1980s >> 1987 >> no-991-march-1987

Between the Lines: Raiders of Zircon

When I was a little boy (not all that long ago; never all that little) Zircon was the sort of thing that made you sit on the edge of your seat in sci-fi movies. They Came From Zircon. Not to worry: the inter-galactic space warriors (always Americans with traffic warden uniforms) will beat off the alien enemies. The lesson of all those science fiction films was clear enough: us traffic wardens fight hard when it comes to defending Planet Earth against hostile beasties from the Outer Cosmos. It was not until I grew a few hairs on my chest that I discovered that Planet Earth is already occupied by hostile beasties called capitalists whose function in life is to rob blind the majority of earthlings who produce all the wealth.

Last month agents of the capitalists raided the offices of BBC Glasgow for the purpose of confiscating the film of a series of programmes called The Secret Society. You see, the series was made to show that Britain is becoming a dangerously secretive society in which almost anything worth knowing is being declared by law to be secret. How dare the BBC sponsor such subversive untruths? Britain, a police state — where do they get these ideas from? So Special Branch sent the boys down to do over the studio and confiscate the film and make sure that viewers will never see just how many secrets they’re missing. Puts your mind at rest, doesn’t it?

One of the programmes was about the Zircon project, a spy satellite which none of us are supposed to know about — which is funny really, because it is supposed to be spying on our behalf. Now, had the programme been shown it is doubtful whether many workers would have been much the wiser about Zircon. But with the aid of that idiot cunning for which the present government now has a Reagan-grade reputation, the police raid had the effect of making large numbers of workers want to know what it is that the state is so eager to hide from us. Censorship will not succeed in stopping people wanting to find out what is happening in the world. Back in the good old days the men from Zircon would have exterminated Malcolm Rifkind with a laser gun but last month all we got was a mundane emergency debate in the House of Commons in which Gerald Kaufman (whose jackets might well have been designed by the firm which used to produce laser guns) said that the whole affair was intolerable.

News From the Nozzers

If Zircon doesn’t make you think of creepy things in black and white movies nozzers certainly should. Nozzers are skinheads with legal permits: trainee members of the Royal Navy BBC2’s four-part series (Mondays. 10.15pm) was called Nozzers and about what it is like to suffer the misfortune of becoming one.

A nozzer s life is not a happy one. Most of them joined to see the sea; instead they spent their first week’s training learning how to straighten the pillows on their beds and shine their boots and march up and down like clockwork Nazis. No wonder they all felt homesick. This was one of those films in which the producer allows the viewer to relish the suffering of some other sucker. What can be better after a day at Dagenham screwing bits onto Ford Fiestas than watching a bunch of nozzers being sent on an assault course which involves crawling through mud-filled pipes and running through cold water? At least someone else is having it worse than you.

When nozzers go down to the pool for a swim it does not involve a few lengths and a bit of splashing about: in Nozzers we were shown them being poked with sticks by the swimming instructress to test their readiness to drown in icy water. Alas, most of them were all too ready. How can human beings descend to such undignified thuggery? But watching Nozzers they seemed more pathetic than contemptible: wage slaves driven into a sick institution as an alternative to unemployment or other forms of dullness. Prince Edward was no fool. (Well, perhaps that is something of an overstatement). Not for him was the life of a nozzer — or whatever the marine equivalent may be. He decided to retire while the going was bad. But the poor kids shown in this series — what is the alternative for them?

Plague-Ads

While it may or may not be the case that all the nice girls like a nozzer, if they have been watching the TV ads carefully they will be insisting that he wears a condom. TV ads have travelled a long way since they used to just advertise Omo and going to work on an egg. In recent times ads have been used to mould public morality, warning us about smoking and drinking and now “unsafe sex”. The symbolism of the AIDS ad is about as subtle as a Bernard Manning gag. Rocks, hammers chipping away at them, darkness — why can’t they just come out with it and tell us what’s naughty instead of all these laboured hints?

The Tabun and Sarin Show

A scientist holds up a cube of sugar: “A piece of tabun or sarin of just this size kills 2,500 people when it is dropped on them”. Tabun and sarin are chemical weapons, a means of murdering vast numbers of people which is just as deadly as nuclear weapons. These weapons are currently possessed by Russia, the USA. France, Iraq, Syria, Israel and South Africa. As many as fifteen countries might possess such weapons and many more soon will.

Iraq has been using these weapons in its war against Iran and that was the subject of Panorama (Monday, 2 February. 9.30pm. BBC1). Chemical weapons have been outlawed internationally for some years, just like CND would like nuclear weapons to be. But that has not stopped them being used. As Tim Renton, the British Foreign Minister, admitted, no law can stop “unscrupulous” companies making profits out of selling chemicals to governments intending to use them for weapons.

Now what can Mr Renton mean about profit making being an unscrupulous pursuit? After all, was it not Norman Tebbit who, as Minister of Industry, defended in the House of Commons the sale of torture equipment by British companies to foreign dictatorships on the grounds that such trade was part of the usual competitive process? In fact, Panorama showed that Iraq’s chemical weapons production complex at Samarra was constructed partly by German, British, Australian and Indian firms.

If, by the most remote possibility, there was ever an international decision to outlaw nuclear weapons it would be as wholly unenforceable as that concerning chemical warfare. And even if it was enforced, what would stop governments which had previously used nuclear weapons threatening the world by converting to chemical weapons? There will be no solution to the hideous weaponry of modern warfare — all too clearly depicted in its awful effects on the Iranian casualties shown in Panorama — until the war-producing system is abolished, together with its Zircon Project, its nozzers. its moral sermonising and the rest of its blemishes which pop out like sores from our TV screens.

 Steve Coleman