Heartbeat, Oasis and The Decay of Civilisation

It isn’t a criticism of my Father, but he only ever allowed himself to get into one band during the last 25 years: Oasis. Neither is it a criticism of both my parents that they would seemingly, if they could, spend the rest of their television orientated evenings on a drip-feed-like consumption of 1960’s memories. The reason why it isn’t a criticism is because I believe that Heartbeat, in the field of TV, and Oasis, in the field of music, are possibly two of the most important cultural products of the last 20 years, and for quite depressing and sobering reasons indeed.

What started this thinking track is the fact that my parents don’t actually value Heartbeat as a program – in fact they don’t even like it – yet they still always watch it. And the same here could be applied to Oasis: people don’t like the band members, and don’t really value their music, yet enjoy listening to it. Enjoying lighthearted stuff with no real depth to it is not what’s in question here: Oasis and Heartbeat standout as quintessential icons of a culture which can see no future and relies on and immerses itself in the hopes and progressions of a past generation (the 1960’s), and by doing so, possibly closing our eyes to the bleak future which so many are now expecting.

Anyway, back to the program of Heartbeat first of all. Heartbeat is set in a small village upon the North Yorkshire Moors. The show started in the early 1990’s and it has been running for about 18 years (ran about 18 years – it has now finally been shelved) yet it never left a mish-mash 1960’s era, which could only be logically located within a permanent 1964/1967 era – almost in a Truman Show-like manner, where nobody remembered to tell the cast that the world they are living in has long since ceased to exist. The very fact that this observation (which even the most dumbly accepting of us could point out) is usually challenged, by those who watch it, with the reply “it doesn’t matter, it’s only Sunday evening escapism” reveals much about the functional purpose of this program: set in the 1960’s, littered with references to cultural, political movements of, certainly, the most progressive and optimistic period in the past half-century, yet appealing to the malaise and apathy of the present, and, more importantly, the need to escape the despair of the present, Television shows such as Heartbeat stand as hallmarks for a civilisation which – due to events which sabotaged and infiltrated the emancipatory movements of the 1960’s – has been shrinking back, like an old person’s body, for the past 40 years. Interestingly a very similar conclusion seems to be made by Charlie Brooker, who speaks words which, although padded by wit, seem to arrive at the same conclusion “Mankind clearly peaked about forty years ago. Its been downhill ever since. For all this talk of our dazzling modern age, the two biggest advances of the past decade are Wi-Fi and Nandos” (This doesn’t mean to say that I think humanity cannot advance any further, my observations are made with the self-asserted triumph of global capitalism in mind, as I believe that humanity can only regress under capitalism, and can only progress after an eradication of it – if that ever chuffing comes; I do bugger all to help the cause, but to moan eternally).

If our civilisation was still progressing, in any way but finding new ways in which to consume things, sentimental programs such as Heartbeat, which hark back in a embrace of the progressive, optimistic mood of the 1960’s, (precisely because it failed in reality) would need not exist – and we’d probably still be receiving the more educational and intuitive TV subject matter of the past, which seem to have slowly disappeared from our screens whilst titillating reality television has risen to take over the non-fiction.

The music of Oasis and the first series of Heartbeat started out at a relatively similar time in the early 1990’s; a period which did contain a optimism (although largely superficial by its commodification and misguided in the idea that the “things will only get better”) for the future, which convinced us that things really were going to be OK under late capitalism; gone was the Berlin Wall, gone was the harsh face of capitalism (Thatcher and Reagan) and the post 9/11, security paranoid and data collecting Computer World had not yet made itself known to us.

Oasis, on a visual and audible front, gave a very similar produce to Heartbeat (not in who they appealed to but certainly in what they resembled): they too resembled icons of an optimistic and progressive past; musically they possessed qualities found in popular and progressive bands from periods in British pop music before the music market became so controlling so as to largely stop musical innovation and merely tend to niches.

Like Heartbeat, the content of Oasis was empty: it merely resembled the past; their lyrics meant nothing much and they largely tended to a newly emerging ‘lad culture’ which demanded no change to the status quo, and just wanted to fester on hedonistic pursuits and social securities won by working people’s from the past (not to criticise this group overly however: they were largely fooled into believing that “they’d never had it so good” and a lot of this group are now – if not suffering from depression and on the dole – certainly struggling to perceive a future, and struggling to settle down and start a family, etc). Precisely because they had nothing to say, Oasis are one of the most culturally important bands of the post Berlin wall/Global Capitalist era, possibly more so that the bands who really have tried to be critical of our present predicament (maybe even more relevant to our era that great bands such as Radiohead). Looking back it now seems inevitable that the optimism would fade, and just as the hedonism of the Blairite 1990’s years petered out into ritualistic farce (“there’s nothing else for us to do, except getting pissed anyway!”) and pointlessness as we entered the ‘noughties’, so did the music of Oasis and the story lines in Heartbeat (“their music/story lines are samey, but there’s nothing better to listen to/ on the box”).
Heartbeat finally ended at the end of the noughties, a decade too late for all but the farce of our times. Oasis finally split up at the end of the noughties also. The end of these two cultural beacons may just mutter a suggestion that the cultural fabric of the noughties – a clinging on to the spirit of the 1990’s, and a marketised magnification of the remaining dregs of that misled optimism from that era – is coming to an end, and it also may mutter what is coming next, not just culturally, but possibly more in an economic, democratic and, finally, environmental sense.

There does seem to be an almost End Of Days aura oozing from our culture at the moment. Not that it is, in any way, braced for an harsher, more authoritarian landscape – like the current Chinese/Indian version of Capitalism, which the philosopher Slavoj Zizek predicts will arise if Capitalism continues to rule on this increasingly troubled planet of the 21st century – only that many of us seem to be expecting it at some point. How could something as sloppy as Heartbeat still appeal in the coming age? Maybe the context of such shows would need to be even more soppy, even more like an anaesthetic to numb ourselves to the world outside? (likewise, would music similar to that of Oasis, need to incorporate, into its music videos, the almost pornographic usage of women, which is already used in music videos just slightly down the music ladder regarding appeal to intelligence?)

