<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/195082910″>The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
This video work takes my previous video-work The West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account and makes it more concise whilst taking certain aspects of the video further.
Using (overly) familiar places, components in an eclectic and discontinuous urban area spanning the old West Riding county.
Using this landscape to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition.
The work focus’s on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of the which is largely caused by the loss of the previous, and their haunting presence. The first lost future is that of popular modernism, which died in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The second lost future being the naively optimistic early to mid 1990’s, and its utopianist gaze at the (then) coming new millennium. The un-locatable present, here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at the severe disorientation of the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis.
The video-work and wider, ongoing project has been inspired by the beautifully calm,yet highly politicised films of Patrick Keiller; Mark Fisher’s writings on Hauntology, and Fredric Jameson’s essay on Cognitive mapping. They have also be inspired by my own feelings of loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. Indeed the growing weight of this sense of being ‘out of time’ is what differs the original West Riding-based video-work with The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crime).
The title of this video refers to an iconic ‘blip’ on the skyline of Barnsley town centre: a building that was abandoned half-way through completion due to the 2008 financial crash, as if the constructors had simply been zapped out of existence, and now exists as a ghost ship upon the inner ring road – haunting us with faded the utopianism of the 1989-2008 exuberant new capitalism. But the title refers to the entire subject of the film; that of a sense of a future that has vanished, leaving an empty shell of itself.
“I’ve seen what people are capable of when they’re in desperate situations. Are we really so far from that point already?” – Philip Carvel, Utopia, episode 6
I won’t dispute that the recent second series of Channel 4’s Utopia ( Dennis Kelly) was gripping. Nor will I dispute the fact that what made it more gripping was its use of overly homely locations around Barnsley and Wakefield in the final episode – fusing two of my obsessive pre-occupations: place, and our collective future in this century (the crucial issue within the drama). After all, I have a clear memory of reading Slavoj Žižek’s Living in The End Times in the very of bus aisle used for the beginning scene of the final episode.
Yet, Žižek’s approach to ‘the end times’ is in itself a critique of a cultural infliction that I argue is critically played out in Utopia’s ‘end times’. Žižek’s book deals with the civilisational dead end we have found ourselves at. That although a capitalist reality can only deepen the problems we face in the 21st century, we are incapable thus far of imagining an alternative reality. He, like many other take heed, and deepen the assertion from the famous quote made by theorist Fredric Jameson that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism”. A cultural infliction that theorist Mark Fisher calls ‘capitalist realism‘ prevents a civilisation from imagining a way out of the mess it has found itself in.
Utopia’s artful web of conspiracy ideas, all set up within the drama to enable a secret sterilizing-causing-vaccine called Janus to greatly reduce the human population, is greatly imaginative within the narrow realms of what is currently imaginable, but it goes no further. Whereas a film such as The Children of Men (set in the aftermath of mass sterilisation) dealt with the fallout of the inability to overcome a dead end, Utopia provides only capitalist realist solutions to it. Nowhere within the drama’s message is there room for contemplation that a more equal distribution of resources, and a more democratically planned growing and using of foods and fuels could perhaps be a solution, because this is far harder to imagine ever happening than the end of the world. Thus, the only option in such a reality is to greatly reduce the population.
The remark I expect to get of “can’t you just see it as a form of entertainment?” isn’t satisfactory when the subject of a drama deals with very real and imminent threats to our survival as a species. You come away thinking that there’s no alternative to a mass sterilising or culling of our species. This ‘no alternative’ can’t be of said apocalyptic dramas from the past. For example, Threads: with the terrifyingly real depiction of a nuclear holocaust set in nearby (to me) Sheffield, it was never a foregone conclusion – there was always an underlying message of “we don’t have to let this happen”.
Utopia graphically shows to us what we already know is unfolding around the world due to the fucked-up-ness unravelling from being psychologically-trapped in a reality of exploitation at all costs: psychotic violence, by state and by individual to reach the only ends given. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi said “If capitalism is to go on in the history of mankind, then the history of mankind must become the place of total violence, because only the violence of competition can decide the value of time” and aren’t we seeing such measures being exerted in both non-physical and physical ways to reach these ends/means? When another gruesome act occurs in Utopia, although it shocks us and gets the blood racing, isn’t it what we kind of expected to happen anyway though? That in our narrow Real that’s the only extreme-result we can imagine?
