Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Gilbert Adair

One of the things that stood out from the Guardian obituary of Gilbert Adair was how similar his clear desire to distance himself from his early life, his refusal to talk about any aspect of it, was to that of many British people of his generation who were in every other respect his antithesis, his nemesis. I have spoken often enough before about my great sadness that so many of Adair's generation aspired in the opposite direction to him both geographically and culturally, and the long-term damage this did to British society; there could not have been a more grimly appropriate night for such a man to leave the world, a night when the ruling elite decisively and perhaps forever refused and rejected his view of everything this country could potentially have been (at least if - as I think became a lot more likely at the end of last week - that country is England in constitutional realities rather than just off-duty romanticisation; it may be more apt than he'd have been able to believe for the vast majority of his life that Adair was born in Edinburgh).

And yet, of course, I was often as alienated from Adair himself as engaged by him; we came from wholly separate worlds, and no amount of guilt on my part could change that. I admired - sometimes almost loved - him precisely because he never even tried to inhabit my world; precisely because he did not compromise, stood out as a corrective force. Had he attempted to come to terms with the world I, however unwillingly, take for granted, he'd have been worse than useless, as hopelessly impotent as Cameron in Brussels. His presence justified itself; he did not need to play by anyone else's rules or criteria, least of all those of the new, post-Blair establishment, and precisely because of this he made many of us doubt everything we thought we knew (and, just as importantly, everything we thought we didn't know). As much as Jake Thackray or Tony Judt, he is a parallel public figure of the Britain that might, just, have emerged had one operation succeeded, and another not attempted in that form and in that way. He is as great a loss as could be imagined.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The coming battle for the Beatles

Acutely related to the profound change and upheaval in mass culture in the 1960s and 1970s, instigated above all others by the Beatles, was a profound reassessment and re-evaluation of the culture historically considered by academics to be beyond debate, above all other cultures. Tensions opened up - often dividing new universities from old, and (at least initially) those taking advantage of the post-war expansion of mass education from those who'd have had the privileges anyway - between those who stuck to the old hierarchical view of culture, with the innovations of the post-war world considered a mere impermanence, a passing fashion, and those who felt that the development of mass culture far away from the simplicities of the Brill Building and the pre-1960s Hollywood studio system, and into the world of Bob Dylan and the American New Wave cinema, required a reassessment not only of mass culture itself, but of the stuff historically considered to operate on a wholly different plain.

The new wave of academics gave particular attention to the initial poor reception given to works of canonical high-cultural figures, such as the hostility to Don Giovanni when it was first performed - something historically played down by pre-1960s Mozartians - so as to point out the essential subjectivity - contrary to its official position of objectivity - of the old guard's rejection of rock music. They assessed Shakespeare much less in terms of his having written about the privileged classes (an approach to his work which can only appear now as the starting point for those who assume that someone of more privileged background somehow must have been the true author), and much more in terms of his non-privileged background and his work being a form of mass entertainment in his own time (and thus having instigated a lineage manifested in the 1960s & 70s by the original incarnation of Coronation Street, by Armchair Theatre and Play for Today, and by the works of Potter, Plater and Rosenthal above all others). A person's stance on this matter became symbolic of wider divisions in society, and in many people's eyes (on all sides) a sign of what sort of country a person believed in and wanted to live in.

As the Beatles' era fades into history and their generation begins to die off in significant numbers, I can sense a similar debate over the control and ownership of their legacy becoming a divisive issue in the years to come. As things stand, the Beatles are perhaps the most misunderstood mass-cultural phenomenon within living memory, venerated as they are by many petty-minded, fearful Little Englanders who deny the very cultural process - the British working class rejecting the idea of some mystical, spiritual connection with "their" ruling class, and uniting with the oppressed classes of other societies to create a new, unique hybrid which was at once both acutely of its own place and joyfully internationalist - without which they wouldn't have existed.

Many of those who claim to love the Beatles most are, in fact, their greatest enemies, denying as somehow inherently "un-British" any current manifestation of the very same process without which there would never have been such a thing as the Beatles, a process which has recently reinvented and redefined what can be "pop music" in the UK, as necessary as a rejection of the current New Etonians as the Beatles were as a rejection of the 1951-64 governments. Just as it was necessary after the upsurge of pop culture to strip aside much of the distancing language and gilded-cage veneration that had come to surround the Shakespeares and Beethovens, the titans of the old culture, and to reassess their radical, questioning origins, then it has become equally necessary to strip away the official, heritagised version of the Beatles - as crucial to the new establishment in Britain as Shakespeare or Beethoven ever were to the old one - and reassess their absolute rejection of fixed, frozen cultures and of elite disconnection from the mass, their absolute faith in the same form of oppressed people's expression which today, filtered through hip-hop as they were filtered through what was then R&B, is manifested above all else in grime and dubstep.

Now as then, the official version - almost entirely untrue and delusionary - of how certain Great Figures came to be (by no means just the Beatles where 1960s & 70s music is concerned), is putting many of the people who need it most off investigating it; now as then, those who claim to love it, but in fact are the descendants of the Little Englander conservatives who would have hated it when it was new, spread the malicious canard that those who understand where it came from, and set it in a context with the inventions and challenges of today, somehow do not "really" love it. The hostile, abusive stance many of the old guard of Beatles fans take towards those who dare to mention grime and dubstep as part of a lineage instigated by their heroes is overwhelmingly reminiscent of the fearful, defensive stance of Shakespeareans when the techniques and processes of television drama were first mentioned in the context of Shakespeare's work.

Among much else, this also reminds us of a profound truth of British life, which is that conservative academics and conservative lumpenproletarians need each other for each other's security and to remain safe in their own unchallenging worlds, and that neither challenges the other to even the slightest extent. It is wonderfully appropriate that a 1995 Sunday Times article (about Elvis Presley) should speak approvingly of an alliance between the "he's-not-worthy-of-study approach" and the "let's-not-get-too-pretentious approach", because without such an alliance, and its specific manifestation within the Murdoch empire, the right-wing press, and the outmoded assumptions on all sides which it thrives on, would simply not exist. Before the Beatles can be seen in their true light, both forms of conservatism need to be dismantled, or at least seriously challenged (though in some ways, an extreme nativist such as Peter Hitchens - Jurassic Tory as the equally Little Englander Dennis Skinner is Jurassic Labour - understands the Beatles, in his hatred of all they stood for, far more than any Tory hack who superficially likes them ever could).

In 2011, most of the audience for grime and dubstep does not think of those musics in context of the Beatles, any more than most of the audience of Coronation Street in 1961 thought of it in context of classical drama. But as time goes on, and the Beatles become much less a sentimental memory of a generation that cannot face its own privilege and the consequence of its denial of those privileges to the generations behind it, and much more an objective field of study - a subject for further research - the true context of both then and now should become much more open, always assuming (and it may, alas, be an over-optimistic assumption) that the ever-increasing inequality of academic life and the age-old British bigotry of dehumanising intellectuals do not hold it back.

Much of the romantic, overstated nonsense that has come to surround the Beatles is already being deprecated and exposed as largely a fiction as the dust settles on the 60s; for example, it is more and more recognised that while small towns and villages did become less themselves, less self-sufficient during and after the Beatles' era, this had far more to do with essentially coincidental forces such as the growth of supermarkets, driven by capitalist power rather than working-class invention, which would have happened even if the world of Bobby Vee and Gidget had lasted substantially longer, and was already starting to happen even before "Love Me Do" (in some ways, the purely passive and wholly Tory Brook Brothers anticipated modern British consumerism far more than the more proactive, engaged Beatles did).

What made Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head stand out in 1994 seems shockingly ahead of its time today; his view that Thatcherism was largely the natural descendant of the mainstream of 60s pop culture (which actually had much less to do with the Beatles than is commonly supposed) rather than a reaction against it, which at the (just) pre-Blair time was seen as a form of apostasy, even blasphemy on both Left and Right, but is now recognised and accepted by many prominent thinkers on all sides (though it shouldn't be used, as it sometimes has been, to justify the idea that "Blue Labour" is Labour's best way out/back). Even with the many faults in his analysis - if he believed, as he claimed when briefly analysing the mediocrity of much of the individual Beatles' solo work, that "pop/rock is essentially young people's music", surely he should have recognised that he was not in a position to denounce all 1980s & 90s innovations within it, many of them born out of the exact same cultural engagement and relationship that defined the Beatles' very existence, so harshly and simplistically - the refusal of his analysis of the 60s to play by the stereotypical dogma of either Left or Right alone justifies his book.

Recently, Jonathan Gould has written eloquently about the Beatles' cultural legacy from the post-Blair standpoint MacDonald did not choose to live to see, and Peter Doggett has written authoritatively about the bitterness of the divisions within the band and their associates over their broader legacy, which has for so long seemed to embody the absolute opposite of the virtues the Beatles in their own time, for all their faults, very largely stood for (at least before 1968). It will not be long now before those who remain from the band and their social circles, and those millions who had their lives fundamentally changed by their existence, really are going, and going, and then finally gone. I have a decent chance of living to see their centenary; I will most likely outlive even the equivalents of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch among those who saw them in person. When that happens, they will undoubtedly be a less widely-acknowledged, less mainstream phenomenon (they already are, I think, compared with pre-millennial times), but they will seem - are already seeming - stranger, in many ways far more ancient and yet in other ways newer and fresher, when seen from a viewpoint unencumbered by the distortions of half-remembered, mythical personal (or even parental, and eventually even grandparental) pasts.

