Monday, 6 July 2015

Paul Mason's lovely face

I’ve just watched Paul Mason’s video blog announcing the result of the Greek referendum on austerity for the fifth time. It has been shared about 95 times on my facebook timeline since last night so I’m guessing you’ve seen it but if you haven’t, have a look here. It’s no secret that I have a massive crush on Paul Mason. He has the best accent in broadcasting and he looks, I think, like John might look in about 15 years, if he has some weird gardening accident that involves him getting his top lip chopped off. Still hot though yeah? Seeing all the shares and experiencing in myself this weird compulsion to watch this video again and again has got me wondering about what it is in this video that is so compelling. The news is awash with stories of Greece’s historic Oxi vote and the possibilities and potentialities contained within it, but there is something about this video that is particularly pertinent and touching, and I’ve been thinking about what and why.

Paul Mason - phwoar!

Yesterday at RLHQ we had planned to have a Greek themed barbecue in celebration of the referendum vote. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dare actually think we’d be celebrating an actual Oxi result. When votes happen, they literally NEVER go the way I am hoping for. Never. Except once, when Labour got in in 1997, and we all know what happened there… But I always think if politics is going to be such a buzzkill you may as well get the buzz first, so the Greek party was arranged mainly in the service of compensatory pleasure. A last dance around an illusory fire of hope before its inevitable extinction by the pervasive political culture of fear and better the devil you know that we have all got so used to. I marinated a huge hunk of lamb, baked some baklava, compiled a massive Greek Spotify playlist and asked a bunch of friends to come round in Greek fancy dress. It was going to be ace... But then the heavens broke and the rain started and it poured and poured. Despondent, I cancelled the party and took up position on the sofa, watching the rolling news on BBC, refreshing my computer screen every 30 seconds, and waiting for the bad news to come in. But it didn’t. What happened instead was an interactive map of Greece, increasingly coloured in shades of OXI pink and OXI magenta. On the TV the BBC showed rolling coverage of Syntagma square getting more and more crowded with jubilant Oxi voters. And my facebook feed was punctuated by Paul Mason’s lovely BFG face over and over again…

Paul Mason’s video is beautiful in many ways. His small eyes are glassy and rarely meet the camera – he appears distracted by something (a crowd?) over to his left. The corner of his mouth keeps creeping up, dying to smile. Sometimes his voice cracks a little bit. When he announces that “for the first time in the history of the Eurozone, people power has happened” the disbelief in his voice is palpable. As he confirms, he is “perhaps as stunned as Syriza are that they got that 60%”. It is this absolute bewilderment, this total and utter incredulity that a people have demanded that their Government stand against the brutal mechanizations of capital and domination by a lot of petulant greedy banks who refuse to take responsibility for the consequences of giving out sketchy loans, that I think makes Paul Mason’s video so compelling and meaningful.

The Oxi result was indeed a proper WTF moment for everyone – a moment of rupture not just for people on both sides of the coin in Government offices in Athens and Brussels, but for the Left as a whole. The Left has got so used to losing that it has, I think, fallen a little bit in love with it, in what Walter Benjamin termed “left melancholy”. In a scathing description that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been in a facebook or real life group with the word ‘Left’ in the name, Wendy Brown uses Benjamin’s concept to critique “a Left that has become more attached to its impossibility than to its potential fruitfulness, a Left that is most at home dwelling not in hopefulness but in its own marginality and failure, a Left that is thus caught in a structure of melancholic attachment to a certain strain of its own dead past, whose spirit is ghostly, whose structure of desire is backwards looking and punishing.” The Oxi vote by the people of Greece flies in the face of this melancholic brand of leftism – it articulates a structure of desire that looks forward to possibility and is furnaced by hope and a will to fight back. And that is, as Paul Mason says, stunning.

I have no doubt that my facebook feed will, over the course of the next few days, fill up with voices of the ‘Left’ explaining why Greece is doomed to failure. I hope I’m wrong and that those people either bore off or change their minds and get on the buzz. I hope that this triumph of a new structure of desire that we have seen in Greece fans the flames in Spain and Portugal and Ireland, and of course, here in the UK. Instead of sitting round and waiting to see if Syriza’s wings are made of wax, we need to join with the people of Greece and loudly articulate our own refusal to be punished for the mistakes of stupid greedy bankers and their ministerial collaborators. We need to stop seeing hope and democracy as naive illusions but instead appreciate them as real things that we can grab hold of and use to catalyze change and action and movement. So slam in the lamb and gather yer garlands. The Greece party is back ON.  

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