Based on Mason’s 2012 book of the same name, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere (or, Paul Mason Explains The World, if you prefer) is a four-handed theatre-ish performance incorporating a “workshop”, a lecture-cum-play, and a Question Time discussion, in which the ex-Economics editor of Channel 4 news/celebrity Corbynista rattles through the last six years of global politics and, well, tries to explain it all, from the Arab Spring to the living nightmare that was the US presidential election. Brecht said theatre should treat the audience as if it were describing a traffic accident to them, and that’s just what Mason wants to do. Explain the car crash of 2011-2017 to us. It’s not exactly agit-prop, more journo-prop.
(*Note: Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere isn’t really
Athens. Cairo. Madrid. Aleppo. Brexit. Trump. Everyone is scratching around searching for an all-encompassing narrative to make some sense of everything, and Mason has one. The Arab Spring came about because people were unhappy and, unlike popular discontent in the days of yore, people could now go on Facebook and Twitter and tell everyone how unhappy they were, and organise protests at the drop of a hat, and occupy squares simultaneously, and generally fuck shit up en masse via social media. Everything since then, Mason says, can be seen through the same lens. People have had enough, from the Rust Belt to Rotherham, and now we can circumnavigate traditional power bases online, and channel that anger into fostering a direct democracy that challenges the neoliberal establishment. It is, superficially, a compelling argument.
And Mason presents it with thrilling dexterity. Using Icke-esque live video feeds and huge projections of protests from around the world, he recreates recent history, tracking his own journalistic exploits from Athens to New York with the help of Khalid Abdalla, Sirine Saba, and Lara Sawalha, who multi-role as his various contacts. The audience, seated ad hoc on wooden platforms, are encouraged and instructed to join in, posing questions and chanting in Arabic about overthrowing regimes. It’s heart-pumping, edge-of-your-seat stuff at times – kudos Jeremy Herbert’s design and Ali Hossaini’s video – with some genuine goosebumps moments. A video of a child’s life in Aleppo, brutally torn apart by Assad’s bombardment is galling in the extreme. A brief re-run of the presidential campaigns recreates that sickening gut-punch you’ll remember from the early hours of November 9th.
Except hang on, there’s an awful lot missing here if we’re going to swallow it as an accurate reading of recent geo-political developments. What about the failure of the left to realise it didn’t speak for working class people anymore? What about the fact that social media, just as it can be used to inspire hope, can also be abused to inspire hate? What about the fact that we’re all living in bubbles, where the only opinion that confronts us is our own? What about the fact that the online news agenda is still largely driven by traditional outlets, the most widely-shared articles still those written by Owen Jones and *ahem* Paul Mason in the Guardian? What about the fact that the Young Vic, for all its avant-garde posturing, is still basically an echo chamber for well-heeled London thespians? What about all that, Paul? Explain that.
He doesn’t. Perhaps he can’t. Perhaps no-one can. Mason obviously knows far more than I ever will about politics and economics and why stuff like Brexit and Trump happens, but I can spot a hole-ridden argument when I see one, and that’s what he presents us with here. It’s a flashily delivered, hugely persuasive thesis that undoubtedly sprouts from a kernel of veracity, but it’s only part of the truth. And quite a small part. It contextualises the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements and everything pre-2014 smartly and succinctly, but it doesn’t come close to explaining Brexit. Or Le Pen. Or Trump. Or any of that shit.
Apparently this show – which is directed by Young Vic helmsman David Lan, by the way – has been in development searching for an ending for ages. They thought they’d found one with Trump – as we all did – but they haven’t really. Mason’s chain of thought stops about three years ago. His is a story that cannot accommodate everything post-2015. We need a different story for that, called Why We’re All Totally Fucked.
So by all means, tune in to BBC2 to watch Mason’s lecture-play-thing. It’s provocative if nothing else, and it might widen your echo chamber a smidge. Just don’t expect any answers, any Eureka moments you couldn’t get from reading the Guardian every now and again. Why is it kicking off everywhere? I still don’t know.
For more information on Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, click here.