Wrestling Flawed Heroes

I love flawed heroes. I love opera, pantomime, wrestling and other such examples of flawed heroes. Flawed heroes are essentially big personalities, with dominant personality traits that are held so true to, that the character is unbalanced and hence is flawed. One of my favourite films is ‘The Return of Captain Invincible’, where the Captain is not quite invincible and has one terrible flaw, alcoholism.

Such characters occur in both ‘high culture’ of literature, theatre and opera. These characters also exist in ‘low’ culture, such as panto and wrestling. In my view, in both of these cultures these characters provide the same function, enabling the audience to identify with the personality traits and apply that view to the world. This requires a suspension of belief to view a different world, with different rules to reflect on our own existences and to better understand society as a whole.

These characters enable people to better understand society, how we are all different. As children we tend to start with low culture, whilst not being simpler, is is less related to a coherent possible world. It is more fun though and the visual spectacle keeps our attention. I was a child in the 1980s Britain. I grew up with Saturday afternoon wrestling on the telly, always a battle between the ‘goodies’ such as ‘Big Daddy’ and the ‘baddies’ such as ‘Giant Haystacks’. The thing is is that the baddies are always much more interesting, whilst I kind of wanted the goodies to triumph, my heart also went out to the baddies.

As I’ve got older, wrestling disappeared from terrestrial telly, with the exception of ‘Reslo‘, a Welsh language amateur wrestling show’ on S4C, which was awesome. Over the years i have occasionally got into the American WWF/WWE shows. These shows were bigger, brighter, more American than traditional British wrestling. WWE is so developed that the ludicrous plot feuds between the wrestlers have become almost as important as the wrestling itself. These simple plotlines, nonetheless pack a punch when you allow your mind to accept the fantastical wrestling universe. What is interesting about WWE is the interaction with fans, especially on the internet. This enables the producers of the shows to know which wrestlers have captured the popular imagination, so it becomes a popularity contest, with the most popular wrestlers picking up the silverware/ glory.

The place of women in wrestling is interesting. Dramatically  womens wrestling shoudl be as engaging as mens wrestling. As a child I remember that womens wrestling seemed less about the battle between heroes and rather ‘unladylike’ women being catty to each other. As such it was less appealing, the female wrestlers seemed to be less about fighting for their personality, but instead a simple oneupwomanship., as such less appealing. Perhaps it was simply that less time was devoted to women’s wrestling, so the characters were less developed. On a recent foray into WWE i discovered the wrestler AJ Lee. AJ was interesting because, well firstly she is a stunningly beautiful woman, but also that her wrestling character was clearly exposed. AJ seemed not to be simply trying to be the best woman, to achieve the adoration of male fans in a rather sexist manner to be the sexiest, to be a simple goodie or baddie, but a true flawed hero. At last wrestling has evolved to a point where women’s and men’s are providing the same service.

The world of professional wrestling is a fantastical spectacle, o is the world of party politics. In the UK we are amidst a general election campaign. The public bickering between the politicians has so many parallels to wrestling and pantomime villains. The political parties and there leading figures, seem to be viewing to portray themselves a s’heroes’ and we h as electors, have to decide who are the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, and who to support. The very same repeated catchphrases, the distortion of reality to berate opponents, is so less entertaining than wrestling. I’ve said it before but popular elections seem to have lost the importance of ideological discussion, of how governments should manage the world until utopia can be achieved. As in WWE, the continued bickering and feuding between characters has developed beyond the traditional goody/baddy narrative, where all characters have both good and bad elements. So too with politicians, we seem to have got to the point where we accept the flaws, the mistakes of those we support, because they are at least perceived to be batter than the other guy.

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Where are the Welsh Nationalists?

I was asked by a Scottish friend this week “Why are Plaid not doing as well as the SNP?”

The point is that the SNP (Scottish National Party) are dominating Scottish politics and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales are not. The answer to me as a Welshman is obvious, however it may not appear so to someone not from Wales. Wales and Scotland do both suffer from marginalisation within the UK. The UK has been governed by right wing neo-liberal governments that were not supported by the majority of Welsh or Scottish people for over thirty years. In both countries the Labour party has traditionally been the major political party and is perceived as not doing enough for their core supporters, pandering to the swing voters in key English constituencies.  So, there is a case for suggesting that support for the Nationalist parties in the two countries should be similar, especially given that the two parties have a similar history.

There are two major reasons for the difference between Welsh and Scottish politics.The rise of the SNP in Scotland is partly as they have displaced Labour as being the traditional anti-Tory party nationwide. This has not happened in Wales.