The division will not be over whether or not they are seen - as is stated at the very end of Revolution in the Head, we could not know in the 1990s precisely how they would be seen when their own generation had gone, but we already knew that they would be seen - but over how they are seen; as the gilded-cage justifiers of petty-minded conservatism and fear, or as the developers (even if not the actual originators) of all that is open and challenging and outward-looking in mass culture, as the voice of the working class speaking out against elite abuses of power and in favour of the global unity of the proletariat. Let us hope that the passing of time eventually allows the latter view of the Beatles to decisively win. If the former view wins, Cameron and Welch and Adkins and the BRIT School will also have won, and we will all be infinitely poorer for it. If the latter view wins, grime and dubstep and the unacknowledged, still unkillable radical lineage in British society will also have won, if only by proxy, and we will all be - in all the senses that matter - immeasurably richer.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Dusk, and the impermanence of life

Daylight on 21st June and darkness on 21st December feel like they could go on forever, precisely as human life cannot. Dusk, at any time of year, is impermanent, precisely as human life is; you relish every moment of it all the more because you know how soon it will be gone and how elusive and impossible to define in straightforward, logistical language it is, precisely as human life is. And walking as daylight dies - especially at this, still somehow, despite everything, the oldest time of year - makes you ever more acutely aware of your own mortality. You walk faster, go to places you don't know, and may not even know where you are, so as to fit it all in before darkness (11/11). And somehow you can feel the place in which you live - and thus somehow feel fuller, more complete - in a way you never can at any other time. You want to live all the more fervently, all the more involved, because you've had a sense of a deeper, longer belonging. Even if you can never truly be part of it, you want to believe you can. You realise that there was a point after all, you just never remembered or felt it.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Alex Ferguson: an alternative history of the last quarter-century

The precise timing of Ferguson's career turning points run in such parallel to the modern history of English football itself - itself so much a mirror for the social history surrounding it - that it is almost too perfect to be true. The same years of struggle and uncertainty in the late '80s, the same moment of serendipity in 1990, seven minutes away from Wembley humiliation, a European shut-out in the first year of English clubs' return and probable oblivion, the same moment of celebration as a new kind of elite returned the success whose restoration had become what seemed like a futile obsession, the same millennial ultimate triumph and ultimate old-establishment embrace, the same eternal, endless status - permanent neoliberalism - on the other side. Precise dates can be identified. A YouTube upload of the September 1990 European return, just as BSB headed further and further towards the inevitable, has several commenters stating that they became Manchester United fans that night - six months earlier, they would so clearly have aspired towards the mythos of the NFL (while ignoring its semi-socialist reality) that you do not actually have to be a Palace fan to find reading them a painful experience.

Even the timing of Ferguson's original appointment is symbolic. We know that this has become perhaps the most bitter time of year, when we are reminded most harshly of the market as destructive force, eroding so much of value and lasting potency and power (infinitely more ancient and permanent than exaggerated and misremembered residual anti-Catholicism), and replacing something embedded, and for the most part wholly unthreatening and unprejudiced, with something hollow, empty and utterly devoid of resonance. We may not remember so easily that it was also at this time that, 21 years ago and another 21 years before that, Rupert Murdoch enjoyed two of his three greatest territorial advances, and when a further 13 years earlier an entire culture was discredited, ripped apart, rendered untouchable for an entire generation - a fully deserving fate had it not been for the fact that its replacement, once so promising, ended up arguably even more rotten, even more the detritus of a decaying empire. These weeks, which carry so much historical weight, have become almost unendurable for their meaning in modern times - and Ferguson, in his own way, is as much a part of that as anything else.

Ferguson, I think, suffers from the same underlying problem as the 'Republic of Mancunia' axis; like them, he has continued to regard an affinity to American pop culture (and thus Sky) and antipathy to "official" British culture (and thus the BBC) as somehow rebellious, unorthodox and anti-establishment, even as it has become so embedded in elite institutions that Etonian Tories use it to justify their claims to be more "of the people" than Labour (you cannot help fearing that some of the "Manc Attitude" diehards really do believe that Cameron and his acolytes feel more personal and spiritual affinity to the BBC than to Sky). As with so many of his generation, so anxious is he to distance himself from the squalor and deprivation of his early years in his current job that he views any criticism of the economic state he has benefited from so spectacularly - while pretending to be somehow above it, not fully part of it - as an attempt to drag the game back to Heysel and Bradford, and himself back to the slums of post-war Glasgow, a simplistic view of modern history which exists to close down any serious argument and debate before it has even begun.

Far from representing any kind of challenge to the orthodoxies of the modern game, he is thus their ultimate embodiment, the epitome of the false, either-or dichotomies and the one-way Journey as if there had never been another option. Trapped within the dicta of capitalist realism even as he pretends to be uneasy with them, he epitomises the dilemma of so many British people with post-war, pre-Beatles childhoods, now steadily retiring from the public stage but leaving a legacy which continues to define their successors as assuredly as it will, eventually, define his. Nobody else could be a more fitting bridge between the old game and the new, and precisely for that reason nobody else could have had that level of success. And precisely for both those reasons, nobody else poses deeper long-term problems.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

EMI, post-imperial reassurance and the ruling class

I loathe the idea - currently being promoted by vast swathes of the British media - that I am supposed to care about EMI, or to see any kind of moral distinction between exploitative, short-term capitalists based on which country they come from (Guy Hands' practices were arguably worse than the worst 1950s caricature of the rootless American, itself so often shorthand for anti-Semitism), or to think of pop music predominately in terms of the industry rather than the music itself, or to view pop music as predominately a tool of nationalism and the ruling class rather than a form in which the oppressed classes of the world can unite and reject petty nationalism (even more so when it comes from within their own social backgrounds than when it is promoted by elites). Let EMI be carved up between American and Russian ultra-capitalists. Wholly unlike pop music itself, EMI isn't worth saving; quite apart from anything else, the form it has taken is a threat to everything that has ever made pop music a progressive, liberating force, and a barrier to representative popular art.

The fact that EMI was the sole British survivor in its field from the era of limited capitalism within national borders to have remained a dominant force in the era of uncontrolled capitalism which knows no borders whatsoever has enabled a huge amount of sentimental mythology to surround it, which promotes pop music as something it never was (and indeed never could have been, and defined itself by not being for most of its first thirty years), and fundamentally ignores the cultural process that brought that music into being. Listen to most of the people crying crocodile tears over EMI - the same people who thought it was a moral outrage when a company producing tasteless, badly-made pseudo-"chocolate" was acquired by a set of capitalists who theoretically owed allegiance to a different country from that the previous lot theoretically owed allegiance to, but actively support the sell-off of the National Health Service - and you'd think the Beatles, without whom EMI would have been absorbed, almost unnoticed, decades ago, were a bunch of merry Olde Englishe grateful peasants, happily chirruping nonny-nonny-no and annually laying a wreath at the old squire's grave.

The reality is that not only did the Beatles represent a fundamental rejection of Little Englander nationalism and the idea that the mass of people should be subservient to the ruling class - something implicitly believed by those who have little interest in the creative arts themselves but plenty of interest in ensuring that their gatekeepers will always be exactly the same people acting in exactly the same way - but that even they might not have been enough for EMI to last this long had the British company not also owned their US label, Capitol. We all know that Decca had first refusal on the Beatles, and that had they taken up their option they might have survived until now whereas EMI might have disintegrated, unnoticed, at the dawn of the Thatcher era after years of stagnation, but the real serendipity for EMI was that they had acquired Capitol some years earlier, in a rare example of a declining power absorbing part of its usurper's business. Accordingly, the Beatles' US income - which was where their real money came from - could ultimately remain part of, and be ploughed back into, the British company that had signed them. This is a rarely-acknowledged truth for the precise reason that it points out a deeper truth that would bring the Tory distortion of pop's legacy crashing down; even half a century ago, Britain was already a ghost of a nation, which could do nothing meaningful on its own terms, and the "British Invasion" was really a momentary papering over the cracks rather than any kind of meaningful rebirth. The fact that it was the only way a Britain exiled from Europe could make any significant money or earn any significant international kudos for itself only makes the foundation stones of the modern EMI all the more retrospectively chimaeric.

Ian Gilmour was undoubtedly right when he wrote in 2003 that had the British been more nationalistic twenty or thirty years before, and prevented much of their mass media and entertainment industry falling into foreign hands, they would have been less nationalistic by then, because they would have had much more genuinely of their own and therefore much less need to fall back on kneejerk, vicious tabloid Two Minutes' Hate. This applies, if anything, even more perfectly to the role pop music has played in the creation of the current version of Toryism. Imagine if the British had not embraced the most obvious, most consumerist version of pop with such totality and fervour - demanding the impossible, but predominately, for the mass, of capitalism rather than socialism - during the quarter-century between Suez and the Falklands, and had instead shown a greater appetite than they actually did for new hybrid forms which were nonetheless more heavily rooted in earlier British culture (a Britain where Fairport would have had bigger hits than Free, perhaps). In such a world, much of the nationalism that surrounds those who would preserve EMI from the economic policies they normally cheer on wholeheartedly - Our Music, Not Like All That Nasty Foreign Muck (without which not a note of it would ever have been recorded, of course) - would not have had the chance to grow, because the British would have had enough that was unobtrusively, proudly but harmlessly their own that they wouldn't have needed it.

