• kennedycharlotte56

Teleportation by Book - 10.11.2020

Updated: Nov 27, 2020


Cold, dark emptiness.

The familiar rectangles expectantly enlarge and minimise at the mere waver of your presence.

Keep going, you tell yourself. There’s obviously something there – look harder…

and in that dark, hollow moment, after having endlessly scrolled for the zillionth time on Netflix, you realise – all hope is lost.

Because you’ve done it: you’ve completed Netflix and there’s nothing to be done, and even though you know you haven’t actually completed Netflix, in this specific moment in time, you have. This feeling being ‘completed-Netflix-syndrome’.

Enter Apple TV+ and the one-year free trial subscription that had remained, up until recently, something I decided to only engage with “once the time was right”. Consumed by this syndrome and from the emotional rollercoaster of being thrilled by the first response from a long line of job applications – yes! a response, an actual response – to the undergirding disappointment from seeing the automated reply which reads some other lucky bastard was hired. No “Dear Charlotte, hope you are well, kind regards” etc, just a “Thanks, but no thanks” – Brilliant.

*Breathe In*

*Breathe Out* So, on to new beginnings with Apple TV +. Their homepage is engulfed by the Morning Show’s promotion, and it’s easy to get sucked in with the high-rolling cast: Jennifer Anniston, Steve Carell, and my fav – Reese Wetherspoon (because who doesn’t love a Reese TV classic? Aka, Big Little Lies 1 and 2, and Little Fires everywhere, but less so).

The first episode starts at 2:58 AM New York city, only party-goers, late-night drinkers and insomniacs are awake, but also - the Morning Show’s executive producer Chip (played by Mark Duplass), who is lying in a dark, opaque room of UBA’s production studios, host to the series’ eponymous name. Chip static on the floor, the way the camera scans up his body, and the opening sound mimic the experience of an MRI scan. And what do we use MRI scans for but to expose the malignant conditions or dilapidated bones underneath the surface of our body? This motif of scanning and unearthing skeleton's in the closet permeates the show’s plot, script, and visual aesthetic, as all parties desperately try to control the narrative of an unravelling corporate scandal whilst we examine where they lie on the complicity food chain. Frames are often encompassed with the studio’s glossy surfaces and shiny car windows in a J.G Ballard-esque manner, accentuating a kind of general depthlessness - a natural bi-product to the construction of America’s shiny ‘feel good news’. Because whilst the show tries to keep up with the times, the Tv Network's inability of having a person of colour as head anchor, the producers casual racism and prolific mysoginy show how far away it and mainstream America is from being progressive. This moment, with Chip stone-like on the floor, is the silence before the storm, interrupted by the call from his superior, Frank (Tom Irwin), confirming that the co-host presenter of This Morning Show, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), has been charged with sexual misconduct and won’t be presenting today, or ever.

Set very much in the present, the show’s political backdrop navigates through coal mine strikes, wildfires in Malibu and mass shootings in Vegas. The meta-television/news show, and the way the series is structured is mimetic of a journalist following multiple leads in the pursuit of a story, with the series consistently reminding us to ask who is controlling the narrative? At times, episodes do unnecessarily linger on - but it is an easy to watch drama, where each character is a pawn on their own chess board, waiting to make their power-move to fill a void in a media conglomerate that faces the reverberations of the #MeToo movement.

Its genre follows on from the likes of Succession (2018), and Bombshell (2019), but where it may fall short to the comedic brilliance of Succession’s scriptwriters, it rises above Bombshell’s 1h 49m production as it has space to more deeply extrapolate the corporate politics and personal nuances consequential to a sexual misconduct claim in an office environment. The show takes on a more sensitive approach to Bombshell, whilst it handles the weight behind the experience of being sexually preyed upon - particularly through Gugu Mbatha-Raw's performance of an emotionally abraded woman. Without giving too much away, episode 8 (a throwback episode) is so important as it shows the horrific procedural aspect of sexual abuse that is hidden underneath a charming smile and inappropriate comments.

