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Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation - IV

 

[Part Four]

 

IV. Music & Opportunity   

How the Independent popular music scene connects with this enquiry, of whether there has been a recent significant social shift in its formation and development, I find interesting too. These two creative areas of education and commerce, as has been their twentieth century traditions, are indelibly linked, largely through the art school/higher educational systems. A crucial aspect of this is the way in which bands and musicians gather, and form relationships whilst studying. This is either directly so, or through the university social scenes, which is central to most (generally young) people who end up becoming popular music performers. Therefore, these behavioural aspects are fairly obviously connected with the integral matter of opportunities – and again, the increasing lack of them, to whole sways of the country. In recent times, this has resulted in creating a music business that is absolutely saturated with ostensibly similar types of people – socially speaking. Although this issue cannot simply be purely related to class; the problem of social structuring is still a reality one shouldn’t ignore. And although definitely less evident in the arts from the 60’s up until the millennia – primarily due to ideological changes in education and far more effective social equality – yet again however, the gap between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots’ has become a significant problem. I consider this is in fact, noticeably more of an issue now, than at any other time in the last three decades. In fundamental terms therefore, the arts and Independent music (which is allied to arts education), has increasingly become the ‘play thing’ of the wealthy and their offspring. Whilst writing this, I am constantly being reminded on a tale I once heard Alex James (him of Blur fame and now celebrity ‘cheese-man’) tell about Florence Welch (her of The Machine Fame). The basic gist of which, consisted of him remembering her from her early teens, being playful and charming, he recalled – as he would often ‘hang-out’ at her parent’s house – in Holland Park, I believe. They were, in some capacity, a part of that 90’s, West London ‘Media-Set’. This may well appear to be a somewhat tenuous link here. However, rest assured, if you want to delve into this subject – of the ‘Influential’ and their privileged, well positioned children – then you will find that such an anecdote could be considered, emblematic of this matter. I feel that what this has created in the music scene (and equally in higher education), is a litany of very comparable bands and performers who are financially able to live in London – the centre of the media and creative industries. Largely, and to put it bluntly, this is due in no small part, to the fact that they have wealthy parents, who have an unwavering support for them. Subsequently, their backgrounds also help them fit in with the media world they wish to inhabit (as our previous story would suggest), and this tale, I believe is an all too common one at present. Therefore, within this environment a sort of (for the most part), factual stereotype has been created, of individuals who predominately come from a privately educated background and fit a certain ‘metropolitanised mould’. Going back to what I mentioned in the previous chapter in relation to the work of the young contemporary artist today, I also find a definite thematic treatment in the music and constructed identity, manufactured by the current popular musician. Firstly, I have observed that there is a sort of new obsession with, what can only be described as mysticism. There are a lot of animal names being adopted or utilised, and the continual reference to a ‘higher’ (totally unrelated to religion), unattainable force. Just like their counterparts from the visual realm, again this brigade of pale, Barbour wearing (second hand of course), creative types, really aren’t at all interested in being tangibles – and I suppose why should they be? I guess one is primarily intrigued by what one knows and has had access to. As a consequence – and in a similar way as the Progressive Rockers did (the approach is of course different) in the late 60’s and 70’s – one finds a new creative scene, primarily based on a subject matter; which mostly focuses on symbolism, phenomena and fantasy. The way in which many of these individuals seem to take themselves so, incredibly seriously, also helps strengthen their connection with the art world. A projected sense of inner turmoil, which they exude, can be startling at times, especially in those whose lives’ have been seemingly so opportune. Nevertheless, this emotive ‘stance’ is exclusively inverted and therefore any real sense of anger is undoubtedly kept under raps. As a result, the shout of “no future” and such like, is currently non-existence here. Before I go on, may I briefly add that I very much like a lot of contemporary music and listen to it regularly (I am not promoting anyone here mind you). However, as is always the case with every good artist, there are constantly many more not so fine, attempting to do the same thing, except not as well. My main argument here is not with the quality of the music being produced today; it is with the current condition of the music scene, which I feel is the result of an ever growing social inequality. This situation is generating an increasing homogeneity in the individuals one sees, and in my view this has been generally detrimental to the works being created.