But even if you have a more positive view of pop's first quarter-century than displayed above - and I do myself, much of the time - few could deny that the cycle has been broken and that the EMI myth is at the heart of that process. In the last ten years, the epicentre of EMI's role at the core of the greatest nationalistic distortion of an open-minded, liberal-internationalist form since First World War flagwavers began the never-ending distortion of Elgar has been Coldplay, a phenomenon as crucial to the creation of the current form of Toryism as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies "thinking the unthinkable" were to the last reinvention of that movement. The reason why so many of us genuinely believed, for a while, that the Tories might never get back in was that after 1997 it was obvious that no government peddling an essentially pre-pop vision of Britain could ever be elected, and for a long time it looked as though the Tories would never be able to reconcile themselves with pop's legacy, which still had a residual hint of egalitarianism (even if never socialism) about it. Had it not been for the wave of ruling-class scions denuding pop of any hint of its original political meaning, and refuting any belief in the solidarity with the oppressed peoples of all countries (and against the ever-more global ruling class) which underpinned every note the Beatles played, that reconciliation might have been postponed forever.

Through enabling the creation of a whole new establishment culture - with just the right crumbs thrown at the proles just often enough to make themselves look "inclusive" (Chris Martin's regular association of himself with "urban" acts is surely the model for the Cameronite house "ethnics"), and through combining a passive, uncritical consumption of mass culture with passive-aggressive, One Of Our Own flagwaving - EMI and Coldplay, with the latter carrying the former's flag as a cypher for the Union flag itself, have effectively allowed the current government and all it stands for to develop almost from nowhere. Yes, Billboard can point out they've got Professor Green as well, but those who think EMI is some great national asset, a St Paul's for the modern secular religion, couldn't care less about (even) him. The objectively pro-ruling class - and thus anti-Beatles and, ultimately (even considering what pop meant for the Neil Sedaka or David Cassidy fans, the Photoplay Film Monthly readers, the white picket fence dreamers) anti-pop - reporting of EMI's likely defenestration is telling me that I should care about Coldplay's contract being in the hands of a part of the capitalist elite based in one part of the world rather than another, even though Coldplay's music could have been made by and for the ruling class pretty much everywhere (but not by or for the oppressed classes anywhere). What can be said about an idea of nation that has been reduced to this?

I never thought anything could be worse than old-fashioned British nationalism. I was wrong. Pop British nationalism is, and almost every word written about EMI proves it. Let it, and EMI, rot.

2010/11 = 1974/5 in reverse?

In March 1974, a minority government came to power following a hung parliament, which despite its questionable remit proudly and unashamedly attempted to push the consensus of the previous three decades measurably further than anyone had taken it before. A sense of triumph and pre-revolutionary fervour among the working class, and an equal sense of paranoia and pre-revolutionary fear among the ruling class, spread through the country. For a brief while, the Tories seemed utterly out-thought and outflanked, and something close to a workers' state seemed tantalisingly near, really far more so than in 1945 when the working class had been far more conservative and had far more faith in the quasi-feudal institutions (it is one of the great tragedies of British television that the changing climate in television drama and political pressures on the BBC ensured that Trevor Griffiths' Country, set on that first post-war election night, remained a one-off rather than the start of a sequence of plays, running up to that 1974 moment, as initially planned).

But that Labour government had a fatal fault; it didn't have enough broad-ranging public support for its remarkably radical agenda (whereas in 1945 it very definitely had). It wanted to take the populace in a direction not enough of it wanted to go, and thus opened the door for another kind of radicalism. Even though Labour later shifted to a more consensual position under Jim Callaghan (who, intriguingly, recently won Peter Hitchens' seal of approval, and would surely be considered underrated, with both his proto-SDP and hard-left opponents seen as overrated, by the Blue Labour tendency) the semi-revolutionary circumstances in which it had come to power and the electoral fragility of its remit did for it - and, by extension, for an entire set of assumed norms of the organisation of the economy and society.

The similarity of the mid-1970s situation to the present one seems intriguing, at least from the perspective of those who believe that electoral politics - despite its profoundly, inherently flawed form with which an early heatwave, a royal wedding and a late Easter may have ensured we are now stuck for the rest of our lives - have to be worked with if significant change is to be effected. Once again, a hung parliament has given us a government with an unequivocally radical agenda, taking the consensus of the previous three decades considerably further than anyone has previously dared. Once again, we have the logical conclusion of what would have happened had those who had built a three-decade consensus abandoned all residual halfway houses with the previous assumed norms. And once again, it is happening at precisely the moment when significant numbers of people, who would not previously have questioned it, are wondering if that consensus, and the people it has empowered, have been good for the country.

The economic crisis that began in 2008 is now emerging as to the post-1979 consensus what the industrial strife of 1972-4 was to its post-1945 equivalent - the moment when much of the population began to question what it thought it knew unequivocally and forever. And just as those circumstances, which were the direct reason why it was in power at all, made things far more difficult for the Labour government of 1974 than they would otherwise have been, so are the present circumstances, and the way they are similarly encouraging many to cut loose from their fixed economic and political moorings, creating hostility to the current government among people who would once have supported it unquestioningly. Even in Thatcher's darkest hours in the very early 1980s, there was a broad public consensus (at least outside the heavy-industrial areas) that industrial relations had to be reformed - a view that was already developing across much of society by the mid-1970s. Today, the closest thing to a broad public consensus is that banking and the financial service industries need to be reformed - and this is as profound a problem for the current government as dissatisfaction with union abuses was in 1974/5.

This is where Ed Miliband has much of the public - indeed, much of the public that would never previously have accepted his views or thought they were necessary - on his side in a manner remarkably akin to the way Margaret Thatcher, right at the start of her Tory leadership, was already, quite unexpectedly, winning over some who had voted Labour with pride and the desire to create a new society in 1945, and who had broadly stuck by them for the subsequent quarter-century. I do not want to over-emphasise my hopes for the current Labour Party. There is a long way to go in the party's rebuilding, a long way to go before I can believe unequivocally that an Ed Miliband government would be what can only be vaguely imagined now. But at least the germ of questioning and change is there in a place where it seemed it might never be again.

Could it be, perhaps, that the current government will be viewed by history very much as the Labour government of the mid-1970s is viewed today - as an extreme assertion of a set of ideas on the economy and society just before they were decisively challenged and overturned - and Ed Miliband's conference speech will be viewed as Thatcher's early speeches are, as a statement that was widely mocked and viewed as marginal and unworkable when it was made, but eventually stands out as the beginning of a fundamental change?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

English football and modern England: getting America wrong, badly

(Many thanks, as so often, to David Conn in The Guardian for placing the idea of this article in my mind)

Between the collapse of the culture of imperial entitlement and autarky and the rise of the culture of neoliberalism and institutionalised inequality and poverty disguised as "democracy", getting America wrong was what made Britain great. For all that it may have been used as a sticking plaster on Britain's ongoing failings in so many areas (it is important for those of us who prefer the economic model of that time not to deny that the seeds of its demise were sown very, very early on), the creative misinterpretation of American music - specifically the music isolated and ghettoised in a semi-apartheid society - was the starting point for a cultural rebirth, genuinely convincing many that the collapse of British power could be the starting point for a whole new form of invention and challenge.

Everything in English football that has led to Liverpool's statement of intent yesterday is the byproduct of the years when all that broke down, when Sunday evening Channel 4 brought in a misunderstood image of American-ness - now with no pretence to any kind of true democratisation, merely the neoliberal mirage of "freedom" - as the way out of a dying prole culture that was by then so rotten, so vile, that it didn't deserve to survive. This piece is a brief argument - a whole book could be written about it, and should be - that with different politics and a different way of seeing the world, we could have found a quite different way out, which quite apart from being truer and fairer to the people of modern England, would also have been truer and fairer to the people of the United States.

This is very obviously not how the NFL appeared to British audiences during the Huey Lewis / Miami Vice years that unconsciously begat the Premier League, but American sports are in at least two ways profoundly un-American, at least in terms of the idea of American-ness that defines modern Britain; they have a quasi-socialist structure (a vitally important fact which is not generally known in the UK for all the most predictable reasons; both new and old prejudices are at fault here) and they are not globally exported. If they had been - for which you would probably have needed the US to have been an active, unashamed imperial power in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania when Britain was, rather than mired in its own isolationism whose legacy is still reflected in sport - English football would have been most unlikely to gain its scale of global appeal; it has got this big because England seems, on a broader cultural level, like the Next Best Thing to aspirational Westerners, and the involvement of American capitalists in English football has to do with the fact that it offers them the chance to be American in the most stereotypical (and, within British socialism, pejorative) sense - extreme financial dominance over their lesser rivals, without any institutional structures to bridge the divide and make the sports more fair, and status as a ubiquitous global product - which they could have if they worked in the US film or pop music industries, but which their own sports deny them.

It is a harsh irony that it is Liverpool that should have instigated this; when the Beatles got America wrong, they made its influences much more socialist, much more collectivist than they had been originally (yes, yes, I know, first track on Revolver from now till doomsday, yes, yes, I know, Oliver Smedley, but earlier on they'd taken "Money (That's What I Want)" and somehow, miraculously, made its legacy, its impact, seem wholly compatible with the politics of the Left), but now the city's most successful team - which was at the core of the tragedies from which Thames Estuary politics dictated that neoliberalism was the only way out, even though most of their core supporters knew, and still know, that it wasn't - have taken one of the few aspects of American society that is comparatively socialist and collectivist and made it a parody of greed and selfishness; a parody of its supposed inspiration that only reveals how little it knows about it, and what it is, and why and how it is what it is (Thatcherites, Blairites and Cameronites, in this respect, have actually understood America significantly less than Macmillanites did back in the birth years of British consumerism).

