Thursday, 18 October 2012


And the gardens are neat and tidy.



Blog 34
James Watson
Friends and contributors

A Writers’ Notebook



Photo of the Month
Gable end, Derry, July 2012
Media: that ‘demotic turn’
Part 2 Preface to 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media & Communication Studies (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012)
Saved within the saved
Auschwitz: a prospect
           Tony Williams
Two Dialogues
          Bron O’Brien
Poems of Place (11)
           Prayer cards at Ilam
‘Getting under way’: A letter from Councillor Morgan informing us of Ned Baslow’s letter campaign to put Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven annual festival on the international map. Concessions to readers.


Media: that ‘demotic turn’
In Blog 33 an edited version of the Preface to the 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012) by James Watson and Anne Hill asked whether the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the media empire of Rupert Murdoch has brought about a fundamental change in the way the media go about their business in relation to government, the police and the public.

Less sensational than the hacking saga, but of equal interest is what Graeme Turner calls ‘the demotic turn’. In Ordinary People and the Media: The Demotic Turn (Sage, 2010) Turner writes that the media audience ‘is mutating from a model of receptiveness we might identify with broadcasting, towards a range of more active and more demotic modes of participation that vary from the personalised menu model of the YouTube user to the content creation activities of the citizen journalist or the blogger’.

  As for whether increased public (demotic) participation is, as some digital optimists believe, also empowering, whether the new media are a force for democratisation, Turner remains sceptical, believing that outcomes ‘are still more likely to be those which support the commercial survival of the major media corporations rather than those which support the individual or the community interests of the ordinary citizen’.

Primacy of entertainment
The demotic turn is a shift ‘towards entertainment’ and this ‘may prove to have constituted an impoverishment of the social, political and cultural function of the media; the replacement of something that was primarily information – as in, say, current affairs radio – with something that is primarily entertainment – as in, say, talk radio – is more realistically seen as generating a democratic deficit than a democratic benefit’.

   The 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies recognises the options and the possibilities with regard to technology and cultural change but also acknowledges that the pace of change of one is more rapid than the other.

    It is undoubtedly true that the Internet has opened portals to individual and group participation and interactivity that permit a diversity of viewpoint and expression rarely if ever experienced in the past.

Salem and Slim
Cyberspace is a constellation of bloggers, a territory of streams emerging from and flowing in to and across contemporary life, and on a global scale. Salem 9, blogging from Iraq, fed an information-hungry western society glimpses of life in an invaded and occupied country which traditional news reporting could not match.

   During the so-termed African Spring of 2010-11, blogger Slim Amamou’s invitation to join the interim government of Tunisia was described by Jo Glanville in her Index on Censorship (No. 1, 2011) editorial, ‘Playing the Long Game’, as ‘one of the most remarkable acknowledgments of the role of digital activists in civil society, not to mention the symbolism of his appointment in a country that has stifled free speech for decades’.

Twitter ‘revolution’?
Yet for every optimist such as Glanville there is a pessimist such as Evgeny Morozov whose The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World (Allan Lane, 2011) puts the case that the ‘twitter revolution’ might do more harm than good to the cause of democratisation.

  The jury is out, as it is on the efficacy of what has come to be termed citizen journalism. This raises lively issues concerning the relationship between amateurs and professionals particularly in the light of the cost-cutting in news services by traditional media organisations intent on putting profit before public service; the result, Graeme Turner’s ‘impoverishment of the social, political and cultural function of the media’.

Threat to the open network
Equally we note the concerns of Tim Wu, inventor of the term net neutrality (and author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, Knopf/Atlantic Books, 2011), when he posits the theory that traditional media moved from the freedoms of the open prairie to corporate enclosure and this process may be being repeated in the network society.

   Already, he writes in his Introduction, ‘there are signs that the good old days of a completely open network are ending’. Acquisition, alliances, expansion, synergies are pursued with missionary zeal by the new leviathans. Industries become empires. Jostling for attention becomes jostling for control, not unlike that exercised by governments rarely hesitant about legislating against freedom of expression.

    It could be said, to look on the bright side, that the difference is that new technology has greatly loosened up patterns of hierarchy and may even have made inroads on hegemony. Students of communication would do well to carefully scrutinise competing visions of the future of the ‘networking society’, in particular the role of information and knowledge in a context driven by economics and ‘must have it now’ public attitudes.

