Sunday 10 February 2013

On Swansea City and England

I wish there could be an English Swansea City - a club simultaneously rooted in its community and traditions, outside the control of plutocrats and conscious of football in the fullest global and European senses.  I wish nothing more in the world.  All these things are what I wish for England; they are deep within its history, theoretically possible, never entirely buried.  But I keep fearing there cannot be such a club here, and perhaps never could have been at least in any world that actually did exist (though there could have been had the 1980s and beyond been as Bernard Nossiter envisaged them in 1978), that there is something too profound, something too deep-rooted in our history that prevents it.

There never was proper democratic ownership of English clubs as still exists in Germany, of course, and never could have been outside that hidden path where we meet ourselves coming back, that road not taken.  There never could have been because of the strength and power of the essentially feudal class system in England.  While that system remained essentially unreformed and undefeated, whether by socialism or deregulated capitalism, all that could ever replace it was its modern successor, the repackaged feudalism of plutocracy.  And so it has been; English football went, as we know, straight from aldermen to billionaires - the feudalism of one world to the feudalism of another - without an intervening period of democracy.  It went that way because of England itself, despite, not because of, all the many extraordinary manifestations of creativity that England can take such pride in, but still because of, and not despite, the essential foundation stones of its society, where the new form of feudalism was allowed to take command just when the old one seemed to be on the rack and crumbling.

Germany has obviously not been a freakishly stable state with a moment such as 1066 defining all that followed, and 1066 is certainly not the foundation stone of Welsh national identity and social relations today; the Norman invasion was much slower and more haphazard and was much more seriously resisted.  This is not, I think, a coincidence.  Swansea City can remain locally-owned, with their supporters having a share, and the great clubs of Germany can remain under the control of their supporters, because localism can be democratic in places where 1066 isn't a defining moment (this isn't "Norman yoke" English nationalism, just historical honesty).  In places where it is the defining moment, localism can - I fear - only ever be what it was in pre-Hillsborough, pre-Sky English football, a front for outrageous divisions between the clubs' owners and their actual fans, with the latter treated as wholly different and inferior species without any concern for their livelihoods or even their lives. In Wales, without such a deep feudal division between ruling class and mass, it is that much easier for a club to be locally rooted without exploiting, dividing and conquering its fans, because the fans were always much more part of the same culture and the same world as the bosses, the latter much likely to have risen from the ranks of the former (as Swansea's chairman did, and as many old-school English football chairmen never did).

You realise, based on this, why so many English people - myself included in many of my previous posts here and elsewhere - consider the products of plutocracy to be almost, accidentally, progressive in context and by comparison.  You realise why so many fewer Scots - and, I would suspect albeit in the current absence of relevant sales statistics, Welsh people - want Frank Ocean or Disclosure (note that I am not suggesting for one moment that either of these acts represent Cowellite plutocracy - they are in fact as far as pop gets from it - I am simply pointing out that they are for me and for much of the English Left, along with Motown, a kind of surrogate socialism of desperation).  They don't want them because they don't need them; their ancestral culture is not tainted by feudalism to the point where they have to look beyond for anything progressive.  I need Frank Ocean and Disclosure like I need oxygen because all I can get from my physical environment is feudalism.  English clubs, in some ways, need plutocracy because they could only otherwise be governed by something even worse; small-town feudalism and institutionalised classism against their own fans, as indeed they were for a century. Their environment simply does not contain the potential for a democratic club, combining roots with a sense of 21st Century Europe, such as Swansea City are.  When Richard Scudamore, of all people, describes Swansea's management as ideal, he must be ruefully aware of this; he must know the aspects of English history which prevent it from happening here, the aspects which for 40 years have driven the English Left into being pro-Murdoch by default out of a sense of common enemies, a corner we cannot get out of in the way that Swansea can.

