The Olympic Games are now less than two weeks away. In this podcast for the University of Birmingham’s Ideas Lab, POLSIS’s Dr Jonathan Grix discusses the Olympic ‘legacy’, the impact of the Games outside the capital, and parallels with the 1948 Austerity Olympics, which were also held in London.
Category Archives: Comment and analysis
On Friday, POLSIS’s Gëzim Alpion, Lecturer in Sociology, was interviewed by the Slovakian newspaper PRAVDA on recent developments in the Vatican. While there is no English translation of the newspaper article, the editor Andrej Matisak has uploaded details of those he interviewed on his blog. Gëzim’s contribution is reproduced here:
Andrej Matisak: We have seen some strong actions by the Holy See in the recent past. The papacy reprimanded American nuns for their book on sexuality and there was very strong aftermath of the Vati–leaks scandal. How can one read this? Is this a push for more centralization of power in the Church, a demonstration of power maybe? Or is it more a coincidence and nothing special happens [sic]?
Gëzim Alpion: I take it you are referring to Sr Margaret A. Farley’s book ‘Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics’. The Holy See’s reaction towards this publication is hardly surprising given that the author apparently ‘preaches’ a kind of morality which is not compatible with the orthodox version of Christianity ‘copyrighted’ and fiercely defended by the Vatican. The Vatican’s reaction in this case is of interest because it reveals once again this institution’s uneasy relationship with certain communities of American nuns, whose numbers have reduced drastically since the mid 1960s partly because of what American nuns perceive as the Vatican’s unwillingness to mend some of its ‘misogynistic’ views and failure to engage with them in a constructive way. American nuns have traditionally been more vocal in their ‘dissent’. The Church needs perhaps to engage more with its female missionaries especially in view of the fact that its 800,000 nuns outnumber priests by two to one. Whether the Church can afford for much longer to ‘castigate’ any Catholic, including nuns, as ‘outsiders’ because they express unorthodox views remains to be seen. As for the Vati-leaks, one wonders if secular institutions would have reacted much differently in similar situations.
Andrej Matisak: Joseph Ratzinger was considered very conservative even before he became Benedict XVI. But what about the Church? Do you think that Catholic Church is becoming more liberal and maybe that worries the Vatican and propels the action?
Gëzim Alpion: The Vatican IS the Catholic Church. This institution is always run by conservatives whose main challenge remains the handling of the Church’s uneasy relationship with modernity. The greatest reforming popes have been conservatives at heart. In this respect, Pope Benedict XVI is hardly any different from his ‘revolutionary’ predecessor, John Paul II. If, indeed, the Church becomes more ‘liberal’, for any liberalizing attempt to have a chance of success it must emanate from within and have the full support of the Vatican. When it comes to the fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith, however, as in the past, they remain beyond reforming.
Andrej Matisak: Pope named German Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A strong conservative, Muller is however being connected with the theology of liberation, which was strongly criticised by both John Paul II. and Benedict. How can you explain this?
Gëzim Alpion: While the Church has distanced itself from liberation theology, this institution cannot do without the poor and any leading Church figure with an interest in their condition cannot be bad for the Vatican. No matter how ‘open-minded’ and as such ‘problematic’ Archbishop Müller is to his critics, they have no reasons to fear him. After all, Müller and Ratzinger have been close to each other before the later became a pontiff. Whatever differences they may have, the current Pope and the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are committed to promoting the unity of Christ. Müller’s appointment is perhaps a timely compromise.
Egypt’s new president Dr Mahamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was sworn into office on Saturday. International reaction to his victory has been remarkably upbeat, in sharp contrast with the reaction to the electoral win of Palestine’s Hamas movement in January 2006, writes POLSIS’s Michelle Pace.
On Sunday 24 June 2012, Egypt’s presidential election commission announced that Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate Dr Mohamed Morsi won the presidency, defeating ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq. Morsi has thus become the first Islamist to be elected head of an Arab state. The “international community”’s reaction to Morsi’s win was surprisingly upbeat: Foreign Secretary William Hague congratulated the Egyptian people for their commitment to the democratic process and for electing a new President in this historic moment for Egypt. He also wished Morsi success in the challenging task ahead. The White House called Morsi’s election “a milestone” in Egypt’s road to democracy. The spokesperson of the European Union (EU)’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement, saying that she welcomed the peaceful conduct of the presidential elections in Egypt. She congratulated Morsi on his election as the President of Egypt and said that she looked forward to engaging with him and his executive, which she trusted would be inclusive and representative of Egypt’s diversity. She also encouraged the president-elect to reach out to all other political and social groups.
