Friday, 22 July 2016

Macro-Level Trends – Beyond “Brexit” - Looking Back to Look Forward...A Paradoxical “Merci, Monseuir Hulot” (Part 2)

The aftermath of 'Brexit' continues, the UK with a new Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary and a generally altered Cabinet structure and personnel.

However, contrarian to the voting British public's distaste for the EU – with central issues of immigration, the Brussel's 'gravy train' and a supposedly looming federal super-state – the second part of this weblog intentionally looks back across The Channel (or 'La Manche') and back in time to the year of 1971 and the mannerisms of a cult European character.

1971 was the year when UK decimalisation was introduced, designed to align the Pound to the French Franc, German Deutschemark, Italian Lira etc, and more easily calculate exchange rates to promote European commerce and leisure travel. 

The previous decade had prompted innovative outcomes from Wilson's 'White Heat of Technology' speech, ranging from the shift to (the then) 'clean diesel' and cleaner still diesel-electric hybrid locomotives on the state railways, the continuation of the Modernists' dream in public housing, and new era downsized cars - even in the luxury segment, such as the Jaguar XJ and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow; which also sold well in Europe.

Prior to the UK's joining the EEC, Prime Minister Edward Heath stated...

...”It is going to be a gradual development...but from the point of view of our everyday lives we will find there is a great cross-fertilisation of knowledge and information, not only in business but every other sphere”.

Britain had been denied EEC membership in both 1963 and 1967 because of the French disbelief regards British commitment. But that friction had been overcome with Anglo-French joint ventures such as the breath-taking supersonic Concorde by BCA (later BAe) and Aerospatiale in 1969 for the respective national carriers of BOAC (later British Airways) and Air France.

Similarly given the enthusiasm for cross-continental relations talks were again re-initiated regards reviving the old 19th century idea of a Cross-Channel Tunnel; which after enormous effort finally materialised in 1994. This achievement providing the new foundations for for various later joint projects, culminating in the astonishing Millau Bridge between constructor Eiffage and Foster Associates architects in 2004.

With emotional unification of the world in mid-1969 thanks to the first Moon Landing, the early 1970s promised greater pan-European unification ideals via the expansion of the Common Market so aligning national interests and destinies.

As Britain experienced a weakened economic grasp upon its former colonies because of  each's national independence movement, so it remoulded itself to operate within the European sphere. That argument used today by the 'Brexiteers' highlighting the proven and future economic potential of the emergent world – the BRICs, CIVETS, MINTS regions etc.

Yet 'Brexit' obviously adds yet more resistance to the already previously harsh headwinds facing the UK, with political confusion and as yet unproven change creating a general short/medium term loss of confidence, and the knock-on effect, as seen with international downgrades from the ratings agencies and renewed spasms within what should by now have been well-stabalised capital markets and western economies.

Better Balancing Britain's Interests -

Of course the world is economically a very different place to the western-centricism of the early 1970s, new giants have indeed emerged moving through the national development time-frame in a matter of decades not centuries, as was the case with Europe.

But if the Middle-East was the birth of civilisation, then Europe was undoubtedly its cradle and créche, from the Roman Empire onward an improving merging of cultures, commerce and technical progress.

The Brexit vote was an undoubted shock to European leaders and many Europeans themselves who have seemingly always seen the British Isles as (physically and metaphysically) close enough for support, but not too close for comfort; and being in that idiosyncratic position perhaps able to best balance its own national identity and that of a European partner; and as such perhaps a leading light of 'collective individualism'.

This important and very enabling position should not be underestimated nor threatened by an angry reactionary British public. Never has the horrible phrase “kick a dog and see it bite another dog” been so apt, referring to the far too sensationalised issue of migration. Yet that has been the outcome whereby marginalised people don't look to the failed socio-economic responsibilities of their past leaders, but to blaming the 'under-dogs' who themselves only sought better lives elsewhere.

Where bridges have been burned and trenches dug, the very opposite is required.

The reconfigured distancing sought by the dissaffected masses, should only be created if deemed truly appropriate by those unbiased experts whose knowledge itself en mass about the plethora of issues involved, can be stitched together for the optimal perception of the situation.

