Old left and new right

This post is prompted by a few twitter discussions I’ve had with people over the idea that the left has abandoned the working classes, in favour of liberal progressive agendas, which is why the tories are winning elections, and the solution is for Labour to do more to appease the working class tory voters. It’s difficult to conduct an argument when you’re limited to 280 characters, so here’s a more considered attempt.

First off – this isn’t really based on historical or political analyses – those aren’t really my field – instead it’s based on looking for cognate themes in the discussions people are having and trying to identify patterns in them. Which is.

People looking back at the origins of left wing movements usually talk about a pretty clear-cut dichotomy. On the one side there are the propertied classes, who own the means of production, and the working classes, who do the producing. The owners exploit the workers. The workers band together to accrue enough power to confront them. The left is labour, the right is conservative. There’s one issue – sharing of wealth. If you want to share it, you’re on the left, if you don’t share it, you’re on the right.

Like this

But in the intervening years, a whole slew of additional issues have started to face us: Women’s rights, Immigration, Black lives matter, Gay rights, Preventing climate change, Animal rights, and most recent (but not least) Trans rights. Our lives have got bigger. Our world has got bigger, and so we’ve each had to encompass these ideas and choose where we stand on them.

If you’re for any of those you’re more leftward leaning, against those you’re on the right. Which means if you’re historically for sharing wealth, but not for sharing power or defending the rights of those who are gay, non-white, transgender, or non-Christian, or you don’t believe in climate change (or do believe in it but don’t give a fuck) then without changing your original position on the whole wealth sharing thing, you need to face the fact that you are now, predominantly, right wing. Like this:

What’s frustrating is that people who agree with so much of the new right stuff, are letting their approval of that overwhelm their awareness of the traditional divide. If you have no money the tories will not give a fuck about you. That’s worth repeating THEY WILL NOT GIVE A FUCK ABOUT YOU.

After the murder of David Amess, obituaries were full of the great things he’d done. It seems to be a British phenomenon to only speak good of the dead. But this is piss poor journalism. The guy was not a good person. He repeatedly voted against gay rights, against immigration, and he repeatedly voted against benefits increases. He was pro animal rights. So hated foreigners, gays. the poor, but loved animals. Let’s give him a 25% then. That’s not a pass. Obviously his murder was appalling (I’m not arguing against that) but let’s not whitewash his lack of ethics. And if you voted for him because you’re against immigration or gay marriage too, then you’re not a good person either. And if you voted for him and you’re on benefits, you’re a fucking idiot as well.

The idea that a party that focuses on all those things in the bottom left-hand corner of that chart, has somehow lost the confidence of all the working classes is bullshit. Because there are plenty of working class people who care about those things too. Part of the problem is that the tories have successfully convinced people that the reason they are poor is because of immigration, or because all the left cares about is a liberal progressive agenda. That you’ve lost your job because of a foreigner or because of quotas. But that is so evidently straight out of the fascist playbook that to fall for it there’s got to be plenty of underlying prejudice to build on. I think there should be more emphasis by the left on the equality for all classes a lot more, just to remind people that this is still a major concern of the left – of course it is. But if you’re after equal treatment for yourself, but not equal treatment for everyone, you’re a hypocrite. And if you actually want unequal treatment for others, then you’re a loathsome arse.

And this seems to be the dilemma people say is facing the labour party. At the moment it seems like Starmer is trying to appeal to the right wing working classes, because the working classes are the traditional demographic for labour. So something like this:

That’s creating such a mixed message that no-one is falling for it. Which means a choice between the top row, or the left-hand column. And he doesn’t seem either clued up or brave enough to make that choice.

What someone with integrity would do would be to appeal directly to those appealing for equality, equality for all, though. A minimum wage, a united europe, immigration, an NHS, social welfare, greenhouse gas reduction, pro-women, pro trangender, the whole bit.

And if that means abandoning to the tories those section of the working classes who are against those things then that seems like a reasonable loss.

Because they are assholes, and the tory party is the party for assholes.


It’s a Sin

Just a warning. Spoilers for It’s a Sin. It’s weeks since it was on, but (for some bizarre reason) I see from Twitter that some people have been watching is one episode per week. We binged 4 ½ episodes in one day. It would have been 5 but the wifi packed in. Probably thought it could only handle so much of an emotional wringer in one go.

