Wednesday, July 31, 2019

About stickers

Gilbert Adair, along with Greil Marcus, Morley/Penman and, strangely enough, James Burke, was one of the people who really got me thinking about stuff that would lead me towards this whole cultural theory malarkey; I picked up Adair’s book Myths and Memories in a remainder shop some time in the late 80s, then followed the skein of influence back to Roland Barthes and I was hooked.

However, although he owes a methodological debt to Barthes, his style is rather different; for a start, in contrast to than Barthes’s own droll, sometimes quasi-Martian view of the physical manifestations of modern life, Adair often let his own prejudices burst through and they’re not always pretty. For one thing, he hated pop music and everything associated with it with a passion. In a later collection, The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, he describes staring at a wall plastered with posters advertising record releases, almost revelling in the fact that he has no idea which bits of text are the bands, which are the titles. And while that flash of ignorance led him to some interesting ponderings on Eco and Malevich, I felt sure that I’d never find myself so baffled by the modern world.

Analogue posters still adorn the walls of London and other cities, even in this digital world and although these days I probably wouldn’t recognise most of the music they advertise, I’ve got at least a vague idea what’s going on. However one thing, on a smaller scale, does now put me in a state of Adairian bafflement - and that’s the invasion of stickers on walls and lamp-posts and bins and the few remaining phone boxes. Obviously there are still stickers advertising political opinions and commercial sex but these are something different, closer to adhesive street art, suggesting some sort of coded meaning that’s permanently closed off to me. But I don’t exult in not knowing, not getting the joke. I just gaze, feeling a bit disconnected, and old. Although, like Adair, I could let it all lead to Eco:
Today in Pompeii tourists are visiting murals depicting Romans with huge penises; originally meant as adverts for brothels, they are now considered great art. In the eighteenth century Telemann was thought a greater composer than Bach; in the nineteenth Eugene Sue a greater writer than Balzac. In 200 years we may consider Picasso inferior to the man currently responsible for the Coca-Cola commercials... So we should never be afraid to analyse marginal or inferior manifestations of our culture.
So, analyse away.

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