Tag Archives: politics

Tabloids

Discrimination and Popular Culture was one of those fabulous blue covered Pelican socal science paperbacks. It was first published in 1964 and a second edition came out in 1973. It contained several essays by various authors on topics such as Televsion and Radio, Pop Music, and this still pertinent, perhaps even more so today, section comes from Graham Martin’s essay on The Press.

The unscrupulous paper says: ‘this is a true picture of the world – ignore other versions as false, irrelevant, or boring.’ Nothing is easier than to couple this message, daily dramatized in the whole typographical and verbal structure of the paper, with hearty declarations about freedom of comment. Unrelated to a world of events in which both reader and opinion have a significant role, this freedom is meaningless. In this context, opinions are never ‘relevant’, ‘convincng’, ‘well or badly supported’, but ‘fearless’, ‘provocative’, ‘challenging’, which, havng nothing to do with action, they can well afford to be.
The real key to the political influence of such papers lies neither in the opinions they propagate, nor in the attitudes which, in their preoccupation with ‘human interest’, they endorse or actively feed. It lies in the implication that without their colourful intervention there is no meaningful relationship between the events which they dramatize and the readers for whom the show goes on. In this respect, their ‘style’ has a hidden content. It speaks for readers whom it takes to be politically disenfranchised, for whom the news of polical events is not about a world in which they feel they can meaningfully act. This is the more subtle form of political manipulation since it imposes on the reader an assumption of which he remains unaware. It also makes it easer to speak on his behalf. It is, in sum, the modern way of ‘forming and supplying the opinions of the people’.
Between the illigitimate politics of the ‘populars’ and the newspaper whose primary function is to ‘entertain’, there are certain differences. If the political manipulator entertains, this is always less for its own sake than as a tacit bribe to the reader for allowng himself now and agan to be violently jerked in a definite political direction. But when ‘entertainment’ (i.e. profit) is the goal, political material is both reduced in quantity, and subordinate in place. Typographical devices often submerge what there is into other material; or seperate it off altogether from the major interests of sport, gossip, and crime. In the tabloid presentation, ‘entertainment’ assimilates everythng into a fictional melodrama. Symbolized in the paper’s ‘personality’, the reader becomes the hero of an endless tale, subjecting the world of ‘them’ (i.e. everything whch the rhetoric cannot reduce) to magcal defeats and rejections. What the defenders of the tabloid manner seem incapable of understanding is that theirs is not ‘just a way of puttng it’ – a real victory for the newspaper’s political role under unrewardng circumstances. Whatever the nobly-educative intentions of the speaker, if this is his idiom then the effective content of his message shrinks and coarsens accordingly. Few issues, at any level, can survive this. Is it not better in this situation to abandon the pretence at anything resembling the political role, and admit to the guiding assumption that the audience in question fnds the world of serious politics meaningless because it has no direct continuous participation? In effect, of course, precisely this admission gets made when apologists answer crtics by denying the relevance of extensive political reporting to the audience. On the other hand, with issues that engage the direct interest of the owner the ‘tabloid’ handling becomes indistinguishable from that of the political manipulator.

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Alienation

This poem comes from Retort, vol 3 number 2, Spring, 1946. Retort was a quarterly of social philosophy and the arts from New York. It was edited by Holley Cantine and Dachine Rainer. Rainer is buried in Highgate Cemetery, where her tombstone reads “Poet and Anarchist”.

Alienation
to Anais Nin

barbed and tombed the site remains a scattered pyramid
with metal images leading a procession thru the ruined graves.

beyond this sense of loss
untenable stacks of gravel screech and grate each wish,
stretch and multiply.

wide and smooth and strange for stone
more as tho seven ancient oceans loved and assuaged
our fright: historic time run out.

art is a place where homeless we come,
a perfect dream of man that shrinks the sky,
a monumental chaos bound to our previous selves.

emergence from the fetish with mended and rejecting power,
with huge fragments of a savage vision
within a focus to which all light withdraws.

Dachine Rainer

All Quiet

This, still topical, anti-war poem by David Ignatow was in Poetry, April, 1966 and also the 1967 anthology Where Is Vietnam?

All Quiet

How come nobody is being bombed today?
I want to know, being a citizen
of this country and a family man.
You can’t take my fate in your hands,
without informing me.
I can blow up a bomb or crush a skull-
whoever started this peace bit
without advising me
through a news leak
at which I could have voiced a protest,
running my whole family off a cliff.

