Culture Matters

Culture Matters

Declarations of Love
Monday, 27 June 2022 09:54

Declarations of Love

Published in Poetry

This collection of beautifully illustrated love poems ranges from protesting the inequities and cruelties of our fragmenting world to delight in the variety and beauty of creation, and from a fierce compassion for the 'cry of the poor' to tender recollections of family and friends. These poems evince a radical empathy that lives electrically on the page. 

Aitken’s poems are illustrated by Martin Gollan, whose dynamic penmanship carries a similar sense of energy and defiance. Gollan’s illustrations lend Aitken’s work an urgency and immediacy, emphasizing the poems’ enmeshment in the ever-changing political world.

Yet throughout it all, love endures, and is the badge of our endurance. Love makes endurance possible. This ‘going on’ is also a poetic method: a refusal to lose heart and hope, to attend to those moments of joy and triumph as well as those of pain and suffering. This collection holds all of these experiences with an equal measure of tenderness and ferocity. It is socialist writing at its humane best.

Jim Aitken’s poems protest against the world’s injustice and unfairness, but they are underpinned by something quieter and perhaps mightier than rage, and that is compassion.’—James Robertson

‘Declarations of Love’ is an exceptional collection. In poem after poem the makar demonstrates his ability to put the reader in the position of the countless victims of the world’s broken and corrupt politics and ruthless financial exploitation systems. Yet he does so through the canny choice of telling images, through creating empathy with the subjects of his poetry rather than using the sledgehammer of a hectoring voice. Jim Aitken’s poems are about people and his care for people shines through. Yet he is fearless in standing up against those who would deny us our identities. This is poetry that comes from the head and the heart in equal measure. It shows us what could be. For that reason it is memorable and deserves the widest audience.’—William Hershaw

Declarations of Love, poems by Jim Aitken with drawings by Martin Gollan, 88pps., 14 colour and 2 B&W images, ISBN 978-1-912710-49-2, £12 inc. p. and p.
 
Declarations of Love
Monday, 27 June 2022 09:10

Declarations of Love

Published in Books

This collection of beautifully illustrated love poems ranges from protesting the inequities and cruelties of our fragmenting world to delight in the variety and beauty of creation, and from a fierce compassion for the 'cry of the poor' to tender recollections of family and friends. These poems evince a radical empathy that lives electrically on the page. 

Aitken’s poems are illustrated by Martin Gollan, whose dynamic penmanship carries a similar sense of energy and defiance. Gollan’s illustrations lend Aitken’s work an urgency and immediacy, emphasizing the poems’ enmeshment in the ever-changing political world.

Yet throughout it all, love endures, and is the badge of our endurance. Love makes endurance possible. This ‘going on’ is also a poetic method: a refusal to lose heart and hope, to attend to those moments of joy and triumph as well as those of pain and suffering. This collection holds all of these experiences with an equal measure of tenderness and ferocity. It is socialist writing at its humane best.

Jim Aitken’s poems protest against the world’s injustice and unfairness, but they are underpinned by something quieter and perhaps mightier than rage, and that is compassion.’—James Robertson

‘Declarations of Love’ is an exceptional collection. In poem after poem the makar demonstrates his ability to put the reader in the position of the countless victims of the world’s broken and corrupt politics and ruthless financial exploitation systems. Yet he does so through the canny choice of telling images, through creating empathy with the subjects of his poetry rather than using the sledgehammer of a hectoring voice. Jim Aitken’s poems are about people and his care for people shines through. Yet he is fearless in standing up against those who would deny us our identities. This is poetry that comes from the head and the heart in equal measure. It shows us what could be. For that reason it is memorable and deserves the widest audience.’—William Hershaw

Declarations of Love, poems by Jim Aitken with drawings by Martin Gollan, 88pps., 14 colour and 2 B&W images, ISBN 978-1-912710-49-2, £12 inc. p. and p.
 