This is the inevitable legacy of the Thatcher-and-onwards interpretation of American-ness which gets its source wrong in a manner as socially alienating and divisive as the beat groups getting America wrong (not least in terms of identifying with its oppressed classes, and recognising the Bobby Vees and Neil Sedakas as the playthings and safety valves of the very same overclass that had oppressed them, here) was socially unifying and utopian. To say that English football has become "more American than the Americans" would be too simplistic, only halfway there; a fairer analysis is that it has become the embodiment of a fundamental misinterpretation of a country which in fact - however it presents itself today - was not founded on mere consumerism and certainly not on glorifying inequality for its own sake, and is every bit as patronising, ahistorical and anti-democratic as any "Greece to their Rome" paternalism ever was. English football in 2011 is not doing America proud. It is, in its own way, letting America down just as much as the Tea Party.

Obviously English football was broken beyond repair in the mid-1980s (which is why those who call Stoke City a "breath of fresh air" are so enraging) but those who, desperate to escape Songs of Praise and Highway, flicked between "St Elmo's Fire" on the Network Chart and the Chicago Bears during the blackout really didn't know what they were doing. It wasn't their fault, obviously; they were the victims of someone else's ideology. But think of the difference; the Beatles didn't know what they were doing when they first heard R&B and Motown, but they did something wonderful and liberating almost by accident. The gridiron class of '86 also did something almost by accident, but something that strengthened and enforced elite power as definitively as pop originally promised to erode it. In the light of what the Premier League has become, that moment stands out as the decisive time when getting America wrong ceased to be a force for liberation and became a force for dehumanisation, when it ceased to be our national saving grace and became, instead - sadly unpredicted and unpredictable - our greatest national sickness.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The New Left did not cause the riots

Neil Clark's analysis of the socio-political causes of the riots is typically simplistic and kneejerk. While I agree wholeheartedly where Thatcherism is concerned, I sympathise with the argument that much of it was merely acquisition and not legitimate, thought-out political protest, and I abhor those who think there is something Left-wing about defending McDonald's or market-led film distribution simply because David Starkey or Peter Hitchens don't like them, he is on profoundly shaky ground when he starts playing the Mail/Telegraph card and suggesting some kind of almost mystical, spiritual link between the intellectual-Left's rejection, during the 1960s and 1970s, of the old hierarchical structures of what was considered to be of worth and value, and the elite corruption and social alienation and dislocation - the institutionalised social divisions and poverty - which reached their horrible, inevitable final manifestation this week.

As in much of his previous work, he greatly romanticises the social position of the working class in the Macmillan era, which teaches us the significant lesson that full employment, and free Oxbridge education for a lucky few, is not enough in itself; not if the elite wants to trap the working class within an ordained, fixed culture which was simply no longer enough for their aspirations and desires; not if the majority are given an education only slightly more advanced and challenging than they had had in the pre-war world; not if the state is on the side of those who would freeze them out of their communities for having sexual or emotional desires which, for some, are natural and unavoidable. If that social order was so wonderful, why did millions of working-class people - most of whom had little or nothing to do with the New Left as an intellectual movement, and would barely have recognised such a concept - embrace R&B and rock so enthusiastically? That alone shows that there was dissatisfaction with the certainties Clark longs for - but which he was not alive to experience himself - far beyond the theorems of intellectuals (whom he almost dehumanises in an unsettlingly tabloid way). No matter that these forms have become the establishment culture for the present neoliberal elite; in their day, they were genuine forces for liberation, and the working class could not have lived in "the cultural 1930s with better pay and better job security" (pretty much the 1951-64 government's safety-valve plan; certainly, that seemed a much less quasi-socialist era at the time than it does to retrospective popular historians) forever.

If taken to its logical conclusion, Clark's argument - as would be expected of someone whose idea of a collective, mutual, socialist statement within pop is JJ Barrie's "No Charge" - is that any kind of invention, innovation, challenge or argument within popular culture is in itself a neoliberal, anti-socialist act. Quite apart from also suggesting an apologist (as Clark also is) for the autocratic abuses of power enacted in the name of "socialism" in the former Eastern Bloc, it reveals a cretinous failure to distinguish between the multiple forms within pop - between true, multi-layered, expression of an oppressed class which involves a solidarity with all those struggling throughout the world, and the mere indulgence of the ruling class and its playthings. Clark is wilfully ignoring the difference between Justin Bieber or The Wanted, and the sort of passive, one-way fandom they encourage and are defined by, and the active involvement of - and here I'm confining myself to those who are part of mass pop, and thus a problem for those (whether of Left or Right) who hold autocratic views on culture - Katy B, Chase & Status, Nero, even Tinie Tempah (those who think, pace "Till I'm Gone", that he's automatically selling out if he shakes Prince Harry's hand should consider that there are just as many people who think Prince Harry's selling out if he shakes Tinie Tempah's hand; Peter Hitchens, for whom Clark has expressed admiration in the past, is very clearly among them).

As is an inevitable, inherent condition of Daily Mail Socialism, Clark is lumping elite safety valves and messengers with a form of - however confused, however compromised - genuine expression of an oppressed class's feelings. He is suggesting that the working class have a perfect, ordained role in society, as long as they do not actively challenge the ruling class's preferred forms of expression. How can such a quasi-feudal method of social organisation provide any kind of answer to the urgent social questions asked by the riots, when it failed the test of post-war mass education half a century ago? Clark, who has expressed kneejerk tabloid anti-hip-hop prejudice on previous occasions, is coming dangerously close to siding with David Starkey's grotesque Newsnight comments, where the adoption of black pop (which, as Tupac definitively said, was given this world; it didn't make it) by the mass of the working class is seen as a bigger cause of the riots than decades of institutionalised quasi-apartheid. He detracts from the accuracy of his own attacks on Thatcherism by bringing a wholly understandable desire to break from the narrowness of the other long period of post-war Tory rule into his argument.

As an Old Left partisan - someone who cannot accept, however firm and unquestionable the evidence may be, that his "side" ever abused its power and caused long-term damage to Britain - Clark blames Thatcherism purely on the New Left because he cannot face the truth; that the organised Old Left, as manifested in the trade union movement, created the platform for the Thatcherite reaction by misusing their considerable privileges during the early 1970s, and effectively intimidating Labour into power at a time when they simply weren't ready. The resultant social context - where the Old Left (vast numbers of whom posed, as Enoch Powell correctly stated when defending his fatal intervention in the February 1974 election, no threat whatsoever to his own belief in racial and cultural hierarchies) had left a moderate Tory leadership looking weak, ineffectual and out-thought/fought on every front - has infinitely more to do with the Thatcherite takeover of the Tory party than any amount of academic radicalism and relativism could ever have done. To suggest that Thatcherism did not gain strength and pick up popular support - especially from what used to be called the upper working class, who were its greatest electoral foundation stone - as a result of Old Left belief that they owned Britain (and were as determined to keep out those who were facing great working-class struggles in other parts of the world comparable to those in Britain in the 1930s, or the liberation musics of working-class movements worldwide, as "scabs" or "blacklegs" from their own movement), and never needed to compromise on any issue, is as deluded as it would be to suggest that the desire of millions of servicemen in the 1940s to vote Labour once the war had been won had nothing to do with the entrenched attitudes of the officer class and military establishment.

It is perfectly true that New Labour combined elements of New Left cultural thinking and Thatcherite economics, but to suggest that because this happened in the 1990s there must have been some inherent, organic connection between the two ideologies from the start, is a form of historical retcon - one of many tendencies in Clark's writing that serious historians (among whom Clark is not numbered) would never indulge in. The Thatcherite movement had little, at heart, to do with culture, certainly much less than the Blairite movement did; the increased dominance of pop culture (through media deregulation) and decline in the assumed hierarchical position of high culture (through the reduction in school funding for concert and museum visits, etc.) which have come to be regarded as among its key legacies were merely incidental aftereffects, not central policies. It was purely and simply about crushing British socialism and marginalising those within the Tory party who were seen as having appeased it, not about spreading within the Tory party the ideologies associated with the then-new universities and polytechnics. Keith Joseph, in 1975, would have had no more time for those views than Norman St John Stevas would have.

Clark would no doubt assume that Thatcher's deregulation of British broadcasting increased the amount of airtime given to the ideologies and values of his hated New Left, which of course would show how little he knows about modern British history; the old structure, which he praises only for its heritage dramas and Perry & Croft sitcoms (loved in vast numbers by GB75-ers in the actual 1970s, as opposed to the xerox of the era he half-remembers from childhood), also allowed New Leftists to reach the largest possible audience through radical drama and documentary. The Broadcasting Act of 1990 was intended specifically to marginalise and freeze out to the point of oblivion this New Left influence, not to get rid of "hearty family entertainment". Dad's Army and Upstairs, Downstairs are still endlessly revived; Days of Hope and The Price of Coal are only now being made available commercially, and BBC Four rarely represents that era as it did when many/most people couldn't yet receive it. Clark's belief in cross-class politics - which would be perversely touching were it not so dangerous - means that even when he praises something that was fundamentally good, he does so for all the wrong reasons.

There are multiple reasons and multiple causes for the riots, which do indeed reveal a profound corruption and desolation throughout vast swathes of British society (which is why Clark's simplistic, wrong-headed "blame every single aspect of the modern world" rhetoric is a million times more enraging than someone blithely insisting that nothing is wrong at all). It should be obvious that every single suggestion Cameron has made will, if anything, make things even worse, will merely increase social exclusion, thus alienation, thus despair, thus the platform for something like this to happen over and over again. But Clark would, in all likelihood, agree with Cameron that Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger are somehow "to blame" - (literally) shoot the messenger, shoot the messenger, shoot the messenger, you might as well have blamed 2Tone and the existence of the 7-inch single 30 years ago - and that is where I differ as profoundly from him as from Cameron himself. Institutionalised nostalgia and anti-modernism will get us no further than Cameron's headline-chasing short-termism. Only a more profound change will get us anywhere - but the society that change would lead to would have to be at least as different from the society of 1961 as from the society of 2011. Anything else is institutionalised lying and delusion, as much so as any of the political ideologies and institutional inequalities and unfairnesses which led to the riots.

