Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats

Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000jjr5

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The Boomtown Rats in Ireland

This documentary about the Boomtown Rats has its faults but is hugely entertaining and informative. Director Billy McGrath records and analyses both the band’s history and its music. He highlights key (sometimes iconic) footage documenting its huge success and subsequent fall from popularity. Guests include Bono, Sinead O’Connor, Dave Stewart, Jools Holland, David Mallet and Sting, as well as music writers, photographers, and historians all give their views on the history and social impact of the Rats.

I should declare my interest. I am a Boomtown Rats fan. I loved ‘A Tonic for the Troops’ when I first heard it. I loved the mix of punk rebellion with people who could actually play instruments and carry a tune. I loved the relative complexity of the lyrics.

The Boomtown Rats originated in Ireland. An Ireland that was economically grim and socially frozen. Ireland was dominated by the allied Church and State and to many young people was depressing and corrupt. All many wanted to do was escape. That was certainly true of the members of the Boomtown Rats. Added to that sense of alienation or estrangement was there disrupted family backgrounds. All in all a mix for anti-authority, questioning and rebellious positions. And that’s exactly what you got.

For me, the relationship between their Irish roots and the state of that nation was one of the most fascinating aspects of the documentary. The lyric of Banana Republic written in response to the band being banned from performing in the Republic is uncompromising. Take the chorus:
“Banana Republic
Septic Isle
Suffer in the Screaming sea
It sounds like dying
Everywhere I go
Everywhere I see
The black and blue uniforms
Police and priests”

The Irish establishment took a dim view of this song and Geldof’s earlier “denunciation of nationalism, medieval-minded clerics and corrupt politicians” in a 1977 interview/performance on Ireland’s The Late Late Show. The Irish Times described the band as “a thorn shoved into the skin of church and state”.(1)

Yet the Rats were also one of Ireland’s most successful exports for a time opening up opportunities that other Irish bands followed. And Geldof never abandoned Ireland itself whilst maintaining his criticism of the system there.

There are many ‘might have been questions’ raised by the documentary. The Rats were ahead of their time in terms of producing music videos but there was no dedicated music video channel at the time. Had there been maybe they would have broken through in the United States. If Geldof had been less abrasive and understood America and Americans better perhaps they would have done better there. As the Irish Times put it: “Geldof, for whom keeping his mouth shut did not come naturally, went out of his way to alienate US audiences by deriding the sainted Bruce Springsteen.” (2)

You can mark the end of the band at different points but I would place it when they failed to breakthrough in the United States. It didn’t help that the anthemic I Don’t Like Mondays was blocked by legal threats from being produced as a single there.

Bob Geldof kept busy. He starred in Pink Floyd the Wall (released in 1982) cast as the mentally deranged Fascist leader Pink. He brought his energy to organise the massive 1985 Live Aid charity concerts and the Xmas hit Do they know it’s Christmas? and many associated efforts for famine relief in Africa.

The Rats reunited as a part-time touring act in 2013 and in 2020, 36 years after their last release. They also produced a seventh album, Citizens of Boomtown (after which the documentary is named). Although keyboardist Johnny Fingers and early-era guitarist Gerry Cott are both absent, the Rats of 2020 — Geldof, guitarist Garry Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette, and drummer Simon Crowe – are all original members. The album received mixed reviews but the live gigs were said to be filled with energy and passion by those who attended.

In both the documentary and in an interview with Rolling Stone Geldof insists that the band’s older songs aren’t nostalgia but are relevant today:

““When I sing ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ I’m not in 1979,” he says. “I’m in last night’s school massacre, which nobody anticipated at the time. When I’m doing ‘Rat Trap,’ it’s not for the hopelessness of the people in that abattoir I wrote it in, but hopelessness now. When I do ‘Banana Republic’ it’s not for the Irish Republic, which eventually grew up and matured. It’s for the American republic as it descends ever further into political infantilism.”

“When I do ‘Lookin’ After No. 1′ it’s not about the conditions of life in 1979,” he continues. “It’s about Google and Facebook and [Mark] Zuckerberg always on, always monitoring, collating every thought you have, every friend, every choice, packaging and selling it to a third party who in turn exploits you and your preferences. It’s utterly now. That rage, that animus propels the Boomtown Rats.” (3)

I can’t hope to cover all the informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining aspects of this documentary. It is so full. Though there are still aspects missed such as Geldof’s support for Father’s Rights and his opposition to Brexit.

I said at the start that it had flaws. There is a very contrived ‘interview’ with Bob Geldof at the beginning which I think is meant to be funny but isn’t. I didn’t make much of the rather ‘art-schooly’ of the band walking through a tunnel behind a figure wearing a gas mask and pulling a board laden with rocks. Each to their own though! It is also a little self-congratulatory but given the band, and particularly ‘Saint Bob’s’ contribution to humanitarian relief and social progress maybe we can forgive them that!

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

(1) https://www.irishtimes.com/…/the-boomtown-rats-citizens-of-…
(2) https://www.irishtimes.com/…/citizens-of-boomtown-bob-geldo…
(3) https://www.rollingstone.com/…/bob-geldof-interview-boomto…/

Picture credit: By Author unknown; Photo courtesy Orange County Archives – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ocarchives/5486877395/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14267259

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Eurovision Song Contest: the Story of Fire Saga


Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language)
Genre: Comedy
Directed By: David Dobkin
Written By: Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele
On Disc/Streaming: Jun 26, 2020
Runtime: 121 minutes
Studio: Netflix


When everything around us is grim: Coronavirus, impending economic disaster, increasing political polarisation and – of course – Brexit and the climate change crisis, you might be forgiven for looking to watch something escapist to take you mind off things at least for an hour or so.  If so, Will Ferrell’s Eurovision Song Contest is just the tonic you need.
It’s common in Britain to treat

the annual Eurovision Contest with disdain and condescension; so this film could easily have take the lazy option and been a sneer-fest at the expense of this very popular event. It’s not. It’s an affectionate and gentle send-up of Eurovision’s more absurd, camp and at times startling features; including the voting system.


The plot, such as it is sees Lars  Erickssong (Will Ferrell) as a not-that-talented singer in a small Icelandic fishing village realise his ambition to represent his country at the 2020 Eurovision Contest in Edinburgh. Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) is his best friend and his much more talented partner in Fire Saga. They get through to the final by default after an explosion on a boat wipes out the favourite to win the Icelandic heat and all the other entrants.


Pearse Brosnan plays Ferrell’s embarrassed father with superb grumpiness. There are cameo appearances from Graham Norton as himself and some real-life past Eurovision winners. Add a very camp Russian competitor, and a sexy Greek one to each make a play for Sigrit and Lars to introduce some tension between them.


The onstage performances are terrifically choreographed – as are the inevitable disasters, but Fire Saga’s entry song Double trouble makes it through to the final. There are some twists in what passes for a plot but who cares about the plot in this delightful romp? 


There are fantastic, catchy songs – which, like genuine Eurovision songs – are dreadful ear worms. You won’t get Jaja Ding Dong out of your head. I bet it will become a disco and party standard in years to come. Set all your worries and troubles aside and just luxuriate in this hugely entertaining film. 

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Archeofuturism/ Archeofuturism 2.0 Reviewed

Archeofuturism/

Archeofuturism 2.0

-Guillaume Faye

Reviewed by Anthony C Green

Archeofuturism is a work of political theory/prophecy written by Guilaume Faye and published in 1998 which ends with a Science Fiction Short Story. Archeofuturism 2.0, first published fourteen years later, is a work of eleven interlocking Science Fiction Stories that serve to further illustrate Faye’s Political Philosophy.

I read them back to front, on the basis that as a long-standing fan of Science Fiction 2.0 would be an easier ‘in’ to Faye’s ideas.

 Would I have enjoyed 2.0 as pure SF, had I not known that it was written as an addendum to a work of political philosophy, and had not at least had a minimal acquaintance with the strand of thought of which Faye is a key representative?

The best political, or as it’s more usually known ‘Social’ SF, Jack London’s The Iron Heel, almost all of the books of Ursula Le Guin, Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the novels of the Soviet novelist Boris Strugatsky, read as though the story came first: the political philosophy flowed naturally from the story. That is as it should be. The danger with the approach of Faye, who was clearly writing fiction as a means of putting across a political message, is that the writing becomes unnecessarily stilted and didactic.

Had I begun with Archeofuturism, then I almost certainly wouldn’t have bothered with 2.0. That is because the single piece of fiction which closes the original book, definitely fits the description of being stilted and didactic, faults to which we can also add that of an unforgivable overuse of cliché. As a writer myself who spends much time, no doubt some of it fruitlessly, on combing my own writing to find over-used word-combinations in order to ruthlessly exterminate them, I instinctively recoil from any writer that uses phrases such as ‘fit as a fiddle’ or ‘stubborn as a mule.’

 There is still a tendency towards the didactic in 2.0, but the writing is far from stilted and I spotted no obvious, glaring examples of cliché. My decision to read 2.0 first was thus vindicated. Taken purely as a work of Science Fiction, this second book features a decent collection of stories that form a cohesive whole in a more or less consistent universe

Before moving on to a discussion of Faye’s ideas themselves, ideas which seem to have hardly changed in the two decades between the two books, I should perhaps give a short introduction to the author himself.

Faye was born in 1949 and died in 2019. He was involved with the French Nouvelle Droite (New Right) movement, along with Alain De Benoist from its inception in 1968. This movement was founded out of the remnants of the old, more traditionally Fascistic, Action Francaise, and was primarily a response to the revolutionary student/workers ‘events’ of May of that year. In 1970, still under the leadership of De Benoist, Faye was part of the attempt to develop the ideas of Nouvelle Droite beyond France into a European wide phenomenon. The movement that emerged was called GRECE (translated as ‘Research and Study Group for European Civilisation’). Faye remained a leading figure within both ND and GRECE until 1986, after which, until the publication of Archeofuturism in 1998, he dropped out of politics in order to establish a successful career in the media. Though political differences with De Benoist were by this time longstanding, Faye did not formally break with GRECE until the year 2000.

GRECE have correctly been described as ‘Gramscian’s of the Right’. Unashamedly elitist in nature, they eschewed the street activism normally associated with the European Far Right in favour of gradually influencing mainstream culture in the direction of a rebirth of European identity and civilisation. Archeofuturism and the Identarian movement which it has given birth to, can in part be seen as an attempt to marry the ‘Long March of the Institutions’ approach of GRECE with a more populist movement with appeal beyond an intellectually inclined elite.

In addition to Gramsci, the influences of both GRECE and Archeofuturism are similar, if not identical, and pretty much as you would expect: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Spengler, Evola, Carl Schmitt, Ernst Junker and other Conservative German Revolutionaries of the twenties. There are also substantial if not entirely acknowledged debts to the Post-War ‘Europe a Nation’ project of Sir Oswald Mosely.

One of the major differences between Faye and De Benoist concerned the issue of Paganism. Although Faye is not personally big on Christianity, he believes that De Benoist’s commitment to Paganism as the ‘True’ religion of the European peoples’ is unnecessarily alienating. On this at least, I am with Faye. It is of course true, as De Benoist and his co thinkers maintain, that Christianity was originally imported onto European soil from the Middle East, the birthplace also of the other two leading monotheistic religions of the world, Judaism and Islam. It is also correct to maintain that religious beliefs were held and practiced in Europe long before the arrival of Christianity. But Christianity has been around in Europe for a long time now. It was in the First Century AD that the first, mainly plebian-soldier Christian Roman converts arrived. It became the official religion of the continent following the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century. Many would argue that European civilisation, such as it is, has largely been built upon the principles of Christianity, and compared to other religions, at least in the terms of self-identification, it still remains dominant. These numbers may have dipped a little since they were published, but in 2010 over 76% of Europeans still described themselves as ‘Christians; and although only a small portion (and this is highly variable from country to country) of those self-defined Christians are active in the sense of regularly attending a place of worship, it is fair to say that almost certainly a majority of them believe literally in the existence of their monotheistic God, and this probably even includes a reasonable proportion of Anglican Vicars. I doubt that many of our modern-day Pagans believe in the literal existence of Odin or of the pantheon of Ancient Roman and Greek Gods in the manner that their ancestors almost certainly did. Paganism today is little more than a Post-Modernist conceit; and if we believe that European Civilisation needs to be united and reborn, wouldn’t it simplify the task of unification and rebirth if it was based upon a revival of the religion that the majority of its inhabitants already express some belief in?

So, we move on to the basic tenants of Archeofuturism. In essence, it is the marrying of ‘Archaic’ values, such as tradition, family, tribal belonging, natural hierarchy, with its naturally accompanying rejection of the Enlightenment values of Liberalism and Egalitarianism, with scientific-technological advance past, present and future. That is, whilst drawing heavily on the traditionalism of Evola, Archeofuturism does not follow him in an absolute rejection of the modern world. In fact, aspects of it, particularly of the possibility of accelerated technological advance, are positively embraced. This embrace constitutes the ‘futurism’ of Archeofuturism. Faye though adds a strong proviso: that modern technological society will exist only for a minority of the Earth’s population, a figure he puts at approximately 17%. The rest of the world will essentially return to a subsistence means of living roughly equivalent to that of the Middle Ages. The Euro-Siberian Empire which he sees as an essentially development in our own part of the world, will naturally be amongst the most technologically advanced civilisations.

 We will arrive at this two-tier socio/political/economic world of tomorrow through what Faye terms a ‘Convergence of Catastrophes’, a key phrase/concept in the Archeofuturist  world-view; and the prediction of which has led some to regard him as a prophet, heralding the coming of the world that we have seen rapidly taking shape around us over the last two decades.