Utopia was a great series, but due to its ‘capitalist realism’ it gives us a deadly solution to the threat to survival we all try to forget about (hoping it will go away). But the problem with picking and choosing in an already vastly unequal and selfish reality could result in the most ghastly ethnic/class-cleansing imaginable. But nobody watches Utopia thinking they’d be the unlucky ‘chosen ones’ in such a scenario. The infliction of ‘capitalist realism’, in pitting all against one another, intensifies our subconscious belief that we are more equal than others, an instinct that less reckless societies throughout time have realised needs to be tamed for our good. Utopia does a great job of showing what human beings are capable of doing to each other, but I find it severely problematic that it just leaves it at that – a foregone conclusion.
Full marks for entertainment value, acting, and the plot, for sure. Just no marks for feeding our imaginations with a reality that often was indistinguishable from the brutal world we see unfolding when we switch channels to see blood almost dripping from the TV set on Russia Today and Al Jazeera.
“2013 is unfolding real horror-show-like” said the protagonist Alex, as he sat back in a bubble of styles and tastes, mixed, and mashed together from decades gone, too alcoholically inebriated to care that the here and now is almost unidentifiable except for a general distinct lack of faith in everything” (Imagining the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange inhabiting our present social landscape).
The ghosts of every era have frighteningly come fully to life in our times. Full-throttle hyperreality. A world where people are more Victorian than the Victorians were; more 60’s than the 1960’s were, more Madchester than the Madchester scene was. A world full of simulacra. But why?
Surely the anxiousness caused by the inability to visualise/represent our postmodern (or late-capitalist) times need to be fueled by more than just confusion, in order for the past to embalm the present to such an extent that it becomes alive at the expense of the present? A collective sense that, in our blindness to our times, something is running amok, off its leash, slowly unraveling that which holds together civilisation?
In my last blog I described a feeling that 2013 gives me: a feeling of the uncanny. That all that should be dead and gone – inanimate – has now been brought back to life; or in another way of looking at it, we are behaving like ghosts ourselves; that the world we knew is dead, yet we go through the motions. We go through the motions despite there being so much scandal and corruption, in media/political/business establishments, that there is nothing left to trust in. We don’t know what else to do put to repeat our old actions.
A protective veil of simulcra helps us believe we are elsewhere in time. This veil gives way (either due to a descending social gradient or the passing of hours in a day) to the protective bubbles of alcohol/drug intoxication. You happen to pass through a certain part of your local area, at a different time of day, to realise the necessity of illegal drugs in peoples’ lives in order for them to exist (subsist). All avenues to deny the present have become so entrenched that you realise out-right madness is indeed a requirement to survive the strange and unsettling passing of days in 2013.
Amidst, what I would describe as a landscape of chaos, two television dramas (in particular) have settled into this mental environment, like large plants that have grown out of it all. They portray a tangibly close to The Now world, a sort of science fiction; the type of science fiction specific to a time that no longer believes in a future (our time). They are so close for comfort to be Pizza-eating TV-watching fodder, that you have to be in a severe state of disillusion not to notice that we are indeed looking through a Black mirror. Appropriately most of us are in just that state – in order to refrain oneself from running around and screaming. These two dramas being Utopia and Black Mirror, both shown on Channel 4.
As much as the extreme violence in Utopia initially sends jolts of shock through your nervous system, it isn’t what makes the lasting impact: it is that all this violence is perpetrated in order to find certain people and certain items crucial to controlling a global sterilisation project, which is being planned due to the very same issues that we must face in the century above anything else; resource depletion and feeding a growing population, with such a situation possibly leading to hellish ends.
Utopia reflects back to us the humongous issue that, due to its appearance of having no immediate effect, has almost vanished to the social conscious since the financial crash in 2008. We are locked into a cultural infliction that the theorist Mark Fisher diagnoses as ‘Capitalist Realism’. Utopia presents back to us the only solution we would have to save the human race under our ‘Capitalist Realism’ infliction: mass sterilisation. Surely one must retain the hope that a human race outside the dynamics of capitalism may yet find itself with a humane way of dealing with these century-defining problems?
