People know the rich don’t care whether they live or die.
People know the rich don’t care whether they live or die.
The term “neoliberalism” has become super popular in the past couple of years, so I suppose a backlash against its heavy use was inevitable. Many months back, Jonathan Chait wrote a piece for NYMag bemoaning its prevalence as the left’s favorite insult. Then, of course, there was Cornel West “calling out” Ta-Nehisi Coates as “representing the neoliberal face of black activism,” which some found problematic and lead Vox (whom I, as a disclaimer, consider to be neoliberal shills) to repost Mike Konczal’s explanation for the term’s importance. Other defenders of the term had snarkier takes, and I would go ahead and include myself in this.
So I guess you can say it’s a term that I like and will continue to use as often as possible, even when 99% of the rest of my ingroup is looking in another direction. Case in point, the recent school shooting in Parkwood, Florida, or spree killings in general for that matter. It’s become an unspoken assumption that when people say we need to “do something” to stop these mass shootings, they mean that what we need to do is ban guns. A few people might chime in about mental health, but mostly it’s about guns, and while I’m all for a ban, the fact of the matter is that almost two dozen school children being massacred at Sandy Hook in 2012 did not move the needle an inch on this. In fact, as the shootings continue and the body count rises, one can even argue that we have regressed with the Republican surge into control of the Senate. That tells me that banning guns is not a useful tactic, at least for now.
So where exactly does that leave us? Like many, I feel pretty helpless when I hear about a horrific mass killing, and like many others I no longer consider that anything can be done to stop them. So when a fellow alumni from my therapeutic boarding high school posed the question on our Facebook group, I felt inspired to tackle the issue seriously. Here is what he wrote:
“I went to four different high schools and had many days when I was pissed off at a teacher or fellow student, but never thought that I was going to come in the next day and shoot everyone. I was in college when Columbine happened and thought this is so tragic, but despite how awful it was, it felt isolated. Are you aware how many school shootings happened in 2017 leading into 2018? Kids shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. Something needs to change.”
Though Columbine might have been a kind of landmark moment for schools specifically, spree killings have been going on for much longer. In the mid-’80s, workplace shootings became incredibly common, and remain so today. One of the most famous of these, the Edmond post office shooting of 1986, was the first of several USPS workplace massacres that inspired the infamous phrase “going postal.” The motives for many of these attacks were chalked up to poor working conditions as a result of then-President Reagan’s reforms to semi-privatize the government department. Since then the incidence of spree killings—at work, school or anywhere else—has risen exponentially. This points to a clear correlation with the rise of both major political parties adapting neoliberalism as their main economic philosophy.
To clarify the term—in case you didn’t read all of my links above, don’t feel like Googling, and pay zero attention to modern day political discourse (lucky you)—when I say “neoliberal,” I am referring to the dogmatic adherence to free markets as a means toward dealing with all of society’s problems. This would mean implementing ideas such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. As a more derogatory synonym, some like to use the term “late capitalism,” seeing that it mostly refers to a period—from the 1970s to the current day—that constitutes the hopeful final stage of our current economic structure. I say hopeful because the results of these policies are seen today in burgeoning economic inequality along with increasing cultural anxiety and hostility. It’s lead us to an environment where mass shootings are common and merely one of the many symptoms of this sick capitalist ideology.
Of course, neoliberalism has been in effect for a long time now (little known fact: it started with Jimmy Carter, not Reagan, who merely accelerated the practice as Republicans tend to do), so why the sudden increase in the number of shootings with high fatalities? It’s kind of cliché, but I would point to the election of Trump. Not that he specifically is the reason, rather, his popularity is a manifestation of cultural anxiety and economic inequality. People see somebody acting in what used to be considered inappropriate and anti-social manners and yet he holds the most distinguished position in the country and possibly the world. They view this as kind of a “permission slip,” perhaps subconsciously, to act out their own angry impulses in the worst possible ways.