Thus not reliant upon the supposed 'wisdom of crowds', which itself is largely fed via the media.

The critical need today is not to alienate Britain from Europe, but to extricate itself from the any truly prohibiting regulation and maximise commercial and cultural relationships.

[NB this said, as the creche of civilisation, the EU's strong protective stance regards Human Rights should remain].

Thus Britain must not wholly nail the Union Flag to the mast of the Emerging Nations' - no matter how apparently promising - but prosaically and sensitively balance its European Interests with its Global Interests. 

The old foreign policy phrase used by Britain was that " we have no friends, simply interests" has never so apt, from many perspectives.

Looking Back to Monsieur Hulot -

It is precisely because of the created tumult that greater understanding, foresight, humility, diplomacy and creativity is needed. A very different and far more substantive real-politik that properly handles such issues, as opposed to the media-compelled 'sound-bite' personas so rife today; from celebrities to politicians and into much of the general populace.

Whilst the new Prime Minister Theresa May might be initially seeking overt populism by highlighting the sought role of employee representation of company boards to mimic German practice - a double-edged sword depending upon the commercial acumen of such representation - she does at least appear to have the qualities of caution, sobriety and tenacity.

These qualities might seem "dull" with the media's quick comparison as a female John Major, but she at least appears more dynamic and is PR savvy. To this end, the power of both British and European cultures should be deployed to create a convincingly constructed stepping-stone pathway for Britain's optimal future.

The same approach needed today as was seen in the run-up to Britain's 1973 EEC entry, with the ability to merge the best elements of imbued cultures.

The prescient 'decimalisation' year of 1971 saw the last populist artwork of the quirky film-maker Jacques Tati. And the last venture of his socially observant, cross-zeitgeist straddling, character Monsieur Hulot, within the subtle comedy 'Trafic'.

Monseuir Hulot came to prominance through the previous films: 'Les Vacances' ('53), 'Mon Oncle' ('59) and 'Play Time' ('67), within Tati's highly pictorially structured pictorial (and periodically audiby assisted) story-telling process. With for the most part no or very sparse dialogue, he sought to reflect the rapidly changing era as France embraced the American-centric future through Hulot's eyes.

The prevailing French demi-high-brow polemic was deployed, itself the driving force of America's counter-culture 'beatnik' movement, which sought to question unquenched consumerism and materialism, (as encapsulated by Jacque Karouac's 'On the Road'). Silent action and mime was used as its central visual motif – wherein the very visual and behavioural actions of characters and the use of inanimate objects speaking louder than words. All to represent his own distaste for increasing Americana and Hollywood's exportation of overtly formulaic low-brow cultural popularism.

The foundational aspect of his film-making was a need to reclaim an increasingly marginalised 'La Belle France'; done so via the trickle-down of ideas from 'Rive Gauche' philosopher set - Hulot himself demonstrating aspects of the 'Flaneur'.

(NB Hollywood's soft-power play for Europe - seen with Dutch-born Audrey Hepburn in both 'Roman Holiday' ('53) and 'Funny Face' ('57) - sought to strengthen the Euro-Anglo-American relationship).

Thus 1953 saw the introduction of Hulot (after Fete de Jour in 1949) via release of a low-budget, idiosyncratic and parochially French 'Les Vacances' depicting the minutiae of life including exploration of common-folk's petit-borgeois distain of Hulot the awkward 'social misfit' who nonetheless sees more and so experiences more.

He prefers the oft over-looked beauty of nature (vs the starkly geometric man-made), the antiquated environs of the cobbled old-town (vs steel, glass and concrete), the innocence of children (vs the socialised madness of adults), the true 'humanity' of dogs (vs societal hypocracy), the warmth of bird-song (even when caged)...and an appreciation for design simplicity and 'fitness for purpose: as exemplified by his unglamorous and so unfashionable yet wholly perfected VeloSolex motorised bicycle.

In essence this seemingly 'out of time' quiet man has the eye of an artist, the mind if an engineer and the consciousness of a yogi, insightful and far beyond the 'BS'.

Importantly, unlike the initial three films in which he merely observes other people's consumer slavishness, in 'Trafic' Hulot puts his observational capabilities to good use as an active participant in commercial creativity. As design head for the fictional Altra (Car) Company and creator of a very functional (though intentionally comically over-stylised) 'Camping Car'.

