Culture: There's a new villain in town
Sunday 01 March 2009
According to the Metropolitan Police, we should brace ourselves for a "summer of rage" as middle-class victims of the credit crunch participate in violent demonstrations against financial institutions. Superintendent David Hartshorn, head of the Met's public order branch, says that banks are now seen as "viable targets" by disgruntled consumers, along with the corporate headquarters of multinationals.
If we do see outbreaks of unrest on Britain's streets this summer, it may partly be due to the fact that bankers, oil-company executives and corporate lawyers are now being stigmatised as villains in mainstream popular culture. In the current series of Damages, for instance, the baddie is the chief executive of an environmentally rapacious energy company, while in The International, a new Hollywood thriller, Clive Owen (pictured) and Naomi Watts are pitted against a ruthless financial institution, the International Bank of Business and Credit.
This is the first time in living memory that the entertainment industry's notion of who a villain is has coincided with that of an anti-capitalist political movement. Until very recently, the bad guys in Hollywood films were terrorists, usually Middle Eastern in appearance. Indeed, the casting of Arabs as villains has been one of the things that radical political activists were up in arms about. In their eyes, the corporations that ran the American entertainment industry were part of the problem, not the solution.
That has now changed and the political outlook of a new generation of activists – the sort of people who protest against globalisation, wars and road-widening schemes – is now shared by the creators of popular culture.
The most memorable scene in The International is a shoot-out at the Guggenheim in New York, wherein many priceless works of art are strafed by bullets and the Frank Lloyd Wright building is transformed into a wasteland. Is this a harbinger of things to come? Museums such as the Guggenheim have become monuments to corporate hubris, what with their sponsorship associations, their charity fundraisers and the pivotal role they play in the international art market. If I was an anti-capitalist protester looking for a safe target, the Guggenheim is exactly where I'd start.
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