Tag: freedom

Creative Licence

As our world grows more dysfunctional there appears to be a corresponding upsurge in control freakery of all kinds – focus groups, market researchers, spin doctors and the like. Uncertain times naturally breed a desire for commercial safety but what is designed to please everybody often ends up delighting nobody. A formula movie composed by committee might tick generic response boxes but most likely lacks the art to stir and inspire audiences – an art that can only arise when film-makers who have real flair and passion are given their heads.

Such art is often controversial but controversy is the mark of a mature community and we should beware a situation where creative freedoms are constrained in the interests of mere uniformity. Socially-aware cinema has always given a voice to those in our society who may otherwise struggle to be heard.

For that reason I can thoroughly recommend Sorry We Missed You, the latest offering from veteran director Ken Loach who at the age of 83 has lost none of his fire and crusading spirit. It’s the touching and often intensely moving story of an ordinary family caught up in the gig economy. More than one commentator has observed it should be required viewing before the UK election of 12 December. At any rate, laughter and tears were never far apart in what I found to be a deeply cathartic experience.

Image result for sorry we missed you

To end on a lighter note, I’ve just watched this documentary on the making of A Hard Day’s Night. Lasting less than 40 minutes, it’s an engaging and often joyful insight into more innocent and optimistic times (sigh!) when even the suits would risk giving genuine talent a free rein. Hard to believe now that they went about it in such a haphazard and ramshackle way – though somewhat easier, especially after watching this, to understand how it all somehow succeeded!


Fun and Games – a story in 100 words

Struck by lightning, the ancient oak would have blazed for a day and smouldered for a week. In place of its wooden heart was a blackened hollow, hardened and burnished by centuries of sun and rain and ice.

Climbing up to its rim, children saw a sculptured bowl like a womb where they might rest like dozing emperors. Here they could lie, unseen, overhearing private conversations far below. No longer paupers in the balance of power, they could sip the nectar of the gods and experience a measure of divinity – invisible, ever-present, omniscient.

It beat the hell out of hide-and-seek.


Image result for hide and seek


Image: MoMA

Vault Finding #5

In this raid on the archives, I’ve paired one of my earliest posts with an unpublished draft on the French Situationists. With a bit of luck, you can’t see the join!

Image result for you can't see the join morecambe and wise I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for youngsters again, providing proper facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. It would be quite a challenge but I can’t think of a better way to create the communities of the future …

Well, I said we behaved ourselves but we probably weren’t above adding the occasional daft moustache or blackened tooth to advertising hoardings that showed people leading impossibly perfect lives. We might even have changed the odd word here and there … 

That ever-perceptive poet Philip Larkin captured the historical moment much better than I can:

In frames as large as rooms that face all ways
And block the ends of streets with giant loaves,
Screen graves with custard, cover slums with praise
Of motor-oil and cuts of salmon, shine
Perpetually these sharply-pictured groves
Of how life should be. High above the gutter
A silver knife sinks into golden butter,
A glass of milk stands in a meadow, and
Well-balanced families, in fine
Midsummer weather, owe their smiles, their cars,
Even their youth, to that small cube each hand
Stretches towards.

from ‘Essential Beauty’

That small cube? Oxo, of course, the magic ingredient without which family life was incomplete … nay, inconceivable! 

Image result for oxo advert

Image result for oxo advert

Surrounded by such propaganda, how could us kids have known that while we roamed those 1950s streets a bunch of French intellectuals were turning our natural instincts into a whole new heavyweight philosophy?

We didn’t have the benefit of Wikipedia, of course, without which the following mock-academic account could not exist:

With cultural roots in Dadaism and Surrealism – and political roots in Marxism – the Situationists believed that the shift from individual expression through directly-lived experiences, or the first-hand fulfilment of authentic desires, towards individual expression by proxy through the exchange or consumption of commodities, or passive second-hand alienation, inflicted significant and far-reaching damage to the quality of human life for both individuals and society.

Another important concept of situationist theory was the need to counteract the spectacle – essentially the mass media that reduces free citizens to passive subjects who  contemplate the world as no more than a consumable resource. The method the situationists adopted was the construction of situations – moments of life deliberately contrived for the purpose of reawakening authentic desires, experiencing the feeling of life as adventure and the liberation of everyday existence.