There had been similar positive reactions from the international community to Egypt’s People’s Assembly elections of late 2011 and early 2012 that gave the Islamist parties – the MB and the Salafis – a landslide victory. The MB’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra conservative Salafi al-Nour Party gained more than 70 % of the seats.
These reactions to the Parliamentary and Presidential victories of Islamists in Egypt contrast sharply with the international community’s reaction to the electoral win of Palestine’s Hamas movement in January 2006. Hamas has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood: The international community then reacted by boycotting Hamas and was complicit in furthering and deepening the bi-polarization at the domestic Palestinian level. There is a key difference though between the MB and Hamas: although both movements have chosen to compete in elections, the MB has renounced violence while Hamas has not.
Moreover, Egypt is a different case altogether and the power of the people since the Arab uprisings appears to have changed the international community: Egypt is a crucial ally of the “West” in the MENA sphere: It is the most populous country in the Middle East and the third-most populous on the African continent (its population size as at April 2011 stood at 82,999,393). Its political influence within the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union stems from, amongst others, its strategic geographical position (in particular the importance of the Suez Canal), its diplomatic expertise, its military strength and historical events. The Arab League was formed in Cairo in 1945. Moreover, Egypt’s role and efforts in the Middle East Peace Process since Camp David (1978) is also a crucial factor in its relationship with the West. In his first public speech as President elect, Morsi said that Egypt will remain steadfast to its international commitments — including the Camp David accords with Israel.
While celebrations of this defining event of the Arab “Spring” continue, Morsi faces many challenges ahead: not least domestically. SCAF (the supreme council of the armed forces) which took over after Mubarak was forced out in February 2011, still holds the main reigns of power. Morsi confronts a polarised nation (he won 51.7% of the vote against 48.3% for Shafiq) and the challenging task of building consensus, dealing with an ailing economy and assuaging fears about the real intentions of the MB. A key demand of the revolutionaries is an amnesty for the thousands of young people the military has court-martialled since the Egyptian uprising. And he will be monitored for his achievements: A website, Morsimeter.com has been set up precisely to do just that: to keep a check on the new President of Egypt. The MB is however prone to deal-making with SCAF and the Egyptian people still have a major struggle ahead in their path to democratic achievements.
On 24th February, 2012, POLSIS hosted a symposium on politics and security in the Middle East entitled: One Year on from the Arab Spring: Has Anything Actually Changed in the Middle East and North Africa and the International Community? Click here for footage from the event.
The current state of the economy is like the 1930s, says Professor Colin Thain of POLSIS. We should support Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s new ‘economic manifesto’ and demand a change of direction in UK and Western economic policymaking.
Paul Krugman’s ‘Manifesto for Economic Sense’ has been signed by a huge range of economists and political economists around the world, including: Charles Wyplosz – The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Chris Pissarides – London School of Economics and Political Science, Christopher Allsopp – Director, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Oxford, David Blanchflower - Dartmouth College, David Soskice – University of Oxford, Jeffrey Frankel - Harvard University, Jonathan Portes – National Institute of Economic and Social Research, Richard Layard – LSE Centre for Economic Performance, Richard Parker – Harvard University, Robert Skidelsky - Warwick University and Simon Wren-Lewis – Oxford University.
The manifesto argues that
‘more than four years after the financial crisis began, the world’s major advanced economies remain deeply depressed, in a scene all too reminiscent of the 1930s. And the reason is simple: we are relying on the same ideas that governed policy in the 1930s. These ideas, long since disproved, involve profound errors both about the causes of the crisis, its nature, and the appropriate response. These errors have taken deep root in public consciousness and provide the public support for the excessive austerity of current fiscal policies in many countries. So the time is ripe for a Manifesto in which mainstream economists offer the public a more evidence-based analysis of our problems’.
