields where, almost unarmed and badly trained, they will be mowed down. Lindsey Graham let the cat out of the bag when he proudly proclaimed that the U.S. would fight Russia to the last Ukrainian and American defense officials such as Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley recently worried that the Ukrainians were becoming “casualty averse,” that is, did not want to be slaughtered on the battlefield, while Hilary Clinton prattles on about Ukraine, with its opposition media silenced, as a model of democracy.

The other story-without-telling-the-whole story was equally condemning of Ukrainian propaganda. Recently Zelensky has been touting, against the onslaught of Russian drones that are increasingly blacking out larger portions of the country – and that will continue all winter – a new ‘winter offensive’ by the Ukrainian army across the Dnieper River, where territory has been reclaimed after the failed spring and summer “offensives.”  

The Times’ story instead described men being sent to their death on a ‘suicide mission’, having to make their way through corpses of Ukrainian soldiers as they cross the river. As to the vast amount of territory reclaimed, the story recounts how a group of soldiers spent their time on the ‘offensive’ holed up in the basement of a home until it was clear to come out. It turns out then that the territory they reclaimed was one basement.

But why the shift? The Times wholeheartedly backed the war, becoming the main propagandizer and cheerleader for it in its first year and a half. Has ‘the paper of record’ suddenly become a peacenik publication? Hardly – in the same two week stretch, the paper ran two stories that worried about the military preparedness of Germany and Japan, openly promoting rearming the Axis. It’s clear that what Germany is being urged to do in rearming is, as Trump suggested, to contribute more of its budget to U.S. arms manufacturers. This at a time when the economy of Europe’s economic trendsetter is tanking. Because of the likely blowing up by the U.S. or its allies of the Russian Nordstream pipelines, energy is now so expensive that businesses are leaving Germany, fleeing to the east where there are still ties to cheap Russian oil and natural gas, or to the U.S. where more drilling than ever is going on.

Beyond that, it is clear that the Times' shift of position on Ukraine is instead a shift to a possible bigger empty hole of weapons that could become a full-blown war in the Middle East, which is now in danger of drawing Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and eventually Iran into Israel’s genocidal massacre in Gaza. The point is that in this era of ‘forever wars,’ one more just than the next as The Times would have it, the U.S. only leaves one forever war when there is another, potentially larger conflict, just down the road.

We saw this most recently in Afghanistan, where the U.S. after 20 years of futility retreated but only with the promise of the Ukraine war on the horizon. These wars have resulted in defeats, but winning or losing the war is not the point. A significant part of the point is the gaping hole that is filled with U.S. weapons, making a small portion of the U.S. military-media-elite rich, because they always win, whatever the outcome.

Journalist Max Blumenthal, taking a tour around the suburbs of Washington, where after 9/11 there were more new millionaires because of the burgeoning ‘anti-terrorism industry’ than any other portion of the country, came away seeing that these elegant homes were one war away from losing their mortgage. And, of course, this contrasts sharply with ordinary Americans (nearly 60 percent in the last survey), living in tiny homes or in their cars, who are one emergency away from being homeless.

The Times isn’t so much against the Ukraine war as it is licking its lips at the breathless proposition of a much larger regional war in the Middle East. There the results, instead of a ruined country, might be a collaring of that region’s oil, a thwarting of China’s Belt and Road project in that area, and a gigantic windfall for the U.S. weapons industry in a country where the defence budget is not only the largest in the world but also bigger, according to Brown University, than the nine next countries combined.

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American 'defence' budget vs. rest of the world 

To have the nation engaged in war after war with no respite, several preconditions are necessary. First, in terms of treatment by the media, is presentism where history begins on the day of the horrific event which justifies the war, be that 9/11 wiping out all prior knowledge of the U.S. and European colonial history in the Middle East, or October 7 cancelling out the 75-year-history of Israel’s systematic destruction of the Palestinians.

Then there is the villain: Saddam Hussein was Hitler, Putin is Hitler, Hamas is Hitler. Finally, there is the ‘reasonableness’ of the West in not wanting to engage but in being drawn into conflict because it is a victim (when in most cases, as in Ukraine, it is the aggressor wanting to plant nuclear weapons on the Russian border) or favoring limited military conflict (the phony humanitarian pause instead of a ceasefire in Gaza as U.S weapons continue to massacre Gazan women and children.) And with U.S. battleships now encircling the Persian Gulf, how long before a rocket, errant or not, hits one and we are all asked to 'Remember The Maine!,' the battle cry that launched the U.S. imperial drive against the remnants of the Spanish empire in the Americas.

The Times isn’t for peace, it’s for a better, more enduring and more profitable war. The paper of record and ‘all the news that’s fit to print’ has become a shameful promoter of weapons, war, and all the military propaganda that fits.

Frugality and austerity trump creativity: the top 25 global TV series in 2023
Friday, 15 December 2023 09:36

Frugality and austerity trump creativity: the top 25 global TV series in 2023

Dennis Broe reviews this year's TV series from around the world. Above image: Kenneth Branagh as Boris Johnson’s Churchill without the statesmanship 

American TV series, which had led the world in both number, length and amount of episodes, were severely cut back this year in light of a general retrenchment in the industry, a trend that will continue next year. Expect shorter series, fewer episodes and faster pulling of the plug so that the landscape begins to look more like frugal, budget-conscious series from around the world.

Of my Top 25 series this year, though many are “limited” series, many others have either been cancelled or have ended prematurely. Only 6 series are returning. First to go, of course, are series that are socially relevant. Heading the list of unconscionable cancellations are Alaska Daily, with Hilary Swank as a reporter helping to lay bare the local power structure. Also, oddly, Walker Independence, a Western sequel from the CW that focused more than most not only on frontier prejudice but also the power of the railroads and Eastern capital in the development of the West.

The most egregious cancellation though was Warner Brother Discovery’s decision to refuse to air, after it had already been shot, season four of Snowpiercer, Boon Joon-ho’s nakedly anti-capitalist climate catastrophe series.