Daily Mail Socialism is no more a way out than Cameron's straight-down-the-line Mailism. It is important to remember that, at this low point of British life and society, and to regard Clark's rhetoric as merely the flipside of Cameron's papering-over-the-cracks populism, rather than any kind of answer. For that, we will have to look far beyond. To, indeed, a reinvented and re-radicalised - and de-Blairised - version of the New Left. For all that movement's eventual faults, a belief in the liberating power of oppressed classes expressing themselves through mass culture, and in the global unity of the proletariat, is far more likely to offer some kind of way out - of the nihilism and desperation and disenfranchisement which was so horribly manifested this week - than magic wand politics and semi-feudalism. Ed Miliband should listen, carefully.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Murdoch: some thoughts

Those who bring about institutionalised corruption in any country at any time - the sort which absorbs virtually the entire elite (politicians, police, the judiciary) and renders it almost impossible to gain power without yourself being absorbed by it - only ever get away with it because they have sensed, and exploited, a pre-existing public demand for what they are good at cheapening and perverting, and also sensed that the mass won't be able to tell the difference between what they do and the real thing. A good comparison is between Rupert Murdoch and John Poulson, who in his time was at the centre of as sensational an affair as this (and one which arguably, through discrediting both old-school Toryism and post-war Labour utopianism, gave Murdoch a far greater space in which to operate). Poulson was only able to corrode and corrupt British public life in the way he did because of the initially wholly progressive post-war desire to build a "New Britain", which he duly perverted beyond recognition. Murdoch, likewise, was only able to do what he has done because of the longings and desires of '60s pop culture, which he initially exploited when he first bought into the British market in a way no other newspaper proprietor at the time would have dared to.

But this comparison - at least for a defender of other, better aspects of post-war British development such as myself - opens the way to a more nuanced view of pop culture than I may have displayed in my previous post. If I do not blame Le Corbusier for the corruption indicted when the Poulson affair went public, I also cannot blame '60s pop culture for the corruption and distortion of British life that Murdoch's power has brought about; the parallels, in terms of a positive and progressive movement being perverted almost beyond recognition for the empowerment of the venal, self-serving and destructive, are astonishingly close. It would be as unfair for the people who make the music associated with Channel AKA, or those behind the non-exploitative, non-tabloid channels which have used the Sky platform (and there are some!) to be tarred with Murdoch's brush as it was for certain architects who stood for everything Poulson didn't to be tarred with his brush, as they inevitably were in the Mail/Express mind, after everything went public. Almost immediately after that, of course, Britain suffered the disastrous year of 1974, when the extremist, Europhobic wings of both major parties were decisively empowered, and the centrist, European-minded wings of both fatally weakened; an all-round corrosion of balance and reason within the British political mainstream whose horrendous consequences we still suffer every day, not least because The Sun gained strength as a direct result of the void thus created. Every abuse of trade union power from 1974-9, culminating in the height of futility which was the 1979 ITV strike (whose political impact was, arguably, the real birth of Sky) represented thousands of alienated Mirror readers and, accordingly, thousands of mental blank canvasses for Murdoch. In its own way, this whole business is the single worst aspect of the corrosive legacy of socialism's fatal February, which appeared to some at the time - both its critics and its supporters - to be potentially a world-changing victory, but was in fact the beginning of a terrible, long-term defeat.

One argument I absolutely do not endorse is the idea that if "somebody else would have done it anyway" that makes the bad things that actually happened somehow more defensible, not least because, when it comes to extreme forms of corruption, somebody else probably wouldn't have done it anyway. Someone else probably would have exploited the "New Britain" dreams to build cheap crap, and someone else probably would have exploited the impetus of '60s pop culture to publish cheap, crowd-pleasing crap (even if he hadn't been so politically odious, Robert Maxwell would undoubtedly have done just this had he won the battles for the News of the World and Sun in 1969, quite apart from everything else we know all too well). But someone else probably wouldn't have done the other, more profoundly damaging things that Poulson and News International have both done in their respective times. The difference is important, and should be kept in mind when cynics and reactionaries on the Right, or SWP tribalists on the Left, say "it was always inevitable anyway" - an absolute fundamentalism which renders any kind of progress impossible. It is possible for popular, mainstream media to be wholly socially responsible if properly regulated and balanced. Even today, Ofcom has sufficient power - just - to ensure that no major channel could become quite so shameless and venal (which of course is precisely why the Murdoch tabloids constantly attacked it as though it had the IBA's powers), while the pre-Murdoch history of British mass television offers a shining example, probably better in that field than anything else that has ever existed anywhere in the world, of cheerful populism combined with a fearless sense of moral responsibility.

Which brings me round to the argument that what may happen now doesn't really matter because Murdoch's real business and real wealth comes from the United States and other international markets, and the UK is small beer for him. While technically true, this doesn't really apply if you've lived your whole life in the UK and intend to stay here for some time to come; of necessity, your concerns will lean more towards his impact on the world you grew up in and felt had been snatched from you before you could fully inherit it. His impact on American television simply cannot be compared to his impact here; while Fox undoubtedly changed the content of US network TV, appealing to an audience that previously hadn't been recognised and willing that audience's cultural norms to become far broader (and thus, ironically, upsetting many of the viewers of the news network that uses the same name), it didn't bring about a comparable change in the form, which had always been structured on populist, market-led grounds virtually as a foundation stone of American broadcasting itself (which is precisely the reason why the pre-1990 ITV was set up as it was - or, more accurately, wasn't).

The changes he brought about in Australia, where it all began for him, were possibly more profound, but replacing a cultural cringe towards one empire on the other side of the world with a cultural cringe towards another empire, also on the other side of the world, hardly compares with Murdoch's impact in Britain (and was already such an irresistible force in Australian society that someone else would undoubtedly have exploited it - as indeed a "someone else" as significant as Kerry Packer also did). Also, while the official, establishment culture of pre-Murdoch Britain obviously depended to some extent on the suppression of the working class, it does not compare with the absolute, over-riding racism which was the foundation stone of the nascent Australian state, and much of Australian society, at that time. It is worth noting at this point that even a soul act as mainstream and melodic as the Supremes only managed (I think) three Top 40 hits in Australia during the '60s: the first-gen Murdoch model of absorbing American pop culture in place of a dying imperial culture in fact retained exactly all the faults, down to and including the inveterate racism, of the culture it supposedly swept away, in exactly the same way that the Murdochisation of British culture would do in my own lifetime.

We must not let the chance to build a better, more equable future for Britain slip away from us. We must keep up the pressure. We must see any reduction in Murdoch's power that may follow as the start, not the end. We must tell ourselves that the unfolding story vindicates every refusal we have ever made to conform to the ruling ideology of the day, just as much as 1989 vindicated every refusal the dissidents of Eastern Europe had ever made. But we must not become complacent. If things really do change for the better, we can tell ourselves with pride that we never gave up, just as much as Walesa and - in his own way, in his own context - Mandela could. But we have a long way to go yet. Let's seize the moment. Let's push things forward.

(It has been pointed out elsewhere that I do not mention the Wapping dispute in this piece. That is merely a byproduct of the way I tend to come at these things - mainly because nobody else does - and not any kind of ignorance of the event's importance in modern British history, which is indeed immense, not least as the closest thing to the miners' strike that was ever experienced in London.)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Murdoch is everyone's problem and everyone's responsibility

Too much humbug at the moment. Too much "not us, guv". Yes, obviously what the News of the World did is almost unspeakably vile even by their standards, and anything that can be done to reduce NewsCorp's power and status within British life - however minor, however much rearranging the deckchairs - has to be some kind of positive gesture. But it all goes far deeper. Remember that he began to gain ground, even before Labour's fatal victory-by-default, because much of the British working class had got drunk on '60s pop culture and had decided that the Daily Mirror was therefore too redolent of the old ideas of betterment and self-improvement. Think of how often you've heard people pretend to hate Murdoch "and all he stands for" while gleefully celebrating and enthusing over forms of mass culture which have got where they are very largely through his promotion and exposure. Think of how often you've heard people parroting anti-Murdoch rhetoric because it's what people of their political side do, while simultaneously laughing at the idea of the autodidact and dismissing the very concept of learning for its own sake. And think on. Where the anti-Murdoch Murdochians are concerned - those who think Murdoch is simply one phenomenon in isolation, rather than part of a far deeper and more embedded problem - the final bars of this song have never seemed more relevant.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Festivals of Britain, and the luxury of metropolitan life

Looking around the commemorations for the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain - and Current 93 were awesome, in the oldest sense of that term, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Sunday; an extremity and totality that they've rarely approached on record since their earliest years - and reading the accompanying book is a strange experience for someone with my very specific cultural grounding and early experiences. Certainly, the celebrations remind me anew how far removed my first experiences of the Royal Festival Hall - the site of my childhood realisation of class awareness and the essential unfairness and inequality of British life that has been ever more entrenched since while posing as the opposite - were from the ideals of democratic art on which the venue was founded, and how lost they had become by then in the privileged talking to themselves. The whole centre has undoubtedly, in recent years, reanimated and reactivated the ethos on which the Festival of Britain was built for an almost unimaginably different age, and managed to make connections which would have been beyond lesser bodies (though the representation of hip-hop is sufficiently embalmed in the received version of the street culture of 20 years ago and more - now accepted, absorbed, not a problem - as to show what will probably always be beyond them).

