Tuesday, 31 March 2009

But having said the below ...

... is it perhaps a universal human pathology that we all like to think we came in at the end of something very rare, special and beautiful that those younger than us did not experience, or is it more commonplace among those who do (I insist) have a greater justification for it than others?

Three examples spring to mind.  There is Peter Hitchens' entire existence, built as it is on his being "just old enough to have seen with (his) own eyes ... the very last years of an older Britain" (mirages of the summer of '59 define every breath he draws in '09), Neil Clark's fixation on his own 1970s childhood, the final years before the Fall of his own half-true, half-romanticised left-right hybrid vision (it is sometimes impossible to believe that he was 17 in 1983, so little does that period seem to have made any impact on him at all) and my own determination - some would say desperation, but I hope and believe I can control that, indeed resisting all temptations to escape into my own hermetic universe is a huge priority for me - to know more about, to get a deeper and stronger feeling for than I could experience directly, the lost universe of the Puffin Club, Wednesdays at 5.10, schools radio, The Book Tower, European imports und so weiter (the demise of Radio 4's ghost ship Go4It feels like the absolute end of the last twitchings, the point from which there will never be return, and the old school of literal-conservatives know it).

It is undoubtedly true that people's earliest clear memories are their most voluminous and special, as well as (obviously) their furthest away at whichever point in their life, so I think it is probably a natural tendency to exaggerate that specialness.  But funnily enough I also think Hitchens, Clark and myself have more justification for taking such a view than some others would, which probably does explain why it is so strong among the three of us (who hardly have anything else universally in common - Clark may share some of his views with Hitchens and some with me, but there is precious little uniting all three of us, nor should there be).  It is true, overdone though it once was (and to a lesser extent still is) by lazy amateur historians (who have now largely moved their focus on to the '70s and '80s), that Hitchens' earliest remembered years (he was born in October 1951) were the last years of a vast network of steam railways, the last years of genuine public deference towards, even fear of, authority (at least in the southern English, middle-class world Hitchens existed entirely within), the last years before the influence of the mass media began to accentuate towards its current level, the last years of widely-held collective and class-based cultures (on all social levels) largely untouched by popcult.  It is true that mass consumerism and Americanisation were obviously beginning to make their presence felt in the post-Suez, pre-Beatles period, and the psychological ramifications of Britain's retreat from empire became stronger and stronger during that time, but it was still just about possible for those who were sufficiently innoculated through privilege and rural isolation (as Hitchens' family undoubtedly was) to pretend it wasn't happening.  So, although it obviously doesn't excuse his political paranoia (Cameron a "socialist" or whatever else he has convinced himself, in his madness), I think Hitchens - or anyone else his age who shares his yearnings - has a greater justification for mythologising his earliest remembered years than many people of many other generations, let us put it that way (indeed, the importance of this period is confirmed by the way their early childhood continues to have a vital impact in the narrative of post-war history set up by many other babyboomers whose views on virtually everything are Hitchens' antithesis, as What We Needed To Get Away From, and the working-class experience - "grey", etc, etc - of the post-war years seems to have left a vital imprint in the minds of many boomers of that age, of all political views but generally leaning towards the left, who had none of Hitchens' social privileges and certainties, inevitably to be shattered by The First Time You Heard The Beatles).

Clark, for all his faults (fewer than Hitchens, and his heart is usually in the right place, but that doesn't paper over them) has similar justifications.  I'm much more ambiguous about him, and sometimes openly critical, than I once was.  The middlebrow nature of the "international" films he cites here is all too typical - there's no room for Godard in his Daily Express Page 9 vision of the past, any more than there's room for even P&P, let alone Petit, in his excruciatingly Mailish (with one very obvious exception, which in context is more startling than it deserves to be) list of favourite British films. Mainland European influence in the UK charts of the late '60s was on nothing like the scale he suggests (even back then, the BBC's imports were, as its former controllers of children's TV Edward Barnes and Monica Sims have clearly stated, part of a public-service drive against the tide rather than the way things were naturally, if left alone, heading), his use of the phrase "The New Labour Reich" (because of the smoking ban, apparently) is unworthy even of Littlejohn, and several comments on his blog (the thinly-veiled anti-Semitism of two contributors, along with the apparent defence of theatre censorship, enforced by the holder of the noted egalitarian/socialist office of Lord Chamberlain, by another - "the working class" weren't clamouring for it to be abolished, apparently) are simply indefensible. Nonetheless, he too has an unusual level of justification in citing his early life as a profoundly special, separate period.  Born in 1966, Clark's early memories will be - as he himself comments here - of a time (as I have mentioned before, unsettlingly like now) when every moment of a British person's life seemed, in some way, to be connected to a last battle, a final conflict for the ownership of the future that lay beyond the crumbling consensus, when nascent Thatcherism was merely an equal competitor to a strong, powerful socialist movement which appeared to stand an equal chance of winning.  What was clear, even before 1979, was that the centre could not hold, and that fact gives Clark an equal justification for his fixation with his childhood - the more voluminous and tense your early years are, the more total and absolute they remain, up to and including the moment you die.

