Why the Paddington movie does nothing for migrant rights

The new Paddington movie is witty, exquisitely acted and beautiful to look at. And in a welcome change from the usual more-saccharine-than-a-plum-pudding Christmas fare, it has delighted liberal viewers with its perceived pro-migrant message. “Bear baits UKIP with fluffy immigrant tale” headlines Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Author Michael Bond has long been on the right side on this issue, allowing Paddington’s image to be used in campaigns for migrant rights. An immigration lawyer’s commentary on the real difficulties which an anthropomorphic bear might face has been popular on social media.

In the film however, this radical potential is tightly circumscribed, as London is represented by a small area from Notting Hill to South Kensington. Ukippers might well scoff that the Browns, with their huge W10 home, can easily afford to take in a migrant. The film very deliberately positions itself as a tale of London rather than the UK as a whole. This allows Londoners to feel smug about their racial integration, while allowing Ukippers from outside the capital to harp on their constant whinge that a London elite doesn’t understand them or their issues. Even worse, Peter Capaldi’s nosey neighbour Mr Curry, the representative of UKIP ideas in the film, has second thoughts when Nicole Kidman’s evil museum director plans to stuff Paddington rather than report him to the authorities. Deportation of migrants is fine, we are left thinking, but killing them is not. Nigel Farage would agree. And all of this is tinsel-wrapped in a Mary Poppins London where non-ursine immigrants are represented by the best-groomed Caribbean street band you have ever seen. At the end of the film, the message is that in London everyone is different and can make a contribution. Note: London, not England or Britain. The UKIP mantra is effectively reinforced.

Sadly, it’s a sweet film that is utterly unchallenging to watch for the many low-level racists who will vote UKIP in May, and even endorses them.

Pirate Bay Down! Panic, Paranoia and Plain Speaking

It is now two days since a raid by Swedish police on the mountain lair of its server took down the world’s most attitudinal torrent tracker Pirate Bay. The internet is awash with rumours and claims about what has happened, and what will happen to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing in the future. Owing to my addiction to the obscurer corners of art cinema, I am an inveterate file-sharer myself, and therefore have a strong vested interest. Here’s my take on the responses to tpb’s outage so far.
The commentary up to this point has mainly reflected the two poles on views of the future of the net:

1. The Pirate Bay will always come back, and if not, something else will replace it, because of the nature of the internet. Copyright holders are pursuing an inevitably losing war against file-sharing, and only changes in their business model will reduce it.

This could be true. I’d like it to be. Today I have been downloading from another bittorrent tracker, which actually I find I prefer to tpb.

2. This is the beginning of the end for torrents. After blocking torrent trackers in many countries, the copyright holders have a coordinated take-down campaign to deal file-sharing a death-blow, to destroy the remaining trackers and to block torrent files from even appearing on google.

Although it veers towards conspiracy theory, and perhaps overstates the power of a few companies, it could also be true that torrents’ days are numbered. From my own experience as a downloader however, the torrent universe has never been brighter, populated with movies I could only dream of a few years ago. For instance, my partner and I have Rwandan friends, so wanted to discover more about the genocide on its 20th anniversary. I downloaded half a dozen feature films apart from the obvious Hotel Rwanda, including two excellent movies where white people were almost completely absent, made in local language Kinyarwanda.

3. A number of positions between these two extremes.

4. A generalised and impotent panic about the loss of a favourite website and the pleasure it provides.

This shows that even in the non-corporate web, people are remarkably passive, relying on a brand just as they rely on facebook for their social interactions. Sad.

5. If this is the end for Pirate Bay specifically this is a good thing, because it has sold its soul to the Mammon of porn ads etc. The major espouser of this position is one of the original founders of Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde.

Firefox’s ad-blocker means I miss out on the chance of a Russian wife unencumbered by bridal gown. People bothered by ads in their browser need educating. Sunde’s point about the demise of tpb as campaigning organisation is taken, however.

6. Further to this, Sunde argues, while the corrupted Pirate Bay persists, no innovation is happening in digital file-sharing, to move us on from the 13-year-old technology of the bittorrent protocol.

As someone concerned for the future of the open web, and the democratising of culture in general, I sympathise strongly with Sunde’s line. As a movie downloader, however, bittorrents supply everything I need, so I want them to carry on (see above).

As with almost every discussion about the internet (and almost nothing else!), I find I sit on both sides of the fence. If the next web needs different tech, I selfishly hope it’s a smooth transition.

Reports of the Death of the Latin American Left Were Exaggerated

On 27 September 2014, the Economist’s anonymised Latin American op-ed “Bello” heralded “a turning of the political tide in South America after a dozen or more years of leftist hegemony.” The writer was encouraged by the possiblity of defeat for Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and considered likely the victory of right-wing candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou in Uruguay. Two months on, and Bello’s crystal ball clearly needed some serious polishing. Rousseff won for the Brazilian Workers’ Party a fourth consecutive term in office, and yesterday in Uruguay Tabare Vasquez won an unprecedented third term for the leftist Broad Front by a massive 13%.

“Bello” had already conceded that Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism in Bolivia was going to win (he did by a landslide 61%), but in the usual knee-jerk way of rightist commentators the writer describes Morales as an “autocratic socialist of Amerindian descent”. Dodgy, these indigenous people who come up through the social movements! They just don’t respect democracy in the way that the white-skinned oligarchy who ruled previously do, that same oligarchy that has consistently supported the fascist coup d’etats which stain Latin American history. In this manner, yet another Anglophone commentator echoes the endemic racism of the Latin American elite. A feature of nearly all reports on Latin American elections in the right-wing press, and much of the liberal press, is just how much they are bad losers. “Bello” of course recycles this, ascribing Morales’ victory partly to his “grip on the media”. In fact, in Brazil and Uruguay a very dominant conservative media campaigned virulently for the right-wing candidates. To their credit, the voters ignored them.

I must say that I am rather tired of friends repeating opinions to me which they have gleaned from the pages of the Economist in particular, so let me attempt to characterise this periodical. It is far from being serious advice about business risks and prospects around the world. For details of the magazine’s absurd errors in reporting Venezuela, see here, here, and here. If I were investing in South America, I would buy a subscription to the estimable Latin American Weekly Report, which has given accurate data for the last 47 years. Instead, we might describe the Economist as a readable mass-circulation magazine pitched at lower and middle managers, who wish to impress their bosses with their knowledge of world affairs. It represents not serious investment advice for the elite, but rather the ideology of that elite, enabling ambitious businesspeople a way of talking about the world  which will not challenge the dominant ideology of the boardroom. On Latin America it is frequently wrong, jettisoning facts and reasoned argument for dreams as wish-fulfilment. It is, to quote the outstanding venezuelanalysis, “the neoliberal ideologue’s favourite rag.”