Friday, 21 September 2012

Why reviving The Establishment club is a bad idea

I mean, really, for fuck's sake.  Keith Allen blokishly beholding himself before blokish George Galloway, this government's ultimate useful idiot.  Could there be anything more narrow and insular and depressing?

But the fact that the project is cheerled by Victor Lewis-Smith explains almost everything.  The whole concept - rooted in an institutionalised and thus meaningless legacy of John & Paul and Pete & Dud as secular gods (and thus the one thing they'd have hated the most, and felt the greatest desire to break down) - has a fundamental problem with people not born to its exponents' comparative privilege if they can't fit into an instantly convenient narrative.  For the likes of Galloway, Muslims who oppose Islamism - which in his degraded mind he (along with Seumas Milne and other morally and intellectually lost Stalinists) has identified as some kind of "anti-imperialist" vanguard - are "Uncle Toms", a grotesque misuse of the phrase.  VLS has made it quite clear that he has the same view of black people who don't have his own none-more-middle-aged-middle-class (the very thing he pretends not to be defined by) hang-ups about white people of his own class and generation being influenced by hip-hop culture.  No, I don't defend Westwood's drift into self-parody and passive consumerism, but for VLS to say that people not born to his comparative privilege need more exposure outside their own ghettoes, but then to dismiss them for the crime of not being embarrassed by the things he finds embarrassing, just shows how hollow his stance actually is.

It's the way it always works, of course; self-hating middle-class people - i.e. half of self-identified British satirists (the other half, the Hislop half, are vaguely self-loving people of the same background) impose their own embarrassment and shame on the less privileged and can only cope with the latter if they define themselves by that embarrassment and shame, only to find that those older contexts are meaningless to the global proletariat, who can create something new where they literally don't exist at all.  Stonyhurst-educated early 90s indie boy Chris Morris is, in fact, a good case in point here; it's always depressing for me that one of the most-quoted and most-cited parts of The Day Today is a rather lazy LOL-before-the-fact at the idea of an African-American lifting a Phil Collins song.  But of course in reality loads of hip-hop and R&B people really do respect and admire Collins wholly unironically, because the history Morris wanted to escape doesn't exist for them; it isn't just that they didn't go to boarding schools where Selling England by the Pound was played endlessly by the senior boys, it's more that they literally don't know, and never will know, that that album was ever made, or that Peter Gabriel existed before "Sledgehammer".  So Collins was a tabula rasa for them, a palimpsest, a completely blank canvas, and a Morris, or a VLS, has no right to condemn the African-American working class for not living up to their own 80s NME-Spartist vision of the noble fighters against imperialism.  The African-American working class always gets there first, even (especially!) when they're defying posh Brits' cultural cringe at their ancestry.

And it was a unity of intention and vision between that working class and its white-British equivalent which was the undoing of the original satire movement, painful as it is to admit.  The Beatles had no hang-ups, no cringes, and for all the TW3 set's qualities, they had nothing that could live with that in the end, because in the end their culture had not moved away from the hierarchy of art forms and concepts of morality and behaviour which had defined their parents' culture. Their opposition to the ruling class was based on wanting that class to behave better - wanting them to be more like the traditional idea of the gentleman - and while I'm not denying the importance of what they did, in the end the working class wanted and needed something more.  To this day, the mere concept of Pseuds' Corner attempts to deny the Beatles' very existence.

A great shame.  But an inevitable one, really.  It has been suggested - mostly by me, admittedly - that if de Gaulle had said 'oui' (the central issue of the moment the satire boom emerged), Britain might actually have had the future envisaged in the official films of the BR Modernisation Plan; fantastically advanced technology, in some ways (specifically in terms of the public sector) more so than we have today, but social relationships and sexual taboos unchanged from where they were in 1960.  And because such a Britain would have arrested the development of pop culture almost before it had begun, it might have been a Britain in which the morality of classical satire would have made sense.  How can this one mythological concept - the Establishment club as, ironically, a counterpart to the Cavern for a different set of radicals-turned-fogeys - represent any kind of future, when it failed the test of Beatlemania one year short of half a century ago?


  1. Hey! When did The American Conservative become good?

    (found cos someone linked this : )

    (off-topic for this post but the email I have for you seems defunct)

  2. Yes, it is.

    Best to email at the moment (don't *think* any spammers will pick that up, I'm in trouble if they do ...)

    But I have read that and, yes, it's a very good piece - Mumford being very specifically middle-class Anglophone Protestant; the working-class Christian Socialist tradition, in Britain at least, is entirely different. Paleocon is still just as bad as neocon in its own way, though.

  3. ... but the 'Revolt of the Rich' piece has a great deal of truth to it as well, and most of it also applies to the UK.