Why Culture Matters
Tuesday, 31 May 2022 12:42

Why Culture Matters

Published in Cultural Commentary

Our final video in our 'Culture for All' series of short films, sponsored by the CWU, features Professor Selina Todd talking about why culture matters.

Why Culture Matters

by Professor Selina Todd

In 2021 I published a history of social mobility: Snakes and Ladders: the Great British Social Mobility Myth. Most studies of social mobility are packed with statistics, as if the story of social mobility is beyond politics and personal experience, able to be condensed into a neat statistical table showing how many people have gone ‘up’ or ‘down’. I was more interested in who had managed to define some ways of life as superior to others, and what this meant to the people who travelled across British society during the past century. And because of this, at the beginning of the book I placed a quotation that had echoed around my head as I wrote. The quotation is from the socialist intellectual Raymond Williams, and it is this: ‘Experience isn’t only what’s happened to us. It’s also what we wanted to happen.’

That quote is taken from Williams’ autobiographical novel, Border Country, which was published in 1960. The protagonist in the novel is, like Williams, from a Welsh working-class family but he has become a university lecturer in the south of England. In the course of the novel he comes to realise that he hasn’t got to where he is by escaping his background, but by using the riches he inherited from a community characterised by solidarity, and the hope that solidarity can bring.

He inherited other things, too, that speak to the harder side of working-class life: a knowledge of deep, often unspoken unhappiness and despair arising from political defeat, poverty and the thwarting of personal dreams. In a rural community there was also love of nature but appreciation of its strength – ultimately, an appreciation of the need to coexist with the natural world rather than attempt to dominate it. And there was the tension between solidarity and the claustrophobia that small communities or tight-knit neighbourhoods can cause. As Williams showed, the need to move outwards from this community to realise personal ambitions brought rich gains – but those who did so incurred losses as well.

Put simply, Border Country, like much of Williams’ work, and like much of my own, is an attempt to smash the much-peddled notions that working-class people are ignorant, uncultured, uncivilised or – one that I’ve had to grapple with in the 21st century – that they no longer exist, having disappeared with the mines and the steelworks.

In Snakes and Ladders I traced the importance of the labour movement in creating adult education in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The demand for adult education grew out of men and women’s thirst for knowledge – and a wide-ranging knowledge at that. They wanted to know about the history of their own communities and the socialist movement, but they also wanted to discuss Shakespeare, Dickens, philosophy and art. Later, in the 1970s, when feminists began to point out that women made culture too, it was the Workers Educational Association, not the elite universities, that introduced women’s studies and women’s history courses.

There was no single ‘working-class culture’, jostling in opposition to ‘highbrow’ culture. The kind of culture of which I write always arises from material life – from the experience of industrial work, or poverty, or being born a woman into a sexist society. But the art, writing or cinema produced from those experiences doesn’t only speak to those who have had the exact same experience as the producer. Culture can provide a map to solidarity, helping to forge connections across different social and political locations, providing that burst of recognition that you too feel those deep emotions, have experienced that fate, dream the same dream.

In 2012, the playwright Shelagh Delaney died. She was best known for her play A Taste of Honey, which she wrote as a Salford teenager in 1958. It’s the story of a single mother and her teenage daughter, who herself becomes pregnant during a brief relationship with a black sailor. I decided to write Delaney’s biography, partly because I found the obituaries so frustrating. On the one hand, Delaney was accused of not having written A Taste of Honey herself, a claim made by critics since the 1950s – they couldn’t believe a working-class women was capable of this. On the other hand, the obituary writers wondered where today’s Shelagh Delaneys were, not recognising that their inability to see young working-class people as more than ‘savages’ (how one critic described Shelagh back in 1958) might not exactly help young people from pursuing their dreams.

