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January 11, 2008
Globalisation & Representation in European Cinema: Hub Page
(From BBC Website April 2007)
This page is a hub page which can direct you to specific films covered in this blog which have as one of their core themes the representation of the processes of globalisation and migrant labour which may be legal , 'illegal' or undocumented or varieties of slavery including sex trafficking. There will also be a range of useful external links provided. The focus films are currently mainly British ones with some exceptions. Sadly there seem to be few current European films dealing with these issues although of course they may be 'out there' but just not well distributed. The availability of these will be monitored and added to this page as and when they are released / discovered. Whatever else there are a fantastic number of stories of human endurance, stoicism, tragedy and success out there. It is time these were represented far more strongly and effectively than they are and also they should be represented with some recognition at the meta level of what has created these conditions in the first place. Links are also provided to useful pages or references about trafficking, migrant labour, Shock Therapy etc.
A Paucity of Representation
On a Google search of a couple of terms I'm rather surprised that there is very little work on the web concerned with the representation of the processes of globalisation in particular cinemas and their outcomes at the level of narratives either fictional or more documentary style. British cinema is barely touched upon with the only recent film with any serious coverage being The Last Resort by Pawel Pawlikowski in a PDF of an academic conference held under the auspices of the Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe research group. Many other subjects which came up through the search focused on such things as the domination of global cinema by Hollywood, a process which has been happening since the end of the First World War so is hardly news.
What this particular page is concerned about is not the responses of Hollywood's 'other' ie the now, to my mind, inappropriately named World Cinema to this economic domination, although it is of concern. Rather I was hoping to find serious work linking the underlying processes of politcal economy and the global flows of migration into Europe and attempts to represent this process. In the conference refered to above there was a useful looking body of work developing around recent Italian cinema. Sadly I'm not familiar with most of the films mentioned and haven't seen them promoted here however I will be checking them out. Even as late on as 1997 in a city like Vilnius in Lithuania one could see many beggars often old and with bad disabilities out on the streets in desparate straits. in the process of gaining nascent democracy the price was being paid by the weakest in society.
Amongst others an entrepreneurial streak was established, cowboy economies ruled, various criminal gangs grew up and gang murders were frequent. A range of dodgy companies trading in cross-border deals with Russia in metals started up. These countries became entrepots for sex trafficking and migrant labour now being sucked into the burgeoning and quite deregulated economies of countries like Britain.
Globalisation: The Neoliberalism of Thatcher & Reagan
When discussing globalisation it is obviously a huge concept to come to terms with. I'm taking globalisation to mean the development of a dominant discourse of neo-liberalism which started with the nearly simultaneous election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 / 1980 after the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s which saw the rate of profit sink in both countries and other leading Western economies, furthermore the 1970s was a decade of severe industrial strife as well as other political upheavals in Europe. Globalisation went on for about a decade which saw the enforced collapse of the Soviet Union through a door that was already half open. To get to this point required the breaking of the trade union movements in Britain and the USA through a process of deindustrialisation in these countries and the installing of an infrastructure which could develop an informationally based economy. At the same time the Soviet Union which was the main external pole of resistance to gloablisation came under increasing pressure. Undoubtedly the war in Afghanistan in which the current Taliban and al Quaida networks were supported by British and American special forces training helped to sap the energy of Soviet forces who were a relatively untrained conscript army at least as unwilling to be fighting as a lot of young Americans in Vietnam.
Shock Therapy & Diaspora
A core part of the strategy of the Anglo-American axis of power after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 - a symbolic and real signifier of the collapse of the Soviet Union - was the institution of the so-called 'Shock Therapy' economic regime in the former Soviet block. This prioritised an effective destruction of the economic infrastructure of these countries which were often internally linked by creating a range of tarrifs which made it impossible for the old system to function as effective economic competition for Western economies. It also opened up the system to takeovers by Western companies.