As is inevitable for any end-of-empire place and time, the 1950s in Britain saw three wildly oppositional visions of the cultural future presented to the mass. The decade began with the Festival of Britain, the product of the Attlee ethos of the best for the most and fair shares for all; this was rapidly supplanted by the Coronation, the last stand of the unreconstructed hierarchical culture of the British Empire (the Tories must have been secretly delighted that George VI died so soon after they got back; it gave them the platform to define an era which was both "new" and "a renaissance" yet wholly unencumbered with the troublesome socialism and inclusiveness of '51). By the decade's end, though, the middle-mass consumerism which has steadily gained more and more ground ever since had supplanted both visions; those who had tentatively, cautiously dipped their toes in post-war modernism in '51, and genuinely believed in '53 that a new age of autarky and supremacy was upon us, were lost in dreams of a "classless" America which were always as mythical and delusionary as quasi-feudal rural England - the true key years in post-war British history, the years Jake Thackray missed.

It is the great sadness of modern British life that it is '59 rather than '51 which proved the great long-term model on which British culture was rebuilt; those born long after even that fact who sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "It's Raining Men" and "I've Had the Time of My Life" will know as little about '59 as about '51, but whereas the latter year has had no influence whatsoever on their life, their very existence, every breath they ever draw, is in the shadow of the former year and its irresistible (to those millions of expansionary citizens for whom '51 was simply the product of scarcity, of Labour thinking that telling them what to like would be a workable substitute for actually allowing the creation of wealth) combination of just the right amount of newness (of homes, cars, holidays) and a reassuring traditional sheen of certainty and stability - what the young Dennis Potter meant in the title of The Glittering Coffin.

The ideals and forms of art put forward in the Festival of Britain are, likewise, equally alien to both visions - the temporary, unsustainable reassertion of one empire, and the ambiguous, multi-layered comment on/celebration of another that came with Richard Hamilton - that followed. There are multiple - and, I am sure, conscious and thought-out - ironies in the fact that Saint Etienne's film of the RFH's rebirth is called This is Tomorrow; the 1956 exhibition of that name, as great a cultural earthquake as "Heartbreak Hotel", represented as instant and dramatic a challenge to the ideals of improvement - of public modernism rooted in history - contained within the Festival of five years earlier as it did to the blatant denial of the tide of history embodied in the art of the Coronation. Twenty years later, the phrase was used as the title of a song by Bryan Ferry, whose life shows precisely the flaws of Pop Art's wariness of left-wing commitment and clarity of political position; how easily its apolitical stance can mutate, especially since the traditional establishment's abandonment during the 1980s of any residual ties to non-commercial values, into a reconstruction, a refurbishment of conservatism. A further thirty years on, it set the context for a moment of reconciliation; an awareness that, if the South Bank Centre did not recognise the questions asked and the certainties exploded by Hamilton's legacy, it would eventually die a slow death, and that these could, after all, meet the legacy of '51 somewhere in the middle.

It is of course almost universally recognised outside the most ideological right-wing circles that it made no economic sense - in fact, the precise opposite - for Britain for virtually all traces of the main Festival site, other than the RFH itself, to be destroyed so soon after the fact, just as it also made no economic sense for Britain for its entire heavy-industrial base to be destroyed and for the Film Council to be broken up almost overnight. In all those cases, the ideological fanaticism of the Tories, even the ones who at least accepted a certain amount of nationalisation, actually overpowered and discounted their supposed economic acumen, as it has frequently done throughout the party's history. This is why the legacy of the Festival of Britain is specifically potent in this place and time; it reminds us that, untenable as that precise top-down model is today, the state does have a role to play in ensuring true diversity where the market cannot, and that socialists can take from the best of the past to fight for a fairer future without being Blue Labourites (who are, if anything, the heirs - to invoke one of David Lindsay's favourite words, appropriate for someone who thinks the British aristocracy are more socialist than Sly and the Family Stone were - of those in 1951 who'd have said that the Festival was too metropolitan, too arty, too much Not For People Like Us).

This is where I must, sadly, point out that the celebratory language in the Festival of Britain book about how modern Britain takes from multiple sources, hybridises them and creates something wholly new and uniquely of itself, while undoubtedly generally true in the world the London arts elite move within and even more true (all the more so for being outside official bounds) within the endlessly evolving working-class culture of that city, does not apply to the mass of the population outside the major cities, and assumes a far wider and broader range of experiences and influences, and a far more creative and proactive (and less purely reactive) use of these influences than millions of people, alas, ever make. Within the world I mix in from day to day - the world of the stables and the unconscious alliance of two classes' worst and most inhuman tendencies so horribly manifested at Ascot last week - the exchange of cultures and the use of those multiple influences to create something new simply does not exist. Only one culture beyond the lumpenprole or petit-bourgeois ones (delete as applicable) of this country is commonly known about at all in places such as I live in, and engagement with it is purely on the grounds of barely-altered, uncritical copying rather than the use of it to create something genuinely questioning and challenging.

In short, Portland - and everywhere else like it - has everything in common, in its engagement with American-led mass culture, with the line that runs from Marty Wilde to N-Dubz, and nothing in common with the truly progressive line from Lonnie Donegan to Trilla. Other cultures do not exist at all for the vast majority of people here. This is the unfortunate reality that lurks beyond the knowledge of those who have the privilege to live beyond it. The reference in the Festival of Britain book to "the immigrant becoming the indigenous" is undoubtedly a truly wonderful thing when it is manifested in the lineage that produced grime and dubstep, but when it takes the form of the children of people who lived through the miners' strike in South Wales who know nothing beyond Cowellism - and if you are going to deal with the whole of this country, which after all was an extremely important aim of '51, you are going to have to - is it really any kind of improvement on what went before? Similarly, does the poppiest offspring of the London lineage - the Tinchys and Tinies - really represent any kind of broadening of the scope of the lives of lifelong Sun readers' children?

A reference is made to the range of cultures brought through migration since 1951 having provided a counterbalance to "the insularity of Middle England". But the problem of a place like Portland is not so much insularity in the traditional sense - it has little connection to or awareness of its pre-pop history and ways - as an overt concentration on one particular foreign culture, gazed up at and absorbed on a completely one-way, apolitical, unthinking level. It is a narrowness, but a different kind of narrowness, and while the word may still apply in terms of the fear of "outsiders" that remains an active social force, to use the word "insularity" without further embellishment of what is meant suggests that the problems are essentially the same as those the regional tours of post-war modernist art attempted to rectify in 1951, rather than different problems created and defined by different people. If the specific language used in the book had been wholly correct, then the radio station that promotes itself with the irrelevant old piece of cloth that is the Dorset flag (whose use seems to increase in inverse proportions to its cultural meaning - it's another example of Ploughman's Lunchism; hardly anyone round here less than a decade ago had the slightest idea what it looked like, and its sudden promotion is merely gaping over the cracks, rather than meaningfully filling any kind of hole in anyone's life) would be playing the songs you'd have heard 60 years ago on Singing Together, rather than Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars and that 1981 song whose recent promotion in the UK is as dangerous, and as politicised, an act of pseudo-history as anything propagated under Stalin. No doubt this sounds overtly pedantic on my part, but if you're concerned with the specific problems of a particular place, the language does have to be just right for the purpose and meaning involved. However narrow people's existence may be, "insularity" is not quite the right term when something from outside is more real to them than something native; just not the right things from outside, and not viewed or related to in the right way.

Heritage kitsch is merely a meaningless sideshow whose very prevalence shows up how hollow and empty it is (if it did have a genuine meaning and wasn't just as much a marketing game as anything in the pop industry itself, the places would probably be far more culturally open and tolerant than they are; just compare the general Guardian values of followers of folk music with the petty-minded racism of most old rockers; also, to a considerable extent, compare Scotland). The real problems the non-metropolitan areas face are different, and require different responses. Most of the real creativity in Britain does come from the metropolitan areas; the widespread, long-term British left view that the working class of the English shires is at least as counter-revolutionary by its very nature, and riddled with class treason as an essential element of belonging, as the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland was seen as in the Marxist analysis of the Troubles, does have a great deal of truth to it. I've lived round here long enough, and know the place well enough, to admit that now.

Nonetheless, if you can make it, spend some time around the South Bank for the remainder of the summer, and consider what happened, and what didn't happen, and what still could. You may know yourself, and wherever you live, far better for the experience.

English football: a final word

Tell many - I fear, most - English football fans that you like even one film by Godard or Antonioni and you're "not one of them"; you've let the side down; you cannot be a "real" football fan and any claim you may make to love the game is fake, bogus, mythical. Refer to "Camp Nou" and you hate the game that is played better there than anywhere else in the world (I'd love to believe that nobody has ever told me this, but they have). The best part of two decades since the "New Football Writing" and its related myths were presented as having put an end to that bull-headed ignorance, it is as embedded as ever in the existence of the game's middle mass; strengthened, not undermined in any way, by the specific economic forces which appear on a superficial level to have changed the demographic basis and the origins and backgrounds of participants in the English game.

