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DO PEOPLE HECKLE?

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Adam Curtis | 16:24 UK time, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

In 1966 one of the most brilliant American New Wave movie directors - Joseph Strick - made a documentary for the BBC. It was about heckling in the British general election of that year. It is great piece of verite film-making.

strickcomp.jpgStrick is still making films, and lives in Paris. He has now approached me because he wants to do a film about this year's general election - and wants to film heckling. My first reaction was to tell him that I don't think people heckle any longer. He says he is convinced they do heckle - and will heckle - because of anger over MPs etc. Political journalists I have asked don't know how widespread heckling is these days - because they don't tend to stray outside Westminster.

I think it raises a really interesting question. If people don't heckle any longer is it because they no longer believe in politics, or is it because they no longer believe in themselves?

Is it that they have come to see their politicians as creatures who no longer have any ideas or vision, and who have absolutely no idea or understanding of what is happening in the world, so there is no point in heckling them any longer?

Or is it that we, the people, have no ideas and no understanding of the world ourselves? That we have no vision any longer of what the world could be like, or what changes we would like made - so we have nothing to say? And thus nothing to heckle about.

So however angry we are we remain mute and sullen.

Or maybe we do still heckle? It would be very interesting to find out - please let me know.

Here are some extracts from the film.

In the film you can see both an old Britain and fragments of the new Britain that was emerging side by side in the audiences.

Empire Loyalists shout about the betrayal of Rhodesia and the loss of the last bits of the empire, while in the same audience - towards the end of the film - you can see early examples of British counter-culture. Long hair - but still beatnik, not hippie, fashion - with the slogan "Anarchy - don't vote, Anarchy don't vote".

It was the beginning of the rise of individualism and the modern retreat from politics.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It's an interesting question. I think it's a combination of a whole boat load of factors though, not just the general apathy about politics that exists in the current social climate.

    One of your comments intrigues me: " Political journalists I have asked don't know how widespread heckling is these days - because they don't tend to stray outside Westminster." Maybe that's one of the reasons you don't see much heckling these days; because it isn't being reported. The media elite seems to have become ever more insular, and that has led to a death in local journalism. Now you have these big, amorphous entities such as "The Times" and "The Guardian" presiding over the whole country, with no local ties to any single community (the Guardian recently severed its historic links to local newspapers). If a group of people heckle a politician somewhere outside London, somewhere exotic like Cheltenham, and there's no journalist there to cover the event, do they still make a sound? In trying to cover everything the big media corporations end up covering next to nothing. Now it's all about user driven content.

    There's also the fact that big political events to be staged these days. Visits to hospitals or prepared speeches tend to be organized in such a way as to leave very little room for dissenters. So another reason why you don't see many hecklers these days is that politicians have got smart to it and so manipulate the media in such a way in order to present and orderly face to the world. A product of the modern, PR driven politicis, I suppose.

    Finally, there's also the fact that the people who do heckle tend to belong to small, ideologically driven groups: communists, anarchists, religious groups with a political agenda, etc. Any kind of angry response to political bullshit tends to be highly fractured, with small groups vying for attention and publicity. The internet has probably had the biggest effect of all: if people want to whine about politicians, they do it in forums and community blogs. I've seen quite feracious response to political events online, so I don't know if you could class that as heckling? I guess it's easier to vent your anger through a computer in the company of a like minded individuals rather than go through all the bother of going outside and find a unwilling politican to heckle.

  • Comment number 2.

    We saw some much more muted but strongly worded attacks during the expenses scandal. David Cameron's adviser, Andrew Mackay, answers his constituents over his crooked claims: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hhz3p8JnCA

    Cameron even sent all of his shadow cabinet out to their constituencies to justify their finances - and he's been doing CameronDirect, wherein he travels town halls answering (I think) unplanned questions.

    This election is going to get very interesting.

  • Comment number 3.

    Or we could just be polite and reserved?

  • Comment number 4.

    This was fascinating. I wonder though if the reason for the decline of heckling isn't so much political as cultural. Not all of the hecklers in the film were political, they were enjoying the art of tripping a speaker up or launching a well timed joke. The level of disorder people tolerated was particularly telling. If you look at the reactions of people, even in the scene when the fight breaks out, many are laughing. Now people are much more scared of public confrontation.

    Heckling was part of a much more communal street culture. It was a rougher style but, in a way, safer. The only people left who still heckle are builders, football crowds & comedy club audiences. All are considered to be too coarse for modern tastes, if not actually racist or sexist. Public confrontations now are directly physical, like the attacks on John Prescott or Peter Mandelson.

  • Comment number 5.

    I wonder if a lack of heckling is because we're all more scared of what the consequences might be.

    Consider Walter Wolfgang in the 2005 Labour Party conference. He was bustled out of the hall even though he was 82 years old. It's just not tolerated. Interestingly that is precisely what Strick says would have happened in the US at the time he made this film.

    But I think anywhere cameras show up, the audience has been "padded" in advance to ensure that the "right" people are at the front. I've no doubt that in smaller meetings up and down the country, the heckling continues.

  • Comment number 6.

    Emm, hello. Have just watched and listened to the part you played in episode 4 of Newswipe. Haven't used a blog before so fairly unsure as to whether people who write these things read what people comment but pinky and index fingers crossed - re journalistic paranoia, have your read 'Paranoid Reading and Reperative Reading, Or, You're so Paranoid You Probably think this Essay is about You' by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick? If not, its probably right up your back alley. Here's a big link. x

    http://books.google.com/books?id=KBNXs3woYwcC&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=you're+so+paranoid+you+probably+think+this+is+about+you&source=bl&ots=JUM8MSj1tP&sig=q-GCzmOIehdAleT0k4MEgUlwBKU&hl=en&ei=lEpzS4OxC4v60wSC55SsCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CAoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=you're%20so%20paranoid%20you%20probably%20think%20this%20is%20about%20you&f=false

  • Comment number 7.

    I haven't used a blog before and after spending time writing a charming little messeage and it not posting, I've lost patience. Just watched your excellent input on episode 4 of newswipe - re paranoid journalism, have you read Eve Kosofsky Sedwick's 'Paranoid Reading and Reperative Reading, Or you're so Paranoid you probably think this essay is about you'? If not, definitely do. If you have, fabbo (or something similar). x

  • Comment number 8.