What made a difference to Shelagh Delaney, and to many of the so-called ‘angry young’ novelists and film makers who followed in her footsteps was the availability of local opportunity. There were local newspapers, regional television channels, and city theatres where they could cut their teeth. For Shelagh, it was the existence of a radical socialist theatre, in the form of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, that made it possible for her play to be staged in London where it became a box office hit. Those opportunities aren’t there today, but the next generation of Shelagh Delaneys are there if anyone cares to look – in her old stomping ground, MaD Theatre Company, Salford Lads Club and Salford Arts Theatre give a home and a voice to plenty of talented young people.

Culture, as Raymond Williams once said, is ordinary. It arises from everyday life. But it is also extraordinarily radical. Think of the miners’ banners that still appear each year at the Durham Miners’ Gala. On one side of many of the banners is a picture of the colliery as it is. On the other is the picture of the world we want to come. We are living through some very hard times at the moment, and it is worth remembering that many of those banners were created before 1939, in times of great hardship, a lack of democracy, and the threat of fascism. No one knew then that socialist and feminist aspirations for free healthcare and education could be achieved. It was a dream, not a precedent or a focus group, that led to the 1945 welfare state – a welfare state that gave many young people, Shelagh Delaney included, chances their parents had never had.

How do we find them and give them their chance? We need more funding for adult education, not only because many people don’t fulfil their potential at school but because we want to know different things as we get older. We need to break down the artificial division between ‘community’ arts and ‘professional’ initiatives, by giving space on BBC television and the BBC’s Internet platform to local groups, and by inviting women’s groups, WEA classes and trade unions to curate exhibitions at our national galleries and museums. And our children should grow up knowing that girls are as capable as boys, and migrants and black British people as capable as those who are white and British-born.

This hasn’t been achieved by so-called ‘diversity’ initiatives in the early 21st century, because they fail to address the causes of racism and sexism. It’s time to rediscover the culture and campaigns of earlier feminists, like those of the 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement, who argued against sex and racial stereotyping and for equal pay, equal treatment at work and in education, and for liberation from oppression, not simply ‘diversity’. And, following the lead of Southall Black Sisters who have argued this since the 1980s, our culture should not simply celebrate ‘diversity’, but, in the wake of a new wave of religious fundamentalism, must stand up for the universal values of freedom from violence and freedom of expression.

Culture translates individual dreams and disappointments into collective experiences, explaining both where they come from, and where they might take us. It is a reminder that we are not alone; we are not solely responsible for our fate; but we might use our disappointments and defeats, as well as our achievements and victories, to weave a better life for the future. As the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War once put it: ‘Reality and dreaming are different things…because dreams are nearly always the predecessors of what is to come’.

The Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2022
Monday, 30 May 2022 14:48

The Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2022

Published in Poetry

Culture Matters is pleased to announce that the sixth Bread and Roses Poetry Award is now open for entries.

As you know, our mission is to promote cultural democracy in all the arts and other cultural activities. We have been running the Bread and Roses Poetry Awards to create opportunities for working people to write poetry, and to encourage poets to focus on themes which are meaningful to working-class communities.

There can’t be much doubt about meaningful themes this year. We face a cost-of-living crisis – rising prices for food, fuel and energy, with the value of benefits going down, and increased pressure on jobseekers. We’ll see an increase in poverty in many areas of the country and amongst many communities. Homelessness and poor health are still major threats to working people, including mental health problems, exacerbated by the recent pandemic.

On top of these economic and social problems, we're faced with political problems: the lies, deception, hypocrisy, incompetence, cronyism and callous lack of compassion of our political rulers in Downing St., Westminster and Dublin.

As in previous years, there will be 5 prizes of £100 for the best poems. Following on from the success of A Fish Rots From The Head, our free downloadable anthology of images and poetry, we will publish online and printed versions of the anthology later in the year.

The judges will be Andy Croft, poet and publisher of Smokestack Books, and Fran Lock, poet and Associate Editor of Culture Matters.

Submission Rules and Guidelines 

1. You may enter one or two original, previously unpublished (in print) poems in English, each no more than 50 lines long.

