Game of Thrones

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The world you live in is broken and bonkers. The sense of abandonment and collapse is palpable. The late R.D. Laing used to say that ‘breakdown is break-through but contemporary Britain doesn’t seem to ever reach that cathartic moment. Instead, it just seems to be stuck in perpetual crisis, spasms of ‘scandal’ and ‘revelation’ washing over us daily bleeding through our timelines like some horror show of excess and entitlement. It’s addictive and exhausting.

This week’s top stories about Prince Andrew’s legal difficulties, Boris Johnson’s party house, and Novak Djokovic’s visa problems are all unprecedented extraordinary human dramas that speak to the moment we’re living in. But they’re essentially the same story. They are the story of a strata of people – in this case extremely wealthy privileged white men – who believe themselves to be able to live entirely above the law, to live without consequence for any of their actions. At this moment, for very different reasons these men’s fate has collided with a change of fortune, and for the very first time in their gilded lives they face some form of authority saying “this isn’t happening anymore”. For Novak Djokovic this authority comes in the form of the Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who has exercised a personal power to cancel his visa; for Private Citizen Andrew it comes from the Manhattan federal judge Lewis Kaplan who dismissed a motion by his lawyers on Wednesday to have the civil case against him thrown out; for our Prime Minister, the ‘authority’ is less clear. We’re told it is someone called Sue Gray, who is ultimately his employee.

These men believed that the rules that apply to the rest of us simply don’t apply to them. That’s the message we’ve been hearing all week, and why should they? If you’ve been living in the surreal world of the British royal family, a mixture of twenty-first-century feudalism and celebrity culture; or the Bullingdon Club; or the jet-set international tennis circuit you would come to believe you were living in a world apart, because you are.

At least you could argue that Novak Djokovic is actually good at something? But he has squandered an opportunity to be a role model and has undoubtedly contributed to Serbia having some of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, with less than 50 percent of the population fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project. To get a sense of the scale of excess Djokovic earned $12,609,673 in 2018, $11,517,228 in 2019, $6,435,158 in 2020 and $7,445,867 last year. His total career prize money is estimated to be $133,735,638. But Djokovic has a problem. The Australian visa ban may last up to three years, at 34 this ends his involvement in the tournament and other tournaments are likely to follow suit.

We’ve highlighted the staggering wealth of the British monarchy many times here and the Prime Minister’s excess and corruption have been published week in week out for the past two years. This form of extraordinary privilege is just part of the surround-sound of British life, it’s just become an acceptable part of our lives that we should be ruled by a section of society from a tiny tiny gene pool, literally one single-family and a handful of schools and two universities. Then we act all surprised when it turns out they are useless and the whole thing’s a dysfunctional shambles. Funny that eh?

The failure of elite power is a global phenomenon but this week showed its British dimension. What would it take to reach some conclusion, to actually break? It would take the ‘authority’ being imposed (maybe) on these three men to not be down to the decisions of three individuals: Alex Hawke, Lewis Kaplan and Sue Gray. It would take us to exert some mass public authority, I think in simpler days we used to call this a revolution.

This is not so much unfashionable as unthinkable I know and it’s difficult to move beyond the ‘phenomenon’ of watching these ‘scandals’ and these individuals but it’s important I think that we try and do that. Boris Johnson, Prince Andrew, and Novak Djokovic are just very different examples of the wider malaise, a system failure that erodes the social fabric normalises extreme inequality and hierarchy, and destroys the natural world.

The problem or at least one of the problems is how mesmerizing the whole spectacle is. Collapse is addictive to watch. Boris Johnson and Andrew’s personal travesties are particularly addictive because part of you is yearning for some justice to be served, some moment where these bastards face some consequence for their actions. It’s unlikely and rare for the rich and privileged to face the sort of brutal consequence that most of us have to contend with. So holding out for some moment of truth, some moment of justice where these powerful people might face a humiliating end is really tempting.

But the ‘end’ doesn’t come, there is no culmination. Instead, we stay moribund and mesmerised by the degeneration stuck in a sort-of Non-Stop Inertia a frenetic high-octane gaze from the sidelines. Even if Johnson is deposed (still unclear), if Prince Andrew is brought to justice (still unclear) and if Djokovic is deported (still also unclear as I write) none of these people will actually face consequences, they will be protected by the lawyers and the wealth that surround them. And if they do fade from the limelight they will be replaced by new actors on the stage, new characters in the newsfeed, new ‘leaders’ and ‘influencers’ on our timelines.

The point (I think) is to observe the story but not be mesmerised by it. The point (I think) is to look closely at what is going on and see it for what it is. If it feels like a degeneration maybe it is? If it feels like a dystopian shambles maybe it is? Is it possible to lean into the horror but not be defined by it? If it’s possible at all, we need to step away from the delirium of it all and nurture the values that are the very opposite of those who dominate our lives.