    The first one worked! Jackpot.

  • Comment number 9.

    When it comes to Israeli-Palestine it appears British people still heckle! Big debate going on about the Oxford Union debate where they heckled the Israeli Deputy FM. http://mondoweiss.net/2010/02/hecklers-read-the-goldstone-report-to-israeli-minister-at-oxford.html

  • Comment number 10.

    Hello Adam.. Firstly I'd like to thank the BBC and yourself for *not* geo-locking 'The Hecklers' as I think it's something that us yanks should DEFINITELY see. Yes, I am one of those weird folks from over the pond.. pray indulge me if you would.

    I know that you consider bloggers 'bullies' but this is where 'heckling' has gone. It certainly hasn't been 'sublimated'.. it has just *migrated* to the next logical medium. Yes, 'anonymous cowards' like me, who have grown up with this so-called 'new media' are just using the same tools that I saw in 'The Hecklers' to the same effect. I give you my blog and my heckling of 'Mumbai Don' as a less than worthy example.

    For a better example of heckling on a large scale via the 'net I give you the 'Anonymous vs Scientology' or now the 'Anonymous vs the country of Australia' saga which is currently unfolding. Examples of the former:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCbKv9yiLiQ

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmMqrWhtAEM [referencing the anime 'Ghost in the Shell']

    Anonymous' message was translated into a number of languages, including Japanese:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTdtoRM0CyQ

    Why do I heckle? Because I see injustice to my tribe, the geeks / hackers / engineers. Like your loyalists, I see our (USA) politicians spinning us into neverending wars on abstraction, giving away our advantages in tech to China & India, squandering our resources. But most of all I don't see them taking any responsibility, just passing the problems on to my children and their children. The Hecklers become the Heckled (our 'Boomer' generation, aka 'the Hippies').

    What's the only recourse open to us? Heckling. Or as the gamers or youngs would call it, 'Griefing'. Mr. Brooker did Gameswipe, right? He should be able to tell you volumes about 'Griefing' which is what 'Anonymous' (aka a bunch of 4chan /b-tards as they are known) do either for agenda or kicks.

    My point is, heckling has not gone away. It has migrated to where the 'narratives' or 'messages' are -- blog entries followed by heckling comments, video responses (on Mevio or Youtube) and other blog rebuttals.

    -Drunken Economist
    http://mindtaker.blogspot.com/
    http://twitter.com/drunk_economist

  • Comment number 11.

    @Druken Economist:

    To be brutally honest, I don't think blogging and its ilk is in any way equivalent to heckling, simply because it doesn't involve politicians. It's a one way street, whereas with heckling a conversation often develops between the heckling audience and the heckled politicians. No MP or high ranking minister is ever going to bother to answer the angry queries of bloggers on the internet. The "fights" you see develop on the internet platform are between different groups of users. And as such, it doesn't hold politicians to account because the political elite can simply ignore. It's just shouting at the wind.

  • Comment number 12.

    People don't heckle? Have you not seen question time? Seems to consist of people mainly shouting out about expenses. Or maybe people just throw eggs and flower now to get their website on the telly.

  • Comment number 13.

    It's a one way street, whereas with heckling a conversation often develops between the heckling audience and the heckled politicians. No MP or high ranking minister is ever going to bother to answer the angry queries of bloggers on the internet.

    Except that they already have started responding to them, and they will need to in ever greater numbers - Politicians aren't exactly going to let several mediums of mass exchange help form peoples opinions (and therefore voting patterns) without getting involved and trying all they can to bend things in their own direction.

  • Comment number 14.

    "Or is it that we, the people, have no ideas and no understanding of the world ourselves? That we have no vision any longer of what the world could be like, or what changes we would like made - so we have nothing to say? And thus nothing to heckle about."

    I'm afraid it is. How do people reconcile their individualist consumerism with their wider beliefs, say about the environment? They can't. They feel guilt. Their income level is such and their lifestyle is such that they live openly in their hypocrisy. How can they then heckle an MP in which they see the same vice? They can't, so they sit in shameful silence.

  • Comment number 15.