2. You must be resident in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland.

3. Entry is free and there will be five prizes of £100 each for the best poems.

4. Entries should broadly deal with themes relevant to working-class life, politics, communities and culture in 2022.

5. Entries should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by midnight on 30th September 2022. No entries will be accepted after that date.

6. Please include the poem(s) and your name, address, and email contact details in the body of the email.

7. All entries remain the copyright of the author but Culture Matters will have the right to publish them online and in print.

8. By entering the Award, entrants agree to accept and be bound by the rules of the Award and the decisions of the judges. We are unable to respond individually to submissions.

Copies of They Want All Our Teeth To Be Theirs: The Bread and Roses Poetry Anthology 2021 (along with many other fine books of political poetry) are available to buy here.

Culture for All: Why Digital Culture Matters
Tuesday, 24 May 2022 08:40

Culture for All: Why Digital Culture Matters

As part of the Culture for All series, supported by the Communication Workers Union, we're proud to present a short film about why digital culture matters, by Adam Stoneman

Why Digital Culture Matters

by Adam Stoneman

During the Covid-19 pandemic, with cultural venues closed, the internet was a portal to a world of creativity; there was an explosion of initiatives offering free access to culture online, an acceleration of what had already been developing. Museums and galleries published virtual exhibitions; plays and concerts were made available to stream; thousands of ebooks could be downloaded for free as part of a ‘National Emergency Library’.

The internet has opened up new possibilities for culture to flourish. Never before has it been so easy to share music, video, text with people across the world in an instant. The digitisation of collections and archives has opened a level of access to culture and knowledge that would have been unimaginable only a generation or two ago.

Digital technology allows us to examine paintings in breathtaking detail, interact with museum objects in 3D, collaborate with others creatively to build systems, solve problems and experiment with new forms of digital media.

The internet does not replace physical experience - whether its enjoying a play with friends, visiting a museum, going to the cinema, when we have a cultural experience with others we create a sense of community. But digital technology can complement and enhance how we experience culture.

The principle of free access to information goes back to the earliest formation of the internet in the counterculture of the 1970s. It is a fundamental principle at the heart of the Open Access movement, which fights for transparency and to extend the public domain online.

Universal, democratic access through broadband communism

But ‘free culture’ internet ideology can also disguise unequal social relations, especially when it comes to production: digital giants offer free apps, email and content as bait to hook us and then sell our information to advertisers; and then struggling independent artists are expected to provide their work for next to nothing.

It is not illegal file-sharing that has made cultural workers so precarious, but a system designed to reward the shareholders of Spotify while it pays musicians as little as $0.0032 for every time their song is played. The promise of the digital era - a level playing field of universal, democratic access - turns out to offer little compensation to artists and cultural producers.

The distribution of culture is not equal either while the internet is dominated by five big tech firms that mediate our journeys online through hidden algorithms. The commercial logic of streaming services like Spotify and Netflix - now worth more than Exxon - privilege certain forms of culture to the detriment of others. Streaming is predicated on high consumption ‘bingeing’ and repeated playbacks and works better for creating certain moods (‘Netflix and chill?’) than widening access to more complex or intellectually demanding culture.

All this while so many in the UK continue to be excluded through lack of access to digital technologies. A recent survey found almost one in ten households with children did not have adequate home access to the internet. One solution is free fibreoptic broadband for all, paid for by a tax on tech giants, and implemented through the renationalisation of parts of the telecoms industry. The BBC calls this ‘Broadband communism’.

Culture wants to be free

Despite the limitations, we must draw on the possibilities opened up by the communal production and distribution of open-source software and systems of repudiated ownership to widen access to and participation in culture.

Cultural workers organising as part of the labour movement can ensure the post-pandemic world is one in which artists earn a decent and secure living. The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers recently organised worldwide demonstrations against Spotify, demanding increased royalty payments and transparency. Workers at Amazon are also fighting an uphill battle to unionise and achieve better, safer working conditions.