 

V.Networks’, Illusions & Nostalgia

The kind of cold, uncompromising individualism promoted by Thatcher – which has become absolutely part of the Thatcherite corpus – not only fully lends itself to the type of self-promotion that was at the centre of her politics; but crucially, it also embodies such key components dominant in an arts industry shaped by interactivity and digital expansion. As has proven to be the case within commerce and industry – for me the arts are too following the core philosophies of Thatcherism. These new technologies have been designed and adapted in a way that serves the expectations of powerful individuals and a system committed to and built on capital driven ideals; demonstrating how all these changes are inextricably linked. In this respect, it seems the internet functions in primarily two ways. The duality of this functioning apparatus/network crucially enables, or largely gives the illusion of communication/exchange and in doing so, creates the impression of seemingly, accessible opportunities; most of which, directly or otherwise equates to financial reward for those who have control and influence. If this multifaceted structure is the first operational mode, then the second characteristic of the internet creates the paradigm, which reflects the narcissistic tendencies so extolled in the creation of late 20th century Capitalist ideals. That is, the internet almost exclusively redefines the individual and their relationship with a perceived society or locale. For all it’s ‘wonderment’ (and let me assure you, I agree that it has this in abundance), in practice it seems using the ‘net’ is a relatively solitary act. Yet, as an apparatus used in the implementation of pure Individualism and because of its infinite nature, incalculable characteristics and specifically, all that it appears to promise – I can think of no greater embodiment of global Capitalist ideology. Although one may be given the impression that ‘anything can be achieved as long as one can get online ’, this illusion of a new found liberation through self imposed solitude, is just that. Nonetheless, what these ideas create within people and society as a whole, are of particular interest to me – especially when taking into consideration the arts.

I do concede, the anxieties I have raised, come from my own observations, experiences and interpretations of these matters. As has been attested throughout the last century (and probably in earlier centuries as well), there are always those subjects which are at odds with the general trends. Usually, if these artist’s (et al.) works, touch on real innovative and engaging themes, the work of such practitioners, is often revisited and reappraised, after the ‘dust’ from the prevailing ‘fads and trends’ have settled. Therefore, my central apprehension at this time is less with the quality of the art I see and hear; as there is much to be said for that at present. I would go as far as to say that there is actually more real innovative and intriguing work being produced now, than at any other time in the last few decades. Having said this though, my issues are with what, and why certain works are being given a platform, and what therefore happens to the rest of it. And why art, which in the past has attempted to engage with matters that deal with the plight of our (particularly young) citizens, is either not being made at all, or the task of excluding it from the mainstream creative consciousness, has so far in this period, been a wholly successful one.

Our correlated subjects – the contemporary art and music ‘scenes’ – and from these artistic disciplines, what is being presented as ‘typical’ examples from this period, for me share many of the same issues. One of my main anxieties in this regard, is an apparent and enveloping fixation with nostalgia. At a time when it would be more probable that these new technologies and the embracing of them, should correlate with the ‘majority’s’ attraction towards pioneering works and therefore one would think it more probable that the championing of new, perhaps young ‘creatives’ today, might be expected. To assume that adopting new creative approaches – by those performers whose actions would be more inclined to sweep away those who create works that have origins situated in, or are heavily linked with, earlier eras – would furthermore be another natural progression of this. These assumptions, as one would soon realise from looking at any magazine rack, music festival line-up and to a large extent the mainstream contemporary art world, have not necessarily come to fruition. Deliberating more on such suggestions, it is conceivable that these networks and modes of digital production are essentially an extremely useful way of distracting, and in turn controlling, those who at one time may have forced the prevailing powers into making some difficult choices. Choices one feels, will sooner or later need to be made. Consequently, at the present time, these areas of the creative industries are, to varying degrees, culpable of setting the same gloomy scene – through their dominate organisations and furthest reaching civic channels. This existing ‘setting’, is now filled with endless band reunions, gallery retrospectives and a kind of iconisation of older artists and musicians; some of whom were never all that great the first time round anyway, but in many instances, due to the effects of time, this now appears to have been forgotten. What all this has produced is a hierarchical structure, where if an arts practitioner missed out on the pre-internet ‘boom’, then the consummation of their work is likely to be far more marginalised, or in many instances, will be expected to be distributed either at the expense of the ‘maker’, or largely for free. This, in my opinion has further helped reinforce the view: that which is old and can generate feelings of nostalgia, is deemed as having more importance - and specifically, becomes a much safer option economically, regardless of it’s artistic worth. Subsequently, if we are to look at this situation and think of the new technological tools and systems which young people now have access to, one might rightly assume that what the internet has in actual fact produced, is conformity; perhaps less so in the creative sense, but certainly in a socio-ideological respect.

