Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe

Professor Dennis Broe teaches Film and Television at the Sorbonne. He is the author of: Film Noir, American Workers and Postwar Hollywood; Class, Crime and International Film Noir: Globalizing America's Dark Art; and Maverick or How the West Was Lost. His segment "Bro on the World Film Beat" appears on Arts Express on the Pacifica Radio Network and is also available at The James Agee Cinema Circle. 

Peaky Blinders
Friday, 23 December 2016 22:04

Dennis Broe's Top 10 TV Series in 2016: Hyperconglomeration, Seriality and Sameness

Published in Films

Professor Dennis Broe offers his Top Ten TV series of 2016.

Last year at this time it was a pleasure to report that the Comcast-Time-Warner merger had been halted. In this year of the Trump corporate giveaway, it is sad to watch the Charter-Time Warner merger approved so that essentially two companies Charter-Time Warner and Comcast control cable access to the American home with the result that the Charter Time-Warner cable rates rose immediately and transport speed slowed. It is also sad to report that the miracle of OTT (over the top) television watching where viewers cut their cable cord and stream from a variety of sources is beginning to look simply like the process of readying TV watchers to pay for what was in the old days free TV.

The streaming services and particularly Netflix, the most successful among them, meanwhile have begun to look and program like the television networks of old. Netflix inundates its subscribers with new series, however, the repetitive and knockoff quality of its average series are, rather than suggesting the utopia of a new Golden Age of Television, instead harking back to the “vast wasteland” of network TV and to cable’s 900 channels with nothing to watch.

Nevertheless, it was a stellar year in Global Television for the advancement of the serial form of storytelling as showrunners consistently used the form to explore social and class tensions in the past and the present. The serials chart in a sublimated way, through complex narrative patterns, the inequalities and injustices that they were only too well aware of in dealing with the corporate ethos of their own industry.

Top 10 Series

Strange Empire – As so often in television, the best series do not last, which is no reason not to honor them and this Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Western tracing the attempt of three women to shake off the masculinist shackles of the West on the Montana-Canadian border was cancelled after a stunning first season that kept getting more politically intricate as it detailed the economy of a mining town where the owner consigned women to prostitution and men to wage slavery. A must-see. 

Mr. Robot – Maintained consistently the air of menace hanging over the corporatization of the virtual world we are now co-inhabiting with our other lesser reality, but never quite matched its opening salvo with the supposed paranoid bursts of two generations of conspiracy theorists. Christian Slater, in his reworking of his ‘80s teen persona as harbinger of the awfulness of corporate mind control in Heathers and Pump Up the Volume, merges literally with the superb Rami Malek’s Anonymous-styled hacktivism to produce a contemporary critique that was as much global corporate truthtelling as conspiratorial rant.   

Rebellion – Best series of the year hails from Ireland and charts the events leading up to and following the 1916 Irish Rebellion in Dublin, as the Irish consensus to fight the imperial First World War for their British Masters broke down. The most remarkable and liberating part of the series is its intense focus on three women engulfed in not only British domination of Ireland but also in Irish antagonism to their defining themselves as equal partners in the struggle.

Peaky Blinders – This British indie series is far more than the usual American gangster rags to riches tale. Set in Birmingham in the 1920s, it details the coming to prominence of an Irish gang whose ruthlessness was forged in the World War I slaughter that leaves its members traumatized. Swimming in the same sordid pool are labor agitators ready to lead a working-class rebellion, the budding Sein Fein Irish independentists, and a jealous Irish Protestant Cop, Sam Neil in the role of his career as the hand servant of a Winston Churchill who wants to destroy the whole lot. Gripping period drama. The noir version of Downtown Abbey and not for the squeamish.     

The Americans – Best years, those confronting the all-out Reagan Russian paranoia, are perhaps behind it as this series about US-Russian Cold War tensions in the 1980s told through the eyes of a married Soviet spy team, has attempted to increase the tension in the domestic area by involving their pampered, rebellious but ultimately boring daughter Page in the intrigue. Still though, the smartest American series about the moral costs on both sides of Reagan’s upping the ante in an American attempt to win the Cold War.

