EU defeat prompts Blairite offensive, liberal hysteria

Last week’s referendum result sent shockwaves not just across the UK but across Europe and internationally. The 52% vote to leave the EU represents a massive defeat for Britain’s ruling class and the City of London, and also dealt a severe blow to the confidence of ruling elites around the world. Long regarded as a safe haven for international capital, the days since the referendum result have seen the markets go into hysteria in an attempt to sell off the pound, worried about what comes next for the British economy.

No less hysterical than the international markets has been the reaction of Britain’s Remain camp, and in particular the middle-class London-based liberal intelligentsia who have appointed themselves arbiters of good sense and correct moral behaviour. The vote to leave the EU has resulted in frankly unbelievable outpourings of emotional turmoil as well as naked class snobbery against those who voted leave, who were disproportionately poor and working-class. The referendum on the EU was seen by many as a vote on the status quo and a political and cultural settlement that since the ’80s has done very well for a few at the top of society, and reasonably well for professionals and the educated middle-class; but which has left massive swathes of the population in the cold since the Thatcherite drive to destroy Britain’s industrial base and militant proletariat in the early 1980s.

In the absence of any class-based opposition to the EU from any major political force, it was inevitable that much of the anti-EU campaign would be dominated by right-wing populists and even fascists. But the argument that opposition to the EU is inherently nationalist and reactionary is simply untrue, a fact I alluded to in a previous blog post. Considering the turmoil now engulfing the Conservative Party–the Prime Minister just resigned!–and the fact the Labour Party has the largest, most left-wing and most active membership base in its recent history, you’d think this would be the perfect time for a class-based opposition to the ruling elite and their political culture. But the Blairite wing of the Labour Party and the liberal BBC and Guardian are leading a desperate charge against Corbyn, trusting that the demoralization and disorientation of his youthful base will be decisive.

The leave result has thrown down a challenge to many of my generation to show a degree of reflection and empathy with people whose lives and experiences are largely alien to them. So far the majority have been found wanting to a truly shameful extent. The hidden prejudices and smug self-righteousness of a whole generation of self-styled liberal progressives has come to the fore in the last week, with a display of sheer contempt for those leave voters they regard as intellectually or morally inferior. The sneering desire that the poor will now ‘get what they deserve’, or that old people who voted leave will freeze to death in their homes during the winter of a recession-hit Britain. This is what I have seen on social media over the last few days. Look into your hearts, people.

One of the most egregious examples has been the laughable campaign to get London declared a sovereign independent state. For people so quick to deride others as ignorant or stupid, this displays a stunning lack of understanding of how countries work. It’s pretty normal for major cities to be socially progressive in relation to the country as a whole, just as it’s normal for them to be richer. With industry, commerce, government, finance and tourism generally concentrated in cities, it’s also normal for them to control taxation and the national economy; there has to be a level of redistribution of wealth from the town to the country in order to support social services in rural areas and to, you know, maintain some vestige of a national life and national culture. The idea that the city should hive itself off from the rest of the country–even if on the pretense that it is more intellectually or politically progressive–is actually deeply reactionary and has much more in common with fascism than anything else, sort of like something out of Judge Dredd. In fact, it proves right the fears of many people living in forgotten ghost towns all around the UK: that people in London don’t care about them and just wish they didn’t exist. How can someone who claims to welcome refugees, for example, subscribe to a mentality like this?

Another risible reaction has been the campaign to have the referendum result disregarded. So far a petition along those lines has attracted several million signatures. It’s truly a touching testament to the sincerity of people’s professed belief in democracy that they’ll join an internet campaign to get the largest vote ever conducted in the UK overturned because they disagree with the result. That said, in some cases I know people are rationalizing this as follows: it doesn’t conflict with their belief in democracy because those who voted leave were too stupid or too racist to understand what they were doing. In other words, that only those who have the right access to information should have the right to vote. Which, again, is actually more akin to plutocracy or fascism than it is to liberal democracy.

