The debacle over the Tricycle’s decision to place a funding condition on hosting this year’s UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) left me atypically wavering on celebrating what some viewed as a courageous stand in opposition to Israel’s crimes against humanity and what others viewed as an act of anti-Semitism. Having spent time reading and discussing with proponents of both arguments I’ve come to the conclusion that neither is the case.
I think that by the time I’ve come to write this most will have got passed the deceit of the UKJFF in accusing the Tricycle of banning or censoring the festival, but many may still question the point of the Tricycles’ position. To be honest the slightly disappointing and ambivalent interview that the Tricycle’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, gave in the Evening Standard last week failed to enlighten me on that question. However, one clear statement has to made by me right off the bat: If it was my venue I would have asked the same of the UKJFF and a week later, unconstrained by any need to seem ‘impartial’, I haven’t changed my position. This is why:
I view claims of anti-Semitism against critics of the Israeli government as part and parcel of the strategy to muster support for its criminal actions. By this I don’t just mean in the way in which it attempts to guilt people into silence. When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized - but then responds to its critics with loud cries of “anti-Semitism” - it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don’t like these things it is because you don’t like Jews. This does nothing to counter anti-Semitism, in fact the recent rise in anti-semitic attacks serves the Israeli government’s interests. Many joining the condemnation of the Tricycle point to the fact that the Israeli embassy funding imposes no constraints on the programming of the festival or its content, suggesting that the embassy’s funding is apolitical. This is at best naive, at worst disingenuous. Financial support from the Israeli government/embassy for diasporic Jewish culture is entirely politically motivated and that motive is to brand all Jewish culture as Israeli culture. It is part of a Zionist agenda to claim that the Israeli government represents all Jews in its actions, including the brutal oppression, dispossession and displacement of Palestinians. Therefore the Tricycle’s action might be best viewed as a challenge to the UKJFF to declare its position in relation to this important question.
An argument used to suggest disingenuity in the Tricycle’s offer to replace the embassy’s funding invokes arts professionals’ understanding of the critical value of hard won long-term relationships like the 20 year old one the UKJFF has strived to maintain with the Israeli embassy. That simply doesn’t stack up when you weigh the paltry amount in question here - £1,400 - against the atrocities being committed by a government that claims to be acting in the name of all Jews.
Those decrying the Tricycle cite as ‘evidence’ of ‘double standards’ the Tricycle’s Arts Council funding as funding from a government that is complicit in the onslaught on Gaza. As a British public service I would expect organisations like the Tricycle to access money provided by the British tax payer to provide cultural services that we want. The issue with UK government arms dealing is that we have demonstrated every Saturday, and on other occasions, for the past few weeks that we don’t want our money spent on slaughtering the inhabitants of Gaza. The ludicrous suggestion that the Tricycle’s position is hypocritical suggests by extension that every benefit claimant, every NHS patient, every beneficiary of the public services that we pay for is complicit in Israel’s actions despite our actions in calling for an end to selling arms to Israel. If the UKJFF is a British Jewish film festival then it should be prepared to deliver a cultural service to us without Israeli government branding.
One of the problems I’ve had engaging with this specific debate is the celebration of the Tricycle’s actions as a major contribution to the ‘struggle’. Such grand claims come from the problematic area that elevates individual boycotts against apartheid South Africa (with many citing the anti-apartheid struggle as exemplary) above the mass industrial and direct action of millions of Black South Africans. I find this petit-bourgeois self congratulation at best a naive ignorance of the pacifying role that advocating boycotts as an ultimate solution plays, and at worst disrespectful to hundreds of thousands of self-determining Black South Africans who gave their lives. There’s a reason secondary strike action is illegal in this country while we still enjoy the luxury of consumer choice. This, however, is not to devalue the personal moment at which our political consciousness moves us to the first step of taking an individual (moral) stand. That said, you only have to read the quote from Indhu Rubasingham in the headline from her Evening Standard interview to conclude that the Tricycle isn’t making any such stand. Perhaps it’s with the UKJFF that the onus to declare a position lies. If so then they appear to have taken a position that implies a questionable allegiance.
Getting my toolkit together for some early stage concept development on a new transmedia project, I recently re-visited the website of Conducttr, a transmedia development platform. There I was drawn to this strap line for a project created by Hip Hop artist and author Jonny Virgo:
“Dan Brown meets Harry Potter … with more black people”.