This analysis includes 3 key assertions that (1) ‘the conditions for crisis were created by excessive private sector borrowing and lending, including by over-leveraged banks. The collapse of this bubble led to massive falls in output and thus in tax revenue. So the large government deficits we see today are a consequence of the crisis, not its cause’; (2) ‘at a time when the private sector is engaged in a collective effort to spend less, public policy should act as a stabilizing force, attempting to sustain spending. At the very least we should not be making things worse by big cuts in government spending or big increases in tax rates on ordinary people. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many governments are now doing’; and crucially (3) ‘conventional policy wisdom took a wrong turn – focusing on government deficits, which are mainly the result of a crisis-induced plunge in revenue, and arguing that the public sector should attempt to reduce its debts in tandem with the private sector. As a result, instead of playing a stabilizing role, fiscal policy has ended up reinforcing the dampening effects of private-sector spending cuts’.
It is time therefore to prioritise the reduction of ‘unemployment, before it becomes endemic, making recovery and future deficit reduction even more difficult’.
While EU member states took leading roles the NATO operation in Libya, the role of the EU itself was limited largely to the provision of humanitarian assistance. Despite a positive track record in crisis management missions and operations on three continents, the EU’s capacity to effect positive change in its southern neighbourhood remains in doubt, writes POLSIS’s Stefan Wolff.
After more than 25,000 sorties and close to 10,000 airstrikes between March and October 2011, NATO wound down its operation in Libya by the end of October. Operation Unified Protector was never mandated as regime change under the UN Security Council Resolution that authorised it, but it was clear early on that the way in which NATO pursued the protection of civilians would inevitably lead to the end of the Gadhafi regime. NATO’s success was, and in the longer term remains, dependent on the National Transitional Council (NTC). Without the tremendous efforts by Libyan fighters on the ground, NATO’s air campaign would not have been able to dislodge the Gadhafi regime. Nor would Libyans have been able to defeat Gadhafi without NATO’s military support and the wider political and financial backing that they have enjoyed since.
While this was a NATO operation almost solely conducted and led by Europeans — first and foremost the UK and France—the EU itself did not play any significant role. Clearly constrained (and distracted) by its economic and financial crisis, the real blow to concerted and unified EU action was dealt by the German abstention on UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Until then, the EU had been fully supportive of UN actions and contributed to enforcing sanctions against the Gadhafi regime. A joint statement by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, on the day the crucial UN resolution was passed already indicated more lukewarm support of the EU, noting it readiness “to implement this Resolution within its mandate and competences” and the subsequent Council Conclusions three days later unsurprisingly offered no more than “CSDP support to humanitarian assistance in response to a request from OCHA and under the coordinating role of the UN.” At that time, the NATO military operation, carried predominantly by military forces of EU members Britain and France, was already in full swing. A starker contrast could hardly be imagined.
The EU did follow up with a Council Decision on an EU military operation in support of humanitarian assistance operations in Libya, setting up operational headquarters in Rome and preparing various scenarios. Embarrassingly, a request for EU activating EU military assistance was never made. EU Military Staff and assets were, however, involved in the evacuation of EU citizens from Libya and third-country refugees via Tunisia.
While it is easy (and not wrong) to belittle the inability of the EU to offer any substantial military support during the Libyan crisis (even though it did, through its member states, clearly have the necessary capabilities), the EU has been an important player in a different way: by providing significant humanitarian assistance, worth over €150million. An additional €25million were made available for short-term stabilisation needs, as well as a further €60million for assistance in the transition process. Intended to include measures decided together with the transitional government to build up state institutions, to support civil society, human rights and democratisation, to provide health services and assist with border management and security sector reform, the impact of these measures is yet to be seen. As the situation in Libya remains highly volatile, with weak government authority and capacity, competing visions of the future structure of the country, and repeated violent clashes between rival militia groups the EU’s actual capacity to effect positive change in its southern neighbourhood remains in doubt. At the same time, the EU has reaffirmed its commitment to addressing the regionally destabilising fall-out from the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime through its Sahel Strategy of March 2011.
