In the News 30.01.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
Monday 30th January, 2017
‘Choose Facebook, Revenge Porn, Zero Hours’: What Does the Trainspotting Speech Mean Today?
Twenty-one years ago, Ewan McGregor, albeit briefly, tapped into prevailing anxieties over the spiritual bankruptcy of western consumerist society. “Choose life,” began his monologue as smackhead Mark Renton in Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home …”
Can Ewan do it again? Can he speak to 2017’s zeitgeist as he did in 1996? In the sequel, T2 Trainspotting, Renton, sexy druggie nihilist turned 46-year-old failed accountant with heart problems, updates the iconic speech from the original film over dinner with an underwritten Bulgarian sex worker-cum-ex-communist-bloc-femme-fatale called Veronika. The must-have consumer goods of 1996 – CD players, electric can openers and starter homes – have gone, replaced by a scattergun assault on dismal features of millennial life, especially social media. “Choose Facebook,” says middle-aged Renton, “Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen …”
Read the rest of this article at The Guardian
How Culture Became a Powerful Political Weapon
When it comes to living in a democracy, Nato Thompson argues, nothing affects us more directly and more powerfully than culture. Culture suffuses the world we live in, from TV to music to advertising to sports. And all these things, Thompson writes in his new book, Culture as Weapon, “influence our emotions, our actions, and our very understanding of ourselves as citizens.”
But comprehending how dominant culture has become also means thinking about the ways it can be, and has been, employed to manipulate consumers, by politicians, brands, and other powerful institutions. In Culture as Weapon, Thompson delves into the culture wars of the 1980s, the early origins of public relations and advertising in the early 20th century, how culture became a powerful vehicle for reinventing cities, and how brands associate themselves with causes to shape their own reputations. He looks at how artists have responded to these impulses, and how the emergence of the internet contributed to a new kind of immersion in culture, in which we’re more deeply absorbed in it than ever.
Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic
A Land without Strangers
On the afternoon of my fifth day in Warsaw, I find Nura sitting in the rear courtyard office where she sits every day. I’ve had some difficulty tracking her down – the building is unmarked, and distinguished only by some scrappy red ivy climbing the walls – and when I walk in the man at the front desk seems to think I’m lost.
Every day, women make their way to Nura. If it’s their first time they glance nervously at the men until she appears, then smile when, lo and behold, she speaks their language. She takes them into a private room and guides them through their housing search or the job market, explains how to navigate grade-school registration or a Polish doctor’s office – whatever they happen to need. That she knows how to sew, and toiled for years as a seamstress in a refugee camp, endears her to new arrivals looking for work.
Read the rest of this article at Granta
Why the Elites Always Rule
Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign was based on the rejection of the “establishment”. Theresa May condemned the rootless “international elites” in her leader’s speech at last October’s Conservative party conference. On the European continent, increasingly popular right-wing parties such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National and the German Alternative für Deutschland, as well as Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, delight in denouncing the “Eurocratic” elites. But where does the term “elite” come from, and what does it mean?
It was Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1902, gave the term the meaning that it has today. We mostly think of Pareto as the economist who came up with ideas such as “Pareto efficiency” and the “Pareto principle”. The latter – sometimes known as the “power law”, or the “80/20 rule” – stipulates that 80 per cent of the land always ends up belonging to 20 per cent of the population. Pareto deduced this by studying land distribution in Italy at the turn of the 20th century. He also found that 20 per cent of the pea pods in his garden produced 80 per cent of the peas. Pareto, however, was not only an economist. In later life, he turned his hand to sociology, and it was in this field that he developed his theory of the “circulation of elites”.
Read the rest of this article at New Statesman
In Venezuela, We Couldn’t Stop Chávez. Don’t Make the Same Mistakes We Did.
How to let a populist beat you, over and over again.
Donald Trump is an avowed capitalist; Hugo Chávez was a socialist with communist dreams. One builds skyscrapers, the other expropriated them. But politics is only one-half policy: The other, darker half is rhetoric. Sometimes the rhetoric takes over. Such has been our lot in Venezuela for the past two decades — and such is yours now, Americans. Because in one regard, Trump and Chávez are identical. They are both masters of populism.
The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.
That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.
The problem is you.
How do I know? Because I grew up as the “you” Trump is about to turn you into. In Venezuela, the urban middle class I come from was cast as the enemy in the political struggle that followed Chávez’s arrival in 1998. For years, I watched in frustration as the opposition failed to do anything about the catastrophe overtaking our nation. Only later did I realize that this failure was self-inflicted. So now, to my American friends, here is some advice on how to avoid Venezuela’s mistakes.
Read the rest of this article at The Washington Post