Saturday, 3 January 2009

the ultimate end-of-empire irony

is here.  Specifically, between 18:12 and 18:17.

What a deep irony it seems now, the idea that rock'n'roll - more specifically the vague, tantalising early hints here at the now all-too-familiar idea that the firepower of rock can be part of a broader campaign against whoever the West's bogeyman is this week - could possibly be seen as somehow allied with, on the side of, the last roar of the British Empire before it very visibly submitted forever to the realities of American dominance.  Now, we're so used to the idea of rock'n'roll as an anti-Suez force, as part of the wave that blew in to overpower the old Britain in tandem with its geopolitical humiliation, that it is genuinely shocking to see that (as I'm guessing, anyway) anyone ever thought (and it would literally have only been for a matter of weeks) that it could be allied to the Suez adventure, could be used as part of a British campaign under its own steam, in defiance of Washington.  Halfway between then and now, the legacy of the Falklands War - Britain's largest-scale military action under its own steam since Suez - did untold (arguably still unfolding) damage to British pop as measured by the singles chart, but it could hardly be seen as any kind of rock'n'roll war, partially because it started when the UK singles chart was at its absolute peak and also in probably its most un-American phase ever, and partially because it was purely a British war when the rock generation had yet to become Britain's military and governmental elite (although it is hard to find fault with the comments of some NME writers after it had ended, criticising the absorption of much of British pop into uncritical support for that adventure - it is as key a starting point for the British context of "The Eighties", as the phrase is most commonly used, as Gaitskell's death and de Gaulle's non for "The Sixties" and Cobain's and - far, far more importantly - John Smith's death for what Britpop became).  Although the Falklands was not a rock'n'roll war, it nevertheless set the stage - in a (classically Thatcherite) manner that many of its greatest cheerleaders would not personally have supported - for Britain's involvement in wars that were.

The most important difference, from the perspective of how popular culture interrelates with military adventures, between the time of Suez and the geopolitical epoch that will hopefully end in seventeen days' time is that, in 1956, rock'n'roll was - in truth - entirely on the side of social progressiveness and anti-imperialism (at least in the context of what Britain was attempting to do), something it has not been for a very long time now.  In truth, whoever wrote the words "Nasser's Rock'n'Roll" was nearly half a century too early as far as Middle Eastern military adventures were concerned.  He or she was wrong in 1956.  But had a supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq approvingly written the words "Saddam's Rock'n'Roll" they would have been entirely correct.

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