We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The Death of Stalin

Not late news, but a film review. The Death of Stalin opened recently across the UK. It is an excellent black comedy, 5 stars. The film opens with a musical performance for Radio Moscow, Stalin likes it, and asks for the recording. There is none, so, in true Soviet style, the recording is ‘faked’ by the terrified producer, who resorts to desperate measures. The backdrop to this is nightly NKVD raids, roaming through apartment blocks with the citizenry knowing what to expect, Beria adds his own touches to the minutiae of the raids. We see Stalin’s inner circle, all desperately keeping track of what they have said, and striving to please their master.

Then Stalin collapses, with a little sub-plot device thrown in. Beria is the first to find him, and gets his head start on the race for power. The others in the Praesidium arrive, and the plotting begins. Efforts to get a doctor for Stalin are complicated by the consequences of the Doctors’ Plot, with the NKVD rounding up whoever they can find instead. But it becomes clear that Stalin is in a terminal condition and he then dies.

It should be noted that the film is by the writers of The Thick of It, something, not having a TV, I have never seen, but it has the flavour of a much coarser version of an Ealing Comedy. Beria’s raping and torturing is a major theme, and anyone who sits through the first 15 minutes should by then be under no illusion about the nature of the Soviet Union and socialism. Another excellent aspect of the film is the use of various accents, Stalin is a cockney (perhaps he should have been Welsh, an outsider, emphasising his Georgian origins). Zhukov a bluff Lancastrian (or Northerner), Malenkov and Khrushchev have American accents.

Malenkov, who behaves more like a Principal at a minor East Coast University, seems blissfully unaware that his revolutionary colleagues are actually real murderers. He is nominally in charge of the country and the plotting begins. Beria wishes to start a liberalisation for his own reasons, Khrushchev is put in charge of transport and is lumbered with the funeral arrangements, much to his disgust. Stalin’s son, Vasili, appears on the scene, coming over as a spoilt lunatic. He plans to make a speech at his father’s funeral, which is reluctantly agreed to. Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter, frets over her future. Khrushchev and Beria both promise to protect her. Molotov, played by Michael Palin, is still the Old Bolshevik, totally loyal to the Party, and still regarding his beloved wife as a traitor after Beria gets her released from prison. Eventually, he comes round to support the others against Beria, who has done a Robespierre and shown his hand against his rivals. An excellent Marshal Zhukov plays a decisive role in the final confrontation with Beria, after the competing plans for the funeral arrangements lead to an embarrassing massacre by the NKVD. At the final trial, numerous allegations of sexual abuse are made, a curious echo for our times.

It is hard not to laugh throughout the film, and yet the relentless nature of the evil of the Soviet State is laid bare for all to see, with torture and terror common. It is fairly accurate to what we know of those events, and whilst one might wonder why if the NKVD is so powerful Beria did not simply arrest everyone, it does not and need not show the full picture of the what checks there were on his power, such as the Peoples’ Control, and the Party/NKVD/Army balance. The film credits also acknowledge the tax shelter of the Belgian Federal government.

Every one who voted Democrat, Labour, Green or SNP should watch this film, for a bit of nostalgia and to dream of the future. Everyone who did not support any of them should watch it and be grateful that they are not in total control, for now.

Samizdata quote of the day

Two decades after the Guggenheim fell from the sky on Bilbao, the global arts establishment clings to the faith – and it is a faith, a belief with no empirical evidence to support it – that run-down cities can be healed by something called cultural regeneration: by building museums and galleries. The number of people unemployed and dependent on welfare in Bilbao has risen during those two decades. Like prayer or relics, it seems not to work.

Jonathan Meades

Samizdata quote of the day

I should have though feminists have more to worry about this film than everyone else. The point of Golding’s book is that, freed from societal restraints, the boys descend into savagery.

If gender is a social construct then, freed from societal restraints, girls should also descend into savagery because the only difference between boys and girls is how society shapes their behaviour.

But this contradicts feminst doublethink that tells if that although gender is a social construct, girls are actually more caring and empathetic, even without social conditioning.

If the film follows the plot of the book then it isn’t going to show a feminist utopia; it’s going to be more like Heathers or Mean Girls.

– ‘Shatterface’

This is an interesting comment by ‘Shatterface‘ on a Spiked article about an all-female remake of Lord of the Flies.

Samizdata quote of the day

And then Bond just skis off the edge and as he drops down through the sky he kicks loose his skis and pulls the cord and his parachute opens – a massive Union Jack chute, which is a bit of a giveaway for a secret agent in deep cover but, as Christopher Wood noted with pride, elicited huge cheers from audiences in the decrepit strike-ridden hellhole of pre-Thatcher Britain.

Mark Steyn on the late Roger Moore.