The other aspects which separate Swansea from the norms of English football are also culturally specific; the club's sense of stability, of slow advance and long-term, uninterrupted endeavour, has to do with the fact that the national myth of the buccaneer, the individual who cares neither for the past nor the future, is simply not embedded in Wales (or indeed Scotland) in the way it is in England.  There is much more valuing of order within a gentler capitalism, in part because the idea of "knowing your place" is much less tainted in Wales and Scotland because it can have a progressive meaning, a meaning that can assert working-class pride and openness to the wider world rather than simply being about subservience to a ruling class that hates you - the desire for the internal rules of capitalism to be torn down, as they have been in England in my lifetime, was less potent because localism, maybe even a slight cosiness, could actually be socialist and reasonably equal.  There is a sense in which England's immense creativity in popular culture is born out of that national sense of the buccaneer, the people who gave us everything from Motown to grime, that the short-term culture that has isolated English football is born out of the exact same criteria that make England exciting in other fields, that the mass ownership by plutocrats has the same roots (however much of a perversion it has become) as the internationalism that make England's popular culture so fresh and stimulating - that, in short, for there to be an English Swansea City, rather than merely a succession of paler and paler imitations of Tony Pulis's BNP FC, England would have to become less exciting and stimulating in some other fields.

There is this niggling, ongoing sense that English football culture is narrow because broader English popular culture is exciting - not least because the latter's instinctive, elemental ties are mainly to the non-football world, which puts English football, as a part of English popular culture, in a deeply problematic position without even intending or wanting or choosing to be.  Swansea's outstanding absorption and development of the Spanish-style passing game, their bypassing the usual Sun-friendly list of Big Names and having the sheer chutzpah to get Michael Laudrup to a club that spent most of his playing career routinely drawing 0-0 with a Mansfield or a Rotherham, their sense of ambition and desire to escape the norms of their environment, to not have to do everything through the great power next door but to make their own alliances and their own friendships and their own alignments, has to do with an instinctive political desire to separate themselves from the Anglosphere, to exist outside the domain of England-as-seafaring-global-trader.

Politically, the latter idea - driving force not only for Cameron but for people, almost unbelievably, far worse - is simply poison, socially terrifying and economically suicidal (which is why the CBI types that the Tory Right desperately wish could support it mostly don't, much to the headbangers' impotent infuriation).  In terms of popular culture, though, it is still - despite everything - a force for inspiration, just when you don't want it to be.  There is much to be admired, socially and politically, about the greater European consciousness of many Welsh and Scottish people (could David McAllister becoming Chancellor of Germany be the moment of serendipity that Scotland still hasn't quite reached, the moment it all falls into place, and finally freezes out any chance of England being what I myself am, against my will, a reason why it cannot be?).  In terms of football it is, as we know, obviously the only way.  But if pretty much everyone in England who understands football knows intellectually that it is the only way, is there something deep emotionally within us - within our popular culture and our working-class consciousness - that stops our football taking that path?  If we accept that football can never be divorced from the context of wider popular culture within the working-class consciousness, we can then recognise that high and low, posh and pop, have been less historically divided in Scotland and Wales and that this in itself may lead to a more mature understanding of football - where a European consciousness is not identified, in that very English way, with "toffs in the Albert Hall" and thus with class treason - that history denies the English.

