The Sweat of Labour

It should have been so good, but it all went so bad. The story about the roots of the internet often starts with the somewhat odd rendezvous between the interests of the military and a counterculture wanting easier access to more free information. Technological victories combined with governmental support and contributions from innovative parts of hippie culture constituted the foundation for what we call the internet. But something went wrong along the way. Somehow we did not get that easy access in a decentralised form. Instead we got a few companies who centralise most of it – close to a monopoly situation guided by the libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand. In the book Move Fast and Break Things, Jonathan Taplin intends to find out what went so terribly wrong.

Revenge

Taplin has a very interesting and motley past as manager for Bob Dylan, film producer (Mean Streets, Wim Wender’s film Until the End of the World, and others) and media innovator. Thus he is a person deeply involved in the creative process of making pieces of art. There is, by the way, no doubt that Taplin in many ways is leading a personal retaliation action against the internet-mastodons. His main point is that the big companies – Google, Facebook and Amazon – have made disastrous conditions for content providers, from musicians to filmmakers to journalists and authors. In Taplin’s opinion, art is subject to a colossal pressure in the era of monopoly-internet.

«There is no doubt that Taplin in many ways is leading a personal retaliation action against the internet-mastodons.»

Firstly, a few companies have enormous market shares in their industry. For example Amazon covers 70 per cent of the e-book market, while Facebook has 77 per cent of the market for mobile social media. Consequently, content providers are forced to cooperate with the mastodons in order to make their way.

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Sweeping up the internet

The Cleaners

Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck

Germany, Brazil, Netherlands

At the 2018 Rotterdam Film Festival, Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck presented their new documentary The Cleaners. It begins with a dry and overused list of statistics: Three billion people are connected worldwide through social media websites. Every minute, 500 hours worth of video footage is uploaded on YouTube alone. In that time, some 450,000 Tweets are posted on Twitter and 2.5 million Facebook posts are also published. The Facebook community is estimated to include at least 2 billion members – nearly a quarter of the world. Its influence in opinion formation is larger than that of any nation state.

Recruited from the streets

The Cleaners travels from the high-tech, pristine work quarters of the company’s engineers and their day-to-day conditions, to derelict homes in Manila, where so-called content moderators or Facebook’s «cleaners» live. Nearly all of them are recruited from the street, without any educational background in politics, sociology or psychology, not to mention knowledge about art theory and expression. They are hired merely to «delete». Officially, Facebook is not allowed to employ content control staff in the Philippines. However, local outsourcing transmitter companies render it possible. They are the bodies that deliver Facebook’s paycheques.

The filmmakers are given intimate access into the lives of these «cleaners», following them to their homes, to their leisure activities, church, discos and game halls.

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The death of nature

I’ve read many books on green politics, ideology and economy over the years, books with different visions for the future. Green Utopias succeeds in adding something fresh, partly because it’s the work of a sociologist, partly because of the author’s use of literature and film as sources of inspiration. The result is a book that opens up some new and interesting horizons.

Lisa Garforth positions herself at the juncture between the society we live in today and the looming threat of a future apocalypse. Within this space she identifies several different utopian discourses that at times seem to point in wildly different directions. The first chapters present us with well-known positions. Garforth takes us back to the 1970s, where Limits to Growth and a handful of other texts set the agenda. For the first time it was made clear that the Earth contains limits beyond which we cannot pass. Building on this, radical discourses on guiding society’s development in a different direction were established.

Ecological modernisation

Through the 1980s and 1990s, however, the course of development changed. Environmentalism became mainstream, and sustainable development emerged as the dominant strategy for meeting the challenge. The strategy for economic modernisation, with its narrative of how we can combine continuous growth and progress with smarter environmental choices and the use of more eco-friendly technology, took centre stage. Parallel to this, however, a different, more transformative discourse was kept alive. Arne Næss and his philosophy of «deep ecology» is crucial here, with its message that humans and nature form interlinked parts of a united whole in which both organisms and eco-systems are incorporated into our moral community. This thought is radical in a completely different way from the limits discourse, as it formulates an expectation that our identity and way of life must be changed.

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The city as an arena for exploitation and resistance in the 21st century

Today more than half the world’s populations live in cities. That means that any progressive politics must necessarily be urban, or at the very least relate to urban life. Marx and Engels famously predicted that the «great cities» that grew up around the mid-19th century would become the scene for a spatial concentration of workers, who under the pressure of the disruptive capitalist- modernisation process would evolve into a new social collective. «The proletariat becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more,» as they put it in the Communist Manifesto. The revolutions of the 20th century, however, did not develop along the lines predicted by Marx. Rather than the city and its workers, it largely fell to peasants from or in the countryside to rise up and carry out revolutions in «backward» countries like Russia, Turkey, Spain, Bolivia and China. The city did not become the arena for proletarian action that Marx imagined in 1848.