Young One Rick explains why Labour is doing so badly

One of my most favourite analyses of the politics of public spending comes from Rick (gloriously played by the much missed Rick Mayall), in the classic TV sitcom The Young Ones:

“I mean, it’s no wonder the country is in such a state. I don’t know why they don’t just be honest and hand the whole place over to Oxfam. Nothing but scroungers and horrid old people and workshy layabouts all wandering around clutching their Giros and trying to get something for nothing. Oh yes, the Post Office seems to be very good at handing out other people’s money, doesn’t it? No wonder my grant’s so small. …”

At the moment lots of British expert political commentators seem baffled as to why Labour is so crushingly unpopular, despite so many of its individual policies being so very popular. But it’s not rocket science. If you are wanting to get more goodies from the government, the last thing you want is all the other damn scroungers to be queueing up for their goodies, as likely as not ahead of you in the queue. What Labour Leader Corbyn is promising is that there will be goodies for all, and worse, he seems to mean this, and to believe that this is possible, or at least possible enough for him to give such a policy a serious try. But that’s no bloody use. That way, the goodies will run out, and there will then be no goodies for you, no matter what the promise was. What you want is goodies for yourself and for those in your own quite small category of scroungers, paid for by all the other scroungers having to go without.

The EU Fairy

Shot 1: An office, somewhere in Europe. Well-dressed yet approachable EUROPEAN PEOPLE of diverse race and gender TALK SERIOUSLY.

Back in 2015 the organisation Européens Sans Frontières (Europeans Without Borders) sponsored a competition to make a short film to raise public awareness of the issue of migration in Europe. The European Commission was involved in financing it somehow, though I am not clear whether it was funding just this film or the Européens Sans Frontières organization as a whole.

Shot 2: A studio full of keen, passionate young EUROPEAN FILM STUDENTS, hipster but not too hipster, you know what I mean, are doing FILM THINGS.

The film that won the competition was called “Eurodame, Help!”

It’s the weirdest thing since Captain Euro, not the new ironic Captain Euro, the original “yes, they actually did think this was a good idea” Captain Euro.

Anyway, back to Eurodame. On April 26th the film appeared on YouTube.

Shot 3: a EUROPEAN TECHNOLOGICAL PERSON clicks a mouse and sits back with a SIGH of SATISFACTION, conscious of a job well done.

Then the plot goes off the rails. Jack Montgomery of Breitbart London found the film on YouTube and posted about it today: Fairy Godmother’ Brings Migrants to Europe on a Flying Carpet in EU-Backed Cartoon. Oh dear. This is not going to end well.

Here it is direct from the creators: EURODAME, HELP!

As well as the French original, they also made versions in several languages, including Arabic.

Questions abound. Why is the entrance to Europe guarded by one rude man in short sleeves and a baseball cap? Why does the Euro-fairy need glasses? Who is the Obi-wan Kenobi bloke with the flying carpet? How is he different from the evil people-smuggler? How does the portrayal of Eastern Europeans contribute to intra-EU solidarity?

That really is an issue, you know. Here is an excerpt from the official script:

Shot 14:
The carpet arrives in an Eastern European country where they meet a hostile crowd.
The shopkeeper:
– There are refugees here, also seeking asylum.
The crowd:
– Immigrants!
The shopkeeper:
– But it’s their right!
The crowd shouting:
– No refugees here!

Shot 15:
The carpet resumes its course to the compass and turns west (W).

Shot 16:
The carpet arrives in a Western country. Eurodame is there to greet them.
Eurodame: – Welcome to our home!
The shopkeeper invites them to step down from the carpet. He smiles.
An eager crowd takes care of them, gives them food and clothing.

Shot 17:
Eurodame shows them into a nice house.

Why are the comments still on?

Who was the audience meant to be?

What on earth were they trying to achieve?

What I dislike about targetted advertising

The Sun had a story recently (and I presume many other organs did too) about a pizza advert in Norway which changed its message according to who was looking at it. It spied on those who spied it, you might say. But the advert broke down, very visibly, and revealed its inner secrets to passers-by, many of whom immediately told the world about this advert via all those social media that media outlets like The Sun (and Samizdata come to that) now have to coexist with.

What I personally find depressing about adverts targetted at me personally is that I stop learning things. I already know what I like. What I get – or used to get – from adverts is a sense of what the world in general likes, or at least what someone willing to back his guess with money guesses it might like.

Advertising on television, for example, is currently telling me that I am not the only one suffering from itchy eyes, a bunged up nose, and such like. Hay fever symptoms, in other words. My television didn’t push all these adverts at me personally, because it heard me sniffing or saw the shape and colour of my face change or saw me putting my hands in my eyes, the way a cat does when it’s washing its face. All the people watching the TV show I was watching got the same adverts. I found this reassuring. I am not uniquely ill. I am somewhat ill, in the same way that thousands of others are somewhat ill. Nothing to worry about. It will soon pass.