Utopia’s networks of conspiracy get the mind working overtime, but the lasting mark it carves into our minds is the thought that says “hang on? what are we actually going to do to save the human race?” The violence is perhaps a welcome reflection of the levels on inhumanity that unaccountable powers will go to to get their way, but we need not rely on the possibility of acts of secrecy to know that this occurs. One must surely then follow up the first thought by asking whether the continuation of humanity under unaccountable power, which leaves a snail-trail of corruption as it inches towards the cliff face of civilisation, would be worthwhile anyway. But I’d argue that this is when one’s thoughts die via the thought-guillotine of Capitalist Realism, that places thought back into the survivalism of the here and now under extreme austerity.
If I do appear to have a somewhat paranoid feeling that I’m seeing the unraveling of things, so be it, (I hope it is!), I can’t help it, but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing the drama Black Mirror as being a zeitgeist-moment. Black Mirror is written by satirist/presenter Charlie Brooker, a man who is so apt for our cynical times, that it is maybe right that he doesn’t show the true size of his intelligence so often, allowing him to sneak it under peoples’ noses without them knowing.
Black Mirror is Science fiction specific to these cynical times, where we just hold on day in day out; a science fiction for a time when we have forgotten our own times, unaware that they are far more futuristic than we think – which has disastrous consequences. Three different episodes show a future so incredibly close, but it’s like looking a picture you know well yet then suddenly spotting something is incredibly wrong. This is our future, as with the future depicted in the Children of men; one where what is already present now is just made to get more extreme.
Yet Black Mirror operates perfectly in a postmodern society where more pedagogical warnings are told to go fuck off and get back on their high horse; it’s incredibly subtle. For example, the last episode. A cartoon character standing for election becomes more popular than real politicians. Anybody who has read ‘The Hell of It All’ ( a collection of Charlie Brooker’s columns for the Guardian’s G2 section) will know that this is what he more or less summed the then-London-mayor-candidate Boris Johnson up as being. Brooker showed a meek fear of the political consequences of people voting for somebody for their cartoon-character likability. With Waldo (the name of the character), in the last episode, who actually is a character, Brooker subtly leaves the consequences of the rise of such a figure to political power to short intervals between the ending credits, the point when people usually assume the story has ended: the man who did the original voice for Waldo, who quit because he became worried about they way it was all going, finds himself homeless in a fascist-looking state ruled over by Waldo television screens. The last shot shows him being beaten by police in black uniforms.
What does such an ending have in common with our times? Black Mirror’s subtle stabs through the blindness of cynicism, show us what social consequences can arise from a culture of cynicism and lack of trust. Our cynicism has been growing and growing, as the pillars of society have crumbled into total untrustworthiness over the past decade. In 2013, we now find ourselves in a landscape where we have no trust or hope in anything that orders our society, yet we have to carry on because we know no other way. We just Ipod ourselves out, even further so, and drape ourselves in even thicker reflections of a more comforting past. But the cracks in the present are getting harder to step over, and many are already tumbling down into them.
That my life doesn’t seem to grow and change is because time itself doesn’t seem to move things on anymore.
Oh yes, things change, but it’s as if the entire world is speeding up its exchanging and obtaining of things already bygone. And when all that happens is that things are circulated faster and faster, little of it seems to have any substance. When one thinks of our present time and what could be seen as new, one thinks of applications, social-media sites; they don’t bring anything new into the world they just stretch out and speed up the circulation of everything that’s already happened in our civilisation (recent technological advances merely turn the world into one giant tin of old photo’s, and all we do as a culture now is constantly browse that tin).
I have never found myself able to allow myself to leave my teenage physique and demeanor behind. Reality would show that I have left it behind, but it doesn’t stop the need to maintain what has already gone.I cling to a past that retroactively becomes more and more massive, as a future never seems conceivable. The more I speak to others (although it is played out in different ways) the more I realised it wasn’t specific to myself.
That I make sure that I can still fit into (some) size 30 waist jeans is merely reflective of a culture that continuously makes sure it can still riff on the past. According to The independent newspaper, the United Kingdom, in terms of soft power (or cultural capital) is ranked as the most influential nation in the world, and if there was ever a nation that has continuously managed to riff on its past (whether the royal spectacles or re-hashes of the same British rock group formula every 5 or so years) it’s the United Kingdom.
+We are trapped in a cultural logic that believes nothing can be done to shape and make a new world. Because of this we are held to ransom by the logic of a system that told us its world is the only world. Our culture has nowhere to turn, and as this systemic logic brings the world into farce, we look further and further backwards, in order to grasp something that we feel we can control, in order to stay sane.