    Adam, I find it interesting that you should be approached ( in what capacity you don't say) by a 1960s New Wave film maker who wants to make a film about heckling during the next UK electoral process. Either he has identified something that can/will re-emerge as a counterpoint to contemporary UK politics or he has identified you as a modern media cousin to those times. Being alive and young through the 1960s makes for a very interesting perspective in weighing up post WW2 changes and developments.
    I make these points in regard to this prospective endeavour:
    Political cynicism, satire, wit and irony have to a large extent become theatrically professionalised as an extension and a byproduct of 1980s reactionary comedy. Political messages have now become so disguised by smoke and mirrors that it takes a skilled performer to break through the deceptions and make a living in the process. EG: The News Quiz, Private Eye, HIGNFY, Ben Elton etc etc. The exception to the rule would be Alf Garnet.
    Heckling, by and large, belongs to a previous age when large, politically oriented, crowds could be brought together, for a common purpose, without the need for licenses of one sort or another. Our contemporary world has trained us to be more strategic/smart/conciliatory in achieving critical objectives. Heckling is a tradition that belonged to a tradition. Large crowd gatherings tend, now, to be mass, one off, stage managed events. It is hard to imagine, today, how frequent large mass gatherings were for one reason or another during the years prior to the 1980s. Heckling was a part of the physical moment, a freedom. Freedom now is more emotional.
    You might have to revise the notion that "There is a policeman inside our heads" by changing that to "Is there a policeman inside our heads" or "Is there still a policeman inside our heads?".
    Grand narratives have become expedient and self serving so heckling is a part of a process not outside it.
    Political PR has become a super palliative and the modern methods of dealing with heckles far outweigh those of the 1960s.
    You may have to redefine heckling to make the idea work today.
    The acheivements of modern journalism have paradoxically egalitarianised and separated us. We have been separated out into a collective of similar wants and burdens in which 'reality tv' and large financial rewards have expediently replaced politics by fixing our imagined real needs. The big irony here is that Simon Cowell should be interested in utilising politics for a reality tv show. Maybe here there might be a genuine opportunity for heckling as it used to be. Oh sweet irony.
    English (not UK) politics has come to an end in terms of great thought. Politics is now about ideas of managing chaos. Politicians have become corporate managers running UK plc masked by an odd form of identityless democracy. Heckling has become a formal institutionalised emotional attitude as a consequence, variously displayed in controlled broadcast environments. It is very hard to convey just how angry this country was in the years leading up to the transitional 1980s and how vociferous the masses, on many issues, were during this chaotic period. Politics and people were much closer as a physical entity then than now. Parliament is now an industrial fortress barricaded by large concrete blocks. Politicians have moved from civvy street to savvy street. Heckles are more often heard inside Parliament than outside it.
    Modern political antipathy is driven by computer processors. Ironically the result of 1960s subversive American thinking. 60s attitudes towards politics were driven by physical and tactile means. From the Gutenburg Galaxy to the Gatesian Galaxy of social isolation. Who heckles in social isolation?
    In the 60s we aspired to what we now have. But what we now don't have is'nt worth shouting about. (I will stand to be corrected on this point..).What we don't have is only what we are missing from 'our' comforts and joys. But in the 60s we didn't know what we were missing. We had an IDEA about what we were missing. That was worth a shout....The question now is what do 'we' really need to shout about?.
    I think your first thought, that heckling doesn't exist anymore, may in part be true if made as a direct comparison to what went before. However, as with all things human, there is nothing new under the sun; small evolutions and extensions may just reveal that heckling has taken to new forms.
    Finally, it could be argued that heckling has, like the politics of old, come to a natural end. Politicians have retreated from the soapbox to the security of expense accounts while we have retreated into the comforts of personal space, choice and virtual control of our virtual existences. Where once we were a unified mass that had a unified identity and a unified construct to struggle for now we have to be asked by our government what is Britishness? What is our identity? Who are we? Who am I? Who are you? What are you doing here? and so on........
    Derren Brown said he once disabled a personal attack by filling the assailants head with information which confused him and left him immobilised. You can teach old dogs new tricks......Politics is now the heckler and we are now the electorate without ideas.
    Epilogue: There is an apparent lack of genuine wit and wisdom in English society, something for which we were once renowned. This has been replaced by ridicule. We have become sated by the need to create instant, ill considered reactions to the wants of our seemingly ever faster world. As John Cleese once remarked everywhere you go there is insanity and only pockets of sanity exist. Maybe this blog is an oasis of sanity but one thing surely is clear. If politics is to be reclaimed as a representation of the people a renaissance is due. Whether this will ever happen or not remains to be seen since both sides have now reached an impasse. A resurgence of good heckling may be due.

  • Comment number 16.

    An unsqwidged version of my earlier post #15....

    Adam, I find it interesting that you should be approached ( in what capacity you don't say) by a 1960s New Wave film maker who wants to make a film about heckling during the next UK electoral process. Either he has identified something that can/will re-emerge as a counterpoint to contemporary UK politics or he has identified you as a modern media cousin to those times. Being alive and young through the 1960s makes for a very interesting perspective in weighing up post WW2 changes and developments.

    I make these points in regard to this prospective endeavour:

    Political cynicism, satire, wit and irony have to a large extent become theatrically professionalised as an extension and a byproduct of 1980s reactionary comedy. Political messages have now become so disguised by smoke and mirrors that it takes a skilled performer to break through the deceptions and make a living in the process. EG: The News Quiz, Private Eye, HIGNFY, Ben Elton etc etc. The exception to the rule would be Alf Garnet.

    Heckling, by and large, belongs to a previous age when large, politically oriented, crowds could be brought together, for a common purpose, without the need for licenses of one sort or another. Our contemporary world has trained us to be more strategic/smart/conciliatory in achieving critical objectives.

    Heckling is a tradition that belonged to a tradition. Large crowd gatherings tend, now, to be mass, one off, stage managed events. It is hard to imagine, today, how frequent large mass gatherings were for one reason or another during the years prior to the 1980s. Heckling was a part of the physical moment, a freedom. Freedom now is more emotional.

    You might have to revise the notion that "There is a policeman inside our heads" by changing that to "Is there a policeman inside our heads" or "Is there still a policeman inside our heads?".

    Grand narratives have become expedient and self serving so heckling is a part of a process not outside it.

    Political PR has become a super palliative and the modern methods of dealing with heckles far outweigh those of the 1960s.

    You may have to redefine heckling to make the idea work today.

    The acheivements of modern journalism have paradoxically egalitarianised and separated us. We have been separated out into a collective of similar wants and burdens in which 'reality tv' and large financial rewards have expediently replaced politics by fixing our imagined real needs. The big irony here is that Simon Cowell should be interested in utilising politics for a reality tv show. Maybe here there might be a genuine opportunity for heckling as it used to be. Oh sweet irony.

    English (not UK) politics has come to an end in terms of great thought. Politics is now about ideas of managing chaos. Politicians have become corporate managers running UK plc masked by an odd form of identityless democracy. Heckling has become a formal institutionalised emotional attitude as a consequence, variously displayed in controlled broadcast environments. It is very hard to convey just how angry this country was in the years leading up to the transitional 1980s and how vociferous the masses, on many issues, were during this chaotic period. Politics and people were much closer as a physical entity then than now. Parliament is now an industrial fortress barricaded by large concrete blocks. Politicians have moved from civvy street to savvy street. Heckles are more often heard inside Parliament than outside it.

    Modern political antipathy is driven by computer processors. Ironically the result of 1960s subversive American thinking. 60s attitudes towards politics were driven by physical and tactile means. From the Gutenburg Galaxy to the Gatesian Galaxy of social isolation. Who heckles in social isolation?

    In the 60s we aspired to what we now have. But what we now don't have is'nt worth shouting about. (I will stand to be corrected on this point..).What we don't have is only what we are missing from 'our' comforts and joys. But in the 60s we didn't know what we were missing. We had an IDEA about what we were missing. That was worth a shout....The question now is what do 'we' really need to shout about?.

    I think your first thought, that heckling doesn't exist anymore, may in part be true if made as a direct comparison to what went before. However, as with all things human, there is nothing new under the sun; small evolutions and extensions may just reveal that heckling has taken to new forms.