Alongside this, we must defend and extend publicly funded arts and arts institutions; privatised models of arts funding, reliant on philanthropy and sponsorship have been decimated by the pandemic while public institutions have been more resilient. Post-pandemic we have the opportunity to go further, to strengthen and extend public funding to ensure everyone has the same opportunities to participate or even make a career in the arts.

At local, regional and national level, public funding can provide artists with patronage that breaks from a commercial logic, allowing more radical and challenging forms of culture to emerge. Jennie Lee, Labour’s Minister for the Arts under Harold McMillan, wrote in her famous White Paper: “There is no reason why gaiety and colour, informality and experimentation should be left to those whose primary concern is with quantity and profitability.” Digital culture must not be beholden to the laws of the algorithm - the Netflixification of culture needs to be resisted.

‘Information wants to be free’, an expression used by technology activists to refer to the human urge to share information and collaborate freely. The digital domain is far too important to be left to private corporations; we must tackle the underlying forces that shape technologies and build a society in which culture and knowledge are shared for the common good. Culture too, wants to be free.

Culture for All: Why Videogames Matter
Tuesday, 24 May 2022 08:18

Culture for All: Why Videogames Matter

Published in Science & Technology

As part of the Culture for All series, supported by the Communication Workers Union, we're proud to present a short film about why videogames matter, by Ben Cowles

Why Videogames Matter

by Ben Cowles

I've been playing video games for as far back as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on my dad's knee playing old-school games like 1942, Outrun, and Pac Man. When I was a little bit older my parents bought me Nintendo's first home console, the NES, and then the SNES. I grew up playing games like Super Mario World, Street Fighter 2, Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox, and the Legend of Zelda.

I always believed that the complications and drudgeries of adult life would force me to outgrow my gaming affliction, but that has never been the case.

Whether they're huge games with multi-million pound budgets and thousands of developers — like the Last of Us 2, Red Dead Redemption 2 or Dishonoured 2 — or smaller affairs, with modest budgets and smaller development teams — like Journey, Disco Elysium, Inside, or Firewatch — video games these days often feature intriguing and in-depth narratives with beautiful original scores, and superb acting and directing. Console games are no longer silly little pixels bopping around a screen, but full-blown artistic productions.

For me, modern games go beyond the experiences provided by films, books and especially TV shows. Instead of passively taking it in, video games actively engage your brain by giving you direct control over a character, a business, a city, an empire, a car, a spaceship, a football team, a date, a hospital, a school, a revolution, you name it. They offer up a level of immersion you simply don’t get in any other form of entertainment.

Whether video games are a legitimate art form or not is a contentious issue. I'm not qualified to answer. What I am sure of, though, is that art is a way for us to safely access emotions that we usually don’t, wouldn’t ever want, or couldn’t ever possibly experience. What would it actually feel like to be the last survivors after a zombie apocalypse; to charge head first into a hopeless battle; to strut through the Wild West; manage a city or dictate an entire civilization; razz round a race track in a ridiculously expensive car, or have the fate of the entire universe resting on your shoulders?

It’s only through video games that I have managed to expose myself to these feelings. But, like all entertainment mediums, video games certainly have their problems, problems typical of cultural experiences in our capitalist society.

First and foremost, especially for working-class people, is the fact that games are prohibitively expensive. You'll probably need to drop at least around £400 on a console or a phone to get access to them. Then games can cost anything from, well, nothing to over £60 for most console games if you buy them new. And despite the fact that video game publishers are rolling in cash — the medium makes way more money than the film and music industries do — some companies want to hike video game prices higher.

There's a huge problem of representation in video games too, just as there are problems in films, books and other media. Too often the protagonists in video games are straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men. And when they do include women, they can be sexualised and objectified to the extreme. It's embarrassing and degrading. But thankfully the medium has made great strides improving on this. Check out the new Tomb Raider games, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Walking Dead, and Gone Home for a few examples.

An industry doesn't become one of the most lucrative in the world without exploiting workers or its customers. The developers – the workers who actually make the games – often have to go through a process known as "crunch" right before the game they've been working on for years is released.

