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Because he’s Gorgeous. June 10, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Uncategorized.
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The latest edition of the New Statesman contains an article by George 'The Cat' Galloway on Che Guevara and the exhibition currently running at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's all pretty standard stuff, Galloway's writing being remarkable only for its banality. He tells us little we didn't already know, and haven't heard a hundred times already. However, whether by accident or design, he does raise a couple fairly interesting points.

Referring to the received wisdom about the famous Korda image of Che, that it's become commercialised and stripped of any kind of radicalism, and criticising a perceived distaste among the more serious left for the image, Galloway writes

It is tempting for those of us on the left to feel uncomfortable with his popular appeal; rather like music fans who, when their favourite underground band hits the big time, moan that they've "gone commercial" and sagely tell new enthusiasts that the latest gigs aren't a patch on "the night they played the Crooked Billet in Scunthorpe.

Has he a point? It's a cute analogy, but I don't think it really holds up. The problem with the Che image isn't just that it's popular, but that in its popularity and unbiquitousness, it ceases to retain any serious political connotations. Familiarity might breed contempt, but more usually it just breeds indifference. Someone wearing a t-shirt with the image or it (and I have one myself, so I'm certainly not exempt from this) is saying less 'I am interested in radical politics' than 'I want to look like I'm interested in radical politics'. There's nothing in itself objectionable about wanting to project a radical image, provided that's not confused with radical action. The more we see the image around us, the more it becomes just that: an image, signifying nothing except its own iconic status. On that point, there's probably a very interesting essay to be written on the Korda picture, analysing it with the reference to Walter Benjamin's famous piece on 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', but I'm certainly not clever enough to attempt it.

Galloway's next point is also worth nothing. Dismissing the straw man objection he sets up above, he writes:"

I don't see it that way. If only 10 per cent of the people who wear the image of this incredibly handsome figure know what he stood for, that is still many millions. Overwhelmingly, they are also young people, with their hearts set on making the world a better place. Indeed, in my experience, many more than 10 per cent have a very good idea of what he stood for. It is an excellent example of the younger generation confounding the low expectations of them.

Admittedly, this might be true (once you've stopped shuddering at the 'incredibly handsome' part). Many young people attracted to the image may very well also be interested and involved in progressive politics – I know a few myself (I even was one … once). But I think Galloway's fetishisation of young people is at once patronising and self-defeating for 'the left'.

Galloway is grasping at the cliche that young people aren't interested in politics, and that anything that gets them more involved must automatically be a good thing. It's hard to argue against anything that would lead to greater political engagement, among young people or, indeed, anyone. But is it really true that expectations of 'the younger generation' are really so low?

Over the last ten years, the real energy on the political left seems to have come from young people (or, in Galloway's Macmillan-esque phrase 'the younger generation') who, perhaps weary of party politics, tend to focus more on broader issues. Obviously, all I have to go on is my own experience, but it appears to me that young people (that is, those in their late teens or early twenties) are far more likely to be aware of, for example, international development issues, globalisation (and the international anti-capitalist 'movement'), the IMF, the WTO and the history of US foreign policy than they were ten or fifteen years ago (back when I was 'young'). Whether it was the crisis facing the 'old left' following the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the relative difficulties of accessing left-wing writing in the days before internet access was widespread, back then political engagement tended not to rise much higher than support for Greenpeace and a fondness for Bill Hicks. Even Noam Chomsky, who now has shelves devoted to him in Waterstones, was a relatively obscure figure.

Of course, I'm probably exaggerating, but it's becoming increasingly hard to sustain the argument that young people aren't interested in politics (or, in the case of Galloway, to argue that this archaic belief is widespread, but that George knows better).The real challenge facing the left in this regard isn't about attracting young people to politics; it's in keeping them involved when they stop being 'young'. Youth involvement will only get you so far, but unless you can ensure that they stay involved after they leave college and enter the workforce, you're not going to be able to build a sustainable political movement (unless, of course, you're basing your programme on The Children of the Corn).

For Galloway, of course, it hardly matters. The whole 'reaching out to young people' thing is something of a mantra for him and, indeed, was the justification he used for entering Celebrity Big Brother (a lowpoint for him, perhaps, but the highlight of 2006 so far for me). It's not hard to guess why he's so interested. For someone whose sole motivation in life appears to be to gain as much publicity and press attention for George Galloway as he can, it's understandable that he would focus on the 18-35 yr old demographic. But for those actually interested in politics that go beyond soundbites and interviews with GQ, there's a greater challenge ahead.