 The ‘catastrophes’ that Faye predicted would soon converge into one single, world-changing catastrophe are: economic crisis’ that are ever more deep and ever more sever in their consequences; increasing conflict between the richer Northern part of the world and the poorer South (Faye doesn’t like the artificial conceptual division of the ‘West’ and the rest); the increasing movement of peoples from South to North, which Faye regards as no less than an invasion, a haphazard but no less very real process of colonisation; an upsurge in expansionist, militant fundamentalist religion, by which he cites almost exclusively the example of Islam; the increased likelihood of life-threatening health pandemics; and perhaps most importantly of all, because unlike many on the Far or ‘Alt’ Right, Faye is no climate change sceptic, devastating environmentalist change.

The events of 11th September 2001 (‘9/11), which occurred three years after the publication of the original Archeofuturism, the financial crash of 2008, the current Coronavirus health crisis, increasing evidence of dramatic climate change, and the acceleration of migration from South to North have on the surface at least leant credibility to Faye’s predictions.

However, we should stress that as a prophet, Faye is a little out with his dates. By the reckoning of his 1998 book, ‘convergence’ should have happened by now and we should already be living through the apocalyptic convergence through which the new Archeofuturist word order will emerge. I recognise though that this is more of an aesthetic than a political criticism. Futuristic writers, whether they are writing fiction or none-fiction, need to be ultra-cautious when specifying dates. The year Nineteen-Eighty-Four might have seemed a long way ahead when George Orwell was writing his classic novel, but the actual year 1984 is now as far in the past to us as it was in the future to Orwell.

Faye is in no doubt about the cause of each of the catastrophes taken in isolation, and the convergence of these catastrophes which will lead to the destruction of the socio-economic-political order, the order that only a relatively short period of time ago seemed to be an ever expanding monolith which would come to dominate the entire planet, for the befit of all.

This cause is Globalisation in the sense of the attempt to spread a single, interlinking economic system, free market capitalism, and a single system of political governance, liberal democracy, across the entire planet.      

In place of this, Faye sees the Convergence of Catastrophe as leading to the development of seven distinct blocs in a multi-polar world. These blocs will be: the Euro-Siberian; the Sino-Confucian; the Arab-Muslim; the North American; the South American; the Black African, and the Pacific Peninsula Asian. Only in three of these blocs, the Euro-Siberian, the Chinese led Sino-Confucian; and the North American, will the Scientific-technological way of living remain dominant, and it is only between these blocs that there would continue anything resembling our current level of world trade.

There will however be no strict dividing lines. Even within the primarily scientific-technological blocs a significant amount of the population, perhaps a majority, would live at a level pretty close to that of subsistence. Science and Technology would very much be the province of an elite, and because of this, according to Faye, scientific advance would actually be much swifter and more profound than it has been in a world that is, on paper at least, committed to the values of Egalitarianism.

Faye doesn’t fall into the globalist trap of attempting to prescribe a single ideal way of governance for all peoples. How each bloc conducts its political and economic affairs will essentially be a matter for them, though he uses the term ‘Empire’ to describe the Euro-Siberian bloc, a term which sometimes appears to be in conflict with his talk of ‘direct’ or ‘organic’ democracy.

This is probably the best place to mention Faye’s analysis of the Actually Existing European Union. His criticism of it is that it is neither one thing nor the other: its existence has undermined the power of individual nation-states, whilst failing to replace it with a centralised unifying body that has the power and the will to act. In the Euro-Siberian Federation of the future, which will essentially be a union of the current EU with Russia and its neighbouring countries, democracy of a sort will be retained through the use of regular referenda, but governmental officials within each constituent part of the bloc, will have the authority and the means to make and execute decisions rapidly and decisively when necessary. On today’s EU, Faye’s viewpoint is remarkably close to being a mirror image of that of Diem25, a ‘remain and reform’ movement, though of the Right rather than of the Left. In his view, although the present-day EU is nowhere near fit for the purpose of the future, the very fact of its existence makes the task of forging the necessary European unity much easier than it would otherwise have been.

This is one of the key differences between Faye’s Archeofuturism, and the main thrust of the National Populism that has gained ground throughout Europe in recent years. The new Populism of the type that is on rise in France, in Italy, in Germany, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere are with Faye in their opposition to multi-culturalism, they may even, like Faye, talk sometimes of a common European identity. But their chosen vehicle through which to oppose ethnopluralism and decadent liberal decay remains the nation-state.

Faye had little time for this. In his view, such nationalism is now outmoded. Indeed, for a French political activist, whether of Left or Right, Faye was very muted in his critique of the ‘Americanisation’ of French and European culture. For the Nouvelle Droite, opposition to the plastic, throw-away, pseudo-culture of America was and remains key. De Benoist even announced at one point his electoral support for the PCF, the French Communist Party, on the grounds that this party was the most consistent available defender of French culture in the electoral field. Faye on the other hand believed that American culture triumphed in the West simply because it is superior to anything that modern European nations are now able to produce. As an example, he compares the cinematic grandeur of the big Hollywood blockbusters to the pretentious and puny Arthouse efforts of most French, and other European cinema. Only when it is united under a strong, centralised leadership founded on the archaic values of our ancestors will European culture reach the level of, and finally exceed the achievements of the United States.

In place of outdated nationalism, Faye proposes, as well as continental unity, a rebirth of Regional identity. Thus, the citizen of tomorrow’s united Europe will be a partisan of the Euro-Siberian Empire, but also of Bavaria, Lombardy, Bretton, Cornwall, Yorkshire and so on.

Here, I will raise my first major criticism of Faye’s vision/project; and that is that I just don’t believe it will happen, and if it did, I don’t believe it would long survive. Yes, regional identity is strong. But national identity remains stronger. A United Europe is possible, possibly even including Russia, one day. But it could only be possible through a highly centralised, technocratic leadership with a strong European army able and willing to enforce its will; and that could only be achieved against the mass opposition of the peoples of the existing nation-states of Europe. This is true I believe even in a period of catastrophe. As I’ve mentioned, Faye died just before the outbreak of the Coronavirus. But hasn’t this (comparatively) mini-catastrophe demonstrated that, yes as Faye argued, the current EU has neither the power nor the will to act decisively, but also that it is to their own nation states and their own national traditions that people instinctively turn at a time of crisis? Faye’s United Europe would, even if it were to come about through a series of crisis’, which in itself is highly doubtful, would be inherently unstable because it would lack the consent of the people. I simply don’t believe that a new order could be built on strong regional identity plus loyalty to a new continent wide super power, whilst somehow cutting out the middle man, the nation-state. That middle man remains strong and popular, and continues to my mind to be the most sensible unit upon which to establish and maintain a system of government.

What is true of Europe is also true of the other nascent blocs Faye postulates. It is probably true that the Islamic countries of the world have much more in common with one another, as Faye argues, than that which divides them. It’s also true that a singular Arab-Islamic state, even in the present world order would be a force to be reckoned with, and could even be a pole of attraction that would prompt Muslim migrants to the West to head ‘home’ voluntarily, rather than to be forcibly driven out as is implied would be inevitable in the Archeofuturist world of tomorrow. You would expect that the dominance of a single language, that of Arabic, throughout most of the Arab world would make the cause of unity much easier to achieve than it is in our linguistically fractured Europe. And yet, despite the efforts of impressive enough leaders like Nasser and Gaddafi, Pan Arabism has been a failed project. What is true of Pan-Arabism is also true of Pan Africanism, despite the efforts of such inspiring exponents as Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela and, once again, Gaddafi. The attempt to forge distinct, more or less autarkic blocs will fail for the very same reason that multi-culturalism is everywhere in retreat. People are different; attachment to distinctive cultures and to nation states is strong, and crisis tends to strengthen rather than weaken those attachments.

Faye stresses many times that he is in no way arguing for the superiority of the technological-scientific way of living. He believes that people in the advanced technological nations of the modern world are no happier than were our ancestors living a much simpler agricultural way of life pre the Industrial Revolution, or than we were back in our primitive hunter-gatherer days. He is perhaps right.

However, Faye assumes without offering any compelling argument for his assumption, that the techno-scientific elite of the future would simply leave their farming/hunter-gathering brethren to live their simple, happy lives in peace. Does the historical record really suggest that this is likely? His reasoning for limiting science and technology to relatively small groups of people is primarily environmental. Even without the huge game-changing environmental disasters that Faye expects to happen, the resources of our planet are finite. Globalisation will fail, because the notion that every country in the world can raise itself technologically to the level of the most advanced countries of the wealthy nations of the North, will prove to be nothing more than a short-lived utopian fantasy. The Earth simply doesn’t have enough ‘stuff’ for everybody to live in such a way.

My counter-argument to Faye is that in a world where we have rejected even the pretense of a commitment to equality and freedom for all, why would the elite simply leave the rest of us to live happily ever after on our plots of land within our tight knit tribes and clans? Wouldn’t the technological elite simply use their power to do what elites have done ever since elites first appeared as a historical force, that is use their power to enslave others and plunder whatever increasingly scarce and valuable resources remain to be plundered, regardless of historic ownership? In a world were equality, liberty and fraternity are ridiculed as outdated notions of deluded idealists, why would a super-powerful technologically advanced elite (for Faye doesn’t shy away from the issue of Trans-Humanism) of the future simply accept that a rural-hunter-gatherer existence is as equally valid as their own way of life, and therefore vow not to interfere with the natural lifestyle of the more primitive members of their species? Given enough time, would these technologically-enhanced-superman even continue to see these primitive ‘others’ as members of the same species as themselves at all?

In his 2016 book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, the writer Peter Frase offers up four possible future scenarios that he sees arising from continuing technological advance. These range from something very close to the Fully Automated Luxury Communism (which I’ve already reviewed on Counter-Culture-UK) of Aaron Bastani at one end of the spectrum, to what he terms ‘Exterminism’ at the other. His argument is that, although we currently live in a world where we are becoming increasingly superfluous to the needs of the elite as far as productive labour goes, we are still, fortunately for the majority of us, needed as consumers of the products that the owners of the means of production need to sell in order to maintain their life of luxury. What if, in the future, technology has advanced to the point where everything the elite could possibly need or want is produced for them directly by a super advanced technology that only they have access to, without the mediating factor of the need to create profitable surplus products? Without any commitment to egalitarianism, or any secular or religious reason to value human life for its own sake, wouldn’t it make sense for this super-elite to simply exterminate or leave to die out through hunger and disease the superfluous population, maintaining the existence only of those who can in some way prove useful to them, for reasons of their particular expertise say in maintaining and repairing the robot/slave army at their command, or for reasons merely of entertainment or lust?

The Archeofuturist world would not in my view be the happy, multi-polar world that Faye depicts at various stages of development in the series of short stories that comprise Archeofuturism 2.0. It could well a be Heaven on Earth, with perhaps even death itself having been conquered, for a tiny minority, the 1% as it is sometimes called today, though in reality the real super-rich are much less numerous than that. But for the majority it would be a dystopian nightmare beyond the wildest imagination of even our darkest creators of Science Fiction, something very much akin to the ‘Exterminism’ of Four Futures.

Before moving on to my own conclusions regarding Archeofuturism, I will first say something about those who have decided to (mostly in a virtual fashion, it has to be said) march behind the banner that Faye first raised. Generation Identity is primarily a youth orientated movement, and I’ve also read the short book of that name that serves as their manifesto. The book raises some of the central issues facing the people of the richer nations, particularly the younger people. Not only are these young people the first in many generations who can have no real expectation of a materially easier life than that of the parents. They are also perhaps the first generation in recorded history to live without a grand, unifying vision, a grand narrative beyond that of passive consumerism by which to live their lives. Their book is essentially a cry of rage against the ‘68ers’ deconstruction of all values, a nihilist enterprise that has left them adrift in a world devoid of meaning. They have latched onto Archeofuturism in a desperate attempt to restore such meaning. Their plight is a real one, but surely our brightest young minds can do better than commit themselves to a vision of a world where the future becomes the province of a tiny elite, with the rest of us sent backwards into a world we’d thought we’d long left behind?

In the grown up world, the European New Right, the Nouvelle Droite, has had some success in their Gramscian project of influencing mainstream politics. Parties like the National Rally in France, Jobbik in Hungary, Lega in Italy, Law and Justice in Poland have clearly been influenced by De Benoist, particularly through their combining of policies generally associated with the Right, especially in opposition to mass immigration, with more or less Leftist economic policies. These parties can’t be simplistically dismissed as ‘Fascists’ or Neo Nazis as easily as could the old British NF or BNP, the German National Democrats, or the MSI in Italy, though that of course doesn’t stop the more extreme factions of the Antifa from doing so. The Archeofuturist Front, which along with the youthful Generation Identity is the main organisational representation of Faye’s ideas, aren’t fascist either But take a look at their social media pages. Who are the heroes they champion? Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and Boris Johnson seem to figure prominently. As a working class socialist I can well understand why many, mainly white, working class Americans voted for Trump rather than for the Globalist Hawk Hilary Clinton in 2016; I can even understand why many will do so again, against the equally hawkish, equally globalist Biden, despite the breathtaking ignorance that Trump has displayed throughout his Presidency. I can understand also why Labour’s promise to overturn Brexit through a rigged second referendum led to the collapse of the so called Red Wall and the handing of a substantial majority to Johnson in December 2019. But to hold up these individuals as posing a genuine threat to the globalist order; to see in them a radical foreshadowing of the future?

The AF don’t stop there either. They also seem to idealise the rainforest destroying, free market fundamentalist Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil. Trump; Johnson; Bolsonaro, the leaders of the three countries with the highest death rate from Coronavirus in the world; and as if that wasn’t enough, they also supported the failed coup of the American backed nobody Guaido against the socialist Maduro government in Venezuela. 

Thus, far from representing a strand of opposition to globalized capital, the AF seem to have latched on to some of the most reactionary expressions of it.

By your idols shall you be known.

By way of conclusion, I’d simply reiterate that Archeofuturism 2.0 is worth reading purely as a work of Science Fiction. The original Archeofuturism is also worth reading, if only as a means to familiarise yourself with an ideology which seems, through a convergence of coincidence, including a televised Zoom appearance on Michael Gove’s bookshelves, to be enjoying a brief period of notoriety. But as a political philosophy and a prophecy of the future, I think it is neither plausible nor desirable.

