2019: The year in review – Part 2: Blogging

In some ways 2019 was very successful for SLS; we posted a total of 66 pieces, making it our most productive year since 2010. On closer examination though, it can be seen that practically all these posts addressed UK politics, specifically the Brexit question, and that very few of them were particularly insightful, serving mainly as an outlet for my angst about the increasingly desperate situation rather than providing any useful analysis of it. As the year closes I’m still in a state of post-election paralysis; it may be some time before that passes.

Anyway, here are our ten most-read posts of the year:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Questionable things
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. Irresolute
  5. There is no land beyond the Volga
  6. Two Galleries
  7. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  8. Incassable
  9. Won’t you please be my friend?
  10. Maintaining perspective

The demographics post has been a reliable chart-topper since it was published back in 2010, but the rest of the list is a rather inexplicable mix of old and new.

Here are my personal favourites from this year, in chronological order:

And, for completeness, a note of our international appeal. We had visitors from 34 countries; here are the top ten:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. United States
  3. India
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. China
  7. Netherlands
  8. Australia
  9. Japan
  10. Mexico

That’s a little less Euro-centric than in previous years, somewhat ironic given that most of our content in the last twelve months has been about Europe, but perhaps it’s just a sign of the more detached future that the country faces.

Things may change, but we’re still here, looking forward to the next decade with some trepidation, but mostly optimistic that humanity will continue its progressive course, despite any temporary setbacks. A Happy New Year to all our readers, and we’ll see you in 2020.

2019: The year in review – Part 1: Culture

Here’s our look back on our most notable cultural experiences of the year; the full list is, as ever, on our Tumblr.

Film – I’ve started going to the cinema regularly again over the last few months, mainly matinee shows at the multiplex, but a few trips to the arthouse too. I liked Ad Astra, Knives Out, and Rolling Thunder Review, but my favourites were the monochrome Bait, an expressionist tale of class conflict in Cornwall, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino’s flawed but ultimately beguiling portrait of late-60s California.

Books – I’ve read less than I would have liked this year, mainly because I spent a lot of time obsessing over the news, which, for much of 2019, was not unlike a melodramatic potboiler, though surely one that any editor would have rejected as implausibly plotted. Of the actual fiction that I did get through I thought the best was Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is In Trouble, though I felt it was a bit more predictable than many of the reviews suggested. I enjoyed the poetic memoir of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Little Boy, and caught up with some historical reportage; Vasily Grossman’s notes from the eastern front in WW2, collected in A Writer at War, and Svetlana Alexievich’s anthology of first-hand female accounts of the same conflict, The Unwomanly Face of War, easily one of the most moving works I have ever read.

Music – no big changes in my musical taste this year; here are my top ten albums, in the order I bought them:

  • Get Tragic – Blood Red Shoes
  • Remind Me Tomorrow – Sharon Van Etten
  • Lung Bread For Daddy – Du Blonde
  • Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood
  • Stranger Things – Yuck
  • Joanthology – Joan As Police Woman
  • Any Human Friend – Marika Hackman
  • Dolphine – Mega Bog
  • Life’s An Illusion – The Sorry Kisses
  • No Home Record – Kim Gordon

I probably listened to Joanthology more than anything else, but it is a retrospective; my favourite of the original releases was Lung Bread For Daddy. I didn’t go to as many concerts as usual this year; but the two I did manage were great – Laura Gibson and Marika Hackman.

I’m planning to keep up my weekly cinema trips, at least until the winter is over, and I definitely want to start reading more fiction, though I guess I say that every year. It would do me good to step off the treadmill of trying to keep up with all the news, all the time, and just slow down a little – I did manage that for a while over the summer, but events drew me in again, as we’ll see in part 2 of our annual review, when we look back at the year in blogging.

Star Wars IX – instant review

I’m not long out of the cinema; here are my immediate thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker

[Some spoilers ahead, so don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film yet.]

It was efficiently entertaining, and I’m sure it will please both SW fans and casual moviegoers, but, in contrast to  The Last Jedi, which subverted expectations, this was a definite return to the established lore of the franchise. The bad guy turned out to be exactly who we suspected, Ray’s parentage wasn’t as random as we had been led to believe, and the characters’ development mostly followed predictable arcs. The space battles and light-sabre duels were pleasingly spectacular, but some things, like the Knights of Ren, were built up and then never came to much. Setting key scenes on yet another desert planet seemed a bit repetitive, but there were some interesting new backdrops, particularly the giant waves crashing into the ruined Death Star, and the barren Sith home world. There were a few plot holes – where exactly was the other transporter that Chewbacca was supposedly on? – and unlikely coincidences, and “The Force” does a lot of heavy lifting in moving the story along, but this could be said about any of the previous episodes, and one can’t really complain about such minor points if one is prepared to accept the central implausibility of the whole saga; that all the important events in a galaxy-spanning conflict seem to involve the same half-dozen people.

Overall though, a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I may even go and see it again over the holidays, once I’ve read all the other reviews, and have more of an idea of whether I should like it or not…

Far, far away

In an attempt to avoid having to process the events of last week I’ve been immersing myself in popular culture, specifically the latest instalments in the Star Wars saga.

I’d obtained a DVD copy of The Last Jedi about a year ago, but had never got around to watching it, until this week. [Spoilers for a two year old film ahead.] It was pleasingly diverting, though the plot wasn’t exactly cheery, concerning as it does the plucky resistance being almost wiped out by the fascistic imperials, mostly because of the rebels’ own bickering and incompetence, a rather dispiriting echo of our current political situation.