The EU’s military embarrassment to one side, this apparently inability to achieve objectives that are central to Union’s neighbourhood policy is, on the one hand, quite surprising. The Union does have substantial experience and a positive track record in crisis management missions and operations on three continents. From the joint EU/ASEAN mission that monitored the implementation of the Aceh peace agreement in Indonesia (including a substantial disarmament operation), to police training and advisory missions in Afghanistan, Macedonia, Bosnia, the Palestinian Territories and the DRC, from EU border assistance missions at the Moldova/Ukraine and Egypt/Gaza borders to missions supporting security sector reform in Guinea-Bissau and the DRC, and to missions supporting the strengthening of the rule of law in Iraq, Georgia, and Kosovo. While the level of success varies from case to case, none of these missions have been unmitigated disasters and many have contributed to increased, and lasting, stability and improved security on the ground. In addition, the EU, as a collective of its 27 member states, remains the largest donor of development assistance, including support of state-building, administrative reform, and public sector capacity building. In all of these areas, the EU works closely with other international and regional organisations and the governments and civil society of recipient countries. Thus, the EU possesses the necessary capabilities to play a role in crisis management, but the effectiveness of these capabilities on the ground also depends very much on the context in which they are brought to bear.
The statement by the High Representative following the fall of Sirte and the death of Gadhafi clearly indicated the Union’s willingness to become a strong partner of the new Libya. The EU and Libya need each other economically and politically. The EU is one of Libya’s most important export markets, and EU energy security is to a significant extent dependent on supplies from that country. Libya and the EU have a joint interest in the management of migratory movements from Africa to Europe. Stability in Libya and the country’s successful transition to democracy are crucial to security in the EU’s southern neighbourhood, not least because of the symbolic effect for other countries of the Arab Spring that is likely to ensue.
The fact that the EU’s impact in Libya to date remains below expectations, in my view, has partly also to do with the nature of these expectations: neither was it a foregone conclusion that a post-Gadhafi Libya would be stable and secure nor that the EU could immediately work towards supporting Libya’s transition to democracy or that it would find reliable local partners to do so. The EU is not good at hard security policy, but does a very decent job when the task is about dealing with the aftermath of conflict. Yet, this requires a level of security and stability on the ground to be in place that the EU only rarely is able to provide on its own. In the absence of strong international security partners or a capable government in the country concerned, this is a sobering (if not frustrating) lesson to learn from the EU’s involvement in Libya. At another level, it is worth remembering that dictatorial regimes are defeated on the battlefield, but stable democracies emerge over long periods of time from societies that are built on strong and legitimate institutions. Thus, the EU’s ‘skill set’ may yet come to be in demand in Libya, and if it does it will be required for the long term.
This post first appeared on e-International Relations
England’s (not such a) shock-defeat to Italy may still be raw in the nation’s collective consciousness, but hey, look on the bright side: at least the government can stop agonising over whether ministers should attend the final. POLSIS’ Jonathan Grix explores the curious case of the UK semi-boycott of Euro 2012.
For those who believe sport and politics do not mix, the last 30 years or so must have been a little disappointing. Not only has the political use of sport by states increased, but so has the variety of ways in which this takes place. East German sport policy, for example, became a key government strategy to try to leverage legitimacy for an artificially created state living in the shadow of its big, rich, capitalist neighbour. No wonder the poorer cousins poured scarce resources into creating a world-beating sports system (of which systematic doping was only the icing on the cake), the key characteristics of which can be seen in leading sports systems today.[i] Other political uses of sport included and include the showcasing of a city/state through staging a sports mega-event (FIFA World Cup, Olympics or ‘second order’ events [ii] such as the Commonwealth Games or the European Football Championships). This we could understand as part of a ‘soft power’ strategy intended to improve the host’s image abroad and influence ‘foreign publics’ and their notions of the host nation.[iii] A third political use of sport has been through the expression of ‘coercive diplomacy’ via boycotts of certain events. It is to the latter I wish to turn for what follows.[iv]
Long employed as a tool to signal disagreement, disgust, dismay and distrust of a nation either staging a sports ‘mega’ or holding a tournament, the boycott of sports-related events has once more made the headlines in the Euro 2012 Football championships. The history of such boycotts leaves an unclear legacy of whether they were successful in achieving their original aims or bringing about the desired impact they were intended to. The best known Olympic boycotts in the midst of the Cold War were during the 1980 Games in Moscow and the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Both represented the polar opposites of competing regimes. During this period in history athletes represented their state ideologies and Moscow and Los Angeles were the epi-centres of communism and capitalism respectively; the competition continued in the sports arena with a fierce contest and jostling for positions on the all-important medal table.[v] Interestingly, the US-led boycott of the Moscow Games prompted Mrs Thatcher to write to the GB Olympic athletes asking them to stay at home. They refused to follow the Government line; one in particular left for the USSR and came back with a gold and silver medal. It was, of course, the now Lord Coe, feted by the conservatives and once an aide to William Hague (at present the UK Foreign Secretary). Had Coe boycotted Moscow he probably would not have been made a Lord, most likely would not have led London’s successful bid for London 2012 and the London Organising Committee of the Olympics and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). The US were protesting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; the Soviets retaliated by leading an Eastern-bloc boycott of the 1984 Games, which, perhaps paradoxically, have gone down in sports history as the ‘coca-cola Games’ due to the very high involvement of corporate sponsors in its staging. Such political use and boycotting of sporting events has to be understood in the context of the time.
