High concept politics

So the Conservatives won. The global march of the right continues unabated. Goodbye, National Health Service (NHS). Hello, Trident.

Where did it all go wrong, has been the refrain among much of the left.

My Facebook feed assured me that the Tories were on the way out. And then the exit polls were released.

The question should have been: Where has it ever gone right? Or should I say, left?

Four thousand people took to the streets to protest the result. The Facebook event lamented, “we have another five years of the fucking Tories, whipped into power by an undemocratic voting system and a right-wing media induced nationalist frenzy.”

Reading from Egypt, I was reminded of the discourse leading up to June 30, 2013, and the huge protests against the Muslim Brotherhood calling for early elections. The rallying call was that Mohamed Morsi, the soon-to-be-ousted president, was anti-democratic and was brought to power by the business elites of the Brotherhood, who manipulated the electorate and electoral system.

David Cameron, someone wrote, was elected by 24 percent of the registered electorate. That does not give him the mandate to destroy the NHS.

Mohamed Morsi, someone wrote, was elected by 26 percent of the registered electorate. That does not give him the mandate to turn Egypt into an Islamic theocracy.

Is it legitimate to agitate for electoral reform, for a more representative system, for early elections? Of course it is. In Egypt, the military worked to harness the power of the street for its own aims, and the blood that followed destroyed political life in the country. The UK, which reserves its bloodletting for the ex-colonies, may soon have to deal with an independent Scotland and proportional representation. But first, we are warned, the cuts that are coming will destroy the public sphere.

Where did it all go wrong, the left asks.

Where, one could ask, did the left go?

There’s a liberal protest group called 38 Degrees. They claim to “put power into people’s hands.” That they “want to be more than just voters and ensure our voices are heard all of the time, not just once every five years.” Well, the morning after the general election result they tweeted, in un-ironic self-congratulation, that they had collected 689,365 signatures to save the NHS, sent 60,000 emails to the government and secured three pledges from losing parties to close a tax loophole that benefits the Tories. Brilliant.

But, please retweet it if you’re proud of 38 Degrees. That will make sure your voice is heard. That will keep Cameron quivering in his brogues. They even had the nerve to send an email this morning asking for money. The perfect demonstration of capital’s colonization of protest culture.

* * *

The other group of libertarian elites battling to control the world’s resources this month are, of course, the Avengers, who are enjoying their second outing, this time against the lazily named Ultron. As a pair of films, the Avengers share a neat symmetry with the Cameron governments.

The first instalment was a light comedy about the difficulties of sharing power. Nick Clegg fancied himself as celestial wild card Thor, though he was, of course, much closer to Hawkeye, the out-of-his-depth mortal who brings a bow and arrow to a missile fight. Cameron, meanwhile, is obviously Iron Man, the multimillionaire weapons dealer whose metallic shell and extensive gadgetry is all stagecraft to divert your attention away from the fact that he is, in fact, Gwyneth Paltrow’s pet teacup pig.

In the sequel, Hawkeye resigns himself to domestic life while Iron Cam’s private forays into artificial intelligence nearly destroy the world when the inappropriate harvesting of data (the NSA) takes corporeal form as Ultron, and can only be defeated by a being that is, essentially, Google.

The Avengers operate entirely without oversight or accountability — they are the perfect neocon, post-9/11 soldiers, a Blackwater we can be proud of. They operate in a world without functioning governments or visible societies, and while they claim to be engaged with public service, they are, in fact, constantly and relentlessly destroying vital infrastructure. The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, in fact, turns on an axis of libertarian austerity where individuals leverage their own resources (financial, physical, supernatural) to claim a mandate to act as an unelected representative of “the people.”

A world is being built where there are only superhero movies, and just as every character will one day be an Avenger, so every politician is a derivative sequel to the Reagan/Thatcher administrations. It’s called High Concept. A film that can be explained in a sentence. A politician that sells you something you already know. If a studio releases a film that’s not part of an established franchise, they spend twice as much on advertising. That’s why 2015 will see the release of new instalments of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, James Bond, Terminator, Mad Max and Mission Impossible. What would it cost to sell you a new politics?

So there are no new films, there are no new politics, there are no new ideas. There are only moments, now, when Facebook’s algorithms trick you into thinking that the world is as you wish it would be, that everyone agrees with you, that things are going to be ok. We are surrounded by digital illusions that divest us from responsibility, strip us of agency and divorce us from reality.

Facebook, the Tories, the Avengers offer imaginary worlds without imagination that bludgeon you with familiarity. We elect/buy/share the things we know best. But do we do it because we’ve been conditioned over decades to distrust anything new, or because the alternatives are just never properly packaged?

Omar Robert Hamilton 

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