Who has time anyway to watch series that deal, even if obliquely, with power relations and social problems amid the plethora of game shows (Let’s Make a Deal, The Price is Right) , reality TV (World’s Funniest Animals, House of Villains), and reruns (Yellowstone) that the producers have foisted on the general public? All because of the writers’ and actors’ strikes but also due to their general cost-cutting, with the hope that some of this bottom-of-the-barrel cheap fare will outlast scripted series due to arrive next year.

A year in which it has been increasingly difficult to find progressive series also featured shows that, for the sake of gimmicky last-minute twists, utterly changed the trajectory of the series, as well as nominally interesting series that because of inane and cliched political assumptions floundered dreadfully.

Greedy producers and studios

Two Irish series fell into these categories. Clean Sweep was, up until its last moment, a suspenseful series which had us sympathizing with a former IRA agent now living a quiet life with the British policewoman pursuing – or rather haunting her – presented as a Les Misérables Javert-type villain. Until the end, when the former spy commits a reprehensible act that utterly reverses our sentiments towards her and validates the cop’s pursuit. A surprise yes, but a psychotic one that attempts to cancel out our understanding of this woman and that represents a failure of nerve on the part of the creators and the network.

Worse than that was Hidden Assets, where a series about an Irish female cop investigating a drug ring seemingly led by a dashing financier. Instead, the story turned into a “terrorist” tale tied to Syrian bloodletting, that utterly misrepresents the role of the West in trying to wreck that country. Yuck! Series with similar failings appear in my 5 worst.

Nevertheless, I have culled 25 worthy series from 10 countries and 5 continents, from the approximately 135 series I watched this year, which proves that creators can survive and thrive even in the challenges and rubble left them by greedy producers and studios.

Top 10 Series

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Elizabeth Olson in Love and Death 

Love and Death“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good” goes the Eric Burdon theme in a gospel rendering in this series, with a stunning Elizabeth Olson as a Texas suburban housewife who in the dawning of the Reagan era awakens and wants something more than the dull, drab existence to which she is confined. She chooses to have an affair which releases all kinds of tensions within her and this extremely repressed town, which is Anytown America, then and now. Writer/Director David E Kelly (Big Little Lies, Goliath) is at his most extraordinary in a masterpiece of empathy for a woman craving freedom, carved from the most exploitative of genres, True Crime. The series ends with the word “shhh,” a shushing and directive to maintain this repression. (Prime)

This England – Michael Winterbottom’s expertly rendered account of the British state during COVID is a paean to the British working-class health workers and to the colonial minority and aged victims of despicable policy management. Kenneth Branagh is Boris Johnson, obsessed with Shakespeare and Churchill but utterly blind to the plight of his actual countrymen and women. He illustrates the way, not only during COVID but since, Western leaders are utterly cut off from their constituents. Dominic Cummings (Simon Paisley Day), Johson’s advisor, who had put across Brexit, is full of callousness and contempt for the jewel of the British welfare system, the National Health Service, wanting, as a good neoliberal, to clean house and privatize. The critique in this marvelous mini-series extends far beyond COVID as it figures the greedy malaise that is turning Western voters faster and faster to the far right. Beyond prescient. (Apple TV)

The Good Mothers This tale follows the efforts of three brave women in the south of Italy, in Calabria, who sometimes forcefully, sometimes reluctantly, take on the male violence and “omerta” or silence of the local mafia, the ’Ndrangheta with sometimes liberatory but often tragic results. Unlike most mafia series which focus on physical violence, this one concentrates on the emotional violence used to maintain this power. When brutal force is invoked though it comes as such a surprise that it drives home the way one underlies the other. Superb series about resisting entrenched male power. (Hulu)

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Hilary Swank as lead reporter on a local muckraking paper in Alaska Daily

Alaska Daily – Hilary Swank is excellent as a no-holds barred reporter, dedicated to telling the truth and opposing corruption for which she has been exiled to a local Alaskan daily. One wishes there were even a single Hilary Swank left in the corporate media and her exile illustrates what happens these days to truth tellers. The series main line is about a murdered indigenous woman. Along the way the series also highlights bribery in that state involving its politicians and media to open up protected Alaskan land for mineral exploitation. A series far too good and explicit about actual power relations both in the state and in the media to survive, and indeed it was cancelled after one glorious season. (Prime)

Little Bird/Bones of CrowsTwo Canadian series which deal with the same subject matter, the ethnic cleaning that continues to this day of that country of its indigenous population. The first is an intimate portrayal of one woman, wrenched from her family by the Canadian state, as she wakes to her heritage and attempts to surmount the obstacles in her way that maintain this suppression. Her awakening is painful and in one instance at least tragic, but it is presented with painstaking clarity. The second covers a longer history of this forced march of cultural genocide from before World War 2 to the ’60s and in a way fills in the gaps of the first series with Reservation Dog’s Paulina Alexis as the most shipwrecked victim of this systemic abuse. (Prime)

Nordland ’99 – This Danish series set in the not-to-distant past gives us a glimpse of maximal creativity within the new constraints of series austerity. A less than half hour format shot in rural exteriors with its eerie Twin Peaks air of menace created through night-time effects like the swaying of the wind in the forest. Its subject also recalls David Lynch’s masterwork as three teens search for their missing compatriot and uncover a dark adult world that threatens to engulf them, but by remaining true to themselves they survive. Extraordinary work by series creator Kasper Møller Rask. (Mubi)

The Last of Us – This next zombie apocalypse, after The Living Deads, is much meaner with fascists both in the organized government and power structure, as we have today’s Biden neoconservatives, and street fascists outside in the form of Trump-like racist Kansas City vigilantes. The only respite is a socialist community, “a true democracy,” encountered by the battle-hardened warrior leading a young girl who could perhaps save the world. Episode 3, nominated for multiple Emmys, is a self-contained survivalist love story that illustrates the concentration in this series, whose crude source is a digital game, on character at the expense of the infrequent appearances by the genre’s staple, zombies. Only in the last episode does the series veer into a zombie and human kill zone, and succumb to the temptation to return to its gamer origins. (Max)

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The magnificent Chloe Sevigny in Poker Face 

