Although Britain has an established church, few of us today pay it much mind. We follow an even more powerful religion, around which we have oriented our lives: economics. Think about it. Economics offers a comprehensive doctrine with a moral code promising adherents salvation in this world; an ideology so compelling that the faithful remake whole societies to conform to its demands. It has its gnostics, mystics and magicians who conjure money out of thin air, using spells such as “derivative” or “structured investment vehicle”. And, like the old religions it has displaced, it has its prophets, reformists, moralists and above all, its high priests who uphold orthodoxy in the face of heresy.
The term “neoliberalism” refers to various things, but is perhaps best understood with reference to an intellectual and political movement that sought to reinvent liberalism in a twentieth-century capitalist context. This context differed from that of Victorian liberalism in various ways, but especially in terms of the scale of bureaucratic centralization in both business and government. Intellectually it began in the 1930s, gathered momentum via think tanks and academic exchange in the post-war period, and then attained a grip on governments and multilateral institutions from the 1970s onwards. The contrast between this “neo” liberalism and its political and economic forebears can best be understood in terms of three distinctions.
So about nine months ago, I turned the screenplay into a treatment for a six-part TV series, broadening its scope to include fictional and historical figures of the Regency period. Currently represented by the largest talent agency in Europe, the treatment is making its rounds of studios, eliciting both enthusiasm as well as regretful demurrals because of prior commitments. Nothing unusual about this, but this time something new had been added to the mix. As one well-known producer put it, the fact that neither the director nor the writer is black is “a huge red flag.” People in the industry, he said, are going to be wary of green-lighting the project.
Yes, it’s true, I am engaged in “cultural appropriation,” which, according to some moral custodians, makes it both unseemly and illegitimate for a Caucasian, however well meaning, to depict a person of color. I, quite literally, don’t have the bloodlines to portray Tom Molineaux, at least not in a creative or fictional format. As it happens, I wrote about Molineaux for The New Yorker in 1998 on publication of Black Ajax, a sly and rambunctious novel by George MacDonald Fraser. Relying on reports by the British press, Fraser presented Molineaux as a brutish simpleton with occasional flashes of insight, whose bad attitude and outrageous behavior are documented by multiple narrators. My screenplay and treatment take a very different tack, and my Molineaux is nothing like Fraser’s. Nonetheless I am guilty of putting thoughts into his head and writing dialogue for black people.