Ripper Street – This Amazon/BBC series set in the poorest section of Industrial Revolution London in the decade after Jack the Ripper surprised by never focusing on the serial killer aspect of the Whitechapel district and instead concentrating on the class tensions unleashed by both American and British ownership interests, the actual serial killers, who saw the slum residents as expendable. Fifth and final season again brought back the specter of the Ripper only to resolve that never-emphasized plot line in a way that stayed true to the concentration instead on the social fabric of the neighborhood.

Silicon Valley – The funniest comedy on television is also the most biting satire as not only the supposed moral high ground of the tech industry is skewered as it becomes more nakedly a collection of simple gold digging enterprises but along with it the neo-liberal ethos whose upside of entrepreneurial energy is constantly being contaminated by its now more dominant downside of massive wealth accumulation. Mike Judge in fashioning a minutely detailed study of one industry’s evolving corruption has equally fashioned an allegory of the way the television industry works as well as the way artists as a whole, represented by the Pied Piper start-up unit, constantly both rise above and are drowned by the waves of the corporate tsunami that engulfs them.

Night Manager – This BBC/AMC series while yes being an entertaining actor’s throwdown between The Hollow Crown’s Tom Hiddleston as everyman outraged by corporate barbarity and House’s Hugh Laurie as clandestine arms dealer concealed behind philanthropy and boasting stunning Mediterranean sets is also as with most John LeCarre adapted work a recounting of how difficult it is to get justice for corporate wrongdoing in both a government and business world where money dictates morality. So much better than its evil twin, the corporate patronizing Showtime actors duel Billions where Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis simply wallow in their own sordidness which the series admires.

Rectify – Sundance’s first original series very much brings an American independent film sensibility to television in the way this series, about the prejudice of a small Georgia town toward a supposed wrongly accused murderer set free after 19 years, lets its characters breathe in imbuing television seriality with an ease in emphasizing small moments and a deliberate thinness to the intrigue that focuses on minute character development in understated ways. As a critic pointed out, one episode ends with two of the characters literally watching paint dry and the moment is resplendent. Well-developed portrait of small-town prejudices that in the year of Trump we know have, far from being transcended, become ascendant.

Jordskott – This Swedish series, about a cop from Stockholm who returns to her natal town and to the forest surrounding it where nine years before her daughter had disappeared, is a kind of The Kingdom meets Top of the Lake mystical investigation into the destruction of nature by capitalist enterprise and the mysterious ways Nature fights back. The title itself without a corresponding word in English indicates a throwing or pummeling of the earth and in the guise of a police procedural this is what the series explores. Best, as it is termed, Scandicrime series of the year. Now being purchased widely and will be coming your way in 2017.

Honorable Mention

The Romeo Section  -- Canadian spy series by the magnificent Chris Haddock, though too much American influenced after his stint on Boardwalk Empire, still recalls his spy masterpiece Intelligence, a systematic dismantling of the idea that the security state was installed to protect us. This series pulls its punches and too much romanticizes its intelligence operatives but is still a gripping reminder of the former series.

Trapped – Icelandic noir about gang imported murder in the midst of a blizzard in a remote town that is about to become a booming global port. On the strength of this Hollywood hired Baltasar Kormakur to direct Everest but they missed the boat in that the detailing of the town’s growing corruption is the strength of the series, not the director’s ability to handle snow.

11.22.63 – J. J. Abrams’ television return had James Franco as a time traveler set on thwarting the Kennedy assassination as a pretext for exploring facets of the Kennedy Legacy and of the conspiracy surrounding the assassination. More comfortable than gripping but still welcome renewal of traditional liberal television for the streaming TV era.

Midnight Sun –French/Swedish co-production starring A Prophet’s Leila Bekhti as an inner city, or French banlieu, cop sent to Sweden’s far north to investigate the death of a French citizen in the land of the indigenous Sami or Laplanders which also houses European defense installations and mining companies, both of which could be involved. Nice combination of Scandicrime with French banlieu values in an intriguing co-production.

The Break – Belgium noir that in its detailing of the concealed racist small town sentiments behind the murder of an African soccer player could not be a more timely exploration of how anti-immigrant feelings erupt into violence in a Europe where immigrants far from a burden on the economy are a desperately needed work force to combat the growing expenses of sustaining the continent’s aging population. Spearhead of a noir resurgence in the economically devastated Wallone or French portion of Belgium.  