David Ignatow

Night Of The Murdered Poets

August 12 1952 – 21 Av 5712

Thirteen Soviet Jews convicted of espionage and treason were executed in Moscow’s Lubianika Prison. Their confessions had been extracted by torture. This group, known as “the Martyrs of the Soviet Union,” included actor Benjamin Zuskin, historian and trade union leader Josef Yuzefovitch, translator Ilya Vatenberg and his wife, Labor Zionist Chaika Vatenburg-Ostrovskaya, journalist Leon Talmy, radio editor Emilia Teumin, poets Isaac Pfeifer, David Hofstein, and Peretz Markish, children’s author Leib Kweitko, Yiddish author David Bergelson, Solomon Lozovsky, and surgeon Boris Shimeliovich. Ten engineers and industry workers were killed as well, on charges of sabotaging Soviet industry.

The Jewish Anti-Facist Committee, founded in 1942 to develop ties with American Jewry as part of the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany. Solomon Mikhoels, senior actor in the Soviet State Yiddish theater, headed the committee, and most of those executed were his friends and associates. At the end of the war, the committee came under immediate suspicion of collusion in an international plot to overthrow the state. By 1949, the Soviets were openly hostile to all Jewish activity in view of the supposed Zionist “threat” posed by the newly founded state of Israel, and the committee was shut down.

Mikhoels had been assassinated early in 1948 in a staged road accident, and a year later most of his colleagues from the committee had been arrested. They were accused, among other things, of trying to set up a Jewish state in the Crimean peninsula. Extreme violence was used in their interrogation. Historian Joseph Yusefovitz claimed during his trial that he was hit so often and so hard that he would have admitted to being the pope’s nephew if it could have helped him. Boris Shimeliovich, who refused to plead guilty to a single charge, reckoned that he received more than two thousand blows.

The trial, held behind closed doors before a tribunal of three judges and no defense attorneys, began May 8, 1952, and ended July 18. All the accused spoke at length and were then extensively cross-examined in an attempt to trick them into incriminating their colleagues. The proceedings dragged on much longer than anticipated. The senior judge asked to re-open the investigation in view of the many internal contradictions and gaps in the testimony, but the Soviet leadership wanted a swift conclusion – execution by firing squad and confiscation of all property belonging to the convicted. Only two escaped this fate: Solomon Bergman, who fell into a coma during the trial and died in prison a few months after the others were executed; and biologist Lena Stern, whose sentence was commuted to exile due to the importance of her research.

The results of the trial were kept secret. The martyrs’ families were exiled in December 1952, remaining ignorant of their relatives’ fate until 1955, when their files were re-opened after Stalin’s death. Recognizing that all the confessions had been obtained under duress, the supreme military tribunal ruled that the accusations had no basis and closed the case.

Mass Culture

In the Nov-Dec 1971 issue of Radical America, Vol 5 No. 6, Paul Buhle wrote Marxism in the U.S.: 39 Propositions. The 20th relates to mass culture and still makes relevant points.

In one sense, Mass Culture embodies the deepest creative force, the unification of a class through common participation in the forms of cultural self-understanding and technical development. (Chaplin’s Little Tramp suggests the former; the development of early housework devices suggests the latter.) In another sense, Mass Culture was an opiate that religion could not be for the Twentieth Century: at once a source of relaxation and forgetfulness from the alienating, brutalizing labor of work and the chaotic life of urban society, and a definition of personal and group progress though individualistic accumulation. At its birth around the turn of the century, Mass Culture seemed to promise a total revolutionary experience, shared through the best representation of the masses’ lives. In the generations to follow, this Mass Culture was increasingly rationalized as a means for commodity sales and as a weapon against the cultural development of the masses. Despite this general appropriation, however, the tension remained – from the Marx brothers to Donald Duck – essentially unresolved, pushed further into antagonism by the advance of productive forces and their social reflections.

Paul Buhle was founding editor of the journal Radical America (1967–1999). He is active on the American left and is the author of severalbooks. He is also the editor of a series of graphic non-fiction works by American comics artists and writers, among them Harvey Pekar, Sabrina Jones and Sharon Rudahl.

American poet, and go go dancer, Joan Jobe Smith.