    Finally, it could be argued that heckling has, like the politics of old, come to a natural end. Politicians have retreated from the soapbox to the security of expense accounts while we have retreated into the comforts of personal space, choice and virtual control of our virtual existences. Where once we were a unified mass that had a unified identity and a unified construct to struggle for now we have to be asked by our government what is Britishness? What is our identity? Who are we? Who am I? Who are you? What are you doing here? and so on........

    Derren Brown said he once disabled a personal attack by filling the assailants head with information which confused him and left him immobilised. You can teach old dogs new tricks......Politics is now the heckler and we are now the electorate without ideas.

    Epilogue: There is,now, an apparent lack of genuine political wit and wisdom in English society, something for which we were once renowned. This has been replaced by ridicule. We have become sated by the need to create instant, ill considered reactions to the wants of our seemingly ever faster world. As John Cleese once remarked everywhere you go there is insanity and only pockets of sanity exist. Maybe this blog is an oasis of sanity but one thing surely is clear. If politics is to be reclaimed as a representation of the people a renaissance is due. Whether this will ever happen or not remains to be seen since both sides have now reached an impasse. A resurgence of good heckling may be due.

  • Comment number 17.

    This all rather reminded me of John Major in 1992, when he got his soap box out and made a few speeches in the streets, talking to a few people who could answer him back. The media enjoyed it at the time I seem to recall but very soon they saw the danger of politicians talking to the electorate without their media interface, and soon Major was the *grey man*, ridiculed and vilified as an incompetent ingenue. If you want to know what happened to hecklers you need to recognise that no politician is going to talk to a couple of hundred people in a church hall when he can talk to 20 million on the BBC and not have to deal with the nutters out there. In Cyber-Space, nobody can hear you heckle.
    Has anyone told Mr. Strick that we are to be treated to TV presidential debates this time around? If he wants to know what happend to hecklers, he needs to look at America in about 1963, when Kennedy met Nixon and pretty-boy politics took over. If you are not TV-pretty then the media will soon make you paranoid and we can all see Brown desperately trying to wriggle from the grip of the luvvies in 2010. Fat chance.

  • Comment number 18.


    Part 2 to my post of #15.....
    In the 1980s I worked in the civil service. Being aspirational I was gently nudged one day by a long standing civil service colleague who quietly mentioned that the way to get promotion would be to create a new worthwhile form. This would go well on my record and that was how the game was played. After months of thinking about how I would create a worthwhile fom to fill in I gave up. Ultimately I got promotion by organising a Christmas party. A year later I vacated my new position...

    The apocryphal statement that if you can remember the 60s you weren't there, variously attributed to Unknown, Grace Slick or Paul Kantner does it an injustice.Growing up through the 1960s was a head turning experience. It was a time best exemplified as a colour wheel with odd contrasting and conflicting colours that defied the laws of physics, metaphorically, in all walks and thoughts of life. It was not comfortable but it was as, Ian Macdonald wrote brilliantly in his preface essay to Revolution in the Head: Revolution in the Head.

    How often can one's existence be caught by the captivating experience of change happening in time and the cogniscience to be aware of it. That is really the essence of the madness of the 60s. This is the real problem of trying to describe this time via words. It is an event of itself beyond description. You really had to be there or not!!.
    It was almost like an unburdening of all that had gone before and the belief, if naive, of all that was possible built on the foundations of no more war, no more call ups, beneficial social change, better housing, off the peg clothing, supermarkets, hire purchase, electronic goods, style, popular culture and on and on and on and on....

    A certain type of freedom captured most notably by the Beatles after a swansong from the previous music hall age by Max Miller and most likely begun with a speech by Winston Churchill at Harvard in 1943 who stated that "in the future all empires will be empires of the mind". It could be argued that the Graphic User Interface is the culmination of that prediction.

    The main war had been over for 15 to 20 years and many people who had contributed to the war effort were of an age young enough to remember life before the war but not old enough to make way easily for the next, permissive, generation who were busy carving out the new age. Growing up in West London at the time I remember very palpable references to the war in the physical, material and human presences of the time. It really did seem to be an era still very aligned to something Churchillian at one end of the scale and the cheeky chappy working class humour of Max Miller at the other. It was a veritable melting pot of colliding and expanding barriers between what had been and where 'been' was going.

    The war generation seemed to have a much closer communal identity which might appear naive and ignorant to us today. But this identity was forged in the heavy manufactoring environments that survived until the 1980s and carried with it a common purpose for existence en masse and this seemed to carry through English society in general at the time. Out of these masses would come characters who were not afraid to speak up or speak out because the commonality of political cynicism could be easily represented.

    This period was the final hurrah of English class distinction and identities as we know them historically. As the baton of disord fell from the last hand it was ironically rescued from hitting the ground by the new wave comedians of the early 1980s who commodified the essence of political heckling by turning it back onto the very audiences who were the heirs to their parental disenfranchised recipients of political ideals.

    This was exemplified by two occurrences.

    1) Margaret Thatcher's assertion that there is no such thing as society only individual men and women and families.

    2) The crowd scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

    The former typified the modern preoccupation with New Town nuclear family lifestyle that was to come and the latter, controversially, that the man of the day was no longer that man. He was outmoded, defunct, kaputttt. Over. The old world had been superseeded except that...

    ...the heckler had become the performer who had learned to make a living from our indulgences while the politician began to learn to smile awkwardly, but richer in the process,.....for succeeding in creating a mannered,controlled, forum of debate. The corporate way.....

    Harry Enfield's character Loadsa Money made sense even when it didn't. And with that the curtain of heckling came ignominiously down because nobody got the joke anymore. Just as John Osbourne's play, The Entertainer, portrayed the end of Max Miller and the era of music hall comedy, we waved goodbye, by inadvertantly bringing the curtain down on our own show.

    We, like the politicians, absolved ourselves from the real, physical world of confrontations, to take our seats in a theatrical setting: Our own lives.

    Meanwhile the 'new hecklers' were carving out mainstream lives with mainstream children living in mainstream houses with a mainstream lifestyle.

    This is called English Conservatism with a small 'c'.

    "You say you want a revolution?"....??

  • Comment number 19.