“Rest in Metal,” Episode 4, Poker Face The rest of this series is a slightly above average remake of Columbo here replaced by Natasha Lyonne’s heavy metal waif in episodes that alternate between being clever and gimmicky as the character Charlie Cale closes in on her quarry. However, Episode 4 rises way above the rest as Chloe Sevigny’s down and out rocker, who will do anything for a return to her glory days, lays bare the emptiness behind the music industry’s star-making and star-breaking machine. Extraordinary work from a peerless actress. (Peacock)

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Killing County 

Killing County – Blacklisted footballer Colin Kaepernick produced this documentary series about Bakersfield California, where the sheriff and his men kill with impunity and then cover up the murders with their control over the coroners’ office and their presenting the victims as hardened criminals. Utterly different from most “True Crime” reality series which simply and blindly cover up police violence. Here the patrolling and in some cases eliminating of a Mexican population by Caucasian cops is held up to scrutiny instead of lauded. (Hulu)

Thicker Than Water – Netflix French series about racial tensions in French society, as an Algerian TV reporter is promoted to anchor but then must endure the slings and arrows of a racist white power structure in order to maintain her fragile position. Most telling is an early scene where she is told she must straighten her natural curly black hair, and dye it blonde. She conforms and gets in an elevator full of white women with the same blonde streaks, all now ascending the corporate ladder. Nawell Madani as showrunner, writer, and star manages to highlight Algerian sisterhood and contrast it with more cut-throat standard French careerism. (Netflix)

Honorable Mentions

The Curse – This lead threesome is cloying, obnoxious and difficult to watch as the woke neoliberal couple attempts to jump on the indigenous bandwagon to exploit their lands for what amounts to “socially conscious” gentrification. Meanwhile, the filmmaker whose reality series will secure their profits is beset with his own careerist anxieties. Most telling scene of a sometimes-brilliant satire is the couple having masturbatory sex where neither connects with the other and which exemplifies their disconnection to the indigenous world they’re exploiting. (Paramount+)

Woman of the Dead – Austrian series about a female embalmer in a rural hamlet who takes on the local power structure which has colluded to eliminate her husband. She disrupts the attempt to turn the area into a luxurious ski resort in her quest for truth and vengeance against a religious, civic and corporate elite who she exposes and destroys. (Netflix)

Black Snow – Australian cold case murder mystery in Queensland exposing the roots of wealth in a town where slaves from the island nation of Vanuatu were brought to harvest the cane fields. Here the investigation of the past sheds light on the single murder but also on the larger crime of appropriation of an entire people. (Prime)

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Limboland, the breathtaking beauty of the Karachi Valley 

Limboland Pakistani series set in the gorgeously verdant and breathtakingly mountainous Hunza Valley in Karachi that has an old man, now owner of a luxury hotel, reminiscing about the mistakes he made in putting greed above human relations. This is Succession but entirely critical instead of a laudatory celebration of the Murdoch empire. (YouTube)

Black Santiago Club From Benin comes this African series about a music club that is a fountain of not only musical but cultural heritage in danger of being displaced by a greedy developer who wants to build condominiums for the rich. The series’ subject is the community organizing to preserve its social treasure. (YouTube)

Never Have I EverFourth and final season has the Indian teen of the title torn between two boyfriends. That tension though is not allowed to supersede her attempts to fulfill her dream of getting into Princeton, the actual focus of the final season in a liberatory way which upsets the usual single-minded romantic focus of the teen genre trajectory. (Netflix)

Bay of FiresBeyond quirky Australian series about a thoroughly competent female executive exiled to a Tasmanian town of ne’er do wells who may all have a criminal past. Marta Dusseldorp in the title role holds the whole thing together while teaching the disorganized criminals a thing or two about more organized corporate scamming. (Apple TV)

Dark Winds Season 2 – This series, torn from Tony Hillerman’s novels about southwest indigenous, features Zahn McClarnon and Jessica Matten as Indian lawman and deputy pursuing a deadly white racist and more presciently coming to grips with the land holders who hire these types to bury their secrets. (Acorn TV)

Billy the Kid Season 2 – This epic Western began as a recounting of the prejudice the Irish encountered in America, a unique take on the story of the famous gunslinger and bandit. Season 2 is more of the same as Billy fights the Santa Fe Ring, a group of investors who are swallowing up the territory. It’s a unique take by series creator Michael Hurst which like its fellow epic Heaven’s Gate presents the West from a class and outsider perspective, often missing from contemporary Westerns only concerned with vacant mythmaking. Can you say Yellowstone?  (MGM+)

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Scrublands' murderous priest, who exposes the town  

ScrublandsFour-part Aussie mini-series with a reporter exiled to a remote backwater town to investigate the aftermath of a mass shooting by the town’s pastor. What he uncovers instead of illuminating the priest’s psychopathy sheds light on the corruption of the town’s “upright” citizens and the landholding power behind them. Well executed exposé. (BBC iplayer)

Walker Independence – Who knew that a prequel whose original was a reactionary Chuck Norris series would instead be a questioning of not only the racism of this Western town but also the collusion of Western landholding wealth with Eastern railroad expansionists. Doesn’t lose focus on these power relations and for that reason met its fate of early cancellation. (Apple TV+)

Don’t Leave Me – Employs the trope of female detective returning to her home city of in this case Venice from Rome, and here obsessed with uncovering a ring of traffickers of young boys. Though not as compelling as the Icelandic series Valhalla, the detective’s focus on saving these boys and two late reveals which suggest wider corruption lead to a satisfying conclusion. (Prime)

Neon – Netflix series about a reggaeton singer, his manager and videographer leaving Fort Meyers and attempting to make it in lascivious, money-hungry Miami. Connects all the dots of the band fighting and then making up a little too comfortably but along the way maintains a nice focus on the music, on the illicit money that circulates around the music, and on comradeship as the only way of maintaining sanity in a marketing world gone mad.