The ultimate death-by-slosh, newish Sunday evening drama Lark Rise To Candleford is very ‘zeitgeist’ indeed, and appears to have the exact formula to serve this functional purpose. Underneath these layers of sickening drivel there appears to be an almost anti-capitalist sentiment – when the wise woman from the village post office comes to issue her words of wisdom. Of course, it in no way encourages action, or even a critique of the present (it wouldn’t get a Sunday evening slot if this were the case). Lark Rise To Candleford seems to perform what Mark fisher describes in his book Capitalist Realism, as he explains the functional purpose of the Disney Film WALL.E – about a waste collecting robot on a planet made desolate by mega corporations: it’s function is interpassivity; it actually performs the viewers’ anti-capitalism, good will for all mankind for them, allowing them to return to participating in a capitalist world with a little less guilt about doing so (Or in Lark Rise To Candleford’s case: it allows the viewer to be more at ease for the Monday morning rat-race the day after).

A fairy tale-like town, viewed as if seen through sugar-coated rose-tinted spectacles, where there seems to be a constantly postponed inevitability of modernisation/industrialisation waiting just outside the town’s gates (which seems massively delayed seen as it is set in Britain right at the end of the nineteenth century), Lark Rise To Candleford also seems to function as a defense against what’s going on ‘out there’, in the real world. One could picture this as a pair of warm arms of a rustic and traditional woman baker, protecting the viewer from the amoral destructiveness of capitalism outside. Just like the pointless of a show like Heartbeat in a progressive era, Lark Rise To Candleford could only exist whilst the we live in times so expectant (although we rarely speak of it to each other) of catastrophe.

Another factor in society that seems to point out to me that we are collectively expecting a meltdown is the supreme levels of generic physical perfection that (what appears to be) most young people born after 1989 are striving to achieve. Perhaps it is possible to make a link between looming threats to the existence of our species (i.e environmental threats) and the degree to which consumerism now seeps into our lives, and The Guardian columnist George Monbiot makes me feel more sure that this is true, whilst referring to living under this political landscape that has never recovered since it swerved to the right under Margaret Thatcher, when he says “Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change”.
The majority of today’s youth seem to be bathed in a lifestyle which is obviously not going to be attainable for long. You cannot help but sense that somethings wrong, as you are confronted by the eroticness of the clothes and beautification of teenage girls/young women (the girls/young women seem to wear clothes which are so tight and revealing that there is hardly anything left to the imagination, as if there is no time left for it), and the young men would make the girls of just 10 years back look scruffy in comparison. Never before have I seen sexually provocative clothes, so odorous of status, worn en masse – yes, we’ve finally arrived in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, just before it all comes crumbling back down again!
Perhaps my thoughts are always heightened by memorised song lyrics from times past, but a line from the song ‘Big Exit’ by PJ Harvey seems so fitting that it would be a shame to leave it out:

“Beautiful people, Beautiful girls
I just feel like it’s the end of the World”

It has been said many time that a civilisation is never too big to collapse, but that doesn’t prevent the visual appearance and the actions of the majority from sometimes convincing me that there is no way this could all cave in, and my main concerns momentarily become a stray dog from the house of common sense. I look around at all the well-dressed 20-somethings, settling down and having children, and I think “surely this confirms that we cannot be at The End Of Days just yet….? the reemergence of the 80’s hairdo’s: they could never belong in a barren human wasteland, they’re made for a urban cultural hub!” But maybe the increasing perfection of ones self-image and the increasing numbers of Facebook users whose profile pictures are of their newborn babies, are actions made precisely to put a mental block on any reference to a collapse of civilisation (you don’t want to consider the prospect of oil reserves running out when you’re planning on having a family).
Do I believe this collapse of life as we know it is inevitable? Well, ‘life as we know it’ in regards to living under Capitalism, will have to end. But it will only equate to a bleak struggle for survival for most of us, If capitalism doesn’t end when ‘life as we know it’ ends. It needn’t be bleak: Capitalism isn’t like oxygen; humanity could survive perfectly well without it. One has to remember at this point that all the democratic rights, and social welfare we (still, at this moment) have were gained contrary to the interests of Capitalism – it is a massive contradiction when it’s advocates (think of George Bush’s rhetoric used in the war on terror) speak of the freedom and good living that capitalism countries have . So, counter to the opinions of those who know me, I do have some degree of optimism left. But this optimism will continue to be eroded if capitalism continues to guide us to this sheer drop.
Come what may, we will feel the harsh side of Capitalism on us very soon, and just like ending of Oasis/heartbeat, which were symbolic of the culture the past 2 decades, the tougher life most will experience as the impact of cuts to social spending are felt, may also ‘mutter a suggestion’ of what we can expect to see more from Capitalism, as the planet becomes a less accommodating home. Speaking as an inhabitant of Britain, although most other countries are expecting equally tough measures, these cuts are being used as economic shock therapy, as described in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine: we are being given no choice but to accept that the only way to avoid a total disaster is to slash state spending, and jolt the nation into a privatisation spree: we are frightened of job loss, total poverty, and so will accept the no-security, peanuts-pay, prospects of a nation of privately owned entities – like Britain was in the apparently ‘Glorious age’ of the 19Th century, when most of its peoples lived in abject poverty.
Maybe it won’t get get this harsh straight away, but it won’t get any better, and Capitalism’s going to be trying to ‘manufacture consent’ more than it ever has done before, you can bet you life on that.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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