And maybe this is the reason why there is still a moment when Avicii or Swedish House Mafia aren't quite enough, when that serendipity and social perfection feels like an imperfect evocation of the human condition and specifically of the problem of England.  There is a moment that hits you, just when you wish it didn't, when this almost unimaginably idyllic social democracy of pop (that is what "Don't You Worry Child" is, like nothing in my lifetime), feels incomplete.  You want it to be all you need - and maybe it would be all I needed if I were Scottish or Welsh - but eating away at you is a sense that it isn't, that the aggression and brutality and disregard for all established sensibilities of Anglo-Saxon capitalism, that which has conquered English football with the rest of English popular culture, is somehow necessary too.  And you hate yourself for it.  You wish that "Levels" - shimmering and untouched as if that were not suspicious - was all the pop you needed to be emotionally whole, and that Swansea City could have happened on your own doorstep, with equal and simultaneous longing and sadness.  And you realise anew that, just as the IBA and Sky are different from and alien to each other in every conceivable way other than both being different forms of non-democracy, neither paternalism nor plutocracy representing "the people" in the way the Dutch broadcasting system has been able to do, English football - in terms of its actual ownership and control - never really was "the people's game", that it can only be so in Wales because it is only there, and in Scotland, that "the people" in the sense the Mirror was going forward with, as opposed to "the people" The Sun was going forward with when it first purloined that slogan, have ever really been sufficiently socially cohesive and dominant to run a significant institution.

And yet there are still moments when I wonder if everything I've written above is a lie, a desperate attempt by an English Leftist marooned in the worst, the least historically promising part of England to live second-hand, just as I might in other moods live second-hand through urban pop.  When Swansea fans sing "oh England is full of shit", they can't all really be saying "England is full of plutocrats and Cameronites and Europhobes".  Some of them must, I know, be saying "England is full of spongers and blacks and Asians". When a Swansea fan shouts racist abuse at a Norwich player, I don't invoke post-colonialism to say it is somehow more acceptable than if it were the other way round (and they must surely be two of the whitest cities to have ever had Premier League teams); I actually find it much worse, because in my position - and shoot this down as delusional romanticism by any means - you expect so much more, in terms of openness and tolerance, from those who see themselves as socialistic and European-minded from those who loudly and aggressively do not.

And yet I know that much of the history of Old Labour is a necessary corrective if your vision of the working class is simply as an anti-racist (let alone "anti-imperialist") vanguard, and I know all too well how much the culture of post-industrial areas has changed and how rapidly the tradition of the autodidact, the self-taught working-class intellectual, has been eroded; the change between the Manics and Stereophonics or Lostprophets, barely a flick of the eyelid apart in age, is so vast and so total that it might in other times have required an entire human lifetime to take effect (I always thought this was a factor in Noel Gallagher having, however buried and however perverted by parochialism and fear, some kind of working-class consciousness that his brother completely lacks; his anger at Liam dedicating "Live Forever" to Diana Spencer was surely, somewhere within, a sign of Noel's having been that much older during the Winter of Discontent and the miners' strike, and indeed the political use of her wedding).  I do not, of course, pretend that Swansea City and their fanbase are unaffected by this.  But I still think they have something very good and very necessary happening there, and it still breaks my heart that the weight of history prevents it from happening here.

I don't want Scottish independence to happen because of pure selfishness and self-interest from my position as a socio-political outcast in my geographical environment.  Unlike many of those in England whose politics are based around selfishness and self-interest (and who often, perversely and paradoxically, also oppose Scottish independence when they, unlike me, stand massively to gain from it), I'm honest enough to admit that.  But it still fills me with shame.  So does only feeling able to live through others, those born to things I wasn't.  But honesty still feels to me like the only way, especially when filtered through with sadness and melancholy.  Hopefully I've shown it here.  Hopefully I've told the truth.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

The sociology of names

When two EDL-supporting brothers, born in the 1970s, broke away from the route of a march through the Medway towns and attacked staff in a kebab shop simply for "looking a bit different" - so much for the EDL being any kind of allies of convenience for the anti-Islamist Left - many would have responded to the fact that they were called Wayne and Darren by saying, effectively, "what do you expect"? Many would feel the same way about the fact that two of the people on my patch who have most rapidly sunk into a morass of drink and drug abuse - seemingly waiting for death decades early - are called Jason and Wayne.  The complete social discrediting of these names, to the point where nobody would dream of giving them now, tells a significant story about the descent of large parts of a particular generation of a particular social class from the unending social advances and opportunities that their parents envisaged for them when they were born to the morass of isolation and decay that they have fallen into since.