TV adverts, as of now, tell me about who else is watching what I am watching. Adverts for baths with doors on them, for chair lifts, for over-fifties health insurance, tell me who we all are, watching this show. Lots of old woman adverts also tell me when I have wandered into that audience. Other shows have adverts attached for fizzy drinks, electronic gadgets, or short-term loans or on-line gambling dens. I find all this interesting and informative. It tells me not about me, but about the world I am living in. Often what I learn is rather depressing (as with those short-term loans and the gambling dens), but I do learn.

Advertising that is aimed directly at me annoys me not by threatening to know everything about me, and rat on me to the government or the CIA or whoever. Although I can well imagine that becoming a problem for me, it is not my problem with this stuff right now. No, what I object to now is the thought that I may soon be wandering through life in a cocoon that is constantly being rearranged in order to bounce back at me nothing but my own tastes and prejudices. It’s as if I will soon be walking around in my personal private Potemkin Village.

I already know what sort of stuff I like. The constant nagging from the www the buy whatever I was looking at yesterday is depressing to me, not because it spies on me, but because it isolates me. Not because others learn about me, but because I stop learning about others.

The fact that this Norwegian pizza advert was switched off once word got around about it tells me that I am not the only one in the world who finds this kind of targetted advertising in public places rather creepy and off-putting. But what exactly is it that people object to about such advertising? What you have just read is my little contribution to this latter discussion.

LATER: I originally wrote this piece with my personal blog in mind as its destination, and the mind-set of that blog is different from the mind-set that prevails here. Since this is Samizdata, let me clarify that the above is not a plea for the government regulation of targetted advertising, merely an expression by me of my dislike of it. There are plenty of other products and services which I also dislike, which I also don’t think the government should forbid or interfere with.

Samizdata quote of the day

– Photoed by me last week in the window of a shop in the Burlington Arcade.

It sounds to me like something a gangster would say in an old black and white movie. He would then be proved wrong, by another gangster, with a machine gun.

That would certainly seem to be the era that these words were supposed to evoke. Because it turns out they are the title of a song, recently written, but featured in the 2013 movie of The Great Gatsby.

AntifArt

“He’s holding a sign that literally just says ‘the right to openly discuss ideas must be defended.’ Let that sink in.”

Paul Joseph Watson, who sent that tweet, is editor-at-large for Alex Jones’s conspiracy website Infowars. I doubt he and I have much in common. Nonetheless, I urge you to do what he says. Look at the brief film clip to which he links in that tweet and let what you see sink in.

Apparently it relates to events reported in the Hackney Citizen as follows: “VIDEO: Anti-fascists clash with lone counter-protester at LD50 Gallery”.

A protester, who declined to give his full name and, like many in the crowd, had his face covered, countered this viewpoint: “We don’t care about annoying liberal idiots or hard-right people that want to have free debate or whatever. We care about shutting down organizing spaces…there’s enough evidence to say that they’re organizing in this space. Any kind of fascist organizing causes a physical threat down the line.”

For what it’s worth, I cannot tell what the targets of the protest, the LD50 Gallery, are playing at, but it does seem as if more than just the Antifa might regard them with disquiet:

LD50 on Tottenham Road was targeted by anti-fascists in February after news emerged that it hosted a “Neoreaction conference” in 2016 featuring leading proponents of the so-called “alt right” movement.

Speakers at the event included Brett Stevens, who has previously praised Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, saying “he chose to act where many of us write, think and dream”.

[..]

“Although it has attracted the most attention for its Neoreaction and Alt Right exhibits, LD50 represents a new brand of artist that combines trolling, provocation, surrealism and critical theory into ensconcing art experiences that raise more questions than offer answers.”

In what appears to be a veiled response to protests calling for the gallery’s closure, one of the artworks for the new show includes “six computer workstations where participants are encouraged to sit and work through the paper content and destroy it if they find it inappropriate, uninteresting or offensive”.

Actual neo-Nazis? Artists having one last scrape at the exhausted mine of art designed to épater la bourgeoisie? Who knows, perhaps actual believers in freedom of speech? It does not matter. As D.C. Miller, the man with the sign, said, “the right to openly discuss ideas must be defended.”

Rebranding North Korea

I draw the attention of Samizdata readers to this posting. This is because, although I am not a bit sure, I think that I am in favour of attention being paid to it. The posting is entitled “Snask rebrands North Korea as Love Korea with heart-focused identity”. “Snask” is not now being paid by North Korea to rebrand North Korea. They just did it, to draw attention to themselves.

Here is one of the images that Snask has provided:

Also little-red-pig focused, it would seem. (I like how the blue background does weird things when put in front of Samizdata blue.)

Why do I favour such attention? In no particular order, here are some reasons.

