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Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation - I

 

[Part One]

 

Preface

Now, I have been kindly invited to write this piece for Pipe. Those fine folk said “write about anything you want” and I don’t get those sorts of invitations very often, so I thought this was the opportunity I needed to write this. I do hope they understand.

I have been considering the subject matter & themes which inform this article for some months. In fact, the areas under discussion, which have structured this text - I have largely considered them, concerns. These concerns may be more accurately described as being years old, rather than months. It has been only recently that I have adequately interrogated many of these questions. In doing so, this has helped me develop my ideas for this paper. Subsequently, now I attempt to articulate these questions, and the issues which surround them, in a written form.

 

Introduction

This article intends to question why roughly over the last decade, new artists & musicians have not followed the commonly set trajectory of previous generations: those practitioners from the latter half of the 20th century up until the millennia, where I have observed this break has now occurred. Of course, each era has had its own specific cultural and socio-political nuances. However, I firmly believe that from the 1950s onwards (when the ‘teenager’/youth [sub-] cultures, and all that this now suggests, originated); since then each generation has had certain inherent behavioural traits and reactions, which essentially unite them all. That is until around the commencement of the 21st century; where such anticipated reactions and consequent exchanges, began to change. This cultural period – which we are still in the midst of – did not change because of some new creative ‘happening’, or arts inspired movement. If this were to have been the case then this could, in an historical sense, be read as suspected; principally due to the events of previous decades. No, instead what has characterised these times is less what has happened – culturally and in-turn creatively – and more precisely, what hasn’t happened.

Therefore what I aim to explain and investigate in this article, is why over recent times movements related to and defined by ‘young people’; have not had the impact on society in the same manner as they had in other subsequent post-war decades. In recent times – because of this lack of popular youth definition and repatriation from their ascendances – I will describe a generation as having (in a creative sense) culturally stalled. In this examination, I aim to understand and explain some of the social, cultural and political reasons why I deem this might have happened.

 

I. The Background

For someone who grew up, if not entirely under her premiership, then certainly as successive Prime Minsters has enabled, under ‘Thatcherism’. Therefore the death of Margaret Thatcher has unquestionably given the ideas surrounding this text a far clearer focus for me. A telling factor which this inescapable episode has prompted, is a particular realisation that even though we may be two decades on since she was fairly unceremoniously elbowed out of office by her own cabinet - in ironically a very Thatcherite manner - the all male Prime Ministers since have sadly done little, or nothing to alter the political ethos and general scheme she devised. In fact they have all wilfully followed it. The reality of unrelenting Thatcherism and my full realisation of it, in the days following her death, have had a fundamental effect on how I view our current political elite/system and how her Premiership socially affected the country I grew up in. As a result, this has profoundly shaped the piece I am writing now. Therefore, these considerations have allowed me to formulate a more definite clarity than would have been afforded me without the help of the recent crucial debate over her tenure as Prime Minster and its wider social influence.