Other Olympic boycotts of note include the withdrawal of 22 African nations – 441 athletes – from the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The reason behind this protest was New Zealand’s 1976 tour of Apartheid-ridden South Africa.[vi]
So, what should we make of the UK government’s semi-boycott of the Euro 2012 championships? I say ‘semi’, because the government stated clearly that they would not send any ministers to the preliminary rounds at Euro 2012 in Ukraine amidst on-going concerns about Human Rights. While there is no doubt that such issues should be debated, the ‘semi’ status of the UK’s boycott leaves it a little ambiguous as a political stance. A spokesman for the Government suggested that ministers would attend the semi-finals, were England to qualify, based on the fact that this stage of the competition takes place in the territory of the co-hosts, Poland;[vii] it is unclear whether the UK would send a representative to the final, held in the Ukraine. Quiet apart from the wishful thinking behind such sentiments, the UK needs to decide whether to make a political stand by boycotting the championships in principle, not just those parts of it held on Ukrainian soil. Most of the concern revolves around legitimate worries about the treatment of the former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is currently languishing in jail on charges many believe ‘trumped up’. In addition, the recent Panorama exposé on racism among Ukrainian football fans started a fierce debate about whether England’s multi-ethnic supporters should heed former England player, Sol Campbell’s, warning and stay away from Ukraine.
When considering the effectiveness of the UK’s stance, it is instructive to consider the media focus generated by a sports mega-event first, and by such actions second. The rationale for holding such an event like Euro 2012 is to showcase a city/nation, especially one that has ambitions to join the EU. The problem with this state strategy of using a sports ‘mega’ for furthering your national interests is that you have to be sure that you have your house in order, as the ferocity of the world’s media gaze around such events is unprecedented – particularly in the case of football, by far the world’s most popular sport. Witness the problems India had with the Delhi Commonwealth Games – intense media exposure brought to light corruption and a number of problems ranging from child labour to unfinished athletes accommodation. India’s ambition to stage an Olympic Games – and announce itself on the world stage – has been seriously dented.[viii]
Despite the ‘semi’ nature of the UK’s boycott, their doing so has intensified the media focus and scrutiny on Ukraine further, which may lead to enforced change on the ground in Ukraine. Perhaps the intense scrutiny brought to bear on the this EU-aspirant is no bad thing, if it leads to meaningful and open discussions about racism in society, prejudice on the grounds of sexuality and the rule of law?
Dr Jonathan Grix is Senior Lecturer in Sport Politics and Policy in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham
[i] Dennis, M. and Grix, J. (2012) Sport Under Communism: Behind the East German “Miracle”‘, Palgrave, Basingstoke.
[ii] Black, D. (2008) ‘Dreaming big: the pursuit of “second order” games as a strategic response to globalisation’, Sport in Society, 11, 4, pp. 467-480.
[iii] Nye, J. S. (Jnr). (1990) ‘Soft Power’, Foreign Policy, 80, pp. 153-171; Grix, J. and Houlihan, B. (2012) ‘Sports Mega-Events as Part of a Nation’s Soft Power Strategy: The Cases of Germany (2006) and the UK (2012)’, (unpublished manuscript).
[iv] Hill, C. cited in Levermore, R. and Budd, A. (eds.) (2004) Sport and International Relations, London, Routledge, p.3.
