Monday, October 21, 2013

A 1980s revival, but whose?

In a passionate but ultimately rather peculiar piece in The Observer, Carole Cadwalladr appears to suggest that the current chatterati obsession with Mr Morrissey’s new autobiography is unseemly because it draws attention away from the financial hardships being endured by many people under the heavy yoke of neoliberal economics and Morrissey himself owns three or four houses around the world and old hamface David Cameron once said he liked The Smiths or something something something. Now this seems a little harsh to me; while Morrissey never claimed to be a revolutionary in a coherent political sense, he did call for the decapitation of Margaret Thatcher. But that’s not enough for Ms Cadwalladr, who argues (again, I'm inferring some of this, because by the end I’m really not entirely sure what she’s on about) that writing songs and books about seriously bad stuff is a cop-out and that we should be fighting the power in a more meaningful manner. Like writing op-ed pieces in The Observer I guess. Or – just to pre-empt your inevitable and righteous sneers – blogging.

In the same paper, Nick Cohen sees the Frieze Art Fair – and in particular the resurgence of sometime Wall Street trader Jeff Koons and his horrid tat – as emblematic of the insidious takeover of London’s cultural scene by plutocrats, and his conclusion could serve as a final postscript to what I wrote here a week or so ago:
Collectors do not buy Koons because he challenges their definitions of art. The ever-popular explanation that the nouveau riche have no taste strikes me as equally false – there's no reason why the nouveau riche should have better or worse taste than anyone else. What a buyer of a giant kitten or a gargantuan fried egg says to those who view his purchase is this: “I know you think that I am a stupid rich man who has wasted a fortune on trash. But because I am rich you won't say so and your silence is the best sign I have of my status. I can be wasteful and crass and ridiculous and you dare not confront me, whatever I do.” Extraordinarily, after all we have been through, in economics as in art, that is truer than ever before.
There may well be a 1980s revival upon us but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. Cheap-and-cheerful TV documentaries may have defined the decade as being about shoulder-padded yuppies conspicuously consuming as the theme from Miami Vice plays in the background, but I remember it rather differently. The campaigns around cruise missiles, the miners’ strike and Clause 28 may have ultimately been futile in the sense that Thatcher was still as firmly in charge, resolutely unguillotined, at the end of the decade as she was at the beginning. But they did happen and they did offer a valid, alternative narrative to the period. And if Jeff Koons is on one side of the barricades, happily fellating the wallets of Russian oligarchs, Morrissey – with all his many faults and frailities – is on mine.

PS: I really ought to stop basing my blog posts on things I’ve read in the Guardian and/or Observer, oughtn’t I? But if I’d been blogging in the 1980s, that’s what I would have done, so it seems somehow OK.

PPS: Something that I posted on Facebook a few days ago, that retrospectively seems to tie into Cohen’s conclusion. Stefan Collini in the LRB:
Future historians, pondering changes in British society from the 1980s onwards, will struggle to account for the following curious fact. Although British business enterprises have an extremely mixed record (frequently posting gigantic losses, mostly failing to match overseas competitors, scarcely benefiting the weaker groups in society), and although such arm’s length public institutions as museums and galleries, the BBC and the universities have by and large a very good record (universally acknowledged creativity, streets ahead of most of their international peers, positive forces for human development and social cohesion), nonetheless over the past three decades politicians have repeatedly attempted to force the second set of institutions to change so that they more closely resemble the first.


Philip Cartwright said...

Cadwalladr's piece was wretched, wasn't it? I get the feeling her editor said "Give me a thousand vaguely controversial words on Morrissey by first thing tomorrow" and that was the best she could come up with.

The key struggle in your alternative 80s revival was, I think, the miners strike, and it's the one that's least likely to be revived. It brutally brought trade unions to heel and in the process leached out a lot of the political content from everyday life. And that was one of the key functions of strong trade unions: despite all their ideological excesses and absurdities, they tied millions of ordinary people into the political process on a meaningful, everyday basis. In other words, they made politics real and not just some abstract game played by economists and spads. Without that connection, public dissent has degenerated into a rag-tag of half-hearted NIMBY-ism.

So if we're going to revive anything, let's revive the 70s!

Robert Swipe said...

Is that Kevin Pietersen to the left of the minkey? Or Adrian Belew. I can never tell - well, until the rash strokes and nearly got outs start mounting and I realise that only a bloody fool of a selector would have put Belew in at number 4...

Anonymous said...

I don't care what you base your blog posts on. I'm pretty sure I'll happily follow you anywhere.

Pearl said...

I wish I had written this: But because I am rich you won't say so and your silence is the best sign I have of my status.

It works equally well here in the States.


Anonymous said...

Here, finally responded to your comment on Ms Anderson. Forgot about it. Sorry. (Also, sure I knew you were just joshing of course.)

Tim F said...

That's very true, Philip. The closure or otherwise of the pits was a mcguffin. The unions had to be crushed, that was the whole damn point.

Lovely to see you, Bob. And now I'm sorry that Jack never joined Crimson.

Aww, thanks, CC.

That's why they call it global capitalism, Pearl.

And a very fine and measured response it is too, TH. If only more people acknowledged the power of "I don't know".