I would speculate that with every crisis the capitalist system has produced this side of the year 2000 that it further entrenches this immersion in things of the past (albeit with modern devices that we rarely try to rationalise). The legitimacy of the system has been smashed by farce after farce; we know we it is failing us, but we cannot perceive away around it, so our world is built out of a past that we can control and predict.
Because we can’t face up to the present, or even acknowledge it, time feels out of joint. This disjunction between time and our experience can be unnervingly evident in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Dotted around every urban settlement up and down the U.K are, what I call, ‘Mary Celeste‘ Developments; never completed housing estates, barred off by metal barriers, and skeletal structures which are frozen in their foetal position. Precisely because we are culturally unable to face up to the present, we usually walk past these spaces and instantly forget about them. But if we make a conscious effort to observe them we are confronted with the disconcerting fact the the financial crisis began half a decade ago, when it doesn’t feel long ago at all. It only feels like it happened a few weeks back, and everything at these construction sites stands, waiting to resume business, as if it were only a temporary blip.
Because we have found ourselves at our cultural dead end (or at least at a blockage in the pipelines of time) the world hasn’t been able to come to terms with the truth that the world has been irreversibly changed from that day on. We can’t really picture the world as it actually is, now, because it gives us the sensation of already being dead, and having an after-death experience. So we wait for things to return to as they were; we wait and wait, and only rarely realise just how much time we have spent waiting.
It’s like we are the new Pompeii, but haven’t realised that we’ve been turned to stone and burried by the normal functioning of time. At times when we can passively flow through this world, without observing or experiencing the world-wide suffering that confirms that the world is still alive, one can be forgiven for at least imagining that the end of the world has already occurred, that we are literally spectres going through the motions unaware of being so, like the fate of the Characters in the film The Others, who do not realise that they are the ghosts haunting the living.
More people now dress like people from the past than the people who lived in them time-periods did. People in the 1960’s thought we’d be walking around in space-suits, but we actually walk around looking more like them than they did. More 1960’s than the 1960’s; more 1980’s than the 1980’s; we are more or less living in a simulation of the past, which helps keep us blind to ‘the desert of the Real’. This is the world of simulcra/hyperreality, understood well by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he makes it somewhat fantastical/exciting to read; it doesn’t feel like the bleak haunted house our post-recession culture occupies. The ghosts of the past are running out of energy just as we crave them the most; the music/pub/night-out scene which embalmed our culture with cheap drink is now often the arena where you feel most like you’re in spaces haunted by their past (empty pubs).
On a personal level, my predicament could be clumsily described by the previous generation as that of somebody who is “30 going on 18”, but the situation is far more serious. Much of the previous generation often refuse to acknowledge the reasons for this cultural inertia, because they grew up in a time when culture burst forward faster than anything before, only to exhaust itself in the form of tragic endings for many young pop icons. I have to ask myself whether I will be still heading to the “indie music” bars, not knowing where else to go, when I’m pushing 40. Experience of my past ten years, living in a culture that turned up the volume on its IPod every time news arrived of another crisis/catastrophe, is that doing so may be a necessary coping-method.
(I suppose writing this is a melancholy act. Even though my love affair with the music of Oasis has been over for over a decade, their music is still the soundtrack for a point in my early high school days in the mid-to-late 1990’s when things looked really bright around me, and society seemed cheery and optimistic [even if we realise how naive this was, looking back]. My friend gave me a cassette in 1996 with their best-seller ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ taped onto it. It seemed to capture the essence of my then blissful excitment for the future, from a time when even the smell of Lynx Atlantis deodorant seemed to smell of good feeling. But it wasn’t just me, the 1990’s had fooled most into optimism for things to come; the ‘tracksuit’ wearing youth, who the band would later scorn, were walking around the ex-coal mining villages I spend my days in, playing Oasis, alongside Happy Hardcore tape’s on their portable tape players, and the name of the band was even sprayed onto many walls up and down. It Seemed like they had meaning for everyone, and it took me a while to realise that, to quote Morrissey, they said “nothing to me about my life” – Oasis truly were The Motorcycle Emptiness. But these illusions are gone now, and it’s time to brush away the cobwebs made by those dated-voices who still half-maintain them. Well, this is part of a tearing away of the remaining cobweb strands.)