But what we’re seeing here is, above all, a crisis of liberal democracy. For the last 25 years liberal democracy in the UK has largely had everything its own way, and this is what they have to show for it. A massively divided country where the received wisdom of the political and educated class has been decisively rejected in a popular vote, in the teeth of months of dire warnings, and where the supposedly enlightened class of young liberals are lining up to consign working-class people to renewed misery and poverty. But already, of course, we’re seeing a counter-attack from the ruling elite. The main part of this is the narrative that the referendum is simply a win for Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Farage, remember, is not even an MP, and owes his fame to the BBC more than anything else; while Johnson is reviled by large sections of his own party, never mind the rest of the population, and is far from a shoo-in as anything other than an interim Prime Minister at best.

But the main front for the bourgeoisie’s counterattack has been a renewed offensive against Jeremy Corbyn. Well, it’s barely renewed since it only briefly relented in the last weeks before the referendum, when they were desperate for him to bring out Labour voters and the young to vote for Remain. Which he did, despite what had hitherto been a lifelong principled opposition to the EU. Neverthless, the Blairite wing of the Labour Party–which constitutes about 90% of the MPs and about 5% of the membership–has launched a massive witch hunt against Corbyn and demanded he resign because… well, because David Cameron lost the referendum. Shouldn’t that be a good thing for the Labour Party? Of course, Corbyn delivered the voters he was supposed to. But the point is, the Blairites will stop at nothing to get rid of Corbyn. Whatever he does, it will be spun by them and their infinite allies in the mainstream media as a reason he has to go. They could care less about what Labour’s members want–and most Labour members still ardently want Corbyn to stay. Never mind the thousands who would now join Labour to vote for him if they had another election. Notice a similarity here? Some kind of a theme about what the people want not actually mattering? I thought this was supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy?

The irony is that Corbyn’s historic views on the EU actually chime with the views categorically expressed by 52% of those who voted in the referendum. Corbyn has always been opposed to the EU–as an organization of the bosses determined to strengthen the ruling elites of Europe against their own working populations, as well as against developing nations abroad. The massive groundswell of support for Corbyn last year, much of which remains to this day, would have been the perfect springboard for a popular, trade union-based left-wing opposition to the EU which could have wrested the issue away from organizations like UKIP.

As it is, there is no mainstream force to give voice to the socialist truism that immigration is used by the government and the ruling class to drive down wages and living standards for the working class as a whole, not least by expanding the ‘reserve army of labour’. In a context where there is massively increasing poverty and social immiseration for millions of people, especially in deindustrialised areas, it is inevitable that, in the absence of anyone motivating an inspirational class-based perspective, some people will buy into the anti-immigrant propaganda of the far right. Unless you have a strategy to answer falling wages and unemployment, it’s not enough to simply say immigration is a good thing. That is why in addition to opposing all deportations and supporting full citizenship rights for all immigrants, socialists fight to unite the working class in a struggle for better jobs, pay and conditions for all. In the absence of such a strategy, and in demonizing leave voters as recidivist racists and idiots, liberal Remainers simply serve as unwitting agents of the ruling class’s strategy of divide-and-rule.

Tolerance, intolerance and the EU referendum

“My opposition [to the EU] from the very beginning has been on the lines that fighting capitalism state-by-state is hard enough. It’s even harder when you’re fighting it on the basis of eight states, 10 states and now 28.”–Dennis Skinner

It’s only a couple of days until the UK referendum on EU membership. The issue is a deeply divisive one, and even at this late stage there seems to be a roughly equal split across the country between those who want to remain in the EU and those who want to leave.