The first reason is Welshness. In Wales some people are described as ‘very Welsh’ . I am not ‘very Welsh’ yet am equally Welsh as such people. These ‘very Welsh’ people tend to be fluent Welsh speakers, attend Eisteddfoddau and exhibit a particular brand of ‘Welshness’. There is nothing wrogn with being ‘very Welsh’ however such people founded the Welsh nationalist movement. Early campaigns concerned gaining parity and legal recognition of  the language. As such Plaid is perceived, perhaps especially in  South Wales as being ‘very Welsh’ and hence ‘not for the likes of us’. Plaid has tried to shake this peception, but it has stuck. It has perhaps prevented the party breakign through in the Valleys, the ‘heartlands’ of Welsh Labour.

The second reason is demographics. Wales has a relatively long porous border with England. The Scottish border is relatively shorter to Wales’. As such there is a greater movement of young Welsh people out to seek career opportunities in England and beyond. There is a movement of older ‘English’ people moving to rural Wales towards the end of their working lives. These incomers take time to integrate into Welsh society and tend to bring with them their pre-existing political sensibilities, which are largely conservative.

So, Plaid Cymru struggle to overcome these two factors holding back any potential breakthrough for the party.

Tidal Streaming

This week a new music streaming service has been promoted. does this offer a solution to music distribution? I have discussed before, the problems of distributing music and adequate renumeration for the musicians in the digital age.

To me it should be very simple. Internet streaming allows a shopfront enabling people to access and listen to a wide range of music, this is akin to radio, indeed services often market themselves as internet radio, more tailored to individual tastes. With radio plays come royalty payments to the artists, on the internet, this comes through subscriptions and advertising, again akin to radio. such promotion services don’t yield much income to artists. It is possible for streaming to provide a larger portion of income though subscription.

Beyond this radio model, it should then be easy to have a system whereby recordings can be downloaded in both low quality (LQ) and high quality(HQ) with related pricing structures. The big fundamental change is that with music available both art home and on the move via streaming services, so there is less need to purchase a recording for personal use.

The tidal service has to compete with existing players, such as Spotify, which are established and built up a substantial repertoire of music and subscribers. The availability of streaming does dent actual sales, due to the continuing availability of the music through subscription. The artists complain that Spotifty doesn’t pay enough.

Furthermore streaming services are much like traditional retail models, that pay a fixed amount per play. This means that income is directly related to popularity. for popular music this has always been a problem. A problem because it poorly fits careers of musicians. World artists, like Jay-Z make lots of money, more than they perhaps need. To achieve that status they may make decisions to produce music that whilst popular lacks interest. On the other hand good artists, that don’t have such a wide appeal don’t make enough money to have a career in music.

I would argue that artist generated promotion, for example such services as Bandcamp, offer a better model that is career related. Imagine a new artist, or even the complete amateur, still in education or working, with an interest in making music, can relatively easily do so with home recording equipment available on a standard PC. They can then upload their music to Bandcamp or a similar service, and provide their music for free. This free music is great, as the artist or potential artist isn’t basing their career on music yet. The material is provided for promotion. The music is provided to see if they are popular or of sufficient quality to generate a following. Many musicians will stop ot this stage as they are doing it as their hobby.

The next stage is that an artist has an established following and knows that there is music is high enough quality that people are prepared to pay for it. So they release a new batch of music, at a low price. If this is successful, they can then charge more, a full market rate, and will perhaps be courted by record companies and become a professional musician. Once global stardom is created, the unit price for their music can be decreased as they then are making money through volume sales, whilst achieving fabulous wealth. Why can’t such a model be the system for music distribution?

The Tidal service doesn’t provide a new solution. It claims to offer more money directly to the artists, great. However competing directly with Spotify, they would have to persuade people to pay more for the same thing appealing to the music lovers desire to support musicians, I can’t see this happening in the numbers they would require. Especially, as they still have to pay the same royalties to record companies that Spotify do. Tidal offer a new service, at double the subscription rate, by providing HQ streaming content (now possible with higher domestic bandwidths). This has appeal, but will harm HQ sales and HQ punters are a minority/specialist music consumers and probably not enough to allow Tidal to succeed over other competing streaming services (we have now got used to quantity over quality). The other offer of exclusive content is actually a bad idea, every service could offer exclusive content, but people are not going to subscribe to many more than one service.

I also read this week that streaming services offer the artist 0.5p per play, whilst paying the record company 3.5p per play (I’ll review this if these figures are wrong). 0.5p per play of not enough for the artist, without substantial sales. The record company getting 7x that of the artist is a throw-back to the retail model, unfair because the streaming provider is shouldering the distribution costs, not the label. It seems the industry, will never learn? I can’t see a streaming service being able to pay >4p per track, as Spotify is fairly established and should be able to pay out more to artists by now, if it were a viable model.