 

VI. The ‘Intern’, Discrimination, Acceptance & Activism    

The situation new entrants to the arts have currently been left to ponder, to be brutally honest, is bleak. Coupled with the biggest problem the arts as an industry faces today, creative ownership and control over publishing (which will certainly increase further over time) an issue that clearly impacts most on those trying to establish themselves as self-supporting individuals working within this field, we now also have another related injustice. This being, that not only are young art creators struggling to support themselves economically, something which to some extent can usually be expected, but what we now find as being endemic in the arts, is that businesses and organisations are now able to have young (almost always young, ‘graduates’ etc.) people working for them, doing ‘proper’ work and filling much needed roles within their workplaces, but these arts and media companies are being allowed, quite openly, not to pay them. This is what is regularly known as ‘The Intern’. The culture, which surrounds these ‘Interns’, is so blatantly a short sighted financial tactic – systematic and detrimental to the ever increasing problem of youth unemployment (and largely highly educated youths in this regard). Therefore it never fails to amaze me that far greater attention isn’t being paid to tackling this damaging culture. I don’t mean primarily in a governmental sense either. The government and big business are fundamentally the same economic entity now, which is largely, once again, due to greater empowerment given to the free market over the last 30 years. Therefore, as much as any political executive might posture about this, they will always leave enough leeway in order for it to happen, and as we already know, if it is at all possible for businesses to get away with free labour (and let’s face it, that’s what it is) then it will continue. For me the biggest tragedy, which has come out of this new, wide scale exploitation, is a fundamental lack of any meaningful solidarity young aspiring art workers and other potentially new creative administrators seemingly have for one another. It seems patently obvious, that political leaders will not put an end to this system that allows such mistreatment to occur, therefore more than enough time has pasted for those affected to realise that the only way to prevent this from happening further, is for young workers to act. The ‘action’, would simply be to communicate through rhetoric and backed up by implementation; a position that states: from this point onwards, ‘no one works for free’. I believe this would also be fairly easy to implement. It is a simple piece of industrial action, and is the right of all us free citizens. Integral to this however, is the notion of the ‘Scab’, which would certainly have to be applied. One would have to deem this absolutely necessary in order that those privileged enough to work for free, should be shamed or persuaded into not doing so. As has happened in other previous decades, young people have been able to show solidarity towards one another as a way of achieving certain social and political objectives. Therefore, instead of embracing their oppressors, which these days I am aware of constantly, young people must start realising, much in the way Punks, Hippies and others have done before them, that the system is working against their best interests. Ideologically, it appears now, that individuals have never been so alone. Modern Individualism has left young people especially, largely battling one another, in the vain hope that our vastly inadequate system just might start working for them one day. These troubles are evident in all manner of ways and in various ‘walks of life’. However, through their strong connections to higher education, the formation of their economic models and due to their seemingly privileged natures – the arts and music businesses, truly are quite a special case in this regard. The sheer scale of injustices being perpetrated within these industries and the widespread implementation/acceptance of them – has prompted such conclusions as these to be drawn.

Therefore, for the time being, my assessment of the Thatcherite legacy, and how it has manifested itself in our new, and unquestionably pioneering technological advancements, would be that – it is thus far serving the economic powers, of the established minority, infinitely better than those who make up the vast majority of ‘ordinary people’ in this country. Hence, I believe this is now a significant, contributing factor to the ever increasing economic gap between those who have access to opportunities of social advancement and those who, through no fault of their own, do not. But even more crucially than this, these ‘digital apparatuses’ are being implemented, and then reinforced by all of us as users, in a way that enhances the current operational/ideological model. Furthermore, I consider that these networks and computerised devices have supported the idea that society, in the traditional sense, has gone. Firstly, by creating a mass diversion of consciousness through a kind of digitised control and via forms of entertainment; and secondly, by manufacturing new pseudo-social networks, which are in reality, complete illusions to what actual social cohesion really is. What both these two crucial aspects of today’s new global ‘communities’ have produced, and have in common is, solitude – and as a result, an enhanced fear of the ‘unknown’. This has happened I feel, because of an overly developed, false consciousness. I believe therefore, that these factors are two of the most tragic results of late twentieth century, free market capitalism and the ‘digital age’ it created.