   Above all, the case must be made and re-made that in the information age the communications industry is, in Tim Wu’s words, ‘fundamental to democracy’, needing to be resistant to wholesale appropriation and to the controlling ambitions of governments.  


Saved within the saved
Auschwitz: a prospect
By Tony Williams

We have seen the images so often, the watchtowers, the railway tracks, Arbeit macht frei, endless rows of barrack huts in Birkenau. What I was not prepared for on a visit this summer was the masses of visitors being bussed in from all over the world and the total absence of the feared tourist carnival atmosphere. People went from station to station in silence, only registering their visit with the ubiquitous phone cameras.

   There are at least five stations of homage: the former Jewish area of Kasimierz in Krakow, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Oskar Schindler’s factory, the Wielicka Salt Mines. Including the latter might seem odd since it is not a sad place and not directly linked to the Holocaust. But there is a link.

Notices of dismissal
One Sunday afternoon in 1943 one of the underground caverns hollowed out by salt miners over the centuries and famously decorated with religious sculptures in salt, was the scene of a works outing, a banquet provided by the Schindler factory in Krakow.

   After the meal was over all the workers were handed envelopes which they were not to open until they had reached the surface. This envelope contained their wages and a mystifying notice of dismissal together with a stern warning never to approach the Schindler Enamel Factory again.

   The following day the factory was paid a Gestapo visit and over the loudspeakers a list of workers’ names was read out. After each name the works secretary said ‘dismissed’. So they missed their call to the gas chambers. Saved within the saved.

The Schindler Enamel Factory Museum gives an extensive picture of life in Krakow after 1919, especially the Jewish population and their contribution  to Polish cultural life. Many poster announcements document the series of increasingly harsh measures taken by the invaders after 1939 against the Jews.

   Another note on the Schindler story. Not content with sticking his neck out to save his Jewish workers, Schindler actively engaged in war sabotage. The Zossen munitions plant south of Berlin had to discard the bulk of war munitions and supplies received from the  Schindler Enamel Factory as worthless. Fighter plane radiators, for instance, contained traces of tin which melted when hot and blocked the valves. Unbelievably the neck which Oskar Schindler stuck out did not end under the guillotine.


Two Dialogues
By Bron O'Brien 

Dialogue 1: A*
 ‘Dad,’ said four-year-old Daisy. ‘I just can’t get my head round Pilgrim’s Progress. Or for that matter Dante’s Purgatory.
   ‘Daisy, you’ve got to persist with these things if you are to please Mr. Gove. I told you when you were poo-pooing Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for falling for a soldier, give credit where it’s due. Perhaps it was the English translation.’
   ‘I read it in Russian, Dad.’
  ‘Okay, it’s a great book in any language.’
  ‘To be honest, I’m too taken up with Chopin at the moment to focus on reading, regardless of Mr. Gove’s view that music butters no parsnips.’
  ‘You’re strong on mazurkas. But your Grade 8 in piano shouldn’t suggest you rest on your laurels.’
  ‘Why do we talk in idioms all the time, Dad?’
  ‘Forget the idioms, how about your maths?’
  ‘Are these problems really degree level?’
  ‘Taken from a Finals paper.’
  ‘Does that mean I could start my PhD next year?’
  ‘Harvard won’t consider anybody under ten. Just concentrate on the National Curriculum.’
  ‘School’s dropped it.’
  ‘So it’s become one of Gove’s academies despite your letters to the prime minister.’
  ‘We’re to have four hours a week of spelling and punctuation. That could help with my novel, only I was planning to write it like James Joyce and forget the full-stops. Dad?’
  ‘Was that you on Radio 4 this morning?’
  ‘Yes me and Teddy. He’s been worrying about me again.’
   ‘Teddy thinks I’ve been overdoing it.’