«The essays are analyses of new forms of struggle that in some way relate to the city.»

The city as an arena for dynamisation and fragmentation

One of the reasons why Marx and Engels’ prediction did not come true is that cities also function as arenas for violent social dynamisation and fragmentation. The two revolutionaries were entirely right when asserting that big cities would concentrate the proletariat in greater masses, forcing the people closer both physically and mentally, but this «lumping together» (to use Marx and Engels’ name for the process) is also a process of dynamisation and fragmentation. As such, it seems to generate indifference and various strands of national ressentiment rather than class-consciousness. It is, after all, in the modern city that «all that is solid melts into air,» where everything is incessantly transformed and broken up.

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Visions du Reel: Dispossession and Anote’s Ark

Dispossession

One dusty afternoon in a South American farm field, workers pick, produce, chop branches and complete other manual tasks. Infants are tied to the backs of their mothers and even those barely old enough to walk help their parents in the fields. These people work in food production and farming all of their lives – all the while belonging to some of the most deprived and emaciated populations in the world. They are forced to grow «cash crops» for export, like their counterparts in several African countries or India – tying them to a lifetime of servitude and sickness.

The Swiss festival Visions du Reel has been screening documentary films since 1969 and has since then acquired the reputation of being one of the most important documentary film events in the world. This year’s programme explains why: In the picturesque town of Nyon by the Geneva lake, 174 documentaries from 53 countries have been shown, their subjects ranging from intimate portraits to examinations of European and global political issues.

The Canadian-Swiss documentary Dispossession by Mathieu Roy addresses the desperate realities of small farmers worldwide. Together with its predecessor, The Dispossessed, it works as an effective critique of the exploitation within the global agriculture industry.

Dispossession illustrates the cyclical nature of hunger, debt and privation instigated by modern global farming methods. The documentary shows workers who exert themselves to the bone or disintegrate from chronic diseases, a consequence of physical realities, such as exposure to poisonous tobacco fields.

Seeing Dispossession together with The Dispossessed, the viewer soon realises that any protective measures and regulations that we take for granted, that might allow for people’s rights and health are the preserve – or even the luxury of Western countries. As one of the interviewees of the films attests, there is a war ensuing, even if mostly fought via the economy and not with weapons.

Commodification of climate change

Maybe the answer is science? With our heightened capabilities in terms of biological and technical engineering, maybe society will soon devise a means by which to take the fiscal and physical pressure off humans?

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The Muslim brotherhood and the West

At a roundtable on the subject of Islamism held in Paris in 2005, the French scholar Olivier Roy asserted that Western leaders should consider how to integrate Islamists in the political system if they were genuinely interested in reform.

He argued that up until then, attempts to contain and marginalise Islamic groups in the Middle East had failed. It was four years after 9/11, and the world was as divided as ever. In October that year, the current president George W. Bush said that «Islamic radicalism, like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that are doomed to failure.»

«When Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, he saw secularism as the most lethal weapon ever devised by Europeans.»

That claim – of course – can be contested. And in a way this is exactly what Martyn Frampton does in his new book. As a reader in Modern History at Queen Mary University in London, he sets out to describe the historic relationship between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and that account is far from the monolithic picture we often get from Islamism in our times.

It is a movement with many elements, and yes, inherent contradictions are very much a part of the picture, but in the case of the Brotherhood, their contradictions are also some of the key explanations when it comes to its power and survival.

A clever, political player

When Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, he saw secularism as the most lethal weapon ever devised by Europeans. He saw it as a challenge to the core Islamic ideal of tawhid – the unity of life that reflected the nature of the divine.

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In praise of nothing

In Praise of Nothing opens with a black screen framed in early 20th century cinema decorative title boundaries, against a crackling soundtrack.

The reminiscent of an old gramophone record left spinning after the end of a song – period typeface titles appear: «In Praise of Nothing/ a whistleblowing documentary parable/ (not exactly in prose)/ wherein Nothing tries to defend its cause».

To the haunting sound of dusty saxophone, images appear: first the sun piercing through blackened clouds, then endless whiteness seen from a passing icebreaker, next a vast desert highway, then a cat-food billboard in an apocalyptic landscape …

«The dogged determination over eight years has produced a film that is both lyrical and jarring.»

The titles continue: «One day nothing runs away from home, tired of being misunderstood/It crosses 8 mountains and 8 seas…/.. and arrives in our lost valley».