At least until another great iconic image, like the Korda one, comes along to revitalise the left and inspire a generation to rise up against oppression.

An image like this one, maybe:


 Hasta la victoria siempre, George!

A great leap forward … ? June 10, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Uncategorized.

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time

Okay, admittedly the last thing the world needs is another blog, let alone another ‘political’ blog. So, why are we bothering with this one?

Well, we believe that there’s room for an Irish blog with a unashamedly, but undogmatically, left-wing view of the world, and that’s what we’re trying to put together with ‘The Cedar Lounge Revolution’. As a group of individuals who have met on Politics.ie, arguably the single finest Irish political resource on the web, and continue to post there on an often daily basis, we've come to a conclusion separately, but simultaneously…

It seems that, on the internet (I hate the word ‘blogosphere’) as in the ‘real world’, ‘right-wing’ thought is on the ascendant. Whether it’s coming from Ayn Rand-worshipping libertarians, religious fundamentalists or 19-year old university students who love wearing suits and dream of growing up and becoming Richard Perle, the right is confident and unapologetic in putting forward its ideas. By contrast, left-wing opinion seems more divided than ever (never forgetting, of course, the truism that in every generation, left-wing opinion is always ‘more divided than ever’). Whether it’s Stoppers vs. Mongers, Trots vs. Stalinists, Revolutionaries vs. Reformers, Social Democrats vs. Democratic Socialists vs. those who are finding it increasingly hard to tell the difference, the left has always saved its greatest ire for those closest to it, and tends to spend far more time fighting amongst itself than against those on the other end of the political spectrum.

But that's not the whole story. This seems to be the end of one period of recent history and the beginning of another. George Bush has only two more years in the White House. His legacy has largely been constructed. That means that new political choices are opening up across the Atlantic. Tony Blair, the architect of contemporary politics in the UK is moving towards the end of his years in power. Here in Ireland we have the prospect of the full implementation of the GFA in the next six months, or some new structure administered by the UK and the RoI. And there are less than twelve months until the next election to Dáil Éireann. All in all it seems timely for a new engagement by leftists with the events that, for better or worse, will shape the global and national political landscape for the next decade. There's opportunity in them thar hills…

That's why we think that it would be useful to take a step back right now, and think about issues in a somewhat calmer, less adversarial way. We don’t think that those who support the progressive political values should have to apologise for their beliefs in the face of opposition from those who disagree. On the contrary, we think that ‘now, more than ever’ (to use the cliché) there’s a need for those who consider themselves left-wing to assert themselves in the face of an increasingly ‘centrist’ consensus. This blog is our small attempt to contribute to this (although we might throw in a little leftie-bashing for good measure – splitters!).  We're also aware of that defining issue on the Irish left, the relationship between the left and nationalism and Republicanism and that relationship will be part of the discussion.

You’re not going to find a consistent line on here, as our contributors each have their own distinct perspective, some being members of political parties, others just sympathetic and others coming from the ‘Plague on all your houses’ school of thought. You’re not going to find a Drudge or Slugger-esque news digest, with immediate links to every political story as it breaks (as some of the members have lives outside the internet, and the ones that don’t are too lazy to do it).

What you will get, hopefully, is some interesting, but not too heavy or humourless, analysis and debate of Irish and international current affairs. You’ll also get reviews and discussions on books, films and music (oh, and maybe Big Brother as well). And every once in a while we hope to throw in a bit of commentary from people who don't necessarily share the same values as ourselves, people from the conservative or libertarian right, in order to demonstrate that not all original thinking on economics, politics and society comes from the left side of the street.

We’re trying to make this a blog for those of us who’ll look in on indymedia, but wince at some of the comments; for those who cross their fingers when singing the Red Flag, but still know the words; for those of us who roll our eyes when we hear that the Irish media has a left-wing bias, but wish it were true; for those who dislike the use of the word ‘liberal’ as an insult, but don’t much like liberals either; for those of us used to being on the losing side but are too stubborn to give up yet.

Time will tell if we succeed or not but, for now, enjoy!

Fraternally yours,

The Cedars

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