    People do still heckle, there was a great example of it in Liverpool last year at the Hillsborough memorial, a mass event where either a secretary of state or senior minister was given a strong message by the crowd, its probably on youtube somewhere, but this is why they don t put themselves in positions where they are likely to get heckled anymore, it looks bad.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi everyone

    I think the fact that people don't heckle any more is related to people being 'armchair activists' or 'false rebels'. What I mean is that people who would have protested or made the effort to make themselves heard simply vent their anger now on the internet in forums or on blogs.

    Also I agree that most political conferences/ election ect are stage managed. For example, if you want to appear on question time you have to fill out a form explaining your political views. The incident with Walter Wolfgang is actually quite scary- does anyone remember that Russian woman who heckled Putin and was injected with a mysterious substance?

    People think that the internet is effective as a way of protest- drumming up interest virally is viable but with one massive downside- you cannot see anyone protesting on the street, the people are not visible and this makes the public believe that people simply don't care about current affairs.

    Also, does anyone know where I can see Joesph Krick's documentaries on the internet?

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Adam

    Sorry to post two messages in a go but as said in the last message- if anyone knows where I can get hold of his documentaries I would be very grateful- Adam, where is the best place to look for rare news footage, as in the Russian woman who was injected for heckling Putin?
    Sorry to be a pain,

    Thanks

  • Comment number 22.

    I remember a BBC program (A panorama I think, but am not sure)just after the John Major soapbox events where they said that the new generation of politicians, being political students, Lawyers and accountants, rather than Trade union officers and practiced public speakers and organisers would shy away from events where heckling was a possibility as they just weren't used to it.

  • Comment number 23.

    Last general election the BBC made a programme called 'The Heckler' in which 3 genuinely disaffected voters were filmed at political rallies by all three of the major parties, vocalising their political concerns on issues. It was cheeky (not malicious) and even handed but had a serious point in that the contributors felt they couldn't be heard any other way.

    After heckling Michael Howard in Bolton the Conservative Party responded with this alternative version of events in the Daily Telegraph (which was disproved by the recordings the production team had of the event).

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1488545/Tory-fury-as-BBC-sends-hecklers-to-bait-Howard.html

  • Comment number 24.

    I would like to see Adam on Question Time to see whether he would be applauded or heckled.....?

  • Comment number 25.

    If people heckle less than they used to, it may be that they are afraid to do so. Heckling, which was once an accepted and even expected by a politician making a speech, may now be seen as something potentially criminal. The sensitivity of those policing political appearances is higher than ever due to percieved 'terror' threats, to the point that a person who so much as disagrees with a politician, and who vocalises this disagreement could be seen as been a threat of some sort, and may be removed.

    Disturbing footage springs to mind, of Saddam Hussein's detractors, who after heckling him, are taken away, one-by-one, never to return.

    Less disturbing, but in a similar vein is the incident at the University of Florida in 2007, in which a student who had asked an awkward question of Senator John Kerry, was forcibly removed from an auditorium, even whilst Senator Kerry attempts to answer the question. The video footage of some of this incident has been widely circulated on the internet.

    These are extreme examples, and not the norm, but in the case of the latter, unsurprising.

    Of course the fear of being labelled a terror threat will not scare all from heckling, and it may even appeal to some, but that will not change how political events are 'policed'.

  • Comment number 26.

    I heckled Gordon Brown when he appeared at my college a few months ago, I felt slightly embarrassed - as if there wasn't actually a credible reason I could have for doing so.

  • Comment number 27.

    I have found everyone's answers to Adam's question interesting. I can only add the thought that television has possibly played a role in quietening an audience. Heckling has never been allowed from a tv audience.

    Can I leave a request that Mr Strick use the ultimate heckle of recent times: the heckling of the 1998 Queen's Speech by Labour MPs and hereditary peers.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/24/newsid_4007000/4007601.stm

  • Comment number 28.

    I was wondering what Adam or anyone else here thought of the recent capture of the "Second in Command" of the Taleban, along with other high ranking members. It struck like something that is very relevant to the things that have been discussed in Adam's blog. I'll be interested to see what he has to say in future blogs about it, if anything. A decisive blow in the fight for Afghanistan, or something altogether less positive? Capturing them is probably not a bad thing, but I'm not sure how this is going to help Afghanistan solve its problems.

    I also found something unrelated to the Afghanistan discussion, but fascinating nonetheless. It's about the "co-operative" scheme that Labour has experimented with in a few councils and which the Tories plan to expand dramatically if they get into power:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8522105.stm

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/feb/18/john-lewis-easycouncil-local-government

    It's interesting to see government take its cue from business.

  • Comment number 29.

    DerekMc

    More of a limping groan than a boisterous heckle!

  • Comment number 30.

    Look no further than the comments sections of blogs to find the modern equivalent of heckling. I've contributed commentary to blogs around the world (as indeed many others have). Heckling is truly global - no longer confined to the church hall, it endures as shout-outs, either spoken or written, from all around the world. They are berating, insulting, contentious, long-winded and pompous, succinct, well-written or downright insane; whatever the case, politicians may try to seek refuge behind their spin but the globalisation of the heckle has made it impossible for them to hide for long.

  • Comment number 31.

    @StantonCarlisle

    But politicians DO hide themselves from blogging. Blogging is the easiest thing to hide from. Basically, if you don't do it you won't have to look at it. Politicians don't give a damn about internet moaning because it is basically irrevelant; if they want to know what the people "want" they take a look at opinion polls or consult their focus groups. It always amazes me how most bloggers delude themselves into thinking that what they do matters in any way.

  • Comment number 32.

    @Juan Neira

    Yes, of course they can 'hide' themselves from blogging but they also deploy a whole vanguard of bloggers and hecklers (be they genuine or be they 'trolls' or 'sockpuppets' or 'hitandrunners' or 'griefers') to shout 'at the wind' and defend their political position or undermine their opponents, so they cannot be entirely ruling out the power of the digital heckle. Look at the blogs of Guido Fawkes or Ian Dale for classic examples of Conservative bloggers who encourage their digital hecklers and then use them to add momentum to their agendas, especially with the febrile atmosphere of the General Election in the air. Some bloggers and some hecklers matter, some don't. This is true of any political act; it was ever thus. But blogs do get 'reported' about by the national media. And, certainly judging from the hecklers in the documentary, you could equally have written 'Politicians don't give a damn about hecklers because it is basically irrevelant'. The hecklers were ejected, made to look like fools by the more quick-witted of the politicians, or used by the politician to re-emphasise his agenda. But you are missing the point. The heckle, digital or otherwise, creates an 'atmosphere' of chatter, of emotion. One that is reported on. No-one's pretending these forms of engagement are game changers so the criticism of 'deluded' is a redundant one.