The system of Shock Therapy also managed to wipe out the savings many people had made which were held in Roubles. The collapse of the Rouble which became almost worthless meant disaster for many older people in the ex-Soviet Union such as the Baltic States as well as people under the influence of the Soviet regime in countries such as Poland. At the same time the welfare system which had ensured that everybody had housing, health and work largely fell apart. The newly emergent states were unable to afford anything like this.
Of course this doesn't explain other sources of cheap labour pouring into Southern Europe from Africa or into the United Sates via Mexico. Historically massive phases of economic expansion have sucked in labour from other parts of the World. Migration into Britain to build the transport infrastructure in the 19th century largely came from Ireland, the railways system in the USA was based upon Chinese labourers. Post-war European expansion was fuelled with labour from different parts of the world depending upon the imperial past: Britain from the West Indies, India and Pakistan; France from Algeria and various African colonies; Germany had its Gastarbeiter system using labour from Turkey, Spain, Morocco and the then Yugoslavia.
On this basis one can either argue that the growth of capitalism as an economic system is a form of globalisation which is a direct response to the collapse of empire as a result of the 20th century 30 Years War 1914 - 1945 or as I have done here take it as the outcomes of a specific moment in which the years of 1979 / 80 were a key political turning point which allowed the establishing of a truly globalising economy with a series of outcomes one of which is mass diasporas into the more advanced economies.
Representing Globalisation the Strength of British Independent Cinema
In general the repesentation of the multi-faceted aspects of globalisation have been weak however it is argued here that British cinema has been possibly the best national cinema in representing the underlying political economy of globalisation as defined above. Some of the work of Ken Loach has been concerned with the de-regulation of British industry and the dodgy outcomes of economic liberalisation from the early 1990s until now. Riff-Raff, The Navigators and It's a Free World have certainly covered many of these issues as they have unfurled underpinned by the director's understanding of political economy. Ae fond Kiss also saw Loach take on board the issue of ethnicity and identity very directly. Independent British cinema has certainly been strong on both the concerns of migration and diaspora and also on the issues of hybridity and the changing cultural identity of Britain in recent years. Arguably it could have been stronger but that is an issue well beyond the desires of individual filmmakers who have done an excellent job in the face of an industry which provides little in the way of marketing and promotion, distribution and exhibition.
I consider that the issue of representing ethnicity in British cinema frequently relates to the period of pre-globalisation in films such as East is East. The waves of immigration into the UK predated globalisation on my working definition and representation and ethnicity can often relate to several generations of British people and the hybridity stemming from that embeddedness. The representation of ethnicities from temporary migration and recent migration as a direct outcome of globalisation are treated differently although there are clearly crossovers and overlapping as in the case of the representation of those who are British but become caught up in post 9-11 resistance to globalisation as represented in films like The Road to Guantanamo.
Other contemporary British films which deal with the issues of Globalisation currently include:
11-09-01; Collected shorts including Ken Loach. A series of responses to 9/11
For an overview about these films and their contribution to contemporay British cinema please go to Representing the World Locally.
Non-British Films Representing the Forces of Globalisation
Lily 4-Ever: Lucas Moodysson (Sweden, the economic Shock Therapy regime helps promote Sex trafficking to better off Western Economies)
Cache: Michael Haneke (France) (An allegorical tale of French repressed memory of the murdurous treatment of Algerians in the 1960s)
Code Unknown: Michael Haneke (France) (The breakdown of communications in the contemporary world)
Babel ( 2006) Alejandro González Iñárritu (Japan/ Mexico / USA). Another powerful allegory of miscommunication and such things as arms dealing. At Cannes 2006 many lauded the film as the first great film about globalisation.)
Shock Therapy and its Consequences in Transition Economies (Requires institutional access)
Mervyn King as reported by the Daily Telegraph on the way wages have been kept down by immigrant labour.
From a different political pespective The Worker outlines its case on Migrant Workers and their exploitation
The UK signs a European Convention on trafficking. Will regulation finally catch up with the situation?