Firstly, let me say that I am not someone who believes all the social inequalities and lack of communal cohesion that has thus far defined the 21st century, are wholly the ‘work’ of Prime Minster Thatcher. I do acknowledge, some what forlornly, that in the last two decades there has been sufficient time to address the tragic errors commitment by her free-market inspired governance. However, not only has this not happened, but the programme set by Thatcher has been followed through with an unwavering enthusiasm, and if anything, with even more empowerment and freedom granted to the financial industries and private sector(s) than even she sanctioned. It is safe to suggest though, that it was Thatcher who began this seismic transformation of the UK and created the capital led economy that we have today (a fact she would have been proud of I’m sure). Nonetheless, this has undoubtedly significantly contributed to the current economic situation the country is in. My interest here though, is with the kind of society – culturally, artistically & socially – that these ideological changes have gradually, but progressively created. The now infamous quote, “there’s no such thing as society”, claimed by Thatcher, has been generally realised now I feel. This statement was, at the time pre-emptory of course. When it was made at the Conservative Party Conference in 1987, there were undoubtedly countless noteworthy examples all across the UK, which wholly contradicted these sentiments. In my own experiences as a child in the late 80’s, early 90’s – I felt part of a community and saw the collective nature of a wider social group ‘at large’, in the areas I grew up in. And I still firmly believe this ‘togetherness’ was for the collective good. However one feels about the merits of a strong ‘open’ society; the ever present gatherings which took place in the majority of neighbourhoods until fairly recently, now have a very different nature. This sense of a large community cohesion, has either mostly gone or is slowing disappearing altogether. Crucially on this matter, I consider a clear indication of a strong communal bond between the inhabitants of an area, to be the notable presence of children. This factor, although as my parents would testify to, can be tiresome and wholly infuriating at times, is nevertheless a prime example of actual community organisation. The freedom which children and other young people have in which to structure their own relationships with their peers, has changed out of all recognition from what was the custom when I grew up (of which now London seems the most acute example of this shift). In many respects it has now become positively frowned down upon for children to be out without their customary parental guides. I have noticed that within large sections of our communities, this has created children that almost seem, oddly enough, slightly ‘middle aged’ in their attitudes and characteristics. They appear to lack a lot of the general mischief one would expect, and is natural for young people to have. There is in my view, far too much blind acceptance of what they are told and expected to do by their everyday figures of authority. This then frequently turns into a somewhat scorned, subservient, ambivalence within them; as they approach ‘adulthood’. The evolution of parental roles is intriguing as well in this regard. It’s as though in the modern day, one is expected never to become ‘elderly’; in the traditional aesthetic sense. We are surrounded by the new pseudo-young, a totally unreal phenomenon. Coupled with being told they must work as long as they can (despite the endemic problem of youth unemployment); they are instructed to have a structured, impenetrable ‘career’; and more economically significant, consume in abundance. This has apparently produced something quite novel in the ‘sandwich’, and their older generational counterparts. Of course, in reality these changes are not occurring exactly like this. No, the implications of all these factors are socially far more serious than I have initially described here. Nonetheless, some of the new behavioural patterns we see happening today in men and women from these newly ‘liberated’ age groups are in there own material way, quite starling. The wearing of jeans, ‘funky’ t-shirts, getting tattoos and purchasing a whole variety of the ‘freshest mod cons’, customarily intended for their kids – are just a few of these associated acts. And this virtually goes on up until the point they drop down dead – the ‘grey pound’ is seemingly stronger than ever. Perhaps the only one that is? The sight of the much older parent with their young – slightly odd; tweed clad; well tailored; fabulously trained infant – is a picture which is becoming commonplace all over the country. Whether this is a positive trend or not; maybe it doesn’t matter? It may just be inevitable, only time will tell. Nonetheless, I too believe that there is a connection between these behavioural examples and with those individuals – particularly young people – who are situated, for a variety of social and economic reasons, outside these parental and social structures. Their lives and actions are frequently in the extreme. What was once common rebelliousness or a general ‘rights of passage’, has become severe in its mindlessness and absolute in its levels of destruction. In what has undoubtedly become a new age of extremes, spectacles (in a sort of revised Debordian sense), and an era of supposed advancement of society – this now works two fold: both as a positive means and also to the detriment of the overall order of communities. And subsequently, this is a crucial reason why I make such judgements about these new acute variations in social conduct and attitudes.

There are always many exceptions when dealing with societal development. The complex nature of these matters is unquestionably intricate. But I have mentioned these factors thus far, because I sense the connections are important to these times; and as a result are worth consideration. In a period where homogenised consumerism has conned individuals into believing they can ‘have it all’. And that regardless of what their inherent identity or social traditions may have been once; it is time to surrender all those in favour of modern capitalism’s uniformed Individualism. Therefore, for a whole variety of reasons, my views are exclusively connected to the unprecedented continual privatisation of most sections and services within our “society”. This I deem has created a structure which encourages families to live more and more isolated existences. It seems this system, which subliminally promotes the belief that, ‘it’s good to be bourgeois’ & ‘there is no longer such a thing as class’, has also created the behavioural patterns of the ‘establishment’ within the majority of its citizens. Habitually the aristocracy have, for the most part, always lived by these same kinds of financially voracious ideals - for fairly obvious reasons. This is due to their customary economic strengths. But now a whole new ‘majority’ of those living – what by any stretch of the imagination would be seen as normal, economically modest existences – have also adopted many of the same socio-economic tendencies. However these are just the tendencies, minus much of the ‘substance’ needed to enact them satisfactorily; hence much of the current unrest, I would deduce. For me, this is both poignant and utterly incompatible with how the largest social groups have ordered themselves in the past. How these social changes connect with my main topic: the effects these recent behavioural tendencies have had on the arts and culture in this country, is what I will endeavour to explain next.

 

Part Two will be published next Saturday, the 17th of August.

P.

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