Popular given names always reflect whatever other place and time is being romanticised at the time they are given; the current immense popularity of Jack, Harry, Alfie and Charlie reflects a certain romanticisation of a largely imaginary past England, the street urchin and the Cockney wideboy as preferable to the "feral" "chav".  By the same token, the popularity of Wayne, Darren, Lee etc. for the working class at a particular moment in history (Jason's origins are of course quite different, but it came to be of the same ilk) reflects the romance and excitement of American affluence and prosperity for parents who had lived through great hardships as children, the idea that once you had your own home (a concept then - crucially, and crucially different from my own lifetime - still couched in socialist terms in Britain) and your own consumer durables nothing was beyond you.  I don't think they ever became quite so popular in Scotland, where William seems to have held up better during its wilderness years in England and Brian seems to have lasted longer, but impossible as this is even to imagine now, Wayne and Darren were aspirational names for the English working class in the 1960s, a sign not that you could never go anywhere but that you were going somewhere, away from the slums and, indeed, the Jacks, Harrys, Alfies etc.

This is the context in which they make sense - which, unfortunately, only exists in many people's minds today as a prelude to the context in which their pariah status makes sense.  When the names were most commonly given, the underclass into which so many of their bearers have sunk didn't yet exist, and would have seemed hard to imagine. Their parents could only foresee decades of advancing opportunities and freedoms for their children; there would have been no assumption that anyone would ever find the idea of university graduates with those names funny.  By 1974, of course, the working class's hopes for its future role in society would have outstripped even that; many honestly believed that, by now, they would be in command, would have taken over the very top table.  The idea that names that betrayed a child of the working class in the 1960s or 1970s would be, in themselves, almost a badge of shame to live down would have been impossible for their parents to grasp.

There is much more to be said about this stuff - about the very fact of Lee Hall's given name, in the context of the consumerist aspirations of much of the working class at the time of his birth in 1966, arguably undermining his view that it was purely Thatcherism and Thatcherism alone that destroyed the old working-class culture, about the fact of Alex Ferguson's sons being called Jason and Darren strengthening the point I made here some time ago about his delusionary concepts of the BBC as permanently Reithian and Sky as "anti-establishment" "rebels".  But I think it should be made clear that the discrediting of these names isn't simply a naming trend in isolation; it runs in parallel with the discrediting of the dreams that sustained the working class in this country for the two decades after Suez and Hungary, both the dream of America and the dream of social emancipation here (both underlying subtexts in much of Then Play Long, rendered explicit in a piece like this).  No dreams, as yet, have adequately replaced them.

Friday 14 December 2012

Why Weymouth and Portland Borough Council hate and fear the people they purport to represent

The explicitly anti-internet rhetoric in said council's Christmas freesheet is all too typical of a basic distrust of the people whose interests it is supposed to defend.  This is not coincidental or dreamt up overnight; this is a basic condition of the very existence of that kind of shire elite.  As has been discussed at length here before, the self-image of these people is built on a fraudulent assumption that global capitalism isn't really happening to them, and any acknowledgement of the fact that it very much is would destroy the central delusion of their lives, their unearned sense of specialness and difference.  The admission of how similar their lives actually are to those of people in cities would be too much for them to bear, because their belief that they're Not Like That - that they have escaped what is in fact carried on the very air and in the very fabric of the economic system that sustains them - is the foundation stone of their existence.