Great Expectations/All The Light We Cannot See – Two series by Peaky Blinders and A Christmas Carol creator Steven Knight. The first uses Dickens again to spotlight the greed and vanity of imperial England as the ingenue Pip inhabits an utterly corrupt landscape with the stench of the colonial and capitalist industrial project suffusing and destroying personal relations. The second, lampooned by corporate critics for its unfaithfulness to the award-winning novel, instead employs the devices of series TV to heighten the melodramatic tension between a blind girl and a German soldier in the last days of World War 2 as they find purpose and redemption amid the ruins of the Nazi debacle. (Max/Netflix)

Daryl Dixon Second Walking Dead spinoff, after the bland Dead City, has the motorcycle redneck of the title marooned in France. Leave it to showrunner extraordinaire Angela Kang – leading light behind the neoliberal critical Season 11 of the mothership series and exec producer here – to infuse this examination of Daryl’s sensitive side with a Marine Le Pen subplot that has the a protofascist band attempting to rule France, not so different from the situation that the country in the wake of the failure of the ultracapitalist Macron finds itself in now. (Amazon)

Retro Series of the Year

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The greed behind the Frontier fur 

Frontier Season 1 – This Canadian series, about the British, French and American exploitation in the 18th century of the country’s indigenous, its land and its resources in the European craze for furs is, in the first season, a model historical series that lays bare its era. The budget kept decreasing in each of the subsequent three seasons as did the ingenuity of the writing but that takes nothing away from a truly remarkable opening season lost when it first came out in 2016 because it seemed to be nothing more than a Revenant rip-off. In fact, it was far more subtle than that overheated film. (Netflix)

Five Worst

High Desert/Based on a True Story – The first has the usually reliable Patricia Arquette swirling in the sand as a Stevie Nicks waif and for no conceivable reason. The second has the now increasingly vapid Kelly Cuoco, who has exhausted her post Big Bang cache, as part of a careerist couple who decide to let a serial killer roam free in order to promote their True Crime podcast. Supposedly funny, but actually just disgusting. 

Bupkis – The flavour of the month Pete Davison in a supposedly outré series with Joe Pesci that purports to be pushing the boundaries around sex but in the end quickly conforms and, as we’ve all seen for Davison, starts to look like just another Taco Bell ad.

Night Agent/Red Skies Politically regressive series from, in order, the U.S. and Israel. The first has an FBI agent pursuing terrorists and MAGA representatives inside the White House with no hint of irony about the real threat that lies within not from a mole but from those in charge of today’s White House, where its leaders are now attempting to start three world wars. The second claims to be an Israeli/Palestinian co-production centered on a mixed group of students but as soon as an attack comes betrays its initial premise and shifts into a billboard for Israeli repression and reprisal.

Under Control This French series attempts to be a more likable version of Veep, the HBO series about a vain politician. The problem is, unlike the former series, which took the gloves off and presented politicians as narcissistic media mongers, this one attempts to be amiable to all – as the lead character thrust into a key cabinet position is simply beset with turmoil – and in so doing instead becomes as Seinfeld proclaimed “a series about nothing,” but in this case not in a good or funny way.  

Found Horrible, smarmy, and smirking series about an African American female troubleshooter who, as does much of Washington, prides herself on stomping on other’s rights in her self-righteous quest to protect her clients. Full of horrible neoliberal police state sentiments like, “Sometimes the good guys win.” Turns a fascist vigilante into Sister Theresa. Much better is the erstwhile and humble detective of The Irrational who contests and is the former victim of white supremacy.  

Bonus Bad:

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The Buccaneers saluting wealth 

The Buccaneers – How does this series go wrong? Let me count the ways. Combine The Bridgerton faux casting which eliminates prejudice from history with the gutting of the critical thrust of its Edith Wharton source and the Sofia Coppolization via its rock soundtrack and jazzy montage in this story about rich New York young women who journey to Britain to marry and preserve decaying British wealth. Add a dose of Gilded Age (the series not the novel) concentration on the wealthy as the only characters in the 19th century with nary an ounce of Henry James’ critical examination of that class on both sides of the Atlantic and you have a series which simply celebrates money and status. Insipidly yours.

Putting the ‘Who Dun It?’ back at the centre of hard-boiled crime fiction
Friday, 15 December 2023 09:07

Putting the ‘Who Dun It?’ back at the centre of hard-boiled crime fiction

Published in Fiction

In the Anglo world, things generally get lumped together, but in the Francophone world the two kinds of crime fiction are worlds apart. One branch of French crime fiction is called le policier, one branch of which is the ‘police procedural’, another is the ‘police detective’.

This line has links to what in Britain is sometimes called ‘the cozy’ since the detective, eg Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, doesn’t get overly involved in the criminal world and seems to operate safely from their armchair.

The other line though is what the French calls the roman noir, or ‘dark crime’ novel. This is what we call ‘hard-boiled’ fiction which is also taken up by film noir in the 40s – those stories that feature a compromised protagonist trying to somehow survive in a compromised world.

The policier is clearly descended from the Sherlock Holmes line and concentrates on the exposing of the criminal, in most cases a murderer, by the detective, who, quirky as they may be, eventually falls into line and becomes the deductive scientific mind able to see behind the supposedly chaotic clues to determine who really committed the crime.

The problem here is that the emphasis is almost entirely on the process of exposing the evildoer to the point that when they are exposed, and often there is little concentration on the social implications of their crime. It’s a puzzle, not a cultural canvas.  

The roman noir or hard-boiled novel, from Chandler, Hammett, Ross McDonald, Woolrich and others, involves the immersion of the lead figure in the social world that surrounds them, rather than them standing aloof from it and simply evaluating behavior. The lead figure often is not a detective or if he or she is, may be highly compromised and even display criminal traits themselves. 

The French place a premium on this type of tale, concentrating on the atmospherics of the telling. French analysts of crime fiction also downplay the mystery element, arguing that in the roman noir the entire world is guilty, seedy, and corrupt and the solving of the enigma – if there really is one – does little to change it.

The House That Buff Built

I have just finished my fourth novel in the Harry Palmer LA series, titled The House That Buff Built. Each of these novels is a repudiation of this aspect of the French hard-boiled tradition. In my mind and in my books, it does matter who is guilty and yes, the world, especially the world of late ’40s and early ’50s Los Angeles is, as Orson Welles once described it “a bright, guilty place.”