Illustrating the very real debates that circulated amongst the media during the #MeToo movement, we see how the characters engage (and oppose) with the political tropes that formulated the battle lines drawn at the time. Mitch is emblematic of the conservative Trumpian outrage, who claimed the movement had expanded far beyond its normative reach, encompassed in the abhorrent line that “(he) didn’t rape anyone!”, implicating that only rape is a sexual reprehensible deed? Alex Levy (Jennifer Anniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Wetherspoon) are representative of the rupture that occurred amid the MeToo Movement between the old guard vs the new guard, or more unequivocally second wave and third wave feminism. The manipulation of their “frenemy” relationship by the network’s UBA executive producer Corey (Billy Crudup) parallels the way the media was keen to make visible a chasm between the different forms of feminisms that was not as deep rooted as it seemed. But the characterisation of this opportunistic man, from the hilarious use of didactic, extended metaphors embody and Billy Crudup's magnetic performance stands out throughout. As he plays Alex and Brady off against eachother, in a desperate attempt to conflate news and entertainment to gain more traction for the show, Corey neatly becomes the most entertaining to watch. Just as Corey plays Alex and Bradley off against each other to create better, eclectic TV, so does the media polarise divisions for the sake of more entertaining kind of news. But, in a punchy subversion of power, it is Alex who consecrates Bradley as her rival queen on the chessboard, when she erratical ly announces her new co-host at a press-ridden award show. The show often cliff-hangs the end of episodes with these Succession like, subversion of power moves, leading up to the eventual formation of a full-blown coup d’états for the season finale.

Although the show has been critiqued for its sympathy towards the white male character, I would argue that the show purposely provokes a rage towards these characters begging for sympathy to their internalised white mysoginy which only makes them all the more culpable and real. The show is making transparent what many people dare wish not to say, because the reality is that there are lots of men like Chip, who view themselves as supporters to the #MeToo movement, and Feminism whilst also believing that they are not part of the problem. In fact, they believe that they are distinct from it because they too have close female friends and haven’t sexually assaulted anyone. Because, for these kind of men “ The whole of #MeToo Movement is probably an overcorrection for centuries of bad behaviour that more enlightened men like (them) had nothing to do with”. And if you're someone who read this and thinks, yeh I agree with that, then to put it bluntly – you’re wrong. Because dismantling the patriarchy, and the environment that breeds these sorts of sexual scandals, is going to take all people to think about how we all have something to do with it.

  • kennedycharlotte56

With the prospect of a second lockdown or a “circuit breaker” looming over us, and the so far relatively useless completion of my MA, I thought I’d share a snippet of the work I conducted whilst we were in lock-down in March. Inspired by the visual incapacitation I felt and believe others, too were feeling, I wanted to use the visual as an analytical lens for examining the politics of the pandemic. The inability to experience the exterior world created an emotive shift towards the way I responded and felt towards the images and videos on the news. The visual became a logical validation of what was beyond my four walls.

But what was there even to show? How could we represent a virus that was invisible to us in “plain sight”? The virus’ invisible nature became a rhetorical feature for Tory members of state as they problematised our nation’s gravest threat in distinctly militant, war-time metaphors. But what fascinated me was Bojo’s choice of words, that as a nation we needed to “remove the cloak of invisibility” in his wannabe Churchillian manner. This metaphor, although alluding to technoscientific solutions (test and trace, vaccine etc) , also created an interesting nexus between governance, knowledge and visibility – the more we understand the more we can see, and therefore the better we can govern. Is visualisation of a threat therefore a precondition to governing it? I explored how COVID-19's invisibility meant its visual construction was always a representational bi-product of the crisis and therefore always showed how the crisis was governed instead.

This article advocates for the use of visual politics in our daily lives, (but also more widely in IR because the mainstream fellas aren't into it), and illustrates how a visual artefact can both challenge the power structures that govern us whilst also reproducing them.

But, before you scroll down, I would first like to ask you – how did you visualise the pandemic and has it changed? Is there a certain image/ video that springs to mind? Who or what is within the frame?

The visual, or an image is constructed by what is actively included and excluded from within a frame, and it is this framing process that has political consequences for what people and problems are visually excluded from the political landscape. The visual makes visible the structures of the world as we become conscious of what is rendered visible and what remains invisible.

When I first asked myself what I thought visually represented the pandemic, videos of the overwhelmed hospitals from northern Italy were front of mind. The footage was forewarning the U.K of what was to be inflicted upon our health infrastructures.

But it was this footage below which I felt best encapsulated the U.K politics of the pandemic and was at the centre of my dissertation:

Timelapse showing the transformation of the Excel Centre in London into a temporary critical care hospital.

This video was part of the government's bombastic PR stunt which proliferated a series of time-lapses and daily briefs praising the construction of field critical care hospitals across the U.K. Although it is difficult to talk about causal relationships between images/videos, it felt as though the government, engaging with the politics of the spectacle, were visually responding to the hectic footage from Northern Italy.