[v] For a discussion of the relevance of the Olympic medal table see: See Hilvoorde, I. V., Elling, A. and Stokvis, R., (2010) ‘How to influence national pride? The Olympic medal index as a unifying narrative’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45, 1, pp.87-102.
[vi] See the 1976 Olympic Review, published by the International Olympic Committee, http://www.la84foundation.org/OlympicInformationCenter/OlympicReview/1976/ore109/ore109h.pdf, accessed on 22.06.12.
[vii] See the BBC news report at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18517477, accessed on 22.06.12.
[viii] See http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/604196.aspx, accessed on 22.06.12, for an assessment of India’s chances of staging an Olympic Games prior to the Commonwealth Games.
With the nation’s bunting safely packed away until the next ‘once in a lifetime’ event, POLSIS PhD researcher Alex Oaten reflects on what the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend tells us about contemporary consumerist culture.
Being trapped in a weekend of Diamond Jubilee celebrations is tough when you are an ill tempered Republican, trying to find a flag and paper crown free zone can be even tougher. Solace came from an unexpected source, a well thumbed copy of Fredrick Jameson’s Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. So on concert night, whilst the near geriatric members of ‘Madness’ clambered up the ladder to the roof of Buckingham Palace, I was re-reading Jameson’s notion of ‘pastiche’. Once Jubilee fever died down and my T.V. returned to normalcy I went into chronological retreat and started looking at the equally grand spectacle of Princess Diana; again the postmodern condition spelled out by Jameson seemed to help elucidate aspects of Diana. Can the British Royal family be linked to a culture of postmodern pastiche and consumerism? As ludicrous as it sounds, I actually think they can be.
For Jameson ‘pastiche’ is one of the most significant features of postmodernity. It is here important to note that Jameson’s definition of pastiche – like so many other postmodern terms – is definitely not the definition that you would find in the dictionary. The standard dictionary definition of pastiche is “an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period”; pastiche thus understood can be a creative process (for example in architecture where a composition of past styles is used to create a new style). Jameson’s postmodern pastiche however is wholly negative, pastiche is an “imitation of dead styles”, and for Jameson this is evidence that we have both lost our ability to locate ourselves historically and to focus ourselves in the present. Historicity thus becomes meaningless; history simply becomes a great warehouse containing past genres, styles and narratives ready to be (re)used for present consumption. Princess Diana provides a clear example of postmodern pastiche.
Pastiche is inextricably linked with postmodern consumption (capitalism). This leads to a bulimic movement of what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’ and a constant search for the latest vogue. This search must turn to the past; for as Jameson asserts “only a limited number of [stylistic] combinations are possible; the most unique ones have been thought of already”. One can see Princess Diana as the epitome of this “imitation of dead styles”. In July 1981 when Diana married her Prince, the genre of fairytale was enlisted as millions around the globe watched through the medium of television. We saw the image of Diana the fairytale princess- Sleeping Beauty- kissed by her (rather awkward) Prince Charming.
However, one narrative alone could ill sustain the fervent appetite for Diana, pastiche is after all “compatible with addiction”; with the proliferation of ever more images of the new Princess, the fairytale bride morphed into ever more explosive and contradictory narratives and genres. These were rooted in a past recollection- not linear, but randomly plucked from history. As Simmonds notes, Diana “achieved the impossible status…of Fairy Princess and Virgin Mother”. The narratives of Diana became the “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past” which pastiche and consumerism inevitably lead to. Thus we were presented with ‘Diana the Fairytale Princess’ (complete with royal carriage); ‘Diana the Republican’ (the age old struggle between aloof royalty and the commoner); ‘Diana the Virgin Mother’ (producer of the future King and yet still unsoiled by motherhood) and even ‘Diana the Saint’ (reaching out to an AIDS sufferer here and a landmine victim there). This multiplicity of narratives led to a multiplicity of identities – fragmentation.