But it’s not a total morass. There are winners and losers in the novels and there is a power structure in each that Harry and his partner Crystal eventually expose, and that governs the sector of the economy each book describes. That may be Hollywood at the time of the blacklist in the first book Left of Eden; the postwar weapons industry in A Hello to Arms; the pharmaceutical industry – sometimes in league with the police – in The Precinct With The Golden Arm; and the real estate industry and the media in the remaking and disenfranchising of major portions of the population in The House That Buff Built.

Harry and Crystal’s dogged pursuit of the truth in each case leads to an exposing of the corruption that underlies and sets the table for the effusion of corruption which engulfs LA society in one of the darkest periods of its history.

Indeed, the second book of the trilogy, following The House That Buff Built, is titled “The Dark Ages.” Besides the real estate industry whose pillaging led the city to its current housing crisis, it examines the full enactment of the blacklist in what Dalton Trumbo called, referring to the overall cowardice of the industry to resist this onslaught, “The Time of the Toad”. And the final entry in the trilogy examines the porn industry at the moment when it was being taken out of the grubby and dirty hands of the mob and placed under corporate protection, on its way to becoming a big moneymaker.  

The overall point though is that in the roman noir it does matter “who dun it.” Sometimes in crime novels, series and films, instead of carrying the crime to its logical conclusion, what we get is a last-minute sleight of hand that shifts responsibility from the actual guilty party to a more random suspect for the point of surprise and shock, with the social import then displaced or thwarted.

That happens in Anglo hard-boiled fiction, but in Continental hard-boiled fiction, where plot is less crucial, at times the morass is everything. The lead figure is simply lucky to survive and there is no one power figure behind an amorphous and scattered corrupt enterprise.

That, of course, is often the way people feel these days where it seems that leadership in the West is so obviously separated from its constituents and where the world seems to be nothing but a massive sea of corruption as inequality continues to rise faster and faster.

Nevertheless, there are agents behind these changes, and I feel it is important to identify who these agents are and what is the nature of their (often corporate) villainy. As in the best noirs –including films such as Chinatown – the personal life of the culprit also bears the marks of their public malfeasance, and it is in my mind important to point out not only the similarities between pubic and personal crime but also the gap between who they say they are and how their actions describe who they are in reality.

Another film example of this combination of public and personal evil is the ending of Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon where the character finally betrays his last ounce of integrity and reveals himself incapable of redemption on both the social (or economic) and personal planes.

I would argue then against the French interpretation, and the way that perhaps the standard crime novel and film engages with the genre, that although the world is a place of seedy and generalized corruption,  corruption has an origin, a central spoke from which evil radiates. It is important to identify that origin and not give in to the idea that it is so vast and so widespread that it can, far from being contained or halted, hardly even be recognized.

The House That Buff Built, is the latest Harry Palmer/Crystal Eckart Mystery and Part 1 of “The Dark Ages,” an LA Trilogy.

The TV Season of Our Discontent: Streaming and Striking in 2023
Monday, 04 December 2023 11:31

The TV Season of Our Discontent: Streaming and Striking in 2023

Dennis Broe reports on the ups and downs of the U.S. streaming industry in 2023. Image above: SAG-AFTRA members join WGA members on the picket lines outside of Hollywood studios, courtesy of Jason Nelson/Decrypt.

The year in the TV business can be broken into three parts. The year began, following last year’s market doubting of the profitability of streaming, with retrenchment as the studios cut back on both product and labour, in an attempt to show solvency and address back debt.

On both fronts these cutbacks amounted to an attack on labour and in the second and major part of the year, labour struck back with the writers and actors, having had enough of belt tightening and penny pinching, joining many other unions in either threatening to strike or striking in what in the U.S. as a whole and Los Angeles in particular, was a summer of labour discontent that continued into the fall.

Through their actions, the workers changed how the story was written, moving it from being a tale of woe about the fate of the studios to one where the studios were culpable for their bloated salaries and failure to reward those actually creating the profit, and one where workers were entitled to part of a still enormously bountiful industry.

The third part of the year, the current phase, sees the writers, actors and directors, winning major concessions not only in salary and benefits but also on controls and limits on the use of artificial intelligence, an area unions in many sectors are concerned about. Also they have at least proposed that profits and bonuses be tied to streaming results, with the producers for the first time required to at least give a glimmer of the mass of audience data and actual viewer data they so jealously guard.

However, as they return to work, the retrenchment continues in this now more open class struggle, as the major studios attempt to limit the gains by continuing cutbacks and in some cases potentially folding or selling off assets.

Recently for the first time a reporter on mainstream media used the term “forever wars” in querying an administration official about the genocide in Gaza, a sign that the U.S. imperial notion of one “just” war after another is breaking down. What is becoming apparent in this snapshot of a portion of the entertainment industry, is that one of the most enduring of the forever wars is the one waged by U.S. capital against its workers – and that forever war is now being questioned on the domestic front as well.

A fool’s errand

The year in the television studio and streaming industry began with the fallout from the previous year’s Wall Street attack continuing. In March of 2022 the subscriptions of Netflix, the leader in the field, fell and investors then stopped bankrolling the industry based on the tech bubble model of perpetual growth, in the streaming case measured in subscriptions, as the indicator of profitability.

Instead, stock prices fell as investors demanded immediate results, looking askance at both the lack of profits and the amount of debt on the books for the major streamers, with Disney, for example, Netflix’ strongest competitor, losing $1.1 billion in the first quarter and Warner Brothers Discovery (WBD) now $44.80 billion in debt.  

The response of the major companies was to cut back on jobs and production, with Disney vowing to get rid of 7,000 jobs and Disney, Netflix and what was then HBO Max all not only cutting back on programming but also cancelling movies and series that were already shot in order to save money on post-production and marketing as well as paying creators residuals while claiming massive tax write-offs. The “strategy” was essentially making money by not making product, the opposite from the “content arms race” that had seen the growth of “peak TV,” where in 2022 599 series were produced.

The most egregious offender in this category was WBD’s David Zaslav, who had been tagged to lead the company because of his array of cheap reality TV series on the Discovery Channel, and who brought along with him the Discovery Chief Financial Officer known for his cost-cutting to supervise the bloodletting as the order of the day became “Turn the cameras off.”