The paradoxical nature of this spectacle was that it symbiotically concretised the government’s "success", but on a much wider scale its inexorable failure. To use BoJo’s words, when we remove the ‘cloak of invisibility’ COVID-19 is visualised as the frantic construction of an emergency hospital – a stark public health crisis. A public health crisis which has been exacerbated by the gradual decimation of the NHS by David Cameron’s government in austerity, and the policy decisions made to cut the deficit after the 2008 financial crash.

The political declaration of the efficiency and scale of the construction of the Nightingale hospital ironically emphasised the systemic failure of an ‘efficiency’ driven mentality in austerity. The stagecraft of the video - the fact it is a time-lapse - places the government's speed and efficiency at the heart of the frame and adds to the "spectacular" aspect. But this public health crisis was aggravated from austerity’s concept of efficiency in which the government made the NHS deliver the same level of service and productivity levels with diminished resources. So the whole point of the video, to instigate a feeling of security and wonder, became somewhat farcical.

On face value, the video demonstrated the government’s goal to ‘protect the NHS’ by scaling up hospital capacity and was an attempt to portray an efficient state that was “managing” the virus. Dominic Raab said "the Nightingale Hospital project (stood) as a moment to the nation’s ability to get things done when it matters". Raab's rhetorical echoes of the party's slogan to "Get Brexit Done", and the party's nationalist ideology were exemplified in the video’s "national effort" as we can see an array of workers in the hall: 200 soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment and Royal Gurkha Rifles, NHS workers and contractors, and architect and engineers from BDP. It was a demonstration of the nation’s core infrastructures working in unity. And although its completion in nine days was lauded by the "national effort" seen by the NHS staff and the army in the video – the KPMG consultants contracted and hired by the government without competition and agreement are not visibly discernible, nor were they praised in any of the political discourses surrounding it.

Usually, the government ensures contracts with a value of more than £10,000 are publicly advertised and given only after a competitive tender. This tendering process is a bureaucratic bi-product of the NHS’ ‘internal market’. However, the declaration of emergency measures at the wake of this pandemic ensued the government’s suspension of normal procurement measures. Although KPMG confirmed a reduced rate fee in the contract, they declined to confirm their value. The KPMG consultants embody a corrupt kind of literal and conceptual invisible hand in the frame, as the Tory party chooses their profiteering private sector-patrons, as opposed to letting their beloved free market decide. It poignantly follows the Tory party’s outsourcing logic and the parasitical relationship between this crisis and privatisation. The creation of the Nightingale emergency hospitals were a symptom of privatisation and budget cuts and yet the government’s response is to continue to privatise and outsource.Gabriel Scally, a professor of public health said that "the destruction of the infrastructure that stopped England coping with major emergencies explains why we're now seeing private companies being brought into these functions".

The invisibilisation of the KPMG contractors in the frame are part of the Tory party's attempt to render invisible the profiteering dimensions involved in the pandemic by portraying it as a national effort. It also points to a wider systemic issue as they use the crisis to push through opaque contracts to the private sector. The government has reportedly paid £1.7 billion to private companies during the crisis without competitive tender. These 400 contracts have provided services for the requiring of personal protective equipment and testing capacity. The government outsourced contracts to Deloitte (logistics of drive through test centres), G4S, Sodexo, Serco (contract tracing), Boots, and tech companies Palantir and Faculty have been running test centres. And if you haven't been reading the news recently, despite our test and trace system making virtually no difference, Serco's profits are booming and are even considering paying dividends to their shareholders.

A freedom of information request by the Health Service Journal exposed that the government spent £220 million resurrecting the Nightingale hospital project, and £15 million running them throughout April. The total sum of £235 million is the equivalent of 963,116 days and nights of care in hospital; if this money had already been invested this would have provided an additional 2,640 beds in 2019 which would have allowed the NHS to enter the crisis with additional capacity and decreased a splurge of spending on temporary field hospitals.

The construction of the Nightingale field hospitals are symptomatic of years of austerity, and the time-lapse video renders invisible the deadly consequences privatisation has had on the government’s response whilst emboldening the oxymoronic slogan to "Protect the NHS".

*If you are interested in Visual Politics, read 'Sensible Politics: Visualising International Relations' by William Callahan - it's pretty damn cool.