Throughout the next three films the seemingly austere and rational Monsiuer Hulot – though more deeply human under the surface - would himself philosophically 'shine a light' upon what he saw as the ridiculous extremes of the new, fashionable, and supposedly more convenient status based consumerism.

From the folly of domestic architecture wherein modernism meets modern art to create not a home but a highly inconvenient show-piece, to the increasing dominance of dehumanised organisational environments, with a tendency of aspirational humans to willingly self-mould to the corporate machine image; this tendency wholly unfathomable to Hulot given his innate naturalness.

Jacques Tati depicted the character as essentially out of place, somewhat austere, old-fashioned, quiet, logical, sombre, simple and yet a questioning and active man, his mind always elsewhere on higher things, and so never 'in the moment' or with 'the crowd'.

Counter to today's fashion of 'inter-connected this' and 'democratic that' created by social-media, it is these aforementioned qualities that are required more than ever today by the political, investment and industrial leaders of Britain. In a period when commerce, industry and politics has effectively had to start-over under ongoing extremely challenging circumstances.

Honest, intelligent, fresh and creative approaches are needed within the political-socio-economic sphere, the very opposite of populist-driven sound-bite 'ism' trendiness. 'Isms' which essentially put rhetoric before intent and action and so lack substance. 

Neither should there be a reliance upon the strictly conventional originating from yesteryear, often probably out-dated in outlook and notional solutions.

[NB Even of late, the British loss of Cambridge based ARM Holdings (and its IPR value) to Japan's Softbank illustrates the continued hollowing-out of vital industries. Though an expected given, this not always recouped by yesteryear 's often failed 
regeneration chatter; as with Lord Heseltine's recent words about automatic reversion to a 1980s FDI scenario. Softbank may well create an 'internet of things' manufacturing base in the NE, NW, Midlands or South Wales... or it might choose to do so in Japan, China, Indonesia or in time Bangladesh.].

As seen, Hulot is someone of a different older 'no-nonsense' age; not enthralled at the demonstrations of pseudo-technical advancement in the home, office or factory; or indeed by the consumerism-binge exemplified by the big, flash cars (vis a vis the humble domestic) 2CV. 

These but over-marketed products functionally no or little better than their predecessors.

[NB herein the future internet of things must be truly functionally transformative, not simply app-based e-layered fuctionalist artifice...AI and robotics the critical next step to this metamorphosis. The AI controlled industrial or domestic robot is designed to be wholly multi-functional, necessary given its prime purpose of command and environment related response and adaptiveness].

Similarly, in the era when luxury French cars had been effectively eliminated through government intervention policy (affecting Facel Vega etc), the masses had been mobilised with Citroen 2CV, 4CV, Traction Avant (as taxis) and goods transported via H-Vans and Estafettes, Hulot the designer was not impressed by the new middle-classes' fascination for Detroit size and colour, but by the idiom of broadened functionalism befitting the economic realities of the time – hence the dual-use affordable 'Camping-Car'.

So whereas Detroit's mid-century baroque exports befitted the taste of the nouveau-riche (effectively replacing those lost domestic grande tourers), Hulot looked to the cultural opposite - to the people. 

Although not of the crowd he understood how the life and the engrained French ways of people could be experentially enrichened with the appropriate multi-functional vehicle.

At a time when France was scrabbling to move beyond the automotive products of basic post-war entry-level mobility,  the people far from wealthy enough to purchase the architypical Euro-Americana cars provided by the likes of Opel or Ford (larger, colourful and feature-laden) Hulot sought to re-imagine French Utilitarianism and maintain the connection to nature and the land.

[NB the 'Camping-Car' vehicle itself based upon the Renault 4 van, itself probably chosen by Tati because of the cognitive connections between his former film 'Les Vacances' and the fact that at the time Renault had a fleet of 'Vacances Service' R4 'breakdown vans' dedicated to the summer exodus of holiday-makers heading to Western and Southern coast-lines.

Thus Tati pre-empted, and indeed promoted, the auto-camping trend of the increasingly mass-mobilised 1970s Euro-camping era].