  • Comment number 33.

    @StantonCarlisle

    How do you know politicians employ a whole vanguard of bloggers to shout on their behalf? It sounds like conspiracy thinking to me. More likely scenario is that you're encountering bloggers who don't agree with your position and support a particular brand of politician.

    Moreover, blogs are reported on by the media because the expectation today is that the old media elite should listen to the "individual" voice represented by the internet. And there's the fact that some media figures blog, as you yourself note. But I don't think this means bloggers hold any power over the policians; over the media, maybe, but that's because "user made content" is the way old media has chosen to go nowadays.

    Finally, I think you're missing the point of heckling. "Heckling" is the process of harassing a politician in person; wiki defines it as someone who "shouts" a disparaging comment at a public performance or event. The fact that Adam thinks that there's no heckling nowadays indicates that he doesn't count blogging as heckling; which is why he asks for a little help in finding any recent stories involving hecklers. So I don't think that there is such a thing as "digital "heckling", and the "atmosphere" of emtion you describe is to mind one of the more distasteful aspects one of the internet, since it tends to simplify the debate. Groups of bloggers shout at each other over various issues, but no progress is ever made. There's an excellent interview with Adam where he goes on at length about the problem with blogging today. Here it is:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/20/adam_curtis_interview/

  • Comment number 34.

    A 'vanguard' is just a group of people that lead the way in something (in this case a political agenda) so I'm entirely justified in using this noun. Please don't make your point by resorting to insult and slur by tarring me with the epithet of 'conspiracy theorist'.
    Apologies for straying off topic, but the relationship between bloggers and politicians is a fascinating one. Guido Fawkes leaked the notorious email about Labour party election dirty tactics ('smeargate') which ended in one resignation and a public apology from Gordon Brown. He has, understandably, never revealed the insider source for these emails. Guido Fawkes openly 'encourages readers to forward political documents and information, which he publishes on his blog'. Of course the readers don't have to be just members of the public, they can be Members of Parliament. Iain Dale is completely open about his political relationship with Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire. He isn't supporting a 'brand' of politician, he is supporting the politician themselves. These are a perfectly valid and legitimate set of relationships for them to have and I merely use them to illustrate that there are close ties that one needs to be aware of. We're a little behind in the UK in the evolution of our blogosphere. For real blogging action you need to look across the Atlantic. The USA has a very vocal and powerful blogosphere. For a left wing equivalent look no further than Paul Krugman of the NYT. He is constantly heckled - both praised and vilified. Perhaps, ironically, Joseph Strick should now look back to the USA for a modern take on heckling for his documentary and not the UK.
    You make the valid point that the media 'listen to the "individual" voice represented by the internet'. You then add that you 'don't think this means bloggers hold any power over the policians (sic); over the media, maybe'. Yes, that's right. Over the media. Certainly! And you're surely not positing that the media does not then have a commensurate and powerful influence over the political elite and as a consequence its decision making process. Of course it does. Which is why the modern art of heckling in the digital age is such a fascinating one.
    The Wikipedia entry and whoever was responsible for it sounds a bit old school if it thinks of 'public space' as having to be 'flesh & blood' arenas. These days a public space can be digital, indeed is digital more and more these days.

  • Comment number 35.

    @Juan Neira

    I agree with your points, blogging is redundant in effecting any kind of real protestation or making real changes in the real world- However StantonCarlisle is right when (he?) says that politicians and lobby groups use blogs and forums to whip up their agendas and he should not really be called a conspiracy theorist for saying this.

    The problem is not really blogs but forums. Forums are flooded with comments by paid posters to a specific agenda. If you go onto google and type in 'paid bloggers' or 'forum posters' you will see many jobs.

    It is reported that in China (not comparing UK to China in any way) that thousands of people are paid to disseminate disinformation on forums. Forums are more effective as to the average internet browser it can give the illusion of general opinions- whilst blogs usually outline their agenda, no matter how veiled and are updated on a regular basis.

    To counter this argument another reason why forums and blogs could be dangerous(?) is that they are anonymous. No-one really knows what the blogger's agenda is, where their research is done and what influences their blogging- therefore if a blogger goes viral with a rumour ect there is no accountability- no-one is responsible in the real world.

    However, forum posting or blogging is NOT hecking. As Juan writes, is it not physical and in no way can replace millions of people on the streets protesting. But heckling can also be contrived, as in the town halls of America where heckling on healthcare reform was orchestrated by Fox news and the Republicans by bussing in 'ordinary' people to heckle the Democrats.

    Is heckling now orchestrated? Ordinary people heckling, as stated in other posts, can't happen because of the PR management of political events.





  • Comment number 36.

    What a fascinating film.

    Heckling is very often a premeditated act as is clearly visible in the film, one of Wilsons retorts suggests that there was a group of Tory activists who were following him around the country with a deliberate strategy to disrupt (or rather to sow the seeds of doubt) at his meetings. I do not see any problem with this and it is an example of the democratic system operating. This I think runs parallel to blogging and a politicians casting a net of supporters around them online. I do not think that this is a new form of activism that is in anyway underhand or sinister.

    However, blogging in itself has a vital difference to that of heckling and it is related to the above. A heckle, well placed or well argued can show very quickly the true character, political leaning and ability of a politician, whilst a blog response or a forum post can be nurtured and moulded, it can be rewritten or even worked over by the party machine to ensure it is perfect and conveys only the image of the politician.

    Parties as an organisation recognise that it is the individual politicians characters and image that it is vital to maintain and therefore seek to reduce the risk of damage. I want to avoid treading ground that others have said about the stage managed nature of the party conference, it is very valid and the point has been well made.

    My further question/idea to throw into the mixer. The rise of Robin Day and now the likes of Paxman is interesting. They could be seen as a distilled and potent form of heckling, appearing as tv developed so did this distillation. They have a similar purpose in mind as the heckler, that of finding holes and weaknesses in the arguments of politicians and to trip them up and trap them. The people no longer find it in themselves to actively question those they elect because someone else is doing it for them?


