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Deadline: June 20th 2016.
This summer Everyday Analysis will publish an online collection of articles on the subject of Politics in attempt to expand the conversations in our forthcoming book Politactics, out later in the year with Zero Books.
If you have an article on politics that you would like to contribute to the edition ...continue reading "EVERYDAY ANALYSIS QUARTERLY CFP: POLITICS"

Pleased to share with you the cover of our forthcoming book Politactics: Political Conversations from Everyday Analysis, which is in production now and will be released later in the year.

The book is our most directly political and represents a move away from theorizing the entertainment industry and towards the analysis of our contemporary political climate. The ...continue reading "POLITACTICS"

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” – Martin Brody – Jaws (1975)

When the British Natural Environment Research Council asked the general public to participate in an act of engagement to help decide the name of their new £200m research vessel, they were probably expecting a flood of dignified and courteous responses. ...continue reading "BOATY MCBOATFACE AND THE NEED FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE"

Whilst not so very long ago the notion of the drone evoked a sense of foreboding not unlike that which accompanies the digestion of a Phillip K. Dick’s Minority Report, or a revisiting of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, recent events suggest that consideration of this technology has been defanged, recasting it with the banal aspect of ...continue reading "DRONES, PANOPTICISM, AND OSSUARIES"

In a week where Corbyn was blasted by Cameron for the cheap appearance of his suit, it is interesting that a reference to the importance of one’s suit in a fictional Channel 4 TV programme has gone unnoticed. ...continue reading "GETTING SHIRTY: CAMERON’S SUIT, FRESH MEAT AND MAGICAL REALISM"

Football Manager is a big deal. It has been a contributing factor in dozens of divorce cases. It has been the subject of two films and has had a best-selling book written about the lives it has destroyed. At the Edinburgh Fringe festival, an entire standup routine is dedicated to the game and its ability ...continue reading "FREUD AND FOOTBALL MANAGER"

As an April Fool’s joke in 2013, after eight years in existence, YouTube posted a video announcing that they would finally be choosing the ultimate winner of YouTube and that the fun was over. If only this had been for real (but think what we would have missed out on!).

So here we’re asking, from ...continue reading "HEGEL AND NYAN CAT"

“Satellite’s gone, way up to Mars, Soon it will be filled with parking cars”

-Lou Reed, Satellite of Love

In his lecture at the end of The Martian, Mark Watney tells a theatre full of aspiring, dreamy-eyed astronaut candidates,and the audience: “At some point, everything is going to go south on you… and you’re going to say: ‘this is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. … You do the math. You solve one problem…Then you solve the next one. … And if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”

In other words: ‘science will save you’. Or, to follow the film’s overeager attempts to make ‘us’ identify with the Americans on the mission: ‘science will save us’.But will it?

I’d say that’s a rather questionable statement, and The Martian is nothing if not a piece of highly effective propagandathat wants to motivate us to put our fate and money into the hands of science, scientists and the ideology of technological progress and growth that they represent. But, one may ask, why are ‘we’ on Mars in the first place?

There seem to be basically two plausible reasons: one that points back to the actual moon landing in 1969, one that points forward to visions of the future as depicted in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and none of them very good. The motivation behind the 1969 mission to the moon was propagandistic: it was a strategic move in the cold war of symbols and ideas, showing the commies who really had the longest trajectory. This project was clothed in a language of heroic pioneering, reverberating with the good old Western/American tradition of discovering and exploring, while conveniently remaining silent about the subsequent conquering and massacring. Neil Armstrong pointedly declared – definitely pre-scripted – “That’s a small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind”, thereby making all humanity feel American. He also told what now looks like a blatant untruth. Looking at the course of history since then, we can most definitely say that no giant leap of any kind has occurred – we’re still just about muddling through, as before.