But what English football culture believes does fit in with a love of the game is just as telling as what it believes doesn't. Godard and Antonioni came from countries which have both won the World Cup in the last 15 years, and which contested the 2006 final. But while a love of their films - or anything else (don't come the "Club Can't Handle Me" with me, now; you know that doesn't count and you're just being pedantic to avoid the point) that originated from any other country outside England where football is the unrivalled top sport and a fundamental, overriding passion for millions - is seen as alien and unfitting to a love of football, an absolute and uncritical absorption by one country, and to a much lesser extent three other minor-functionary footman nations, where football has (at least until very recently) barely registered at all, is seen as entirely natural and entirely appropriate to a love of the game - in fact, more appropriate than a love of anything that existed even in this country pre-Murdoch. English football, like no other major sporting enthusiasm anywhere in the world, is bound up with an adoring worship of those parts of the world where the sport plays at best a minor role, and a sneering dismissal of anything whatsoever that originates in those parts of the world where the sport enjoys equal or greater popularity to that it enjoys here.

There is a direct connection between this unfortunate fact and the dismal performances of the England senior side against Switzerland (incidentally, isn't Bombardier beer - advertised as always before the game - an extreme example of Ploughman's Lunch syndrome? I had never heard of it before about 2005) and of the England Under-21 side in Denmark. The non-football world is more real to the players and especially to Stuart Pearce (repeat unto infinity if you're still stuck in 1987: the Lurkers were worse than George Benson) even than their own country; the football world is fake, Not Like Us, an unknowable phantom. They've never listened to Spanish, Ukrainian or Czech music or watched a Spanish, Ukrainian or Czech film; ergo those countries have nothing to teach them about football. They might as well not exist. That is why English football, worsened in this respect by Sky, is still every bit as removed in the way it is played and the values it incarnates from the rest of the football world as it was before 1992. That is also the root cause of the FIFA standoff (yes, I know capitalist greed is capitalist greed wherever it happens and isn't any better just because it isn't the work of Anglo-Saxons, yes I know the FIFA elite represents the capitalist greed of several "races" just as much as the NewsCorp elite represents the capitalist greed of another "race", but there is something peculiarly odious about one "race" of greedy capitalists attacking other greedy capitalists for being the wrong "race" of greedy capitalists while pretending to attack them simply for being greedy capitalists full stop).

If you have a sport whose entire culture is rooted in hatred for all the other countries that can teach it anything about that sport, and genuflection towards one country and its three footmen (who used to be our own footmen and are still ludicrously imagined to be so when it suits us) that can teach us nothing at all about it, you'll get English football. You'll get Stuart Pearce, the BNP lookalike with his good honest bone-crunching roast beef tackles sending people who listened mostly to the same music as the England players of the day, and ate the same food, and drank the same drinks, but did often have far more left-wing political views, back to their opera houses and onions and cognac and invading Poland. I hope you're all very proud of yourselves. Personally, I rather wish you'd all stuck with the NFL you were all watching instead when "Livin' on a Prayer" came out and had led our own football shrivel to crowds of 240 at Blyth Spartans and Rooney was the first European captain at the Superbowl in 2015. At least that would have shown where you belong. At least that would have been honest.

English football has dressed itself up as having escaped a world of insularity and xenophobia. The Under-21 side reveals this as the biggest lie of the last 20 years. We've swapped honest xenophobia - however odious it was, '70s blokishness never pretended to be anything else - for something which pretends to be "global" while actually being so only in the sense that the "Sweat" remix is. Let those words lie on Pearce's grave, after Montenegro have won Euro 2016.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Why you should vote yes to AV on Thursday

Yes, I know it's far from perfect. Yes, I know it's a messy little compromise. Yes, I know it isn't really PR. Yes, I know all these things. Yes, I understand why some people of similar politics to my own are cynical about the referendum and say it doesn't really matter; I felt that way myself, at first.

But think on. Think of the odiousness, on every possible level, of all the forces behind the No campaign (including the "Blue Labour" / Daily Mail Socialist dinosaurs, who are just as worn-out and worthless as their Tory equivalents). Do you really want them to feel that they have won, to have those looks on their faces? Think of how rattled Cameron clearly is, how fearful he is, that the institutionally unfair method which has allowed divide-and-rule against the wishes of the bulk of the British population (worst of all in 1983, but that is merely the most egregious example) may be overthrown, and what that might do to all he stands for. Ignore his moans that only Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea use AV, as if the whole of the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world which uses genuine proportional representation doesn't exist - which is, of course, what Cameron thinks anyway, or would like to think. Recognise that the big two were never going to allow the electorate to vote on genuine PR, because they know that that would destroy their fiefdoms forever and probably bring about their breakup within a few years. Realise that sometimes, however imperfect it is, you do have to take what you've been given, in the hope that it might lead to something better. Remind yourself how many times you've known instinctively, and told yourself with grim realisation, that British politics in its present form is broken. And hold your nose, and hope, and vote yes.

This really is one of those occasions where even the devil you don't know is bound to be better than the devil you do. Tell Cameron precisely what you think of his plans to divide and rule forever. Whatever you do on Thursday, vote yes to AV. You may never get another chance in your lifetimes.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Their states and ours: the BFI wins again

I thought I'd have a lot of time to kill at BFI Southbank last Wednesday. But I suddenly remembered the existence of the Atrium, and in the end I only just got the last train that goes west of Poole. What had caught me was a succession of films made within my own lifetime, which made me think anew about the nature of the society I live in - and, specifically, whether some kind of balance could have been found, in the former Communist countries and, in a different way, here, between economic and financial security for the mass and the rights and freedoms of the political dissident.

The BFI's masterstroke has been to show "official" films promoting the activities and commemorations of the Soviet and East German states in the early 1980s. We're used to 1950s Communist propaganda, from the height of the post-war ideological battle which climaxed in Cuba, but in many ways these later films are much eerier and more compelling to see now, because they come from an era which has only just become recognisable as proper history, and because they evoke a world of absolute certainty and stability (and, yes, I am well aware of how much repression and restriction they conceal, none of which I defend) which was to collapse dramatically, unthinkably soon afterwards. The sight of ordinary Soviet citizens at the 1983 Victory Day commemorations, blissfully unaware that the "great power" they thought they were living in was already economically unsustainable and living on ghosts, is reminiscent, for a British person, of nothing so much as the sight of the Coronation revellers of 30 years earlier, genuinely convinced as they were that Britain had entered a new age of global political significance on its own terms and concurrent cultural self-sufficiency, and utterly immunised from the fact that both these things were on borrowed time, and in a different way of the heartbreaking 1978 National Coal Board films, none of whose makers or audiences could have foreseen what was to come.

My statement above about the uneasy balance any society, but especially those societies, must find between stability of the mass and freedom of the individual, and about the unsettling way that we now feel that everything that seems appealing about so many past societies, in terms of a consensus on nationalisation and full employment, was bound up with a marginalisation and ghettoisation of "non-conformists" which we now obviously find repulsive, could of course apply as well, if not even better, to the mixed-economy Britain that created the likes of British Transport Films and the NCB Film Unit, and the strange thing that strikes you when you see these films now is how similar they are stylistically, making you feel that the post-war consensus in Britain gave us many of the best things about Communist countries without most of the worst excesses (our worst excesses were different kinds of worst excesses).

Just as the 1959 Report on Modernisation, an extraordinary, quasi-fetishistic BTF hymn to working with fire and steel resembles a more benign, Macmillanite version of Soviet propaganda of that time, so does a 1983 East German film on the country's housing development resemble in some ways the official products of Britain in the declining years of Butskellism (interestingly, wildly different interpretations of excerpts from Bach's Toccata and Fugue - BTF hushed organ, DDR funk-lite library music - link them both). Obviously no "official" British film would have contained direct references in its commentary to Marx and "the working-class party" - our consensus was rather the product of a cross-class trade-off which began to die when those who had hidden their Marxist loyalties for the sake of a stake in management could hold them back no longer, and provided the platform for a Tory reaction - but there's little else stylistically to tell the East German Housing Problems from, say, the Magnus Magnusson-narrated early 1970s paean to Cumbernauld (also available in the BFI's Mediatheque). For all that what was lost there was far less defensible than what was lost here, the references to "the next ten years" and "1990" made me think instantly of Partners in Prosperity referring, genuinely convinced that BTF's ethos might survive those decades, to "the 80s and 90s". You see both "our" films and "theirs", and you learn things about both "us" and "them" in that era - and, by extension, now - that you never thought you would.

While the versions of the Soviet films released in English-speaking countries seemed disconnected from the politics that had inspired them by their American voiceovers - the voice of capitalism, however much some would love to pretend American English is culturally neutral in the rest of the world - the East German effort had what sounded like an impeccably RP voiceover, eerily akin to those in BTF films, with some residual German pronunciations, and I imagined that it might have been one of the by-then elderly German broadcasters and actors who developed near-perfect RP voices in their youth, the better to fit within Hitler's admiration of the British Empire (a fact which should itself make those who fetishise Anglospherism as the antithesis of Nazism ask themselves some serious questions), and who had been used on the propaganda broadcasts to Britain and fake BBC bulletins, who had happened to be born in what became the Soviet sector and so later had to fit in with another kind of ideology. The connections make me ask as many questions of myself as I could have imagined, and provide no simple answers.

