Tuesday, 18 September 2012


A Writers’ Notebook

WATSONWORKS  Blog 33, Sept 2012



Back from a summer(!) break

James Watson
Friends and contributors


Poems of Place (10)
Letter from America: playing games

With the coming of the Internet in the Digital Age many commentators have argued that new technology has empowered ordinary people; that it has acted as a balancing restraint on power and influence of media corporations. Further, as in the case of the popular uprisings in North African countries during 2011 and2012, has the ‘media centre in the palm of the hand’ given subject people power to act against their masters?

 An edited selection from the Preface of the newly published 8th edition of THE DICTIONARY OF MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION STUDIES (Bloomsbury Academic) by James Watson and Anne Hill.

If there is one word which defines the evolution of media since the 7th edition, 2006, it is participation: the audience is king; and this has largely come about as a result of the opportunities for feedback and interactivity made possible by new and improved technology. Once upon a time there were TV sets. The whole family sat in front of them and the choice was either or.
Today young people see less of their parents. They retire to their rooms, click a button and a universe of information, entertainment, games opens up to them. They can contact their hundreds if not thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook, watch scores of videos a night on YouTube – and may appear to have less need to interact with real people in the real world.
    Ironically, for this same generation many educational experiences will be shared with others, in the traditional manner, in seminars and lectures. True, cyberspace will be available on electronic whiteboards but what happens on a daily basis is little different from the educational experiences of their parents and or indeed their grandparents. We ask, has the bounty of the Internet, the access our smartphones have made possible, changed culture that much?
   Are people meeting each other less frequently, reading less, watching conventional TV less; is the newspaper on the verge of extinction?

The degrees of change

Also, taking in to account the fashionable political mantra, the ‘big society’, in which we all rise up and take command of the heights of decision-making, opening our own schools, running our own libraries, choosing where we’ll have our babies or our heart surgery, are we experiencing the beginning of a world turned upside down, of power rising from the depths to assert itself over former privilege, of the power of smart mobs?
  Whether the answer is a qualified yes or no, what is important is who is asking and attempting to answer the question. For example, has power of a sort shifted in to social networks where petitions and protests can be organised swiftly and on a large scale? Faced with public opinion expressed online, do the power elite adjust their position, promise more public consultation in future, reverse their decisions – or do they wait till online interactivity returns to the more normal, ‘I hate Monday mornings’/ ‘So do I’ discourse?

Interactive culture: the big ‘I am’

Technological innovation is not the only source of change confronting the 21st century citizen. To use Eric M. Eisenberg’s phrase the socio-cultural ‘surround’ in which much everyday social interaction takes place has also changed for many of us. Most Western societies have seen a growth in cultural diversity. The challenges this presents for successful interaction has been the focus of much contemporary research within the field of interpersonal communication.
    Arguably the forces of globalisation usher in social fragmentation and uncertainties – not least uncertainties about self-identity. So, research focused on the contemporary odyssey of the search for self-identity –  Anthony Giddens terms this the  project of self –  deserves its high profile.
    Much of modern life is mediated and thus the interplay between interpersonal and mass communication also needs to be considered. Advertising and other aspects of media culture contain many messages that may impact on the development of a sense of identity. For example, the arrival of Facebook and other social networking sites also opens up the debate about what it is to have a ‘sense of self’.

Perspectives on power

The Internet has not so much taken over and transformed traditional media as appropriated the way we think about the broad spectrum of communication. Change has been in the air, but how fundamentally has hegemony been shaken, how seriously has it been stirred?
    A key issue concerning claims to ‘democratisation’ and popular involvement in the exercise of power is whether the ‘usual suspects’ – the corporations, the financial organisations, the mass media – have at any time of late lost or surrendered their powers.
    It could be that we are so busy talking among ourselves, networking, vanishing into the magic whirlpools of our iPods, iPlayers and iPads that we fail to notice something: that the power elites have not gone away; nor have they undergone any Pauline conversion except to embrace the opportunities, for commerce and control, that the Network Society offers the alert entrepreneur.

