The Null Device

2009/3/27

With 1980s sophistipop group Spandau Ballet reforming, the Graun's Michael Hann puts the boot into them for being perfect avatars of Thatcherism:

Thatcherism was about more than politics. It was, obviously, also a cultural phenomenon that transformed British society. So while one can list any number of cultural trends from the 70s or 90s without linking them irrevocably to Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, John Major and Tony Blair, that's far harder to do with the cultural products of the 80s. City wide-boys; chrome-and-black-leather furniture; mobile phones the size of bricks; me-first attitudes: those are among the fruits of Thatcherism.
To be precise, one can't blame mobile phones the sizes of bricks for Thatcherism; Britain would have had those either way, unless perhaps the government was so radically left-wing that it banned such a rampantly non-collective means of communication for ideological reasons or something.
I loathed Spandau Ballet first time round; I loathe them equally now. More than any other musical assembly with the possible exception of Stock Aitken and Waterman, they are Thatcherism on vinyl.
But the link between Spandau Ballet and Thatcherism is about more than the personal politics of Tony Hadley. It's about the emptiness of Spandau, the aspiration to do nothing more than look good in a nightclub, the happy embrace of style over substance. Billy Bragg has even attributed his decision to become a performer to them: "One day [I] saw Spandau Ballet on Top of the Pops wearing kilts and singing Chant No 1 and something in me snapped. I was waiting for a band to come along to play the kind of music I wanted to hear, and none was forthcoming, so it was that moment I finally realised it was gonna have to be me," he said at a press conference in August 2003.
And we still haven't talked about the music. We haven't mentioned the sexless funk of Chant No 1. Nor the oddly fascistic undertones of Musclebound. Nor the dreadful wine-bar soul of True, which was No 1 for four years between 1984 and 1988. And that's because, really, Spandau Ballet weren't about the music, just as chrome-and-black-leather furniture wasn't really about sitting down.
If the values of a period are associated with its music and art, one can consider certain phenomena to embody an ideology, despite not being explicitly political. Thatcherism, in this case, seemed to be about a few things: lightweight pseudo-sophistication, acquisitive materialism, and the supremacy of the market as a metaphor for all (which includes disengagement from society outside of one's role as participant in the marketplace, exaggerated awareness of one's status relative to others, and a sharklike competitiveness). In short, the iron fist of the thuggish corporate raider couched in the velvet glove of mass-produced luxury, no sensitivity or intelligence required. As such, one has the obvious Spandau Ballet (and, indeed, one could make a case for the entire "sophistipop" genre being complicit), Stock/Aitken/Waterman (more for their business acumen than anything else; after all, the whole point of Thatcherite art is success and competitiveness), and in the visual sphere, Merchant/Ivory costume dramas (which combined visual luxuriousness with the middlebrow conservatism of the median Tory voter in the 1980s) and the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, similarly vacuous spectacles. As far as the literary sphere goes, one only need mention Jeffrey Archer.

When Thatcherism turned into Blairism (and it was more a generational change than a revolution), the former opposition became the new government. Musically, we got the trailing edge of Britpop, which grew out of culturally left-wing 1980s indie and into the mass market, much in the way that post-punk started with PiL, then turned into New Pop and ended with Duran Duran and our old friends, Spandau Ballet. Meanwhile, the 1980s pop of Stock/Aitken/Waterman gave way to the hip-hop-flavoured sounds of the Spice Girls and their numerous followers. (When I first heard "Wannabe", I thought that it was an old Salt'n'Pepa song.) The cycle completed itself Cinematically, film production company Working Title seemed to be the Merchant-Ivory of Blairism. Where the Thatcherite message was that everyone could aspire to luxury, the Blairite one was that everyone could aspire to coolness.

The cycle completed itself in the late days of Blairism, with bands like Coldplay and Keane, Nth generation facsimiles of the 1980s indie scene reconstituted into music for furniture showrooms; only this time, the furniture was a breezier New Labour variant, the black-leather-and-chrome fetish of the Iron Lady's reign replaced by bland, vaguely upbeat neutral tones.

art culture music thatcherism-blairism uk 5

European police have called off their hunt for a master criminal, a woman of Eastern European origin linked by DNA to numerous crimes from murders and carjackings to burglaries of varying levels of competence, after it was found that the DNA belonged to a worker at the factory making cotton swabs used by police forces across Europe. Oops!

(via Boing Boing) crime europe law enforcement oops 1

The latest weapon in Britain's ongoing war on its "out-of-control" youth: anti-teenager lighting. It's much like the violet anti-junky lighting often seen in public toilets and doorways, only it's tinted bright pink to simultaneously mock hormonal adolescent males' sense of masculinity and make their acne show up particularly vividly:

Meanwhile, the original anti-junky lights have been found to not only not work (ask any junky with a felt-tipped pen), but to also have unintended consequences:

Public toilets in Church Street, in Rugby town centre, were closed in February after a shocked cleaner discovered two people having sex inside. In a report to officers, Rugby borough council head of engineering and works David Johnson said the toilets were still suffering anti-social behaviour.
“The subdued lighting encourages an atmosphere conducive to sexual activity, while it is off-putting to the public wishing to use the facilities.
“Another problem is that graffiti written in certain pens looks spectacular under UV lighting.”

(via Boing Boing) architectures of control civil liberties nonlethal weapons uk unintended consequences yoof 0

Electronic music project of the day: Tunnels; the work of a London Underground engineer and electronic musician who takes advantage of his job by recording sounds, from lift relays to electromagnetic brakes and rail cutting machines, and assembling them into electronic compositions.

(via london-underground) london underground music 0