THE RHETORIC OF BRITISH BROADCASTING


Hear the white world
horribly weary from its immense efforts
its stiff joints crack under the hard stars
its blue steel rigidities pierce the mystic flesh
hear its deceptive victories tout its defeats
hear the grandiose alibis of its pitiful stumbling
 
Pity for our omniscient and naive conquerors! 
— Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land 
  

Member's of the BBC's Empire Service staff, including T.S. Eliot and George Orwell, thinking of ways to bring Literature to the natives, 1942. Via @bintbattuta 

By 1939, the British Council had developed significant holdings in Cairo, Alexandria, and Baghdad, and later expanded its operations in Jamaica, Nigeria, and throughout Latin America, ensuring at the very least the continued circulation of English literature and criticism abroad. The “Panel of Book Selectors” included the literary critic Ivor Brown, who authored Contemporary General Literature, and Daniel Jones, a linguist who had written extensively on English phonetics and pronunciation. The council published short introductions to a culturally dominant group of writers. To name a few, Stephen Spender’s Poetry since 1939 summarized the New Signatures movement; Rex Warner revived an interest in E.M. Forster; Edmund Blunden wrote a short book on John Keats; Herbert Read did one on Byron; and John Lehmann provided one on Edith Sitwell. John Hayward wrote Prose Literature since 1939. The council copublished works, such as Bernard Lewis’s British Contributions to Arabic Studies, as a way of reinforcing and maintaining power amid growing anticolonial pressure.  
. . . By the beginning of decolonization, the spaces that the council occupied were extensive. It opened offices in Kenya in 1947, Malawi in 1950, Malaysia in 1948, Pakistan in 1948, Sri Lanka in 1950, and India in 1948. The council’s library system was the most extensive in the world. At the end of 1956, there were ninety-five libraries in fifty-seven countries, containing about 900,000 volumes and about 10,000 periodicals. The cultural presence of the council assumed many forms: institutes, centers, libraries, pamphlets, novels, poetry, manuals, magazines, auditoriums for conductors and symphonies, and spaces for exhibitions. The Sound Department of the council recorded a talk by E.M. Forester to accompany and exhibition of a large model of an Elizabethan theater that was installed adjacent to a display that provided a history of “Shakespeare in the British Theatre”—all to ensure English culture maintained its value in what was then East and West Pakistan; or at the very least, that England retained its imperial identity in order to exert its authority in countries it no longer directly controlled.   
* * * *  
With the postwar expansion of new occasions for transmission and translation, as well as the emergence of new forms such as the “radio magazine,” the relationship between the writer and the public underwent further transformations that would decisively expand and constrain cultural space. Working for the East Indian Division of the BBC, Orwell produced a series of radio talks from 1941 to 1943. Entitled Voices, the radio program brought together a group of Anglophone writers to read and discuss their poetry and prose on the air. In London, the BBC’s Third Programme, which began broadcasting in September 1946, performed a critical function in establishing a dominant culture and community, thus securing the reputation of Isaiah Berlin and T.S. Eliot as public figures and intellectuals. Isaiah Berlin, for example, delivered numerous addresses on the BBC’s Third Programme. T.S. Eliot was broadcast more than on more than eighty occasions on the Third Programme, for which he recorded his British Academy lecture on Milton. Edward Sackville-West speculated that the Third Programme would become “the greatest civilizing force England has known since the secularization of the theater.” What was significant about these institutions is the way that they appeared to inadvertently interact and overlap with the CCF [Congress for Cultural Freedom] and the various organizations it had established in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Rome. The first comptroller of the BBC’s Third Programme, Herman Grisewood, served as the treasurer for the British Society for Cultural Freedom, was the editor of the Twentieth Century, the successor to the Nineteenth Century and After, among one of the first publications that the CCF sponsored before it launched Encounter in 1953.
Andrew N. Rubin, Archives of Auhtority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, p. 48; 60-61. 

Poster for the "Hands off Somalia: No to Imperialist Intervention" campaign, 2012.