What’s ironic about this is that Trump campaigned for president on a message of economic populism: reigning in big banks while pushing protectionism and working class jobs at home. His actual governing policies, though, have been neoliberal accelerationism on steroids. In her book “No Is Not Enough,” Naomi Klein wrote:
“The goal is all-out war on the public sphere and the public interest, whether in the form of anti-pollution regulations or programs for the hungry; substituted in their place will be unfettered power and freedom for corporations.“
Trump’s base doesn’t seem to notice his economic oppression against them, but his divisive rhetoric has stuck. As material conditions get worse for the so called “working class,” more people are left with nothing to lose and thus we can probably expect more and more of these deadly shooting incidents, among other kinds of violence.
How does this relate to schools? Well, the cultural tyranny of the workplace has now trickled down to education. Those well-off enough can ship their kids to private/charter schools and avoid the worst of it, in the process bleeding much needed funds from everybody else. It’s classic privatization and deregulation, which leaves little room for a quality learning environment. You get bigger classes with more overworked teachers getting paid less. These negative working conditions adversely affect how teachers and administrators treat students, which in turn affects how students treat each other. Spoiler: nobody’s treating anybody any better. You wind up with a situation where somebody can make threats, be known to stockpile guns at home, and yet come into a school and kill 17 people because nobody had the time or energy to do something to try and stop it. Call it neoliberalism or late capitalism, what we are seeing here is a sick ideology at its terminal end state.
So, what’s the solution? Ban guns? Sure, though good luck fighting the NRA’s deep pockets and the Republicans who have harnessed the hate energy of single-issue voters to keep AR-15s in wide, readily-available circulation. It’s worth noting that the drive for people to keep themselves armed is a response to the cultural and economic unrest they feel. This keeps large portions of the population very active politically on defending the second amendment. On top of that, deregulation is a feature of neoliberalism rather than a bug. In this pro-business environment, the firearms industry by default has a significant head start on fighting any possible restriction on the availability of their product. All this is to say nothing of crypto-fascist psychopaths like Cody Wilson who wants to make sure any asshole who bought enough bitcoin early enough to cash out and get access to a 3D printer can instantly manufacture their own portable lightweight death machine.
So if we can’t ban guns, how about better mental health coverage? Great! Except the ACA barely suffices for a good number of our most desperate citizens. It doesn’t suffice at all if you fall in the wrong income bracket and/or live in a state with a GOP government that won’t accept the Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Trump’s administration is in the process of doing everything it can to sabotage what’s left of Obamacare and defund Medicare. These are systems that serve a limited portion of the population in oftentimes barely adequate ways, and now they are under attack. Yet even somebody who has a good private health plan through their employment doesn’t escape the anxiety of losing mental health care; after all, you can always be fired for any reason as most jobs are at-will in a neoliberal system.
On top of all of this is the stigma of mental health issues, which can prevent one from getting the help they need in the rare case it’s even available. This stigma of course being yet another poisonous symptom of the neoliberal cultural doctrine that demands perfectionism and hyper-competitiveness at all times. Someday, perhaps we will implement a policy of Medicare-for-All that includes comprehensive mental health coverage. People are working on this as we speak, and it’s an important step in addressing the ills that neoliberalism brings us, spree killings just being one. If we are ever truly going to put an end to these horrors, we will need a greater shift to the economic left, and by “greater,” I mean a hard 180 degree turn from what we’ve been doing for the past several decades. We need to cut our losses and admit that free markets are not the answer to filling the vast majority of our basic needs.
If we start by improving the material conditions of working people, we can then hope—pray even—that it bleeds down into the culture and makes us all less anxious, kinder, and more compassionate toward one another. We eschew hyper-competitiveness in favor of cooperation in our daily dealings with the social world. While these are all good ideas in theory and certainly should be pursued, we must realize the task before us is daunting and maybe even impossible. There are formidable obstacles in the path of any significant left wing economic reform, even beyond the deep-pocketed neoliberal establishment machine.