8 years, 62 cinematographers, 70 countries

Over more images, the nut brown, smoke and whisky tempered voice of Iggy Pop – a wild boy of the American punk scene in the 1970s, now a [unseen] wiry and weathered 71 year old – begins his voiceover: «Finally our first date;/not sure if I came early or late./ I’ve got so much to tell you but I’m still wondering how;/ I don’t wanna suck up to you nor make you bow./

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Britain’s hidden empire

«At the twilight of the British Empire, bankers, lawyers and accountants from the City of London set up a spider’s web of offshore secrecy jurisdictions that captured wealth from across the globe and funnelled it to London.»

This on-screen statement opens Michael Oswald’s powerful and accessible film.

Voice-over images of the decline and end of the British Empire – troops and native police beating back crowds of demonstrators; tanks on exercises, a human skull mounted on the hull of one – enunciate the film’s timely thesis.

«As British elites saw their wealth, privileges and empire disintegrate, they began to search for a new role in a changing world and they found one: in finance.»

«This is a film about how Britain transformed from a colonial power to a modern financial power and how this transformation has shaped the world we live in,» the narration continues.

From this firm foundation, the film employs an array of experts in offshore tax havens, banking and accountancy to detail the degree to which the British elite – and its political servants in parliament – has created a system of shocking inequity that is today complicit in many of the world’s global ills.

The Eurodollar market

Post-Imperial decline and a run on the pound prompted the creation of a system of double accounting that allowed the City of London to become the leading centre for international financial transactions.

This was done via a system called the Eurodollar market, which lead directly to the establishment of offshore tax havens.

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Authoritarian or Democratic?

The Oslo Freedom Forum is a network of passionate advocates committed to the promotion of human rights across the globe. This year OFF took place from May 28-30, 2018. For more information, please visit: oslofreedomforum.com

Does OFF «really define the US as a member of the free, democratic world?» The man posing the question to the panel cites the record-breaking percentage of the American population that is currently behind bars, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama – who stepped it up with bombings and drone attacks, an enormous surveillance apparatus aimed at its own citizens – and now, most recently, a new head of the CIA with a history of torturing prisoners.

Thor Halvorssen – the founder of OFF and a US resident – answers sharply: «Let me be absolutely clear here. The answer is definitely yes.»

Halvorssen goes on to make a distinction between three different types of government: Full-scale dictatorships (China), authoritarian states based on rigged elections, and well-functioning democracies. And for a state to be ranked among the latter, Halvorssen explains, it must have «free and fair elections, a free and independent press, constraints on and division of power, and a system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government. Moreover, it must have a thriving civil society where people aren’t persecuted or arrested because of their opinions.»

Thor Halvorssen

Halvorssen further makes it clear that OFF doesn’t focus on states like the US, but rather on the authoritarian states that, put together, make up half of today’s states. Countries where the authorities, unlike in Norway, imprison journalists and attack those who challenge the official line.

The man in the audience still insists on focusing on the US, drawing a proper dressing-down from OFF’s chairman Garry Kasparov: «Shame on you! You try to draw the attention away from real abuses, from a world where killings and violence are everyday events! Children are being killed as we’re sitting here!» 

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Soothing reconstructions of the Utøya massacre

This is an observational documentary and the article is based on segments from the work in progress.


The movie theatre in Filmens Hus in Oslo, Norway is painfully empty of people. Only a score or so have found their way to the work-in-progress meeting with the three men who represent the Scandinavian team behind the documentary film Reconstructing Utøya. Has the saturation point for reconstructions of the 2011 Utøya summer camp massacre already been reached?

The method

The scanty attendance feels embarrassing and awkward. The Swedish director Carl Javér is seated in a chair on stage as he presents the method of making this «observational documentary.» With his regular producer Fredrik Lange from the Vilda Bomben production company, he speaks of the two weeks spent filming in a blackened studio at FilmCamp, deep in Troms county, Norway. Five surviving youths have participated. Four of them have directed twelve other youths in order to create their own reconstructions of events. They’ve used white floor-marking tape to delineate landscape features. I start having doubts. Is the concept too absurdist for the context? Have they lifted the black floor and the white tape straight out of Lars von Trier’s Dogville – the film that depicts how far human cruelty can go when there are no consequences? Are artistic approaches to this sensitive issue at all appropriate?

Reconstructing Utøya (work in progress) Director: Carl Javér

A reconstruction

Before I have time to pursue my train of thought any further, the team wants to show us segments of a reconstruction from the film. The setting, as promised, is a blackened studio. A young woman with translucent skin and bright, sorrow-laden eyes appears. She immediately catches my attention.

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