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Young people are ‘Jacobins with a laptop’: Paul Mason’s must-see play

by / 0 Comments / 25/08/2017

Following the success of his book Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, Paul Mason takes the story of modern European protest to the stage to look at how politics has taken us from the overthrow of Ben Ali and the rise of Syriza, to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

 

Mason and director David Lan tell the story of Europe and of the state of capitalism in the continent in a phenomenally engaging way. You’d do yourself a favour by giving 58 minutes to watching it.

It was uploaded on BBC iPlayer on July 22, 2017 and you can watch it here: (You can also purchase the book).

The play had a three-night run back in March and tells the story of ‘the nameless, faceless people’ protesting for a fairer organization of society. In Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere Mason writes that:

‘We’re in the middle of a revolution caused by the near collapse of free-market capitalism combined with an upswing in technological innovation’.

If this performance of the book was to serve any singular purpose, it would be to inspire the continued and eternal search for a better society. From Athenian pubs, Turkish parks, Wall Street and Tahrir Square, these places and their people have their story of optimism and dislocation told within three screens and by four people (Paul Mason, Khalid Abdalla — who held a principal role in the incredible documentary about the Egyptian Revolution, ‘The Square’ — Lara Sawalha and Sirine Saba).

The aim of the book was:

‘to capture the moments of crisis and revolution, to give them context and to explain what links these apparently disparate, worldwide upheavals’.

And this performance does precisely the same. Chants happen throughout it, whilst various scenes also use a camera with a bright light and erratic movements to create an atmosphere of tension, just as there would be when facing a sea of armed riot police. In an interview with Huck Magazine, Paul Mason claims that:

‘I wanted people to ask themselves the question: Were I there, would I really want to chant? Do I want the fall of the regime? Would I put myself forward to be teargassed? A lot wouldn’t, and would rather stay safe. It’s about posing the question to people about what they would do in that situation — would they throw themselves towards uncertainty?’

From Tunisia and Egypt, through the spine of Europe by way of Athens and Madrid, since 2011 journalist Mason has been one of the principal voices reporting the story of protest across North Africa and austerity Europe. Having left his post as culture and digital editor at Channel 4 in February 2016, ‘to escape the constraints of impartiality rules governing broadcasters’, this voice of the left surges where many commentators fail miserably; with his knowledge of young people.

Mason writes that unlike the ‘New Journalism of the 1960s’, today’s new media ‘is the combined input of thousands of people into the freely accessible public record of social media’. In the play he calls young people ‘Jacobins with a laptop’ who ‘we (the older generations) thought were self-obsessed’, but ‘just like the Jacobins, they are young, they are poor’ and the play understands how young activists operate.

Much focus of the play is on how young people interact: phones, laptops and the internet. This is important because the struggles created by capitalism are affecting people across the globe in such similar ways, and the revolutionary potential of the internet is that it’s a platform for us to unite in our struggle. We can learn from anti-establishment and anti-austerity movements elsewhere because:

‘protest no longer feels as old-fashioned in the west as it often has done in recent decades’.

In younger circles there is greater class interaction between the working and middle classes which, in part, is due to the ‘graduate with no future’. Whilst thanks to the rampant individualism perpetuated by capitalist economics, there has also been a revolution of the self which has ‘expanded the space and power of the individual’. Surely a possible eventuality of this focus on individualism is a reaction which, influenced by the pressing issues of climate change, instead focuses on the wellbeing of the collective?

The play ends with the reading of a poem that was popular during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. This is read out after Mason speaks of how ‘There is nobody coming to save us … the superhero is us’.

I’d be very interested to see other writers try out their books in this format (maybe Naomi Klein’s, This Changes Everything, or a retelling of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia?).

Presenter Kirsty Walk mentions before the play:

‘Art holds up a mirror to the world.’

And it seems the world may be learning to stand up again.