Cultural unrest has given rise to a fascistic and extreme far right in America—most recently having taken the name of the “alt-right”—which insidiously enough has begun to promote left wing economics as a carrot to their traditionalist cultural stick. Their core values of divisive racism, sexism and ethno-nationalism, however, are completely at odds with meaningful leftist economic reform. It should come as no surprise to anybody that as the news trickles out about the Parkland shooter, we discover he had trained with a white supremacist group while also expressing misogynist and antisemitic views. Such hateful ideas are incredibly common in the alt-right, which of course has lead to violence time and time again: Isla Vista, Charlottesville, the Portland MAX stabbings, etc. This “movement” needs to be fought and exterminated before they can grow large enough to worm their way far enough into the popular conscience to the point that they can have influence.
Of course, saying the alt-right is bad and should be fought is not exactly a controversial take, but each group with oppressive or divisive ideas adds up as an additional obstacle. As fringe extremists continue to fester in the culture, you also have the traditional hard right libertarians—the Tea Party, the Kochs, the Mercers, etc.—whose deep pockets ensure they will be a force to be reckoned with, no matter how unappealing their ideas are to the vast majority of American citizens.
Make no mistake: the hard right is a formidable opponent with many layers, against whom we are fighting a battle against each faction as part of a larger war. Not a physical war, of course, and thank god for that: we are outgunned badly and would be slaughtered by the military and/or militia. Rather, we are fighting a war against an idea, in this case, the idea that more free market neoliberalism is what’s best for us all as individuals. Reality doesn’t seem to be working out that way and each mass spree killing is a massive alarm going off, telling us not just that we need to ban guns, but also that we have to fight to dismantle American capitalism as it stands and put something that benefits the vast majority of our citizens’ interests in its place.
The Harvey Weinstein (and others) revelations are emotionally devastating but should not be understood from an ‘immediacy’ perspective. There exist structural inadequacies in Hollywood that are much more complex than the victim-offender perspective from which we are addressing the problem today. These inadequacies are not limited to incidents of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances. The problem is all pervasive because it emanates from the gendered operation of this film making industry which is inherently discriminatory against women and people of different ethnicities.
With no intention to undermine the traumatic nature of the cases of sexual harassment that have come up, it should be made clear that it is just a small part of the larger problem. If we only focus our attention to cases of sexual harassment, and that too of specific actresses, we tend to ignore the core structural problem with Hollywood by addressing only a part of that structure. This has two significant drawbacks:
The victimization of women in cinema is caused by the realities of deprivation, representation and categorization of the same both outside and inside the industry. Women are deprived of many lucrative opportunities in the different processes involved in filmmaking due to lack of representation at decision making positions. This lack of representation is founded upon the categorization of women in both acting and non-acting jobs in the film industry. Since these issues are structural, they require an adjustment at the structural level itself to enhance the mobility and accommodation of diversity in cinema.
One fact that supports the structural argument is that the problem currently faced by women in Hollywood is not limited to Hollywood itself. For the past many years, Malayalam film industry in India, one of the biggest and most lucrative in both the country and the world, has been criticized of its unfounded representation of women both on and off the screen. Due to continuous ignorance at the structural level, the problem of representation got worse resulting into a series of actresses complaining about sexual harassment. In order to address the issue of crimes against of women in cinema, a Collective was formed demanding structural and all-pervasive analysis of issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry.
The government of Kerala finally addressed the demands of the Collective and formed a Judicial Committee to look into the structural issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry. The committee highlighted lack of pay parity and inadequate representation as major reasons behind mistreatment of women in cinema. The Committee suggested various recommendations such as making equal pay obligatory, providing reservation to women in non-acting jobs in the state-owned film companies, fund for women who cannot work during their pregnancies, and many more. Most importantly, it recommended for setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee at the film set, which is interpreted to be nothing short of a ‘workplace’ for women in cinema.
While the government is still evaluating the recommendations, the very endeavour of coming up with such initiative should be appreciated. Women in film industries are also citizens of their respective countries and therefore no artificial discrimination should stop them from enjoying their rights which they are assured of in other industries or workplace. While some of the suggestions might seem too ambitious to be implemented in Hollywood considering most of the production companies are private in nature, the larger idea of state regulation of treatment of women in these companies and the consideration of these companies as a workplace are structural changes that cannot be ignored.
