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Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation - II


[Part Two]


II. Individualism & Uniformity

Before I continue with this paper, let me initially describe a fairly well known anecdote, so as to make a link between my previous point on the continuing privatisation of all possible ‘commodifiable’ industries and how this has/is effecting higher education. I won’t get overly entrenched in this area. Nevertheless, I deem this story emblematic – as it involved Mrs Thatcher and profoundly anticipates the many problems we now face, specifically within higher education and the arts generally. The story goes: when on a press assignment during her time in office, Mrs Thatcher toured St Hilda's College, Oxford, and when there asked a girl what she studied: “Norse literature” the girl replied. “What a luxury!” was the then PM’s retort. Whether consciously or not, the opinion expressed by Margaret Thatcher on that day, in my view is a telling one. Her general regard for subjects which fall within the broad category of ‘the arts and humanities’, as exposed on that day, roughly equates to these academic and creative subject matters principally being deemed as superfluous. What this illustrates is an attitude that – although often unacknowledged by our political classes – states, if we cannot directly measure your endeavours and learning in financial terms, then it is just a ‘plaything’ and hence, it is unnecessary. Without getting too caught up in the sheer inaccuracies and ignorance of this view, on a purely economic basis that is, as that would be a ‘diversion’ I refuse to get drawn into. This is mainly because I personally do not measure all worth as these individuals do. However, what this has done is communicate, even by osmosis, the idea that one should only study these subjects, or enter this cultural realm, if that individual has the money to do so. It is as though, in the last couple of decades, there has been a slow and sustained effort to rid education of solely ‘thinkers’. Those academics that actually have a firm foundation in the ‘everyday’ are definitely under threat from the current financially focused university system. I am pleased to say, that clearly this has not happened completely, and hopefully never could do. But by attempting to turn all areas of higher education into massive corporate institutions – I suspect it goes without saying, that it affects the work being produced and the rhetoric being communicated in the contemporary arts today. The positives and negatives of this are subjective of course. But as this is the critical field I inhabit, I can say that the level of concern I observe being expressed by many similar practitioners as myself, equates to a significant anxiety. For me the major apprehension I see in the majority of work being created and then given a platform; is that there is a stark lack of any sort of creatively articulated resistance, turmoil or even a collective anger contained within it. This is difficult to accept in a time when the general formation of our society is so blatantly working against young people and specifically those whose backgrounds and economic situations prevent them from accessing the same quality educational and social opportunities as their more privileged counterparts. In addition, this highlights an absence of any real, meaningful sense of solidarity young people might feel for each other. And secondly, because today’s new technologies and apparatuses, which are used so widely, should really make some distinct social changes more probable. Therefore, as more time passes and transformations of this kind fail to appear; the social, ideological and educational structures that determine this system will continue to be moved further in the opposite direction – hence, I surmise this will remain largely working against students and their best interests. If no meaningful student lead resistance to these changes happens, this will continue to occur until everything within these institutions is commodified and the prevailing ideology becomes absolutely inclusive and as a result, a completely sustained force, which neither has to, or is even able to, adapt its functioning model. This leaves us increasingly with the proposal that there should be a compulsory ‘choice’ to make in every aspect of ones life. This totally misleading concept is fundamentally at the basis of modern cooperate capitalism – but is clearly never outwardly promoted as such. Our current ideological structure only presents these dubious ideas around ‘choice’, in order to conceal what this essentially means. What they actually equate to is the capability to pay, and therefore this ‘choice’ always comes at a hefty price - above all socially.

A largely unquestioning participation in this financially determined process, I deem has created large social groupings that are basically totally subservient to an ideological structure, which operates counter to what would benefit them and the majority of those within that group. However, what else has emerged recently within the predominate social factions in this country, is even more alarming. The tragedy of this situation is what has been created through the approval of those Thatcherite ideals linked to individualism. This has resulted in an overall apathy and non-engagement within the time honoured political modes used in ordered to activate any meaningful and much needed ideological change(s). The ease in which it seems those who hold power are able to control the ‘masses’ is at times, astounding. We are living through a period where we are bound by a political elite that is blatantly inadequate. The almost weekly scandals, ‘sleaze’, incompetence's and actual law breaking, is made evident to us the Public in a ‘newsworthy stream’ of unprecedented regularity. Big corporations and companies are able to candidly operate in largely whatever way best suits their economic agenda. And we are fully aware of all this. Events have proven that global financial institutions are left to control and regulate themselves mainly. Therefore, they primarily function in order to make as much profit for their respective organisation as is possible; until of course, it all goes wrong and the state gifts them more public funds so they can try it all over again. And the media too is on trial for breaking the law – remember. Not to mention, it’s often misleading and suspiciously selective reporting on local and international news stories. One has a few obvious ideas where this selectivity might come from. Much of this distrust is allied to the interconnectivity between those in places of power, i.e. the elite within our society and those who are granted a place at the top echelons of the media, and therefore control mainstream reporting. This definitely has nothing to do with any sort of ‘conspiracy theories’ either – in my experience, there is simply always some inherent bias within global media. Those of you who want to examine this subject in more depth, well there is ample evidence out there to support such claims. However, I often feel that one must only spend some time out in the ‘real’ world, trust your instincts and take in what you experience and it usually becomes plaintively obvious how these global media networks operate. The further we travel along the path away from free education and any meaningful notion of equal opportunities for all, towards ‘choice’, and more accurately, wealth – becoming less an advantage and more a necessity, as is increasingly evident all the time – the consequence is our civilisation seems far more homogenised. This reality affects all parts of our state. Therefore we see it within much of our mainstream media also. It is becoming, in a strange way like the pre-60’s generation, where everyone had to speak in a certain way in order to be on TV or radio. Although now not everyone sounds like the aristocracy; it as though much of the regionality of the voices we hear coming from the media presenters, has been replaced by a sort of ‘cosmopolitanised’ cultural set. Most of the individuals we see appear to have come from, or inhabit, largely the same metropolitan environments, and in so doing have started to become indistinguishable. Subsequently, I now witness much less little idiosyncrasies in these individuals and the images which follow them; and a far more uniformed overall impression from one ‘setting’ to the next, appears. It is as if, being ‘out of touch’ (in a societal sense), whether in terms of class, age, background or political consciousness/persuasions – and therefore not asking too many difficult questions – is far more advantageous than otherwise should be the case. I do not suggest that this has been consciously constructed, or there is any ‘big secret’. It simply figures, that this is how these organisations are run and our ideological system currently serves those groups who hold these powers. The more individualism (& its associated uniformity) is promoted, coupled with – the less that is done to change any of its social consequences – the more these control arrangements perpetuate themselves. What has happened in the previous decades prior to this however, was that youth subcultures and countercultural movements seemed to form and create what have been proven to be important cultural episodes. Such events often inspired some sort of realignment of the social orders through their very occurrences. At the very least, this generates a feeling in the popular psyche that ‘we’ as a collective group, ‘will always think for ourselves’, and in doing this, begin to make those who hold power aware that they must always consider ‘the people’. Sadly however, I have seen and experienced nothing which could resemble this sort of political engagement for almost two decades now. At a time (as I have been at lengths to describe in this section), where this type of social progress is now long overdue. What a little filth and fury did for the Punks, something similarly iconic and culturally meaningful, is crucial now – the collective imagination so requires it I suspect.


Part Three will be published next Saturday, the 24th of August.


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