Monday, March 28, 2011

Live Forever. The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop - John Dower

Brit Pop was my first window to popular culture. I liked it so much that I grew up believing that the United Kingdom was a sunny place where everyone was happy, optimistic, and full of enthusiasm. Time would teach me better. Let’s be under no illusion: the United Kingdom is a gray, rainy, and cold place with little social mobility. I eventually realized that songs like “Live Forever” are in fact aspirational anthems against a boring life with no future.

Live Forever. The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop is a 2002 BBC documentary that describes the years between 1990 and 1997, which is, according to the director, the year when Brit Pop died. In that year, Oasis issued Be Here Now and Princess Diana died. Throughout the movie, Brit Pop is presented as a spontaneous reaction against the Thatcher years which was co-opted by Tony Blair. From that perspective, Noel Gallagher is the betrayer who compromised the movement's ideals. The movie requires the viewer to be aware of some glorious moments of British culture, like when Liam Gallagher appeared on Vanity Fair’s cover. The documentary is hard to follow sometimes, since it does not have a narrator: the viewer only gets to see fragments of interviews with people without any introduction or anything.

But the biggest problem of this documentary is that it was filmed too early. If we believe in the idea that New Labour and Brit Pop were linked, then the latter died when either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown left Downing Street, not before. Granted, with the death of Diana the world re-discover that monarchies are ruthless and ossified. And Be Here Now might have been a bad album (I personally do not think so, but let’s assume it is for the argument’s sake), but other bands pretended to sound like Oasis after that, and even Oasis eventually sounded like What’s the Story again. The Crown’s reaction to the death of Diana was only the first deception of a generation that believed in the promise that we could ignore how our friends’ gardens grow. After Diana, came the support to the War in Iraq and the saving of the big banks. And Blair passed from being Bambi to Bliar.

In retrospective, it is now evident that the legitimacy of New Labour rested upon the following bargain: in the first place, the government closed one eye to the excesses of the City bankers as long as they paid enough taxes to keep the social programs running. The other side of the agreement was that the social programs would not create human capital or enhance productivity. Like in the rest of Europe, the British state has decided to maintain an underclass of people who make more money by being unemployed and receiving their unemployment benefits than working. In Cool Britannia, it is easier to sell the idea that any guys’ band can become rock ‘n’ roll stars and make money than telling them that their life will not be better than their parents’.

Labour left office a couple of months after Oasis announced its split. The sound-like-the-Beatles formula is exhausted, just like the idea that big taxes and generous social programs compensate for the lack of regulation. The United Kingdom is broke and its prospects are dim: the dullness and frustration of the Thatcher year will stay here for a long time after 15 years of partying. Things like Britain’s Got Talent just make the landscape even more depressing. 

Sorry for the kids.

We had a good time.

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