This went on throughout the industry, as so far this year 119 shows had been cancelled or not renewed, among them some of the most expensive (Disney’s Willow, Netflix’s 1899) and some of the best and most socially responsible series (ABC’s Alaska Daily, Netflix’s The Chair, Hulu’s Reboot, HBO’s Black Lady Sketch Show).

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The end of Batgirl

Taking the cake though was WBD’s refusal to release Batgirl, a superhero film with a major role for an African American actress, and the fourth and final season of Academy Award Winner Bong Joon-ho’s class-conscious environmental apocalypse series Snowpiercer after both had already been shot. (The series is still looking for a broadcast or streaming home.)

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The most hated man in Hollywood?

In the midst of this slaughter, Zaslav was called “the most hated man in Hollywood,” and the creative workers in the industry did not fail to note that he rewarded himself for this penny pinching by taking a hefty salary raise, and that the almost half billion dollars he earned over five years with the company made him “one of the highest paid executives in America, earning far more than the heads of much larger companies.” During the resulting strike it was noted by struggling writers on the picket lines that his 2021 salary was “about the same level as 10,000 writers.”

The cost-cutting is partly the result of the Wall Street pressure along with the continual decline of cable subscribers, as “cord cutters” became a popular phrase this year, which in turn has led to declining revenue from both cable and network advertisers, who also noted the decline in network audiences due as well to streaming and to the competition from social media and gaming.

But this debacle is also partly the result of bad and/or greedy management, something the writers and actors and the general public is aware of, but is seldom touched on in the financial press. “Cord cutting” after all is in reaction to the high price of cable as producers and cable owners collaborate to continually raise prices on increasingly cash-strapped consumers plagued by inflation itself partly brought on by corporate price gouging.

Equally, the strategy of cost-cutting to show profit instead of ramping up production to attract new audiences is a penny wise/pound foolish short-term strategy that in the long run will cost the companies, as they tailor their planning not to audiences but to their Wall Street stock price. Zaslav has also proved to be tone deaf to the new and more diverse Hollywood, importing from Discovery a mostly male management team and bankrolling as a pet project a film for $45 million called Alto Knights, whose three principal creators are white men in their 80s and 90s.

Once more onto the picket lines!

The labour discontent that led to the writers’ and actors’ strikes was part of the larger movement of a besieged American working class that had employed walkouts, strikes, and threats to strike not only in the entertainment industry but also in the service industry and in the heart of what was once industrial America.

Recently unionized workers in some Starbucks cafes walked off the job to protest understaffing a holiday giveaway. Federal Express workers won huge gains by threatening to strike. Most presciently, the United Autoworkers Union launched a plant-by-plant series of strikes against the top three automakers that goes some way – many workers thought it did not go far enough – to making up for losses to earnings over many years due to inflation and cost of living increases.

In the strikes in Los Angeles, the writers, who in some ways helped build the city, claimed they could not make enough money because of rising housing costs to live in it. Their plight was acknowledged by an unnamed studio executive, who claimed the strategy of the producers in not negotiating was “to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”

Workers were also strapped by the Biden Administration’s raising of interest rates, in what it claimed was the only way to fight inflation – as opposed to price freezes – thus making it harder and more costly for workers to make housing payments or borrow on credit. And this from the self-proclaimed “strongest labor president you’ve ever had.”

Neither strike was about making more money for the privileged. Both were in solidarity with average workers in the field, with the writers campaigning to stop the cuts in the number of writers in a series writing room, and the actors winning concessions for background actors.

Both strikes also called out the huge salaries and extravagant lifestyle of the studio and streaming head,s with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asking in an actors’ rally in New York, “How many private jets does David Zaslav need?” while the leaders of SAG-AFTRA described execs as “land barons of medieval times.”

The studios could hardly plead poverty with, for example, Disney’s net income for the majority of the strike period jumping 63% and its revenue rising 5% to $2l.24 billion.

It became clear, as offer after offer was not met with a counteroffer, and as the heads of the studios and streamers did not even attend the negotiating sessions until months after both strikes started, that the strategy was to let the strikes go on as a new way of cost-cutting, while also blaming workers for a steady streaming diet of cheap product that consisted of game shows, reality TV and reruns.

Even the settlement had the air of cheapness as the producers first signed a contract with the writers, the provisions of which would set the table for the actors, but then waited more than a month to sign with the actors, because they were not needed for production until the writers had time to get scripts ready.

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UAW vs. Gavin Newsom 

In general, newspaper coverage and public opinion was favourable to the strikers, but one glaring but not obvious strikebreaking mantra was Governor Gavin Newsom’s oft-repeated soundbite that the strikes were costing the state first 5 and then 6 billion in lost revenue around production.

The answer to this pressure to settle for a lesser deal was provided by the UAW’s Sean Fain who, when confronted with a similar argument – that the strike would cost the car companies too much lost revenue and market position as non-unionized companies moved ahead – instead claimed that all would benefit from a hefty union contract, and that the moment a settlement was reached the UAW would be organizing workers in the non-unionized companies who would want to join when they saw the gains the company was able to secure.

In fact, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai all raised their workers’ salaries to approximate the UAW contract. The answer to Newsom’s accusation is that the union victories may result in across the board raises for workers in California – not net losses.

Already, in the entertainment industry, next spring will see not only the Teamsters but also below-the-line production personnel (gaffers, camera operators, make-up and set designers) each piggybacking off the writers’ and actors’ gains in negotiating new contracts. Meanwhile, urged on by their fellow workers on the picket lines, production workers at Walt Disney Animation and visual effects workers at Marvel voted to unionize and, during the strike, independent producers, who are under pressures similar to writers and actors, began a conversation about unionizing.  

A hit, a hit, my kingdom for a hit!

There were important gains from both strikes, the writers’ being the second longest in WGA history and the actors’ being the longest in SAG-AFTRA’s 90-year history. The writers’ guild claimed it had won concessions amounting to $233 million annually which included a 12.5 percent increase in wages over the first year. Also gains in length of employment (putting restrictions on mini-rooms of writers in pre-development who were then let go); in being paid promptly; in healthcare for both members of a writing team, and in increased residuals for whenever a show is replayed as well as a share of foreign residuals.