EU membership brings up a lot of important questions, but the political establishment and the media have largely succeeded in turning it into a single-issue debate over immigration. The Tory government, the Labour Party, and the Greens and Liberal Democrats (for what they’re worth), as well as the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and Sinn Fein, are all in the Remain Camp. The official Leave campaign consists chiefly of right-wing and ‘Eurosceptic’ Tories, like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and John Redwood, and the populist UK Independence Party, headed by the demagogue Nigel Farage. It suits both camps to centre the referendum around the question of immigration. The government wants everyone to associate a vote to leave the EU with the anti-immigrant and racially charged policies of UKIP, to poison any opposition to the EU by association with figures whose views are anathema to most of the population. The whole campaign is also massive, free publicity for UKIP and the Tory right, who speak for only a small portion of the population and a small portion of those who oppose the EU, many of who are Labour supporters. But if you follow the official narrative these right-wing cranks are the sole representatives of an anti-EU stance.

Indeed, one of the main tactics used by the government and media to mobilize support for Remain has been to foster fears that leaving the EU would embolden right-wing forces and potentially lead to an even more right-wing government than we have already. Never mind that the existing racist, anti-immigrant, economic austerity policies of the present government, and of the EU generally, already provide an environment for right-wing forces to flourish anyway. Moreover, any attempt to predict the future is an exercise in futility, and one can just as easily argue that leaving the ultra-capitalist and anti-immigrant EU would make it easier for left-wing and progressive movements to gain traction. And ultimately, anyone relying on Cameron, Osborne, and a bunch of venal bureaucrats in Brussels to stop the far-right is doomed to be disappointed.

Shamefully, the trade unions have tried to mobilize their members to get out and vote for the EU. While paying lip-service to the ‘imperfections’ of the EU, the trade union leaders make out that workers’ rights and benefits are enshrined in EU law, which acts as a barrier to aggressively anti-worker Tory legislation. Never mind that the Tories (and Labour) in government since the 1980s have enacted law after law against the unions’ right to strike and other freedoms. It’s also important to note that the ‘rule of law’ is something that’s only consistently applied to the population, not the capitalist state, which regularly flouts its own laws and regularly gets away with it. After all, who is going to hold them to account? Who honestly thinks that some unelected and uncaring officials in France or Belgium will make the difference if the government decides to go after workers or the oppressed in this country? They never have before now. History is full of lessons when working people have had to rely on their own organizations and their own social power to look after their interests, and that relying on the good offices of the rich and powerful is a doomed strategy. The trade union leaders know this, of course, but then lying to their members is the (unwritten) first item on the job description of every senior trade union bureaucrat.

Immigration has been a major theme in both the Leave and Remain campaigns, and many people are rightly horrified by the anti-immigrant chauvinism of prominent forces in the Leave campaign. But the fact remains that the pro-EU UK government and the EU itself are the main enforcers of anti-immigrant policies. Although the likes of UKIP like to portray the EU as a ‘soft touch’ when it comes to immigration, the reality is that the EU acts as an anti-immigrant militarized bloc which is known as ‘Fortress Europe’ for good reason. Although the media narrative makes it sound like anyone opposing the EU must be a raving racist, the reality is that any movement seriously opposed to racism and xenophobia actually needs to take opposition to the EU as a starting point. Fundamentally, immigration is an inevitable part of modern capitalist society, as the ruling class periodically needs sources of cheap labour and also use racism and xenophobia as a means to divide-and-rule the working population.

As well as the official anti-immigrant terror daily practiced under the EU’s auspices in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, another intrinsic aspect of the EU gains barely any coverage in most debates. This is the EU’s role as an instrument of capitalist exploitation and neo-liberal ideology (often referred to now as ‘austerity’), as well as it’s function as an imperialist consortium or cartel. Effectively, the EU serves to represent the collective interests of various European powers in their economic dealings with the rest of the world, particularly in relation to ‘developing’ or colonial countries (see this article for more details); as well as to provide support to the ruling classes of member countries in dealing with their ‘own’ working classes at home. At the same time, as history has demonstrated, the member countries of the EU often have different and competing economic interests, meaning that the bloc is inherently unstable. And, of course, not all members are equal, as the respective positions of Germany, the UK and, to pick a country at random, Greece, demonstrate.