But now it has become blatantly obvious that most people round here actually very much like global capitalism and are not ashamed of the fact - they are quite happy to play its games and have their lives defined by its major players, and somewhere like this, without a meaningful socialist tradition, who can blame them?  You have a straight choice here between global capitalism at its most deregulated in living memory and Rotarian parochialism, "the club tie and the firm handshake" - and faced with such a choice, Marx knew well that the former is infinitely more progressive.  And this is where the local elite's anger and paranoia comes in.  Knowing that what it thinks the area is has nothing to do with how most of its people choose to live, it resorts to coercion and emotional blackmail - saying "forget the internet" is really saying "forget global capitalism", but it's being said by people who read newspapers and vote for or represent parties which regard even the 1945-79 British model as akin to communism. So they go on, pretending that they exist somehow outside global capitalism when in fact they need it simply to eat and sleep and breathe, and all they can offer makes tax-dodging monoliths seem like the most open and free-thinking things in the world.  Look at that freesheet and you know in five seconds why so many socialists use Amazon, just as you could look at a meeting of the same council in 1967 and know in five seconds why so many socialists supported a singer and a set of entrepreneurs whose politics were, pace Rees-Mogg, "straight John Stuart Mill".

If an area such as this cannot find an identity for itself which doesn't involve attacking any kind of broader interrelationship or affinity with the socially "unsafe", can it blame itself if so many choose to isolate themselves from it?  If people like me are told that we don't really belong round here because our interests and aspirations are global, it is hardly surprising that our response will be mutual; in saying we don't belong we are, in fact, merely agreeing with our masters.  If a culture has to define itself by what it is not, and lacks the self-confidence and self-assurance to survive solely by what it is - if it has to stress the negative so as to strengthen any kind of positive - then it must be waiting for death.  It's a sign of profound weakness and insecurity that it cannot simply be proud of what it is, that it has to attack and denounce everyone else.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Getting things wrong so you can get them right

Twelve and a half years ago (I hope that it's not still online and I certainly wouldn't link if it is), I wrote some essentially meaningless and vaguely positive words - on a website that at the time was greatly inspiring and changing the way I saw music and the world - about a really bad and embarrassing 1978-ish Jethro Tull live album.  And I may never forget it.  The memory of everything about it makes me shudder to this day.  The moment it appeared I knew I'd made a grave mistake.  But now - at last - I know why I did it.

At that moment, certainly for someone like me who'd grown up entirely in that time and had latterly been ensconced almost entirely in the NME-led world, anything to do with progressive rock or folk-rock, let alone both, still residually wasn't - certainly hadn't been at all until very recently - allowed, to the point where even the bad stuff had a misleading exoticism about it (actually, even that isn't the main reason I listened to the songs and wrote the piece; that was personal, and I have no intention of writing about any of it here).  We forget now just how powerful the NME consensus was in the twenty years after punk, how much power one set of ideas and one set of gatekeepers could have in one fairly closed-off country (on the Momus newsgroup in 1999, I was astonished that a Swedish contributor could like both Yes and bands who were part of that consensus, little realising that in the US and continental Europe it had long been commonplace), and how much music that is now accepted in the canon was seen as politically suspect, even vaguely fascist (case in point: I only discovered recently the folk-song origins of Saint Etienne's "Like a Motorway"; further case in point, the folk-influenced stuff that is right at the top of the pop charts now that is politically suspect and even vaguely fascist would have been beyond anyone's imagination in the long-shadows-on-county-grounds age). Accordingly, that lack of understanding produced an inability to tell the good from the bad.

The internet was a very, very long way from what it is now, and not having heard it from older relatives, I'd still barely heard any of the actual music, just knew about it as a vaguely untouchable piece of the past (I don't think I'd even used Napster yet; I was still on mp3 newsgroup trawling and I hadn't done much of that).  We were at such an early stage of assessing the prog and folk-rock legacies - and, arguably, what had happened in and to Britain from 1964-79 (which those genres feel fully part of in a way that the most blatantly proto-Blairite bands, the Frees and Zeps and Purples, somehow and probably misleadingly do not) behind the obvious headlines of devaluation and strikes and emergent monetarism - that it was inevitable that some bad stuff would have excuses made for it on the way.  It was an inevitable error on the path to true understanding, a piece of collateral damage that comes with something seeming so weirdly new, after being so forbidden for so long, that it is impossible to fully grasp, as yet, where it went right and where it went wrong.

