Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Between the Lines: Space Shuttles, Spitting Image and the SWP show (1986)

The Between the Lines Column from the March 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

News priorities
On the day the Space Shuttle exploded, thousands of people — most of them under five — died of malnutrition. There was no report on the news. And how many lives were in ruins that day because mothers could not feed or clothe their children, families were living in overcrowded slums, or children were turning to drugs to escape the reality of a miserable system? Approximately eighty per cent of news broadcasts were devoted to the deaths of a group of people who had chosen to go on a dangerous mission, but was it really necessary for American TV networks to point cameras at the relatives of those killed, catching every twitch of their faces?

What is called "news" is determined by the perverse priorities of capitalism. We cannot help thinking that the America government was grieving rather more over the setback this even will have caused to the Star Wars military project than over the day's many other victims.

Spitting Image
The doubt in my mind about Spitting Image is the extent to which it fosters the belief that by ridiculing leaders — and in some cases their appearances rather than their ideas — one is being political. In fact, it can be argued that precisely this kind of comedy defuses whatever anger workers have against the system itself. And the politicians probably don't mind the publicity. Revolutions do not, after all, start as a result of watching TV puppet shows. The question worth pondering is, are they delayed because workers are sitting in their armchairs laughing at caricatures instead of the real TV comedy: the party political broadcasts?

The SWP show
Diverse Reports of 22 January (Channel 4) was virtually a party political broadcast on behalf of the Leninist Socialist Workers' Party. Its content was predictable, commencing with the absurd statement that the Labour Party has recently moved away from socialist policies. When has the Labour Party ever stood for anything but capitalism? The fact is that the SWP is just as confused about socialism as the Labour Party, and it was indeed strange for them to devote their programme to exposing the Labourites when they urged workers to vote for them in the last election and will do so in the next. Nevertheless, the Socialist Party is in favour of minority parties having access to TV slots, even if they have as little worth saying as is clearly the case with the SWP. Whenever the Socialist Party has approached TV companies (including the nominally radical C4) and asked for a slot of this kind, we have been told that it is against their regulations to give time to minority parties. Even when one of our prospective parliamentary candidates appeared on C4's Comment a few months ago, he was forbidden to mention the party's name. If that is the policy of the TV companies, why was it not applied in the case of the SWP? C4 has to come out in the open and state whether or not minority political parties are to be censored, leaving viewers with the impression that they have nothing to say. if their undemocratic policy has now been rejected, then the SWP has had its chance and we want ours. If the policy is to be upheld, then we accuse C4 of hypocrisy and call for an explanation. The matter will be raised with the TV controllers concerned and we will report fully their response — or lack of one.

Entering an institution
They say that marriage is not a word but a sentence, and if anyone needed any proof they had only to watch Desmond Wilcox's voyeuristic documentary series, The Marriage (Wednesdays, 9.30 pm, BBC1). The series followed the first year of married life of a couple of people who seemed pretty typical. The degeneration of their relationship from unlimited affection to evident strain was almost entirely caused by money. Almost every argument they had was about it — he spent more than she liked; she wanted money for their own home; he took on a new job so that he could earn more; he had to buy a new car but she wanted it to be a cheaper model. Here on our screens was a microcosm of what is going on in most working-class relationships. The souring effect of money is something we will probably never comprehend fully until it has been abolished.
Steve Coleman

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