 We are certainly living through, as Faye predicted, a period of perhaps unprecedented crisis. But we do have choices as to how we respond. I’d personally be happy to see a return to traditional values in the sense of seeing stable families and cohesive communities as the foundations of a decent society. But traditional is a different beast to archaic.

 I’m all for Futurism also, for making full use of technological developments past, present and future. But if the techno-scientific world we aim to create is to be closer to a Utopia than to a Dystopia, then we must not abandon our commitment to egalitarianism. In fact, we must strengthen it. This needn’t mean an egalitarianism where everybody has exactly the same, because such a world is either possible nor desirable. But egalitarian in the Social Democratic sense of ensuring equal opportunities for all, and through maintaining the commitment to a level below which no one is allowed to fall. Even with finite resources such a world is possible, but only if we retain egalitarianism as an ideal.

So, read Faye, but also read Bastani and Frase; and although it was written before the digital revolution, Murray Bookchin’s ‘Post Scarcity Anarchism’ is probably worth digging out too, as are the writings of many non-conformist Marxists, Anarchists and Utopians. The novels and the non-fiction of Bogdanov and his fellow Russian Cosmists are perhaps also worth revisiting. We need to base the future on what has worked for the most people in the past, but also on what some of the finest minds of past and present times have dared to imagine. Archeofuturism, in reality, does little more than to dress up the dead ideologies of Divine Right and Imperialism in the clothes of Science Fiction. It’s a good name, but Its vogue moment will prove mercifully short.

Anthony C Green, June 2020.

Archeofuturism, published by Arktos Media LTD, 1998

Archeofuturism 2.0 Arktos Media LTD 2016, 2012

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Time-less-ness

‘Timelessness’ in a heightened state of mind

How many of us have felt this sense of ‘timelessness’ and in which manner? I experienced this recently in a heightened state of mind and was able – to some extent – to observe its nature, at least obliquely and on reflection. Along with this timelessness came a lack of sense of self. The problem for me is how to convey this state. The other occasions of timelessness I have felt have often come within music or playing music. Being ‘lost in music’ as the lyric says. When concentrating very deeply on playing an instrument both the sense of self and time (but not timing!) are diminished.

The first question I ask myself (and which you may well be asking) is WHY try and communicate this feeling; it is either something we experience (or have experienced) or not. If you have experienced it you know it and if you haven’t of what purpose does trying to communicate it serve? I can only answer that my attempts to convey this state of being might prompt others to REALLY consider if they have also – and in which particular manner – and if not, how they might experience such. And to offer insight.

Regarding the ‘heightened state of mind’ – this is achieved through drugs (frankly) or intense moments of BEING. By this latter I mean, say, a physical as well as mental moment – a car crash; a parachute jump; stepping off a mountain side wearing a wingsuit; an orgasm; being overwhelmed by a natural environment and perhaps giving rise to a quasi-religious experience. It might be through meditation. It might arrive in a semi-lucid dream/awakened state. It could be an NDE (near death experience) or an OBE (out of body experience). It might be a highly spiritual experience. I’ll try and give some examples.

Recently, as mentioned above, I had this sensation of time-less-ness. Now I only understood its nature when I REGAINED a sense of time. A part of this timelessness was a sense of non-consciousness too. This is where it gets hard to describe or even for me to comprehend. As far as I can tell when I was in the timeless and non-conscious state it really was a bit like the cliched ‘oneness’ we hear about. As I wasn’t seemingly aware in this state it took me being back in a conscious state to BECOME aware. Of course we might ask: how did I get from one state to another? If I wasn’t conscious then how could I switch back to consciousness? Perhaps it was simply a REDUCTION in awareness. Regardless of this, as soon as I entered into a defined state of ‘being and time’ I was aware of the peculiarity of the former state. I was aware that I had been – as it were – free. Did I continue to exist in that state in any meaningful way? If I was unconscious of ME and of my BEING in TIME then what was I experiencing? I can garner a feeling of being in that state but as with any memory it is but a shade of its former ‘reality’.

If I had continued in a state of non-time and being then that would have ‘continued’ for – well, for how long? Wrong question. It simply WAS. That’s the whole point, there was no time and little (or NO) awareness. Thus that state simply WAS. And even WAS is wrong because there was no sense of present/future or past. Those states were meaningless to its existence. And now I struggle to understand what it was I experienced – if indeed I can use ‘I’ and ‘experience’. This is the crux – this state I struggle to explain only came into existence as I changed from it back into my self-conscious temporal nature. Had I not changed back it would still BE. I would not have contemplated it nor written about it here. Because in that state there is no movement. Movement only occurs with time. In that state there is no sense of ME.

Okay, let me jump to an experience a number of you will have had: an accident of some kind. Let’s take a car crash, which I used as an example earlier. In fact, as I’m going to be specific, I’m using a couple of motorbike accidents I have had. One of these accidents was me simply ‘dropping the bike’ as I hit a pool of oil lying on the road at a T Junction. I still have the memory of this with quite a sharp visual of what happened. As the bike fell to the floor I recall a wing mirror smashing. It happened in slow-motion – or rather that was my perception of it! It was quite beautiful – I have a feeling that the glass shattered into many parts and I can almost see this happening and with this shattering there was a lot of colour; waves of colour. In fact the more I think about it though, the hazier the memory becomes. It was slow and beautiful – that much I can say. Time seemed to slow down. Maybe the crystals of glass reflected the colours of the oil on the road to give the colourful effect.

Now this isn’t a case of timelessness as such – but time slowing…and yet there was a hint of timelessness too because I was able to marvel at the beauty of the glass shattering as if it existed ‘out of time’. On another occasion I again dropped my bike – this was on a roundabout (traffic island) where the road’s tarmac had melted and the tyre grip slipped. I can still see my bike gambolling through the air. I became unaware of my bodily circumstance – just me watching the bike. I didn’t have any sensation of rolling or being hurt and, in fact, when a car driver (who had stopped) came to ask me if I was all right, I simply asked if my bike was okay. Again – I hadn’t fully gone timeless, though time had slowed, but I felt I had lost a sense of my being.

Is there Time in dreams? And are we truly present in them? It seems the laws of science we exist under in this waking state are not observed necessarily in dreams. And yet we take all for granted. Whatever happens in a dream is ‘normal’ and even if we consider things peculiar, that is the same reaction we might have to peculiar events while we are awake. So in dreams there is a ‘normality’ but certainly not a ‘normality’ we experience when not dreaming. We can say that Time doesn’t really seem to exist in dreams even when we experience movement. But does it or doesn’t it? When we are awake dreams are surreal ideas. When we dream we exist in that ‘other reality’ and usually have no concept of a ‘normal, awake state’.

We can have lucid dreams where we are aware of being in another dimension. This is a kind of cross-over, twilight existence. When I was a child I would have dreams where I’d wake up, go downstairs and eat breakfast – only to hear my mother calling me to get up. I think (but my memory is hazy) that this happened a number of times – repeating the same experience before I finally DID wake up and go downstairs. In these specific dreams time seemed to operate as normally – mirroring our usual perception.

And sleep itself is, of course effectively timeless. We can pass through the Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic states as we fall to and wake up from sleep and can often experience very lucid dreams. But normally the sequence is such:
We try to fall asleep.
We unconsciously fall asleep.
During sleep we have another dimension/experience – dream state.
We come awake as if no time has passed. (And yet we are fully conscious that time HAS passed.)

What is the opposite of Time? Is it STATES? Is Eternity a STATE rather than a TIME? We are caught in our preconceptions and perceptions of Time. Living forever and dying forever carry a kind of unsettled menace about them. If given a choice we might opt for ‘living forever’ (in the sense of temporal time) but any concerted thought about that would surely drive us insane? How can you live forever? Being in a STATE is different. As with my recent experience of timelessness it was ‘forever’ and ‘eternal’ in a sense. You could argue – no it wasn’t as you came out of that state. That is true – but just like a dream-state it was completely different when I was experiencing it. And this timelessness I felt was even  more extreme than a dream-state as there was no narrative. It didn’t feel threatening or dangerous…not at all.


A car crash – throwing us out-of-time or slowing down time and dislodging us from the reality of what we ‘should’ be experiencing; free-falling before opening a parachute, I can only imagine giving a feeling of weightlessness and freedom and possibly a lack of attachment (if surrounded by cloud) – also, although moving rapidly, no sense of TIME! Only with the earth rushing towards us (and I presume the rushing of air) would there be a sense of movement and thus time; an orgasm taking one out of one’s mind into a ‘petite mort’ – a different reality – a death of the normal and maybe of the self. Ecstasy. And an ecstatic experience – transcendental – religious/spiritual, maybe an OBE. And here I would argue for the poetic loss of self too and loss of temporal, earthly time. Indeed perhaps a poet’s soul enraptured by Nature. Fanciful? Read some Wordsworth. Or maybe ‘going inside’ intentionally through meditation or – in my case often – the ritualistic beating of drums creating a framework to lose oneself within. Or the blowing into a flute – breathing itself, along with the music, helping to escape ‘reality’. A kind of creative meditation.

Is REALITY defined by Time – as reality is a consensual construct and time a perception within it. Time has changed over the ages in terms of how it has been measured and divided. Has our notion of reality changed along with our notions of Time? How real is Time? And this last question either strengthens the idea of timelessness or makes it redundant. You see Time really IS the answer to life and death.

Many folk who have had ‘near death experiences’ report the feeling of lack of time and the scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg writes of the world of spirits he frequented as being ‘states’. These examples might seem fanciful to you – but we are all aware of the flexibility of time: compare an hour waiting in a dentist’s waiting room with an hour of listening to your favourite music. And time really does seem to speed up as we grow older. The keys to our continuation post earthly-life will fundamentally be: Time-less-ness and another form of Reality. Another form of consensual reality perhaps. A reality even more thought-driven than the one we inhabit now.

Many of the examples I have given for a heightened state of being are not to be advised. And you may have other experiences (please share). The important thing to consider is that being ‘out of time’ (and no drummer jokes here please!) and being ‘out of one’s self’ are highly possible and there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest such.

We know what we experience even when that sense of ‘we’ disappears.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid 19 & the Future Part 4 ‘Medicine’

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Medicine’.

Just before the ‘lockdown’ I had root-canal surgery here in France. In fact this became necessary as I had had an abscess. And I had the abscess for about 18 months (mostly kept under control through using iodine). I went to the dentist at very short notice and it was the LAST possible moment I could have gone. The dentist saw me late in the afternoon (I was her last patient I believe) and then she was off on holiday. Well she didn’t come back after her holiday as the ‘lockdown’ intervened. It was only a week or so ago that I was able to have the procedure finished and during the interim I needed antibiotics and more iodine!

For one moment let me imagine what might have happened to me had I been a ‘Survivor’. Let’s presume I wasn’t able to go to the dentist. My abscess would have got worse. Would I have been able to get tincture of iodine in England (I called many chemists before a visit there a few years back to see if I could buy any – but no luck. Myself and my request seemed an odd anachronism!). I might have got lucky with the abscess and it could have healed (though I have read conflicting information on this) – but given that it hadn’t completely after 18 months – that would’ve seemed unlikely. The danger would be sepsis! And from this – death! When I finally visited the dentist for the completion of the treatment (removal of temporary filling and re-draining of infection from tooth/gum) – I was VERY grateful there WERE dentists and wonderful, modern equipment. I had also broken part of my tooth too which she fixed efficiently.

The condition of our teeth and their maintenance of good health generally would be a worry in a survival situation. In ‘Survivors’ they had painkillers, needles, and no doubt scavenged antibiotics. How long would these last? Antibiotics have a shelf life and would be difficult to produce in the survivors circumstances. Before antibiotics became common-place I think they used sulphur, but this wasn’t as effective. In the past ‘the poor’ would have had bad teeth – and often bad health. In France a disparaging term for those without money is ‘sans dents‘. Our oral health has an effect on our general health. And if we found ourselves in the world of the survivors and we needed treatment, how many dentists would have survived? Remember the general survival rate was 1 in 5,000. It’s one thing to read about how to do dentistry– it’s quite another to act upon it. And this dentistry would have to be carried out ‘ad hoc‘ with scavenged equipment. How would a filling be done? And how would we maintain the health of our teeth and gums? Again we’d have to consult the past for advice!

A baby is born during the series. This is somewhat played down (and I don’t think the mother plays a further part but is referred to obliquely). As with dentists, how many midwives or doctors would have survived – and where would they be found? Having a baby would be – as in the past – a threat to the life of both mother and child. We saw in various episodes that painkillers seemed available and needles to inject opiates. The first mothers and babies would be the ‘lucky ones’ – but I imagine ordinary folk (helping at the birth), would struggle with certain deliveries – such as ‘breach births’. Who would have the skill to perform a caesarean? The birth would have to be natural but assisted as best and as ably as possible. Mortality rates would revert to pre-industrialisation figures. In the late 18th Century maternal death was between 5-29 per 1,000. How many babies died? How many babies died then that would have been saved had they been born a century later?

Of course in ‘Survivors’ attitudes to sex/women of possible child-bearing ages would change fairly quickly. In the episode ‘Corn Dolly’ the group we are following (before settling down at their manor house) come across a small commune where many are mortally-ill from eating poisoned fish. Charles, the leader, administers morphine (I’m fairly sure) through injections – to aid a less painful death. It also turns out that he has impregnated most of the women at this small commune in his zeal to re-populate the world! Now, I shan’t dwell too much on the social side of this here – but it is safe to say that women would be ‘expected’ to carry babies and bring in future generations. Sticking to the medical side of this – that would mean sex would more likely result in pregnancies. Which, as discussed, carries risk. Women’s attitude to sex, especially, would surely change – and men’s attitude to women too. I’ll discuss this in a future article. Many women (and girls of course) might find themselves pregnant and at the mercy of either nature or the competence of their fellow humans. Results could be shocking. It is revealed in the last episode (of Series 1) that Jenny is pregnant with Greg’s child.