And for me?  Well, my fixation is more specific - to do with broadcasting and media structures, and the culture they maintained, rather than grand-scale social changes (my childhood and adolescence were characterised by the long march through the institutions - of which the changes in broadcasting was merely one of the key moments - of the ideology that reached power shortly before my birth, not by any specific moment as epochal as 1979 or, in a different way, 1963).  Nonetheless, as a 1980 baby, I did experience the last years of the programmes, institutions and associated structures and systems mentioned at the top of this long, pointless ramble, I was 10 at the time of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, I did live my early life amid what everyone knew to be the dying fall of a world where broadcasting was in large part protected from the full rules of the market and had aims beyond sensation and the hard sell.  And, again, that makes my early years, in terms of broadcasting, more piquant and potent than they would be for many/most others.  I was inspired to write this by a comment from my mum (who still doesn't know how important and fascinating this idea - the elusiveness of time and early life - is to me) while reading this piece, to the effect that I'd experienced the very end of the heyday of children's literature that Rachel Cooke talks about, the last knockings of a particular world before it finally crumbled before the wider world and the entirely visual basis of the new British childhood.  She was right.  So are Hitchens (on this if very little else), Clark and me.  It may be a universal syndrome, but the fact that the three of us do so much of it suggests that, while it is obviously easy and tempting and horribly lazy for everyone to look back on their formative years and say "ah, that was just before everything changed", and while it is undoubtedly true that a paleoconservative like Hitchens and a traditional socialist like Clark are both naturally programmed towards - ultimately - rather pointlessly wistful nostalgia, their assessments are echoed, if from an entirely conflicting perspective and for different reasons, by those of utterly opposed views from the same generations, and I'm sure the same would apply to the action cartoon fans of my age.  Some people do have more justification for this kind of thing than others, and the knowledge that evolution must continue doesn't make it any less painful.  That's why I listen to this.

One of those forum postings that has to be blogged

about this.

More than ever, the Manics - with the Smiths, Britain's greatest anti-pop pop group - stand out as the last of a line: born as they were into the last generation raised on and defined by "classic" British socialism, they were the last generation to even be aware of the concepts and contexts that defined everything they did, from Generation Terrorists' Marxist dissection of Guns N' Roses ("Condemned to Rock'n'Roll" by the deliberate, organised actions of Thatcherism) to the lush despair of Gold Against the Soul (classic post-92-election ennui) to the absolute apocalypse of The Holy Bible (released in 1994, in so many ways the most important post-Cold War cultural year). All that "New Labour, New Manics" stuff was utterly unjustified by the lyrical content of Everything Must Go - as the band's biographer Simon Price once commented, "A Design for Life", like "Common People", was important precisely because it was anti-Blairite - but their appropriation was inevitable considering the times, and in some ways they never quite recovered.  The platinum sales covered and hid the fact that, in terms of the wider culture, they were (unfortunately) already walking shells.

They were a life-changing teenage experience for me (as with The Moomins or Moondial, the two TV series that had the biggest long-term impact on me in childhood, the full meaning and context of that experience will not be shared by anyone even slightly younger).  I still feel more affinity to them, in terms of what they believe and stand for, of their grounding and background: as I've stated previously, I feel that British pop as we had known it died in about 1995, and what we have now is a fundamentally different (and inferior) thing, in terms of its dynamic, its background, its audience and its ideology.  But somehow I don't want to listen to their new stuff, I feel it would almost be living on dreams, false promises of a pop, a set of principles, that we can never see again and it would be (however sadly) futile even to try.  If I listen to grime or bassline more than any other current British music, it's because a) they're made by people who are fundamentally excluded from, and can never connect to, the nouveau bourgeoisie (whose equivalents would once have blissfully left pop altogether alone) that most current British pop is made by and for, and b) they are at least entirely of this moment, and stop me living on ghosts and dead dreams of irretrievable pop glories.

So, yes.  I'm glad this album has been made.  It will undoubtedly be better than almost any other British album this year (although that means less than it may appear to now the internet has decisively shifted the centre of gravity in British pop - and all pop - back where it started, to the individual song, the moment).  But do I want to listen to it?  It would, in many ways, be evn more lacerating than The Holy Bible was the first time you heard it.  And I'm not sure whether I can take that.  Call me a coward.  You'd probably be right.

Friday, 27 March 2009

30 years of unfettered support for neoliberal capitalism and hatred of socialist "restrictions" on business end ...

... here.