In order to draw this preliminary social study to a satisfactory conclusion, I will draw on a recent interview I saw. This exchange involved the writer; broadcaster and celebrity intellectual Will Self, discussing Punk and today’s societal predicaments – and of particular interest to myself here, this dialogue primarily concerned questions relating to young people nowadays. One may view this short interview for themselves, in order to get the full context of it; however there is a point which I would like to briefly mention here. The general view coming from Self is that (and he takes no pleasure in making this point, I may add), young aspiring individuals, presently, unless born into a position of rare opportunity, are fundamentally disadvantaged in this current global system of exchange. This, in the case of the arts, media and ‘design’ etc., has produced relatively little political reaction; resulting in the victims of these structures, simply ‘going with this devastating flow’. Self articulates to the young interviewer at one point, words to this effect: if there is a job going within this media driven industry “they won’t pay you to do it, they’ll pay me”. Such a decision will also not be based upon ability or quality in any way either, he suggests. We are in a position where this current generation, if we are to be honest, are being lost, literally as we speak. They have been undoubtedly dealt a severe economic and political blow, but I must admit they are also allowing these discriminations too simply ‘happen to them’ – without the hint of a fight, or in some instances even a whimper. And as a result, a blind and resigned acceptance that collective change, is not even deemed futile anymore. It is, at this time, not even being considered at all. For a whole variety of complex reasons, the Thatcherite line is being ‘towed’ by young people; without question. The view that ‘one must only ever think of oneself’ and a ruthless drive for financial success should be all that matters – is the consensus which prevails, and is upheld by them. The sad truth is though, that this ethos is not serving them well in the slightest. In fact, it is utterly reinforcing this desperate situation. Possibly, this naïve faith or ignorance, which young workers and graduates have in the current system, has contributed to some of this obvious lack of faith that those in power clearly have for the ‘next/current generation’?

 

This sited interview with Will Self, surprisingly profound, touches upon the core subject of the latter part of my paper – the problem of ‘The Overlooked Generation’.    

 

ConclusionFormulating a Solution…

In order to finish this piece on a more positive note, I aim to express the thought that all may not be all lost. As I have alluded to in this chapter, I would firstly propose a course of action for those being subjected to this societal marginality. I believe those most affected, at present, by the issues I have been discussing are those between the ages of 20 and 35 (this is a very rough estimation, and of course all those in favour of meaningful action, or who demonstrate unity with this cause; are victims of these austere, democratically unrepresentative times, would be thoroughly welcomed as part of any political action). Therefore, the first course of action must be based around, and aimed at creating a shared solidarity with those from this same generation – whether directly affected by these problems or not. I consider this key to any proposed movement. Through the creation of networks and groups, which are exclusively run by, and are for, those trying to achieve justice for this generation and a resolution to this crisis; this would be a significant step in developing a much broader consciousness of these issues. This would initially be designed to create some apprehension in the establishment and simply a greater level of attention for this cause. From these new systems, the prevailing message must sound something like this: ‘we will take up this cause ourselves and change our situation accordingly’. Such thoughts are not unheard of. We have seen previous generations, create their own successes from this sort of position and through comparable progressive political attitudes. Then through this much needed process of ideological re-shaping, I firmly believe that creatively and artistically, those same younger adults will be able to fashion movements and make their own unique statements in their work – events that up until now have been lacking. Maybe looking at previous generations for inspiration is not a bad idea? But this must be done in the right context I feel. It is one thought looking for insight into the social, creative and artistic achievements of previous decades – however what we have seen recently is a far more sycophantic approach to this, which I think has been damaging and has produced the opposite change: compliance. No, quite simply those in this complicated social position (of which I am one), must now cease ‘embracing the oppressor’ and start developing a new unity of political and social activism; combined with new artistic and innovative ideas. If such a pioneering engagement does occur, then maybe Punk, as important as it was, will finally turn out to be ‘old news’ after all. And with this, one may well end up saying ‘what did Punk ever do for me?’ To think of previous generations, and their achievements in such a way, I judge would be a sign that we are finally finding the true worth in our own one.

 

There will be an Afterthought written by the editor Pipe, in consultation with the author of ‘Something akin to Punk’, Edgar Davis. The publishing date for this post will be announced soon. Please keep checking Pipe for details of this and other news, thanks.

P.

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