Every cut would pose a possible threat to the remaining populace. Every accident too. In one episode of ‘Survivors’ a chap has had his legs crushed beneath a tractor. Greg does his best to help him but he doesn’t know how to re-set the man’s bones. This man is eventually left for dead by the woman he is living with (in a hut in a quarry). She has no further use for him in this condition. Spoiler: he survives! And he eventually joins Abby and Greg’s commune. Those who survive any apocalyptic scenario would have to learn ‘old skills’ pretty fast. How to cauterize a wound; how to amputate limbs; how to stem blood flow; how to treat infections etc. Whereas in the past knowledge was built on and developed, in ‘Survivors’ knowledge would be taken back to a place where the ‘old ways’ would be re-learnt. Before, the skills were in place (however primitive) but the knowledge was lacking – in ‘Survivors’ or a post-apocalyptic future, the knowledge would be there but the skills would need to be re-learnt (however primitively).

Alcohol would need to be distilled to produce high-grade alcohol for cleaning, and food and herbs would have to be grown to be eaten for good health or applied to the body as treatments. A variety of food would not just be pleasing – but would also help people feel good mentally as well as physically. Survival would be dependent on many things: supply of good fresh food; a varied diet; new medicinal products (including food/herbs); fresh water; salt; bodily and oral hygiene; the ability to foresee ailments and to treat effectively before blood poisoning or the worsening of the condition. People would need to be physically fit. It would be a young man and woman’s world, though aided by the wisdom of those with necessary skills. Eyesight would be dependent on youth and inherited traits. Folk would need to raid opticians for glasses of various prescriptions – if available. If you had one pair of glasses left and those were damaged or lost then you would be left with your natural eyesight. This could cause problems for normal existence (depending on the state of the eyes). Some conditions could worsen and without treatment might cause blindness, including: macular degeneration; infections of the cornea or retina; glaucoma; diabetes AND simply the inability to find suitable glasses.  

Mental health might well be a problem too. The challenge of everyday living would focus and occupy the mind and that would be conducive to good health. But the situation itself – the lack of food, the struggle to survive, the realisation of the post-apocalyptic world and the LOSS of loved ones would surely take their toll. Would some just ‘give up the ghost’? Again I would like to discuss this further when I’ll talk about social interaction/change and religious/spiritual responses. It’s certainly true to say that the survivors would be like a hapless lot in a leaky lifeboat in the middle of a vast ocean. Occasionally other life boats would be seen and connected with. And some would pose a threat. Threat would be a constant.

Diseases could become rife and in the face of some horrific ones, thought long gone, how would the survivors fare? How would their primitive medicinal skills and (initially well-stocked) medical supplies cope? As with all these thoughts I have had – there would have to be an adjustment. Humans are very good at adapting. Our survivors would need to do so fast! Fortunately for the commune they eventually take in a young woman who is a medical student. She is able to treat Greg’s wounded arm. Obviously for the purposes of future episodes our group needs more than a touch of ‘luck’.

Doctors and dentists would become as gods in this post-apocalyptic world. They would in themselves command power but could also find themselves held hostage (as it were) for their skills – a strange symbiosis perhaps within a commune. Whichever commune a doctor or dentist belonged to would have immediate power and influence. I presume there would be an inclination (probably prompted) for any doctor or dentist to pass on their skills. Hopefully these skills would also be written down with relevance and reference to their current situation so that others could learn. It would be a matter of ‘application’. At what point, I wonder, could the survivors check out hospitals (full of dead/decaying/disease-ridden bodies) and dental surgeries. At what point would ‘safe’ chemists become emptied?
People would need to be able to diagnose diseases/illnesses or damage to the body and treat these as far as possible. They would need to formulate a prognosis too and ideally make others aware of prevention. Already in ‘Survivors’ we have seen violence and death – for a remaining population of about 10,000 that is unacceptable both morally AND in terms of survival. Such a small population would need to expand as quickly as possible.

In the end it would be down to ‘survival of the fittest’. Survival of the healthiest, the luckiest. Those who are young, fit and have healthy ancestry will survive. It would be down to them to procreate; do the bulk of the physical labour; learn new skills – and for some to learn the particular skills of medicine. They would also act as the fulcrum between the past and the future. In fact, that generation would either keep the human race alive or not – it would be as dramatic as that. Their health and knowledge would produce, and then rear, the first post- apocalyptic generation. That generation would have no empirical knowledge of the ‘safe’ world of their parents – the reasonably safe world we now enjoy. Their knowledge of the old world would come through their parents and older survivors. Their attitude to medicine would also be key to their future survival. And again I stress the connection between knowledge and its application. This would be the great test in all skills. There would need to be veterinarians too to control diseases in animals and treat any problems. Those working with animals would have to learn animal-medicine FAST!

The world of  ‘Survivors’ and any future post-apocalyptic survival of the human race would rest on a number of things, the most important of which being individual survival. Every man and woman (and child) would count. Every animal used by the communes would count. In the abandoned towns and cities, animals would teem and reclaim lost land. The future would be fashioned in the countryside. The future would be a marriage of intellect and brawn. As the years roll by perhaps shamanic figures would once again rise in communities – with their knowledge of medicine being paramount. Maybe ‘wise women’ would once again dispense herbal knowledge and remedies. As I write these words I can envisage a very different organisation of human affairs. Maybe a very different kind of human. A strange new world indeed.

by Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

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PORTILLO`S EMPIRE JOURNEY Episode 3 South Africa (Channel 5)

Michael Portillo offers a slanted view of South African history

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Editorial note: Portillo’s Empire Journey (Friday) is the latest offering from Channel 5. The first episode focused on India and the second on Jamaica but it is the third on South Africa that this review concerns.

Michael Portillo`s attention has turned, at least temporarily, away from railways to a series on the malign influence of the British Empire. In this episode he investigates the origins of Apartheid, for which he attempts to blame the British. This is such a one-sided version of South African History that it deserves to be challenged. Its fundamental flaw is that it fails to point out that Afrikaners, not British, colonists formed a majority of the white population of South Africa. Apartheid was a policy designed by Afrikaner governments to serve the interests of the Afrikaner population, much of which was working-class and fearful of native African competition in the jobs market. Most of the white English-speaking population went along with it if it seemed to secure white supremacy. Portillo`s is a classic example of a programme designed to reach a pre-ordained conclusion.

Afrikaners (also known as Boers) were descended from Protestant settlers, predominantly Dutch but also some French Hugenots and Germans, who established a colony at the Cape in 1652. Their language, Afrikaans, a variant of Dutch, reflects this. The Cape remained a Dutch colony until 1815 when the Dutch, as a punishment for having supported Napoleon, were forced to cede it to the British. The first British settlers landed in the Eastern Cape (the area around Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown) in 1820, but at no point did they ever form a majority of the white population. When the British government in London abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833 thousands of Afrikaners protested and migrated to the interior in what is known as the Great Trek, defeated the Zulus in the Battle of Blood River in 1838 and set up their own republics in what came to be known as the Orange Free State (around Bloemfontein) and the Transvaal (around Pretoria). In 1843 the British established another colony on the east coast – Natal (around Durban). So by the 1870s there were four white colonies in South Africa, two Afrikaner and two British. Portillo`s programme, far from explaining any of this, ignores the Afrikaners altogether and begins with the British invasion of Zululand from Natal in 1879.

The Zulu War was the subject of the hit-film “Zulu” in 1964 which focused on the Battle of Rorke`s Drift, defended by greatly outnumbered Redcoats against the spear-brandishing Zulus. Despite a British force having been wiped out on the previous day at Isandlwana, Zululand was overrun by the British in a few months and annexed to Natal. Portillo correctly portrayed the Zulus as victims but failed to point out that they had acquired their land by conquering and subjugating rival tribes some two generations previously under their great warrior leader Shaka.

Portillo then turned his attention to the discovery of gold in 1886. This was in the Transvaal, in Afrikaner (Boer) territory. Prospectors flooded in from all over the world to what became known as Johannesburg. Businessmen, known as Randlords of whom the most famous is Cecil Rhodes (who had already made a fortune from South African diamond mines), acquired ownership of the gold mines. Here Portillo is on surer ground and what follows is by far the most shameful episode in the whole of British involvement in South Africa. Spurred on partly by a wish to bring the gold mines under British control and partly by a fear that the Traansvaal President (Kruger) might favour German influence in the region, they provoked Kruger into launching pre-emptive invasions of British Natal and Cape Colony in 1899. After initial successes, notably at Spion Kop (which became a Liverpool legend) the Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare to which the British responded by herding women and children into the world`s first `concentration camps` in which c28000 died, of whom c22,000 were children (as well as c20,000 black Africans). These were denounced in the House of Commons by a future Prime Minister (Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman) as `methods of barbarism` and were a gift to Nazi propagandists some 40 years later.

Portillo`s portrayal of later South African history is a travesty, resulting from his failure/refusal to recognise the role of the Afrikaners (Boers) who, I repeat, formed a majority of the white population. The four colonies (Cape, Natal, Transvaal, Orange Free State) were combined in 1910 into the Union of South Africa, which remained in the British Empire/Commonwealth until 1961. Economic life was dominated by English-speakers and a large minority of Afrikaners were recognised by the 1920s as forming a `poor white problem` similar to that in the American South in the years after the American Civil War. The Carnegie Commission (1928-32) investigated this and recommended measures including a programme of job reservation for whites. When a predominantly Afrikaner party was elected in 1948, under the leadership of Malan, followed amongst others by Verwoerd, Vorster and P W Botha, it began to implement this and to attempt to secure the future of whites in South Africa by a separation of the races known as Apartheid. Thus, for example, when I travelled on a whites-only overnight train from Johannesburg to Durban in 1982 the porters on the platforms, the ticket collectors, dining car attendants etc. were all white Afrikaners. Their jobs were secure; they had nothing to fear from non-white competition. This is what differentiated Apartheid from policies of white supremacy pursued in British colonies elsewhere in Africa (Rhodesia and Kenya in particular) where there was no poor white problem and fewer restrictions on native African employment. Portillo`s failure to recognise Apartheid as an Afrikaner policy designed to protect the interests of poor whites as well as the maintenance of white supremacy and his attempt to blame the legacy of British colonialism is deeply flawed.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

Picture: Smerus (David Conway) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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Race War: The Fight of the Century Johnson v Jeffries, July 4th 1910

johnsonvjeffries

Johnson v Jeffries

Middle class liberals hate boxing. For this social milieu, the notion of competitive sport is problematic anyway, but the idea that two men, and alternatively in the modern world, two women, should voluntarily take part in a sport where winning is achieved by battering your opponent into a state of unconsciousness, or at least by hitting them more times than they hit you, is so far beyond the acceptable as to be off the moral scale.

Both competitors and followers of boxing tend to come from a working class background, and I come from a working boxing family. The ‘noble art’ was a huge topic of discussion and interest between my dad and myself throughout the seventies and eighties, and up until his death in 1993. Even during the times when I lived away from my home town of Grimsby, during a brief hiatus in the Shetland Isles 1980-81, or after I became a mature student in Manchester for the last three years of his life, our sporadic letters back and forth, most of which I still have, would contain references and predictions concerning this or that upcoming big fight, or our reflections on one recently fought. Dad’s own boxing memories stretched at least as far back as staying up, as a young, fit, keen sixteen-year-old way back in 1937, through the early hours of the morning to listen on the ‘wireless’ with his own dad, the grandfather I would never meet, to Welshman Tommy Farr’s valiant attempt to lift the World Heavyweight Championship from the great ‘Brown Bomber’ Joe Louis, the excited British commentary convincing the two of them, as it convinced so many of their fellow countrymen, that the plucky British underdog had done enough to win. In fact, despite Farr’s remarkable heroism against one of the greatest Heavyweights to ever lace on a glove, the scores and the film of the fight show that Louis won clearly enough. It wasn’t until the era of Lennox Lewis six decades later that Britain could boast a Heavyweight Champion of the World, and Canada had a better claim on his heritage than we ever did.

My dad even did a bit himself and would like to tell the story of how, somewhere, at some point during the Second World War, he was called before his infantry platoon commanding officer after some misdemeanour or other, probably for being drunk and disorderly or for arriving back late from a period of leave. The CO said, after surveying my dad’s small stature but chiseled physique for a suspiciously long time, ‘you’ve got two options: It’s ten days in the Glass House (army jail), or we need a Bantamweight for the boxing team.’ My dad chose the latter and competed regularly for the duration, even bagging a trophy or two.

It was fortunate that my shared interest in boxing with my dad spanned perhaps THE Golden Age of the sport. In the seventies, we enjoyed together, always on delayed television recording the night after the fight in those pre Pay-per-view days, the great clashes between Heavyweight colossuses like Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Shavers, Lyle, Quarry, and, err….Bugner. In the eighties there was the vastly underrated Larry Holmes, who pummelled a faded, sick Ali into tenth round corner retirement as I travelled with my best friend Mike on the sleeper train from Grimsby to Aberdeen, en route to the St Clair ferry and Lerwick; and the masterful series of clashes conducted between the Welterweight and Super Middleweight divisions involving Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto ‘stone-fists’ Duran, Tommy Hearns and the tragic Wifredo Benitez. We also watched together the irresistible rise and rapid fall of ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.

Standing above them all of course, in terms of pugilistic skill, charisma, moral courage and cultural significance, stood Ali; and what a beautiful, vivid memory it is, that of my dad entering my bedroom on the morning of November 1st 1974, with a transistor radio relaying the voice of the Greatest recounting for the world’s press the splendour of his miraculous victory over the seemingly indestructible George Foreman in the heat of Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Republic of Congo), a few hours earlier. I was proud, and still am proud, to have won a couple of quid from dad by correctly predicting that Ali would defy the odds and emerge victorious in the Rumble in the Jungle.