It is hollow, aimless, nihilistic rage in the end, of course, which will not achieve its supposed aims, partially because there is still no major party that supports them, partially because our inherently corrupt electoral system prevents such a party emerging, and partially because - however much it may resent the "fat cats" now - Middle England is quite simply hoist by its own petard.  The process that has trapped it in impotence is of its own making.

Revisit how it started tomorrow night (ultimately, though, the guilty parties are those who voted Labour in February 1974 because Enoch Powell told them to, thus giving the unions a rope long enough to destroy themselves and give the neoliberals justification for their grand-scale fuckup of almost everyone else's lives).

Not even Sky could take it in the end ...

I fear it is just about on Five's level, and Ofcom's inaction is not good news, though the sight and sound of Edmonds in full "Stand Up and Be Counted" mode should - hopefully - make them shudder at the implications of such a thing being in almost every home in the UK, rather than merely those who choose to give Murdoch their money.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The political ramifications of the ITV-STV standoff

as reported here.

STV were never the most loved of ITV franchises - for years, they were perceived (as they clearly still are by several posters to this thread) as dominated by a narrow, shortbread-tin version of Scotland, and the impression I get from those who lived through the 1960s/70s is that Grampian (which they have now absorbed, much to the chagrin of many in the north of the country) presented a paradoxically more forward-looking and cosmopolitan idea of what Scotland could be, despite serving a more conservative area (and before the great SNP breakthrough of 1974 still a quite widely Conservative area, despite the collapse of imperial unity). Nonetheless, this is clearly an important moment, especially considering that for a while STV (which intends to show at least two black and white films at peak time on Sunday night, it would appear!) seemed to be becoming essentially an ITV1 relay station.  The conflict seems to anticipate, almost word for word and ideology for ideology, the standoff which is the most likely outcome of the next UK general election.

STV is clearly playing the long game.  It's hedging its bets on Scotland feeling so disenfranchised by a Tory government at Westminster which has, in all likelihood, barely increased its current total of one Scottish seat that it opts to leave the union altogether.  At that point, I suspect, it intends to merge with what is now BBC Scotland to form a new Scottish PSB (notice how it is using that Reithian aphorism, even if it is in a different order).  As is mentioned in the Digital Spy thread, it would no doubt be competing with a wholly deregulated ITV1 on its doorstep, and plenty of other commercial broadcasters which would continue to operate in Scotland (cultural autarky is no longer an SNP aim, really), but it would have an audience, and probably a greater one than most DS posters are willing to admit.

The question is: would that be enough?  Scotland only sustains its higher investment in public services and more "public" social ethos, epitomised in STV's quasi-Reithian language, because of English money.  Likewise, STV can only do what it's doing - aiming to capitalise on a growing sense of disconnection from the UK by moving away from being the ITV1 relay station it had seemed destined to become - because it gets enough viewers for Coronation Street, Emmerdale and The X-Factor to sustain it, at least for the time being.  Scotland's only hope of sustaining its stronger public sector, the strengthening of which would be precisely why many Scots would want to break ties with neoliberal Westminster, would be EU funding, and lots of it.  To be fair, I think Scotland might succeed in that aim, especially if (as would clearly be its role model) it takes the same proactive approach to the EU as Ireland has, rather than whinging a la Westminster.  The question for a post-switchover STV would be: could it find a similar key to the door?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Another whitewashing of the '60s

from Simon Garfield.

Not that what he writes is strictly untrue, of course, but we have all heard it so many times, and now - more than ever - we need to hear the hidden history of '60s rock culture, how its desperate, death-or-glory, inherently pro-self and anti-collective call actually shared much common ground (obsessive desire to break out of the post-war state and its nationalised norms) with the Institute of Economic Affairs, how it failed to see that, in terms of economic equality of opportunity and social provision, the world in which its protagonists then lived - however stodgy and literal-conservative it seemed to them - was, in fact, as good as it was going to get in this country, how its libertarian streak was harnessed and redefined by the New Right, who (I insist) couldn't have done what they did without the groundwork laid by rock culture's opposition to the post-war orthodoxy.

Needless to say, neither Garfield nor the ludicrous film his article is effectively promoting (and which I shall not name) makes no mention of any of this - now, after so many years of '60s rock culture being mythologised to death and beyond, the only interesting thing anyone could write about the offshore radio movement.  Nor does he mention the immensely important (as acknowledged by Andrew Marr, and you don't get more consensual these days than that) political allegiances of Oliver Smedley.  Nor do either he or Johnnie Walker mention the fact that the latter's current Saturday-night Radio 2 show only exists because a gap was left in the schedules when the Daily Mail went into its crazed "get that n***** off the front page" spasms. That very fact alone sums up precisely what the offshore nostalgia movement is today.  No wonder none of them want to admit it.