In this exceptionally brief (for us!) episode of Radio Without Money, the official WritersWithoutMoney.com podcast, Ross Snider and Aloysius VI try to put lipstick on a pig by discussing Daniel Levine’s disappearance, user analytics, the budget, Wikipedia, propaganda, Facebook’s new fact-check alerts and the conflation of “neutrality” with “objectivity,” journalism in general, the aborted Republican health care legislation, and the conflation of neoliberalism with traditional, progressive liberalism.
Podcast recorded Thursday, March 23rd through Friday, March 24th, 2017.
The cinema of the 70s is often termed as an era that marveled the art of pop culture reorientation. A decade that immersed itself in the chaos of coming of age screenplay and ever inspired music ensemble, the flights of imagination was anything but predictable. It was during this period that Hindi cinema saw the rise of its one of the most ground-breaking actress, a gifted performer and a formidable fashion icon – Zeenat Aman. The characters that she adorned were unafraid of juxtapositions and oozed liberation that was rarely seen in the public eye. From being an adultress in Dhund (Obsession) to a cheerful prostitute in Manoranjan (Entertainment), Zeenat Aman redefined narratives of gender roles in not only Hindi cinema but also in the entire urban Indian society. A former Miss Asia Pacific (1970), she was the first South Asian woman to win this coveted title. Even though her acting skills were second to none, Zeenat Aman had sealed her name in the history of Indian cinema for her unparalleled contribution in revolutionizing the use of fashion in Hindi movies.
The looks adorned by the lady swing across the spectrum of avant-garde fashion. She had never ceased to reinvent herself and often pushed the boundaries of artistic expression by her V-neck hem slit evening gowns or her infamous Boho looks. This post is a tribute to some of the most foresighted, coming of age and classical fashion statements of the woman that charmed the 70s and cemented her position in the pop culture.
Dubbed as her first block-burster hit, Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) paved the way for Zeenat’s towering success. What began as a role received by fluke, later unraveled into a timeless performance that got her the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress, and most importantly, her perennial place in the pop culture.
Playing the role of a girl separated from her family who subsequently slips into drug addiction, the character of Janice was unconventional for her period but beheld potential for a memorable performance. And for the visionary as she was, she delivered, and delivered with utmost excellence.
2. The Girl with a Guitar
When Zeenat Aman held a guitar to belt out a soothing lullaby for her lover in Yaadon Ki Baraat (The caravan of memories), she gave us a melody of a generation. The climatic progression of the music with the innocent smile decorating her face, Chura Liya Hai (Now that you’ve stolen my heart) is the musical beauty of the highest order. Apart form its melodious supremacy, it was this long white gown that etched Zeenat Aman in every man’s heart for years to come. Complementing that look with a choker necklace, she added one more feather to her overtly decorated hat of fashion laurels.
3. The Femme Fatale
Although, every song of Zeenat Aman has been a masterpiece in its own right, there is one song that not only concreted her as a superstar but also reflected her ideas of empowerment through sexual liberation. In Laila Main Laila (Laila, I’m Laila), a song that has been subsequently covered by a dozen singers and actresses, Zeenat Aman unleashes her femme fatale and explodes into the space where she adheres to no boundaries, rising above the artificial constructions of gender roles.
In Aap Jaisa Koi (Someone Like You) and Don, she takes her seduction to next level and amalgamates it with her impeccable acting skills to deliver the critically acclaimed performances as a cabaret dancer and a villain respectively.
Zeenat Aman had metamorphosed into a multi faceted performer who freed herself from the fear of being judged for her decisions. She pushed the limits of visual representation in Hindi cinema and became an icon for all the actresses that followed. Apart from her mounting commercial successes, she was critically well received for her depiction of a rape victim in Insaaf Ka Taraazu (The Scales of Justice). She was translated as a visionary, an artistic maverick, and a farsighted actress for her coming of age role of a cheerful hooker in Manoranjan (Entertainment). With more than half a ton movies on her name, Zeenat Aman was and will always be the first and the most beloved diva of Hindi cinema.