The dérive – a French word meaning ‘drift’ – is a revolutionary strategy originally put forward in 1956 by Guy Debord who defined it as “a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.”

It involves an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relations and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”. Though solo dérives are possible, Debord indicates that the most fruitful numerical arrangement consists of several small groups of two or three people who have reached the same level of awareness, since cross-checking these different groups’ impressions makes it possible to arrive at more objective conclusions.

The dérive‘s goals include studying the terrain of the city (psychogeography) and emotional disorientation, both of which lead to the potential creation of Situations.

A détournement‘rerouting or hijacking’ in French – is a technique developed in the 1950s and defined in the Situationist International’s inaugural 1958 journal as “the  integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of those means. In a more elementary sense, détournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.”

It has been defined elsewhere as “turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself” – as when slogans and logos are turned against their advertisers or the political status quo.

Détournement was prominently used to set up subversive political hoaxes and stunts, an influential tactic called Situationist Prank that was reprised by the punk movement in the late 1970s and inspired the anti-consumerist culture-jamming movement in the late 1980s.

Its opposite is recuperation, in which radical ideas or the social image of people who are viewed negatively are twisted, commodified and absorbed in a more socially acceptable context.

Yeah, don’t get me started on how Tin Pan Alley moguls turned the exciting runaway underground of 1960s sounds into the long slow mogadon-music snooze of the 1970s. You’ll never hear the end of it …

I’ll end with a short clip that shows how people behave online compared with face-to-face!


Looking Up (7/8)

Part 7 and the thick plottens …

Image result for Swallow

S een online, Bob knows that the ebay bracelet
W as identical to the one stolen and posted as Missing.
A ll the Lucky Charms are there, present and correct.
L ong hours spent searching likely sites has paid off.
L ooking up from screen-glare with relief, he sees movement.
O utside the window-bars of his cell a bird swoops and soars,
W ingbeats flashing a secret semaphore to freedom.

Continued on Are We There Yet?

Ha, turns out that cyberspace may not be the complete waste of time our mummies and daddies keep telling us it is.

What do they know? The kids are alright …


Image: Pinterest

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Swallow

Something New #1

Reading some Alan Ginsberg poems, I was reminded of his memorable maxim: First thought, best thought. He was a huge fan of Walt Whitman, who also influenced DH Lawrence. Lawrence didn’t go in for rewriting, either, having a quasi-religious faith in the freshness of first inspirations.

So in the spirit of freewheeling abandon I’ll jump headfirst on a metaphorical trolley made of orange-boxes and old pram-wheels and head off steeply downhill … Holy smoke! Did I really do that when I was ten years old knowing full well there was a busy main road at the bottom of the hill – busy, that is, for 1959! – just to impress a few kids? Consequences were for cowards in those distant daredevil days – you could always use your trailing foot as a brake, even though your mum always complained about the terrible rate you got through shoes! One of her favourite words, that was, terrible

I’m getting side-tracked already. That’s the trouble with metaphors, wheeled or otherwise, they can run away with you. This post is supposed to be about, er … well, my previous one was about nothing so perhaps I should continue down that unbeaten trail. My very first post on WordPress was about getting lost. Deliberately. Going off piste. That was the guiding spirit of A Nomad In Cyberspace. A kid heading off with no particular place to go …

Haha, cue song!

Now there’s a side-track for you, if ever there was one! We’re rushing ahead of ourselves. I haven’t even hit puberty yet. At least my youthful persona hasn’t and at this rate he never will, appearing only in extended metaphors which I’m trying to cut down for the sake of getting somewhere specific.

That’s better, Dave, you’re starting to sound more convincing … authoritative, even … eager eyes fixed on a worthwhile goal! Making sense. Nice work if you can get it. It pays to be serious these days. Perhaps I’m falling under the influence of my elders and betters … well, not elders, most of the British cabinet are younger than me … and as for betters, well, that’s a value-judgment beyond the remit of this post.

Remit? This post is remitless. New territory beckons. I’m continuing in the full knowledge that there’s now a wavy red line under the word remitless. Another. Ah, what the heck, let’s throw grammar to the winds and ride bareback into the wild and windy night like there’s no tomorrow!