    I used to heckle until I was searched by a police officer whilst shouting at John Prescott in Durham. Prescott was a man more than capable of standing up to heckles but the police were interested to explore the idea that pointless searches and harassment were an effective way of silencing a potential dissenter. It did not make me feel particularly warm inside.

  • Comment number 37.

    Justin Argent wrote-

    .'....deliberate strategy to disrupt (or rather to sow the seeds of doubt) at his meetings. I do not see any problem with this and it is an example of the democratic system operating. This I think runs parallel to blogging and a politicians casting a net of supporters around them online. I do not think that this is a new form of activism that is in anyway underhand or sinister.'

    Hi

    I think it is very underhand and sinister and does definitely undermine the democratic process- because it is using propaganda in an orchestrated way to persuade the public under false allusions.

  • Comment number 38.

    Hi porkpie

    I am not sure if you are referring to the pre-arrangement of heckling or the use of supporters running parallel blogs.

    In both cases you are correct to suggest that it is using propaganda in an orchestrated way. Both though are in response to propaganda which is considerably more orchestrated.

    In the case of heckling would it be reasonable to suggest said of the speech and the large numbers of people cheering the politician? Heckling is a response to this, it was particularly fascinating to watch both Wilson and Heath invite the hecklers forth and to treat them like people, it pacified them and made them feel their voice was honestly being heard.

    The use of supporters to spread political messages is far from new, in order for a political belief or idea to become an actuality it needs to become a movement of many minds. In order for this there has to be cohesion and focus within a party. For this to be the case there has to be "preachers" who repeat or reinforce the word or idea of the leader.
    There is a need to balance this with freedom of thought and speech, ideas should not be crushed under the need to be of one voice but nothing would happen without messages coming from more than one source.

    There are claims of naivety, that people do not recognise the supporter from the random individual. It really aught to be the issue that is debated or agreed about not the source of the information.

  • Comment number 39.

    sorry last comment was a bit mistyped, it should have read
    In the case of heckling, would it be reasonable to suggest that the speech and people cheering the politician is organised propoganda.

  • Comment number 40.

    Hi Justin,

    I was talking about the heckling of healthcare reform in the US.You're right in that this is nothing new but in recent years it has become much more aggressive- pushing the ordinary heckler out if the picture. The ordinary heckler cannot be allowed to express a spontaneous view- it would not fit with the pre-conceived programme.

    The source of the information/ disinformation needs to be addressed i.e. the paper trail needs to be investigated to its root source because otherwise politically naive people will be sucked into an ideal without transparent reasons- creating a false belief in the 'hecklers' at political meetings.

    Interestingly, when the panel on Question Time were questioned on MPs expenses months ago it was seen as 'explosive' because the audience were slightly louder than usual. However, you could see the audience clearly wanting to heckle but they were hesitant. Years ago people would have jumped at the chance to heckle politicians on camera. Maybe this is because people can become famous for 15 minutes and they know that if they heckle there is good chance they themselves will be in the public eye?

    If I was in a room with Gordon Brown and there were TV cameras I would not heckle because I would be too afraid in case either

    1} I got chucked out
    2) I were arrested through the terrorism act
    3} I had my face plastered on the evening news

    Sad I know




  • Comment number 41.

    @Porkpie

    Point taken abou my conspiracy theorist accusation, apologies to Stanton Carlisle if I offended him in some way. I think you're right in pointing out the fact that these bullying tactis are used by political groups; I think China is a special case though, considering how repressive it is in comparison to western style democracies. I probably dismissed Carlisle's suggestion because I don't think I've witnessed that kind of tactic used in places I frequent, but I think that's because I tend to hang around forums for TV programs and lightwieght stuff like that. Sutff like that probably goes on in the more politically active sections of the internet, but there's no way I'm going to one of those places to find out. ;)

    And I agree with you in seeing political blogging as not being an entirely positive thing. The other thing about political blogging is that it's so content-free; it doesn't create any new information about the real world in the wy that old style journalism did, so it instead leeches its info from other, more official sources. I think this contributes to a rather stilted form of debate because, essentially, nothing new is being said. This is a point Adam has done, and much better than I have. :D

    Anyway, I've found a couple of interest links which may interested Curtis here (and maybe the Big Man himself). Here's an excellent lecture on Facebook and a new breed of videogames by a quirky chap in DICE:

    http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/702668/DICE-2010-Video-Design-Outside-The-Box.html

    The stuff about getting experience points for living life, basically, may not be to everyone's taste, but he makes a point about the search for "authencity" that absolutely nails it for me and is qite close to some of themese Mr. Curtis has explored; The Trap in particular.

    And something about Afghanistan...

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8524137.stm

    ...which I found eerily reminiscent of the kind of technocratic project that was carried out in places like Vietnam.

  • Comment number 42.

    i heckle, its the only way to get what you want.

    its just representative democracy. without the old school 'athenian' style of doing things. we just have to lob a few eggs and call them names to get our message across.

  • Comment number 43.

    Hi Juan

    Thanks for the really fantastic and amazing link about video games. He hit the nail on the head every time. It goes back to the first post I put on this forum- that people are now protesting on the internet because they can't be bothered- or believe it is less viable- than protesting out on the street- what I like to call 'armchair protesters'

    I think what is really interesting is that technology is essentially telling us what to do i.e. you drive your car this way and you get a reward, you vote on a TV show this way you get a reward, you behave in a way that the advertisers want and the advertisers will pat you on the head for behaving correctly- you get a reward.

    Yes, we are living our lives now through the internet. But what is so ironic is that all the interactivity through the net and online games is actually making us more isolated- we believe that we are more connected but we don't even leave our living rooms.

    Guitar Hero is the worst- instead of actually learning to play the guitar we pretend to play it. We are all pretending- because it is easier, less messy and above all- very important point- we can never feel rejected or feel that we cannot achieve.

    Lets say that I am crap on a guitar- but my friend is great on one. I feel inadequate compared to him- but it doesn't matter because I can play Guitar Hero and play excellent- and can talk all night about how I got to level 5 and how good I am on a guitar- avoiding the fact that I am musically crap.