We decided . . . to see just how 'numerous' the BBC's references to Chavez's legitimate elections are, taking as a dataset all articles about Venezuela between the start of November 1997 (when the BBC website began) and the end of December 2011. This totalled 2,248 articles from the BBC website. Our objective was to research how regularly Hugo Chavez is referred to as a democratically elected president, and to compare this with how often words depicting the president as autocratic or dictatorial have appeared (including direct quotes from opposition politicians/media).   
We found that, indeed, out of the full dataset, there were 146 articles (165 mentions in total within them) which referred to Hugo Chavez as either being elected or winning elections. The word 'legitimate' has appeared only in direct quotes by Hugo Chavez himself.  
Looking further into the data gave interesting results on some of the more unfavourable reporting of Venezuela since Hugo Chavez was elected. In the full dataset, there were 160 articles (containing a total of 198 references) in which Hugo Chavez is described as 'authoritarian', 'totalitarian', or a 'dictator', 'autocrat', or 'tyrant'. These descriptions were overwhelmingly from the Venezuelan opposition and the US government; however there were three instances in which BBC reporters used such descriptions directly in their own words.  
— "13 Years of BBC Reporting on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez," newsunspun.org, February 14, 2012.  

HERZL: BOURGEOIS!





You are bourgeois in your thought, bourgeois in your feelings, bourgeois in your ideas and bourgeois in your conception of society. As such, you want to guide the people, our people, who are poor, unhappy, working class . . . You act outside of them and above them: you’d like to have them follow you like a herd of sheep. Like all governments, you want to disguise the truth, you want to be a proper government whose principle obligation is not exposing the national shame. But I want to expose it, so that everyone can see poor Job on his dungheap, scraping his sores with a piece of broken bottle.   


Bernard Lazare in a Letter to Theodor Herzl, Feburary 4, 1899.


The masses had two functions in Herzl's initial strategy of Zionism. On the one hand, they would provide the shock troops of exodus and the settlers in the promised land. On the other, they could be used as a club to compel the rich European Jews to support the Zionist solution. The ghetto Jew as carrier of the new nation, the ghetto Jew as weapon: of the first of these mobilizations, Herzl spoke publicly; the second, no less integral to the new key in politics, he confided to his diary.  


In his first and greatest political pamphlet, Der Judenstaat (1896), Herzl candidly explored the best methods for directing the masses. Criticizing the attempts of Jewish philanthropic colonizers to attract pioneers by appealing to personal self-interest and by financial inducements, the irreligious Herzl urged instead that the Jews follow the models of Mecca and Lourdes. A mass can best be led if one sets a goal or center of aspiration for its "deepest need to believe." In the Jewish case, the desire to harness and guide was the age-old wish for "the free homeland." While Herzl tapped the archaic religious aspiration, however, he did not, as a modern secular leader, fully rely upon it. At first he did not even wish to locate the Jewish homeland in Palestine though, as he told the Rothschilds, "the name alone would be a program . . . strongly attractive to the lower masses." Most Jews, however, were "no longer orientals, and had accustomed themselves to other climes [andere Himmelstriche].""  


Therefore Herzl added essentially modern attractions to the allurements of ancient hopes in his political Gesamtkunstwerk. He envisaged the seven-hour day as the principal magnet for the modern European Jew. Zion would outbid the Socialist International by one hour of leisure! Even the flag of the Jewish state was to reflect the value which Herzl attached tothe drawing power of modern social justice. On a white field signifying the new life of purity, seven gold stars would represent the seven golden hours of our working day. " For under the sign of work the Jews go into the promised land." Of the star of David or any other Jewish symbol, Herzl made no mention.  


Carl E.Schorske “Politics in a New Key: An Austrian Triptych,” The Journal of Modern History, V. 39 N. 4. December, 1969. p.380-381. Later republished in Schorske’s 1979 book Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture.


Herzl viewed Polish Jews from the vast distance of his Viennese bourgeois standards of gentility and cultivation. He himself spoke the pure German of the cultivated, without a trace of even the Viennese dialect. Even after having become a Jewish statesman, he referred to East European Jews as “semi-Asiatic.” For Herzl, Polish Jews were undifferentiated. He was a stranger to the vast differences between the elite Talmudic culture of Vilna and the more down-to-earth Hasidic communities of Galicia or the schools of Jewish enlightenment in Brody. What he saw was a stereotype, shaped by conceptions of Germanic enlightenment and Viennese refinement.
Jacques Kornberg, Theodor Herzl: From Assimilation to Zionism, Indianapolis and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993, p. 80.