Okay, lets assume, the artist gets 2p per play and everyone listens to music in a similar way to me. This is perhaps viable. Remember, the streaming is a shopfront and promotion. If i like a song, I will flag the artist and remember them, so listen to there tracks 4 or 5 times (earning 10p) I will then want to listen to them properly and listen to a whole album (10 tracks = 20p), if I still like it i will then listen to that album another 4 or 5 times (£1). The artist has now banked £1.30 from the streaming service (which is more than they used to get from a single album sale). I then decide to by an album (HQ) by the artist (£10 and the artist make £1, here the label will make £5). That’s, £2.30 for the artist, enough to make a living on for a year if another 10,00 people feel the same way. of course having liked this artist, i will likely listen to their new material and buy subsequent albums.

Music lovers, often don’t feel the need to support major artists, they are played on the radio etc enough for us to get what we want from their music. I would buy an album only if i was a especial fan of there music. So there is a natural brake on very popular artists, taking more than there share of the music listeners pie.

Of course, I’m a music lover, rather than a casual listener. Record labels have always made more money out of casual listeners than such as myself. My point is that streaming services can be much more innovative than they are currently and cater for both music fans and a more mainstream market. Again, an example of how the producer and the consumer don’t control the market, the middle man/distributor makes the rules. The industry is still more concerned about exploiting the music rather than providing what the producer and consumer want. however in the music industry there are at least elements of the market where this direct relationship of producer and consumer are more prevalent than other industries.

The UK General Election 2015

The UK General Election is forthcoming. A celebration of spin and lies that is hard to escape. If you’re mind has been made up, it presents an interesting study in how propaganda works. In British party political terms this one is perhaps interesting. Especially if you analyse people politics with the traditional left to right wing spectrum.

I became interested in politics as a teenager. My political views swung around across the spectrum, until they began to coalesce about what became my political standpoint. I am a Social Democrat. Having a settled standpoint for the most part makes it easy to predict what my view on any political question is, though on some specific issues i diverge.

UK elections are very odd, utilising the first past the post (FPTP) system electing ‘representatives’ for the 650 odd constituencies that make up the UK. Essentially the system hasn’t changed from the Victorian era, it worked well when there was a two party parliamentary democracy, but the UK no longer is a two party parliamentary democracy. So, often instead of voting for the party or individual you most want to represent you, you vote for the lesser of two evils, to attempt to keep the party you dislike more out. This makes it very difficult for new parties to emerge, as a large percentage of votes is required to get any representation at all.

Prior to 1997, i found myself in the UK political centre, positioned between the two major parties; the moderate right wing Conservatives and the moderate left wing Labour party. The Conservatives had been in majority power for a long time, had set the political agenda. An agenda I was hostile towards.

Labour elected a new leader in Tony Blair and New Labour/ Blairism was born. Blairism was essential an electoral strategy, to shift the party close to the dominant party and have a set of policies that were a slightly more left wing, lighter version of the predominant Conservative doctrine, appealing to the centre right and taking traditional left wing support for granted. As essentially a centrist, I now found myself, in party political terms to the left of all the major parties, even though my views had not changed. New Labour gained power until the financial crash of 2008 (arguably the result of economic policy (neo-liberalism) for the last 30 years).

After a coalition government, which was effectively a Conservative majority, we come to the 2015 election. We now have 5 or 6 significant parties and opinion polls suggest another hung parliament (where no single party has >50% of seats), where >1/3 of the electorate are likely to not vote for the two major parties.

What has happened over the last 30 years is neo-liberal government. Government almost solely for the advantage of big businesses. corporations and those with huge amounts of capital. It is surprising to me that many people are only now waking up to this fact. The traditional Labour and Conservative parties are no more. In Wales and Scotland, there has always been the ‘nationalist’ parties as an alternative. It is only now that the Labour party is no longer viewed as advocating progressive change, England are only just wakign up to the fact they there is no moderate left party in England.

On the right are UKIP, a new party appealing perhaps particularly the right wing thinking working classes and the traditional Conservative voter, which were so crucial to the Conservatives holding power in the 1980s and 1990s. Labour appear to be slowly drifting back to the left, but they are saddled with the problem and perception of retaining the centre right vote, whilst not losing disgruntled left wing people, fed up with neo-liberalism and seeking an alternative. In England, there is no major left wing party apart from the Green party, who have a slightly different agenda to a more traditional left wing party and little chance of gaining significant electoral success with a non-proportional system.

In some regions of England, notably the South-East there is the perception of a tacet acceptance of neo-liberalism. To me there seems this blindness to the economic problems such policies have induced; the population are in service jobs, no-one really produced anything or contributes to productivity growth anymore.

What is interesting about this election is how all this will play out. Both on the right and the centre are two very similar parties, whilst on the left there is a vacuum in England, as the Greens are not fully established. Whilst in Wales and Scotland, there is a battle between Labour and devolutionist parties for the left wing vote.