So, is the mission depicted in The Martian merely another chapter in the long list of attempts on the part of America to overwhelm the rest of the world with sheer awesomeness? It seems to me that the actual reason for Watney’s mission to Mars is closer in spirit to Interstellar than to Apollo 13 (though The Martian was obviously made by massive fans of the latter film). In Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi epic, life on earth is dying, and mankind has to flee to space to “find a new home”. Even though Mars isn’t far enough for Nolan, who wants us to migrate into different galaxies entirely, the idea that humanity has to move somewhere else once we’re through with Earth is driving many of the real-life fans of a human mission to Mars.

In 1979, the philosopher Hans Jonas proposed a new formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative to match the reality of an earth whose natural environment was threatened by human destruction: “Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life”. But you don’t have to know this pretty spot-on maxim in order to see the enormous, defeatist abdication of responsibility at work in
scientific escapism. We have a perfectly good planet at home, but instead of keeping it in habitable condition we waste our time and resources looking for another one. While movies like Interstellar and The Martian purport to exult in the heights that humanity or science can reach, they actually reduce us to a bunch of mean little parasites. The copious amounts of trash that the very first humans on Mars leave in their wake in The Martian do not seem to bode well for the red planet’s future.

The siren call of science and technology suggests that humans can, or even should, exist independently of nature. In the most extreme example of this situation I have witnessed on Earth, in modern-day middle- and upper-class Hong Kong, people spend most of their lives in an artificial, air-condition-generated climate, breathe air ‘purified’ of all bacteria, drink distilled water, move around through subterranean tunnels, disinfect absolutely everything, eat food imported from thousands of miles away and have their children raised by nannies, also imported from elsewhere.

Viewed through the lens of this ideology, life on Mars is well-nigh ideal, although I doubt that Jonas would let it qualify as ‘genuine human life’. It is possible only because it is not really life on Mars: it is life in an artificial, sterile environment created by and utterly dependent on technology. Science is therefore implicitly celebrated as a tool which enables humanity to emancipate itself from nature, and nature is conveniently reduced to an inessential commodity, which like all other goods can itself be fed into the economic machinery, discarded at will, or filled with garbage. From a capitalist standpoint, a Mars-like lifestyle also is highly desirable for a different reason: on Mars, nothing is free. Everything has to be imported or technologically produced, and therefore bought and sold:
from the very start, everything is part of the economic process. Ironically, there is no way out of capitalism on the red planet.

The Martian thus inadvertently exemplifies that far from saving us, science and the technology-dependent, trash-producing existence it enables and pushes us to lead could just as well be said to chain us ever more firmly to our own planet’s self-destructive economic system. It also shows that believing that science is ‘the answer’ is actually part of the problem. Notably, the film, and Watney, fail to learn anything from the astronaut’s near-death experience: it ends with him training up new astronauts for future space missions. Obviously, the disaster has not humbled Watney, who in spite of his own knowledge to the contrary, still believes that science will save us all.
The Martian

At the risk of over-simplification, the French Marxist Louis Althusser’s development of his theory of ‘interpellation’ is incredibly useful for understanding the extent to which our subjectivity—or the discourses through which we can articulate what it means to be a ‘self’—is shaped by all manner of ‘simple’ and ‘everyday’ things, such as pop music. ...continue reading "HOW SOON IS NOW? INTERPELLATION AND POP MISERY"

Following a new advertising campaign in which tea cake giants Tunnock’s referred to their iconic Scottish snack as the ‘Great British Tea Cake’ and removed the Scottish Lion from its packaging, nationalists in Scotland have called for a boycott of the company. Some pretty severe anti-Tunnock’s sentiment from patriotic Scots can easily be discovered by a quick Google.

This strange eruption of ill-feeling towards the traditional confectioners threatens to make us aware of a very peculiar relationship: the connection between nationalists and biscuits. It raises a slightly odd question: can a biscuit company be wrong to abandon its use of national identity in advertising campaigns, letting down its Scottish roots? Perhaps more interestingly, it raises a question that is even odder still: could the biscuit company have been wrong to employ imagery that would encourage nationalism in the first place?