 

The Olive Tree
Friday, 23 December 2016 21:53

Dennis Broe's Top 10 Films in 2016: The Year of the Filmexit

Published in Films

Professor Dennis Broe offers his top ten films of 2016.

Two trends in the 2016 cinema. One is the continuing dominance of the television serial long form which is replacing much mid-level and indie film production, giving creators the opportunity to explore stories at length, so that the film Top Ten is becoming less important. That is why I follow my own Top Ten with the Ten Best Serial Series of 2016. The second trend is that in this year of Trump, the Brexit, and a resurgence everywhere of movements that are alternately or at the same time anti-global capital and reactionary, my Top Ten has followed suit, stressing in true Bernie Sanders fashion the progressive side of the anti-corporate critique. So in no particular order, here are the best films I saw this year, a Top Ten plus Two.

The Olive Tree - Paul Laverty may be rewarded at Oscar time for his screenplay for I Daniel Blake, but this screenplay, about a young woman who searches to restore an olive tree uprooted from her home in Andalucia in Southern Spain, to function as window dressing for a German corporation in Dusseldorf, is even more poignant and far reaching in its critique of the uneven global order in Europe between the North and South.

I, Daniel Blake – Laverty again with director Ken Loach in a film that tracks post-Thatcher-Blairite meanness and cruelty as it affects those most in need of help - a worker who has collapsed from a heart attack being harassed into returning to work early, and a mother trying to feed her family. One at the mercy of a now merciless neoliberal state, the other forced to succumb to a masculinist form of private-enterprise thinking, that registers bodies as just another form of saleable commodity.

Trumbo – Opened in the US last year, but surfaced here in France early this year. Extraordinarily complex dissection and glorification of a figure for whom ethics was not just another marketable phenomenon. Bryan Cranston shines in the role as blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Trumbo who reminds the corrupt Republican Senator Parnell when they cross paths in prison that only one of them is there because they are a criminal and in a beguiling way explains to his daughter that a communist is the school kid who, when they find that others around them do not have enough, shares, rather than sells or trades, their lunch. Subversive, because mostly positive, portrait of an actual hero and perhaps Hollywood’s greatest screenwriter.

Last Train to Busan – This resplendent South Korean zombie film uses the horror form to discuss such topics as: global ecological destruction, in its opening beguiling scene of a zombie deer rising after being squashed by a truck carrying radioactive waste; the interpersonal devastation that the ultimate profit motive wrecks in a CEO’s sacrificing everyone to save himself; and the painful memory of the island’s being sacrificed as still victim of the Cold War in the approach of the survivors to the title city where a key battle was fought. Part of a resurgence in the genre as it embraces a new grounding in the social horror that everywhere marks the global landscape.
The Net – Korean director Kim Ki-duk stunned the Venice film festival with this entry about a poor North Korean fisherman who inadvertently slips over the border to the South, where he finds a land where selling is everything while upon his return to the North finds a place where blatant corruption rules the day. A eulogy that suggests both states need to start over in a reworking of relationships. The evenhanded comparison in detailing the maltreatment of the population of both Koreas is hard for Western audiences, still spoon-fed Cold War propaganda, to grasp.

Jackie – Performance of the year from Natalie Portman who from the opening portrait of an elegant woman under pressure captures the grace, haughtiness and social acuity of Jackie Kennedy’s crucial moment in her commanding presence around the funeral of Jack, refusing, for example, to change her bloodstained dress because she wanted those who created the atmosphere that made the assassination possible to feel what they had done. Chilean director Pablo Lorain, also weighing in this year with a screen bio of Neruda as a victim of Chile’s entry into the Cold War, strikes again.

Brimstone –Despised by mainstream critics and seen as simply posing, this Dutch Western with an indefatigable Dakota Fanning pursued to the ends of the earth by Guy Pierce’s perverse, sado-masochistic reverend has both a fascinating well-conceived fractured time structure that plays like four distinct episodes making it resound with the narrative intricacies of series TV and a critique of the American Puritan ethos currently projected as global violence that recalls both Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and the wonder of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Underappreciated but will eventually be recognized as a masterful late Western.

