A few days before the centenary of the end of the First World War, some 70 people attended a Global Media Café in JMK-salen. The Screening Protest Symposium was a day of presentations about turbulent politics in troubled times and above all mediations of protest, designed to start a conversation with colleagues, students, interested members of the public and kindred spirits from abroad, and to celebrate the publication of an anthology by the Screening Protest Project team. Making sense of of where we are now - and how we got here - was the question that served as the red thread running through all the presentations.
Alexa Robertson opened the day-long event by reflecting on its timing. The horrific slaughter that came to be called World War One was a catastrophe preceded by the upsurge of nationalism and men inadequately running countries they thought could be made great again. As the symposium was taking place, churches across the UK were being transformed into giant cinemas, to bring home the psychological impact of war, a century after anti-war voices had been suppressed and silenced. As well as in cathedrals, screens are in public squares and living rooms and on computers and in people’s pockets. By focusing on the screen, Robertson explained that the Screening Protest team had been trying to get at a dynamic - a movement and an overlapping between different sites and different sorts of messages. Films go to church but they also go to tv and to Netflix - and come from Netflix, which is not just a streaming service but wins awards for new television drama production. Old television dramas are shared by fans on YouTube, and journalists working for global television channels are on Twitter as often as they are on camera.
Stephen Hutchings, professor of Russian Studies at Manchester University and PI of the Reframing Russia project talked about the work of journalists on one of the global channels just mentioned - RT - and explored the question of how we got from Cold War to Information War. It is sometimes tempting to think that the journey has been a very short one, especially if you revisit Hannah Arendt’s reflections on the origins of totalitarianism. In that classic text, written in 1951 - during the Cold War - Arendt notes an increasingly prevalent tendency to blur the distinction between factual truth and opinion. She was worried that the ‘result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is...that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world...is being destroyed.’ It is an observation to which many who attended the symposium could relate, in the continued aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election. It resonated clearly with the experiences of the Screening Protest team members who have spent a lot of time watching and coding newscasts broadcast by RT. Visit this article to read more about Professor Hutchings’ talk.
This year has seen more anniversaries than that of the end of WW1. In 1918, women were given the right to vote in Germany, Austria, Poland and Russia. A century of female suffrage was celebrated last June, when thousands of women marched through central London to Westminster. It was the summer after the autumn of #metoo, and the two mobilizations, a century apart, spoke clearly to each other. With original newsreels playing in the background, Professor Krista Cowman from the University of Lincoln talked about the relation between the screen and the women’s suffrage movement in the UK that ultimately triumphed in votes for women a hundred years ago. It is also 50 years since 1968 - the original ‘Year of the Protester’. For those inclined to solidarity, anniversaries associated with ’68, and their remediations, can serve as reminders of the good old days when people marched shoulder to shoulder and believed it was possible to improve the world. For others, they are reminders that the political conflict and polarization dividing our societies today are nothing new. Protest is in other words, an open text: we can make sense of it how we choose.
As it was also fifty years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, it was fitting that Aditi Jaganathan, a member of the Creative Interruptions project team based at Brunel University in London, talked about how different generations of black and Asian activists have used film to mobilise. The screen in focus in her presentation is a space for resistance. And on the eve of the release of 50th anniversary editions of The Beatles’ White Album - said to channel the tumultuousness of 1968 - Victoria Broackes, Geoffrey Marsh and Emily Harris from the V&A in London talked about the exhibition they curated and filmed: ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70’. The late 1960s were a time of rapid social and political change, and those few short years of unbridled optimism and experimentation brought to the fore issues that continue to dominate the headlines today: inequality, globalization, and environmentalism. Examining music, fashion, film, design, counterculture, mind-altering experiences, festivals, and politics, the presentation spoke to every part of IMS - be it those who study media and politics, those who study film, or those who study the social importance of fashion. Symposium participants became the first audience to see the rough cut of the film that was punctuated by the music that provided the soundtrack to the era - from Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come to The Who’s My Generation. The film focused on defining moments and movements such as Woodstock, communes, and the Paris protests of May 1968, and included interviews with cultural revolutionaries from Yoko Ono to Stewart Brand. Harris’ colourful and hugely enjoyable film ended with a dizzying series of film clips and soundbytes that fast-forwarded symposium participants from the optimism of ’68 to the dystopian future of the Trump era - a thought-provoking answer to the question of ‘how we got here from there’.