For many people, the EU seems to embody a spirit of international co-operation which renders it an almost ethereally progressive project. The twentieth-century history of European wars and conflict, in particular the experience of fascism and genocide, loom large in the minds of most people from my generation who identify on some level with the principles of liberal humanism. Most of us who were fortunate to receive a good liberal education spent a huge amount of time studying that history at school. While that’s a good thing, and has inculcated a deep-seated intellectual belief in tolerance, I think this also makes people a lot more credulous when it comes to the EU. Instead of engaging with the EU as it is actually constituted, and looking at the role it plays in reality, people focus so much on the ‘idea’ of European co-operation that they end up effectively supporting a profoundly undemocratic, racist, anti-immigrant, super-imperialist cabal. And if you’re worried about the rise of the far-right, anyone who has studied Nazi Germany should know that bureaucratic elites will not stand in the way of fascism.

As the Sanders and Trump campaigns demonstrated in the US, and as the current EU vote and Corbyn’s election last year showed in the UK, there is profound disillusionment with mainstream politics among very wide layers of the population. Remote, elitist bureaucracies like the EU are partly to blame, and they’re rightly a major target for the anger of ordinary people, which is something I think a lot of liberal-minded people from my generation don’t appreciate. Considering some of the hysterical reactions I’ve seen from people about what will happen if Britain leaves the EU, I think a bit more reflection and self-awareness would go a long way.

The intellectual life of the British working classes (book) – Review

In The intellectual life of the British working classes, Jonathan Rose attempts the significant and monumental task of documenting the literary interests of working-class British men and women from the industrial revolution (ca. 1800-1820) until the Second World War. Using primary sources, consisting mainly of working-class memoirs and but also social and statistical surveys and library records where possible, Rose is able to show how working-class people reacted to great works of literature. He shows which authors had enduring significance to working people, and also attempts to show how an appreciation of certain authors and literary works related to various individual and collective efforts toward self-improvement, as well as working-class movements for political and social reform, chiefly during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This is a very important subject and Rose received substantial plaudits for this work, which was first published in 2001. I recently read the second edition, which was published by Yale University Press in 2010. The book is quite long, at over 450 pages, with another 100 pages devoted to endnotes and a middling index. Rose’s book seems to have been received well not only among the academic community, but also among the liberal intelligentsia that is generally thought of as comprising ‘the left’ these days. While I agree that the book has its strengths, I would argue that these chiefly relate to its subject matter; and that, in fact, Rose’s treatment of the subject is flawed and ultimately stymied by his ideological approach, centrally by his overweening and obsessive hostility towards Marxism and the communist movement.

The attitudes of educated working-class people towards great works of literature is an important subject,  and to his credit, Rose motivates this reasonably well. Although ‘canons’ of classical works are often derided now as either elitist, misogynist, or racist, throughout history canonical works have inspired people from oppressed backgrounds. The desire to access culture, and to be able to live the life of the mind, not just to worry about where the next meal is coming from, has been part and parcel of most progressive social and political movements that have been based on the working class. Although particular left-wing political tendencies, ranging from anarchist to Maoist, have been hostile to culture and intellectual development, for the most part traditional trade union and Marxist movements have placed a major emphasis on education and literacy. The spread of literacy and reading was a core driver of democratic religious and political movements from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, connected to everything from the Reformation and the vernacular Bible, to campaigns against the Stamp Tax and ‘Taxes on Knowledge’. It is important to document how working people have reacted to ‘great’ literature over the centuries, because it helps us understand how people thought in the past, and also because it counteracts elitist propaganda about what working class people or the poor are interested in. Think back to the criticism of the Tories after their ‘beer and bingo’ budget a couple of years ago. 