In that fight of course, Ali had regained the title that had been unjustly stolen from him on political grounds seven years earlier. It had been his second attempt to regain the title. His first, against ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier in March 1971, following a mere two comeback ‘warm up’ victories over Quarry and Oscar Bonavena after being unjustly banned from the sport for three and a half years because of his courageous decision to have nothing to do with the Vietnam War, had ended in a narrow, but fair points defeat.

That fight, at Madison Square Garden, had been billed as the Fight of the Century; and indeed this clash of two unbeaten giants of the ring, who both had a worthy claim to the Heavyweight Championship of the World, deserves its place amongst the greatest nights in boxing history.

But, at least in the opinion of this opinionated writer and boxing buff, it should really have been billed as the Second Fight of the Century. The accolade for being the first properly belongs to a bout that took place six decades earlier, almost one hundred and ten years ago at the time of writing, in Reno, Nevada, on July 4th 1910. This fight too involved a former Heavyweight Champion returning to the ring in an attempt to regain the title he’d never lost in the ring, in this case, the Great White Hope Heavyweight James J Jeffries.

It also involved a man without whom there would have been no Ali, no Frazier, no modern boxing at all as we have come to know it.

That man was the Galverston Giant, Jack Johnson, the first black Heavyweight Champion of the world.

The Fight was not just a fight. It was an event that in its cultural significance far exceeded anything that the world of sport had previously known, and arguably anything that it has known since. Essentially, it was a race war, or at least an important round in a race war that had been being conducted on American soil since the early, predominantly white, predominantly European settlers had decided that the native population was an impediment to the progress of civilisation, whilst also deciding that the capture and enslavement of black Africans would provide a great boost to that ‘civilisation.’

In 1910, it was a mere forty-five years since the 13th amendment of the United States constitution had, after a four-year-long civil war, finally abolished slavery. That is, it was as close to people then living as 1975 is to people of my generation. A great many former slaves were still living, as were many former slave owners; and in any case, the racism which underpinned slavery had not disappeared with its abolition, and America remained, and some argue still remains more than a century later, a deeply racist society.

Back then, the assumption of the natural superiority of the white man over all other races was accepted by even, as judged by other standards, radical and progressive people, as we will see shortly in the case of the great American writer Jack London.

Jack Johnson was himself was the son of former slaves, born to Henry and Tina Johnson in Galveston, Texas on March 31st 1878. His father was to serve, and be wounded, in the 38th Coloured Infantry of the Union forces during the civil war. Johnson would later describe his father, despite a permanent impediment to his movement caused by a bullet being lodged in his leg during the inter-American hostilities, as ‘the most perfect human specimen I have ever seen.’ Interestingly, although he was raised in a deeply racist society, working class people in the neighbourhood where Johnson grew up seem, at least according to Johnson’s own memories, to have been remarkably integrated, united by their material poverty and shared exploitation, in an era when working class self-organisation and resistance to poor working and living conditions was still scant, even amongst white members of the working class. Johnson would later recount how, from an early age, he ‘ran with’ a group of ‘rough white boys’ who ‘never made me feel inferior’. Perhaps this experience had a strong bearing on Johnson’s refusal, once he became famous, or perhaps more accurately became ‘infamous’, ever to behave in the humble fashion that white society demanded.

Johnson bought his first pair of boxing gloves with money saved from working as a janitor at the age of 16, and had his first paid bout two years later. He quickly established a reputation through his prowess in the ring, although the ‘Texas State Coloured Middleweight Championship’ he lifted in 1899, a year after his pro debut, was probably about as meaningful as many of the ‘Alphabet Soup’ ‘Title’ fights we see today.

It should be remembered that at the time Johnson began to make a living from the sport, boxing has we have come to know it was still in its infancy. The first international fight of any significance had been in Hampshire, England between the American John C Heenan and the local hero Tom Sayers. Prize Fighting in those days was fought with bare knuckles until one fighter was rendered unconscious or unable to continue. It was also, in Britain at that time, as in many American states, illegal. The Heenan v Sayers fight was broken up by the police after forty-two rounds and more than two hours of savage combat. It was later agreed between the fighters and their seconds to call it a draw.

Another great fighter of the bare-knuckle age was England’s ‘Gypsy’ Jem Mace whose career spanned more than three decades. But it is generally accepted that it is an American, the legendary John L Sullivan, who deserves to be afforded the accolade as the first lineal Heavyweight Champion of the World, gaining general acceptance as champion after knocking out Paddy Ryan in the ninth round in Mississippi in 1882. Sullivan became famed for walking into bars and declaring ‘My name is John L Sullivan and I can lick any man in the house!’ This was almost certainly always true, and for a decade he could justly claim that he could lick any man nt only in the bar, but in the entire world.

Well, probably.

The one question mark around Sullivan’s claim to be the best heavyweight of his era was posed by the existence of a British West Indies born, naturalised Australian citizen and a black fighter by the name of Peter Jackson. Jackson fought all over the world and in the context of a British Empire that, in this regard at least seems to have been more enlightened than its bastard American offspring, had defeated top class white opposition to claim the Heavyweight Championship of both Australia and of the Empire itself. He coveted a shot at Sullivan, and his record proves that he deserved it. But it never happened.

Fights between white fighters and black fighters were illegal in many American States anyway as an aspect of the general ‘Jim Crow’ laws against race mixing and integration then in operation. But the fight could have happened somewhere, in Australia, in Britain, in Canada and wherever it happened it would have made both fighters a lot of money. The fact that it didn’t happen was down to Sullivan and Sullivan alone. Citing the colour bar then in general operation across American society, he declared ‘I have never fought a black man and I never will!’ He was, sadly for Jackson, who would die near penniless of tuberculosis aged just forty in 1901, Sullivan was true to his word.

John L is regarded as both the last of the old bare-knuckle London Prize Ring Rules (the loose code that governed boxing in those days) and the first of the new-fangled gloved Marquis of Queensbury rules, even though the only fight he ever had under these latter rules (aside from in meaningless four-round exhibition bouts) was when he lost his title to ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett (later to be immortalised by Errol Flynn in the movie Gentleman Jim) by 21st round knockout in 1892.

Corbett had fought Peter Jackson in a gruelling 61 round draw the year before beating Sullivan. But as champion he, like his predecessor, drew the line he drew at risking seeing the championship fall into the hands of a black man. The same went for the man who took his title in 1897 with a brutal shot to the solar plexus in the first fight ever to be captured on film, Cornwall born but naturalised Australian and then American citizen Bob Fitsimmons; as did the man who took the title by knocking out Cornish Bob two years later.

That man was James J Jeffries.

Jeffries was a great fighter who held the title for six years, and he deserves to be remembered for more than his loss to Johnson when well past his prime. But his refusal to defend his title against, to use one of the more polite terms then in vogue, a negro, is a blot against his character, even if it is understandable in the context of the time.

And it is even more of a stain on his record for the fact that his reign as champion coincided with the rise of several great black fighters, each of whom would at the very least have given Jeffries a good argument as to whom was the best Heavyweight in the world. As well as Johnson, a contender from 1901 or thereabouts, there were the likes of Jean Jeanette, Sam McVey, and most of all the great Sam Langford. Black boxing had progressed beyond the not so distant point when they took part in Battle Royals’, where up to half a dozen of them would fight each other simultaneously in the ring until only one remained standing, all for the enjoyment of a paying, baying almost entirely white audience, but the difficulty of finding top-class white opposition willing to fight them meant that these great fighters had little choice but to do battle with each other on numerous occasions. Johnson and Jeanette alone fought each other seven times during this period.

Despite his refusal to meet any of the worthy black contenders, Jeffries was an excellent heavyweight champion, a big man for the time at 6ft 1 and a half inches tall, and around sixteen stones in weight. He was also a remarkably good all round Athlete for someone of his size, apparently able to complete a hundred yard dash in a little over ten seconds at his peak. He was a natural left-hander who nevertheless chose to fight out of the orthodox rather than the southpaw stance, and was thus endowed with a powerful sweeping left hand that knocked out the vast majority of fighters he fought. Amongst those who tried and failed to rest the championship from his broad shoulders was ex champion James Corbett (twice). He also holds the record for the quickest ever victory in a Heavyweight Championship fight, a 55 second first-round victory over one Jack Finnegan.  In the spring of 1905, with no worthy (white) contenders on the horizon, he took the decision to retire as undefeated champion. He himself referred the contest to succeed him as champion, a fight in which Marvin Hart defeated Jack Root. Hart lost the title in his first defence, by twenty round decision to Canadian Tommy Burns.

It is unlikely that anybody but the most partisan of Canadians would ever rank Burns amongst the greatest Heavyweight Champions in history. His place in the record books is secured mainly by him being the smallest of all Heavyweight Champions. At 5ft 7 and around 12 stone in weight, he was really little more than a middleweight. Despite this, he proved himself a busy champion, as well as the first globe-trotting champion, defending his titles no less than eleven times in three years, in France, England, Ireland and Australia as well as in America.

But his reign was dogged throughout by the dark shadow of Jack Johnson who, in his series of bouts against his racial contemporaries, had proven himself to be the first amongst equals, lifting the ‘Coloured Heavyweight Championship in 1903 with a twenty round decision over Ed Martin. Johnson followed Burns from country to country, taunting and questioning Burns right to call himself the Heavyweight Champion of the World until he had fought and defeated himself, a feat that Johnson knew was beyond Burns, and beyond any boxer then living, of any race, creed or colour. In his public pronouncements Burns, to his credit, refused to draw the colour line, declaring that he wanted ‘to be the champion of the whole world, not just the champion of the white world.’ But if words were deeds then we would all be heroes, and in practice he showed a great reluctance to face Johnson.

In the end though, whether it was through pride or money (he was paid a then whopping $30,000, more than a million Dollars by today’s standards, for the fight), or perhaps out of a real conviction that he had the beating of Johnson, Burns finally agreed to break with convention and defend his title against a black contender in Sydney, Australia on (aptly) Boxing Day 1908.

If he did indeed believe he would win, then he was sadly self-deluded. Johnson taunted and toyed with the brave but comparatively diminutive Burns until the police entered the ring in the fourteenth round in order to avoid the racial indignity of seeing a white man knocked unconscious by a black man.

A new age had dawned. The official greatest fighting man on the planet was now a black man. Jack Johnson, a son of slaves, was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

At ringside for the Johnson – Burns fight, reporting for the American newspaper The New York Herald for the substantial fee of twenty-five cents a word, was the aforementioned great American writer Jack London. As well as being a great writer and already a household name in his own country, London was an outdoorsy adventurer and lover of sport, much as another great writer Ernest Hemmingway would be four decades later. He was also a staunch and vocal socialist. I recently re-read his novel The Iron Heel, and still consider it to be amongst the finest examples of Socialist Science Fiction ever written. His book The People of the Abyss, which is essentially about how even those at the very bottom of capitalist society readily take the ideology of their oppressors and exploiters as their own, is also required reading for all socialists.

But London was a man of his time who accepted as natural the right of the white man to rule over the black man. His socialism had no place in it for the ‘inferior races’, and it was he who, from the moment Johnson’s victory over Burns was confirmed, took it on himself, whilst magnanimously paying his respects to Johnson’s abilities and fairness as a fighter, to lead the campaign for James J Jeffries to come out of retirement and reclaim the title on behalf of the white man. In his report on the Johnson v Burns fight, which in its level of eradication more closely resembled an extract from one of his novels than it did your average boxing report, he described Johnson as a ‘Giant Ethiopian, toying with a naughty child’, and also referred to the new champions ‘Golden Smile.’ By way of conclusion, and in words that would echo across the globe, he issued his plea for the return of the retired former champion: ‘But one thing remains. Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove that smile from Johnson’s face. It’s up to you Jeff.’’

Jeffries had initially enjoyed his retirement. As well his farm, where he tended cattle, hunted and fished, he also owned a nice house in downtown Los Angeles, a saloon which had reportedly the longest bar on the Pacific Coast, and an arena called the Jeffries’ Athletic club where he staged boxing matches which he would also sometimes referee. He grew fat and seemingly content, a good seven stone over his old fighting weight. But by the time the clamour for him to return to the ring to fight Johnson began, his businesses were apparently not doing so well. If the easy life was to remain easy, he needed money.

In addition to financial considerations, there was also a steady flow of letters, encouraged by London’s ongoing press campaign, from white people incensed that what was already described as The Richest Prize in Sport should be in the hands of a black man. Talking of this period years later, whilst in happy permanent retirement, Jeffries reflected: ‘They kept on at me. Even in the churches they were sermonising that I was a skunk for not defending the white races honour.’

Maybe, as well as the money and the expectations of his white brethren, there was also that feeling that never quite seems to leave great fighters, the same feeling that made Muhammad Ali return from two years retirement to take a one-sided beating from Larry Holmes, the same feeling that made the great Sugar Ray Robinson continue to compete in tank towns across America long after his glory days were over, that made Roberto Duran fight until he was fifty, that made Sugar Ray Leonard return one last time to get flattened by Hector Camacho, that feeling that maybe, just maybe, I still have it, if only for one night, if only for one last great fight. (At the time of writing a short clip of the 53 year old Mike Tyson blazing away at the training mitts in apparent readiness for a return to the ring has gone viral on social media).

Whatever his reasons, almost as soon as Tommy Burns hit the canvas for the last time against Johnson, Jeffries secretly resumed training, beginning the arduous task of losing the vast excess of flab that too much good food and too much hard drink had added to his already large frame, whilst publicly letting it be known that he would only take the fight with Johnson if he was sure that he was in good enough shape to be sure of victory:

‘I realise that (if I win) I’ll be hailed as the greatest champion in pugilism’s history. I know that it would mean more fame than ever fell to any fighter’s lot, and it would make me a rich man. But I also realise that to lose to Johnson would make me a dog. I simply won’t fight unless I know I am good enough to knock out Johnson. You don’t catch Jim Jeffries losing to a coloured man.’