We can now fast forward a few decades to 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee, in order to highlight another strand of postmodernism within the Royal spectacle. The Diamond Jubilee remained encumbered with the mass consumption logic that is intricately linked to the postmodern spectacle, whether it was Asda selling a pair of Union Jack socks every 3 seconds, News International’s 20% boost in sales with their ‘Souvenir’ editions or Gary Barlow (that star from another circus spectacle who was drafted in to give Her Majesty’s celebratory concert that added zing of unreality) topping the UK Charts. Whilst the Royal spectacle may have been a hoot for the flag waving public it was pure ecstasy for those who control the means of mass consumption. As the consuming public paid for the privilege of being part of something which was billed as truly ‘historic’ the mass consumption industry pocketed the profits and bowed gracefully to Her Maj.
Here we touch upon one of the more contested aspects of postmodernism, its relation to capitalism. Some postmodernists seek to withdraw from the material sphere, thus precluding the possibility of critiquing Asda et al. Instead we should travel along Jameson’s path when he acknowledges that “faceless masters continue to inflect the economic strategies which constrain our existences, but they no longer need to impose their speech”; we could say that the spectacle speaks for them – this is not just capitalism this is spectacle capitalism.
This style of (postmodern) consumption capitalism produces a forceful logic of its own, namely the need to consume in anticipation of the spectacle and so long before the roof of Buckingham Palace had been invaded by ‘Madness’, we were already ‘buying’ into it. Thus consumption is inextricably woven into the Royal postmodern spectacle; we spent an extra £334 million on ‘celebratory’ food alone, a far cry from Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 when the poor were supplied with free bottled ale and pipe tobacco. The Diamond Jubilee of 2012 demonstrates the importance of what Bauman terms “consumer orientation…a self-sustained and self-perpetuating pattern of life”, the spectacle of Royalty became the latest billboard for consumer orientation.
Along with our sense of historical perspective (and our wallets) another casualty of postmodern Royalty is our sense of time- especially the proportionality of time. Whilst the Diana pastiche produced a jumbled and meaningless stream of historical genres and narratives to keep pace with the endless images, the Diamond Jubilee produced a temporal elongation. The original spectacle was extended to the point of utter banality. For example, after the BBC had finished giving us a running commentary on the whole spectacle other media outlets spent even longer commentating on the BBC’s commentary of the spectacle. Time is extended to allow for maximum (paid) consumption. So we had The Telegraph reporting that the BBC had been criticised for its “low grade celebrity driven drivel” commentary, and then three days later gleefully announcing their ‘Top 20 Moments of The Diamond Jubilee’, coming in at number 3 was “Cliff Richard’s bottom smacking [and] leggy Grace Jones in PVC, hula-hooping her way through her song”.
As for The Thames flotilla, that was another example of pastiche- nothing but an ‘imitation’ of ‘dead styles’- it was like a nostalgia film. Boats – cheered on by thousands hiding behind photo face-masks of the Royals – were pursued by hi-tech cameras down the river. In times gone by this was a necessary journey (or ‘progress’) for the Monarchy to reach important locations, not so anymore. Instead it was billed by the organisers themselves as a “spectacle”; it was an unnecessary recreation of an historic journey for present aesthetic consumption.
Finally we had ‘Madness’ on the roof of Buckingham Palace; was this the dictionary definition of pastiche or Jameson’s definition of pastiche? Whatever your answer, the fact that a popular cockney band was slapped on top of Buckingham Palace demonstrates a clear disruption of two key modernist categories (those of ‘high culture’ and ‘commercial culture’) all in the name of aesthetic spectacle. And that’s a very postmodern stunt to pull!
Alex Oaten is a PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research seeks to utilise theories of postmodernity to aid in the understanding of contemporary social and political movements. Contact him at AFO760@bham.ac.uk.
This post was originally featured on Migration Pulse, the blog of the Migrants’ Rights Network.
Two policies announced this week – the introduction of restrictions on family migration, and the criminalisation of forced marriage – highlight an instrumental use of human rights discourse by the Government to reinforce British sovereignty and citizenship, based on the idea of ‘muscular liberalism’, writes Katherine E. Tonkiss.
On 11th June, the Government announced changes to the rules for family migration. These rules involve the introduction of a minimum income threshold and strict new English language requirements for a migrating spouse. Immigration campaigners have argued that the move would exclude the vast majority of the population who earn under the income threshold if they were to marry a non-EEA national, and also that it contravenes Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a family life.