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Another excellent assessment Mr Small.
    How do you break this soap opera addiction that the inmates of this island seem to indulge in but seem unaware that
    their own lives are ..CRAP.
    Revolution is a great word but if everybody is glued to their sets the streets are empty.
    And yes more scum will rise to the surface when the present lot sinks out of sight to their Carribean Island…or bolt hole in Scotland.
    The Bruce went round Scotland and exterminated anyone who didn’t agree with him…bit brutal but what’s the
    alternative..flipping between Sky …G4..BBC1/2…..and the rest.
    Oh look! Harry Mountbatten Windsor is gonna sue Britain for something..back to the gogglebox….order the carry oot an’ we’re all set..

  2. JP58 says:

    Not a valid comparison to compare Djokovic with other two. Though I have no truck with ND beliefs Aussie government have mishandled and politicised this. Nadal more reasoned in his approach and ND has accepted ruling.
    BJ currently trying to throw all subordinates under bus to save his job. Andrew has been and continues to attack the woman he is alleged to have assaulted.
    Both BJ and Andrew exhibit far more signs of upper class entitlement and ND is not in same division as them.

  3. @ Bella Caledonia Editor says:

    The question as to how we should respond to ‘the spectacles’ of Boris Johnson, Prince Andrew, and Novak Djokovic is an interesting one.

    According to Murray Edelman in Constructing the Political Spectacle, such spectacles are ideological constructions of reality that maintain its inequalities. They include the use of symbolic language, dramaturgy, the casting of political actors as ‘leaders’, ‘enemies’, and ‘allies’, the illusion of rationality, the distinction between ‘on-stage’ and ‘behind-the-scenes’ action, a disconnection between means and ends, between power and aspirations, and the illusion of democratic participation. They’re designed to win public support for particular ideologies and courses of action, to which the media play a key role by bringing them to the public as spectacle.

    So, how should we respond to the casting of Boris, Andrew, and Novak as ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy’ according to the commentator’s ideological interests? How do we overcome ‘the spectacle’ and its disconnections and illusions?

    We need a new generation of commentators who remake and subvert spectacles as ‘situations’; for example, by ‘détournements’, such as political pranking, culture jamming, and critical thinking, whereby the expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture are turned against themselves, as when slogans and logos of our contemporary political discourse are turned against their users in parody; or, for example, by the construction of ‘situations’ that liberate alternative life-experiences through play from the unreality of life under late capitalism.

    In other words, we should be ripping the p*sh out of the whole scandalising discourse that comprises such media events and elevates them to the unreality of spectacle.

    1. Outside Observer says:

      I see you have outed yourself as a no-longer-clandestine Situationist.
      Certainly ‘society of the spectacle’ seems an even more apt description than it did when the term was originally coined, more than half a century ago…

  4. Derek says:

    “Is it possible to lean into the horror but not be defined by it? ”

    “If you would gaze into the abyss, remember that the abyss gazes also into you”. (or something like that…!)

    1. @ Derek says:

      ‘He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.

      1. Derek says:

        Thanks. It’s been a while since I delved into that world…

  5. Michael says:

    What Bella seems pathologically unable to understand is that this (the following) is the strategy and the smoke screen – the irresistible distraction to hide what is actually important (FYI, not corporate controlled climate hesteria). Bella insists on getting sucked in every time… it’s a kind of madness:

    “…perpetual crisis, spasms of ‘scandal’ and ‘revelation’ washing over us daily bleeding through our timelines like some horror show of excess and entitlement. It’s addictive and exhausting.”

    1. @ Michael says:

      The spectacle isn’t a conscious strategy, but it is a kind of ‘black hole’ that sucks in all opposition and protest. It’s not this or that spectacle, but the social phenomenon spectacle of itself that needs to be subverted.

      1. Michael says:

        It is very clearly and demonstrably a conscious and well funded strategy. To discount the evidence of this is the self delusion that allows it to perpetuate.

        1. @ Michael says:

          I certainly wouldn’t discount the evidence of such a conspiracy. What is that evidence?

  6. SleepingDog says:

    The royal swan may look serene from above water, but requires furious subaquatic paddling just to stay where it is. Hierarchies of power rely upon all those lower levels of support, which is why new oppressive measures (against public protest, for example) are necessary, along with vast tentacles of secret state activity, including vast investement in the censorious and propagandist arts. The royal-chartered BBC is not going to air serious republican or communist programmes (yet), the royal prerogatives over sweeping areas of public policy (foreign, warfare, judicial, appointments and so on) are being entrenched rather than dismantled.
    What do all these helpers get out of such a system of patronage? Well, it is the ideology (or DaD alignment) of lawful evil. The nemesis of lawful evil is neutral good (that is sometimes characterised as ‘wokeism’ but is essentially conscience untrammeled by evil laws, customs, taboos, based on our common core of biological ethics.