Indian cinema had birthed a fair share of visionaries even before the beginning of what later came to be termed as the Golden era. Under the reigns of the British Raj, certain Indian artists thrived upon the offerings that colonial engagements with art had to offer and used the political situation of the period to engage cinema in a dialogue of cultures. The dialogical development of cinema, with silent movies relying heavily on scenic photography and camera angles, what unraveled on the big screen involved not only the oppressed lot making a statement but also the privileged lot participating in the process. The emancipating nature of art drew many budding filmmakers to garner the global recognition of not only Indian art but also Indian culture in general by using films as language. In this democratising activity of filmmaking, one of the most celebrated manufacturers was Himanshu Rai who dared to look beyond the logistical restrictions of his space to harness a global outlook. However, this post is not about him but about an unsung actor, who despite not being biologically involved in the cultural milieu of the subject matter of her work, adorned many characters in a number of such experimental films. Though, she was born as Renee Smith in an Anglo-Indian family, the cinematic history would remember her as Sita Devi.
The silent movie era of Indian cinema had a brief but eventful affair with German collaboration. Though much has not been written about her, Sita Devi’s momentary presence in Indian films can be seen in these very collaborative projects. When Himanshu Rai joined hands with a Bavarian film company Emelka, a film named Prem Sanyas (The Light of Asia) was released in 1925 which was generously budgeted and was directed and produced by Himanshu Rai himself who also appeared as one of the actors. This very film had the young Renee Smith (Sita Devi) playing the character of Princess Gopa, who is decorated quite intricately with the cultural symbols of Buddhist ritualism. This was her debut film, and thanks to her blossoming presence on screen, she became an overnight star. She later went on to work under the banner of Madan productions but could never repeat the success she garnered in her very first film.
Renee went on to do two other films with this Indo-German collaborative project, which seemed more like a trinity now, that were also classified as period dramas showcasing the grandeur of Indian culture. Interestingly, these three films spanned three different religions (Buddhism, Islam and Christianity) rightly spanning the diverse cultural fabric of the country.
The artistic outlook of Renee Smith and her respect for the art of cinema can be traced from the diversity of roles she played in this trinity and also the distinct nature of each of those characters. Despite sprouting as a star in her very first film, she did not hesitate to play the ‘other woman’ in Shiraz (1928) and a villain in Prapancha Pash (Throw of Dice, 1929). Despite the social perception of that period for such roles and the impact it had on the careers of the actors who played them, Renee chose to explore the shades of her artistic capabilities rather than fearing social stigmatization.
The short filmography of this illustrious actor involves many socially unconventional roles in movies such as Bharat Ramani (Enchantress of India, 1929), Bhrantri (Mistake, 1928) and Kal Parinaya (Fatal Marriage, 1930). Despite not being culturally relatable to the majority of the population, the success of Renee Smith established itself upon her ability to immerse herself in the complexities of her character, reaching the finest degrees of method acting. She came across as an exotic representation to many of her contemporary directors, but that only worked towards constructing a strong narrative around the creative credentials of this effervescent actress.
With her films being showcased in German and English to the elite cinematic audience of Europe, including the royal family, a couple of Renee’s films were also immortalized for global audiences with German translations (Das Grabmal einer großen Liebe and Die Leuchte Asiens). It is hard not to mention the famous rumour of the period which said that Renee’s sister Patty was often used as her double in some of the sequences. Renee Smith has been unfortunately forgotten by the repositories of Indian cinema. In her short yet colossal montage of work, Renee aka Sita Devi has displayed the full dimension of her artistic prowess and the lengths of her creativity. I hope the reading of this post will only generate more discussion on this wonderful actor, getting her the rightful place in pop culture, something she so unequivocally deserves.
Picture Credits: British Film Institute
There aren’t many works of cinematic art that become cinematic in their own right. The legacy of these works transcends what is projected on the screen and venture into the arenas of popularity that was quite unintended by the creator itself.
Pakeezah, a Hindi Cinema classic that took almost 15 years to complete, is one such movie whose legacy is unparalleled and finesse unmatched. The fervour around the film was as much due to the stories that revolved around each and every person associated with it as the climactic plot of the film itself.