It’s highly recommended. The characters are only one year older than I am, and I lived in London from 1985 to 1988, but the AIDS epidemic only really impinged on my life when the “Don’t die of ignorance” billboards started springing up. Everyone pretty soon caught up with the bare facts, and when celebs you’d heard of started dying, then it made some sort of connection, but no-one I know (as far as I know) has died from AIDS, so I’ve been spared any direct experience how absolutely devastating it was. Seeing it on the screen was hugely powerful.

So – obviously part of that emotional impact is because of how dreadful it is as a disease. But also, people have recognised the power of RTD’s writing. Which of course it is. The man’s a genius. The power of the acting too. Everyone on screen is spot on. This blog though is about the direction, which few people are raving about.

That’s because direction, if it’s done perfectly isn’t noticeable. It’s not meant to be.

When we’re looking at technology there’s two phrases that describe our relationship with what we’re seeing – immediacy and hypermediacy. Immediacy is when we’re not conscious of the means by which the content is conveyed to us. We’re there, in the action, and not making any deliberate effort to make sense of things. The difficulty with teaching anyone to read is that until the reading is effortless, the fun of reading is diminished. You’re so caught up with trying to make sense of each individual word that the fun in having a story emerge in your head without thinking about it, isn’t there. So the fun is never there. Once you’re literate then you just get the book out, read the words, they automatically make sounds in your head, the process is transparent. The tech is immediate. You, the text, the story are one. It’s called the diegetic effect. Occasionally there’ll be a word you don’t know, it’ll blip you out of the diegetic effect. But just highlight the word, click define, and the internet will provide the info, and you carry on reading. Diegetic effect restored.

Virtual worlds on screen are the same. At first you’re struggling to move around, find the animation for the gesture, work out how to move the camera. You’re not focused on the interaction that’s happening because you’re having to focus too much on how to interact. But you get used to it, and the tech becomes transparent. The experience is immediate.

The counter to that is hypermediacy. The point of hypermediacy is to make the tech apparent. There are loads of reasons why this might happen. Obviously one of the reasons is accidental. A spelling or punctuation mistake for example. You’re reading a book and that whole autonomous words to sounds in the head to images to story are all working in harmony and there’ll be a blip, like a speed bump while you’re driving and you’ll think that was weird, what happened there? Going back you’ll see someone’s written “it’s” instead of “its”, or whatever, and it was just enough to interrupt the flow. You just set off reading again. But I find if it happens too often it just stops the process being enjoyable and I have to give up. This is why punctuation matters.

Or it can be done deliberately. I was reading James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes. Really funny, well-written. Narrative flows, you get drawn in. But at one point there was the blip – where I’m half aware something went wrong with that autonomous reading thing. Scanning back I saw him writing about getting his “just desserts” 😊 Now that’s funny, the implication being that James likes his puddings so much he puts an extra “s” in there. And you’d have to really stick to your guns to get something like that past a technical edit, so he must have really wanted it. I know I’ve tried. And failed. But then I don’t have the same weight as James Acaster. There was a “free reign” pun as well, which I didn’t get, but I’m guessing some play on words that went over my head.

My point is … hypermediacy is valid too. It pushes you out of the diegetic effect, but if you’ve got a reason, like you’re making a point about the process of mediation. Or making a pun. Then no problem.

It’s a Sin is directed by Peter Hoar. He incidentally also directed my favourite episode of Dr Who “A Good Man Goes to War” (the Seven Samurai homage one image below I think). You won’t notice the direction though. That’s because throughout he follows the basic rules. Film-making has been around for about 140 years and pretty quickly worked out how best to tell stories visually. If you look at movies from the 1920s, whether they’re German, Russian, Japanese whatever they follow certain rules.


One of these is to take you on a structured walk through a scene. There’s an establishing shot, there’s close-ups, the camera picks up on specific bits of action, then pulls out again. It draws on theatrical traditions of the tableau, but there’s a limit to where you can put the camera, not because of technical limitations, but because of the way the brain decodes the scene. In film studies it’s called spatial verisimilitude – but it’s how the hippocampus works on imagery. There’s a line which you can’t cross without disrupting the ability to work out where everything is. I mean a physical line across the space being filmed. Those earlyish movies did one thing that’s a bit different, which is when they were cutting between two people, both would look out of the screen at the audience. Within 10 years though, these two shots were sorted, so that one person would be shot over the right shoulder of one person, the reverse shot would be shot over the left shoulder of the other. The camera moves more, but it never crosses over that line. On the screen, it means that one person will always be looking towards the right hand side, the other to the left. There’s a continuity that makes sense. If you want to reposition the scene, you need to do this carefully, tracking from one place to another, or moving in 30 degree jumps, then continuing from that new position. Fail to do this and the viewer loses the sense of where everything is. To do this requires meticulous storyboarding and blocking of the scene.