The Witch –Puritan ethic again, this time in its original guise, as once again the horror film is the vehicle for imprinting a critique of the American psyche as devastating the physical landscape of New England and the psychological landscape of female subjectivity in a way that recalls Terence Malick’s The New World in its ravaging of nature and Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist in its celebration of the power of female desire to triumph over the repression that would silence it.

Sami Blood – In this year of indigenous resistance to the destruction wrecked on Native People’s by that most wretched of capitalist enterprises, the oil and gas industry, this Swedish film, which got a very quiet release in the US, details the prejudices and misunderstandings directed at the Laplanders or Sami, as told through the eyes of a woman who “escapes” her culture only to find that she is now utterly imbued in a European devaluing of her heritage that sees her people as primitive both in customs and in their non-Aryan look. A wise and timely film that deserves to find a wider audience.

Fiore – Romeo and Juliet in the slammer. This hard-bitten story of a young Milanese’ decision to adore her fellow male inmate is less romantic tale than tribute to the lead characters’ ability to find love amidst the pain of working class life in an Italy devastated by unemployment to the point where it is a marvel that this second generation thief, now mining the digital realm of stolen cell phones, can still imagine with her prison lover a place where she, the flower of the title, can still bloom amid the harshness of the life around her.

Ma Rosa –Almost similar to Fiore in its depiction of a literally Mom and Pop convenience store in one of the worst slums of Manilla where to make ends meet the female proprietress must sell drugs on the side. Brillante Mendoza’s beautiful long take film contains multiple shots of both, as it’s called, “the impasse”, the dead-end alley where the family is sheltered and the ominousness of the long walks of the police out to haunt and corrupt the streets rather than to make them safe. Quiet and for that reason more disturbing examination of the devastation of drugs in the country which includes the unfettered corruption of those engaged in this supposed war on drugs, in actuality a war on the impoverished.

Where to Invade Next – European Social Democracy is everywhere under attack from all sides but Michael Moore finds in scouring the continent rays of hope that, pre-Trump, could have been applied to the US system to humanize it. Topics include lack of student debt in Slovenia, with the exception of two American students who are there fleeing the high cost of American education; enlightened prison training, including courses in Philosophy, in Finland; and five course meals in France as the equivalent of American inner-city student lunches It’s Moore’s best work in a decade, outlining practical methods for improving American life, many of them, oddly, conceived in the US.

Honorable Mention:

Julieta –Almodovar’s bittersweet remembrance of a mother’s breakup with her daughter replete with Bunuelian stunning shape-shifting of actresses is a visually gorgeous hymn to the wisdom of his female characters.

Bitter Money – 6th Generation Chinese director Wayne Bing’s documentary recounting of the lives of those from the provinces who flood not the interior but the fringes of the Chinese industrial cities where their lives and livelihood are continually at the mercy of an ownership system and a deregulated economy that casts them aside if they do not continually produce at an ever more rigorous level.

Risk – In this year of the degrading of Wikileaks, Laurie Poitras’ inside look at the systematic attempt to silence Julian Assange’s government truthtelling as well as his protégés’ exposing of corporate malfeasance is a timely follow-up to last year’s noirish telling of the Edward Snowden saga Citizen Four.

Horror, horror everywhere - and not just the election result
Saturday, 10 December 2016 16:01

Horror, horror everywhere - and not just the election result

Published in Films

Dennis Broe discerns a renewal of energy in the tired old formulae of the horror film, as film-makers draw on the horrors of everyday life under an ever more destructive, greedier capitalism.

Any assessment of the best films of 2016, as critics around this time of the year are wont to do, has to take account of the new power of traditional genres to illuminate contemporary truths.

I’m talking particularly about the Korean horror film the Last Train To Busan, a zombie thriller whose subtext is the horror of neoliberal life and its stifling of all collective feeling; The Witch, as good a film as has ever been made about the way a particular brand of fervent Puritanism continues to inflect and infect the American psyche; and the upcoming Brimstone, a Dutch film set in the American West which uses elements of horror in its perennial battle between a woman’s desire and a stifling and violent macho culture, justified under a kind of religious and military fanaticism that predominates in the history of the Western.

