I read this article today. It’s good. It points out the fact that, never mind the bloody cuts, the irreparable damage that the privatisation of higher education will do to the country’s brain here in the UK, the disgraceful dismantling of our National Health Service, the hideously inequitable taxation priorities of the current government, never mind all those awful attacks on the infrastructure of our community, there is longstanding, deep-rooted poverty in this country that hardly anyone is challenging. Or being righteously furious about. And I don’t mean the rearranging-of-the-deckchairs type campaigning that would have us call for a slightly fairer unfair system by making the super-rich dig a little deeper when they chuck us their loose change: I mean snarling, offensive, powerful action against what should be an intolerable situation.
None of the three main political parties have much to distinguish between themselves politically on this issue, mind you, so this isn’t a case of let’s all hate the Tories. Though do be my guest if you fancy it. The ridiculous referendum that no one except the conniving little traitor Clegg asked for is a cynically-manipulated distraction and the outcome will not make an iota of difference to the long-term unemployed, who will continue to be ignored, belittled, demonised, blamed for their own situation.
No one, for that matter, ever asked us to vote in a referendum on really important matters, like whether or not we should allow babies and toddlers to be bombed in the name of peace-keeping. This is only the second national referendum in the UK ever: you’d think it would have been worth the wait. ‘Course, you can see why they wouldn’t bother: the quasi referendum that was the huge national outcry against the war in Iraq a decade ago was very successfully blanked by the government and the media, but it served as a useful lesson in the toothlessness of popular opinion for both politicians and public alike.
What The Independent article also points out is that the acceptance of poverty as a fact of life is evidence of a cultural and moral sea change in this country:
“Now a new credo, rooted in social apartheid that starts in schools, struts by the nation’s slumdog neighbourhoods – elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair.
“Yet pity was always one of the fundamental virtues of British life. It travelled easily, crossing class borders without a passport, informing every level of the nation’s cultural life. In 1966 Jeremy Sandford’s BBC film Cathy Come Home created an uproar about the homeless and made the charity Shelter into a major player which no politician dared ignore. In 1982 Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From the Black Stuff reduced my generation of TV critics to tears of rage.”
Whatever you might think of the virtues of pity as an emotion to stir the political will – it certainly wouldn’t be my first pick of the feelings chorus line – at least there’s a picture of a country with a coherent moral sense; the abandoned and the destitute provoke compassion, but more importantly, demands for change. So where are the playwrights, filmmakers, songwriters who would challenge the current state of affairs? Who’s going to frighten the horses? It’s not as if there aren’t kids out there, waving their black flags about and poking at Duchesses, but where’s the music to soundtrack the barricades? Instead we’ve got scrums of privately-educated bands who blithely brush away questions about their privilege with “class doesn’t matter anymore” and who, in their beards-and-jumpers-and-hurdiegurdies nostalgia, have quite supressed the dissident impulse of their socialist, republican, hippy-era progenitors.
Tears of rage, uproar, outrage: these would be totally appropriate responses to the situation at this precise moment in history (I liked the fact that the author of the radgeek blog linked to above confessed to taking a while to write out his thoughts on the unfussed-over murder of Gaddafi’s grandchildren because he was so distressed about it. Appropriate, see?): it would be good to see the music that would, could, do that, because it sure as hell isn’t being made by the humble, mumbly, navel-gazing men with their guitars that so abound in 2011. Nor by the synthpop kids, with all their self-referential cleverness, or the wide-eyed, bouncy neo-cuties. None of them seem in the slightest bit likely to spit blood. Perhaps the worlds of chart pop, of indie or even ‘alternative’ music (awful phrase), if those terms still hold any meaning at all, are simply the wrong place to go looking for appropriately political responses to the times, although they haven’t always been: both the charts and the underground substrate of the early eighties were crammed with the articulate and angry, whose sound is now being picked over and referenced by the likes of, oh, every band making music in 2011, but whose attitude, despite similarly bleak economic circumstances, seems to remain untapped.
I have just been educated in Crass lore, which included listening to this startling and furious song for the first time (I know, I’m slow):
They knew how to be angry. Quite apart from having the balls to be properly offensive (offensive these days seems to mean making some wildly un-PC snarky crack about paedophiles or rape in order to cock a snook at the po-faced feminists: woo, clevah), the song is explicit and angry and heart-breaking. It stirs feelings. It points fingers. It is UPSETTING. Crass make me feel like the ignorant, posh, privileged, complacent, white dabbler that I am.
And so they fucking should.