"Crunch" basically means pulling 12-hour shifts for days on end for no extra pay. So like everywhere else, there is a class struggle in the industry – thankfully workers in the industry have started to unionise and gamers have begun calling out the companies that put their workers through this process.

Perhaps one of the worst trends in the video game industry is the way companies try to squeeze more money out of gamers with microtransactions — like when a "free" game tries to make you pay small sums of money to keep playing — or lootboxes — which are essentially gambling mechanics. Making, selling and promoting video games isn't easy or cheap, but it doesn't need to based on exploitation.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of video game developers and publishers showing us how the industry could be run on socialist principles. ZA/UM, a collective of artists and musicians inspired and influenced by leftist philosophy, created the highly-acclaimed role-playing game Disco Elysium — which if you haven't played, you should definitely give it a go if you can. 

Pixel Pushers Union 512, makers of Tonight We Riot, and Motion Twin, who made Dead Cells, are worker-owned cooperatives making amazing video games. And while researching for this project, I found a lot more worker-owned co-ops currently working on unannounced games. Let's hope the pandemic has not put a stop to them.

So, could trade unions or some other agencies set up left-wing game makers, like we have left wing book publishers? Absolutely, and especially when it comes to what's referred to as indie games — games made on smaller budgets and usually without the help of corporate publishers like EA, Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, etc.

Remember back in 2017, when the Labour Party was led by a socialist and despite not winning the election, the party's share of the vote increased by 9.6 per cent? (Psst, that was more than any other of the party's election leaders since 1945?) Well, during that campaign the Labour Party helped fund Games For The Many, a small studio that created the successful mobile phone game, Corbyn Run.

In the United States Means Interactive, the video game wing of the US anti-capitalist worker cooperative Means, published Pixel Pusher's Tonight We Riot last year. So it can be done. And with games being one of the most popular forms of entertainment, the workers' movement would benefit enormously from getting its message out on the medium.

Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales
Saturday, 21 May 2022 10:35

Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales

Published in Life Writing

In an era defined by war, protest and change, is it time to elevate our hidden histories, imagine inspiring alternatives to the unequal world we live in, and show solidarity with the cultural struggle for democracy, freedom and equality?

As a record of resistance, Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales unearths and celebrates the rich and diverse lived experiences of working-class, under-represented and marginalised voices from Wales. Combining fact, fiction and visual art in a wonderful tapestry of text and imagery, it links activism, authorship and artistic expression.

A vibrant anthology that does not merely reflect the internal differences within working-class solidarities in Wales, but actually substantiates and develops that diversity in its chorus of visual and textual voices. Ymlaen!

                                                                     – Professor  Daniel G. Williams

Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales, edited by Dr. Gemma June Howell, 236 pps., 27 colour and 29 black and white illustrations, ISBN 978-1-912710-46-1, £15 inc. p. and p.

Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales
Saturday, 21 May 2022 10:27

Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales

Published in Books

In an era defined by war, protest and change, is it time to elevate our hidden histories, imagine inspiring alternatives to the unequal world we live in, and show solidarity with the cultural struggle for democracy, freedom and equality?

As a record of resistance, Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales unearths and celebrates the rich and diverse lived experiences of working-class, under-represented and marginalised voices from Wales. Combining fact, fiction and visual art in a wonderful tapestry of text and imagery, it links activism, authorship and artistic expression.

A vibrant anthology that does not merely reflect the internal differences within working-class solidarities in Wales, but actually substantiates and develops that diversity in its chorus of visual and textual voices. Ymlaen!

                                                                     – Professor  Daniel G. Williams

Land of Change: Stories of Struggle and Solidarity from Wales, edited by Dr. Gemma June Howell, 236 pps., 27 colour and 29 black and white illustrations, ISBN 978-1-912710-46-1, £15 inc. p. and p.

