The Pathfinders Column from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Stars Like Us
Last month a black woman was ‘crowned’ Miss Universe Great Britain, a first in the beauty contest’s 66-year history, and called it ‘a great achievement’. Somehow, apparently, being selected as the country’s showpiece exhibit in an annual sexist meat parade is to be considered a success for black women everywhere.
Recently there have been a lot of stories about female and minority representation in ‘the arts’ (meaning TV and cinema). Huge excitement came earlier this year with the first all-black superhero film, which proved that you can make money out of utter bollocks regardless of ethnic considerations. This followed the success of a female-led superhero film, and UK viewers can soon look forward to the first female Doctor Who and the first lesbian Batgirl TV series, all of which prove that . . . anyway, you get the picture.
Where this gets a bit weird is the ongoing discussion about ‘representation’ in the arts. The broadcasting watchdog Ofcom reported last year that "lots of people feel there are not enough programmes on TV that "authentically portray their lives and communities".
Why is this weird? Because in expecting, nay demanding, that made-up stories should be ‘authentic’ people seem to have lost sight of the essential difference between fiction and reality. This is not to belittle the genuine human need for social affirmation. We all crave a sense that we are not some lonely isolated freak in a hostile and indifferent world, and that others like us exist. Socialists know that feeling too, indeed it’s behind a lot of the things that we do as an organisation. If you’re reading this magazine, you probably feel the same way at times. But one thing we definitely don’t do is go round complaining about our ‘under-representation’ in the arts and demanding our own superhero. It would never occur to us that the ‘arts’ were anything other than a fictional construct owned and controlled by the capitalist class and used mainly for the oppression and psychological manipulation of the working class. If it ever tried to ‘represent’ a socialist character it would not be as a superhero but more likely a stoned 1970s hippy or else an unhinged Bond villain. Much as we all love artistic creativity, we should not lose sight of the fact that capitalist art is generally a weapon used against us, even when it’s just for entertainment.
So, not only is this question of ‘representation’ a fundamental illusion – as if the success of some black beauty queen can ever be an achievement for you – it is also a hopeless expression of passivity, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where we love the thing that enslaves us so much that we want it to look like us too.
This is what the capitalists want – a population of brainwashed automatons who don’t know what’s real anymore. They want us to sit indoors and let the capitalist TV construct our world for us, removing every jarring trace of cognitive dissonance that might alert us to the fact that we are in dream-mode.
Entertainment is supposed to be escapist, to give us a break from reality. By dressing our entertainment in faux-liberal credentials we’re not affirming our ‘liberty’ or ‘diversity’, we’re fusing reality with fantasy and locking ourselves more inextricably into a prison of our own making. Better to get out there and construct our own world, for real, and with the TV off.
Voting for the Electric Chair
Here’s a work-place experience not unfamiliar to many. The meeting grinds on, chaired by a boss too clueless to be any use but too senior to be challenged, while the air is filled by the drone of tedious gobshites who love to hear themselves talk. The agenda lies forgotten, the plot lost, the will to live gone, and still another hour before anyone can go home. Not surprisingly, a recent informal BBC study discovered that many people doodle during such meetings, or write haiku, or play ‘meeting bingo’, a secret competition to throw in as many pre-agreed random words as possible. Imagine, the article goes on to suggest, if all this were not so, the meeting made effective, and the bores told to shut up. What would it take to effect such a miracle? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an artificially intelligent meeting bot could take over?
Wait. What? An AI bot? An electric chair? Yes indeed, says a computer scientist quoted in the article, ‘if no new points are made after a while, the AI could suggest to wrap it up’. Apparently this is an ability which humans don’t have, according to a meetings consultant: ‘while it’s a lovely idea to think everybody will be fabulous at running meetings, everybody is not’.
This will be news to socialists, who have been running their own meetings, fabulous or otherwise, for over a hundred years, and have never yet felt the compulsion to introduce an artificial robot to chair any of them. How is this miracle possible? Because, despite what the ‘experts’ think, humans are perfectly capable of learning how to do things like running meetings, even, dare we say it, whole democratic societies. We do these things with the help of what are known as ‘rules’ and then by following these ‘rules’, more or less strictly according to circumstance and preference, we manage to get through a whole list of ‘decisions’ that need making. Really, it works surprisingly well. These AI enthusiasts ought to try it some time. They might be amazed what humans are capable of, especially when the useless boss is removed from the picture.