The journey of making Pakeezah is no less of an odyssey for its director Kamal Amrohi and the lead actress Meena Kumari. They both were in the romantic company of each other both during the commencement and the conclusion of the film, however, going through a judicial separation and an alleged extra-marital affair in between. As much as I would love to delve more into the depths of this theme, the main focus of this work is rather centred upon one of the most intelligently designed sets from the movie – Bazaar-e-Husn.
Translated as a ‘fair of beauty’, Bazaar-e-Husn reflects the budgetary prowess of Pakeezah’s production. Often termed as a perfectionist, Kamal Amrohi had to shed almost a million rupees to build a perfect settlement for a desired reality of erstwhile Muslim royality.
The set for Bazaar-e-Husn took six months to complete with over 600 men working on it. A publicity material for the film described it as:
“There is nothing make believe in this set. Dozens of genuine shops from the various parts of the country were bodily shifted to the set to lend it the authenticity it demanded. These shops remained on the sets for more than a year involving a payment of huge compensation to their owners. Nothing so fantastic was ever attempted or achieved in a single film.”
Despite involving investment of such magnitude, the set has only been used for just one dance sequence in the entire movie. Since the plot of the movie shifts from Delhi to Lucknow, the only display of Bazaar-e-Husn that we get to see is during the opening mujra of Sahibjaan in Inhi Logon Nai. Despite having such a brief presence, the choreography of Inhi Logon imbued with the charm of Meena Kumari, makes the scenic experience of the establishment quite unforgettable.
In the only dance sequence where the glimpse of Bazaar-e-Husn is shown, we can see the flavour of the tawaif (courtesan) culture of Delhi in its maturity. As Sahibjaan (Meena Kumari) is performing her teasing dance number, we can see a lot of motion behind her that manifests itself as daily routine at such establishments. We can see parallel mujras being performed at other courts and commodities such as betel nuts, ornaments and fruits being sold. Despite the commotion in the streets, one finds it really difficult to take his eyes off from the leading lady and take a moment to ponder upon the life at Bazaar-e-Husn. However, as a myriad of vivacity and vividness, Bazaar-e-Husn not just beautifully merges with the choreography of the mujra but goes on to enhance the aesthetics of it. It provides it with a context that paints a picture in the viewer’s conscience which is like a medieval portrait of a desired escape.
Apart from the monetary shelling, a lot of artistic capital also went on to contribute to the making of this enchanting establishment. Hundreds of dancers were specifically trained for months just for the picturization of that brief mujra sequence of Inhi Login Ne. This not only gives us a glimpse of Kamal Amrohi’s traits of perfection but also goes on to expose his tremendous respect for the art that he intended to pursue.
If Pakeezah was Amrohi’s dearest creation, Bazaar-e-Husn would undoubtedly be his most vivid fantasy. As the making of the movie saw no signs of completion, and while being intertwined in a personal turmoil, Amrohi never shed a single shade of doubt on his brainchild. In an interview which he gave to Time Magazine for the project that he had penned, directed and also intended to act in, he said –
‘Jab tak Pakeezah khatm nahi ho jaati, tab tak mujhe maut bhi nahi aayegi’
(Even death is waiting for me to finish Pakeezah)
Pictures: National Film Archives of India
What if I seek light in
Flicker lights falling upon my
Cheek, glistening a part of it, a part
Still left hidden.
What if I seek journey here
Sitting at a deserted bus stand, who
Uses them anyway? Maybe,
Some adventures are good untravelled
What if I seek dance in
The still trees and fully
Blossomed but burdened petals
Of this red red flower, Maybe
Some emotions are best unspoken
Broken down in this part of
The world. The passers by
Still passing, the pretentious
What if I seek forgiveness in
This waning crescent moon,
This stillness, this halt
This long drawn silence is not
Here to stay forever,
But it’s still mine
So I don’t see anything moving
But my memories, Maybe
Some notes are better unplayed
Picture: It’s me trying to discover Fort Kochi
Seldom songs will just be played
When it’s not the music
That we need, but
I would want your love, laying
Right at that couch, in
The living room.
I would want that touch, not
For I need what love gives
But to realise,
All what it failed to make
Of our lives.
Picture : Well, that’s me chilling at the beautiful coastal city of Kochi