Hell-holes like North Korea persist partly because the rest of the world feels that there’s not a damn thing they can do to put a stop to them, so they just give up and ignore them, year after year, decade after decade. This at least stirs up some interest in North Korea, and in a new and hence news-worthy way.

This little scheme, if it is publicised enough, just might mess with the minds of the rulers of North Korea. Like me, they just might be confused about what exactly it means. But unlike me, they might be liable to brood, and to wonder how they can use it to their advantage, but whether instead, if they attempted this, it might blow up in their faces. In general, this strikes me as a way to poke this nasty little hell-hole with a stick. Well, a twig. North Korea really does, for me, I think (but am not sure), fall into the category of “something should be done this is something so this should be done”. I think. I can’t see this triggering a nuclear war. In fact I can’t see it doing much harm at all. Mostly what it will do is get people laughing, at the very incongruity of such a rebrand, and at the Little Red Pig who is in charge of the place being rebranded. And ridicule of such people is surely good. Especially when combined with more serious pressures of the sort that President Trump is now trying to apply.

When tyrannical hell-holes start deluding themselves that they can use what is known as “soft power” – softly, so to speak – that sometimes heralds their demise. Remember “glasnost”. That began as an exercise in old-school Soviet bullshit, to the effect that Soviet Communism was capable of becoming a lot nicer that it ever really could. Which encouraged the thought that the real way to make Soviet Communism a lot nicer would be to shut it down, there being no other way. It’s a long shot, but some similar delusion might be encourageable in the head of the Little Red Pig and his minions. (By the way, I also think that Trump tweeting about how he respects, or whatever was the wording, the Little Red Pig, could have a similar effect, accompanied as such thoughts have been by those serous pressures.)

But, like I say, I am not a bit sure about this. I am merely thinking aloud. Thinking aloud from others would be very welcome.

Some thoughts on The Prisoner

In case you didn’t already know The Prisoner is a TV series starring Patrick McGoohan, originally broadcast in 1967. Lots of libertarians get very excited about it. It was recently re-shown on True Entertainment. [Indeed the very first episode is being re-shown this very afternoon.]

1. The set-up is superb. The numbers, the clothing, “Be seeing you”, Portmeirion, the upbeat public address messages, the font, Number Two, Mini Mokes, Rover, the surveillance. Superficial pleasantness and concealed malice. Brilliant.

2. Many of the episodes hinge on the idea that medical science can manipulate and control the human mind. This is very Sixties but oddly enough doesn’t seem all that dated.

3. Number 6 is very grumpy. Yes, I suppose being kidnapped and imprisoned might get on anyone’s goat but does he have to be quite so testy when dealing with his fellow inmates?

4. Taken as a whole it is a mess. It can’t make up it’s mind whether it is spy drama (Arrival), microcosm (Free for All) or allegory (Living in Harmony). Some episodes e.g. Dance of the Dead seem beyond characterisation.

5. Although as a whole it is a mess, the individual episodes all stand up. Writing, acting, direction. All good. In this regard it rather put me in mind of Antonioni’s “Blow Up”. That has a succession of brilliant scenes that in my estimation don’t add up to a row of beans. It was released a year before The Prisoner. Coincidence? I think not.

6. Did I say all the episodes? It’s time to talk about Fall Out, the finale. When it was first broadcast viewers jammed the broadcaster’s switchboard with their complaints. And it is not difficult to see why. They were promised a logical, rational spy mystery in which the clues would lead to a solution and they were given a clunky allegory with lots of people behaving very oddly. If there is a moral to The Prisoner it is to know how the story is going to end before you start writing it.

7. When I first watched it my interpretation of Six being One was that we are our own jailers. McGoohan himself argued that One is the evil side of all of us that we have to keep in control. This would appear to imply that to be good you have to be grumpy. Hmm.

8. How libertarian is it? The late Chris Tame thought “very”. I am not so sure. Sure there’s a great speech at the beginning about not being “filed, indexed, numbered. I am a free man…” etc. But other than that the only episode where individualism is really present is Change of Mind. This is the episode which introduced us to the word “unmutual”. Even so Number Six only survives because he is too valuable to be lobotomised, can spot when he is being drugged and knows how to hypnotise people. It is not so much the individual against the state as the exceptional individual against the state. And by the way, Number Six does get filed, indexed and numbered.

9. I am far from the first Samizdatista/Libertarian Ally to have written on the subject. See here, here, here and here.

The masks conceal the lack of a proper resolution. From here

Samizdata quote of the day

Evaluating film based on the criteria of diversity can only diminish it. Rather than encouraging people to take a chance and watch films out of their comfort zone, it will instead add more weight to the idea that only certain types of people can, and should, enjoy certain types of films. It also suggests that certain films have authority not because of their artistry, but simply because they are ‘diverse’.

Maren Thom