Things That Need to Die Before British Culture Can Move Forwards
Jan 20 2013
Let's face it: British culture is in a weird place right now. Teenagers are buying their drugs on the internet, but getting their clothes from Hollister. Hardbody MCs are beefing with each other about the merits of Ed Sheeran and Mail Online's Sidebar of Shame is a cultural staple on which careers are born and killed. A lot of people can't get their heads around this. We've done modernity and everyone's sick to death of the term "post-modernity", so what the fuck do we call the moment we're living in right now? And, more importantly, does it suck? While I'm no Zizek, I have been to a traffic light party in Kingston, so I think I can explain.
First of all, while originality is great, we shouldn't feel ashamed of lineage. You know what you get if you try to be totally original in the early 21st century? People listening to Infected Mushroom and dressing like characters from The Fifth Element, that's what.
That said, there are many facets of our culture that are really weighing us down. The albatrosses slowly breaking our necks, the clips on our cultural wings. So let's name those things, while remembering that this isn't just an excuse for outright negativity. If these things go, the world will be a better place. See them as tyrannical dictators hanging in a public square for the rest of the nation to gaze upon and smile at.
WHY MUST IT DIE?
It's become evident that despite the best efforts of BBC 4, left-wing council initiatives and Danny Dyer's Twitter feed, we aren't going to get a mass festival of appreciation for the works of Pinter or Puccini again. Unless a show's got ABBA songs or Amanda Holden in it, culture of the stage has once again become the preserve of the middle classes. Maybe it always was.
However, when exactly did they start letting people leave rave flyers on the counter in Habitat? When did the professional vibe killers become the first names on the guestlist?
Every cultural event that doesn't take place on your laptop monitor seems to come encased in a spontaneity-proof layer of bureaucratic bullshit these days, and it's killing our culture. Who's to blame? Well, you can start with Clear Channel, Cineworld, Calvin Harris, flash mobs, South African ex-pats who take picnic blankets to open air cinemas and anybody who's ever filmed anything on a smartphone at a gig.
Essentially what's happened is that the danger element has been priced out of these events – the drunks and the popcorn throwers excommunicated. Sure, those people suck, but they're also the ones separating raves from recorder recitals and grind-houses from gastro-cinemas. They did it in football and now they're doing it in culture. Keep going this way and soon enough we won't even have a live soundtrack to our casual violence. We'll just be glassing each other silently on Friday night.
What happens when it dies? Events will seem dangerous and dirty again. Sick of seeing corduroy couples leave Kendrick Lamar shows early because they don't wanna keep the babysitter up late? Put the fear that they might get shot back into such an event and you'll see a rap show how it's meant to be.
WHY MUST IT DIE?
It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché that won’t die, because generation after generation still find themselves sucked in by that Boogie Nights montage scene. Cocaine is the absolute destroyer of subtlety, intelligence and innocence in culture and in life. Sure, there’s been great art created on and influenced by gak, but has any great art been created in the midst of a real coke blizzard? Scorsese was dabbling when he made Taxi Driver, but as soon as he got beard deep, he gave us New York, New York.
Cocaine is what made everybody you love turn shit(ter). It made them bloated, paranoid and bankrupt; morally, financially and emotionally. It's what transformed Example from an embarrassing rapper from Fulham into a mascot for pointless excess. You’d think there’d be enough lessons learned from the mistakes of the past. You'd think that all those Behind The Music specials and Carl Barat solo albums would put people off, but every generation of partygoers still fall for its horribly basic, Groucho Club idea of cool.
Yes, drugs will always play an important part in cultural development, but right now, cocaine merely serves to stifle it. It's the pinstriped trilby of the drug world – an ugly remnant from the 90s that nobody but Camden market tourists and ageing YBAs think is cool.
What happens when it dies? Young people will find a sudden sense of clarity and foresight that they've been inexplicably lacking for years. No longer will they see themselves as stars with a shelf life, human beings engaged in a tedious and inevitable pantomime of artificial rises and falls, destined to white dwarf themselves to a powdery death in the showbiz section of The Sun.