    We aren't really rejected by politicians, we have blogs and forums after all.

    Now, if everyone can be included in a world of interactivity we can all just pretend to be someone and have opinions- instead of actually being someone and actually having any real opinions. We don't open our mouths to protest any more, we just type our opinions in REALLY LOUD LETTERS.

    I think this is really about feeling that we cannot be rejected- we can anyone we want to be.

    If you have to pretend to be someone your not, either through the internet or on Guitar Hero to avoid rejection by society, well so be it.

    Sorry for the long post










  • Comment number 44.

    @Porpie

    Glad you enjoyed the link. I just wish I had proof read my post before I hit "Post Comment".... :/

    In other news, the details for the upcoming series of televised debates between party leaders has been released:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/02/details-leaders-election-debates

    Does anyone think we will see heckling at these events? Seems highly unlikely considering how strict the guidelines, but it would be nice nonetheless...

  • Comment number 45.

  • Comment number 46.

    Who are the main speakers shown? I think I know some of them, e.g. Ted Heath at 9 mins 30 secs, Harold Wilson at 8:10, ... Who, especially, is the one with the impressive moustache (11:40)?

  • Comment number 47.

    Hi Chris

    His name was Gerald Nabaroo.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Nabarro

  • Comment number 48.

    The act of political heckling is an act similar to the heckling at sports or comics; it is a secular release of tension that firmly binds the participant socially with the actor. In the religious realm, this desire was formally abdicated into liturgical worship. In the political arena, it acts as pressure valve for the always-present bubble of peripheral revolutionary impulses that are historically fueled by anger at real or perceived notions of inequality.

    Compared to the heckling of the sports team, lustily booed by the opposition, or the comic, whose quick wit deflects and incorporates heckling into the performance itself, heckling at political action is presently inculcated into the domestic (private) sphere.


    This is due to the fact that public heckling has been replaced by private heckling at technological devices instead of public action. These devices are the result of the dreams of those in the film who measure progress in terms of subjective technological sophistication rather than objective results.

    Today public political heckling is largely practiced within the safe confines of the private domestic setting or the small crowd at a bar, etc. The social realm has made a clear shift from public participation to the private realm over the last half century. Still, political heckling, overt or inward, serves an important function that marries the will of the elite with the subject.

  • Comment number 49.

    I think there are relatively few objective opportunities for a heckler to heckle.
    Those persons who may have access enough to heckle a politician are most likley bound by the constraints of professional conduct not to indulge themselves.
    Those persons who by chance have access enough to heckle a politician most probably are not permitted to be near the politician, and likley to get arrested if they were to push it any further.
    The latter group would probably never get through the inner ring of the first group if a legitimate chance to heckle ever arose.

  • Comment number 50.

    This is not a polite social change, it is totalitarian control. Now you are screened and scanned, patted down and shoe-less to protect our safety at political meetings. Despite that when an 80+ year old says 'rubbish' to Jack straw (a convenient Jew), the old man is dragged out like trash. Walter Wolfgang the old man is a survivor of the death camps, a man who really has fought for freedom, but the Straw man had him beaten. Can we be polite? Do we even have pitch forks now? Even the Newspeak is too much if you are not equal enough. The sham democracy you have swallowed doesn't even make you gag.

  • Comment number 51.

    What a fascinating little film. While I'm not sure if there's still heckling today - and how the recent economnic collapse will effect it - I think the way the media portrays it (or, more precisely, doesn't) and the way the population percieves it is tied into two interrelated factors.

    First of all, as you point out at the end of the post the rise of individualism has greatly effected political debate. I think that one thing that accounts for this rise is the increasing pressure to conform to the group in modern society. Because group-mentality has become increasingly powerful since the 60s many people have tried to counteract this by closing themselves in from the world and taking little interest in what is going on outside. A lot of emotion is needed to heckle and if those emotions are narcissistically driven inwards there'll be very little left to expend on just about anything occuring in the external world.

    This brings me to my next point. The rise of group-think makes representing any sort of conflict in the media more difficult - if this conflict happens at all. Today people are far more submissive to groups than they were at the time this film was shot. Many people have lost the confidence neccesary to stand up and speak at all - let alone actively criticise the speaker. Someone rightly pointed out above that during one of the scuffles people could be seen laughing. Today if a scuffle broke out people would be terrified - you'd see them glancing around looking for the approaching security guard, hoping he gets there soon to stop the violence.

    I think we have become a society far more submissive and reliant on clear order/orders (you could probably also tie in the rise of crime reporting in the media to this as well - didn't one sociologist also claim that this was the reason for the rise in detective literature in the emerging white-collar classes at the turn of the 20th century?).

    Anyway, great film - keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 52.

    Gordon Brown was heckled when he gave a pretty good speech to Citizen's UK on May the 3rd. The heckler appears around 7 and half minutes into the video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BA2Jz7xIXw

    That's the only example of heckling I've seen in this election; I don't think the "Duffy" fiasco counts. I've become a great admirer of Joseph Strick, but I'm unsure as to how he could possibly make a sequel to "The Hecklers" with such scarce material. The modern heckler is but a shadow of a bygone age; the one that appears in the video is some kind of nut, and doesn't really do justice to the great back and forth heckler that developed between politicians and the people as show in your blog.

  • Comment number 53.

    Does the British parliament keep a count of how often MPs heckle?

    We Germans do - and every few years you can read the statistics in the news. This is a fairly accepted (and enjoyed) custom, but if you believe the papers, the quality has been declining since at least 1984, or even further back when old ex-communist Herbert Wehner and a buddy MP first threw their collegue, ex-Nazi Wolfgang Hedler through a glass door and then kicked him out of the parliament building altogether, back in 1950.

    "Normal" people who heckle nowadays aren't regarded with friendly eyes, and maybe they never were - they're labelled as troublemakers, and only talented orators like Joschka Fischer (Green Party, foreign minister during the Kosovo war) dare, or bother to take them on. And it goes something like this (in 2005):

    Man: shouts something about "Hartz IV", Germany's social benefit program for the long-term unemployed.

    Fischer: You'll get Hartz twelve from Monday on, if you don't watch out how you vote on Sunday.

    (merriment in the audience)

 

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