Sunday, January 3, 2016

Between the Lines: From Soweto to the Indian Reservations (1986)

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

From Soweto to the Indian Reservations
It is not only in South Africa that the natives have been forced into second-rate "homelands" by the property-owning minority. Capitalism is a global system and its robbery extends far. In On Indian Land (C4, 7 July. 9.55) we were shown how the native Indians, who had once owned 22.000 square miles of land in Northern British Columbia, were placed in reserves of 45 square miles. Some of the older Indians told how Christian missionaries had come and told them not to resist as their land was taken away from them.The fisheries which they once possessed are now the property of Canadian capitalists. Capitalism's defenders boast of the freedom of cultural individuality. This documentary put the lie to that boast.


American dreams
We are all individuals, so the story goes. And if we try hard enough, climbing every mountain and taking on every opponent JR-style. we'll make it — whatever "making it" is. This is the old American dream: free market individualism dripping with sugar to make the poison of the rat-race culture taste sweet. In two programmes for children this ideology is presented in all its sickly silliness: Fame (BBC1. 5.10pm. Mondays and Tuesdays) and The Flintstones (BBC1. 5.10pm various days). It should be conceded at once that both programmes are really well made — the former to make viewers join in the soppy sentimentalism which guarantees that every character is either weeping or hugging someone at least once an episode — and the latter because the characters are rich, the humour novel and Fred is the sort of American with a baseball conception of world politics. What unites the two programmes is their picture of history. The Flintstones is the totally unhistorical story of "a prehistoric family" They are depicted as living in the Stone Age, a technological millennium or two ago, in the age of the dinosaurs. But all the social relations of our lives — the family, property, money, employment, unemployment, atomised lifestyles — are present. What a simple depiction of the human nature myth — "however much the productive forces have changed over the centuries the basic features of capitalism have always existed and always will: they are natural and inescapable". Next time you argue with an unhistorical thinker who tells you that, you can bear in mind that s/he has probably picked up such nonsense from childhood exposure to the likes of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.

In the 1950s there were American cartoon programmes for kids about "Little Black Sambo" and other racist caricatures. Ideology creeps in all over the place: even the apparently innocuous Academy For The Performing Arts in New York in which the jolly lads and lasses of Fame strive for Success with a capital D for dollar. My word, it is sentimental to the point of making Nixon's puppy speech look clinical and it is a classic in the art of showing little American (and British) viewers that if they have enough drive they too can shine out in this miserable old world. All the kids from Fame are after stardom (that thing which capitalism gives to one in a million workers before it kills them with a drug overdose) and we are supposed to be after the same big goal. All good fun (that thing which capitalism sells in fun fairs, discos and brothels) but why not have a show about the losers? Failure: an everyday story of highly-talented musicians, clowns and dancers who were too poor to go to the academy and ended their lives existing on a pension and a lot of memories about what could have been.


Hard life
Fighting Back (BBC1. 9.25pm. Mondays) is the nearest thing to Failure available at present. Hazel O'Connor is a one-parent family, retreating from her past and discovering that the system does not permit retreats from poverty and degradation. The first episode (the only one seen at the time of writing) was reminiscent of that desperate frustration engendered by a hopeless system which was so brilliantly highlighted by Jeremy Sandford's Cathy Come Home several years ago.


Commodities
We live in a commodity society which is dominated by the buying and selling of wealth which, in a sane world, would be freely accessible to all human beings on the sole basis of need. So a programme called Commodities (C4. 10pm. Mondays) had to be of interest. Its main use was in showing the interdependence of the capitalist world economy — the fact that we really are living in one world which is dominated by one economy. The programme on coffee (4 August) was especially educative, showing that those who produce the coffee which is drunk across the globe are the last to get rich out of its production; indeed, it is the tragic paradox of capitalism that many of those people whose hard toil produces the coffee cannot even afford the price of a cup of it.


Wedding of the decayed
Talking of commodities, how many readers will own up to watching the parading of the latest royal commodity (justified on the grounds that she attracts tourists) as another pretty young idler was admitted to the royal parasites' enclosure (23 July, all day. every channel, non-stop)? As Upper Class Twit of the Year married Betty Rubble it was time for all good Marxist TV reviewers to switch off their sets and read A L Morton's vivid account of England in the 1640s.
Steve Coleman

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