Follow these rules and the audience does not consciously have to decode what’s going on. They can be immersed. Break them and the audience is putting their effort into making sense. You’re in the realm of hypermediacy.

Watching It’s a Sin and you are never thrown out of this sense of immersion. The emotional power of the acting and the writing comes through constantly. You’re caught up in the drama. And because it’s done right, you never notice it.

There are exceptions (here comes the spoiler). When the Keeley Hawes character finds out her son has AIDS and is gay, at the same time, she takes off like a rocket, walking from ward to ward to try and get something sorted. She’s trying to overcome her sense of powerlessness (not only then but retrospectively how powerless she’s been as a mother) by doing *something*. The camera moves backwards the whole time, following her as she strides towards it. It has power because it’s so visually different from anything before – AND IT’S ALL ONE TAKE. There’s no cutting, which would undermine the intensity. You’re not consciously aware of this, but it works on the way you read that scene.

Contrast that with another Keeley Hawes TV show. Finding Alice. I managed about 10 minutes. There’s a scene in a kitchen where her husband’s death is being investigated. The camera cuts quickly and aimlessly (it seems) through the space. It crosses the line constantly, a new character walks in and there’s no establishing shot. We never have a continuance sense of where everyone is in relation to each other. There is no emotional engagement, because there’s no immersion. We’re watching a series of discrete, disconnected images. There’s no flow. We’re constantly struggling with the form, so much that we’re not engaging with the emotion of the scene.

What’s weird is no-one has really commented on this in the reviews. I think one called it “stylish”.

I mean fine, if you want style, then creating something where you’re not immersed works. I’ll watch a Godard movie, where from one shot to the next there is no continuity. It deliberately defies engagement – in a move called distantiation. Distantiation makes you aware of the artifice of what’s going on. Which is great for cineastes or film studies students. It’s not really fun though. People want immersion. It’s a Sin got 6.5 million viewers – the highest streamed tv show ever on channel 4. I don’t know anyone who managed longer of Finding Alice than I did.

Which makes you wonder why someone would deliberately make something that’s not immersive? Unless they just don’t actually know how to direct?

And just to reiterate, this isn’t just a cultural thing – what people are used to. It’s a neurological thing. I watched Violence Voyager – which is made in Gekimation – the same sort of cut out cardboard animation that we got with Noggin the Nog in the 70s. This is a long way from Smallfilms though – it’s possibly the most disturbing film I’ve seen. But despite the imagery, and the form, it still followed the rules of not crossing the line,  that careful establishing shot, two shot, close up, two shot dance that makes sense of visual spaces. And that’s one where I’d have appreciated some distantiation.

My hope is that the impact It’s a Sin has had will perhaps persuade other film-makers that establishing immersion requires these basic rules and that if you follow them you will get bigger audiences. There seems to be more and more TV shows that screw them up, where you get blipped out of that diegetic effect because the camera has crossed the line, and suddenly everyone’s facing in a different direction from where they were a moment before and it just looks weird, or there’s no eye-line match because they’re shooting from random directions and your brain isn’t tying up the space in a coherent way. And it’s just sad – because the writing and the acting is excellent, but the director is trying to be stylish, or is incompetent, and I want to love the show, but they’ve made it impossible to get into. It’s a sin.

Getting creative online

This is written mainly in response to this blog post by a colleague Emily Dowdeswell, so maybe have a read of that first https://www.cambridgeartsnetwork.com/news/finding-ways-to-be-creative-1605259163

I also had a conversation with colleagues at Durham about the teaching of dance online. That the dance elements were alternated with the in-person elements. This resonated with me as one of the first workshops I supported as a learning designer was a dance workshop held by an academic in Canada, with performing arts students in Warwick.

The creative arts must be some of the most difficult to translate to an online environment, and yet so much of art is done in solitude. Yet it’s tactile and can be collaborative. Knowing people who are doing arts degrees in the time of lockdown has brought that to mind a lot recently too.

So what are the issues these things raise?

