Saturday, 18 April 2009

Happy now, Douglas?

23 years ago this week, TV Times published the following letter from Douglas McNeill of Reading:

"I find the national news, which concentrates on a few main items, much less interesting than the local news (TVS, in my case) which packs many items into a few minutes.  Isn't it more interesting to be informed and entertained by more topics, presented in a punchier manner.  I know what I'd choose ..."

He's got what he wished for.  British television news today, and especially that on ITV, seems to have inherited its bright and empty superficiality at least in part from 1980s regional bulletins, not to mention its ever-increasing parochialism, merely cast in terms of the UK, one other country and both countries' de facto colonies, past and present (which is, in some crucial ways, less progressive than true regional broadcasting within the UK).  Even John Craven's Newsround (another major influence on Nu-News) sometimes showed more interest in European affairs.

I would be interested to know whether Douglas McNeill of Reading, if he is still alive, thinks news has dumbed down today.  My only reason for slight doubts on these matters is the near-certain knowledge that the teenage Charlie Brooker of 1986 would have been every bit as opposed to Alastair Burnet as he now is to the tendencies he rightly attacks each week in Newswipe.  I wonder if he regrets that today?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Soulja Boys of the first colony

whatever you think of it, even if you think it really is the last trump, I think you must concede that this, like Soulja Boy Tell 'Em in the ruling power, is Where Things Are Right Now, where the lumpenproletariat finished up once all the structures died, everything that tells the New Culture from anything we knew even a few years back.  this, from now on, will be the norm.

(cannot stop myself remembering Dizzee Rascal's words of six years ago, to the effect that very soon his culture, or an interpretation of it, would be wholly universalised, and the panic and culture-war mentality that would create among the parental generation who'd got away from the cities specifically to avoid it.  looking at Portland now, you sense that moment has arrived.)

they have to be listened to - and noticed, and understood - by anyone interested in precisely where the places whose previous culture collapsed so swiftly in the 1980s, and which will almost certainly soon feel as alienated and as unrepresented as they did then, are going.  they surpass academia.  they're appallingly necessary.  I can't stop listening to them.

Tuesday afternoon

and someone was playing "Pretty Vacant"

my reaction was partially one of uncanny timeliness: after all, the Pistols' default mode - deep-rooted nihilism about the politics of their time and place, and specifically derogatory taunting of an older-than-his-once-worshipped-predecessor, non-celebified prime minister who hadn't been elected as such, and whose constituency was outside England, as played-out, irrelevant, dead, boring (as if the last, as defined in pop terms, is a criterion by which politicians should be judged) is so much the universal mood of here and now

and I think precisely for that reason my ultimate reaction was one of tedium and depression

Where Britain was in 1960 (and has never truly overcome)

as seen by someone who built his later career on denying it

continued here and concluded here

no wonder the truth-denying public (and the ITV companies themselves) preferred 77 Sunset Strip ...

Some excellent material on that channel, if you can get past the B&W Minstrel shows.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Fighting the conservative within, fighting the conservatives without

Some years back - I forget precisely which year it was now, the mid-2000s all merge into each other - I destroyed a certain number of CDs and books in my posession.  Now I'm no great admirer of most of the material I wanted rid of, but I still think it was a deeply regressive, backward, insular and wrong-headed act to destroy it.  This is partially because I now think it's immensely important to keep some representation of everything you've ever liked or believed, every phase you've ever been through, every ideology you've ever touched, and partially because at least some of the CDs were - for all their often questionable merits - representative of the world which the Right fear most viciously and vociferously (and at least one of them also stands as a foundation stone for much that I listen to now).  I may have tried to dress it up in all kinds of portentous clothing - the music represented selfishness, the antithesis of socialism and even social democracy, arrogance, a warlike mentality, the oppressed fighting each other rather than their oppressors - but deep inside, I have a terrible fear now, what motivated me was pure conservatism, a base-level revulsion at the cultural shift these people's very existence represents.  And the knowledge that I destroyed these things now fills me with the deepest shame, and may have helped me on the road back.