Reading the sleeve booklet for The Stone Roses: Tenth Anniversary CD, when only 16 years old, reading about “the gruesome simplicity of Oasis”, to contrast them with The Stone Roses, I thought it was merely referring to their musical style. Little did I know, or like to admit back then (being a high school kid still very much in awe of the ‘Britpop’ icons), that this was also reflected in the Gallagher brothers’ attitudes. But this was ‘so-so’ in the period from 1995 to 2001, when the illusion of The End of History, allowed for people with nothing reasonable to say to be revered, because no threat was posed from their ‘give a shit’ and clumsy remarks. Now, in a time which might as well be a million years from the late 1990’s, these dated-voices are indeed gruesome.
There’s no doubt The Daily Mail had reason to tweak what Noel Gallagher said in the article featuring the songwriter’s most recent ‘views’ (so as to show that “it’s ok for so-called working class heroes to become part of the establishment as long as they can make it out of poverty”). But whether Noel’s comments did or didn’t praise Thatcher is of no real relevance: his “I couldn’t give a shit” attitude (which is as course and as dated as any of the Top Gear Crew’s), and his simplification of desperately complicated social issues, now he as the wealth to keep himself and his family well out of reach of society’s growing number of desperate people (according to the Mail he “vows to send his sons to private school”,); this attitude is as right wing as the Daily Mail and is itself a Thatcherite attitude.
I will return further on to the question asking whether we should be criticising Noel or criticising the reason why celebrity voices are projected over other more sensible voices. But, in the present context, there’s no getting away from a reality where celebrity voices such as Noel Gallagher’s do permeate the four walls of our homes with ease, and are revered by the many that do listen to those icons to which they associate their own identity with inside this star-system complex inside ‘the society of spectacle’. And one must take into account how damaging reckless well-heard opinions can be.
One needn’t look far to find those who are inspired by his so-called “No Nonsene” straight-talk. A blog post from 2007 pits Oasis against Radiohead, using quotations from a Guardian article on Noel. Using a faux-soft-but-really-quite-fierce sense of nationalist pride to state, in favour of Oasis over Radiohead, “Noel is of course exercising the right of every free-born Briton – the right to take this piss. In fact, it’s not a right but a duty. The average Brit would much rather be thought to be an ignorant no-nothing than a pretentious wanker”. Well, forgive me for not wanting to be an average ‘Brit’. But also forgive me for abstaining from using this myth of an eternal national identity to think of ourselves in this way, as it requires a blanking out of the cultural constructs that helped maintain state power during uncertain times such as the expansion of industrial capitalism and the second world war; also, if you haven’t noticed, the last 3 consecutive governments have been doing their very best to erase these ‘freedoms’ and ‘born-rights’ that ‘us Brit’s’ possess – can’t be that eternal can they then?
Perhaps Noel’s most damaging comments in the Daily Mail were his simplified views on young people and, in particular, on last summer’s riots here in the UK. He makes sweeping statements that, whilst containing face value truths, are intentionally discriminatory: “There was a work ethic – if you were unemployed, the obsession was to find work. Now, these kids brought up under the Labour party and whatever this coalition thing is, it’s like forget that, I’m not interested. I wanna be on TV”. He makes an easy diagnosis, and then does what is all so convenient for a cultural icon who now has the ability to separate himself from all that goes off below him; refusing to understand the causations, and the complexities that are rubbing together down on the streets with ever-increasingly ferocity, as he sits back in his stylish home absorbed in his dated, out-of-context-Mod-cultured world view (most likely).
Over the past month I have been without a job (as my job almost mockingly gets the best out of the workers for 10 months, only to momentarily let us go, without pay, with little savings at the most dismal time of the year) and having been in the Jobcentre a few times of late, I can inform Noel Gallagher that there is “a work ethic” now; people are desperate to work, they are fed up with the lack of hope of any reasonable future for them, and they are angry about it – as the work just isn’t there. Both men who spoke to me today skillfully controlled their rage, but you could see the anger building, an anger that is building not just in the JobCentre, but all over the nation, and Noel Gallagher is so out of date with views that have had no bearing on reality since the 1990’s that he just cannot understand this. Yet we still hear from him (and see his daughter being groomed into a model to become another face in the star-complex at only 11 years of age, although that’s another matter, another Daily Mail matter that is!)