Virgo’s reference to the cultural landscape of a particular literary sub-genre also resonated with me as a self-confessed “afro-geek” who finds the sphere of digital creativity somewhat lacking in cultural diversity. This is an industry centred in an urban milieu that simply doesn’t reflect the make up of its populace. In the following podcast Jonny Virgo, author of the “interactive novel” City of Conspiracy and creator of the wider transmedia project of the same title, makes reference to this phenomenon in describing his experience of attending various transmedia and ARG (Alternate Reality Game) events in London. However, he goes on to describe how through making work out of “the things that I like, the [cultural] elements that I bring to the table […] rather then targeting any specific group” he has been able to create a transmedia project that reaches beyond what he calls a “white urban professional demographic” that hitherto have been the medium’s exclusive participants. What’s of equal interest is that, impelled by his position outside of the world of opaque funding structures and venture capital, Jonny Virgo has managed to achieve a sustainable self-financing and potentially profitable model for transmedia by importing much from the entrepreneurial culture of the ‘urban’ music scene. His honest and sometimes self-effacing telling of his journey with City of Conspiracy makes for some compelling listening.
For me documenting the role of people of colour in the emergence and development interactive multimedia is vital. The lack of visibility of Black figures instills in a potential new generation of Black creative talent the idea that, albeit as early adopters, they can or will only ever consume new technology as passive respondents to corporate brand marketing. That young people of colour may acquire iPhones in large numbers, but making an app is somehow beyond them. This despite important historical milestones such as John Henry Thompson’s invention of the Lingo scripting language (for Macromedia/Adobe Director & Shockwave), which made possible most of the interactive digital art/media of the 90s, and the re-purposing of the digital sound sampler by Black Hip Hop pioneers which (re-)defined the sampler’s primary function in music production. Then there’s the work of Digital Diaspora including the Digital Slam in 1995 (directed and co-produced by yours truly) - the first ever event to utilise telematic technologies to facilitate real time inter-continental collaboration in live performances. Digital Diaspora and its successor Displaced Data took a lead in discourse around virtual identity and the codification of ethnicity and gender; the (digital) reframing of the aesthetics of ethnicity, and the potential consequences of a digital divide between global hemispheres in a knowledge based economy. These histories serve as mere examples of important contributions that have so quickly been forgotten or worse, ignored.
The ongoing engagement with transmedia that I referred to at the beginning of this post includes my involvement with transmedia training organisation Crossover Labs as a mentor on Indigenous Crossover in 2010. Early on in the first of two labs a break through was achieved when I pointed out that the group of Indigenous Australian creatives we were mentoring could teach us more about cross-platform creative practice and interactive storytelling from their traditions than we could likely teach them. The same goes for African cultural traditions.
The more I reflect on these themes the more I realise that to maintain vigour in an industry that at its more esoteric end has arguably little social impact and at the business end is loosing participatory edge, we should mine and re-invest in a narrative that is culturally “afro-geek”. By bringing to bear his lived cultural experience, Jonny Virgo seems to have injected a socially inclusive relevance and vitality into the transmedia landscape that all can learn and benefit from.
1 My first encounter with the term “afro-geek” was in Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace by (auth) Anna Everett | pub. Sunny Press
There’s some stuff flying around the blogosphere and social media about Syria from the apologists for the Israeli government which is clearly designed to throw off track those of us campaigning to end Israel’s persecution of Palestinians. Thankfully yesterday’s (19/07/2014) demo showed it isn’t working. However it’s still quite sickening to see.
The selective memory of these people beggars belief. They point to the deaths of Palestinians in Syrian refugee camps to make an horrifically childish “it’s not just me” type statement, but they ignore the obvious question of why there are Palestinian refugees in Syria in the first place! The fact that Israel denies Palestinian refugees re-entry to land they were living on for hundreds of years, even in the face of massacre and besiegement in Syria, is conveniently ignored. Most campaigns in support of Palestinians have been making the demand for decades that Israel should allow refugees to return. So no Dave Rich, we’re not blind to the situation in Syria and knowledge of the complete story doesn’t absolve Israel in the way you appear to hope for.
There are more links between what’s going on in Syria and what’s happening in Gaza right now than these people choose to see. The same forces at work in wreaking havoc in Syria, going right back to disrupting the secular Arab independence movements of the 50s thru 70s, replacing revolutionary leadership with the ilk of Assad, are responsible for the plight of the Palestinians since 1947. The same powers that have been arming terrorist thugs in Syria left Palestinians to the mercy of Zionist terrorist thugs in 1948 and went on for over 60 years to provide the weapons that Israel is using now in Gaza. Those of us who have a long history of standing against injustice and imperial manoeuvring around the world know this. Those that call us “revolutionary tourists”, in an attempt to use the plight of ordinary Syrians to divert attention, are the real “tourists”. These are the “fashionable revolutionaries” that join the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela while conveniently forgetting what he said about Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and conveniently forgetting Israel’s economic and military support for the South African apartheid regime.
First they use the anti-semitism line and then, when Jews are seen in opposition to the Israeli government, they point to the “evils” of Hamas - an organisation that wouldn’t have been elected if not for Israel’s assassinations and undermining of previous Palestinian political leaders. Now they selectively point to other travesties. Travesties that involve Arabs, as if what - to excuse the persecution and murder of Arabs in Palestine? Political desperation stinks!
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