  7. Derek says:

    As an aside; Gove and Johnson standing behing lecterns with #TakeControl on a red background rather than a blue one.

    Subliminal encouragement to revolution?

    Mind you, they’re deploying the navy to tip desperate migrants into the water, so I can’t see them being kind to us either. I’ll find out on Saturday, maybe…

  8. Paul Codd says:

    Serbia has had less deaths per head of population from COVID than UK, despite the very low vaccination rates that you suggest are ND’s doing. All is not as it is presented on the 24/7 newsreel you confess to find so addictive.

    ND is in a totally different category to the other two. He actually earns his money fair and square on a level playing field. He may feel entitled to certain things like the right to work, the right to travel to his work. He does have a different view on the efficacy of patented covid preventative therapies. It is not contentious that covid vaccines do not stop you from becoming infected or from infecting others only that they lessen the severity of disease. Long term side effects studies are still not available. A 3 year ban, or any ban is entirely politically motivated and doesn’t not represent any change to the health risk to Australians. He is entitled to his opinions regardless of whether it is unpopular or if it is a different opinion to your own. And so we trigger a common trap fallen into by radical movements everywhere – “If only everyone was forced to live according to my rules and beliefs, the world would be a better place” – The road to hell…

    Vaccines have been vital in effectively eradicating other diseases and an important element in dealing with this pandemic. But overall the covid vaccines have been a disappointment, and regardless of the power of positive thinking, they have a less strategic role to play going forward, especially now covid has become endemic. Digital passports unsupported by robust scientific analysis, effectively restrict the rights of those without vaccines therefore are little more than enforced serfdom, for those unwilling for whatever reason to swallow the blue pill offered by government dictate and main stream media. This removal of rights disproportionately affects people at the margins of society whether due to social, political or economic reasons. But Bravo Bella for taking a stand!

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Paul Codd, “level playing field”? Others think that Novak Djokovic’s expressed views are quite different:
      ‘This is a man who has done more than any leading player to attack the principle of equal pay in tennis, with his insistence that “women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve”’
      Also, you probably want to avoid saying “blue pill” if you want to be taken seriously.

      1. Paul Codd says:

        My point isn’t an attempt to agree with anything ND says or does, only saying that conflating him with BoJo and Prince Andrew is a dangerous path. Yes he’s got a few million in the bank which he earned in competition with others through meritocratic execution of talent and dedication, that doesn’t put him anywhere near the other two. Point is, he was not a health risk to Australians.
        “Blue pill” trope was a short cut for saying many people are displaying strong signs cognitive dissonance especially wrt medical effectiveness of covid vaccines and passports, and a tendency to dehumanise people who express views which are contrary to their own. There are nutters and extremists on both sides of the argument, but one side has the full backing of the state and MSM in service of the powerful elites of which ND is a negligible part in comparison to the other two.

    2. @ Paul Codd says:

      On January 17th, Serbia had a case rate of 1,864 per million people; the UK had a case rate of 1,447.

      The point of vaccination isn’t to stop people from getting or transmitting a disease; it’s to promote herd immunity in a population and thereby protect those in that population who may be immunocompromised.

      I’ve had all my jags (and have documentary evidence to prove it if and when I seek to enter public spaces), and practise good hygiene, and wear a mask, not to protect myself, but to protect those among us who may be at greater risk from infection.

      But, I agree; that’s my choice. C*nts like Novak Djokovic are free to claim a right to act antisocially while earning his money fair and square on a level playing field, but we’re not obliged to give him that right.

      1. Paul Codd says:

        Interesting that you investigated but only as far as finding a snapshot which suited your existing beliefs. According to the WHO Serbia has had 190 deaths per 100,000 people to UK’s 225. The vaccines are not making as much impact as we would hope. The chief medical officer of Israel has come to the same opinion after rolling out an almost completely ineffective 4th dose. ND had had covid and so had better protection that that offered by vaccines. The decision to deny a visa was not made on any medical grounds.

        What do you think herd immunity is, if it isn’t about stopping people from getting and transmitting the disease? Your logic hasn’t been fully bottomed out on this fundamental issue.

        You clearly have a strong social conscience. Please continue to cultivate your altruism so that is can encompass compassion for those with other points of view, that doesn’t mean they are anti-social. There are nutters and extremists on both sides of this debate. I don’t know if ND is a “c*unt” or not, nor do I care if he is or isn’t. That isn’t relevant. He is a bit player celebrity very far from being one of the global elite that has enriched itself at our expense during the pandemic and intends to continue doing so now that it is over.