As always, you wonder how both "us" and "them" could have retained what was best about our former societies while getting rid of the bad bits. As usual, thoughts of In Place of Strife, Heath winning in '74 and Labour reforming without going neoliberal, Callaghan in '78, Bernard Nossiter's Britain: A Future That Works actually coming true, detente holding ... we have gone through it so many times, and it only makes us hurt all the more. What I can say without hesitation, though, is that anyone who can get to the South Bank this March really should see these films (along with the Cumbernauld and Thamesmead ones in the Mediatheque, and those in the Shadows of Progress DVD set), and that they might know both their own and others' past, present and future better once they've seen them. Films that were, in their original context, wholly unassuming and unremarkable can do no more.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Daily Mail Socialism and the Barnsley by-election

The dramatic scale of the difference between Lindsayism/Daily Mail Socialism and the more outward-looking, cosmopolitan version espoused in the West Coast Main Line cities can best be defined by the simple statement that, had the Liverpudlian working class identified - as Lindsay wishes the entire British working class would, and cannot face the fact that many of them never did - with the landed aristocracy rather than with those as marginalised in the United States for racial reasons as they were for social class reasons here, there would simply never have been such a thing as the Beatles; the impetus which brought them into existence would, without argument, simply not have been there. Now you can argue at length about whether or not that would have been a better or worse Britain or a better or worse world - I can certainly see both sides - but it would have been, equally without argument, an almost indescribably and unimaginably different Britain and arguably an even more different world. It would also, of course, be a Britain and a world in which enough people would identify with quasi-feudal ideas of "community" for Lindsayism to make sense.

The historical reasons why Daily Mail Socialism has been much stronger in north-east England, Scotland and Wales, places where a deep-rooted antipathy to the Tory party is combined with an equally deep-rooted social conservatism, than in the WCML cities (whose populations have been far more shifting and varied) and in the southern English shires (which have been, broadly, C/conservative in both the party political and literal senses, and whose self-image has seemed ever more ridiculous and ill-thought-out in recent years through the irreconcilibility of the two), have been gone over well enough already. It is not surprising in this context, and in that of Liverpool's very specific history where both traditional socialism and most (in my lifetime, all) forms of Toryism have seemed equally alien and out-of-place, that the only use Google reveals by anyone other than myself of the term "Daily Mail Socialism" is by a Liverpool season-ticket holder criticising Gordon Brown's use of the term "British jobs for British workers".

This was and is wholly accurate; my partial defence of Brown here in the past extends only to the crude Blairite/Cameronite taunting for reasons that have nothing to do with his politics rather than out of any real defence of those politics themselves; now the dust has settled, the pathetic, futile nature of such rhetoric is most reminiscent of the utter impotence of Major's ministers opposing aspects of Sky's influence, having previously done nothing to stop it while there was still time. Brown, as a leader with some residual, sentimental ties to the older incarnation of his party following an overpowering political personality who had achieved unprecedented electoral success at the expense of the party's entire cultural base, stands perfect comparison; while he had never been as wholly committed a cheerleader for neoliberalism as the Blairites themselves, he had no meaningful opposition to it either, certainly not sufficiently so to prevent him waving through such policies in his decade as chancellor. For him then to mouth vague statements in favour of the organisation of the economy along the lines of heavily protected and separated, psychologically socialist nations, when he had spent the previous decade happily pushing through economic policies which aggressively confined such things to history, just made him look stupid and weak. Of more direct relevance to the issue being discussed here, though, is that a Liverpudlian should use the term "Daily Mail Socialism" to describe the rhetorical language of a Scot, a fact which seems aptly to sum up the differences between the dominant versions of socialism in these two left-leaning places.

This of course also explains the recent political history of Barnsley, a town where a disillusioned "Old Labour" emotional feeling of betrayal combines with a profound insularity and fear of outsiders, and where the residual Tory vote - obviously never anywhere near enough to win the seat even in an election like 1959, but still greater than they could expect now - felt so alienated by the party's abandonment of "One Nation" politics and confrontational attitude towards South Yorkshire during the 1980s that much of the area's Tory vote collapsed for good, perhaps to the Lib Dems in the days (how long ago they now seem) when they were a protest vote for disillusioned supporters of both larger parties. While a Tory vote could obviously never be any kind of protest vote now, it could - without the legacy of the 1980s - have been a protest vote against Labour when they were still in office, but in practice could not be because the hatred for the party's handling of the industrial disputes of that time (one far above all others, of course) was still too strong.

This dual alienation led directly to the disturbing success of the BNP in the 2009 European election (where the party won 16% of Barnsley's vote, a significant factor in the shameful election of Andrew Brons to the European Parliament) and in last year's general election (more than 3,000 votes in Barnsley Central) - sheer despair and isolation, the long-term legacy of a cultural fear of the much more hybridised, cosmopolitan style of socialism "over the Pennines" (and even, to some extent, in Leeds and Sheffield), and the insular racism and Europhobia of certain aspects of "Old Labour" culture (typified in the late 1990s by Austin Mitchell's Mail on Sunday column and defence of the Duke of Edinburgh's dodgier remarks because, effectively, "everybody said that in my day and it never did us any harm", and by Dennis Skinner's claim that the German owners of Rolls Royce were "getting too big for their jackboots", both arguably worse than the worst Blairite) manifesting itself on the most odious level imaginable. Last week, the BNP's decline since the general election was thankfully evident (though they still won more votes than is comfortable to think of) and it was inevitable that the Lib Dems would have fallen as far as they did (as they undoubtedly will, for the same reasons, in the Scottish and Welsh elections) seeing that they are propping up a government that many in Barnsley will see as something akin to an occupying power, but UKIP's second place was deeply depressing, and clearly very much the same kind of misguided and deluded protest vote, inheriting both the Daily Mail Socialist and Tory-but-for-Thatcher tendencies.

We can say, as much without argument as that both Britain and the wider world would have been unrecognisably different without the Beatles, that the comparative success in Barnsley of parties like UKIP and the BNP is one of the worst legacies of an organised safe tribal war that never needed to happen. This Hugo Young piece - written three months before the death of John Smith - is a fine example, with all the eloquence and command of language that The Guardian still misses, of what is probably the second best point of departure other than "In Place of Strife" succeeding. As things are, though, the political alienation of so many in Barnsley is very precisely the legacy of 1984/5, and as depressing and enervating as anything else that can be so described.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The apotheosis of Lindsayism

lovely to see it right down, in so many words (scroll down to the last two paragraphs, if the start makes you lose the will to live)

I fell for fogeyism partially out of sheer desperation with neoliberalism, and partially out of the natural aftereffects of my condition - the desire for certainty and rules and norms, embraced and required all the more precisely because people on the spectrum can never fit in with them, and mostly spent their lives undiagnosed and locked in homes for the "subnormal" in the world where they did apply. The condition brings on a desire to romanticise whatever you don't personally know and never personally experienced, all the more so because you know you could never be part of it; the more naturally isolated you are, the more you will fantasise how life would be if you were a natural conformist. It's the cultural politics of unrequited love, or of being unable to love at all in the standard human sense. It's why I can recall the weather and even what I was eating when I heard, at the age of 13, that Donald Swann had died, and why - after I'd turned 14 - I was reduced to tears by the music from The First of the Few. It's also why I fell in love with The Owl's Map and We Are All Pan's People (not that the Ghost Box aesthetic represents a strict and straightforward delineation of the actual past - it would have been almost unthinkable in your actual Butskellite era for anyone to be both ruralist and in favour of modernist architecture - but the point still holds). It's why I genuinely felt sympathy, for a while, for the nativist interpretation of socialism, the Daily Mail with its support for global capitalism removed - it chimed with my romantic streak, my feeling for a few lost years that all modern culture was worthless, that the only way to go was back. And in all its forms, it's invariably a mistake I regret sooner rather than later.

For time and context have changed and, if anything, I've become more radical (in the genuine sense of that term, not simply the smash-the-market-but-only-to-restore-what-once-was Lindsay sense) as my fourth decade on earth has begun. Welcome to Godalming wasn't even on the And Then There Were Three level, it was on a Camel or Barclay James Harvest level of inconsequentiality, and the Aphex Twin's "Goon Gumpas" got that schools interval sound back in the '90s far better without even trying than anyone who's ever tried to make a cultural point of it, back when it was still the day before yesterday and wasn't a hopeless dream of a cul de sac, long past crying for. I almost invented this stuff, and now I don't want to talk or think about it.

The thing is that I wouldn't keep going back to Clark/Lindsay, usually despite myself and against my own will, if part of me didn't wonder - thinking, for example, of Reynolds' description of Sarah Palin as the ultimate rock'n'roll politician - whether they may be, at least in part, correct, whether the logical conclusion of the conflict between most of what I love in terms of mass culture and most of what I believe politically is this impasse. But this denies the complexity of human life, human experiences and human responses to both culture and politics; it is possible, in the minds of most people if not in the strictly-defined autistic mind, to disconnect forms of mass entertainment from their theoretical destructive effects on tradition (odious as it is, the widespread English tendency to say, effectively, "send the foreigners home" while knowing no culture beyond that effectively owned by Murdoch is an example of this), and the neoconservative mistake of assuming that simply because Iraqis wore jeans, they would automatically support the US military uncritically, is - like almost everything else about neoconservatism - merely an inversion of the worst aspects of Marxism, and specifically of the Marxist supposition that public taste for music rooted in socialism and radicalism would equate to actual active belief in those ideologies.

In many ways, Philip Cross's suspicion that Lindsay may have the same condition that he and I both have seems the most credible response; Lindsay's politics are born of the same streak which may sometimes lead me to suggest that if you are going to oppose Tesco in a place like this then you must also oppose Cee-Lo on local radio, or that the campaign to retain public libraries in a place like this is meaningless and pointless because they may stock the odd book by Katie Price, and if you had to define my condition in two rhetorical arguments which fall down when exposed to the nature of humanity itself, those would be the ones. Lindsay's greatest achievement may, in fact, be to make the market - and the assumptions and norms of the modern world generally - seem, by comparison, far more progressive than they can really ever be.