Before turning to the fight itself, it is first necessary to say something about the character of the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World. If Johnson had been a humble individual, if he’d behaved in the manner that was expected of black men, even in the case of those rare creatures ‘successful’ black men, if he’d said ‘yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am’, if he’d shown that despite his physical prowess inside the ring he knew and accepted his place outside of it, if he accepted racial segregation as merely an expression of the natural order of things, then the hatred directed against him by the white establishment and the clamour to see his ‘golden smile’ erased from his face by a white heavyweight, any white heavyweight, would perhaps not have been so strong, though of course the very fact of him holding the championship would still have been seen as a racial affront by a good many white Americans.

But all that is immaterial in any case. Because Jack Johnson was not a humble man. He bowed down to no one, whatever their colour. He not only defeated white fighters, he taunted and humiliated them, letting everyone know that he could win more or less whenever and however he pleased. Outside of the ring he flaunted his wealth, erratically driving the fastest, flashiest of those new-fangled motor cars that his money could buy, even dabbling in automobile racing. Once, when given an on the spot $5 fine for speeding he handed the police officer a $10 bill and told him to keep the change, explaining that he intended to drive at the same speed on the return journey too. He dressed in a manner that was a cross between a parody of an English dandy and a pimp, wearing a Top-Hat and Tails, carrying a silver tipped cane, and adorning himself with garish jewellery. Worse than any of that, he broke the greatest racial taboo of them all. He flouted his black, masculine sexuality by ‘cavorting’ with white women, at a time when mixed relationships were illegal in thirty American states, and at best frowned upon within the rest. In the first ten years of the twentieth century, approximately seven hundred black American males were lynched in the United States, many of them accused of raping white women. In fact, a good proportion of these alleged ‘rapes’ were purely consensual liaisons between black men and white women. The myth of the extra ‘endowment’ and sexual prowess of black men was widely accepted as true, and it seems that plenty of white women were only too eager to seek confirmation of this ‘truth’.

Johnson married three times, each time to a white woman, but many more were to pass through his bed chambers. Once, when asked the secrets of his sexual staying power after several beautiful white women had been seen to visit his hotel room in succession, he replied ‘jellied eels and distant thoughts.’ The first of his wives, a socialite named Eta Duryea committed suicide amid claims of physical abuse from her husband. Johnson’s ‘immoral’ race-mixing even brought criticism from within his own community. Black scholar Booker T Washington opined that it was a ‘shame’ that Johnson used his fame and wealth in a manner that ‘brought harm’ to his own race. Interestingly, in an interview with Howard Cosell in the early ‘70’s Muhammad Ali, after praising Johnson’s skill as a boxer and his courage in succeeding in a white man’s world, also made clear that, as a Black Muslim, he could not condone Johnson’s behaviour as regards to forming relationships with white women.

It was in April 1909 that Jim Jeffries publicly announced that he would resume boxing in order to return the Heavyweight Championship to its rightful place amongst the white race. He said that he believed he needed ‘eight to ten months’ to get into good enough fighting shape to ensure victory. In fact it would be another fifteen months before the Fight of the Century would take place. Before that, another Great White Hope, the hard hitting, hard living reigning Middleweight Stanley Ketchel got a shot at Johnson. After being toyed with in the manner that Johnson had toyed with Tommy Burns for eleven rounds, he had the temerity to knock the champion to the ground in the twelfth. Embarrassed and enraged, Johnson immediately jumped to his feet and rendered the upstart challenger unconscious with his very next blow, spreading four of Ketchel’s teeth around the canvas in the process. A photograph of Johnson standing over his prone opponent also reveals a lone black face in the crowd, smiling with satisfaction amidst a sea of grim, white faces. Such images could only have served to increase the pressure on Jeffries to restore the honour of his race.

Jack Johnson and James J Jeffries finally climbed through the ropes to face one another for the undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World in front of 22,000 people in an especially constructed arena in Reno, Nevada on July 4th 1910. Jeffries was being paid $120,000, over $3 million at today’s prices, and Johnson around half that amount. In addition, both were guaranteed a cut of the proceedings from the sales of the film of the fight, which was scheduled to be shown in movie theatres across the country in the weeks following the contest. Outwardly at least it was clear that Jeffries had worked hard at getting himself back into condition, looking honed and chiselled and weighing in at more or less his old fighting weight at 16st 3, 19 pounds more than Johnson.

But as was demonstrated by Ali’s ill fated comeback against Holmes, losing weight and looking good is not in and of itself a guarantee that a fighter has regained the abilities of his peak years. Jeffries was a narrow 7/10 favourite to beat Johnson, the odds perhaps tilted in his favour by the knockdown Johnson had suffered against Ketchel: after all, if a middleweight could put the upstart negro on his backside, what could the much bigger and infinitely more powerful Jeffries do? Indeed, a great deal of money was, mostly illegally, waged on the result. Fears of racially and gambling related violence was so great that guns were banned from the stadium.

As is the case at big Las Vegas fight nights today, a great many celebrities and champions of the past were amongst the audience. The biggest cheer of all during the pre-fight introductions was for John L Sullivan and the Irish American Jake Kilrain, who had battled each other bare-knuckled for the championship for an amazing 75 rounds two decades earlier, before Kilrain had finally succumbed to the Boston Strong Boy.

The expectation of boxing pundits for the course of the fight was that Jeffries would rush forward with his left hand extended in his customary fashion, seeking to trap his opponent in corners and the ropes before unleashing the full extent of his power to head and body. Johnson, it was thought, would use his masterly defensive skills to fend off Jeffries’ attacks by blocking, parrying and counter with jabs and crosses whenever the old champion left himself exposed. In fact, just as Muhammad Ali would confound the experts by eschewing his usual dancing master style to fight George Foreman to a standstill from the ropes in Zaire sixty four years later, Johnson too shocked the pundits, and more importantly shocked Jeffries, by staying close to him, trading blows at close quarters, taking whatever Jeffries had left to offer on his arms and shoulders, whilst rocking him repeatedly with lightning fast crosses and uppercuts. Occasionally, he would pause his assault to tie up Jeffries inside whilst chatting amiably with ringside onlookers, or to whisper mock-concerned enquiries as to ‘Mr. Jeff’s’ well being into the increasingly battered white man’s champions ear. At one point he marched Jeffries over to the ropes close to where ex-champion James J Corbett was sitting at ringside. In stark contrast to his ‘Gentleman’ nickname, Corbett had racially goaded Johnson throughout the long build-up to the fight, insisting that the champions black skin concealed a ‘yellow streak.’ This race-baiting had continued during the fight itself. Now, holding tightly onto Jeffries, Johnson looked over his opponent’s shoulder and yelled over the ropes ‘where do you want me to put him Mr. Corbett?’

The result was never in doubt. In the fifteenth round, a third of the way through the scheduled forty-five, Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel after their fighter had been floored heavily for the third time in the round, perhaps in response to such shouted pleasantries as ‘Don’t let the n..ger knock him out!’

Jeffries was at least magnanimous in defeat, refusing to blame age or his long lay-off for his failure to restore the title to the white race, conceding that ‘even on my best night I couldn’t have beaten him. No, I could never have got near him.’ Sullivan too, who unsurprisingly given his refusal to defend his title against Peter Jackson or any other black fighter, had been amongst the loudest voices clamouring for Jeffries’ return, now admitted: ‘The Fight of the Century is over and a black man is the undisputed Champion of the World….he is one of the craftiest, most cunning fighters ever to have stepped into the ring…the best man won and I was amongst the first to congratulate him…’

If the boxing world now grudgingly accepted Johnson’s dominance, wider American society did not. News of Johnson’s victory was greeted with wild celebrations in Harlem and in other centres of what was yet to become known as the ‘African-American’ community. A poem by the black American poet Norris Wright Cuney perhaps best summed up the mood amongst his racial compatriots:

Oh, my Lord

What a morning,

Oh my Lord

What a feeling

When Jack Johnson

Turned Jim Jeffries’

Snow White face

To the ceiling.

Supposedly lucrative showings of the fight in cinemas were banned in many American cities and States for fear that it would provoke racially motivated violence, although this didn’t stop it being the most watched footage in American history, until it was surpassed by D.W. Griffiths classic cinematic homage to White America in the movie Birth of a Nation five years later. Nor did it stop the violence: there were apparently riots of varying degrees of seriousness in response to the result of the fight in twenty-five American states, and fifty cities, with the death rate for these disturbances put at anywhere between twelve and twenty six. Even once the initial period of celebration and outrage subsided, the campaign against Johnson’s ‘reckless’ and ‘disrespectful’ personal behaviour continued in the American press.

The search for a Great White Hope capable of wiping the ‘Golden Smile’ from the lips of the strutting champion also continued. It took two years before a suitable challenger was found, although the fact that ‘Fireman’ Jim Flynn, a fighter who’d been stopped by Tommy Burns in a title fight six years earlier, was the best opponent that could be found is perhaps an indication of how limited the potential white opposition to Johnson was at this time. My dad, in the pre DVD, pre VHS era, had a reel to reel silent film of this fight. It was most notable for the already legendary former Wild West Sheriff Wyatt Earp stepping into the ring before the fight to the acclaim of the crowd, two guns strapped to his belt. Flynn was disqualified in the ninth round after repeatedly trying to head-butt Johnson at close quarters.

Perhaps disappointingly, Johnson himself seemed to operate an unofficial colour bar once he became champion, refusing to give a title shot to any of his worthy old black foes like Langford, Jeanette or McVey, or to a young up and coming black fighter by the name of Harry Wills. Only once, in Paris December 1913 did Johnson give another black boxer, the unrelated Jim Johnson, a title shot, although their ten round bout is regarded by many boxing historians as being little more than a glorified exhibition.

If no white boxer could catch up with Johnson, then the white man’s law could. In October 1012 he was arrested on charges of violating the Mann Act whilst travelling with a white eighteen-year-old alleged prostitute called Lucille Cameron, a woman who would later become his second wife. The Mann Act was a new law that forbade the ‘transposition of women across state lines for immoral purposes’, a catch all which could be used to persecute any black man travelling with a white, female companion. The case collapsed when Cameron refused to testify against Johnson, but he was arrested again shortly afterward under the terms of the same law whilst travelling with another white alleged prostitute, one Bella Schreiber, a woman who’d been ‘romantically’ involved with Johnson on and off for over three years. Schreiber did agree to testify, almost certainly in return for financial remuneration. Johnson was convicted by a predictably all-white jury and sentenced to one year and one day in prison.

Freed on bail pending appeal, Johnson chose to skip the country rather than face the indignity of jail time, joining Lucile Cameron in Montreal in June 1913, the two of them setting sail for France shortly afterward.

As an exile Johnson continued to box, both in title fights and in exhibitions, even trying his hand at bull fighting in Spain, before, at the of 37 finally losing his Heavyweight Championship by twenty sixth round knock out to Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba in April 1915. At 6 ft, 6 inches tall and nearly 17 stone in weight, Willard was a giant of a man for the time. Most importantly of all, for those who detested the holding of the championship by an uppity negro, Willard was white.

Controversy still rages over the legitimacy of the result. A famous photograph of Johnson lying on the canvas shielding his eyes from the blazing sun is taken as evidence that he was not really unconscious, that he’d taken a dive in return for a promise of a pardon for his conviction by the American courts. But a boxer can be dazed enough to be counted out after being floored without being rendered fully unconscious, and raising one’s hands as protection against the Sun is a natural, instinctive act even for someone who is no longer fully conscious. In addition, if you are going to throw a fight, why battle through twenty-six (of a scheduled forty-five) hard rounds before doing so? This was Willard’s take on the controversy too: ‘If he was going to take a dive, I wished he’d have done it sooner. It was as hot as hell out there.’ The truth is probably simply that a younger bigger man was able to wear down an aging champion who’d grown too used to easy living, in conditions so excessively hot that even a peak Johnson would have struggled to cope in such a prolonged contest.

If there ever was a promise of a pardon for Johnson, it went unfulfilled, and for the next five years, the now ex-champion continued to travel and continued to box, until, apparently home sick, he surrendered to American Federal Law enforcement officers at the Mexican border in July 1920. Photographs of the event show both the law enforcement officers and the returning fugitive smiling genially for the cameras of the waiting press.

Johnson served ten months in Leavenworth state penitentiary between September 1920 and July 1921, though he seems to have served it in relative comfort, being allowed to train and even to put on boxing exhibitions with guards and fellow inmates. After his release, he resumed boxing, challenging Jack Dempsey, who’d ripped the title from Willard in three brutal rounds in 1919, to a title fight. By this time, with Johnson approaching his mid-forties and Dempsey in his devastating mid-twenties peak, Johnson would likely have taken a beating much more savage than the one he’d dished out to Jeffries more than a decade earlier. But in any case, it was never going to happen. From the moment Johnson was counted out against Willard, he unofficial colour bar which had been in operation from the time of John L Sullivan up until the reign of Tommy Burns, was reinstated. Black heavyweight Harry Wills had become the ‘Coloured Heavyweight Champion’ and was the man many regarded as the best possible challenger to the formidable Dempsey. But he never got a sniff of a title fight. After Dempsey had lost twice to the highly skilled Genie Tunney and Tunney had retired undefeated as champion, a succession of white heavyweights held the title for relatively brief periods: Max Schmeling; Jack Sharkey; Primo Carnera; Max Bear; James J Braddock, none of whom are regarded today as being in the same class as either Jack Johnson or James J Jeffries. It was not until Joe Louis’ unstoppable rise to become the second black heavyweight champion that the boxing world would again have a champion who is regarded as amongst the all-time greats.

Louis, or at the least the predominantly white people making big money from Louis’ skill and punching power, learned from Johnson’s example, the fighter earning the respect of the white world both within and without the boxing by sticking to his own kind, stressing his American patriotism and always showing due respect, at least outside of the ring, to his racial ‘superiors’. This helped to smooth his path to the championship. The phrase ‘a credit to his race’ was one that was often used in relation to Joe Louis. But it didn’t do him much good in the long run. After nearly twelve years as champion and a record twenty-five title defences, he wound up broke, owing money to the taxman. He was forced to make an ill-advised comeback that saw him outpointed by Ezzard Charles and knockout out by Rocky Marciano. After that, he engaged in the indignity of rigged Professional wrestling bouts, before developing drug and life-long mental health problems.