        1. @ Paul Codd says:

          Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease (as distinct from the virus) from person to person less likely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected, not just those who are immune.

          There are two main paths to achieving herd immunity: infection and vaccination.

          Herd immunity can be reached when enough people in the population have recovered from a disease and have developed protective antibodies against future infection. However, there are some major problems with relying on community infection to create herd immunity; not least, the fact that upward of 70% of the population would have to fall sick and recover from the disease to halt the pandemic, which would have catastrophic economic and human consequences for the functioning of society (for example, the NHS would collapse due to its being overwhelmed by unsustainable levels of both staff absence and consumer demand). This is how pandemics were halted in the Middle Ages; before vaccination was developed, we just had to let them run their course.

          Herd immunity can also now be reached when enough people have been vaccinated against a disease and have developed protective antibodies against future infection. Unlike the natural infection method, vaccines create immunity without requiring widespread illness and the economic and human complications of such. Using the concept of herd immunity, vaccines have successfully controlled contagious diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella, and many others.

          Herd immunity makes it possible to protect the population from the potentially catastrophic economic and human consequences of a pandemic.

          But reaching herd immunity by vaccination also has its problems. One such problem is vaccine hesitancy. Some people object to getting vaccinated because of religious objections, fears about the possible health risks, or scepticism about the benefits of vaccination or of medical science in general. If the proportion of vaccinated people in a community is below the herd immunity threshold, a contagious disease could continue to spread and disrupt the functioning of society.

          Uneven vaccine roll-out poses the same problem. If the distribution of vaccines greatly varies among and within countries, the overall herd immunity threshold won’t be reached.

          Evolution is a further problem. Viruses, like all forms of life, continually mutate and, as a consequence, new varients are continually emerging. If these new variants prove resistant to vaccines, the vaccines won’t be effective in creating herd immunity. This is why new vaccines are continually having to be developed for the ‘same’ disease, as in the case of ‘flu’.

          Anyhow, that’s my understanding of ‘herd immunity’ and how we can achieve it.

  9. Chris Connolly* says:

    One of the few things more stomach-churning than the media’s usual obsequiousness towards the royal family, it’s their rabble-rousing. they love nothing quite so much as inciting a rabble to line up to kick somebody who’s already on the floor.

    While i have no time for the Windsors or any other landowning aristocrats, Prince Andrew is entitled to the same presumption of innocence as anybody else. It’s not a criminal offence to be a snob, and not necessarily a moral offence to be an oaf; it all depends on the circumstances. His friendship with Jeffrey Einstein & Ghislaine Maxwell looks pretty bad but it’s hardly fair to imply that somebody is a paedophile (which is what he is accused of, after all) on the strength of his being friendly with one. Donald Trump was also a huge friend of Epstein, so why isn’t he receiving the same treatment?

    UK law presupposes that 17 year old women like Ms Roberts are old enough to choose for themselves whether and with whom to have sexual intercourse. there has to be an Age of Consent and 16 is a fair compromise. In the famous photograph (and I appreciate this observation will make some people angry) she doesn’t look to be under any duress; she wears the confident smile of a young adult who is happy with her own choice to be intimately involved in the lives of the rich and repugnant.

    We may well think Prince Andrew a highly unpleasant person but he is not accused of anything that is illegal in the UK or anything that the tabloids don’t usually find perfectly fine; i.e. using his celebrity and wealth to attract pretty young women. The hypocrisy can be smelled from miles away.

    As for Boris Johnson and Novak Djokovic; guilty as charged, except that they are not actually charged with anything. Djokovic appears to be a dunderhead and Johnson is corrupt to his very core. Say what you like about them both, with my blessing.

    1. @ Chris Connolly says:

      ‘Prince Andrew is entitled to the same presumption of innocence as anybody else.’

      Indeed. And the onus is on Virginia Giuffre and her advocates to prove or evidence the truth of her accusations against him before a court of law.

      But Prince Andrew and his advocates are seeking to prevent her accusations from even being heard and tried against the evidence. That’s what stinks about the case: the attempt to deny Ms. Giuffre the right to access justice and have her accusation tested against the facts in a fair trial.

      (And whatever the case is in the UK, one of those facts is that, in some jurisdictions within the US, having sex with a 17-year-old is statutory rape whether the victim ‘wears the confident smile of a young adult who is happy with her own choice to be intimately involved in the lives of the rich and repugnant’ or not.)

      1. Chris Connolly* says:

        Hello. Can I have my identity back, please?

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