Online sessions can become dull and repetitive. Something more creative and expressive is needed for everyone. Being more tactile and allowing movement can make a difference. I would resist the notion that there are “kinaesthetic learners” specifically, but I have noticed that some people are particularly locked into their physical bodies than others. Working with virtual worlds, I’ve seen the people who are most upset by relating virtually are those with a specialism for example in sports and sculpture. “I don’t want to be sitting in front of a screen I want to be out on my bike” “I can’t make something with my hands, I don’t get it”, were some quotes (I’m paraphrasing ) that came out in my doctoral research. Which is why they struggled particularly with my sessions in Second Life because full engagement in a virtual space requires the ability to be disconnected from the physical body and fully embodied in the extended body on the screen. A recent post from Dave White http://daveowhite.com/spatial/ states how this body can be something as minor as an image, as long as there is a spatial component to where it is located on the screen. I’ve seen learner interactions transformed online by the simple act of sharing a space with their selves represented by just a cursor. As long as they can gesture within that space and affect the space, and have those changes perceived by others, they have an online body and then communicate more effectively. But roughly only 25% become fully immersed in this way, 50% it’s a mixture of feeling located in their extended body and in their physical body, and 25% never experience that online embodiment. There may be some neurological evidence to back this up.

But despite this, there are no specific kinaesthetic learners, we are all kinaesthetic learners at some points, in the same way that we move in and out of learning most effectively between visually, textually, aurally constantly (ie why learning styles are complete arse). Sometimes holding something, drawing it, so-called visceral writing (ie writing with a pen) can help us learn from a different perspective. Unlock something creative.

Also, movement helps everyone. In IET’s 2020 Innovating Pedagogy report there’s a chapter on Spaced Learning. People learn better if they break up their studies with some exercise every 20 mins. If I’ve got deeply engrossed in something (it happens sometimes) when I start moving again afterwards, everything has seized up. That’s not healthy. We need to stop trapping people in front of a laptop for hours at a time.

So the idea of mixing the offline and the online, breaking up the zoom, or whatever, session is vital.

However, the zoom session itself is too. I like the idea of zoom as a campfire. The metaphor is that we have these rooms and bodies and practice outside of the space, but the virtual space is where we really connect. That seems to run against the statement “Zoom is just a place where we happen to meet.” Where we meet is everything. But I guess what the statement means is that there is nothing special about zoom. In fact, there are some severely limiting aspects to it. The lack of spatiality that Dave White mentioned, whereas perhaps something that gives us a sense of spatiality would be better. Zoom has a spaciality setting, where it puts each face on a seat in a forest setting. It looks awful. Each person is still just a disembodied head, only this time much smaller on the screen. The virtual backgrounds help add a bit of fun to the process and they help, but I think there’s more to be done there.

What Emily mentions in the blog post are a whole set of excellent techniques to make the connection work better, whiteboards, chat, gestural elements like handraising. We need more though. In a Rumpus meeting last week we talked about how sound is underused. The sound of applause instead of just a clap emoji would help. A little signature tune to announce when someone logs on would be great. We need to experiment with more ways to be present. Maybe take some hints for that from how we are present when we are together in-person, but there may be some completely new ways to be thought of. Or dump zoom altogether and find something more expressive.

What is particularly difficult though is making the transition between offline and online. If we’re moving people out of the online space to do something movement-based or tactile and creative, then this sense of sharedness – vital for communication – will be constantly undermined. We need ways to transition between the two. The campfire metaphor is excellent here. Campfires are liminal spaces in many ways, there is the shared heat, the passing of objects to add to the fire, we don’t necessarily have formal rituals of entering and leaving, as we do with ritual and performance spaces, but maybe those could help. I was once asked why we wave at the end of a videoconference session, whereas we don’t at the end of a meeting, as if that was weird. But it’s not, virtual spaces are liminal. In order for them to work we have to cross over from the physical into the virtual. And we have to cross back out at the end. That epistemic shift is more effective if facilitated through an act – even one as minimal as waving. We need to identify more things like that to make this transition in and out more rapid, if it is to be taking place many times in the same session. So reconnecting with our physical bodies that Emily suggests but also effective disconnecting from those and reconnecting with our virtual bodies. We probably also need additional ways to bring in the physical artefacts we’ve made if those are also intended to be part of the shared experience. Maybe tech is a way to do this, visualisers for drawings, camera peripherals to capture movement. Haptics, body motion tracking? But a lot of it will need developing practice too. And passing of artefacts?? Absolutely key to the shared campfire experience, but how to replicate that online? In a zoom meeting where is the toasted crumpet?

So – in summary – which is tricky because this is an unstructured brain dump in many ways. I don’t think we’ve got many answers in the short term, but at least we have a different name for the problem.