2nd February 2016
“Do you suffer from long term memory loss – I can’t remember”.
In its most recent form, that I can remember, it started with Diana: the People’s Princess. Fears, hopes, feelings and memories are offered (and accepted) that you don’t and couldn’t possibly have any access to. We mourn and weep people we’ve never met, we look endlessly backwards and wallow in a melancholic backwater of dreams we’ve never had. Douglas Coupland called it: legislated nostalgia [to force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess: “How can I be a part of the 1960s generation when I don’t even remember any of it?”]
You might have felt a twang of it last week as the ‘last Land Rover Defender rolled off production‘ as we were told by the BBC, ITV, the Telegraph, the Mirror, Guardian, Scotsman etc. or when someone says ‘Spangles’ or when you see a tea-cosy or when David Bowie died and you tried to remember the 1970s, or when you glimpse at the endlessly recreated Keep Calm and Carry On WW2 meme. You might have shuddered at Downton Abbey or Seb Coe or the morbid retro infantilism of the entire Better Together campaign, straining for yesteryear. The Land Rover coverage was exceptional, think Mau Mau meets Barbour with a hint of sub-Top Gear colonialism. But one recurring theme of the nostalgia industry is the ever-present Windsors.
This is part millennialism with a shabby-chic distressed dollop of post-modernism. There’s a lot of austerity nostalgism kicking about too, with a strong urge for the sort of classless communal spirit we’re encouraged to imagine from the past versus the slightly harsher reality of massed ranks of people queuing for tins of food ‘donated’ by Tesco.
They Promised Us Jetpacks
Surrounded by Dark Mountaineers, a broken politics and a culture dominated by escapism, narcissism and normcore banality this is our inescapable future. Leaderless and directionless, uprooted from place and unsure what season we’re in, the only way to go with any real confidence is backwards. We don’t even know when the work day starts or stops, nor when our ‘career’ will begin or end.
But without a sense of future, creativity seeps out of every venture, whether it be the execrable Dads Army remake, or the strangely listless but much celebrated Force Awakens. The Clangers haven’t been re-made yet, though Thunderbirds sadly have.
There’s something really odd about Joel Sartore’s ‘Photo Ark’ project: ” Half of the world’s plant and animal species will soon be threatened with extinction. The goal of the Photo Ark is to document biodiversity, show what’s at stake and to get people to care while there’s still time. ” The efforts to replace Sea World type attractions where Orca and other wild sea creatures are kept in pools for our entertainment are well founded, but the ‘augmented reality’ alternative is just too weird:
The news that people in Beijing had started watching images of sunrise on a giant television screen in the middle of Tiananmen Square because of the city’s smog was reported around the world in 2014. Everyone believed in the ‘virtual sunrise’ even though it turned out to be a bit of a media hype. The Independent told us that: “The advert actually plays regularly throughout the year, regardless of the state of pollution in the city, and did not attract any more attention from residents than normal.”
The feeling that everything is false, manufactured, plasticised, inauthentic, simulacra is overwhelming. Climate change, moron culture and political spin contrive to a feeling of hyper-falsity. This may be just a lack of Vitamin D, the suffocating glee of Tory Britain or too long in the Fourth Dimension or, as Coupland has it: historical underdosing – to live in a period of time when nothing seems to happen. Major symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines, and TV news broadcasts.
It seems I’m not alone as Owen Hatherley asks in his polemic against retro poverty propaganda: “It is on posters, mugs, tea towels and in headlines. Harking back to a ‘blitz spirit’ and an age of public service, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become ubiquitous. How did a cosy, middle-class joke assume darker connotations?”
Maybe it’s a condition heightened by being part of Anglo-British culture which seems irredeemably lost in the past and wedded to dead dysfunctional institutions. Hatherley, despairing of the Keep Calm meme concludes: “How did it manage to grow from a minor English middle-class cult object into an international brand, and what exactly was meant by “carry on”? My assumption had been that the combination of message and design were inextricably tied up with a plethora of English obsessions, from the “blitz spirit”, through to the cults of the BBC, the NHS and the 1945 postwar consensus. Also contained in this bundle of signifiers was the enduring pretension of an extremely rich (if shoddy and dilapidated) country, the sadomasochistic Toryism imposed by the coalition government of 2010–15, and its presentation of austerity in a manner so brutal and moralistic that it almost seemed to luxuriate in its own parsimony.”
Anyone who watched Jack Monroe discussing benefit changes on the Andrew Neil show with Michael Portillo will know exactly what he means. If you haven’t you really should. Sometimes ‘material change’ is a cultural experience.