Saturday, 17 April 2010

Never more frustrating

What makes the entrapment of the general election and all that surrounds it that much more frustrating than it used to be is that we have such an illusion of empowerment now - we think, with YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and the rest, that we're in power, that what we say matters. We convince ourselves that the old structures of power somehow don't matter. We turn the elections themselves into showbiz extravaganzas, complete with TV debates. And then we suddenly realise - with the deepest frustration in the world - that the greatest albatross that holds Britain, and especially England, back - the electoral system itself which renders the majority of votes cast pointless and wasted, and is the real reason why so many feel so alienated from the "democratic" process - is still there, still unaltered, still frustrating everything we do and say and think, still obstructing the will of the people as wholly as it did in 1951.

The first debate may well have boosted the Lib Dems' support. But it merely emphasises the inability of our electoral system to cope with the effects of such new additions - all it will do is create another 1983, another situation where the third party's popularity (which, back then, embraced virtually all Tory and Labour moderates, and now will embrace almost everyone who finds the big two as played-out and irrelevant as each other) is simply not reflected in the actual make-up of Parliament, and the Tories achieve a false victory far beyond their actual public support. We are all of us hitting an invisible wall outside the polling station. I shudder to think what will happen after 6th May. There are forces which cannot be held back much longer.

What would entirely new football grounds built circa 1960 or circa 1970 have looked like?

Despite the odd burst of invention - Chelsea's West Stand, built specifically to target the smart metropolitan bourgeoisie but fatally opened in 1974, precisely the time that class was decisively scared off football until the 1990s, and almost bringing the club down for good during the decade in between, springs irresistibly to mind - we all know that many British football grounds were largely frozen in time between an era of municipal/parochial (delete according to opinion) civic pride, in which football crowds were supposed to fit in an organic identity which was ultimately little more than an evolved feudalism transplanted to industrial Britain, and the era of mass psychological and cultural privatisation.

The fact that, during the long years in between, the old identities curdled away almost to nothing and simply could not cope with the new world coming - so could only reduce themselves to the racism and thuggery that put so many off football in the 1980s - has been repeated far too often to need going over again here. But what has been intriguing me recently is what would have happened had the development of football grounds not been largely held back, except in isolated, piecemeal fashion here and there, for so long. It's easy to imagine a generation of stadia built circa 1960 with a certain sort of "Macmillan Pride" design - that particular 1961 stand at (heartbreakingly) Hillsborough that Simon Inglis specifically compared to Yuri Gagarin's journey beyond springs to mind - but what particularly intrigues me is what might have happened later in the 1960s and into the early 1970s. Might a generation who are consensually and rather lazily mocked today as "autocratic socialists" have considered football an ideal platform for the mass education (cynics would loadedly - and, yes, that is a pun - say "re-education") of the working class, and designed uncompromisingly brutalist football grounds? How would fans have taken to them, and how would both the grounds themselves and their reputation have survived the decades to come? Would they have gone the way of the Tricorn or would at least some of them have come to be regarded as modernist classics, perhaps with one being listed and symbolically surviving a la Craven Cottage?

Their full implications would not have sat comfortably with the game's new masters. Sky are equally desperate and equally determined to hide all hints of both late Victorian and early 20th Century paternalistic provincialism and 60s/70s socialism, albeit for slightly different reasons. A large part of me wishes that Sky had had a brutalist legacy to live with, which might have been even harder to reconcile with neoliberalism than the Saltergates and Field Mills. I'd be interested in anyone else's views on this particular piece of alternative history, especially from those who really do know this territory.

In the middle of the most depressing ride for aeons

(though for reasons I could not have controlled, and I beat myself up for thinking I could)

Dale Winton was thrust in my face, playing "Maggie May" and "Get It On".

And I thought that a BBC which regards such things as more justifiable and more sustainable on public funds than 6Music and the Asian Network has lost something very, very important along the way

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Various forms of contact


The unspoken entrapment

Just before this lacerating statement of Everything That Needs To Be Said (but is being hidden on all sides - and check that "featured video" next to it; it's this they're really scared of, whereas the more fake gun talk comes from the underclass, the more the Cameronites love it and the more they can control) we are often treated to an Electoral Commission ad urging people to register to vote, and finding themselves trapped behind an invisible wall just outside the polling station because they haven't. In context the ironies are multiple; while we retain first-past-the-post the vast majority of votes cast make no meaningful difference to the actual outcome of the election. The media elite know this privately, but publicly wonder why so many people feel so disconnected and, literally, disenfranchised. Until we have proportional representation, divide-and-rule will be unstoppable, and Britain will continue to be democratic only in the most theoretical sense. And the role of the media elite and the white pop industry in this grand-scale fraud - convincing people that their society is somehow truly "democratic" because they can now hear a wider range of voices on Radio 4, or whatever criteria they use - is crucial.

