Ten things about democracy in videos every MP should see - by Juan Luis Sànchez

Spanish journalist, Deputy Director of eldiario.es and Remixing Europe contributor Juan Luis Sánchez presents Ten things about democracy in videos every MP should see.

Juan Luis Sánchez during the  Remixing Europe  book presentation in Amsterdam. Photo ©Xander Remkes 

Juan Luis Sánchez during the Remixing Europe book presentation in Amsterdam. Photo ©Xander Remkes 

Take a video, ten actually: the winning entries of the Radical Democracy video challenge (disclaimer: I was part of the jury), all exploring the theme of democracy and our understanding of how European democracy works.

Enter ‘full screen’. Lie down and watch.

If you watch these ten films one by one, they all tell us one individual story. If we watch them together – these and the 20 other finalists that participated in the final of the Radical Democracy Video Call – we can see that they are talking about us. About the images and words that young people in Europe are choosing to express themselves.

A lot can be gleaned from these videos, including the following ten things:

1. Politicians have disconnected

The majority of the most outstanding pieces don’t talk about current affairs but about the system. There are no references to the specific topics that occupy the headlines in each country. Spanish filmmakers don’t talk about abortion. Turkish film-makers don’t try to explain why fear has restricted the sale of alcohol as if it were the beginning of something else. The English don’t get into the argument about being more or less European.

The videos talk about a more important problem: the disconnect between the representatives and the represented. It doesn’t matter what the topic is: today’s democracy is not ready to receive orders from their citizens. There is a short circuit.

This gap is depicted in several videos that are very critical of politicians as a whole, as “a class/caste”, leaving no space for nuances or exceptions. In these videos, there are no bad politicians (the leaders) vs. good ones (those who do not lead). They are all part of a broken system – a system that doesn’t work.

In the Boxer, the most explicit video, it basically says that a dog has the same qualities as an electoral candidate to fulfill our will and resolve our problems.

Animals can tell us a lot, as George Orwell taught us in Animal Farm. In this film, politicians are ducks. This disconnect between people and institutions is also expressed very clearly in the film (S)laughter with a simple idea: put phrases uttered by their representatives in the mouths of ordinary citizens.

There are other videos that follow the same train of thought, like the satirical electoral spot by the Party Against Citizens, a spoof/parody about election promises.

2. The media are complicit

Ah, the media!

There are several references to the media as an accomplice not of citizenship but as a cultural shield of this little concrete power base that has seized our democracy and swings/rocks her on its lap. The mass media are the lullaby keeping the democratic creature comfortably asleep on their lap, marking the rhythm of the song.

The most explicit case is perhaps the most spectacular video of all: Tornistan.

It draws the contrast between what was happening on the streets during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and what was broadcast on television at the same time in Turkey. All events depicted are real: the same night that people were being wounded and killed, the TV was showing a documentary about penguins, while the live signal itself was streamed on international channels.

In a society of large communications corporations with business interests of all sorts, those who put democracy at risk are also defining it. This idea is underlined in the film Democracy, which uses archives and remixes (and it is not the only one to do so).

One video about scepticism against the electoral process is particularly noteworthy: Don’t vote under 25! It is a game of reverse psychology asking the young people to go and vote to solve their problems.

3. Networks allow us to dream, but watch out for nightmares

Tornistan is the clearest example of what happens in response to a lack of confidence in those institutions that are also the media. The network.

The network breaks censorship. The network requires that the media and politicians tell the truth; and that they identify the lies. The network returns the media ideas to the common space of conversations, where they are debated and enriched. 

But beware: the technology taking over our lives can also cause nightmares, as shown in Welcome To Oxmouth, a dystopian ‘Smart City’ that vampirises its citizens for the benefit of the usual people. Interactivity as slavery; Big Data as the raw material of social control and social engineering. Progress as enemy.

4. This generation has its own language – let us innovate

This confrontation with insufficient democracy with their guards, with journalists turning benevolent, contrasted with a new space for individual and collective action – the Internet – produces new political narratives.

In the finalists’ videos, there is no classical political iconography. There are no raised fists prevailing on one side or direct demonisation of communism on the other. These are not videos against Erdogan, or Rajoy or any European Commissioner. Except for the Italian finalist video, Italy 2023, which plays with Berlusconi as a historical anecdote inside a much more global process of trivialisation of politics and the reduction of freedoms.

In videos similar to this one from Italy, we see a reference to the Big Brother TV show. It isn’t the only one; there are two more among the 30 finalists. Advertising is a constant source of inspiration. Television as a factory of distortion and nightmares. And anonymous masks.

Yes, there are exceptions to the ideological specificity. The most obvious is the video by the Spanish @filosofafrivola, an explicitly feminist video (the only one among the finalists).

