The Hollywood depiction of the Vietnam war, even critical depictions, have some key frames: that of an unpopular war at home, a vicious and cynical American army, corrupt politicians, bad leadership from generals and even an effective popular anti-war movement back home. What is missing from the Hollywood depiction however is the Vietnamese people themselves; they remain ‘the other’, a passive entity that have little or nothing to do with the outcome of the war. The war, rather than being won by the Vietnamese, is lost by the Americans. This broadly imperialist framing removes all agency from the Vietnamese people who can’t be conceived to have the ability to defeat America on their own merits.
I can’t help being reminded of this framing during the last number of weeks with the media coverage of the controversial household charge. In the media coverage the organised opposition to the charge has been effectively ignored. The reason for the non compliance of the charge has not been due to a well organised national popular campaign but rather to the ‘mistakes’ of a bullying Minister Phil Hogan, a ‘confused’ population who don’t understand how to pay, bad communications by the government, bad administration by the state, and cynical opportunism by some TDs.
In an editorial in the Sunday Independent on the ninth of March the Minister of the Environment Phil Hogan is blamed for the ‘shambles’ of the household charge:
The man who must bear primary responsibility for the fiasco that the introduction of the household charge has become is Environment Minister Phil Hogan. The minister has form in this regard. He was also responsible for the Government’s embarrassing climbdown when the septic tank inspection fee was cut from €50 to just €5
Likewise in an editorial on the 27th of March the Irish Times in a piece entitled ‘the property charge fiasco’ it states:
THE MANNER in which the Government has approached the imposition of a property charge has been incompetent, to put it mildly. The delay in providing information about what, precisely, was intended; a failure to deliver leaflets to houses likely to be affected; and difficulties involving methods of payment all served to portray a lack of political commitment and ambition. The person with direct political responsibility for this fiasco has been Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. But all members of Government must accept some blame for failing to adequately address the situation.
The opposition to the charge according to the Irish Times in the same editorial:
A small group of Independent TDs has been allowed to seize the initiative in opposing the introduction of property and water taxes and septic tank charges. The outcome in relation to the property charge, due to be paid by the end of this month, would suggest they are having considerable success.
RTE’s coverage seems to have concentrated on administrative difficulties and a perceived lack of communications from the state while paying little attention to the massive national campaign. The idea that people may be opposed to the charge for complex political reasons seems to be a non-option for the media. The reality of course is that many people have taken a decision not due to Phil Hogan’s ineptitude, bad communications nor being led astray by some politicians, but for rational political reasons. Moreover there has been a mass well organised and democratic national campaign the campaign against household and water charges that was first initiated in 2010, by a number of leftist parties and groups, and launched in 2011. While the national media has picked up on some of the major events such as the national rally and the protest outside the Fine Gael Ard Fheis it has tended to ignore the hundreds of meetings and actions held all over the country.
Hollywood Movies much like bourgeois depictions of history often concentrate on kings, politicians, generals or individual heroes whose personal narratives create events and history; what they tend to leave out are the class and social forces surrounding the events. Much like a Hollywood narrative the household charge fiasco is set by government ineptitude, a bullying villain in the persona of Phil Hogan and a few independent and leftist TDs calling on civil disobedience. What is left out are the literally thousands of people attending meetings and protests and hundreds organising them, bar of course a few walk on parts as a baying mob. Another narrative rather than the household charge being a fiasco could be an example of a well run boycott campaign displaying the possibilities of working class power. For the media however the working classes have no agency in themselves but are mere passive pawns who need to be correctly herded by an understanding and benign power, and like Vietnam there can never be a working class victory, but only the defeat of the government by self inflicted mistakes.