WHY MUST IT DIE?
Vanity is nothing new. From Cleopatra to Courtney Stodden, Casanova to Scott Disick, humans have always been peacocks, determined to let the rest of the pigeons know just where we rank in the fuck chain. What's new in 2012, however, is the strange insularity of young vanity – the boys and girls frozen in a permanent pout who treat their "mobile uploads" album with the same reverence previous generations reserved for holiday snaps from the Copacabana. Of course, there's something inherently human about slapping on that extra layer of foundation or carefully teasing that faux-hawk into its preferred state, but when it's so self-involved – so oddly sexless – it starts to becomes a little bit troublesome.
It's not hard to imagine teen Twitter jock and online vanity-game Oppenheimer Olly Riley never actually leaving his house. He and the thousands like him are doing solitary in their own lives, constantly stroking their cheekbones, angling their jawlines, photographing their own faces until they're disturbingly intimate with them. Almost as if to prove to their future selves that they once owned such a face.
Why is this more problematic than the generations of young people before them who used the mirror ball as their bedroom mirror? Because it sucks to be an alienated narcissist enslaved to yourself and spending that much time crammed alone inside your room deforms your mind. Somewhere along the line, teenagers went from being alley cats to bonsai kittens.
What happens when it dies? Who knows, but let it carry on and soon every pub toilet mirror and bus window will have its own screen grab function.
WHY MUST IT DIE?
You know what's a lot healthier than taking an objective look at a book or a film and learning to understand it on its own merits? Fucking hating it. Somewhere along the line, we stopped hating things. Gone are the days when liking guitar music that wasn't Oasis could find you on the wrong end of a bus-stop beating, when suggesting The English Patient is overrated would get you thrown out of a dinner party. Nobody seems to care that much any more.
This isn't because we've all been brow-beaten into collective objectivity by the Comment Is Free crowd, it's because most our of era's cultural output is actively seeking consensus popularity. Everybody seems so afraid of being misunderstood or disliked these days. Our pop stars are people who say things like, "I'm into a bit of everything, really," and Paul Rudd has gone from being a guy who plays somebody's boyfriend in a Jennifer Aniston movie to the beta-male Bogart.
Has there ever been anything or anyone great that has sought above all else to be likeable, watchable or listenable? I don't think so, they're words that imply compromise, safety and unoriginality. But today, they seem to be the adjectives that unite every mega success going. I mean, does anybody really hate Adele? When did everyone decide that consensus was society's top priority? Nothing's really worth liking unless you can get in a fistfight with a blood relative about it.
What happens when it dies? Artists will realise that their work needs to push the boundaries rather than toe the line if they want to have any chance of standing out, which can only be a good thing.
WHY MUST IT DIE?
Once upon a time, fashion was about dressing as uncomfortably as possible, and it was amazing. From damp, stiff, Teddy Boy leather jackets right up to the pointless white gloves ravers used to wear, that's what fashion is: having the balls to wear something that other people wouldn't, thus making it look cool.
Alas, in 2012, everyone seems determined to dress like they've been shopping at a department store bedding section rather than a Mazda garage's upholstery cupboard. Onesies, Uggs, those hats that look like they've been ripped off a makeshift hippie catapult – these are merely clothing equivalents of Katherine Heigl films and Cafe Del Mar albums. They don't prove that people are comfortable in their own existences, they prove that they're lazy and they've run out of ideas. What are we doing? Have we given up? If not, why are we trying to make the world look like some kind of global slumber party?
What happens when it dies? The mosaic-tiled shopping centre water features and McDonald's window seats are once again inhabited by spiky, intimidating youths clad in hoods, studs, plastic, leather, perforated nylon, bits of fence, other people's spit and their own social awkwardness. Pensioners will be scared and we'll have a generation of teens who don't look like they've just fallen out of the bath.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
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