Bem Bulletin #3 – January 2015: Malawi Floods, Boko Haram & SYRIZA


This month: we reflected on society’s erratic internationalism in the wake of the outcry over the Charlie Hedbo massacre; we tried to excuse our abysmal taste in bad action films with dubious politics; and we presented a nice bit of pragmatic radicalism from the mouth of Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

… And on the musical front: delightfully odd bedfellows, schmaltz-pop guitar wizard Les Paul with Mary Ford, and West Country weirdo PJ Harvey.

In this month’s Bem Bulletin:

1. 2015

2. Malawi Flood

3. Boko Haram Massacre, Nigeria

4. SYRIZA Continue reading “Bem Bulletin #3 – January 2015: Malawi Floods, Boko Haram & SYRIZA”


Oh My Lover (PJ Harvey)

The other day, we met a musical contemporary, and, it transpired, ex-squeeze of Bridport-born alt-rock high priestess and one-time Somerset-resident PJ Harvey. For some reason, we were visiting Yeovil in the company of a hard-left Labour councillor who’d also had a (less intimate) brush with Polly Jean back in the day, session musicianing on a track by her first band Automatic Dlamini in a past life as a pub rock guitarist. Continue reading “Oh My Lover (PJ Harvey)”

Podemos and pragmatic radicalism

Pablo Iglesias
Pablo Iglesias

To get anywhere, the Left needs to shift the political “common sense”. That means changing people’s minds, and as Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias realises, you don’t do that by quoting mouldering dead revolutionaries at them.

One of very few heartening developments on the left-wing front in what’s been a dismal decade or so for fans of liberty, equality and fraternity, Podemos is a barely year-old Spanish political party. It’s stridently anti-austerity, staunchly but pragmatically leftist, and came from nowhere to win nearly 8% of the vote in last year’s European elections just five months into its existence.

The Bemolution recently came across a transcript of a speech given by Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias in Jacobin, an eye-pleasingly stylish and generally excellent American socialist magazine. We liked it so much we’re going to repost bits of here.

In it, Iglesias criticises the conventional Left’s obsession with the same old dogmas, and how they keep radical politics small and all too easy to ridicule and ignore. Time and time again on the Left, you find the kind of student revolutionaries he describes meeting as a lecturer in political science – wannabe 68ers who’ve read Marx, read Lenin, and then found that real people don’t compute with laughably inaccessible works of political economy written over a century ago. To these types – liable to come out with godawful phrases like “the working class has failed in its historical mission” – Iglesias has a simple message: the problem is you. Continue reading “Podemos and pragmatic radicalism”

Fantasy fascism: how to enjoy action films, despite the politics

Taken 3
Taken 3

The Bemolution ended up watching Taken 3 in a Peckham cinema to numb the pain of a particularly trying day-visit to London.

We could’ve watched award-festooned Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. We could’ve watched Benjamin Cabbagepatch-starring Alan Turing-focused historical thriller The Imitation Game. But we didn’t, because we have absolutely no taste – and very little interest – in films.

It was distracting, brain-stupefying trash – precisely the kind of cultural output we usually lambast for infantilising whole generations, but hypocritically lap up, in small, strictly-rationed doses at least. Essentially, it’s two hours of wish-fulfilment for aging mid-life crisis survivors, seeing near-sexagenarian Liam Neeson beat (younger) people up, shoot people, torture people, drive fast cars and evade death in ways the film eventually gives up on even trying to explain. It’s dumb, disposable, illogical fun.

Later the same week, gently toasting by a rattling fan heater one evening back in Somerset, we watched 1973’s Magnum Force – the second to star Clint Eastwood as fascist supercop “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Equally violent, even more ethically dubious, and even more fun – an old favourite of ours, in fact.

But both films are politically horrible. So how is it possible to still enjoy them? By switching off the critical bit of your brain and just plonking yourself in front of them, is the short answer.

But even as you do that, there’s another very, very important something you also have to cling to or risk being swayed by bludgeoning right-wingery – the fact that these films aren’t set in the real world, and the things that happen in them, the kinds of values and practices that are celebrated in them, don’t work in the real world. Continue reading “Fantasy fascism: how to enjoy action films, despite the politics”

Alabamy Bound & Darktown Strutters Ball (Les Paul & Mary Ford)

A reasonably fascinating insight into a time when the unholy television-consumerism pact was still in metaphorical short trousers. Les Paul was American music’s one-man innovating starburst, crucial to the birth of the modern electric guitar and multi-track recording, as well as being a wildly entertaining master of his instrument. Mary Ford was a honey-voiced chanteuse, an able guitarist in her own right, and Paul’s comedy foil. She was also his wife.

In the early 1950s, the two starred in a series of comedic shorts filmed at their home, sponsored by halitosis-busting antiseptic merchants Listerine. They’re a portal into the saccharin-sweet white picket-fenced ideal of American respectability circa 1954 – a respectability which, like Victorian England’s before it, hid a fair amount of seediness. Continue reading “Alabamy Bound & Darktown Strutters Ball (Les Paul & Mary Ford)”

Charlie Hebdo and our erratic internationalism

Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo

This week, something horrible happened. In Paris, France, three armed men arrived at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – the closest English equivalent would probably be Private Eye – and shot 12 people dead. The perpetrators, one in custody, two still at large (Edit: now dead, shot by police), are apparently French-Algerian Islamic extremists.

There are already reports of firebomb attacks on mosques, as the logically challenged exact ‘revenge’. In fact, as anyone level-headed knows very well, the jihadis are about as representative of mainstream Islam as Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Brievik is of mainstream Christianity. Grimly, given the ever-provocative magazine’s staunchly leftist editorial stance, the only person likely to do well out of all this is Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s neo-Nazi Front National.

But now comes the delicate bit. In the 48 hours since the atrocity was committed, a wave of international solidarity has rolled France-ward. World leaders rightly condemned the terrorists. Social media rightly abounded with Spartacus-style ‘I Am Charlie Hedbo’ hash-tags. And left-wingers shuffled precariously along the moral tightrope, rightly expressing their solidarity with the French, but rightly pointing out that radical Islamism is just a fanatical, ultra-conservative backlash to decades of Western abuse in the Arab world. Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo and our erratic internationalism”