For there is a conservative hidden within me, and the desire to fight it runs in parallel with my desire to destroy similar forces without.  And that desire is the reason why I did not listen to a pre-recorded freestyle (but of course) on Cameo's 1Xtra show this evening.  I simply could not stand being reminded of the way the petty-minded bigotry of a certain part of British culture and society, a part which I was once willing to sup with, even make allegiances of convenience with, has been imposed on the tastes of a quite different part of British society and on stations which no non-specialists would ever touch, has been allowed to overpower the basic cultural principle of laissez-faire (which I only now truly believe in - I will not start on the implications of at least some of those petty-minded bigots' hypocritical support, still dragged on through its ashes, for the economic version of that idea).  I did not want to think of the way they not only attempt to impose ridiculous criteria on every single thing the BBC does (as if there was still "one" nation, one broadcasting audience, which there wasn't even when the pretence that there was was at its height) but are - in several cases - taking such a stance as a cover for a quite different, even more unsettling ideology (to bring in the obligatory Hitchens Minor reference, I suspect that an Anglo-paleoconservative such as PH genuinely does believe that there should be a BBC, he's just too naive and stupid to see that imposing the criteria on the BBC which he dreams of would be the surest way of destroying it).

At least The Sun is honest enough to come out openly against any public service broadcasting, a position it knows will not offend its younger, less literal-conservative readership.  The Mail, Times and Telegraph, read as they are by significant numbers of older BBC loyalists, cannot take the same stance, so they have to be nastily twisted and roundabout in their reasoning: their current great scheme is, I think, to cow the BBC into such submission that it becomes simply a public service broadcaster for the public of 50 years ago (what Mail readers in particular wrongly think both their paper and the Tory party want), to the point where everyone younger and/or freer of thought simply goes elsewhere - in the case of grime to pirates in London, to the internet elsewhere - at which point they can say that the BBC no longer has universal appeal, so a universal licence fee is no longer justifiable, so ... and then, too late, the readers of the more literal-conservative right-wing papers will discover that they have also lost the programmes they like, that their "friends" were disguised enemies.  During the Brand/Ross witchhunt, an entire cultural world was led - as we have rarely seen before in this country - into believing that those who also want to take away their personal preferences wanted to defend them.

(incidentally, re. my comments in that post, I am still no personal fan of either Brand or Ross - but this is a wider issue, and the naivety of David "my grandfather wouldn't even have a Freeview box in his house because you could potentially get porn on it, even if it wasn't free-to-air" Lindsay over this issue pretty much forced me away from his blog and from the wider romantic / trad-left-meets-trad-right / ostentatiously pre-pop view of Britain, probably the right decision on my part.  I also think, in another comment there a couple of days earlier, I should have been much harder on Quentin Letts.  But these are the lessons you learn: there are friends I have lost - through my own mid-2000s ideological fanaticism and desperation for absolute, unattainable, risible levels of emotionless human perfection, mainly - who I genuinely miss, but people like Lindsay are fundamentally anti-me, although for too long my conservative streak was strong enough that I could believe they weren't.)

But I have this profound fear that, far from being a short-term ideological diversion to "get that n***** off the front page" (although even that is before one even begins to discuss the irony of Andrew Sachs' background, and the fact that, had the British government always been in hock to the Mail, he might well simply have been another of the "six million screaming souls"), the Brand/Ross episode was merely the first battle / blow of a political era that hasn't even really begun yet (why else would I still be writing about it, half a year on?).  The Tories of the 1980s and 1990s, having been raised largely in the era of monopoly or at least duopoly broadcasting, had an instinctive emotional attachment to the BBC which, when it came down to it, ultimately overpowered their antipathy either to its supposed leftism, its overt populism, or both.  The new lot - Murdoch's children, every one of them - don't even have that.  No doubt Ann Widdecombe does actually want the BBC the Mail's readers think the Tory party want.  But she has no power, and never will again.  Those who actually do have power in the party don't want the BBC to exist at all.  The worst is yet to come, I fear.