Like there’s no tomorrow. Simile? Metaphor? Or ghastly reality?

The British cabinet in its venerable collective wisdom has just tried to heal present and future internal and external divisions with a phrase of incomparable genius – ambitious managed divergence. We are clearly not worthy nor ready – too young and inferior? – to comprehend such lofty concepts without help. Here’s Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian:

You’re not being fired. Heavens, no. You and the company are merely going through what we call an “ambitious managed divergence”. The torture Brexit inflicts on the English language escalates daily, the latest indignity being the euphemism coined after the tellingly named Brexit war cabinet had an eight-hour session among the whiteboards at Chequers on Thursday. “Ambitious managed divergence” was the agreed description for the planned future relationship between Britain and the EU, a phrase so blatantly designed to stitch together two clashing positions you could see the seams.

“Divergence” is there to satisfy the Johnson-Gove-Fox axis of Brexiteers, while “managed” is meant to placate the Hammond-Rudd rump of remain realists. “Ambitious” is the heroic attempt to dress up what is, in fact, a dollop of fudge chock-full of contradictions and likely to melt on first contact with the heat of trade talks in Brussels.

The phrase I like – nay envy! – is “an eight-hour session among the whiteboards“. Who hasn’t sat in a tedious meeting where a desperate team-leader eventually pleads for a summing up of deadlocked positions? ‘A form of words, that’s all we need, then we can all go!”

Go where? Home? Down the pub? To hell in a handcart? That’s the beauty of living in a free country, see, we get to choose? Mind you, according to the dramatist Pirandello – my latest minor obsession, see the previous post! – choice is an illusion. So is everything else, pretty well, including our notion of individual identity. How, he asks, can such a fragile construct survive …

” … the deceit of mutual understanding irremediably founded on the empty abstraction of words, the multiple personality of everyone corresponding to the possibilities of being found in each of us, and finally the inherent tragic conflict between life (which is always moving and changing) and form (which fixes it, immovable)”?

One hopeful note is found in the phrase “the possibilities of being”. Luke Rhinehart comes to mind, throwing dice to expand his range of life experiences. Couple that with the idea of life “always moving and changing” to discover the potential, at least, for continued human evolution. Technology may have stopped us evolving physically but it has multiplied our chances of cultural and social change.

Some people baulk at this, perhaps fearing the rise of a repressive society in lockstep to a prescribed beat. The following interview with Captain Beefheart, arguably the most creative and original performing artist in the colourful history of rock music, is a vivid reminder of both the dangers and delights of so-called popular culture.

I’ll leave it there for now. My next post will consider the value of originality at a time when unthinking conformity is, perhaps surprisingly, pushing us all further and further apart. Perhaps we do need to be ambitious if our divergence is to be, er, managed …


doncha know the feeling

know the feeling
      slumping in your chair like a 
      dumpling when 
breezes in the chimneybreast
begin to whisper of
somewhere                        anywhere
                when you have
no wish to turn on your television
as the world they bring 
is not your             own 
& now you are suddenly 
    nowhere                     everywhere
hearing on the wind      in the flue 
             a world that draws you 
                                cooing doves &
                                cries of children &
                                cars swishing by
   wish to open the jailhouse door
   walk free with
   no particular place
        to go but out                                     & away

know the feeling  
                      from way back when those
                      grumpy grownups growled
                      get lost &
               doncha come back before dusk

     never the same road twice 
                 when you & your best friends
                 walked & walked until you reached 
                           those unknown hedges
                                         hidden byways to a
                           world you had never been
                             tree trunks never climbed
                                   faces never seen
                         streams you had never dammed
                         streetnames you never heard
     whole estates of footballers
                      explorers & 
           recall how full it felt to
           return at dusk with treasure trove
                               a strip cartoon of images
                               drawn from a Brilliant day
                 when you'd wandered in a novelty
      fresh pastures glimpsed but once though
            present   still & steady yet for
            future days as souvenirs of
                   days gone by &
                      still to be that
                               boy or girl you were &
                      still to see whatever's new &
                      still to     walk free with                                            
                                              no particular place to
               doncha still                   go out          & away

Image result for walk to get lostOlive Branch & Co