Culture for All: Why Television Matters
Monday, 16 May 2022 08:10

Culture for All: Why Television Matters

As part of the Culture for All series, Dennis Broe introduces another short film made with the support of the Communication Workers Union, on Why Television Matters.

 

Why Television Matters

by Dennis Broe

Hi I’m Dennis Broe, I write about film and television. I’m now writing a book about television watching in what for some is a lockdown and for others in a dangerous time where because of the virus just going to work can be risky, especially the kind of work, like that done by postal workers and engineers, that requires facing the public.

Previously I wrote a book on something you’re probably all familiar with, binge watching TV series. Where you watch the whole series in a weekend or a day.
Of course, part of this is pure addiction and you feel terrible afterwards, feel like the show just manipulated you into watching episode after episode, and that’s partly what it’s trying to do.

The satisfaction then may not be intrinsic to the show, that is a part of it, but rather the satisfaction is to have accomplished the feat of getting to the end of the show. Netflix was the first to design shows in this way, where they could be consumed all at once with shows such as House of Cards and the current addictive series The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit.

But there is another kind of satisfaction that for me comes from watching Serial TV Series, which is what I call this form, that have an actual point to them and teach some truths about the society we live in. I don’t know about you but when I have discovered one of these series, which are actually few and far between, instead of feeling empty afterwards I feel that my time was well spent, that I learned something or had my view of the world challenged in a way that allowed it to expand.

Most of these series deal either directly or symbolically with everyday struggles. A series from last year that was surprising in how it dealt directly with the struggle of black people in the U.S. with a criminal justice system that is always waiting to entrap them was For Life, produced by the rapper 50 Cent and based on a true story, available on YouTube and Hulu. The first season has the man imprisoned unjustly, framed by a District Attorney who used the defendant’s trial to climb the ladder to success. Rather than simply wallow in prison, the man becomes a lawyer and then takes on the attorney in court and in the media. The show then uses one of the oldest genres, or types of shows, the courtroom drama but updates it with the struggle for justice of a black prisoner who every week demonstrates his brilliance in court in front of judges, having each time to change out of his bright orange prison outfit into a business suit to plead his case and that of his fellow inmates. In the second season the show has become even more topical, taking on in one episode, prisoners dying of Covid and in another bringing a brutally violent cop to justice.

Snowpiercer

Another series, available on Netflix, is Snowpiercer. This series is set in the near future, which gives it some latitude in creating a metaphor for today’s situation. The characters are trapped aboard a train keeps travelling an earth frozen and uninhabitable because world leaders decided, a la Trump, that the way to prevent global warming was to fire nuclear weapons into the earth’s atmosphere.

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The train itself has three cars, the one in the front is peopled by the rich, in lavish clothes and served meals grown in the other sections. The middle section is workers also dedicated to serving the rich but perform jobs necessary to the train’s functioning. The back section is inhabited by “the tailies,” those left to die when the train took off who stormed the train to carve out their own place in it.

The first season charts the rebellion of the tailies who subsequently take over the train and make it a more equal place for all, while the second season is about the return of the owner of the train, Mr. Wilford, who wants to reinstate the old order and put everyone back in their place. This is a big budget action series but with a point to it, deliberately making a comment on the organization of today’s world and on today’s workers. We are watching more wealth, power and more of the world, here the train’s, bounty going to satisfy their lifestyle, with those in the middle cars, who in today’s world are still needed workers like engineers and the technical and communications workforce, shrinking and with those in the last car, who must degrade themselves merely to survive, expanding.

The producer of the series is the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho who directed the 2019 Oscar winning film Parasite, which you might have seen. It tells a similar tale, about contemporary Korea divided between a poor family living in a basement where they have to “steal” internet service and which often floods and a rich family who they go to work for and who live in a mansion surrounded by acres and acres of green lawn and a gate to keep others out.

What I wanted to show is that series can be both addictive and instructive and that it is important if we want to see more of an emphasis on the latter to watch and talk about those series which can be useful in shaping contemporary struggles.

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