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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Weapons that float and harm

A bizarre headline on the BBC News website reports that a 'Student “struck by a truncheon” has a brain injury’
It’s like a truncheon suddenly became self aware and decided to smash skulls. Such a fiction sub-plots the Melanie Gillingan film, ‘Popular Unrest’ in which an unwielded knife embarks on a killing spree. The knife materializes above its victims before bludgeoning them to death.
Are police truncheons capable of a similar surrealism? This [non] conjuring trick of rising up and whacking heads?
‘It wasn’t me, it was my truncheon.’
A lot has been said about bias in the way the demonstrations have been mediated. The press in particular had a field day with the incident involving Charles and Camilla. Whilst the Reithians seem to think that using a wheelchair whilst holding certain beliefs is solid enough justification for police brutality, or at the very least, solid ‘angles’ to expedite a TV inquisition.
Well ‘Have I got news for you’ Ben Brown, your performative contradiction in relation to Jody Macintyre’s treatment at the hands of the law is sodden with ideological predicates. A wheelchair bound protester is not a threat to armed police, so let’s forget about that. And public knowledge about Mr Macintyre’s ‘radical’ beliefs only came to light after the media did a post facto ‘research’ job on him.
Ben Brown’s position amounts to this: ‘you hold radical views, therefore, the police have some justification for treating you this way.’
Now we should not expect too much from the media. We certainly should not expect the media to act as the protector of a just and truthful public space. It is important to point note the strategic nature of Brown’s supposed statement. It is not a propostion aimed at uncovering truth. The statement implies coercion is justified, a position that flatly contradicts the idea of freedom. The statement is also unlikely to represent a true picture of police knowledge. The police knew nothing of Mr Macintyre’s views, when they opted to pull him from his wheelchair. Mr Macintyre’s ‘radical’ beliefs only came to light after the media did some rummaging.
If this is correct, then we see that it is BBC presenter Ben Brown not the police who seeks to use Mr Macintyre’s beliefs to justify authoritarian actions, a point that Mr Macintyre has made himself (link here). Ben Brown chose to re-situate the facts about Mr Macintyre’s beliefs, place them before the horse of his treatment and in the process justify authoritarian practice. Ben Brown may not be aware that he his doing this, but that’s ideology for you.
The Standard reports that “Alfie Meadows, 20, was allegedly hit with a truncheon as he tried to leave the “kettling” area outside Westminster Abbey during last Thursday's confrontations.”
An Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation is ongoing in to the ‘incident’ involving Archie Meadows. Such an investigation could, though probably won’t, lead to criminal proceedings. This might explain the media’s nervousness in reporting the incident. The Mail stepped close to the line with: ‘Student has emergency brain surgery after “being beaten around the head with police truncheon” during protest’. But I’m still left thinking of sentient truncheons, of truncheons that make their own calls as to whether or not ‘the force continuum’ is high enough to justify assault. The problem is that none of the headlines seem to fit.
Maybe no photographers or film crews were around to film the moment when Archie Meadows was struck, but then, he was kettled, and kettling with its section 60 provisions is a state of exception from which BBC News reporters apparently had to be evacuated during the latter stages of the 9 December demonstration.
By contrast there were paparazzi aplenty to record the moment when proletarian stick touched royal flesh in Regent Street later that evening. Perhaps this explains the more snug ‘fit’ in the headlines that accompanied that incident.
But what separates the concrete actions of a truncheon and the fictional bludgeonings by a knife? A feature of Giligan’s film is the random subjectivity of its victims (a call centre worker, keep-fit fanatic, business women, a tube commuter). They apparently share nothing in common.
The film invites a Marxist interpretation. Its blurb states that:
‘The film explores a world in which the self is reduced to physical biology, directly subject to the needs of capital. Hotels offer bed-warming servants with every room, people are fined for not preventing foreseeable illness, weight watching foods eat the digester from the inside and the unemployed repay their debt to society in physical energy. If on the one hand this suggests the complete domination of life by exchange value do the groupings offer a way out?’
Maybe those who die in the film are victims of an alienated essence that has reared up in hostility before them (let me apologise in advance for Marx’s sexist language):
‘Whatever the product of his labor is, he is not. Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.’ Marx, K, 1844, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts: Estranged Labour (

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