Many nations have national biscuits: Scottish shortbread, Italian biscotti, German Spritzgebäck (the list is endless). Generally speaking, they are a fairly harmless example of national pride in traditions of baking and have little to do with negative nationalist feeling (though a German EDA contributor tells me that Germans are very reluctant to use their flag in advertising). Despite this, the latest Tunnock’s saga is not the first time biscuits have caused nationalists a bit of serious trouble. In the early 1990s, in the midst of the conflicts that led to the break- up of Yugoslavia, Serbians and Croatians squabbled about whether Gingerbread Hearts were part of Serbian or Croatian culture. As each side desperately fought to avoid losing their prized confectionery to their greatest enemies, many reports surfaced of arguments about Gingerbread Hearts resulting in full scale fights and significant nationalist violence.

There are various opinions as to the most important things in determining national identity. In Imagined Communities, one of the most influential books ever written on nationalism, Benedict Anderson argued that newspapers and the media are the most important factors in creating and constructing our sense of national identity. Famous historian Eric Hobsbawn took a different view: he felt that the elite classes were the force most in charge of constructing national identity. Both of these are compelling claims in the case of us British: the royal family, as well as other aristocratic and elite traditions, are obviously powerful signifiers of our national identities, supporting Hobsbawm’s view. At the same time, the media’s reportage, celebration and portrayal of aristocrats (and of other things) clearly play an equally powerful major role in forging our sense of our Britishness, Englishness, Scottishness, etc. Both the elite and the media construct national identity: but so does the biscuit.

Gingerbread Hearts: the trigger of nationalist violence in the 1990s

These are not just the views of two academics analyzing nationalism: they are the two main ways in which we talk about nationalism generally at the present moment. We often stress that the elite is to blame for nationalist sentiment. In the ongoing refugee crisis for example, those in power have often been the least open and most preservative of their own national boundaries and their own national identities, even if this comes at the cost of disaster for others. Likewise, we notice how the media is often to blame for whipping up further nationalist feeling. The elite and the media remain two influential forces in forging nationalist sentiment.

As the Tunnock’s saga unfolds it might be worth asking: what about biscuits? Could they rival the elite classes or the media as the force most in charge of how we conceive of our national selves? Do we need to get into discussion about the media’s portrayal of biscuits, or whether the biscuits are a class signifier of any kind? Probably not.

What we can at least see though, is the relevance of the everyday in forming and constructing national identity. Whilst we are familiar with the elite and the mainstream media constructing national identity and encouraging nationalist sentiment, we are less attentive to everyday signs of national identity and the impacts of them on us. The humorous saga of the Tunnock’s Tea Cake rubbing some Scottish nationalists up the wrong way forces us into this very serious realization. That is it not just the elites and the media that are responsible for nationalism but the everyday; the times we inadvertently or unconsciously see a British flag, a Welsh dragon or a Scottish lion rampant emblazoned innocently on a packet of crisps, or Irish shamrock on the side of a packet of sausages or a tub of butter.

To return to the two questions raised by the Tunnock’s business. First, can the company be blamed for either leaving behind its Scottishness? And second, should we consider whether the confectioner is guilty of contributing to the buildup of nationalism in the first place?

The answer is, I think quite obviously, a resounding no. Of course, neither act committed by Tunnock’s (using Scottish patriotism to sell biscuits or ceasing to do so) is particularly reprehensible. We probably will not get away with making the (admittedly quite reasonable) claim that all advertising should be free of patriotic pride in their product in case a few people get too far into it and become nationalists. But what we must do is be attentive to the power of the everyday in forging national identity: if a Tunnock’s advert can ruffle nationalists up the wrong way then a great deal more seemingly innocent things are responsible for our conceptions of our national selves as well.

Far from being two unrelated news stories, the Tunnock’s saga is the other side of the coin to the migrant crisis. At a time when our nations have shown themselves to be less welcoming and more insular than we might have hoped, convinced that we share an identity with each other and willing to demonize and reject those of other nations, we need also to ask what role apparently innocent symbolism, from Tea Cakes to the Bake Off, plays in the construction of this unwelcoming attitude.