This announcement came just days following a statement on the criminalisation of forced marriage, again from the Home Secretary together with the Prime Minister. This legislation will be accompanied by a range of measures designed to support victims, on the grounds that, in the words of the Prime Minister, ‘forced marriage is abhorrent and little more than slavery’. Campaigners welcomed the move, because ‘forced marriage is a violation of human rights itself’.
Both of these developments are bound up in the rhetoric of human rights. The former involves a clash between the Government and the ECHR, in which the Home Secretary has argued that it was up to the Government to qualify the right to a family life (something that, as Colin Yeo has demonstrated, is incoherent). The latter saw the Government and supportive campaigners justifying criminalisation on the grounds that the abuse of human rights as bound up in this practice is ‘simply wrong’.
So, how can the Government base one policy development on a commitment to basic human rights, and then formulate another on the basis that it has the power to interpret and qualify those same rights? The answer lies in the way that both of these policies serve the Government’s own interests in reinforcing British sovereignty and citizenship.
A Common Goal
Article 8 is seen as a key obstacle to full British sovereignty, and the proposed family migration changes rest on an assumption that it is up to the British Government to qualify the provisions of that article in line with what they judge to be in the best interest of citizens. The criminalisation of forced marriage reflects the Government’s commitment to ‘muscular liberalism’; in other words, the active promotion and defence of core liberal values as a key component of British citizenship and identity.
It seems that discourses surrounding human rights in the UK are serving an instrumental function in supporting the motives of the government in reinforcing British sovereignty, citizenship and identity. Government is selective in its use of arguments informed by human rights in order to promote that agenda. This practice will continue to have far-reaching implications for the rights of migrants and of minorities – some positive, many not.
Katherine Tonkiss is a Research Fellow in the School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham. Her research interests concern empirical and normative questions surrounding multi-level democratic governance and citizenship. She has written a number of articles on migration and national citizenship, which are forthcoming in scholarly journals. Her full biography can be viewed here.
Republican Senator Rand Paul, son of libertarian godfather Ron Paul, this month controversially endorsed Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidential nomination. POLSIS PhD candidate Jake Diliberto examines the consequences for Paul Sr.’s grassroots libertarians of what some in the movement see as an act of treachery by one of their favourite sons.
This news is troubling for the libertarian coalition. While Rand’s father may no longer be in the race for the Republican Party nomination, he is continuing to amass delegates ahead of the Republican Party Convention in August, as a show of libertarian strength within the GOP.
Rand Paul is a central figure in the libertarian movement. He is regarded as his father’s heir apparent and a potential future candidate for president. However, his endorsement of Romney has been highly divisive amongst libertarians. Hard-liners will not tolerate any political support for Romney. Moderate conservatives are still supporting him, but Neo-Cons hate him.
In a recent Reality Report he did his best attempt to persuade libertarians that he is trying to keep to his principles, whilst simultaneously playing the partisan political game. This has done little to satisfy the people in the Paul/Libertarian caucus, who have been speaking out.
Interestingly, Rand Paul himself is unlikely to suffer any damage from the endorsement. He has plenty of time before his next election and his state, Kentucky, loves him. Indeed, many see the endorsement as shrewd political positioning aimed at boosting his chances of a successful bid for the GOP nomination in 2016. The real predicament is for his father’s libertarian caucus. I see the libertarians as having three options:
- Accommodate: They can take this as Rand playing good politics, continue to support Ron Paul’s delegate strategy, and hope Rand can have an important voice for the future.
- Divide and conquer: They could push for more Libertarian Party candidates, continue to deny their support for the GOP, and grow the support for their cause. This would divide the GOP for several years, and could have a blowback effect that might be devastating. On the other hand, it could motivate conservative voters to back candidates like Sen Paul, Rep. Jusin Amash, Gov. Gary Johnson and others who are emerging as leaders of the libertarian cause within the GOP.
- Give way: Libertarians are not known for their extraordinary compromising skills. This particular avenue is highly unlikely, but Libertarians could adapt to the Rand Paul approach, accept the Romney candidacy, and hope to exert influence by working with the establishment GOP rather than against it.
Senator Paul is very influential amongst libertarians. He has put a stake in the road that they will either tolerate or reject. That said, the problem is not Paul’s; it’s the libertarians’. It’s hard to see how the movement can continue to attract so much support if their candidates alienate the base by endorsing establishment Republicans such as Romney.