The famous left wing English film maker, Ken Loach made a piece of propagandist frippery in 2006 called The Wind That Shakes the Barley. It was about the Irish War of Independence and it attempted to recast the murderous campaigns of the thoroughly right-wing West Cork Brigade of the (Old) IRA as some sort of Social Reform movement. This is, of course, an act and product of dreadful cultural imperialism: the imposition of a British perspective onto an Irish struggle, making Irish history conform to the simplified fictions of the English class system. (It is also, perhaps, cultural appropriation.)
Of course, we Irish were completely unable to resist it. It starred a young Cillian Murphy, for Christ’s sake: probably the most beautiful man in the world! (He was unable to resist taking the role.) The IRA men were just so damn glamorous in their trench coats, flat or baker-boy caps and long, bolt-action Lee-Enfield rifles. Clearly the inspiration for Peaky Blinders, but with added moral integrity! To hell with our own history – Ken Loach can have it!
The Wind That Shakes the Barley became the highest grossing independent film on (Irish) record, and was universally praised. Mind you, this is less embarrassing than the fact that the grotesque anti-Irish insult that is Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” topped the charts in Ireland. (Have we no pride?)
I am reminded of these examples reading articles by impressive social commentators of such as professors David Olusoga and Gary Younge. They seem to have succumbed to the energy and excitement, and the heady sense of belonging, that comes with embracing the modern racial justice movement. Even Lenny Henry has started using the language of social justice and celebrating its successes, talking excitedly about “complicity” and “starting the conversation.”
I find it disturbing to be even slightly at odds with my intellectual and educational superiors. The chances are that I’m just plain wrong. In a disagreement between me and David Olusoga, who’s more likely to be talking sense?
Almost everything they say is still cogent, tolerant and relevant. I’m almost entirely in agreement with them. The inequalities they record are stark and undeniable. These are the people from whom I get my best points and statistics for slapping down conservatives, after all.
But, I have tiny reservations, often just about certain word choices. This may seem hair-splitting, but words are important.
It seems to me they have been enticed off the path of true social justice, and of their better judgements, maybe only a little, by the sheer excitement of the moment. Their thinking on some details of race relations in Britain do seem less clear than they used to be a couple of years ago.
I think I understand why they have been drawn into this. It must be virtually impossible to resist the camaraderie, the sense of elated achievement, of making serious progress, breaking new ground, that comes with being swept up in a movement.
And these are public intellectuals who rely on being able to communicate with mass audiences, often younger than themselves.
How disingenuous is their support for the woke generation? They are like wise, elderly teachers, trying to banter and ingratiate themselves with their unruly students, so they can get them to refocus on their studies.
It never works. (I should know: I work in a school.)