At this point I cannot help but think - and this is not meant to be any kind of emotional or sensationalist comparison - of the well-documented way some on the British Left once defended the Paedophile Information Exchange.  It is clear to me, in the context of the time, why Harriet Harman et al took the stance they did; at a time considerably closer to the pre-1960s world than it is to 2012, we were at a much earlier stage of understanding which things previously considered abhorrent really were abhorrent and which weren't.  We were at a much earlier stage of telling unjustified prejudice and superstition from justified disgust and revulsion. Repulsed as they rightly were by the way so many people in that older society had made an instant moral equation between homosexuality and paedophilia, seen them as on the same level and all gay men as potential paedophiles (and, often, that only gay men were potential paedophiles, hence why so much abuse of girls might have fallen through the net more easily and taken longer to come out), they assumed that if those instant reactions to homosexuality could rightly be seen as unfounded prejudice, then so must similar reactions to paedophilia, that if the old world had been wrong on the one count then it must also have been wrong on the other.  Millions of people, especially outside the major cities, were still at least half in that world, so - however horrible and misjudged - it is perhaps inevitable that such a false equation would have been made on the Left; we simply weren't far enough out of the old world to be able to tell the difference yet.

It is probably inevitable that such false equations - misguidedly defending the indefensible out of blanket opposition to older prejudices - will be made while those older prejudices are still being shaken off and we can't really understand them yet.  It's probably inevitable in every field and every walk of life.  In some ways, it's a reassuring sign of my basic humanity that I have such an example in my own past.  It doesn't make it any more calming to remember, but writing this has cleared some of the ghosts.  And if I didn't think I could do that, I'd never write here at all.

Top of the Pops, BBC Four and the hierarchy of art forms

Going back through my offairs from BBC Four's early years - when it unashamedly celebrated many of those (Robert Wyatt, John Martyn, Vivian Stanshall, Ivor Cutler, Mark E. Smith, Penman/Morley-era NME) who most joyously and defiantly refuted the semi-feudal structure of popular art and society in England - and comparing them with its current hierarchical separation of documentary classicism and a certain kind of Friday night pop (Paul fucking Carrack) and Top of the Pops reruns is a painful experience which, in many ways, says much about the change from NuLab to ConDem.  Whatever other horrible things happened during those years - and there were many, of course; God save us from any kind of sentimentalism of that long period of missed opportunities and money that didn't exist - there was a definite sense that the hierarchy of art forms, the idea that pop must Know Its Place, had been comparatively broken down, or at least that those who would enforce it as an absolute, unswerving, unchangeable rule were marginalised, licking their wounds on the fringes (that joke about selling the Telegraph as if it were the Socialist Worker was real, once).

Now the divisions and rules about what each art form can do and what it cannot are being as viciously reinforced as they can be in our present society - which is more viciously than some of us would have imagined, then - and the BBC is powerless because those doing the reinforcing hold the key to its very existence.  The Top of the Pops reruns were, from the start, an attempt to render a suspicious product of the Labour years acceptable to those reignited gatekeepers casting their noses over it, to say "look, BBC Four's alright, really, it may once have thrown the barriers down, but now it's put them back up again and this forgettable fluff is all it thinks pop ever was, or ever can be".  Contrary to popular myth, most of pop's greatest enemies always rather liked Top of the Pops - because pop's greatest enemies aren't, and never have been, the Thomas Winnings or Peter Hitchenses or John Tyndalls of this world, they are the patters on the back, the extreme centrists, those who love it as long as it is content to play a minor, unobtrusive role.  They are The Sunday Times in 1996, praising Status Quo for their changelessness and as a front for demonising the young generally and the global unity of the proletariat in particular.  They are Chris Dunkley, nudge-winking at Channel 4 daring to make The Hip Hop Years in 1999 and doing far more to back up the BNP than crude send 'em-backery ever could.