This is not even to mention Don’t Breathe where the horror of the contemporary American urban nightmare of under or non-funded inner cities is metastasized into a battle in Detroit between urban raiders taking advantage of the situation and a Iraqi war vet whose sadism is the detritus of the US Middle East colonial wars, and the related reviving of the disaster genre, distant cousin to horror, in the blockbuster crossing of it with the contemporary social problem film in Deepwater Horizon, so that just when British Petroleum thought it was safe to go back into the world’s waters we have the nightmare they inflicted on Louisiana retold as a corporate disaster on the scale of Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno.

It really is not surprising that in today’s world horror is a genre that draws directors. What is different is that, globally, a good number of these films are moving beyond the splatter aspect of the genre and into more sophisticated dystopian imaginings of contemporary events. Where horror in the first decade of the millennium was defined by the Hollywood splat pack epitomized by Saw where sadistic effect is piled upon sadistic effect in a reflexivity or consciousness about the genre that substituted gore for the comic sophistication of Wes Craven’s Scream, and by reactionary pieces such as Hostel where the other of the American empire, the strangeness of life outside the neo-liberal order, was villainized. The one film worth remembering from the whole lot was Cabin Fever which cast a negative light on the now no longer innocent band of privileged teens previously in the genre only victims but in this film also victimizers.

Humanity does appear to be at an impasse in a number of areas. There seems to be no real will to stop global warming as energy companies become more and more vicious in their pursuit of profit, seen currently in the unleashing of dogs on peaceful protestors in land of the Lakota. There are more and more areas of the globe simply written off as no longer profit centers and with people in those areas being offered only right-wing demagoguery or Trumpisms as an alternative. And finally, neoliberal governing mechanisms, nominally called democratic, everywhere being exposed as simply under the command of a global oligarchy with the processes incapable of producing anything like true representatives of the people. 58% of the electorate in the US viewed unfavourable the two puerile mouthpieces who recently contested the presidency.

In this increasingly catastrophic world, along comes the most important representative of the new political horror Korea with the resplendent Last Train to Busan, a zombie film for the neoliberal age. It is unlike The Walking Dead, whose subtext is simply how to manage the empire in the wake of its personal catastrophe of 9/11 – how much violence does one use to subdue the world’s population of zombies who are sleepwalking through existence? Here, the film’s virus that causes the zombie breakout throughout the world, and specifically on a single train, is tied to nuclear radiation leaks, recalling nearby Fukushima, the winds from which must have affected the neighbouring island of Korea.

The penetration of nature by these deadly manmade energy sources is forecast in a truly frightening and wondrous opening where a deer, become roadkill by a pig farmer, rises reborn as a creature of the dead, as so much of nature is now stillborn. On the train we witness the force of the zombies penetrating every strata of society, but two business types stand out.

The lead character is a financial manager, on the train with the daughter he often neglects, who is reborn as a human being in the course of helping others in combatting the outbreak. In contrast the most vicious of the zombie-battlers is a corporate CEO who sacrifices everyone in his single minded desire to stay alive, utterly devoid of all fellow feeling, as accurate a depiction of the neoliberal ethos as has been rendered on screen.

The train hurtles toward Busan, the site of one of the major battles of the Korean War, and it is here in the finale that the human survivors of the zombie attack are met with a line of soldiers recalling the primal trauma on the island of a war inflicted on it by the great powers. Though the city has been remade as a global production capital, Busan for Koreans still bears the scars of those never healed wounds.

The film is in the line of two earlier Korean horror-disaster films, The Host, concerning a seaside city menaced by a aqueous monster begot in the labs of the still occupying American army and Snowpiercer, a dystopian fable about the wages of climate change which this film acknowledges by the former film’s lead appearing on the zombie train, broken down and in tatters, muttering over and over “We’re all dead.”

Busan is contemporaneous with another Korean horror film, The Stranger, where horrible murders in a village are tied to a Japanese recluse who haunts the countryside long after the end of the brutal Japanese colonial period.

