Monday, November 28, 2016

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Politically, Nostalgia Is Poison

Mick Hall writes that:

Politically, nostalgia is poison, could that be why today's political and media elites push it so enthusiastically?


Dan Snow is typical of the upper middle class clones who are always barking on about 'their' classes past.

One of the most dispiriting things about watching UK TV today is the way the ruling elites have made it their very own private fiefdoms. This is especially true of Sky TV, the BBC and ITV. If you leave aside Association Football, front of camera has become a working class free zone.

Hardly a day goes by without a drama and documentary harping on about the past as if there was some mythical golden age. Light entertainment programs are much the same. Is it any wonder our young people look elsewhere for their information and entertainment.

Below Zoe Williams picks this up in her latest Column in the Guardian:

As susceptible as anyone else is to the charms of Ed Balls, I nevertheless had an eerie feeling watching Strictly Come Dancing. In the 90s, we used to talk a lot about the primacy of the retro, whether or not constantly referring back to the past meant that our innovative spirit was spent. But the reference was always knowing, and partial; you wouldn’t hark back to the 1960s without putting a fresh spin on it. You wouldn’t create a TV show that could literally have been made in the 1960s.
Yet that’s exactly what Strictly is; a glitzy, feel good experience that you can put a nine-year-old in front of, knowing that it is indistinguishable in atmosphere from a Royal Variety show from when you were nine, or when your mother was. The breathless banality, the fist-bumping attainments: “I never dreamed that five weeks ago, I’d be able to dance a paso doble.” The whole nation roots for them, heart-in-mouth, as it did for Bake Off. What kind of a monster wouldn’t? What kind of a person would want some edge, some cynicism, on a Saturday night? And then on a Sunday, who wouldn’t want Andrew Marr to be talking to REM? Whose heart would be so hard as to think it a shame that we are still talking about a band formed 36 years ago, that pop music should be a young person’s game?

She is not wrong, Channel 4 and Sky Arts have recently been peddling a documentary/promo that follows the Stones’ tour of 10 Latin American cities culminating in Havana. Now whether you liked the Stones or not when they were in their prime, there are tribute bands who do their geriatric act far better than they do today. Zoe continues:

Politically, nostalgia is poison. Nostalgia is Nigel Farage, on Any Questions?, saying the demise of grammar schools was the worst thing that ever happened to social mobility in this country, which is indivisible from the same man, on the same programme, promising civil unrest if we didn’t leave the single market. Nostalgia is Jonathan Dimbleby failing to point out that five months ago, before the referendum, Farage wanted to remain in the single market. The paradox of nostalgia is that it has a terrible memory – or rather, like senility, it has a terrible short-term memory and very vivid, utterly inaccurate, recall for the long-ago. Nostalgia is blaming everything on immigrants and multiculturalism, since purity and the past are similar destinations, similarly meaningless, similarly unreachable.
Ideologically, nostalgia is a retreat from a frightening future. You can see this most clearly in the way people talk about the economy: from the left and right, there is a sense that the past is a foreign country where they do things not so much differently as better. The past is always Denmark.
On the right, it’s a place where workers knew their place; on the left, it’s where workers knew how to organise. It’s where we hadn’t forgotten the principle of a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work. On the right, it’s where we still had an empire; on the left, it’s where we were still proud people who made things. It is the crucible not only of every nativist myth, but of all that passes for an understanding of what the economy is for: people will opine quite confidently about the economic verities of the 1970s, while accepting that modern problems – to pluck one wild example, the possible consequences of leaving the single market – are so complicated that to discuss them at all is fear-mongering.


Media oligarchs, neoliberals and jackasses like Trump and Farage have used nostalgia as a weapon to manipulate and poison otherwise sensible peoples minds, after all most folk have a tendency to look back on the past through rose tinted spectacles. As Zoe points out without it austerity and the harm it's caused to millions would never have got off the ground. Not least because there is no viable economic reason for it:

The past is the reason “austerity” took off, and stayed aloft, even while its destructive contradictions became plain. There was a time when we knew how to tighten our belts; ergo, belt-tightening will be good for us, uncomfortable but quite jolly and English, like picnicking in the rain.
Political nostalgia leaves you with a burning, indignant desire for a thing you can’t have. Cultural nostalgia doesn’t seem to unleash such self-harming effects, but merely acts as fuel. Recycling old formats reinforces the comfort-seeking brain that cannot brook challenge and simply refuses to be exhilarated by novelty. Bake Off, incidentally, is morally worse than Strictly; as saccharine, as old-fashioned, perhaps, but mixing in the disproportionate glorification of a timeless craft that, however dauntingly complicated it becomes, will never deliver anything but simplicity.


If you scoffed when a US candidate for the presidency had no idea what or where Aleppo was, hold fast. Shows like Strictly, Clarkson's Top Gear, Downton Abbey and the rest of this disreputable crap found a ready market in the USA. Why? Because British TV today is modeled on that of the USA. Is there much we can do about it; Zoe suggests at the very least we should do this:

The familiar debate around public service broadcasting is whether or not it has a duty to be highbrow, given that there is no requirement to please advertisers: whether and to what extent it has to fulfil the Reithian principle of educating as well as entertaining. In fact, a far more important duty is that it innovates, and reflects a society back to itself, one in which things change, and that need not be a disaster. It might even be a good thing.
So it’s an imperative of good citizenship to stop watching Strictly, or if that’s too much, stop voting, or if that’s too much, at least stop voting for Ed Balls. It probably seems to REM like their country has never needed them more, but in fact, their country needs them to knock it off. Stop watching Star Wars, stop making Jurassic World, stop rehashing old memories and maybe the potent spells of Self-Ruling Britannia and Making America Great Again will wear off.

Zoe's full article can be read here

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