What was more fun was catching up on the debate among the SW superfans as to whether TLJ was a disrespectful travesty, or a much-needed shake-up of a tired franchise. I lean towards the latter camp, since I liked all the new characters who seemed to rile up the traditionalists, particularly Vice-Admiral Holdo, the sort of sensible commander who weighs up the situation and makes considered strategic decisions, and thus actually gets things done. Of course being right all the time is a bit boring for an action movie, which is perhaps why Holdo inexplicably sacrifices herself to save what’s left of the rebel fleet, when the cause would have been much better served had she sent a relatively disposable junior officer like Poe Dameron on the suicide mission instead. Killing off the obvious surrogate for the key frustrated-white-male demographic would have been a step too far though – TLJ may have set itself up as iconoclastic, with a female lead, racially-diverse cast and grumpy Luke Skywalker, but Disney were never going to make it completely uncommercial.

Anyway, the new Star Wars film is on release tomorrow, and I’ve got a ticket, albeit for the 10 am show, rather than the minute-past-midnight screening that the real fans are camping out for, but still, fairly keen. I’m hoping for at least one more weekend of escapism before I have to return to grim reality…

State of disappointment

It’s the evening after the morning after the night before, and I have to say I’m still feeling pretty bummed out. I’ve purposefully avoided reading any news today, because I know it would just have depressed the fuck out of me even more; instead I spent most of the day in bed, and the rest watching movies.

I guess I’ll pick myself up in time, and get back to the struggle, but for now I just need a bit of space away from reality . If only there was some sort of virtual world I could lose myself in…

Long dark night

It’s that point in the evening where the exit polls and early results are in, and the crushing wave of depression is just about being held at bay by the increasingly forlorn hope that it might not turn out as badly as it it’s looking at the moment.

In my younger days I used to stay up until the early hours on an election night, but I don’t have the stamina for that now. Of course back then I was often actually at the count, which was much more fun than sitting at home alone, following the outcome on a laptop. I’ll probably stick it out for another hour or so, but finding something to feel good about amongst the gloom will have to wait for the morning.

Nervous anticipation

I’m just back from casting my ballot, not that it’s likely to make much difference – the constituency where I live is a Labour/SNP marginal, and since the only plausible alternative to a Tory majority is some sort of coalition of the anti-Conservative forces, in practical terms it won’t make any difference which of the two comes out on top around here. For the record I voted Labour, since they do have a fairly progressive programme, by contemporary standards at least.

So now we wait; the exit polls should be out in half an hour or so, and then we’ll know our fate. All the pundits are predicting a win for Johnson, and while forecasts of a May landslide were badly wrong in 2017, I’m not at all confident that Corbyn will pull off a similar escape act this time. There are reports of a good turnout, especially among young voters, which is a source of faint hope, but at best it’s going to be a close thing. We’ll find out soon enough I guess…

To the polls

I regularly exhort the citizens of other countries to go out and vote for progressive candidates, or at least against reactionaries, so I guess I should do the same in the UK’s hour of need, however unlikely it is that the SLS-reading demographic will make the crucial difference.

I’m not usually a big advocate of tactical voting, but the present danger does seem serious enough to justify it, so, if you’re reading this, and still in any doubt about where to place your X, please support whichever of your local candidates is best placed to defeat the Tories.

Scritti di Twitter

So, only a day to go until what most observers agree may be the most consequential election of the modern era. The nation is faced with a clear choice; Labour, offering a modest package of tax rises and state spending that would just about bring the UK into line with the social democratic model of most European countries, or the Conservatives, who promise a fantasy of national renewal and prosperity through the dark magic of Brexit and unregulated free markets.

On the face of it there should be no doubting a Labour victory, but, as they were last time around, the Tories are strong favourites. If the opinion polls are to be believed – and the pollsters claim to have fixed the flaws that derailed their predictions in 2017 – then huge numbers of working class voters, particularly in the north of England are going to vote directly against their own economic interests, and usher Boris Johnson back into Downing Street.

This is, of course, a conundrum that has troubled the left since the days of Marx – the problem of false consciousness. One might think that, in the prevailing economic landscape of low wages and precarious employment, not to mention ecological crisis, progressive socialist ideas would be more popular, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Economics, as Gramsci noted nearly a century ago, isn’t everything. Culture, and who is in control of it, is equally, if not more, important, and modern life, in post-industrial societies like the UK at least, is increasingly mediated by online experience.

The last few years have seen a rise in critical interest directed towards the way in which the internet, especially social media, influences electoral politics. A lot of anxiety has been generated by the role it plays in propagating the outright falsehoods that seem to make up the greater part of political discourse these days, but I think this misses a bigger point. The main problem is that these new forms of communication – and the old ones they are supplanting for that matter – are dominated by the corporations that are the contemporary embodiment of capitalism, and, as such, are central to generating the sort of hegemonic “common sense” that Gramsci would recognise, perpetuating our current system of rampant inequality.

Can these immensely powerful tools be subverted to further the cause of raising class consciousness? I was sceptical about that at the start of the decade, and have only become more so in the time since then. Perhaps we need to throw away our smartphones and start talking to one another again, if we are to rebuild the proletarian solidarity we need to take on the ruling class.

In the meantime I’m hoping that things are not as far gone as they seem, and that the residual anti-Tory traditions of working class life will derail Johnson’s plans, and put us back on the track of, if not revolution, at least some modest reform.