Top of the Pops was perfect for them, because most of the time it reassured them that, in direct contradiction of all the other evidence screaming in their faces, the working class generally (then identified with pop in almost everyone's minds in a way we cannot now imagine) were perfectly happy to play along with a ruling-class agenda.  Top of the Pops' very existence was always conditional on most, if not all, of the music in it knowing its place in the Reithian hierarchy of art forms, never challenging the feudal role pop had been ordained.  Its constant appearance where Wyatt and Stanshall and Smith once got the serious celebration they had so long deserved is a sign, of a piece with DJ Q or Young Lion's "not on our money" dismissals, of the re-establishment of that hierarchy, that structure, that certainty.  Those who regard it as BBC Four's highest priority should be aware that they are, in fact, being used by those who hate pop music and all it has ever done and all it is still doing.  This is why the dark shadow that now hangs over it, with editions presented by two of its most familiar faces considered unshowable and a vaguely sleazy, nasty-tasting feel to much of the rest of it, is entirely appropriate.  The Cameronite biter bit, and it's all Top of the Pops really deserves in the end.

Friday 21 September 2012

Why reviving The Establishment club is a bad idea

I mean, really, for fuck's sake.  Keith Allen blokishly beholding himself before blokish George Galloway, this government's ultimate useful idiot.  Could there be anything more narrow and insular and depressing?

But the fact that the project is cheerled by Victor Lewis-Smith explains almost everything.  The whole concept - rooted in an institutionalised and thus meaningless legacy of John & Paul and Pete & Dud as secular gods (and thus the one thing they'd have hated the most, and felt the greatest desire to break down) - has a fundamental problem with people not born to its exponents' comparative privilege if they can't fit into an instantly convenient narrative.  For the likes of Galloway, Muslims who oppose Islamism - which in his degraded mind he (along with Seumas Milne and other morally and intellectually lost Stalinists) has identified as some kind of "anti-imperialist" vanguard - are "Uncle Toms", a grotesque misuse of the phrase.  VLS has made it quite clear that he has the same view of black people who don't have his own none-more-middle-aged-middle-class (the very thing he pretends not to be defined by) hang-ups about white people of his own class and generation being influenced by hip-hop culture.  No, I don't defend Westwood's drift into self-parody and passive consumerism, but for VLS to say that people not born to his comparative privilege need more exposure outside their own ghettoes, but then to dismiss them for the crime of not being embarrassed by the things he finds embarrassing, just shows how hollow his stance actually is.

It's the way it always works, of course; self-hating middle-class people - i.e. half of self-identified British satirists (the other half, the Hislop half, are vaguely self-loving people of the same background) impose their own embarrassment and shame on the less privileged and can only cope with the latter if they define themselves by that embarrassment and shame, only to find that those older contexts are meaningless to the global proletariat, who can create something new where they literally don't exist at all.  Stonyhurst-educated early 90s indie boy Chris Morris is, in fact, a good case in point here; it's always depressing for me that one of the most-quoted and most-cited parts of The Day Today is a rather lazy LOL-before-the-fact at the idea of an African-American lifting a Phil Collins song.  But of course in reality loads of hip-hop and R&B people really do respect and admire Collins wholly unironically, because the history Morris wanted to escape doesn't exist for them; it isn't just that they didn't go to boarding schools where Selling England by the Pound was played endlessly by the senior boys, it's more that they literally don't know, and never will know, that that album was ever made, or that Peter Gabriel existed before "Sledgehammer".  So Collins was a tabula rasa for them, a palimpsest, a completely blank canvas, and a Morris, or a VLS, has no right to condemn the African-American working class for not living up to their own 80s NME-Spartist vision of the noble fighters against imperialism.  The African-American working class always gets there first, even (especially!) when they're defying posh Brits' cultural cringe at their ancestry.