It was clear that the writers’ and actors’ strikes went beyond the point where the studios could simply cost-cut, and actually threatened the business. The producers’ negotiating stance turned from, as one commentator observed, “macho, tough-guy stuff” to the point where, even The New York Times, which generally remained neutral regarding the strike, conceded that “the moguls capitulated on just about every front.

The actors then won a 7 percent first-year raise, better healthcare funding, compensation on streaming shows and films, and a mandatory minimum number of background actors hired under union compensation. Their chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland talked about the contract and the strike as “a very clear signal to other unions” because the actors proposed the terms of the negotiation instead of the producers’ association, the AMPTP, proposing and the actors modifying and then accepting the proposal.

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Truth in Streaming

One of the most crucial questions of both strikes was compensation for creative personnel from streaming. Residuals and bonuses for television hits in the older era of Neilsen ratings and syndication were a matter of public information since both ratings and syndication contracts were announced.

Part of the advantage for the producers in the streaming era is that creative personnel have no access to the data and do not know how successful their shows are and how many viewers across the globe are watching them. Both unions won concessions with the producer’s bargaining unit, the AMPTP, now pledged to at least share the total number of hours streamed per program that will then be used to compute viewership bonuses for the WGA, said by the union to amount to a 76 percent jump in these payments. The actor’s union SAG-AFTRA went further, demanding 2 percent of streaming profits which the producers rejected though the union, following the WGA, also won a bonus based on streaming film and series’ performance.

Ted Sarandos, the head of Netflix, the most well-off of the streamers, which kept a steady flow of content going and also profited during the strike with its shares rising 37%, called the actors’ demand for a share in streaming profits “a bridge too far.”

Of course, it is the actors and writers who are creating the content that is allowing the former moguls to see themselves as tech barons, in the business now of digital distribution rather than content creation. In a parallel enterprise, the National Basketball Association, which could also be said to be part of the entertainment industry, profits between owners and players, who are the actual creators of the content, are shared 50-50. The NBA owners at least have stepped across “the bridge too far” and still have a very profitable enterprise.

The SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, acknowledged the defeat but also the progress made: “…we’re getting the money. We opened a new revenue stream. What matters is that we got into another pocket.”

'Radical, savage and trans-humanist'

The gains recorded in putting limits on the use of Artificial Intelligence may be just as crucial going forward, as they open up the question of shared streaming profits. The Biden Administration’s proposed AI limits hardly discuss at all the use of AI to automate and thus cut jobs. Instead, the mostly voluntary rules focus on national security, AI distorted images, and data privacy.

The task of regulating this threat to employment has thus fallen to individual unions and is an omnipresent concern in recent negotiations. Even the hotel unions in Las Vegas in their new contract, for which they used the threat of a strike just before a crucial Formula 1 racing event to negotiate, put guardrails on attempts to use robots and AI to pour drinks, check-in guests and clean rooms.

The writers won concessions that prevent AI from reducing or eliminating writers and their pay, the most widespread fear being that AI-generated studio and streaming service scripts would then simply have a writer editing or “tending to” the work of the machine. They also won the right to refuse to have their work used to train AI services that could in the future be used to limit their employment. The studios, on the other hand, hung onto the right to use their past scripts to continue to train AI, indicating that they plan to employ the service in the future to try to circumvent writers.

The problem here is that, while the union won concessions with the studios, there are no such guardrails in place in AI tech companies, free also under the Biden guidelines to loot past creations to enhance the service. The actors won the important right to consent to or forbid the use of “synthetic fakes” or “AI objects” which can fabricate a kind of Frankenstein character based on bringing together well-known features from several actors, though they were criticized for not forbidding this use entirely.

The coming attack and maximum profitization of AI is forecast by the reinstallation of Sam Altman, a proponent of a no-holds-barred use beyond any ethical consideration, as head of one of the top companies Open AI. A French sociologist, head of AI research in Grenoble, described Altman, in terms that could now be used to describe the multibillion dollar industry as a whole, and which the Hollywood creatives will have to contend with, as having a vision that is “radical, savage and transhumanist.”

Exacting a dull revenge

The writers are now back to work, the actors are expected to ratify their contract this week and the Hollywood production wheels are grinding. The class war and tensions that were so openly exposed at the time of the strikes, however, have not gone away. The producers are promising more cutbacks in production, claiming the cost of making a show, because of the new contracts, is now 10 percent higher.

One established screenwriter predicts that “A lot of careers and even entire companies are going to go away over the next year.” And after any strike there is often punishment meted out by the company to those who are most vocal during the strike. In the area of cost-cutting for example, the writers won a guarantee of six staff members for a show with 13 or more episodes, so expect the new standard now likely to become 12 episodes, to save hiring another writer.

As far as the companies themselves, Netflix is still highly profitable, and Amazon and Apple can afford increased costs in their streaming division which are offset by profits in the main areas of these companies. But Disney+ for example has now announced it is merging its all-family content with Hulu’s more adult content and said to be in favour of possibly spinning off its network channel ABC while selling a share of its long-time cable staple ESPN.

Peacock, the Comcast streamer, lost 2.8 billion in 2023 and shares of Paramount, the CBS streamer, have dropped 50 percent since May. One way then to enact revenge for the success of the strikes is to simply plead poverty and drastically cut the amount of series.

As for the company CEOs, as The New York Times suggested, if WBD’s Zaslav gets in more trouble there is always the possibility of selling the company with – as everywhere else – Saudi money, always eager to find new investment opportunities.

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An AI Frankenstein Monster

Disney chief Bob Iger is also fending off criticism from “activist” stockholder and investor Nelson Peltz who continues to buy stock in the company to get on the board, and who is demanding even more than the 7,000 announced job losses, many of them already implemented.

FILE - Trian Partners hedge fund manager Nelson Peltz is interviewed by CNBC's Sara Eisen after Procter & Gamble's annual shareholders meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, in Cincinnati.  Peltz is fighting for a seat on the board of Walt Disney Co., claiming that the theme park and media company is struggling with self-inflicted problems. Peltz’s attempt to join Disney’s board comes just months after the company brought back longtime CEO Bob Iger to lead Disney again.   (Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP)

“Activist Investor” Nelson Peltz urging more firings

Only in the business press would someone who is screaming for sacking more employees after a year of firings be called an “activist.” It is this kind of phony activism that last summer and, now, back on the job, the writers and actors continue to counter, through their own genuine activism in favor of a more equitable industry and country.