Whilst sitting and waiting, a man who looks fed up with life (you can genuinely see it in peoples’ faces) walks over to a Jobsearch machine (Jobsearch machines, noticeably, make the ‘job-searcher’ scrunch his face up – it’s a defensive mechanism saying “you lot don’t fool me, whoever you are” to the patronising act of having to search these machines for non-existing jobs, feeling that somebody’s taking the piss.) As this man turned to face the screen I noticed that the word money was sewn into the back of his branded jacket. It was a bitter juxtaposition; a social-control system held together by the domination of the necessity of individual social status and general attractiveness being based on acquisition, material wealth, and the act of making it public as glamour, and the poorest in society so desperately need the loudest of items to showcase what they so desperately need, in order to feel some self-respect and self-worth; hence the poorest wear the words of that which systemically makes them the lowest of the low. And this gap, between the riches and the poor, increases under right-wing governance: increased misery whilst surrounded by an increase of capitalism’s aspirationalism in society.
And now we have a rough-draft diagnosis for the summer riots! (in a sense the certainty of further riots is sown into the stitching in brand logos that seek our love.) Troubled events which Noel Gallagher ‘gruesomely’ simplified into a duality between what was going on in “Syria and Egypt” where “people were rioting for freedom. And these kids in England are rioting for tracksuits” to which he added “it’s embarrassing”. Embarrassing for whom? A proud ‘Brit’? He then went on to say, regarding the match thrown onto tinder sticks – the police shooting of Mark Duggan – “it’s all on Twitter and before you know it there’s a riot going on. It was mass robbery and I was embarrassed to be Mancunian”.
Usually finger-pointing is counter-productive, but because, as I said above, his words are heard well above more thoughtful words, I am going to make the point of the hypocrisy in this. Noel Gallagher scorning those who steal, when it is all-but empirical knowledge that Noel ,and his even simpler brother Liam, stole from cars and houses in Manchester to get enough money to pay for the musical equipment they needed in order to become the faces in the star-system complex which they have become. Noel Gallagher was stealing to fund something that gave meaning to him. Fair enough; poverty makes crime, and it’s becoming even harder for people from the lower working class backgrounds to have the opportunity to become musicians (read Owen Hatherley’s Uncommon for a more detailed account on why there were very few ‘Brit’ bands from the 1990’s who weren’t from affluent backgrounds.)
Inequality in society has increased more so since Noel was committing robbery in the 80’s/90’s, whilst consumerism and the publicity needed to fuel it has swallowed up even more of culture. Such a society both eradicates meaning, as commodification enters even more walks of life, whilst fuelling feelings of desperation through making us feel we can do nothing but try to boost our own status within this hall of mirrors. But many cannot afford to, and the future looks to be getting bleaker for many. Riots where people steal as many consumer items as they can carry don’t happen for the simplistic reasons you dispel from your mouth, Noel. That’s a very Thatcherite attitude you’ve got there ‘mate!’ (Make no bones about it; all the signs say these riots will reoccur. And when these are the comments that get heard in society, one can see that the causations haven’t only been unaddressed, but that these ‘tindersticks’ may be getting even drier.)
In an NME interview, following the one in The Daily Mail, where he tried to reproach the tinting to his words which made him sound like he liked Margaret Thatcher, Noel ended by saying “Also, for the record, on the day she [Thatcher] dies we will party like it’s 1989. Just so you know”. But it’s a defunct reply: holding up a collaged image of the working class heroes has no context whilst one uses Thatcherite dialectic to describe what’s happening to the lower working class now. Hating Thatcher the individual is far easier than opposing the social engineering she oversaw, the very social engineering that has taken 30 years to cook up these big problems in society, and is especially easy to do once you’ve finally benefitted from it (as is exemplified in comments made in The Daily Telegraph in 2008, where he blames Margaret Thatcher for the increase in knife crime in Britain, but explains the current situation saying “It’s horrible. It’s not just in London, I was up in Liverpool the other day and it’s the same there. The scumbags are taking over the streets”- but assuming Noel wasn’t threatened by someone with a knife, nor witnessed a stabbing, he’s obviously just making comments about people who he thinks are scumbags, which sounds like he’s also caught the disease of seeing large swathes of the population as ‘undeserving poor’ also commonly known by the awful term ‘Chavs’.)