Paging Mr. Murdoch

This is not to say that predictability rules. Until the summer of 2011 the global media empire ruled by Rupert Murdoch was widely seen as an unstoppable force, a threat to the plurality of media and a malign influence on governments, obtaining from them concessions in return for a generally supportive press: ‘Touch Your Forelocks to Mr. Murdoch’ was embossed on the dance-card of every politician ambitious to achieve power or hold on to it.
The phone-hacking scandal involving News International’s News of the World and the dramatic closure of the 168 year old paper in July 2011, may well have brought about a sea-change, not only for the ‘Murdoch effect’ specifically but for the media generally in its relation to politics and policing.
   Some would say it is ‘not before time’ politicians and public in the UK paid attention to the systemic practice of prying electronically (and illegally) into the lives of citizens high and low. Public outrage and a united parliament forced Murdoch to retreat, at least temporarily, from his ambition to own the whole of BSkyB; something the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had, until revelations turned from a trickle to a tsunami, been ‘mindful’ of accepting.
    It is fitting to celebrate the true purpose of journalism in action, holding power – that of government, corporations, institutions, the police and the media themselves – to account. Varyingly called ‘the best political thriller of our times’ and likened to the ‘crumbling of the Berlin Wall’, the hacking scandal – fearlessly revealed by the Guardian, initially alone in the UK, battling against denial and indifference – raised wider issues concerning media ownership and its connection with politicians and police.

Meanwhile, back on the ground
For the present, we leave it to media watchers to monitor the after-shock of such seismic events; to track how far remonstration, indignant headlines, mass petitions, committees of inquiry actually impact, in the long run, on the status quo; whether a new dawn will produce a less exploitative, more balanced media; more answerable to public interest, to the law and to media ethics.

Part 2 of this brief overview of media today will appear
in Blog 34.

Poems of Place (10)


Three by the clapper bridge
            Over shallow cold stream;
            At one end the past,
            At the other the future.

Alone until out of silence
           Came children and dogs
            With a young mother
            Skirt tucked up for wading,
            And a tall elderly companion
             In wide brimmed hat.

 Too many children
             To belong to either;
              Rather they were all
              The daughters of the moment
              This hot tiptoe day
              Where even the black Labrador
               Swam softly.

  Being freshly sprung and
              Moving fast, the river was colder here,
              They said, than in the slow bend
              Under the oaks.

              We dipped beneath the flat stones
              Felt the ache of the cold,
              The delicious cool of the sun,
              ‘Like,’ one of us said,
              ‘The last of the summer wine’,
              While the mysterious lady
              Played poo-sticks with the smallest
              And the dogs waited for the next stone
              Cast almost gently as if
              The spell of the afternoon
               Must not be disturbed.


From British-born K.J. Melling

The ‘London Games’ received very favorable ratings in the US. A high standard combining the new with the old, utilising the city as a remarkable backdrop (looked really great), the immaculate venues both within and outside the city and the organisation (except the security company glitch). The crowds, the presentation of the events and the success of  Team GBR  were electrifying. All  the Brits played the game.

The presentation of the games in the US by NBC was not good. No schedule of events to follow and make plans (what, where and when). Main events prerecorded and shown in (evening) prime time when the outcome was already known. Excessive concentration on US athletes and excessive advertising. It was a case of NBC playing its own game and it was a mess.

However, one commentator on site in London was so impressed he suggested the the UK form an ‘economics committee’ of UK  Olympic caliber to seriously and fairly tackle the economic situation in the UK. We've already had such a committee that made real across the board proposals - to no avail.

15% confidence
We have the biggest mess in history and the election is not helping one bit. The estimated cost of the election is at least $2.5 billion and it's been going on since January, election day is Nov.7. A recent pole puts the confidence Americans have in their Congress at 15%. This reflects the population's dissatisfaction with the hostility between the two parties precluding any semblance of compromise on major issues. Apparently we are clever enough to put a highly sophisticated research vehicle on Mars, but stupid enough to be incapable of governing ourselves to the benefit of all citizens.

 Cutting medicare, increasing defence
Essentially the Romney/Ryan ticket wants to drastically cut entitlement programs (eg. gutting Medicare/ Medicaid and privatising Social Security), but increase defense spending. The Obama/Biden ticket has put forward a plan to cut spending (including defense) and increasing income tax on the top 1% income bracket. The republican proposal favors the rich, the democrat proposal the other 99%. This is a simple outline of a complex subject, but the intent of the two parties is clear. If nothing is done in Congress before year's end, the country is going over an ‘economic cliff’.

