Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Right"/"Left" Wing Culture

Gracchii is, I think, correct that the 18 Doughty Street discussion of left and right wing culture was a little simplistic but may have overstated his case in arguing that the content of our culture is not negatively affected by the dominance of left wingers in the arts.

He is clearly right to knock down the notion of culture as either "left" or "right" wing. Most culture is neither left nor right wing but composed of stories and emotional themes which either side can make a case based upon.

An example from a deeply mainstream novel and film. Memoirs of a Geisha is either a film about gender tyranny and empowerment (there are other possible left wing explanations) or one about the importance of striving over material comfort and safety which seems pretty right wing to me (when she first meets the Chairman nothing changes in her material circumstances but she is happy because she has something to strive for).

Some other examples to show I'm not actually a complete intellectual fraud who wishes he was off reading romance novels: Clockwork Orange is about rejecting state control and that can either be a left wing or a deeply right wing theme. A Brave New World is either a left wing critique of consumerism or a right wing critique of utilitarianism (or a left wing critique of utilitarianism). City of God is either a left wing critique of slums hopelessness or a tale of the horror of lawlessness. I haven't seen it but I'm sure I read somewhere that the Incredibles can be interpreted as a rather scarily right wing story.

Equally, some stories, despite being very political, defy political pigeonholing in either direction. I'm thinking of brilliant works like Gattaca, Fight Club, the Road to Perdition or the Shawshank Redemption.

There are more explicitly left wing films than right wing ones but they aren't the best films and they aren't the most important. Equally, they don't have a monopoly with recent films such as Thank You for Smoking (not even mentioned in 18DS's discussion) and South Park representing the right on TV in the US (how did that not come up?). The British film industry is smaller so it isn't necessarily a greater bias which stops right wing films emerging here.

However, I do not agree with Grachii that there is no legitimate right wing gripe about culture; I just think that it needs to be somewhat more refined. The problem is something I discussed a bit before in a post about comparisons with Korean film. I will focus on the film industry as it is the one I've thought about most and I think is most important to popular culture (television programmes are too short).

British films are either about our emotional side (Love Actually et. al.) or our dingy side (The Full Monty, Vera Drake). While I am aware that there are financial constraints when these constraints are somewhat removed (Harry Potter thanks to foreign money or Stormbreaker thanks to ambition) we make children's films. Why?

What about making films of, or set during, the following? If it takes American money to make them happen it really isn't particularly important.

  • Trafalgar (modern CGI could make this spectacular)

  • The Great War (the war in the Middle East, perhaps?)

  • World War Two

  • Hastings (should counter the idiotic "Saxons are Orcs" message of King Arthur) with a pretty noble story of heroic defeat

  • Gordon of Khartoum

  • The Industrial Revolution

  • The Falklands

Such films could counterbalance the bias in school history classes towards social history, provide Britain with a greater sense of its national story and, if done well, would be spectacular; some measure of looking back is important. Also, I honestly think that this kind of thing interests domestic and international audiences far more than unhappy Northern steel miners for the same reason everything royal still has such a pull for tourists; looking back is popular.

Britain has some spectacular stories in its history but the only way they will continue to provide us with inspiration and identity is if they are presented to new audiences. Unfortunately I honestly don't think that there are scripts floating around about these stories looking for funding and I believe this is something to do with the politics of our creative community. They do not consider such stories worthwhile as they are reminders of Imperial days or military strife which the left does not wish to consider except in the language of personal tragedy.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, they involve looking at a big picture which risks being subjected to the Subaltern studies critique, that history is massively distorted by a focus on the elite, which those educated in the post-modern dominated subjects which feed into creative careers understand as the ultimate evil almost via osmosis.

While creatives worldwide probably lean left I do not think that the left wing elsewhere involves the same disdain for their nation's history and I think in this regard the politics of those in the British artistic community does uniquely limit their contribution and makes us all worse off. The popularity of TV history suggests that Britons are crying out for the stories which connect them to our national subconscious. Britain's cultural community, by not providing these stories, is making the job of forming that common link to our national history far more difficult than it is for other nations.

On another note, I think it is pretty sad that no one really makes British science fiction anymore. British accents still show up occasionally in American science fiction but otherwise we appear to have lost the future even more spectacularly than we have the past.

Also, two films which don't need to be made in Britain but which I think could be absolutely spectacular:

  • A Brave New World - the world really needs to think about its critique of utilitarianism.

  • The defeat of Constantinople - could be visually incredible and deeply moving - a portrait of a beautiful civilisation dying.

Someone fund me to start a production company.


Gracchi said...

Just responded on my blog to you.

Fall of constantine would be great. Very moving last frame fo the Venetian ships escaping with the treasures of the East- I always get a lump in my throat reading that bit of Gibbon.

I've always thought that Rome's been rather unfairly treated in film- the sack by the Gauls would be great. There is one marvellous scene that Livy recalls when the Romans leave the aged senators behind when they flee up the Palatine- and the senators are all sitting there in their chairs of state. The Gauls enter and they think these grave old men are gods or statues because they are so still and silent. One of them strikes a senator who then hits him back and a massacre starts- you can imagine Scorsese say handling it brilliantly.

Jackart said...

You really must see the Incredibles.

You can see my review of "love Actually" here

I think Hastings would make a brilliant movie. The Heroic Saxons beset on all sides by enemies and nearly, Nearly defeating them all. Harold Godwinson bing the hero, not that totalitarian Bastard, Gillaume Le Batard, Duc de Normandie.

Meg said...

"Machine-Powered Textile Manufacturing and Me: The Heartwarming Tale of England's First Industrial Revolution"

Sounds as good as "the story, in music and song, of Finland's transformation from a predominantly rural agricultural base to one of the most sophisticated industrial and entrepreneurial economies in the world." :)

(yes, I'm a little behind on reading this; I've only just returned to the States)

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