But if the pre-fame Gallagher’s were in a pre-fame position today they too might have been on the streets of Manchester rioting. The ‘Gangster’ music which he abhors might have seemed more appropriate to his life, with its talk about the harsh realism of being at the bottom yet being constantly shown images of superstars, than the loved-up psychedelia of his much beloved The Beatles; the Britain of the 1960’s, or (more accurately) the Britain of a small area of London which is now projected back to us as if it was the whole of Britain, is so irrelevant to the Britain that we now live in that going to Indie Disco’s which play 1960’s songs, and their 1990’s take-offs, feels like entering The Land That Time Forgot, even more than stereotypically-uncultured northern town centres are supposed to.
In fact Noel’s simplistic attitude is echoed by many of the always-had-a-silver-spoon rich in this country who wish to see changes brought in that would take back democratic right from the likes of the pre-fame Gallagher’s. His disregard for those at the bottom of society in 2012 resonates with the ideas being spouted by Ian Cowie in The Daily Telegraph, for example, who’s idea for an ‘alternate’ voting system where voting is restricted “to people who actually pay something into the system” barring anybody who pays less that £100 of tax a year sounds like a rolling back of democratic rights to the Victorian times to me. This was a blog brought to my attention by George Monbiot in The Guardian this week, in which Cowie also managed to find the space to praise the British Empire’s one time control of the world, where “property-based voting eligibility” (a denial of voting rights for anyone who doesn’t own a property) “worked quite well when the parliament administered not just Britain but the rest of the world”; and in a funny way this all seems to resonate back again to Noel Gallagher, when he used to wield a Union Jack-covered Epiphone guitar on stage, as he lifted riffs from 1960’s psychedelic bands, who had already heavily borrowed sounds from colonies Britain had only just then recently let go (albeit borrowed with much more respect and appreciation); namely India.
But the problem isn’t with Noel Gallagher. The problem is that Noel Gallagher’s words (like Jeremy Clarkson’s, and even, although I respect him infinitely more, Morrissey) are revered by many in society. Why do their views become so important? To be fair, Noel Gallagher would be the first to admit he’s no sociologist, no critical theorist of contemporary culture – he rarely speaks to a paper without slagging university off! Although one needn’t have been to university be thoughtful about the world, Noel clearly isn’t. He’s got nothing of real worth to say. But yet his words have been made into something more.
The words of a star must be seen to be of more worth than yours or mine; they must be able to command respect to provide legitimacy for the society of spectacle that plucks them up into the limelight at random, in order for it to maintain its dominance. Its star-complex halos over us, keeping us hooked on the dreams of the respect and adoration that fame provides, even if it is necessary at times to block out certain faces who fall from grace. Noel Gallagher’s presence, his words and cobbled-together version of British working class identity, appeals as meaningful for many, and it can help mould an whole section of personalities around a narrow image. Whilst he commands more cultural respect than the faces who cover gossip magazines, he essentially has the same function, for a different section of people, whose impetus on difference from the ‘lower’ cultural faces is nothing of a difference on comparison with what makes them the same.
This structure has been maintained in what are still called western democracies since before World War 2. But its dominance has increased, massively helped by the fall of a disastrous-example of communism near to the end of the last century (although it had its own kind of spectacle, essentially a state capitalist dictatorship one) allowing it to cover the globe. All that was once classed as counter-cultural to the spectacular machine has been absorbed and reconstituted, killing off artists who couldn’t deal with their commodification. Noel Gallagher was so far already past the point of being anything that the great reconstitutor of past sounds that he was, that this would never occur to the likes of him.
However, can we now find hope, in how out of date their voices are, possibly signifying that the whole structure of control cannot maintain itself anymore? Their almost “let them eat cake” understanding of the scale of the problems in the world almost eludes to a likelihood the capitalist system’s requirement of the society of the spectacle for social dominance isn’t functioning properly anymore. It’s only a faint hope (I feel it necessary to end thoughts on things with a positive tone these days, to keep my spirits up in the face of all the sad sights I see and hear of in town centres), but it seems to resonate with a questioning of where the hell capitalism can go from here to maintain itself. For good or bad, it is very unlikely that there will be new high points within British culture, under our current social system, to save people for ever-more desperately clinging to its past.
To paraphrase the last words in Richard Seymour’s ‘The Meaning of David Cameron’; What is the meaning of Noel Gallagher? He means it’s time to accept the world needs big changes, and also, to quite appropriately (in the context of Noels inability to grasp the meaning of Radiohead) use some Thom Yorke lyrics, there can be “No more talk about the old days; it’s time for something great”.