Instead of showing racial solidarity as Louis rose through the ranks towards the title in the thirties, Jack Johnson was rather sniffy about his successors fighting ability, calling him mechanical and comparing him unfavourably with himself. He earned much criticism within his own community when he boasted of having won a considerable sum of money betting against Louis before the Brown Bomber’s upset defeat against Max Schmeling in 1936, the year before Louis won the title from Braddock.

Unlike Muhammad Ali, whom age and ill health taught humility, and who was consequently transformed from a black separatist figure of white hatred into a symbol of universal peace and reconciliation, as was demonstrated by the ecstatic acclaim which greeted his lighting of the Olympic flame with a torch held in an alarmingly tremulous hand at the start of the 1996 Atlanta Games, Johnson never really seemed to mature as a human being, nor to reconcile himself to life after boxing. He continued to crave and to attempt to live the high life long after he’d lost the boxing skills and thus the financial means to allow him to do so. His last official fight was a knockout win in 1931 at the age of 53, but he continued to fight exhibitions after that, as well as to take part in unlicensed ‘cellar fights’ for private audiences in seedy basements. For a time in the 1930’s he even worked in a fairground where punters could pay a dollar for the privilege of saying they’d boxed a round or two with the great Jack Johnson.

He last climbed through the ropes in November 1945 at the age of 67 for a three one-minute round exhibition bout with old rival Jean Jeanette in aid of American military War Bonds.

Seven moths later, he was dead, a victim of his love of fast cars and refusal to accept the norms of white society, as he crashed his car whilst speeding angrily away from the scene of a segregated restaurant that had refused him service.

How good was Jack Johnson? It’s not easy to tell from the surviving, flickering black and white film of his contests, including of the battle with Jeffries. He was regarded in his time as a master of the art of self-defence, and whilst this was no doubt true, his preferred mode of defence was to block, parry and deflect blows with his hands, in a style strangely reminiscent of two-time champion George Foreman, though without Foreman’s devastating punching power. He shows little of the feet and head movement that would later characterise Ali and in our own time Britain’s Tyson Fury. But, if he was around today with all the advantages of modern training methods and more than a century of great fighters to learn from, who knows? In any case, as Lennox Lewis was to say, ‘Nobody can do better than be the best in their own time.’ Jack Johnson was the Heavyweight Champion of the World for seven years, and could probably have lifted the title three to five years before he did, had he not faced the ingrained obstacles placed in the way of black Americans in all fields of endeavour. The respected Boxing Historian, fight film collector, writer and long-time editor of Ring magazine Nat Fleisher saw every heavyweight champion fight live from Johnson to Joe Frazier. As a young man, he even met the very first official Heavyweight Champion, John L Sullivan; and Fleischer never wavered in his opinion that Jack Johnson was the greatest of them all.

But more importantly than that, Johnson was one of those rare figures who transcend whatever first brought them to public attention. Jack Johnson was not just a boxer he was a symbol, a symbol of resistance, of resistance to the great injustice upon which American society was founded. When he squared off against James J Jeffries on July 4th 1910, Jack Johnson, the son of slaves, was fighting not just for himself, but for his people, for victims of racial oppression everywhere, whether consciously or not. He was undoubtedly a flawed individual, but above that he was a free individual. And when the towel fluttered sadly into the ring as a symbol of the white man’s surrender in the Fight of the Century, it was his Golden Smile that glinted in the Nevada sunlight.

Postscript:

On May 24th 2018, after a long-running campaign, President Donald J Trump awarded Johnson a posthumous pardon for his conviction for violating the Mann Act.

Anthony C Green (May 2020)

Links:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/104/1044822/unforgivable-blackness/9780224092340.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0gRGoDchMU

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/50_Years_at_Ringside.html?id=6pE-AAAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIrZIog0Oa4&t=447s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvTTn-DtZYw

 

 

 

 

 

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Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid 19 & the Future Part 3  ‘Food’

Survivors_LogoReviewed by Tim Bragg

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Food’.

Before I start writing – or rather re-writing this article – I have to say that I lost 1,000 words as a result of a power cut. An hour or so trying to recover the original document proved fruitless. So I will turn the loss into an advantage! Needless to say I was very happy with what I wrote but I cannot recapture those particular thoughts. But this has emphasised the dependency we have on both electricity and technology – themes I shall cover in the future. And I have decided to have singular articles for Food and Medicine whereas I had intended a combination.

The plague in ‘Survivors’ is called ‘The Death’. Without food and water you die – of course. And at times, without medication, you also die. In the series, life for the survivors is an awkward mix of reliance on the past (pilfering food and medicine) and adjusting to the needs of the future. The baton of the past being slipped into their hands for them to run with. Although they have stockpiled non-perishable foods, they have to plant and grow their seasonal, fresh needs. Most survivors would be ordinary folk with few skills – those WITH skills would find themselves elevated within their small communities. The ranking of folk is also something I wish to write about later.

For the moment I am going to concentrate on food and its production. Our group has finally decided to set up in a permanent place. It’s an old manor house which offers room, protection (to a degree), plenty of grounds to cultivate, a river and some animals close by. Fortunately a lone man joins the commune with self-sufficiency skills and he is able to point out where the group’s initial husbandry is going wrong. Paul (the new member) is able to look at land and know how it is to be cultivated (or not) – he has a seasoned eye for a young chap. He understands about irrigation too and how that is to be managed. Most people will have come from urban areas and have little clue about how to grow things, when to sow crops, how to raise and treat animals, how to cure meat and pickle or dry food. In the commune there is an old Jewish lady that seems to have some of the latter skills (harking back to a pre-war time) and having Paul arrive is a God send (or a ‘writer’ send).

Apparently during the lockdown here in 2020 large rats have been invading homes in the UK as their normal source of food in restaurants has been cut off! That got me thinking about the state of towns and cities in ‘Survivors’. How long would these places yield food? With so many dead bodies – neither buried nor burnt – diseases would surely flourish. Rats would teem and likely carry disease. In one episode of  ‘Survivors’ a small community has been close to wiped out as a result of eating poisoned fish. Rivers could easily become polluted by all manner of means – not least the slurry of dead humans and animals, plus toxins leaked from unmaintained factories. Every aspect of healthy living would be challenged. What water could/couldn’t you drink (running water from high-up streams would be best I imagine)? How would you tell if a fish was poisoned? You’d have to know a healthy fish – here any anglers would play their part. I don’t eat meat or fish but as the future overtakes the past with each new generation then I imagine all people would simply be glad and thankful for the food on their plate. The magical appearance of ready-made foods would be long gone – our whole connexion with Nature and Animals (flora and fauna) would be radically changed. How good would you be at picking edible mushrooms for instance?

Food would continue to be scavenged of course but as I have written, fresh food, meat and milk would be needed. In one episode a forlorn character realises that they will never eat bananas again. Even tomatoes would have to be grown in greenhouses (in Britain). Potatoes are a great crop as they are hardy and it’s possible to get three (but at least two) yields a year. You’d need to find potatoes that have germinated and duly plant them. And keep them blight free! All crops would be dependent on the season and its weather. You’d have to think ahead – think in a way most of us have never had to. Growing vegetables and herbs isn’t ‘easy’ – okay nature does a lot of the work but you have to dig the ground and maintain the soil. And keep insects, slugs and snails (maybe animals) from eating your crop. An episode showed how our group, though it had a tractor, realised they’d need to re-learn the skills of ploughing with horses. And as soon as animals are involved you really need to know what to do. It would be likely that horse-related skills would be found within the survivors – if not, then how do you handle a horse? How do you get it to wear a harness? Where is the food to sustain it? (You’re going to have to grow that.) If you have sheep/cows/goats – do you know how to look after them. Someone would have to step in and get their hands dirty – literally. These animals need to be disease free, well fed, sheltered if necessary. And how do you milk a cow or goat – not as easy as portrayed (Jenny in ‘Survivors’ was shown milking a goat). Okay you learn. But it would be such a complete change of mentality needed. The milk would come straight from the animal. How do you keep it fresh? Where would the bull be for the cows – who’s going to take charge of him? It wouldn’t be a story-book farm or some sentimental reflection you’d previously seen on the TV.

And what about killing your ‘food’? Someone will have to break the chicken’s or rooster’s neck; someone will have to snare a rabbit and kill it – then skin and prepare for cooking; someone will have to take a lamb and hold back its head so its throat can be slit (and the blood caught and used)! None of the meat from the animals killed would be wasted, at least. I imagine a random group from a survival rate of 1 in 5,000 wouldn’t produce many slaughterhouse workers, butchers or folk used to despatching animals. Methods of killing would have to be learnt and then done as quickly and efficiently as possible to save further pain to the animal. If rabbits or deer are shot then that will require the skills of stealth and accuracy – otherwise wounded animals will escape only to die later, slowly and painfully – or find themselves easy prey (meat) for another species. And the animals which are kept will have to be raised properly – all sorts of parasites will need to be monitored. Veterinary practices will also need to be raided. Where will future replacements come from? How will future drugs be made? Re sheep – who will learn to sheer the sheep – not as easy as one might think, I imagine. Would our attitudes to animals change for the better or be far worse (in the interim period at least)?

I don’t know how long drugs can be used safely – whether there are ‘expiry’ dates. Eventually alongside the growing of plants to eat, must come the growing of plants and herbs as medicine. Alcohol and cider could be made – but a primitive distillery would be required to create high-percentage alcohol that could clean wounds. There would be a LOT of drugs/medicine to go round – but going into towns and cities might become prohibitive. Just too dangerous – too dangerous even for the collection of much needed medicine. At some point  surviving folk would have to go right back to the fundamentals of medicine and how it is obtained. We would need folklore customs and detailed books for growing and gathering medicinal plants and herbs – then their domestication. We would need to re-discover the variety of produce in hedgerows.

Food is not just about ‘staying alive’. We need variety and good taste. Vegetables would need to be sown at the correct times and rotated. Land would be ploughed. Orchards located and/or fruit trees grown close by. Much time would be spent growing and tending food – making sure each season supplies its crop. Growing food requires forethought. Food could, of course, be traded and exchanged with other local communities (that could be trusted). And each group would need manpower (people-power) to keep its existence sustained. I think there would be a return to pre-modern sex-based roles. Men hunting and doing heavy manual work with women preparing and cooking food. This food would also need to be stored correctly. In one episode of  ‘Survivors’ our group loses much of its stock as it has stored the food in a cellar – which would have seemed sensible. But with heavy rains the cellar was flooded, causing extensive damage.

Eating food is a communal act – a celebration, a bonding of folk. We used to say ‘grace’ before eating – acknowledging that all food came from God. Perhaps in some future, devastating pandemic (as in the fictional ‘Survivors’) we would either re-discover a connexion with God and/or give praise to all the souls that brought the food to the table. A recognition that it was a group effort to bring about the nourishment on the plate: those who tended the vegetable and herb garden; those who ploughed the fields; those who cured and pickled; those who reared, killed and prepared the animals; those who obtained salt; those who fished; those who collected honey; those who picked fruit; those who knew which mushrooms or berries to pick and eat (not the poisonous varieties!); those who COOKED! Those who gathered wood for the fires and those who kept them going. Everyone would be as intertwined as the life found in a hedgerow.

Through the growing, rearing, managing, preparing and cooking of food there would come a  re-alignment of our relationship with Nature and ourselves. Rain and sun would affect crops as would the phase of the moon re sowing! Wind might drive the sails of mills (re-built for grinding wheat). We would become creatures of daylight again – and fire-lighting and maintenance a pre-occupation. With our natural ingenuity and enough minds put together (along with all the tools required and books found in libraries) we certainly could manage to transform from a ‘everything you want – when you want’ society into a self-sufficient hybrid society. I say ‘hybrid’ as we would take the best of the past and use it for as long as possible to help effect a sustainable future. With enough time, the transition could be made. But we would have to live WITH Nature not against her. Every aspect of food and our relationship with it would be altered. Life might become harder but perhaps – more rewarding.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid-19 & the Future Part 2 ‘Law & Order’ 

Survivors_LogoReviewed by Tim Bragg

Law & Order

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Law & Order’.

Law and order will be key to any major crisis. During current times we have virtually imprisoned ourselves in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. In China the Government used and continues to use draconian methods to control movement of people and the spread of the virus. The Government monitors Chinese people through their mobile phones (which appear ubiquitous) and phone users now have to have their faces scanned and their devices linked to their real identities (which are also monitored through their national identity cards). There are nearly a quarter of a million face recognition and surveillance cameras throughout the country. In the UK and France we have seen some ‘heavy-handed’ policing operating alongside quite ‘laissez-faire‘ attitudes. In France we have ‘attestations’ to fill out if we move from our homes (to exercise, shop, work etc.) and some places have had curfews installed. In the UK, alongside drones hunting down lone or small groups of folk walking in rural areas, it seems a ‘blind eye’ has been turned to certain communities who have carried on as normal. Along with some police acting as if their new ‘apparent’ powers have gone to their head: insisting on ‘social distancing’ in parks – other folk have carried on travelling in overcrowded public transport. In France some local governments have instructed the CRS (the riot-control police) NOT to enter certain unofficial ‘no go zones’.

Most people are complying with the emergency measures governments have introduced and, it seems, have enthusiastically embraced the wearing of masks and gloves. In France (as currently in other countries such as the Czech Republic) mask wearing will soon become compulsory. It’s certainly an odd situation to find oneself in. Humans are social animals where most communication is non-verbal – but we find ourselves isolated and masked. We find ourselves complying with every governmental decree – partly I would argue because it is our natural inclination to protect others and partly because we readily seem willing to obey. As I discussed in Part 1 the mortality for Covid-19 is running very low – maybe 0.34% – but maybe we neither know the true figures at one end or the possibly manipulated figures at the other. We just don’t know. Where I live in France we have the lowest death rate (as I write) – these include folk transported into this area as we have vacant hospital beds. It’s likely you could count the poor local souls who have died on one hand. And yet I see people acting with palpable fear. It’s likely our department will seal itself off (as all others) while the borders around France are closed for exit but open for entrance. It’s all a tad odd.

