Saturday, 5 February 2011
How I learnt to stop worrying and love economic liberalism (in a very, very limited sense)
Posts will possibly be sparse for a while due to ongoing care concerns. However, I would say that living with someone born in 1920 should be pretty much compulsorary for anyone (like me) who was given to idealising the past.
Don't get me wrong. It resulted in some wonderful Ladybird books. Must have been sound being a bloke back in the day. No Calvin Klein models flexing their six-packs on every bus, no Sex and the City harridans giving the missus ideas. Just nice family life with your pipe and brown suit, a newspaper to read aloud to the wife as she does the housework and a pair of slippers to wear on warm nights or to quieten the sprogs if they interrupt the wireless. Pretty sweet, eh?
Well, no. I think if I were transported back to the fifties I'd scream like a schoolgirl and try to wangle my way into a 'Lunatic Asylum'.
Go to bed before 11PM? You go to bed TOO early. Wake up before 7PM? You wake up TOO early. Not good at staying awake when making smalltalk? You speak TOO little. Like chatting about philosophy/ ideas? You speak TOO much. Have a job involving reading and also like reading for pleasure? You read TOO much. Unless there's one and a half litres there, there's TOO little water in the kettle.
The only thing you can't have TOO much of is food. No, wait. You can have TOO many vegetables. But you can never have enough fried meat, only TOO little.
Maybe I am being harsh. I guess the thing is that my relative was the son of a town grocer. He's like one of those lower middle class clerks in 1970s costume dramas set in the Edwardian times. Utterly well-meaning and incessantly offensive always striving to instill mediocrity in others and trying to put them in their place if they seem to want to get above their station. If you accused him of being patronising he'd probably ask what that word meant and upon being told say 'Isn't that what white middle class men are supposed to do'? He seemed pretty horrified to see me learning a bit of Latin. The old Romans are good enough for coffee-table books, but their lingo isn't for the likes of us.
I got a bit of flack here a while back for not calling myself middle class when I've got a desk job. I certainly wouldn't be ashamed to call myself middle class if current employment is the sole criteria. In which case I may well be part of an underclass menace 2 society if Cleggeron's grand pan to boost GDP by slashing employment is anything to go by. But I guess my strongest feeling is that we have choice as never before which has largely destroyed the class system and this is not something to be sneezed at.
For example between them I can blether with two of my closest Brit friends about 80s action movies, 60s avant garde rock, Ancient Rome, 70s horror films, French New Wave cinema, Sammy Franco fitness, Columbo, HP Lovecraft, retro-Brit comedies, Bill Hicks, Noam Chomsky and numerous other niche interests. Their place (and mine) as relating to the means of production really isn't none too important.
I have another good friend (proudly Northern English and working class) who is a hexagenarian Orthodox Christian who shares my fondness for Dostoyevsky. I always like to pump her for gossip about Ennismore Gardens. So much for 'religion' v liberalism. I can't imagine my petit-bourgeois east coast forebears would like me keeping such company.
What really strikes me most is how mainstream Anglo-Saxon culture really was in a bit of a cul-de-sac in the mid 20th Century. Like a lot of teenagers I read 'A Clockwork Orange' as a teenager. Then had the slightly surreal experience of looking out other Anthony Burgess novels and discovering appalling, flatulent, middle-brow works with laughable delusions of profundity. Yet he regarded ACO as an embarrassment and thought his widely praised middle class middle brow snoreathons were where it was really at.
And he was one of the better writers. Who now could stay awake reading Iris Murdoch, John Braine or Kingsley Amis?
And the music. Please, let's not talk about white Anglo-Saxon music in the early 20th Century. What's that? The only guy who ever tried had his tongue cut out and thrown to a pool of piranhas? OK.
But then, there is the great irony that African-American culture (an oppressed people who had been largely neglected by their government) had a really huge impact on post-war Britain. Until I spent time with my elderly relative it never really occurred to me just how vastly alien this culture must have seemed to early-21st Century Brits, given that they'd probably guess someone was foreign if they didn't like warm beer or if they drunk coffee. I'm sure numerous German spies must have been rumbled after setting the toaster TOO high or TOO low.
One thing that struck me as weird, seeing a documentary about Enoch Powell, was how calm and quiet a lot of his fans were in contrast to the contorted English Defence Leaguers. I couldn't help feeling they weren't too bothered that Indians would import Sutti or Thuggees. It was more like they were worried they might have haddock rather than roast lamb for Sunday lunch. Or maybe drink tea that was TOO strong for Blighty.
I guess whilst they can't help but be paradoxically humbled by their mountainous reputations, Lennon and MacCartney must have decided that black musicians showed a way out of the world of corned beef and steak and kidney pie (though speaking of post war cuisine, there seems another paradox that the generation that hated vegetables seemed to love that most unlovable of vegetables: the brussel sprout).
And then there was also the cinema. Quite something to think of how few years separated Night of the Living Dead from The Guns of Navarone. Yet this was another aspect of popular culture which really threw some pretty exhilarating ideas to the population.
Even on the one issue where my views would be regarded as 'right wing' (despite the fact they are more prevalent in working class Catholic rather than Middle Class East Anglian culture due to lack of interest in Britain's own recent history, obsession with the USA and secular anti-intellectualism) which is my view that unborn children have right to life, pro-abortion legislation was largely voted in by the post-war generation and something of a formality anyway given that backstreet abortion clinics were widely tolerated.
In saying these things I don't take back what I've said previously that I think modern popular culture has lost the way: that films like 'Saw' and 'music' or 'TV' involving Simon Cowell are a betrayal of any ideas or ideals that popular culture often claims for itself. Our younger rock stars seem more white and middle class than UKIP. As for the older ones, whilst I acknowledge that the fox-hunting ban is hypocritical given the existence of factory farming, I do find something vaguely dubious about the Countryside Alliance lineups given that they were howling with rage against the haves not so long ago.
For all that I am grateful that pop culture kicked down so many doors. And, though it is difficult to admit this, I am sort-of grateful for SOME aspects of consumerism: even though I suspect that modern day fans of 70s slasher picks could have congregated quite well without Norman Tebbit, thank you very much.
The question as always is 'what must be done'? I think it is tragic that so much of the good things about the post-war-settlement are declining. But will my generation be able to do anything about it? I feel optimistic in a sense. Not wildly so, but I do have some optimism.