Rose emphasizes the enduring value working people have placed on the canonical authors of English literature, in particular William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. He also highlights some authors who left-wing historians might not ‘want’ or expect working-class people to have admired or enjoyed, but Rose points out that often what readers (especially inexperienced readers) take away from a book is not necessarily what we associate with the author; an inexperienced reader may find a relatively simple idea or isolated episode to be inspirational or profound, without relating it to an author’s entire corpus or socio-historical context. Which is fair enough, and doesn’t in itself transform a reactionary author into a progressive one.

Rose repeatedly emphasizes the level of interest in pulp fiction, or escapist trash, that working-class people have had over the years,  which is common throughout history. But time and again, we find working-class people independently discovering great literature, and describing in euphoric terms the difference it has made to their lives and their understanding of the world. These sections tend to be the highlight of the book and are a testament to the value of literacy and reading. It is often people from the most underprivileged backgrounds, particularly women, who give the most striking descriptions of the impact that reading had on their lives.

Rose relies heavily on his source material, and I felt that he often failed to incorporate it into his narrative in a satisfying way. At times, the book reads like a postgraduate dissertation, where he makes use of any and every reference he can find to bulk out his argument, without showing sufficient discrimination or consideration for the reader. For that reason, the book can be difficult to read, and I do wonder just how many of the people who have bestowed upon it glowing reviews have actually read it from beginning to end.

Rose’s writing style isn’t the book’s chief problem, though, and neither is his tiresome habit of talking about the role of the ‘frame’ to analyse literary interpretation. Essentially, Rose argues that the way a reader engages with a literary work is shaped by the ‘frame’ they employ when reading it, which is connected to their view of the world and their place in it. For this reason, people can have wildly different interpretations of a work by virtue of having a different ‘frame’.

More problematic is Rose’s lionizing of the intellectual dilettante as a kind of ideal literary type. Throughout the book, Rose’s heroes are those who place nothing higher than their favourite authors, particularly if they happen to rise through the ranks of the Labour Party and make a career of criticizing communism. Ultimately, it feels like a teleological and self-serving posture, as if the liberal academic sensibility of 2000 AD is the epitome of humanity’s intellectual development.

Rose takes swipes against postmodernism throughout the book, many of which are completely correct, but he also finds himself trapped within its intellectual rubric. Without a hint of self-awareness, Rose lambasts how “professional vocabularies” and “postmodernist jargon” have been used as a “form of encryption, permitting communication among elites while shutting out everyone else”. In particular, he views the use of “jargon” by Marxists as an attempt to exclude newcomers from political movements. The lack of self-awareness evident here brought to mind the following from Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory:

“The characteristic feature of contemporary literary radicalism is that it rarely addresses the question of its own determination by the conditions of its production and the class location of its agents. In the rare case where this issue of one’s own location–hence of the social determination of one’s own practice–is addressed at all, even fleetingly, the stance is characteristically that of a very poststructuralist kind of ironic self- referentiality and self-pleasuring.”

The main problem with Rose’s book is that his loathing of communism causes him to present a completely skewed view of the role of Communists and Marxist theory in the intellectual history of the British working class. In general, whenever Communists enter Rose’s narrative they come across like anti-intellectual, sectarian, anti-social maniacs frothing at the mouth with Marxist verbiage. Now, that’s not to say that there have never been such characters in the communist movement; there obviously were, especially during the high tide of Stalinism; but then there have been in all political parties. Moreover, Rose refuses to acknowledge the liberating effect Marxism had on the intellectual lives of millions of people throughout the twentieth century. Again, to bowdlerize Aijaz Ahmad criticizing Edward Said’s anti-Marxism: for many people, the act of identifying with a political vision (in this case, Marxism), far from cutting off intellectual vistas, actually opened up new ones, and enabled them to see much further than they would have if they merely continued to cherry-pick individual ideas from disparate works of literature. It’s not the same for everyone, but by failing to acknowledge this fact Rose does his subject a massive disservice. In the end, having adopted a dismissive attitude towards large sections of the British working class (ie, those infected with communist ideology), Rose spends much of the last part of the book looking at the reading habits not of industrial workers, but of insurance salesmen; not exactly what the book’s title brings to mind.