Why the mastery of these genres in contemporary Korea? For one, the Korean cinema is duplicating its role as trendsetter in Asian television by challenging Western distribution in Asia with extravagant genre films with a regional bent. But the force and vociferousness of these generic creations owes much to the horrors in Korean history – the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, the South Korean dictatorship, and the current inability to reunite the island – and the willingness of Korean directors to transmute this tragedy into a form in the horror and disaster film in which it can be contemplated. This has energized genres that had atrophied, partly from becoming too shielded from the social world.

And Hollywood is following suit. Don’t Breathe utilizes the ravaging of Detroit as subtext for its intimate horror, inside the last house inhabited on a block destroyed by the city’s debt, which has been foisted on it by its banks. The film recalls Wes Craven’s resplendent People Under the Stairs of a quarter of a century ago when the devastation wrecked on the inner city of Philadelphia is seen from the inside by its black inhabitants as fueled in a horror mansion by a sado-masochistic Caucasian Mommy and Daddy who torture the neighborhoods downcast.

Craven in his social attitudes follows a line in the horror film that dates back to WW2 impresario Val Lewton whose nine horror films, including Cat People, a branding of the Serbian female other and The Leopard Man, which materializes the horror of Latino treatment in the US, together present a savage critique of American normalcy. Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow in its treatment of Haitian voodoo as desperate cry of a former colonial downcast people recalls directly Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie where the horror of a Caribbean island is tied to its history as a sugarcane plantation.

Don’t Breathe, in the Lewton/Craven line is a well-drawn, basically single set-piece where the trauma inflicted on the city is reflected in equal measure by the young housebreakers who are attempting to flee and the blind war vet who has lost his daughter, but who reenacts his pain in the most violent of ways, a reversal of Audrey Hepburn’s victimized blind woman in Wait Until Dark.

The new and important wrinkle in all of these films is the contemporary social setting that grounds the film and lets in and references directly the horrors of the modern global capitalist world. Thus in Don’t Breathe we get a montage of the deserted houses on the same block as the one the intruders are attacking. This element of social reality is even more strongly at play in Deepwater in the interpolation of an almost fetishistic recreation of life on board the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the disaster, including featuring and naming the members of the crew who will become victims of BP’s drive for profits, as a cagily evil John Malkovich, instead of his usual over-the-top villainous persona, refuses safety tests and pushes the drilling that results in the spill. Just as Don’t Breathe cuts to a variety of shots of devastated Detroit, so too Deepwater contains a series of shots which describe the awesome destruction, a true attack on nature, of deepwater drilling where the earth is pounded in ways it cannot sustain.

These films constitute a global change in renewing tired generic formulas by investing in them the horrors of daily life under an ever more destructive and ever greedier capitalism.

 

Trumped! It was the economy, stupid
Wednesday, 09 November 2016 15:41

Trumped! It was the economy, stupid

Published in Poetry

We don't usually post up straight political analysis on the this arts and culture site, even though we firmly believe in a close link between politics and culture, but we're making an exception today because of the exceptional events in the US. Also, Culture Matters has now moved into publishing poetry, and our first booklet is by the US poet Fred Voss, whose poetry we have already featured on the site and who writes prophetically about the political situation of the working class in the US. So one of his poems, and an article about our booklet, follows the piece about the Trump victory, which is by Dennis Broe, one of the leading radical film critics in the US.

Everyone, meaning mostly the neoliberal elite, is searching for answers at the moment for why the billionaire Trump beat the corporate candidate Clinton. Was it his xenophobic rhetoric which drew angry white Americans, his macho humiliation of women in the face of which his supporters had to hold their noses to vote for him, or was it the (Trumped-up) charges of “Crooked Hilary” aided and abetted by the FBI “October Surprise” of a new treasure trove of (probably mostly irrelevant) emails that are now being “investigated.”

A revealing article in Le Monde seems instead to contain the answer for why solidly union and industrial states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would abandon the Democratic party and vote for Trump, who after all was not the choice of the Republican elite. For decades now, politicians have looked to the October economic, labor and jobs report, released last week, to boost their status just prior to the elections. And indeed, the report showed the creation of 161,000 new jobs and a slight decrease in unemployment of one-tenth of a percent for a total of 4.9 percent, figures that compare favorably to pre-2008 financial crisis statistics. So you would think the Democrats would argue that the economy is in good hands.