In Survivors the first real brush up against Law & Order occurs in Episode 2. Abby arrives at a house (and small commune) run by an ex-Trade Union official called Arthur Wormley. He has effectively declared himself ‘Protector’ of the surrounding area. Wormley also hints that he has, or has had, some insider knowledge of the pandemic through government contact. This seems an attempt to give him legitimacy. While Abby is there she witnesses a ‘Kangaroo Court’ and a man taken to be a threat to the commune is summarily executed. Wormley’s men are encountered in Episode 3 too when they lay claim to the goods in a supermarket which Abby, Greg and Jenny are taking food from. Apparently they would be allowed to take what is ‘fair’ if they first obtain ‘official chits’. On the one hand we could argue that this is a reasonable attempt to manage resources and distribution – on the other it appears more as if Wormley is setting up as a ruthless and authoritarian ‘Chieftain’.

Again – I’m not attempting to re-write the plot of this first series but to highlight certain issues. It is obvious that Wormley will become both an active and an existential threat. His dictatorial regime is one manifestation of government. This idea has a volt-face in the Episode; ‘Garland’s War’. In a sense this episode looks at a Feudal System of government, with a twist of course. The main character, Garland, has found himself evicted from his ancestral home by a chap named Knox and his followers. Garland is waging a one-man guerrilla war to get his place back. At one point we have the idea that Knox is the reasonable alternative to how he sees Garland – as a despotic feudal baron. A few twists of the plot later and it’s clear that Knox is the ‘bad guy’ and Garland – though still an outcast – has an old-fashioned, patriarchal but also benevolent and romantic idea of how the estate should be run. There’s a definite spoiler possible here for you – so I’ll quickly move on!

There are a few clashes between groups as one would expect, with independent groups, militia-type groupings and even a small settlement with a tank! But the main episode for Law & Order is interesting and a defining moment, perhaps, of the first series (for a number of reasons). It has been decided within our group of survivors that they need some entertainment – and those of us under lockdown in 2020 can readily relate to this. There’s dancing to Greg’s guitar and singing (not bad at all in fact and realistically portrayed in the way these scenes most often aren’t) but also alcohol freely flowing. Price, the Welsh chap, has defected back to the group and has struck up a relationship with Barney (who is simple-minded but has useful natural skills). Price also has his eyes on a young woman called Wendy who joined the group with an old Jewish woman she’d been staying with.  Barney leaves the festivities and main hall first, obviously drunk. Wendy goes to bed soon after and Price follows her. It’s obvious what he wants and in her bedroom she is knifed to death by Price – presumably as she struggles against his advances. The next day when Wendy’s body is found Price manages to frame Barney as her killer – who is unable to articulate his innocence. There follows a form of trial where Barney is incapable of defending himself. He is found guilty of the murder and it is decided he should be killed (as opposed to ‘banishment’). Which he is. This is quite startling and unexpected (in these Hollywood-ending times). Price in fact finally owns up to his guilt but in a discussion between Greg and Abby, Greg states that they can’t admit they have killed the wrong person to the group and they can’t afford to kill another man. Thus there is a secret between Price, Abby and Greg. (Without giving the game away further this IS resolved.)

As a result of this episode the actress playing Abby had a massive barny (no pun intended) with the director and effectively left the series (with a further four episodes remaining to which she must have agreed to continue acting as Abby). I also noticed that the writer of this episode didn’t write any further ones! This episode being discussed is actually called ‘Law and Order’ and set a dark and most realistic tone, in many ways. It made me question the whole procedure of guilt and innocence. Some thoughts:

  1. How reliable can evidence be?
  2. How can a man without full faculties be tried for a crime?
  3. How responsible would that person be with ‘diminished responsibilities’?
  4. How else were the group to respond to what seemed like ‘overwhelming evidence’
  5. Would ‘banishment’ have been a fairer sentence? (It was presumed Barney would have died alone once away from that commune.)
  6. Could he have had an alternate form of punishment – such as working longer and harder for x amount of time to ‘repay his debt’? But could they continue to trust him – might ‘he’ not strike again?
  7. Had they the right to execute him?
  8. Had they the right NOT too? (There would always be the apparent chance of him doing something like that again and if he were ‘rescued’ from banishment might he not do the same to a girl from another group? In that case they would have to share some of the guilt for letting him free!
  9. Greg became the ‘executioner’ by lot. Was it fair for any of them to be so?
  10. How would a New World Order re-create laws and justice? In a new situation what would the laws be based on? The Bible? Common-group-sense? Biased-group-sense? The Old Order?  ‘Might is Right’?
  11. An innocent man was executed having been ‘tried and sentenced’. What precedent would that set for the group and other communities?!
  12. A guilty man effectively went free. His ONLY redemption being that he confessed – albeit too late.

The fewer the people and the greater the existence of ‘strong men’ (or violent men or psychopathic men) would mean that, as with Wormley, the greater the chances of summary execution. Again there would have to be a correlation with maintenance of law and order and the amount of people LEFT in society. For us ‘here and now’ law and order is largely maintained – but not completely. People that think differently – ACT differently. People who think differently or live their lives under different mores won’t see a situation in the same manner.

I usually say: the more people there are the greater the laws needed to control us (well, I paraphrase) and with fewer people, of course, there might possibly be: fewer laws, concentrated laws or specific laws. In response to an epidemic such as that found in ‘Survivors’ it would seem that laws have been put into place, such as they are, in a piecemeal fashion. Thus the laws are concentrated in certain areas where certain groups either have, or wish to have, control. The laws we are experiencing at the moment across the globe often reflect the nature of our existing governments – with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) coming in the hardest. The dangers for freedom/liberty are that the extended powers given Western governments (such as the UK and France) will not be wholly rescinded. Further, there is always the danger of tyrannical measures arriving on the coat-tails of disaster.

We have therefore two opposites: next to no law (and certainly no national, coherent law in ‘Survivors’) and a kind of emergency regime in democratic nations with more hard-line governance in dictatorial regimes. And with some countries taking a more ‘relaxed’ approach to the virus (re ‘social distancing’, wearing of masks, etc.). I imagine that differing amounts of people would reflect in the nature of any imposed law and order – perhaps a certain balance between government officials and number of survivors would bring in even MORE draconian measures. If a million folk, say, were to survive in a nation then the Government might try hard to keep these folk ‘together’ under their preceding law and order regime and in so doing might well resort to heavy-handed military force.

In the last episode of the first season of ‘Survivors’ (which I have only recently watched) Greg says: we are all out for the best for ourselves. By the end of the episode he has begun to communicate with other groups with the idea of creating a Federation. It’s going to be interesting to see how these pockets of Law & Order either coalesce or separate like oil and water.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

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Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, COVID-19 & the Future Part 1 ‘Introduction’

Survivors_Logo

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to Episode1.

Survivors was a successful TV series first broadcast on television in 1975 (with further series in ’76 and ’77). The episodes I have re-watched thus far have been mainly written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks (from Dr.Who) among many other credits. When the series first aired I was a youth discovering life and this had an impact upon me. We would wait from week to week to discover the unravelling fate of the eponymous ‘survivors’. I think all (or most episodes) of the series are available on YouTube – I’ve seen a playlist containing 24 episodes, though that would be two short for series one and two (both 13 episodes respectively). Regardless, I shall deal with each series generally and maybe hone in on the themes of particular episodes. Throughout I shall try to marry the narrative of the 70s survivors with both the reality NOW and how we might have responded to a similarly exaggerated situation. In the fictional account, only 1 in 5,000 people have survived – rendering the UK’s population to around 10,000. We are probably looking at a contemporary COVID-19 death rate of between, say 8 and 17 per 5,000 of those WITH the disease. Thus against the survival of ONE per 5,000, we have something like 4,990 – it’s hard to be accurate as we don’t know how many have had (or will have) the virus. The figure could well be closer to 4,995 plus survival rate. Currently, we only have stats for those dying from the virus and even these figures are questioned. In the area I live in in France the death-rate is roughly equal to our previous year (we seem to have the lowest rate of infection in France). Okay – its current speculation set against a fictional creation. But you get the idea. ‘Survivors’ REALLY IS about surviving.

The flavour of the series is interesting in that it marries prescience with a now almost achingly old-fashioned and nostalgic sense of England. For instance, the virus has come from China and is a pandemic/epidemic (as far as is known). The Government response seems incompetent with deliberate lies about the extent of the effects of the virus. Everything we are experiencing now seems to have been considered but obviously highly exaggerated because of the death-rate. The infrastructure of the whole of the UK seems to have quickly shut down, with no electricity and faltering public services. As I respond I’m going to relate my ideas to this fictional account with what we are currently experiencing – and how we might deal with a virus such as that NOW. How would we modern humans cope compared with those fictional mid-70s characters?

The main figures I have encountered thus far are Abby – a middle-class married woman whose young son is at boarding school. She contracts the illness but survives, whereas her husband dies. At least the first half of Series 1 is structured around the search for Abby’s son (who isn’t among the dead boys at the school and is apparently part of a group of healthy students sent camping into the countryside). Contrasted with Abby is Jenny – a young working woman from London. Most of the characters speak with middle-class accents. (On a side note – have a listen to musicians from the 1970s and you will be surprised at how ‘well’ they speak, Roger Waters springs to mind but remember should you watch any music documentaries). The final main character (thus far) is Greg. Greg is resourceful and ‘handy’. Another adult character that crops up and is intertwined throughout is Tom Price – a Welshman. He adds an element of ‘humour’ and represents, perhaps, a typically useless (as well as devious) survivor. Though full of seeming bravado his only real skill is in ‘wheeling and dealing’ and the ability to ingratiate himself into any situation or with any company. I’ll introduce other characters as they occur.

Abby responds to the death of her husband by leaving their house after burning it down. This seems both extreme and odd. This would surely be the place her son would head for if he has survived (and she finds out later that there is such a chance). Though we are constantly, and rightly, told that the chances of ANYONE surviving are extremely low. Abby is later framed as a leader, though I am yet unconvinced. Jenny walks out of London to find herself in the countryside where Abby is from. I’m not going to re-write the plot, but the first major idea of the series is presented in this episode: that society must start again. Everything must be re-learned and that though there is plenty to go round for the moment all of that will be gone in one or two further generations. At that point, humanity would have to stand on its own two feet and not rely on the spoils of previous generations. In this case, Greg is a very useful figure but not the most competent as we later find out when other characters’ skills become apparent. But he is useful and can turn his hands to most things.

My thoughts on what might happen as a virulent virus scythes down a population and how best to make initial responses will be compared with both the series and a modern highly lethal variant of Covid-19. If you were to find yourself surviving amid utter carnage with the collapse of everything around you – what would or what MUST you do? The responses will be as varied as the survivors themselves of course – with both cool heads and crashing emotional reactions. I found Abby to be quite cold emotionally but maybe she was stunned by the lightning changes brought about by the virus. Whereas we have experienced an abstract response perhaps to Covid-19 (unless we have lost someone close or are working on the ‘front-line’). I do recall the gradual sense of ‘awakening’ to what was happening as elements of normal life were shut down and civil liberties curtailed in quick succession. In a quick and total collapse, there would be NO government and NO law. This is something I will discuss later.

What do you do? Where do you go? With dead bodies everywhere diseases would soon spread. Do you get away from humanity as fast as possible or should you attend to local things first? Should you look for babies or children in the neighbourhood who might have survived? Or anyone else? Or as society disintegrates, and people are freed of any moral shackles – would there be an interim of utter lawlessness, chaos, and danger? How would ordinary people behave? The reaction in a village would surely be completely different to that in a metropolis. Jenny is ordered out of London by her doctor friend (who knows exactly what’s going on and the effect of the virus). She encounters some youths on her escape. I found this moment almost touching. The youths were like I was back then – bell-bottomed jeans and long hair. They were not particularly aggressive. Today it might not be quite the same. We have lost the hegemony of culture and depending upon where we live – the surrounding society might not be so ‘high trust’. What we have NOW – low numbers dying but a great degree of fear leading to initially appalling scenes of people fighting for toilet rolls and general looting in certain areas – might have been much worse. In ‘Survivors’ there would have been a brief time of immediate danger – but as the numbers rapidly thinned then the danger would – for that moment – have been different. In other words – the death rate of a virus will mirror both how folk respond and the real danger of immediate groupings. How quickly would some of us turn savage?

Ideally, bodies would be disposed of – but if the numbers became overwhelming the remaining few could do very little. Would pets be kept, or killed (the latter as an act of mercy)? In ‘Survivors’ there is a fear that roving packs of dogs could well be rabid. Would folk remain in their own areas or run? Either way, they would need the wherewithal to note where food could be obtained and petrol – especially if traveling on foot or by car (perhaps ‘stolen’ cars. Jenny had to walk from London as the streets were either congested by folks fleeing or blocked by abandoned cars).

With the whole environment opened-up as it were – then survivors would need clean water (or the means to boil or purify); wood stoves or Calorgas stoves and heating and – though this might not pop into the head of a survivor in a state of absolute shock – to know where a library was and get as many books as possible on HOW to survive. I imagine many would think ‘help was at hand’. In one episode Tom Price goes on about the Americans or Japanese helping – to which he is abruptly shut up. There is no-one to help. All this makes me wonder about the numbers of folk required to survive to maintain any notable infrastructure and I will talk about this later. The first generation of survivors would be the ‘lucky’ ones. Food shops, chemists, cars, petrol, goods of all sorts readily available. Seemingly. Garden Centres might be prized as they contain tools/clothes/poisons etc. as well as plants and seeds. The transition from modern to medieval would be extremely hard. But at least those plunged into darker ages would have modern knowledge.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

 

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