In a book this length, and with this style, it is inevitable you’ll find statements that seem odd. For example, “After the implosion of world Communism and the 1997 ‘New Labour’ landslide, the WEA [Workers Educational Association] emphasis on non-Marxian socialism seems admirably far-sighted”… at least, until Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election in 2015. Rose occasionally steps on unsafe ground in his treatment of established authors, too, such as his bizarre suggestion that Thomas Hardy intended a hostile attitude towards Jude Fawley in Jude the obscure: that “His efforts to gain admission to Christminster are depicted as an exercise in futility, motivated partly by selfish ambition”; a view surely shared by few who have read the book, which inspires sympathy for Jude’s doomed efforts in a world hostile to the idea the working man has a right to education.

The fact that Rose gets away with giving the Marxist tradition in the British working-class such a hard time, is a reflection of the hostility towards Marxism that is so central to the bourgeois academic establishment. It is hard to think of another area of knowledge where such an obvious agenda could be advanced so brazenly, without any contrary evidence being presented. Considering that so many of the book’s testimonies describe literature’s power to let you see the world from another point of view, it’s a damning irony.



Berlin Dungeon – Review

Having enjoyed London, Edinburgh, and York Dungeons, T. and I decided to visit the Berlin Dungeon during our stay in that city last week. If you haven’t visited one of the Dungeons, they’re actor-led interactive soft-horror ‘experiences’ that lead you through a number of themed rooms, often highlighting macabre aspects of the history of whatever city you’re in. The original London Dungeon opened in the 1970s as a horror ‘museum’, and I visited it as a small child in the early ’90s. Back then, I’m ashamed to say I was scared stiff by the exhibits, spent most of my time looking at the floor and couldn’t wait to get out. These days, the Dungeons largely dispense with any pretense of education and style themselves purely as entertainment experiences.

Considering Berlin’s, er, eventful history, we expected there would be a lot of original material that we hadn’t seen before in other Dungeons. We don’t speak German, so looked up whether there were English tours. There are (two on the day we went), so we booked ourselves on one of them. The website suggested prices would be cheaper if we booked online, so I did that. Unfortunately, the discounted tickets turned out to be unavailable, due to it being a ‘peak’ time (Friday afternoon, when most people are at work). Moreover, there is about a five Euro markup on the English tour compared to the German tour. Tickets therefore ended up costing over 20 Euros each, when I initially expected them to be more like 11 or 12. Not necessarily off to the best start, but whatever; we’d always enjoyed the Dungeon experiences before.

I started to experience doubts about the tour when I noticed how many people were turning up for it. In my experience, you normally go around a Dungeon in a group of 10-20 people. This ensures everyone has enough space–the rooms are very dark, after all–and also ensures a manageable number of people for the actors to work with. Many of the rooms are interactive, and the actors often summon volunteers for various purposes. There are normally 10-12 rooms, and in a group of 10 or 20 people that means everyone can expect to be called upon, more or less, and generally it creates a sense of camaraderie among the visitors, and people actually put effort in when they’re participating.

Unfortunately, our group was more like 35-40 people, and it really felt far too big. It normally took a minute or two to get everyone into the rooms, and the atmosphere really isn’t helped when the actors have to keep telling people to move and make space for each other. Most of the volunteers seemingly couldn’t be bothered, and the group was too large for any sort of dynamic or positive energy to emerge. There were also two people in wheelchairs in the group, and in my opinion the Dungeon couldn’t accommodate them properly. There were a number of rides and sections the wheelchair-users couldn’t participate in, meaning they had to take alternative routes; and again, the actors often had to ask them to move out of the way of doors or to stay clear of certain parts of the room, telegraphing what was going to happen next. I’m in favour of trying to make experiences like this fully accessible to everyone, whatever their physical limitations, but the Berlin Dungeon didn’t feel optimized for wheelchairs, and it was another aspect that didn’t help the overall atmosphere.

