Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Amidst the maelstrom

OK, the budget is as depressing as we imagined - massive cuts to public services and attacks on the old, the young and the poor to fund tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Ed Miliband managed a good line - inviting those members of the Cabinet lined up in front of him to raise their hands if they were getting a tax cut. Personally, although my pay has gone down by 10% in real terms over the past two years (thanks to inflation), I'll be paying more tax after this budget, while George Osborne - who is an inherited multimillionaire - will be paying less. Every little helps, eh George?

But away from the misery, I've had a rather good day. An excellent seminar on Paradise Lost and the intellectual context of the Civil War and Commonwealth preceded a visiting speaker's paper on 1930s Communism and the BBC. According to Ben Harker, the BBC employed plenty of leftists and communists, but worked very hard to exclude leftwing ideas and voices from the airwaves. The Communist Party of Great Britain was too slavishly Stalinist to come up with a considered cultural strategy except during the flowering of the Popular Front, and couldn't do much about the BBC's monopoly in any case, whereas their sister parties in Germany, Holland, the USA and elsewhere were able to set up their own radio stations. The Party saw new media as an opportunity, but the BBC as a reactionary weapon wielded by the ruling élite - with good reason.

The most interesting element was Harker's discussion of individual socialists' grasp of form being ideological. People like Archie Harding felt that the established use of a radio as a lecture was backward looking and overly dependent on the conventions of other media. So he used mobile recording studios and the like to go out and record ordinary people talking about their lives. He held studio debates and experimented with form to generate radio-only conventions - much to the horror of his superiors.

Sadly, the Party and the BBC shared some cultural fears. Echoing the Frankfurt School's suspicion of popular culture, they both insisted on the primacy of 'high' culture: the CP later led the battle against American comics and pop music, preferring 'serious' books, classical music and folk, which the presented as 'authentic', despite very little of it actually originating in the fields and factories.

All this and much more in 45 short minutes. Anyway, back to the marking…


Alex said...

I'm guessing you had the opportunity to see the front page of the Express and Star? What would the Tories need to do for the right-wing too see it as perhaps a bit excessive? Is there anything?

The Plashing Vole said...

I was stunned by the sheer bias of that piece. Wonder if they'll row back today with the pensions furore?