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Issue #1553      27 June 2012

Culture & Life

Class, ethnicity and media barons

I am going to quote you some passages from a few postcards I have received from my eldest son, sent from Paris. The reason for this apparent self-indulgence will become clear in due course.

My son, Brent, is on holiday in Europe with this partner Chris. They went first to the Netherlands, then Belgium and on to France. They had a splendid time enjoying the sights of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Bruges. Then they got to Paris.

English-speaking people who go to France as tourists tend to find the French people disagreeable. This is, I believe, because they usually meet petty-bourgeois French people: shopkeepers, concierges, minor officials. People of this class tend to harbour a centuries old animosity towards the English and a more modern racist dislike of migrants from Africa and Eastern Europe.

Tourists, used to being feted as welcome guests, are shocked at the obviousness of the middle class Frenchman’s animosity towards them. Brent certainly was not prepared for the sheer extent of the class divide in Paris between where the people live and where the tourists are encouraged to go.

His first postcard from France began: “We’ve left gay Holland and Beautiful Belgium behind us, and now we’re in Paris. It sucks donkey bollocks!” Each of the next two cards repeated this sentiment with increasingly vibrant language and imagery.

This first card continued in part: “This really is the domain of the rich and criminal classes. From the heights of Mont-martre one can just discern the proletariat huddled on the dim horizon, but no chance of making their acquaintance from this distance!”

His second card, sent the next day, featured a view of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. He appended this note: “It is built in the style of an Islamic mosque, but inside is a Catholic church. It would inspire more awe if it wasn’t jammed full of nuns selling candles at $10 a pop, gift shops where the side-chapels should be and … I kid you not …actual vending machines selling pardons if you put in enough coins!

“Whatever would that angry young Nazarene have said if he had found vending machines in the temple?”

The third day, he sent another card with another variation on the refrain “Paris sucks!” and yet more lamentations: “Everyone keeps telling us we’re English and spitting on our shoes. When we protest that we are Australian, their anger vanishes, and they say ‘you’re great blokes, g’day mate, kangaroo!’ But they don’t apologise for having spat on our shoes.

“My guide book actually warns you not to smile at people in the street. It says Parisians consider this ‘idiotic’ and won’t speak to you if you smile at them, which explains a lot about yesterday.”

The next day’s card, however, brought a marked change of sentiments: “Vive la France! Long may she vive!” The reason for this change of heart? The next sentence explained all: “Finally met the French working class today, when we wandered into a decidedly poor quarter.” The atmosphere was completely different: “Strangers smile at one another. Men greet you with a kiss on each cheek. Women ask determined questions about the status of socialism in Australia.”

And it is not just the French working class. “The Africans are similarly chatty and political, and insist on sharing their Moroccan cakes with you, a ploy to keep you talking because they really are interested in that far side of the world – Australia!”

Brent had discovered yet again, that culture is not primarily a matter of ethnicity or nationality but of class. Proletarian internationalism is not just a slogan; it is a basic and powerful human force that unites working people everywhere through their innate humanity and their shared struggle against a common class enemy.

Racial stereotyping and prejudice, too, may use ethnicity or nationality as a hook, but at its core is class interest and class upbringing. As Communists know: everything is about class.

And that particularly applies to control of the mass media. Gina Rinehart’s raids on the shares of the Fairfax media empire are a blatant attempt to turn her into a political “kingmaker” in the manner of that other great exponent of democracy (not to mention ethics in journalism) Rupert Murdoch.

Rinehart wants the Herald and other Fairfax papers and media as a club with which to threaten the Australian government and force them to change the laws she presently does not like. These will be initially and primarily the carbon tax and any kind of resource tax.

If you think that is an expensive way to change government policy, consider this: if successful, she will put billions of extra dollars into her coffers. It is well worth the expenditure.

Not all media outlets are controlled by individuals who can qualify as “barons”, of course. Some are simply anonymous capitalist corporations. But when extra profits are involved, corporate boards and media barons alike have never been loath to tell the elected government what to do – and to take action against them if they don’t do it.

When Orson Welles made his great screen classic Citizen Kane, he copped a belting in the media because he had made Kane a media baron who unhesitatingly tried to ride roughshod over democratic rights and the rule of law. Kane, a fictionalised amalgam of US press barons William Randolph Hearst and Colonel Robert McCormick, was too close to the truth for their liking and their papers rubbished Welles and his film as punishment.

Politicians are even more vulnerable, as the revelations at Britain’s Leveson enquiry into phone hacking at Murdoch’s News Of the World are showing. Links keep emerging between British PM David Cameron and the Murdoch empire. But revelations of government-Murdoch collusion now include Tony Blair’s decision (with his mate George Bush) to launch the war against Iraq in 2003, and Margaret Thatcher’s war against Argentina in the Falklands.

It was Thatcher who approved Murdoch’s takeover of the Times, Sunday Times and News Of The World in the 1980s. ’Nuff said?  

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