I assume that most groups aren’t this size and they make them larger because they’re English-language. Fair enough, you could argue, but perhaps not when you’re already paying a premium for an English tour. To make matters worse, several of the actors had really poor English, which I found unacceptable for an English-language tour, and also rather odd considering that the level of English spoken generally in Berlin is pretty good. Some of them were also just not very good actors. Considering that most of the actors in the UK Dungeons are very, very good, it was quite jarring. Also, beware that the ‘English’ tour may include people who don’t speak English or German, but have a friend who speaks English (and presumably not German) translating for them everything the actors say into yet another language, audibly for the entire group. Is this starting to sound like an experience worth forking out over 20 Euros for?

Some of these logistical problems could be forgiven if the Dungeon actually featured original or interesting rooms. But strangely, it makes relatively little use of Germany’s rich history. I’m not just referring to 20th century history–which doesn’t feature–but you might assume that things like the Reformation or witch hunts might come up. They don’t. Instead, you get more or less the same generic, staple experiences you would get in any Dungeon: the judge, the torturer, the plague, the inevitable drop ride at the end. It was massively disappointing.

Anyone who has been to a Dungeon will know they take photos of you before you enter, and when you’re on the drop ride, and try to sell them to you at the end. The photos are branded, and they’re taken with very expensive cameras, so they often look very impressive.  T. wanted to get a couple of them. As I said, there were over 30 people in our group, and so getting to the cashier took a while. By that time, our photo had been replaced by others on the big screen display. ‘What number was your photo?’ the cashier asked. ‘We don’t know?’, we replied. This was followed by much tutting by the cashier as she tried (we assume) to find our photo on the system, while she moaned/abused us in German to her colleague. Seeing it was not going anywhere, we gave up and sadly were unable to spend the 9 Euros necessary to purchase the branded Berlin Dungeon photo. A sort of example of late-capitalism price gouging being undermined by abysmal customer service.

Overall, then, I would not recommend visiting the Berlin Dungeon, at least if you’re going on the ‘English’ tour. Maybe if you go on the German one it’s more fun, especially if you haven’t been on one before, get a smaller group, and are lucky enough to bag one of the discounted tickets they allegedly sell. But for me, the Berlin Dungeon proved to be horrific in all the wrong ways.



Resident Evil 7 coming in Virtual Reality


Some months ago I wrote a post arguing that the narrative around the Resident Evil series needed to change: that Resident Evil 6 was actually pretty good, and that the oft-stated desire to return the series to its survival-horror roots was anachronistic and would lead to a creative dead-end. Well, Resident Evil developer Capcom has now announced its plans for the next entry in the main Resident Evil series, and (hopefully) they will invigorate the franchise and change the way people talk about it. In short: Resident Evil 7 will be brought to you in VR.

Titled Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, details of the game have begun to emerge since its announcement yesterday at E3. It’s a multi-format release, but the big news is that the game will be fully playable in Playstation VR, which is due to be released later this year. Eschewing the action-oriented flavour of the last couple of RE games, RE 7 seems destined to go back to the roots of the series, with a much slower and more deliberate pace and an emphasis on atmosphere and scares. Crucially, the use of VR has the potential to distinguish this new game from what could otherwise be something of a hackneyed throwback to a bygone age.

Anyone who has used an Oculus Rift or Vive will have a sense of how powerful this technology is at creating a sense of immersion and physical presence in the gameworld. The prospect of a Resident Evil game designed for this environment is both exciting and deeply frightening; indeed, one of the first things I thought after using an Oculus Rift last year was how amazing a Resident Evil game could be if it made use of such technology. A few of the tech demos I’ve played have been deeply frightening–even something as simple as seeing a shark underwater can provoke an instinctive prey reaction that is more real and powerful than anything experienced when using a TV. The potential for a deeply immersive, 360-degree horror experience is practically limitless. Indeed, if anything Capcom may need to go easy on this, lest people start bringing lawsuits against them for psychological scarring or heart attacks.