In fact the Clinton campaigners did not bring up the “optimistic” report because they felt to do so would be incendiary, that is throwing flames on the fire as Trump emphasized that the new jobs were extremely low paying and could not compensate for jobs lost under the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal regime whose Clinton variant featured the repeal of Glass-Stiegel which loosed the banks and financial capital and resulted in the 2008 crisis as well as the implementation of NAFTA, a jobs disaster for both the US and Mexico.

A further examination of the statistics reveals the pain behind this supposed rosy picture, a pain that voters expressed at the polls. This “dynamic” job creation is in the lowest paying sectors of the economy, the service sector, mainly bars and restaurants, where there is constant turnover, such that from 2007, 1.7 million new jobs have been created but at the same time 1.5 million lost their jobs in the industry.

A second “rosy” statistic in the report is that salaries rose 2.8 percent. Great, right. Well, hold on, this rise is in the context, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated so thoroughly, of a dramatic shift of income as a whole upward to the wealthiest 10 percent and now to the wealthiest 1 percent. So, the increase in salaries went mainly to corporate executives who saw their pay increase 4.7 percent, while the bottom 83 percent of the workforce saw their pay increase only 2.1 percent, an increase that was mostly eaten up immediately by an inflation rate of 1.5 percent. So, the rise in pay was essentially meaningless and could have easily been felt as again simply a rewarding of the wealthiest.

But it is in the unemployment statistics themselves, or rather the concealing of the true nature of unemployment, where even more real pain and suffering, and perhaps the key to the Trump victory, emerges. Only 62.8 percent of Americans even have a job, the lowest in 40 years, and, in the 25 to 55 age category that constitutes the majority of the workforce, the percentage keeps falling so that it is now below both 2007, in the supposed boom years of the housing bubble, and below 2000, in the supposed boom years of the dot.com bubble. That is, employment following the constant booms and subsequent busts is no longer fully rebounding, but instead returning to lower levels. After these continual crises, things may get better but they do not fully recover and the recovery is less effective after each crisis, certainly giving rise to a feeling that even when things are apparently getting better they are in fact gradually getting worse.

The true tragedy though lies in a statistical sleight of hand perfected under the Clinton administration, of “retiring” workers from the labor statistics who have given up looking for work, that is, no longer listing them as unemployed. Today this accounts for 11.5 percent of Americans from 25 to 55, with 7 million having simply abandoned the search for work in areas where jobs no longer exist, such as the hollowed out former industrial zones of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. If you add these workers, who may not have jobs, but can still go to the polls, to the unemployed, we now have roughly 16 percent unemployment. These are workers who are now resorting to anti-depressants, and other over- and under-the-counter drugs to live with the pain of no prospect of jobs. To that, we might also add, the underemployed, that is, the 5.9 million workers who are working part time but who would very much like to work full time, approximately 4.6 percent of the working population. Add this to the over 16 percent and there is approximately 21 percent of the workforce either not working or working in low paying, part-time jobs with little reward.

Is it any wonder then the hardest hit in these areas went to the polls to express their grief, anger and despair at being left behind. Trump offered a largely delusional hope that someone was hearing their pain and responding. He will most likely betray that hope; that is the history of the far right. But a Democratic party that was so eager to run, in this year of the Brexit and of a generalized anger being expressed everywhere at corporate elites, a candidate who was the epitome of the corporate order, who took more money from corporate funds than any single candidate before her, must now stand chastised.

Clinton stole the California primary and the nomination from Bernie Sanders, a candidate who was speaking to this generalized and largely warranted anger and channeling it in more positive directions and so instead of a battle for the heart and soul of the American black and white working class, we had a name-calling campaign in which the message of the supposedly more rationale candidate was, “under me things will only gradually get worse.” This is what passes for hope at the dawning of the end of the neoliberal age and voters, who felt the pain inflicted on them by a greedy corporate elite which could no longer be concealed in phony statistics, choose outright delusion over gradual hypocrisy.