"Everybody's Changing" soundtracks the Tory manifesto launch. SBTV is full of the sort of people - the original definition of lumpenproletariat - who many Tories would still refer to with a certain word Akala invokes. In this destructive exchange of different ways to be reactionary, Akala stands out as a voice who renders all other pop worse than irrelevant.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A victory for civilisation

was served at Old Trafford tonight, and indeed last night at Camp Nou, and last month at Stamford Bridge, and last November in Lyon.

Let us have no more Murdochian whines which can be compared directly to Der Stuermer wondering why Jews didn't like it, and let us instead see Manchester United in their natural home as the perpetual, unelected club champions of CONCACAF.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Allegiances of convenience, and other pre-election thoughts

Some might wonder what I've been doing with myself for the last month. I myself wonder the same. But one thing I can say without hesitation is that, half a decade ago, taking up horse riding saved my life, and even though I can get nervous and frightened in certain places and times (if I didn't, I wouldn't understand what horses, even wonderfully calm Welsh cobs, are capable of) it is still convincing me that there is, indeed, something to live for. But that does not mean I have much in common with many of the people at the stables, some of whom exemplify the original, long-abused meaning of the term "lumpenproletariat" - blaming those who have no institutional or structural power for damage done by a ruling class to which they themselves kowtow, in the half-hateful, half-envious sense brought on by a 1960s secondary modern education - and talk and think on a level wholly different from mine, as if we were talking and thinking in entirely different languages (which, in many ways, we are). This is not snobbery or looking down - and indeed these are people with whom, on a different level, I have got on very well indeed - but this is still the honest truth that I am only now discovering.

Let me make a difficult confession. Quite often, the people I find it hardest to relate to are people like me - social outsiders, people whose lives really were changed by riding, people who have an affinity to music (of whichever kind) based around passion and social identification, rather than simply a background sound. I treated such a person very badly, even though I knew underneath that I was merely doing to him what I hate others for doing to me - although I don't think my attitude was in any way the reason (he had a deeper crisis of confidence caused by a fall, and probably by other family problems) he doesn't ride with us these days (he always seems to turn up when we've already gone, as if to dodge the whole idea) and now I wish he wasn't so nervous, if only because his deep-rooted problems and social isolation are probably much worse and more deeply embedded than mine. His first love is classical music, and I can feel an identification with him, an allegiance of convenience, which would have been quite inconceivable for someone steeped in hip-hop in its earlier years, but now seems the most natural thing in the world - somehow, the fact that this is possible seems like the greatest sign of just how different the culture now is, post-Blair. European classical music is now, I think, less the "establishment" music in the UK than it has been at any time at least in the broadcasting era, and has become, in its own quiet and unobtrusive way, something every bit as opposed to the Blair/Cameron order - which is all about taking a certain form of white Anglophone pop as the music of its own imperial master race, and legitimising suppression and marginalisation of anything else - as any form of black pop.

More than ever I think back to the Royal Festival Hall on 9th May 1992, the most traumatic day of my then-young life, the day I learnt class awareness and developed a deep sense of anger at unaccountable, unearned privilege, and gulp at how different the socio-cultural landscape was then, one month after the last pre-pop, unmarketed, unplanned election. Although there had obviously been significant changes already - the pro-market tendency had won a decisive victory in the Tory party, and Labour had become more accepting of the market economy in the previous few crucial years, it is amazing how similar the situation was 25 years after the Marine Offences Act - elements in Labour jumping aboard pop-cultural bandwagons when it suited them but less comfortable with the economic process which spreads them, the Tories at ease with the economic process but much less comfortable with its actual aftereffects - actually was to the paradoxical dichotomy of the biggest mistake of the Butskellite era / moment that exposed the incompatibility of the post-war settlement and pop culture (I'm not even sure which to delete as applicable). It had been enhanced and blown up several times, obviously, but a quarter of a century later there was still no political movement which was at ease both with American pop culture itself and with the methods that spread it here - there were egalitarians who weren't at ease with the market and marketeers who weren't at ease with pop, but no halfway house - so traces of the linear divisions of the early pop years were still there, and it would have been quite inconceivable for someone with my tastes to feel an identification with someone who was mocked for high-cultural leanings. The old idea that pop culture was a genuine break from the British imperial culture of Anglo-supremacy, rather than a mere glossing up and continuation of that culture by other means, was still just about believable, and was articulated even by Dennis Potter - at the end of his life the most articulate and passionate critic of Murdoch and all who sailed with him that we are ever likely to see - in the last series he had produced in his lifetime (I suspect very strongly that, had he seen the last 15 years, he would agree with me on what white pop has become, but then he would also hopefully have been the critic Blair deserved to expose him for what he was, but disastrously never really had).