Resident Evil 7 is due out in early 2017. So far, details about the game are still fairly thin on the ground, and it’s important to note that the game will also be fully playable without VR. It will be interesting to see how Capcom balance the need to make a game that is effective on both types of technology; that is satisfying to play on TV, but not so scary or nauseating that it’s impossible to play in VR. A lot is riding on it. The game’s success potentially means hundreds of millions of dollars to Capcom, not just in sales but in reanimating a struggling brand. But RE 7 has this on its side: survival horror and VR is a match made in hell.

Blue Man Group (Berlin show) – Review


The Blue Man Group is a famous and well-established performance art troupe that has been going since the early 1990s, but we only found out about them quite recently, thanks to Arrested Development. The Group is primarily based in the USA, but while we were in Berlin, T. and I discovered there is a long-running Blue Man Group show in that city–the only one in Europe. Naturally we decided we had to check it out.

We had only a limited idea of what to expect. In Arrested Development you don’t see that much of an actual BMG show, and instead the troupe serves mainly as a sort of recurring background reference to highlight the foibles of individual characters. But a quick internet search indicated that music, comedy, satire, and lots and lots of colour would be involved. We decided to buy the most expensive tickets so we’d get to sit in the front row, where you’re issued with a poncho to protect you from getting splashed with blue paint and banana juice. Definitely sounds like my idea of a good night.

Tickets for the BMG Berlin show aren’t cheap: depending on when you go and where you sit, you’re looking at about 55-80 Euros per ticket. The shows last about 90 minutes, so I suppose it’s about on par with seeing a (very) major rock band or an expensive musical. The show was quite full, though, so the price doesn’t seem to deter people; and spending that amount of money also makes you pretty determined to have a good time.

For our part, we really enjoyed our experience watching the Blue Man Group. The show begins with a musical section with the three members of the Group playing percussion instruments during a stunning display of light and colour. It was really spectacular and felt quite special. Overall, the show featured a few of these sequences and for me they were the highlights. There is something profoundly moving about the live fusion of sound and light achieved by the Blue Man Group and I would be interested in seeing an entire performance like this, although it might end up being a bit overwhelming.

Most of the rest of the show features a number of skits and routines by the three members, sometimes with a backing band featuring drums and electric guitars. The showmanship is at a very high level and the blue men are all consummate musicians and entertainers. They are completely mute during the performance, communicating through dance and various devices brought on stage. Although the show is in Berlin, most of the voiceover was in English, which makes sense as I’m sure it’s a significant tourist attraction.

As well as the music, I enjoyed the physical comedy and there was a lot of interaction between the Group and the audience. This involved throwing things at audience members (I caught a marshmallow in my mouth, earning a round of applause), as well as firing bits of food and assorted gunk at people sitting in the front rows. Overall, we left feeling a bit disappointed that we weren’t subjected to more flying paint and banana juice: the ponchos (and more expensive seats) had created expectations of leaving drenched in water-soluble paint, which alas did not happen.

The alien appearance of the Group is used to good effect as they employ the familiar comedic technique of reproducing ‘normal’ human behaviours (like eating dinner) with an unusual twist (eating a twinkie with a knife and fork). Although I felt some of the attempts at satire–especially about the internet and digital technology–fell a bit flat, the show’s underlying philosophy and energy is really inspiring. Attending a BMG show is a joyful experience, as you’re drawn in to enjoy the beautifully-crafted combinations of colour, shape, movement and sound. Ultimately you’re led to revel in a wholesome and child-like appreciation of your own senses, which is something truly refreshing, invigorating and all too rare in the world of grown-ups. In the end, these three alien-looking Blue Men deliver an experience that is about making you feel happy to be alive, and what more can you ask for than that?