 

The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand

by Fred Voss

“Another day in paradise,”
a machinist says to me as he drops his time card into the time clock and the sun
rises
over the San Gabriel mountains
and we laugh
it’s a pretty good job we have
considering how tough it is out there in so many other factories
in this era of the busted union and the beaten-down worker
but paradise?
and we walk away toward our machines ready for another 10 hours inside tin walls
as outside perfect blue waves roll onto black sand Hawaiian beaches
and billionaires raise martini glasses
sailing their yachts to Cancun
but I can’t help thinking
why not paradise
why not a job
where I feel like I did when I was 4
out in my father’s garage
joyously shaving a block of wood in his vise with his plane
as a pile of sweet-smelling wood shavings rose at my feet
and my father smiled down at me and we held
the earth and the stars in the palm of our hand
why not a job
joyous as one of these poems I write
a job where each turn of a wrench
each ring of a hammer makes my soul sing out glad for each drop of sweat
rolling down my back because the world has woken up and stopped worshiping money
and power and fame
and because presidents and kings and professors and popes and Buddhas and mystics
and watch repairmen and astrophysicists and waitresses and undertakers know
there is nothing more important than the strong grip and will of men
carving steel
like I do
nothing more important than Jorge muscling a drill through steel plate so he can send money
to his mother and sister living under a sacred mountain in Honduras
nothing more noble
than bread on the table and a steel cutter’s grandson
reaching for the moon and men
dropping time cards into time clocks and stepping up to their machines
like the sun
couldn’t rise
without them.

 

“I want to change the world, I want to strike the spark or kick the pebble that will start the fire or the avalanche that will change the world a little.”

Thus US poet Fred Voss, who yearns for that transformation because of the dire situation of the working class in the US, where real wages have stagnated or declined for decades and huge inequalities between rich and poor are spiralling. The top 1 per cent of the US population own 35 per cent of the wealth and bonuses for bankers on Wall Street are more than double the total annual pay of all Americans on the federal minimum wage. Against a background of deindustrialisation and the loss of jobs overseas, there is mass incarceration of males, police violence on black youth and attacks on trade unions and on the social safety net.

The outrageous consequence of this divisive class war by rich elites is that mortality rates amongst white working-class Americans are getting worse. Workers are dying early from obesity, drugs, drink, violence and suicide. It’s happening because the powerful ruling class in the US, running the richest and most powerful country in world history, needs a workforce less than ever before. Many workers are either on the economic scrapheap or on their way there. There are simply not enough jobs for them and the few jobs around are increasingly badly paid.

The US is not a democracy, it is a plutocracy, and most Americans are struggling to cope with the legalised robbery of their labour and their health, wealth and happiness. And many of them are expressing their desperation through support for the racist and sexist politics of Donald Trump.

To help the cultural struggle against similar trends here the website Culture Matters, supported by Unite the Union — the main representative of metalworkers in Britain and Ireland — is jointly publishing Voss’s new booklet of poems The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand with Manifesto Press.

Voss has worked in machine shops for over 30 years. He writes about being hired like a commodity by overbearing bosses and about alienation in workplaces dominated by fear, macho posturing and competition. But there is a vision in the poems of how different things could be. Gradually, the potential for human solidarity emerges, for combining the practical muscle and skill of working men with the political and emotional strength and determination of women like Rosa Parks.

Like William Blake, Voss combines the precision and realism born of years of skilled craftworking with a sweeping, lyrical imagination. And, like Blake, his poetic vision springs from years of reflection on work and the working class and on the oppressive — but alterable — realities of the world around him.

“Britain, Ireland and many other capitalist countries in Europe are becoming more like the US,” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey says in the foreword to the collection in which he explains why the union is backing its publication:

Everyone can see the growing inequality, the precarious and low-paid nature of employment, the housing crisis across the country, the divisions and inequalities between social classes, the health problems and the sheer everyday struggle to pay the bills for many working people. In this situation, Voss is akin to a prophet. He warns us of the consequences of the way we live, tells truth to power and inspires us with a positive vision of a possible — and desirable — socialist future.

 

The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand will be published at the end of the month, price £5.99 plus p&p, with discounts for trade unions and bulk and trade purchasers. Enquiries and pre-publication orders: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..