Within a few years, of course, things were very different - the Blair movement was the first in British politics to be equally at ease with the practice and the theory, with American pop culture itself and with the barely-regulated market it needs to become absolute and total (rather than the enticing romantic myth it was for Potter's generation), and the Cameron movement is the same in reverse, the first Tory movement to be as at ease with the practical cultural outcome of the market as with the bare theory of neoliberalism (would a 20-year-old now, even if they got the reference, even understand the point of the early 90s Private Eye joke about John Major going to see Chelsea play Turandot "who are, I believe, an Italian team"? Yes, I know the words "even if they got the reference", "the point of the early 90s" and all words from "joke" onwards in that sentence are rather superfluous, but what was being ridiculed was Major's jumping aboard the football bandwagon when it became acceptable to the bourgeoisie again after the 1990 World Cup and his simultaneous apparent loyalty to a certain set of high-cultural tenets because that was what Tory leaders did, despite knowing little about either, and today it seems simultaneously impossible that football ever wasn't taken for granted, completely absorbed into the official culture industry and the instant fix of the political game, and that Tory leaders ever felt such obligations - indeed, it's a joke that belongs to a very specific moment when mass-cultural aspirations and high-cultural obligations briefly overlapped, and manages to work as a pisstake of early 90s football nouveaus even though it was probably written by people who themselves wouldn't have known the names of the top Italian teams). It is this context - the one where Altern 8 and Prokofiev seem to fit perfectly together, push the same emotional buttons (two cultures, and their wildly opposed but somehow related senses of ownership and anticipation which lay distinctly outside the Blairite/Cameronite norms, which have both been destroyed by the culture that made Florence Welch what she is today) in ten-second YouTube ad bursts from my final months of proper childhood - which enables me to feel deeply sympathetic towards the man I once felt infuriated by having to ride with (because we were too similar for each other's own good, his infatuations - in lieu of any proper social relationships - for the form disavowed by Cameronites because it reminds them of their own class's non-consumerist past, mine - filling the same void - for the form disavowed by Cameronites because it reminds them of the part of society they are as determined as their class ever was to sweep under the carpet, marginalise, humiliate, and freeze out of the only country they've ever known) when he is mocked by implication, when composers' entire work is derided as "crap" (it does still seem like an outmoded strawman in most of the contexts where I work and think, but really, to think as recently as 1996 I thought saying that would cause Whitehall to crumble to its foundations!).

I couldn't have joined in the discussion, because it only works on the level of crude schoolyard language (had I said anything I would inevitably have been mocked and ridiculed as an old-fashioned snob, and because that is the only thing I am even less than I am an inverted snob, I simply had to concede that I come from an entirely different world from these people) but I know that this gets right to his skin, just as it would with me if it were hip-hop being abused - those for whom pop is just a Steve Wright soundtrack, a backdrop to a life of desperately low horizons and blaming those who have no power for the baleful influence of those who do, cannot understand this sort of emotional connection. And I also know that, in many, probably most cases, it's the same people who mock classical music, anything folk-related at all, art-rock, and all black pop except Motown (with its attendant ironies of the subjectivity of rhetoric about "foreigners" and Britain "standing alone", and the double standards on which this sort of language is always, always based) - there's always some sort of reason, whether it is associations with "toffs", "gypsies", "grammar school boys" or "chavs". For far too much of the population of England, especially its poorer residents outside the major cities - dressing themselves in St George's flags while taking their entire culture from a foreign power, endlessly bashing those, including the peoples of the other parts of the UK, who do have something of their own because they cannot admit how desperately unsure of themselves they are - anything outside their own experience is an ill-defined enemy. It is not a thought-out BNP strategy, just a casual, culturally embedded fear - strengthened, not weakened, by the market economy, the allegiance with some vaguely-defined idea of "global trade" rather than the rest of Europe, and the general cultural void in England, all of which so much of the post-Blairite faux-left still see as allies of convenience - which provides the NuTories, UKIP and the BNP with all the excuse they need.

In its own way, this post is an elegy for the (last? I still think it will be) UK general election before it even happens, because it will be people like that who - as ever - decide the fate of the rest of us. And, if my recent experiences are anything to go by, it will not be a pretty fate. The lumpenproletariat love to present themselves as free from aristocratic rule, but at some deep level they really do still feel that the repackaged quasi-aristocracy are their "rightful rulers". And all that Chris Martin has ever been is a squire in pop star's clothing, a continuation of the feudal structure disguised as a touchy-feely empowerer. Pop made Cameron; if Cameron ever does anything good at all it might, just, be to unmake pop and its sustaining myth for good. And this is the sense where the allegiance of convenience I have with the man who is too similar to me for comfort differs from the Western allies' partnership with the Soviet Union during the Second World War, the historical model of all allegiances of convenience. That was a connection of spiritual enemies which everyone knew would be abandoned overnight as soon as Hitler was defeated and the old Western European powers humiliated (even the one which had theoretically won, a fact that itself is at the root of much of the cultural insecurity which leads to the hatred of "outsiders" - these are people who in many cases grew up in a place and time which consoled itself by dreaming of an illusory pseudo-victory, and accordingly passed off the culture of the true victors as its own and hoped that would keep the proles happy and in their place). This, on the other hand, is a connection which will probably become even stronger - it will most likely have to. If those who are not part of the reheated imperialism of the Cameron axis do not unite, however different our actual allegiances may be, we will all lose, perhaps everything. How depressing that I am writing these words shortly before an epochal election of, quite possibly, Union-breaking importance in a quite different and even more total sense from that of 1979, with no real sense that they will, or can, make any difference to anyone.