Dialogue 2: E-

‘Dad? How could I win 21 gold medals?’
  ‘Pinch ‘em.’
  ‘But if I was honest.’
  ‘You’d have to get up before eleven in the morning.’
  ‘I think I’d like to ride one of them horses that jump over fences.’
  ‘There’s no grass round here, son, to feed em. They dug it all up for the car park.’
  ‘I could fetch some in Uncle Joe’s wheelbarra.’
 ‘We’re not speaking to Uncle Joe. Anyway, where’d you put yer grass?’
‘Hay. I think they call it once it turns yellow. Maybe in Mrs. Ashton’s backyard.’
 ‘Mrs. Ashton aint speaking to us no more since Rex ate their Sunday joint. Listen, how about me helping you with something I know about? Me as yer coach?’
  ‘Thievin an connin? Are they in the Olympics, Dad?’
  ‘Boxin, I mean.’
  ‘We’ve enough punchbags in this family.’
  ‘That’s yer Mam talking again.’
  ‘Swimmin – that looks easy.’
  ‘You never been swimming.’
  ‘I fell in once an reached the shallow end in no time. Old Louse-face, our PE teacher, actually clapped me.’
  ‘He was clappin you drownin, son.’
  ‘One of them posh bikes with no spokes, then?’
  ‘Aye, Velodromes, but they’ve no brakes, so you’d do yerself an injury.’
  ‘So you don’t think I should train for the next Olympics, Dad?’
  ‘I never said that.’
 ‘You think I’m in with a chance? Like you got confidence in me. ’
 ‘I never said that either.’
 ‘Well what did you say?’
 ‘I never said nothing.’
 ‘Then that settles it, Dad.’
 ‘I reckon it does, son. After all, there’s more to life than bloody medals.’

 Ed: Contributions are very welcome including selections from longer works. Please send to


Poems of Place (11)

                        PRAYER CARDS AT ILAM

                                    In the sweet silence of Ilam
                                    Summer-soothed beside Manifold
                                    And beneath Thorpe Cloud
                                    Where lord and lady lie
                                    In death’s stone: read
                                    The prayer cards of the living.

                                    ‘Please God, pray for Katy,
                                    Help her stop wetting the bed’;
                                    ‘For my Dad, Oh God,
                                    Who has a drinking problem’ –
                                    Carelessly scattered for interlopers
                                    To leer over: jokes in church.

                                     Crushed by reverence,
                                    It was never easy in the poor light
                                    To keep your face straight.
                                    And yet, here in Holy Cross speaks innocence:
                                    ‘Please pray for my family and friends,
                                    Especially my Mum, who does try her hardest
                                    To help with my pony.’

                                    Spoken from the heart.
                                    Do I hear you titter, Lord, yet smile
                                    With love at the lonely whispers;
                                    Or do I opt for the cold tomb’s tale
                                    And admit: these missives, being unstamped,
                                    Are returned to sender;
                                    Or gather them in a pile
                                    Marked ‘Not known at this address’?

Ed: The editorial team were delighted to hear from Councillor Gilbert Stokoe MBE announcing the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven international arts festival planned for the summer of 2013. It is not the first W-c-F arts festival by any means.

‘Lord Gilbert’ as he is popularly known in the locality, explains: ‘The Events Committee decided that to celebrate our 25th, we have opted to go truly international. We have in the past recruited artistes from as far afield as Cromer, Preston, Newcastle-Under-Lime and on two occasions from across the border in Wales, one of our most enjoyed concerts being mounted by the Bodelwydden Male Voice Choir.

A match for Edinburgh?
Councillor Stokoe's letter continues: ‘As press officer of the Festival, Mr. Ned Baslow has volunteered to write to a number of celebrities in the world of entertainment inviting their participation in what we hope will put Wickerstaff-cum-Fairhaven on the international arts map along with the Edinburgh Festival, Bayreuth, the Venice Biennial and the Turnditch All-Comers Brass Band Carnival.

    The committee were delighted to be asked by the editorial board of your illustrious blog to provide copies of Ned’s correspondence as plans progress, with a view to maximising publicity for the festival. As I think I mentioned in my September letter, there will be special concessions for your readers, both for the many outstanding festival events and B & B accommodation at a number of venues, including the two-star Kilt and Thistle Hotel.’

Ed: Many thanks, Lord Gilbert. On account of the fact that Ned’s letter suffered an accident with a cup of black coffee and a melting chocolate bar, we have requested him to avoid using washable drawing ink in future.

Decipherment has been a problem, but Ned’s wife Betty has kindly promised us a typed copy. This much we can tell readers: Ned’s first letter is addressed to a penniless Austrian composer.