The Null Device

Whither Morris dancing?

England's largest Morris dancing body, the Morris Ring, has warned that Morris dancing could be extinct within 20 years. The problem is that young people apparently consider it to be a bit naff for some reason and stay well away from it, and the population of active Morris dancers in England is rapidly aging and dwindling.

Though I wonder whether they just haven't been marketing it in the right way. Take a walk around Hackney or Dalston, and you see hip young men with woodsman beards. (You know they're hip, rather than terminally uncool, because they're typically riding fixed-wheel bicycles, wearing vintage Japanese Nikes or mashing up video on their MacBooks in a dive bar or somesuch.) Meanwhile, folk music is huge among hipsters and bohemian types, with folk-inspired bands like Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes dominating what-they-used-to-call-"indie"-before-it-meant-commercial-rock playlists, bands covering centuries-old ballads, and variously folky festivals like End Of The Road and Green Man doing a roaring trade. The organic, rootsy and, yes, even slightly "naff" aspects of folk traditions are "in". (This is perhaps a reaction against the slickness and polish of commercialised, commodified cool, where the skinny-legged, electro-striped Vince Noir new-wave-indie-glam image has jumped the shark and joined the leather-jacket-and-Ray-Bans 1950s Rock'n'Roll Cool Dude look in the museum of eye-rollingly laughable kitsch; it's only a matter of time before we see breakfast cereal mascots donning the oversized black glasses, thin ties and Chuck Taylors of Indie Cool, but I digress.) Traditional crafts have also made a comeback. All these people writing songs about birds and horses for laptop and ukulele and embroidering their own messenger bags; surely some of them would be interested in Morris dancing, no?

Perhaps the mistake they're making is in expecting them to join existing, traditional Morris troupes (which are damned not by tradition but by the aforementioned aura of stagnancy that hangs over them)? Why not, instead, encourage the formation of new, hip Morris troupes, based in areas like Bethnal Green and New Cross, and advertising their presence at arts nights and ukulele jams? (Apparently the Women's Institute has done something similar and has chapters around Shoreditch and similar areas consisting of subversive riot-grrl crafters who probably wouldn't be seen dead in the more bourgeois environs of their more traditional chapters.) Then again, perhaps even that won't be necessary; if punk rockers can join Masonic lodges en masse, surely it's not too implausible to imagine hipsters joining Morris troupes, with varying degrees of irony.

There are 5 comments on "Whither Morris dancing?":

Posted by: datakid Tue Jan 6 03:17:48 2009

Arg, and I thought we were post ironic already. Damn

Posted by: acb Tue Jan 6 03:19:33 2009

If by "post-ironic", you mean possessed of more fine-tuned levels of irony, then that is indeed the case; it's an arms race, after all, like all positional goods. If you mean having abandoned irony for a new earnestness, that will never happen, though various people will talk it up for various reasons (usually because they have some agenda they want everybody to very earnestly get behind).

Posted by: acb Tue Jan 6 03:29:42 2009

But yes, the whole point of higher-level "post-irony" could involve degrees of sincerity and earnestness, designed to throw off the rubes who've just latched on to common-or-garden ironicism. Witness, for example, the poptimist movement (i.e., hipsters getting down to sugary commercial pop, and appreciating it for its production and calculation, with a knowing nod and wink), or the writings of Dave Eggers. Indeed, much of the hipster-folk scene undoubtedly has an element of post-ironicism in it, or did when the first brave pioneers redeemed the formerly irredeemable. (How brave was the first Dalston Woodsman?) It's not far from that to joining Morris troupes and sincerely embracing the music and traditions whilst revelling in the glorious naffness of it. Once hippies and punks freaked the mundanes with their hairdos; now the mundanes read NME and wear skinny indie jeans, and one freaks them by being into things exactly like this.

Posted by: Greg Tue Jan 6 09:15:45 2009

This reminds me of short hair's return to fashionability during the years after 1976. The world went through an adoption cycle from "let's beat up the wimpy guy" through "that looks cool" to "whatever, mainstream", whereupon grunge brought long hair back again. Don't get me started on hem-lines ...

Posted by: acb Tue Jan 6 10:55:10 2009

The film Helvetica made the same point about the eponymous typeface, only in this case it was clean design/a breath of fresh air, corporate ubiquity, the official font of The Man, dated and uncool, mashed up by 1990s grunge/rave designers, and now being reappreciated for what it does without the defensive irony.