TOM CRUISE LIBERATES KUWAIT VIA AGRABAH

 (للعراق) 

The war stinks of shit.   
 Pier Paolo Pasolini (May, 1944) 


Enough of smoke and mirrors and smooth talking hustlers.   
 Edward W. Said (April, 2003) 


1. 

Walt Disney Studios’ now infamously racist film, Aladdin, must, to use Raymond Williams’ phrase, be placed in its structure of feeling. “Our success in the Gulf will shape not only the new world order we seek but our mission here at home,” president Bush (41) said in 1991 after our (the U.S.A) brief (but bloody) incursion into Iraq, a year before the release of the Disney film. The Cold War was over and the United States was on top, the former president seems to be saying to the New World. But the elder Bush does not stop there; the imperial homeland must itself recognize the might of their state, and the weakness of its enemies in the face of such exceptional might (a “clash of civilizations,” the reactionary Samuel Huntington would famously call this relationship around the same time). As Edward Said made clear in his book Orientalism (1978), the process of imagining the other is part and parcel with that modern process of imaging the self (power, of course, is fundamental to Said's analysis of the colonial period). In the late capitalist, as it was called then, United States, the image of the other was increasingly drawn in Arab garb.* Two decades later (as a second Gulf War was winding down, at least in the official discourse of the state**), president Obama — after presiding (as the leader of the free world, so called) over the extensive bombing of Libya by that military relic of the Cold War, NATO — addressed the Libyan people: “The rule of an iron fist [more Cold War!] inevitably comes to an end. You have won your revolution.” Our philosopher king becomes the emperor of the liberated. 


2. 

In the June 1986 issue of American Film, the late Alexander Cockburn, one of the Anglophone fourth estate’s most reliable challengers of empire, reviewed Tony Scott’s Top Gun.**He ended his stinging critique of the “high flying” military-industrial romance, by pointing out the irony in the fact that the fighter pilots in the film (Tom Cruise et. al.) were portrayed in such noble and heroic terms only ten years after the end of the United States’ bumbling imperial air-war on the people of Vietnam. A few years later, with the extensive media coverage of George H.W. Bush’s war in the Persian Gulf, the American public could for the first time virtually follow the aerial bombing of Iraq on television and imagine themselves the pilots of their own jets, just like their heroes Maverick and Goose. Fast-forward a year later, and Disney’s Aladdin is in theaters. 


3.   

In his “The Monstrous Births of ‘Aladdin,’” scholar of Arabic literature, Michael Cooperson, traced the process through which characters and themes were translated into different versions of the famous folk tale.**** Cooperson notes how the producers of the 1992 animated film changed the moral of the story, originally an 1980s-style message of “greed is good,” in order bring it properly into the a post-Cold War American milieu of superpower as enlightened policeman. Thus, the genie in the Disney feature places a limit on the amount of wishes he can grant and Aladdin — whose look, Cooperson notes, animators modeled after Tom Cruise (!) — saves his third and final wish to liberate his friend the genie, literally, from his chains. In the end, the genie, voiced by Robin Williams, decides to remain with Aladdin despite his “freedom.” More than 20 years after the initial war, after a decade of brutal sanctions, and finally the total destruction of its neighboring state of Iraq, Kuwait remains a staunch ally of the United States and an essential staging ground for its imperial maneuvers in the Arab world and beyond. The recent release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s film The Dictator — a latter day Orientalist-minstrel created by a devout Zionist of the so-called liberal stripe — in the aftermath of the western takeover of Libya and in the midst of the United States’ continued assault on the Arab/Islamicate world even as its people rise up in courageous and imaginative revolution, is another instance of an empire rehearsing its role (as leading civilization à la Huntington) on the silver screen. 




NOTE: This is a short thing I wrote for a long thing I never finished. Also, and by the way I don't know how to make proper footnotes on this thing. So, you know, deal. 
*Though, as any passing look at Said’s encyclopedic book or a viewing of John Rawlins' 1942 film Arabian Nights would prove, such tropes have long existed in both scholarly and popular discourses. 
**Though the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world, not to mention the drones…or the sanctions on Iran...etc. etc....
***Alexander Cockburn, “Top Gun,” in Corruptions of Empire (London: Verso, 1988) pp. 163-172 
****Michael Cooperson, “The Monstrous Births of ‘Aladdin,’” Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review v. 1 (1994), pp. 67-86.