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The concept of “Dredd”

I saw this new movie with my son, in an attempt to bond before he returns to university in a few weeks.

Steve Latham

The main character, Judge Dredd, is a law-enforcer in a post-apocalypse future, set in Megacity 1, surrounded by an irradiated wasteland.

The city is prey to urban violence and crime, which only the corps of judges holds at bay. Dredd and his rookie colleague, Anderson, become trapped in a huge housing block, and have to fight their way out.

The film is unremittingly violent, with a one-dimensional plot, reminiscent of an early version linear shoot’em-up computer game. I read the review of the film on the Socialist Worker website. They thought it was a brilliant depiction of a dystopian, Thatcherite, repressive state apparatus.

But, although the comic’s creators apparently helped make the movie, and although Socialist Worker called it a ‘parody,’ the movie in my opinion was completely without humour.

Dredd” is even less funny than Stallone’s hamfisted 1995 version, though in that case the comedy was largely unintentional.

The review and the film, miss the irony of the original story from the 1970s and 1980s comic, “2000AD”.

Looking back, “2000AD” was clearly an expression of the postmodern zeitgeist. Violent and visceral, the stories represented a distanciated, discursive, reflection of contemporary unease.

I am reminded of the recent exhibition “Postmodernism. Style and Subversion 1970-1990”, at the V&A Museum. I had not realised so much in my experience had been ‘postmodern’.

Maybe it’s not surprising that the Socialist Worker missed the postmodern irony. Postmodernism possesses no sense of moral absolutes, merely the play of signs without any signifiers. Whenever aesthetics replaces ethics, culture slides effortlessly from fashion to fascism. Hence the grim storyline of “Dredd” is all that remains when the humour is liposuctioned from the franchise. In-house Socialist Workers Party philosopher, Alex Callinicos, has therefore attacked postmodernism, because its ironic relativism undercuts any possibility of radical anti-systemic critique.

Instead, Callinicos calls for a critical realism, about epistemology and values. Only metaphysical realism can ground a radical political praxis.

His intellectual analyses, however, were not enough to spark resistance. But with the recession we are witnessing the belated return of the political.

Playing with signs, going shopping, are not options when prosperity collapses, and poverty beckons. Something tougher is required. The occupy movement, the radicalisation of trade unions, the resurgence in feminism, are determined responses which betoken a renewed seriousness in political life.

Politics demands morality. Moral outrage fuels political protest. A sense of justice, and injustice, is essential to motivate and mobilise the masses.

The Left got used to opposing conservative moralisers, on individualist and libertarian grounds. What they forgot is that their own oppositionalism relies on moral absolutes too.

I like the SWP. I am encouraged when I see their newspaper sellers outside the tube station. They are a sign that tells me all is well with the world.

But can they cut it in Dredd’s postmodern Megacity?

Will they make the Kierkegaardian leap?

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