And it was a unity of intention and vision between that working class and its white-British equivalent which was the undoing of the original satire movement, painful as it is to admit.  The Beatles had no hang-ups, no cringes, and for all the TW3 set's qualities, they had nothing that could live with that in the end, because in the end their culture had not moved away from the hierarchy of art forms and concepts of morality and behaviour which had defined their parents' culture. Their opposition to the ruling class was based on wanting that class to behave better - wanting them to be more like the traditional idea of the gentleman - and while I'm not denying the importance of what they did, in the end the working class wanted and needed something more.  To this day, the mere concept of Pseuds' Corner attempts to deny the Beatles' very existence.

A great shame.  But an inevitable one, really.  It has been suggested - mostly by me, admittedly - that if de Gaulle had said 'oui' (the central issue of the moment the satire boom emerged), Britain might actually have had the future envisaged in the official films of the BR Modernisation Plan; fantastically advanced technology, in some ways (specifically in terms of the public sector) more so than we have today, but social relationships and sexual taboos unchanged from where they were in 1960.  And because such a Britain would have arrested the development of pop culture almost before it had begun, it might have been a Britain in which the morality of classical satire would have made sense.  How can this one mythological concept - the Establishment club as, ironically, a counterpart to the Cavern for a different set of radicals-turned-fogeys - represent any kind of future, when it failed the test of Beatlemania one year short of half a century ago?

Monday 27 August 2012

Fragments of Elisabeth Murdoch

Yes, yes, of course the full speech for the most part is nothing like the bits everyone has quoted, being mediaspeak incomprehensible to anyone else.  And it's easy to be cynical about the positive citations of "the best of the old Britain" and Lord Reith, Dennis Potter and Alan Bennett, easy to say that she's only saying that now the Olympics have put "Old Britain vs New Britain" if not to bed then at least taken it up the stairs, now it's safe, now some of the old battles and hatreds by which her father thrived don't feel quite so raw.  And yes it is blindingly obvious and realised by some of us long before it would have occurred to her that, once they had won all their battles and usurped the old paternalistic order in every part of British society, The Sun lacked the absolute purpose it had, rightly or wrongly, had from (say) 75-87 and Sky likewise lacked the purpose it had from (say) 89-95; because they weren't really for anything to anything like the extent they were against the older elites, they had nowhere left to go after their triumphs, and were simply the embodiment of a much greater problem that the new capitalism, defined by its piratical rebellion, reached once the Keynesians and the Reithians were the ones locked outside the party - a problem of self-definition which could only have ended in the crash (and is also shared by almost all the babyboomers Murdoch got rich by targeting in their young adulthood when nobody else dared).  But even though it isn't a (counter-)(counter-)revolution, it is the closest we've got so far to the "Suez moment" that suddenly became possible in July 2011.

Consider that Murdochism was, at heart, the radical Right claiming for its own purposes a set of anti-establishment ideas on democratisation and opening up of the media which had originated on the radical Left of the 1960s and 1970s (search any New Society from that era and you'll find similar language on media reform to the sections of the 1989 speech she now selectively quotes, without the naked-capitalist bits she leaves out).  Consider that much criticism of it from the Left, however well-meant, has appeared barely distinguishable from Tory paternalism in its attitude to working-class tastes, and has thus merely worked towards Murdoch's grand plan; to split and divide the Left by rendering it the true voice of fogeyism, inherently resistant to every aspect of the modern world, simply a stooge for the stuffy old buffers it once raged against.  Through accepting the legacy of the people her family has for so long caricatured, as though the only Britain that existed before '69 or '89 was the stuffiest, most class-ridden 10% (the idea that Potter and Bennett were indistinguishable from some fire-breathing shire colonel was the single greatest myth The Sun and Sky alike had to create to get where they got), Elisabeth Murdoch, probably without even knowing it, has opened the door for the Left - however reformist, however cautious - to reclaim ideas on organisation of the media and society which it originated and developed in the first place.  That has to be some kind of important moment, however compromised and shrouded.