Livestreaming Genocide: With Ads, or Genocide Plus With No Ads
Friday, 10 November 2023 09:53

Livestreaming Genocide: With Ads, or Genocide Plus With No Ads

This summer, writers and actors were marching on picket lines trying to save their jobs and secure at least a working wage in ever more expensive Los Angeles. With no new product in sight, streaming audiences turned to a little-known Netflix series called Suits about a group of lawyers – and suddenly it became all the rage.

The question then was, “What to watch after all nine seasons of Suits were exhausted?” Who knew that the answer would be that next we would all be livestreaming genocide, as the world watches the Israelis bombard Gaza. They are killing, according to UNICEF, over 100 children a day in a population where nearly half are children, ie 18 or younger. 

And as with all kinds of TV entertainment, which the French call divertissement or diversion, the Western media tells us we are simply to be pleasantly horrified at the spectacle, while doing nothing about it. After all, the bombing started in the Halloween season and could be streamed alongside the season’s slasher feature Five Nights at Freddys in perhaps a seamless package.   

Keeping us on our couches  

The Biden administration, cheering on the bombing and supplying weapons and tactical and intelligence assistance, did its best to tap down dissent and keep us all on our couches as spectators. The Biden neocons are George W. Bush followers of the Wolfowitz doctrine which says that any state, entity, or corporation which challenges U.S. domination in any area must be eliminated.

They were out in full force justifying the carnage. National security advisor Jake Sullivan, in a Le Monde featured interview, allowed as how the U.S. had “made some errors” in the “War Against Terrorism” and explained they were counselling the Israelis on how to avoid these “mistakes.”

This is the repressed language of network TV, where never a cussword must be spoken in the living room of American audiences. What Sullivan failed to say is that the U.S. “errors,” as reported in a study by Brown University, resulted in the death by both military weapons and the economic weapon of sanctions of approximately 4.6 million people in the Middle East.          

When asked, what was the solution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the brutal 75-year suppression surrounding that occupation, Sullivan replied that the way out was to be found in Saudi-Israeli rapprochement which would be a first step toward a Palestinian state. The Palestinians on the other hand regard this attempt at the construction of a U.S. axis in the Middle East as the last straw, the nail in their coffin, which will result in their annihilation. Disrupting this stratagem was a major reason for their attack on October 7.    

This supposedly peaceful solution, which simply furthers U.S. imperial aims in the oil-rich region, would be the substitute for an earlier season’s programming that is now cancelled, the Clinton-brokered Oslo Accords. This supposed blueprint for a two-state solution was instead simply an excuse for Israel to claim more territory in the West Bank and the other occupied areas. A Palestinian described these phony “accords” as simply resulting in “More walls, more checkpoints, more prisons.”          

The evening devastation of the news

As the bombs continue falling and the outcry around the world for a ceasefire grows, the superhawks in Biden’s cabinet began proposing a “humanitarian pause.” Sounds good and appealing – it will give us all time to get up, get to the refrigerator, make a sandwich, and still be able to get back for the next round of bombing. As Norman Finklestein describes it, this is nothing more than “fattening up the turkey” before slaughtering it. But it sounds good for an administration which is now seeking funds to launch or perpetuate three world wars, in Taiwan against the Chinese, in Ukraine against Russia, and in the Middle East against Iran. ‘Humanitarian pause’ sounds peaceful, the better and easier to escape back from the evening devastation of the news to the ritualized carnage of Sunday football.     

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Old white guys' “Garden” vs. everyone else’s “Jungle” 

In Europe, more media savvy audiences were also subjected to more sophisticated mainstream programming in both the left and right presses. Liberation’s coverage of this massacre would have had its anti-colonial founder Jean-Paul Satre turning over in his grave. As per European foreign secretary Josep Borrell who described Europe as “the garden” and the rest of the world as “the jungle,” its stories on the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, where over 400 people were killed, used only mainstream Western analysts to support the Israeli claim that the hospital was destroyed by an errant Palestinian rocket.

Accompanying this story was another, detailing widespread protests in the streets as Arab populations disputed this account and blamed Israel. Though Israel has before and since bombed numerous hospitals, ambulances and convoys of wounded fleeing hospitals, the juxtaposition of the two viewpoints made it seem that in the reasoned “garden,” technical experts would find the truth, while in the “jungle,” wild crowds were simply irrational, this despite the fact that many non-mainstream media Western intelligence sources, such as ex-CIA analyst Larry Johnson, also disputed the Israeli claim.          

Finally, in an attempt to make sure everyone stayed home in front of their sets, the French president Macron banned Pro-Palestinian protests, which gave free reign to the police to use tear gas, water cannons and arrests to quell dissent. The French constitutional court affirmed the ban, a dangerous curbing of rights, but then threw the decision of whether protests could be held over to the individual prefects. What finally overthrew the ban though was people coming out en masse in a way that it could not be enforced. The ban itself is nothing more than an extension by Macron of the utterly undemocratic suppression of discussion in the legislature, as bill after bill is now passed by imperial decree without discussion. And this by someone who, like Biden, calls himself a centrist.         

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Gaza, Game of Thrones with real casualties 

The programming now is starting to be more varied. The sights of mass protests everywhere in the world are creating a new series where not just destruction but also dissent is live streamed to counter corporate media complacency. However, as crowds in the West and almost the entirety of the global South call this barbarity into question, the massacring continues.

The U.S. empire which is masterminding it very happy to let a levelled Gaza, a kind of Game of Thrones wasteland, serve as a warning to the vast majority of humanity that this is what happens when they rise up and attempt to throw off all the vestiges of colonial rule.

China has the Belt and Road Initiative, a new Silk Road designed to raise the level of all those along the way, and the West counters with a devastated Gaza as the price to pay for demanding an equal place in the world. Two sharply different series, now live streaming.

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