A very interesting case is #OcupaElDinero, from the Spanish collective Terrorismo de Autor, a real activist act in itself. Several people wearing masks deposit banknotes at banks with political messages written on them.

These messages, which enter the banking system and will conceivably be passed from hand to hand and wallet to wallet, gather quotations from historical figures (those shown in the masks), including Mao Tse Tung or Karl Marx or Gandhi.

But, at the same time, the burden of political identity of the video redirects towards other more contemporary guests, like the case of the legendary Ecce Homo de Borja, converted into an inadvertent masterpiece of the remix and network society.

5. Yes, ok. Now how do we fix this?

There are few videos among the finalists that place bets on large-scale concrete policy alternatives. They are big on diagnosis, but short on cures.

In audiovisual productions by journalists or media activists that have been published in the heat of the great mobilisations of recent years, two elements are usually present: the construction of the myth of the network policy and the recuperation of the myth of the assemblies.

We have already talked about the digital side of politics in the network (política en red). There is an analogue part too, the one of the power of the autonomy of political activism.

In the videos, the feeling of the need for a big party or platform to tumble all the deficiencies and cut all the ties with this democracy is missing. But there are plenty of small devices with incisive messages that generate cultural, social and political impact through dissemination.

We have already looked at the first example: the clearest one: #OccupyTheMoney. It’s such a pity they didn’t register the codes of the banknotes, because now we could be tracking them at EuroBillTracker.com.

The second example: The Scale of The Balance displays an individual initiative, a camping trip, resulting in a network of mutual support where no referenced union appears, and the established power is overthrown not by its own tools of power but through delegitimisation.

The third example: A visionary hack from the Istanbul tramway

Although these are the types of references that abound the most, there are also references to more classic formulas. The clearest ones are Hope Area #2. As soon as the titles roll, it presents an idealised view of the assemblies that were held in Paris, echoing the 15M demonstrations in Spain and Occupy Wall Street, and especially this one: Radical Democracy in Practice.

6. Without violence, despite violence 

There is violence represented in sophisticated and institutional forms. As we’ve already seen, there’s one video that vampirises citizens in Welcome to Oxmouth and another one that tucks heads in shopping bags. We are shown the violence of borders. Of the police. There is also a video that shows animals being butchered in the slaughterhouse in Le complexe de la viande.

Violence as an answer or response (como respuesta o apuesta) from those who are protesting, however, is not depicted so often. This kind of violence only appears directly in one of the videos from the 30 finalists: Beduk - It’s a Riot.

7. The city is the place of global politics

The city is the space of geopolitics. Urbanism is the scene of tension and violence; of tyranny and salvation. Of frustration and relief.

From the trees of Gezi Park in Istanbul to a camping site in the modern area of Paris; from the tramway of Istiklal avenue to the ATMs of a street in Madrid; from a factory on the outskirts of Belgrade to a mosque in Bosnia. Places are important; the videos are tied to a geography to be able to tell a global story. And in the imagination of the viewers appears the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, the transport system of São Paulo, the Taksim of Cairo or the Gamonal of Burgos.

8. Lower the taxes! Don’t raise them!

It’s one thing what the videos explicitly tell us and it’s another thing what the ideas that lie behind them are, whether intentional or not. And these ideas are varied. There is no ideological hegemony in the collection of videos, although liberal values revail. 

The video Boxer says that taxes are bad and probably many of the characters invited to #OccupyTheMoney, for instance, suggest a tax increase for the most well off classes.

The video Koit from Lauküla, a beautiful picture of a rural and remote Europe, gives voice to Eurosceptic, nationalist and slightly xenophobic arguments, although from the mouth of this woman they look like an ode to weariness rather than to rejection.

Other examples, however, defend an interrelated social Europe. 

9. Here’s the map of vulnerable heroes

Among the best 30 videos about democracy in Europe from this call, as many as five have the story of migration as a central element. The drawing of a European map with political frontiers, the official ones, and the frontiers of empathy, those that make us share issues with a Czech woman who travels to the UK or with a Burmese man who travels to Spain.

The short documentary telling us about the experience of Kumara is also an extraordinary enquiry into freedom.

10. What if these videos could enter into dialogue?

Unwittingly, these 30 finalists’ videos – and we could endorse this analysis with the 200 that were submitted in response to the call – have put a conversation on the table of the European Parliament for the upcoming term. The much vaunted and never undertaken re-establishment of democracy. To protect it. Because everyone assumes that the European institutions should be more democratic, that they have a lot of work ahead, that they have the opportunity to innovate and not just copy what already exists to save the ballot.

If these 30 media-makers, each from their own desert island, could have hoisted banners with some resemblance, imagine what would have happened if there were bridges between these islands? If they were in dialogue? If what was so radical was that, simply, there were connections instead of short circuits.

Translated from Spanish by Canan Marasligil
Edited by Vicky Anning