 Automatically the tax cuts introduced by the previous Bush administration will be removed and massive spending cuts validated. The effect would be reduced GDP  and increased unemployment, another recession. Our political system is broken. Congress has been and still is playing deadly games. The Americans are proud of their democracy – is this democracy? ‘God save America’ is not enough,’God help US’ is better.

Readers looking forward to joining Ned Baslow in his lively encounters with celebrities will have to wait till Blog 34 as the following letter from Councillor Gilbert Stokoe, MBE explains.

Dear Editor,
As chairman of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Pantomime and Light Opera Society I am writing on behalf of the Society’s secretary, Mr. Ned Baslow, to explain his temporary suspension of correspondence with the likes of King Harold, Homer the Greek, John Milton and Inspector Morse. Our friend has been given the role of press officer for the W-c-FPLOS’ next offering in the summer of 2013.

   This was delayed from this year as a result of my falling off a horse while mounting in order to lead the annual Wickerstaff Hare Hunting Festival. Our plans to create a music, drama and field sports festival of international repute was delayed because I had been cast in the name part of Don Quixote: The Musical, an opera written and scored by myself, with assistance from my daughter Cordelia, a recent graduate of the Northern School of Music.

   My broken hip has sufficiently mended for me to begin rehearsals alongside Ned who successfully auditioned for the part of Sancho Panza (his wife Betty will be understudying Cordelia in the part of Dulcinea).

   Ned has a massive job on his hands, for it is the committee’s intention to bring to our festival the very best of talent. As I said at our inaugural meeting, ‘Our festival will put Wickerstaff not only on the cultural map of Great Britain but will attract global attention’.

   No one is more committed to turning that dream into reality than Ned who is not only one of life’s great communicators he has dreams and visions plus powers of persuasion that, if better known, would be an inspiration for the present generation of young people who so often seem to be lacking direction and suitable role models.

   Having discussed the matter with our committee and had a few words with you on the telephone, Ned is happy to send you copies of his campaign correspondence in the hope that our Festival will prove an attraction to your readers (for whom, by the way, there will be special rates of entry to events).

Yours etc.
G.M. Stokoe, MBE
President, Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Festival  (2013).

Many thanks, Councillor Stokoe. From what Ned has told us, the Festival
promises to be an all-star occasion. We can’t wait to see some of Billy Blake’s set designs for Don Quixote.

BLOG 34 will appear in mid-October and will feature a contribution by   TONY WILLIAMS on his August visit to Auschwitz and two Dialogues by BRON O'BRIEN.

Answers to the image quiz in Blog 32. The statue is to be found in Glasgow, a dramatic rendering of the Spanish Civil War politician La Pasionara and the saying we associate with her, Non passarin! There is an echo here of the mantra of No Surrender chanted by the people of Derry, Northern Ireland, besieged by the forces of James 11.

Many volunteers from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England went to fight alongside the republicans in the Spanish War; and a few joined the side of Franco's fascists. The Freedom Tree (see below) tells the story of a group of British volunteers ready to risk their lives in the cause of democracy.

James Watson books.

For the price of less than a pint,
four paper-print novels are available
from Amazon Kindle:

THE FREEDOM TREE (£1.03), set during the Spanish
Civil War, reaching its climax with the bombing of Guernica.
TALKING IN WHISPERS £2.01). Chile during the tyrannical
rule of the generals.
TICKET TO PRAGUE (£1.63). Tale of a friendship between Amy,
a teenage rebel, and Josef, an elderly Czech poet who had lost
the will to write; until she reads him The Good Soldier Sveck.
JUSTICE OF THE DAGGER (£2.03). Earthmovers, the Yellow Giants,
advance on the rainforest of East Timor. The people have only
arrows and courage to resist them.

And for the price of burger, fries and a soft drink:
FAIR GAME: THE STEPS OF ODESSA (£5.15). Uneven playing fields
in Ukraine: with the ball at her feet Natasha shows talent,
resolution and the will to win. Her quest is to discover whether
these qualities translate into life.

PS Cover-designers wanted for three new books in the Kindle
pipeline. Modest fee for single-sheet design (A5).


NB: contributions welcome; to Jim at