'Trafic' is itself seemingly a prompt to French industry and capitalism soon after the social upheaval of the 1968 student riots and the threatened resurgence of re-popularised communism. As France itself looks to undertake its own EEC export-drive, Monsieur Hulot designs what he considers the perfect Camping-Car with French and pan-European potential.

Thus the film  conveys the story from product's conception upon the drafting-board, its birth in the 'prototype shed', its photographic marketing, loading upon a factory truck and transportation to the Amsterdam auto-show for the public reveal.

Hulot and the factory-men set out with their precious cargo, having to follow the firm's speedy 'PR girl' in her little open-topped Fiat Gamine. Her pace setting across the border alert the officials and so all become embroiled with 'La Douane' – the Belgian-Dutch 'Customs and Excise' officials.

In essence a parody of the thrust of international commerce stymied by international officialdom.

Herein we witness how frustration builds between the 'go go go' mentality of the somewhat demanding PR representative and the methodical, rule-book mentality of the officials, so creating a tense atmosphere, and so probably creating more problems and barriers for the journeying group.

By way of calming the waters Monsieur Hulot instead accords to the requirements of the officials and critically gains their fascination and trust by demonstrating the surprise and delight functional properties of his Camping-Car creation.

Where the demands of youth and hastiness only adds to the processing time of EEC regulation, it is maturity and co-operation which ensures smooth transmission.

The vehicle eventually arrives at the the Amsterdam “AutoRAI”, the exhibition providing for fertile ground for more of Hulot's inquisitiveness and the resulting comedic outcomes.

The Mindful Lessons Learned -

The central aspect here of course, relevant to the UK's effort to 'Brexit', is the manner in which it should be done.

The populist anger behind the vote to leave obviously resultant from the relative economic stagnation of Britain since 2007, blaming immigrants and the EU when in fact it was a combination of a non-existant national industrial and services economic strategy since the early 2000s, itself substituted by an empirically disconnected and so overtly in-credible credit regime; itself the function of 'made-up money' from Wall Street's financial re-engineering(CDS / CDO etc).

Theresa May and her Cabinet have a mandate to follow the will of the public, seemingly even if wholly misguided.

Thus the process of EU extraction is ironically thankfully a long and ponderous one, even after ratification of Article 50. This 4-5 year time-frame provides enough time to allow the member states of Europe to not 'do likewise', but to use 'Brexit' to reconsider exactly how to reform the EU.

The core elements being akin to;
1. Rationality driving regulation.
(not vice versa whereby the 'gravy boat' is sustained through ever greater regulation of petty issues)
2. A concomitant reduction of Brussels' operating costs, thus lowering all members' contributions.
3. Greater transparancy to the EU public
(an EU Parliament digital TV channel created to broadcast web-based EUParlTV content).
4. Greater efforts toward national and sub-regional histories and identities
(recognised as within national boundaries, and not premised as 'spin-out' independent new entities, then able to then illustrate the history and idiosyncratic identities within singular nations; so promoting interest, travel and commercialism with greater relationship building between similar international regions).

In a useful manner, Tati's film 'Trafic' humorously illustrates Monsieur Hulot's frustration with the limitations of the then conventional 'pre-set' private car. The journey to Amsterdam illustrating how people had become effectively emotionally attached slaves to the car, Tati using the behavioural pattern of windscreen wipers to convey the personality of the driver.

To provide the necessary potential for personal freedoms Hulot devises a model that could both undertake the standard needs of the everyday and provide a mechanism for enlightening escape.

The task in hand over the coming years for EU leaders is to mimic Hulot's reconsidered and much adapted model.

Britain's Mr Bean has itself been a prime cultural export internationally – especially the 'slap-stick' loving nations of Germany and Japan – in large part drawn from Hulot. And as seen in the Mr Bean films, although silent and unobtrusive he is seen to be the power 'behind the scenes' of eventual outcomes.

The time of the overtly vocal, rousing, populist leader (Farage to Varoufakis) should be seen as over.

Looking forward all member states of the EU require the Hulot character, sensitivity and an understanding of how to appreciate and remould the big socio-economic picture.

Back to the drawing board” to achieve economically and culturally “the model of mutual prosperity”.