Today I am closing the blog tour for Catch 52 by P.G. Ronane and I have a super guest post from the author himself …
I will try to put British Culture into 3 important recent phases whilst always looking to where we may be heading in the future.
The first phase is from the late 1950s to around 1973 which most cultural historians refer to as the ‘long sixties.’ There is no doubt that the 1960s represents one of the most important decades of modern times. It was a decade of revolutions around the world, of a huge cultural shift in all aspects of personal freedoms, an explosion of ‘youth cultures’ which encompasses pop cultures, experimentation with drugs, the erosion of certain family and religious values and the projection of sexual freedoms and Feminism.
In Britain, the decade is looked back on by many as a special time in their lives. Not for us the riots and near revolution in Paris, the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of China with the death and displacement of millions, the appalling riots and civil disorder that grew out of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War in the USA, or indeed the Counter Culture and the Summer of Love. No, not for us. Instead we had a very British ‘60s. Today it’s considered be a decade so important not just to us but to the world-its influence has spread to every corner of the globe.
Every cultural shift has its roots in the past. The roots of the 1960s can be traced to the mid to late 50s when another country, wealthier, bigger, sunnier and for most in glum, austere Britain a kind of dream-world began to influence young people in the UK. Youngsters in cold, dirty cinemas watched Marlon Brando and James Dean and began to emulate them as ‘Teddy Boy’s, rejecting their parent’s values and becoming ‘anti-establishment.’ At the same time sailors making the regular journey between New York and Liverpool brought home records of a new kind of music, Rock & Roll. A young John Lennon would eagerly await each new disc. Back across the pond a young, photogenic politician from Boston decided he would run for President in 1960. So, by the early 1960s our love affair with the United States had started-it would have a lasting effect over the next 6 decades and influence our culture accordingly.
So where did it all start? At the beginning of the 1960s an obscure court case in London about whether a book written years before by a writer few had heard of could be published by Penguin books set the decade in motion. The Lady Chatterley case shattered the old guard and established the kind of personal and sexual freedoms and rights that we take for granted today. Some things all seem to happen together and that was the case at the start of the ‘60s. In the visual arts, film, television, literature and music there was an explosion and proliferation of innovative ideas, movements, counter-movements, sub-movements and cultures. It was quickly exported to the United States, Europe and those parts of the world not closed to the outside- i.e. The Communist Block.
Cultural change doesn’t necessarily mean political change but by the mid-1960s in Britain such was the magnitude of the tidal wave that the new Labour government began to legislate in areas that just a decade earlier would have been unthinkable. Over the next few years we saw the partial legalisation of Homosexuality and Abortion. Major changes to Education and Gender Equality were legislated for and with a boosting of the economy, new housing, job security, and educational opportunities social mobility was seen at a level never seen before-or since for that matter. For the first-time members of the Working Class began to travel abroad and be influenced by other cultures. Indeed, the whole class system, in place for centuries seemed on the point of change, if not collapse.
The next period, like all earlier periods was the product of its predecessor, the 1960s. It’s a period that has been referred to as a backlash to the liberalisms of the 1960’s and engenders powerful partisan emotions between its supporters and detractors. The period is generally accepted to have started in 1973 during the global oil crisis and with the Watergate scandal in the USA.
The collapse of the British economy during the mid-late 1970s, the rise of Terrorism in the UK and Europe, The ratification of Britain’s entry into the Common Market, the establishment of Neo-Conservatism in the UK and the USA, a further proliferation and diversity of youth and pop cultures in Britain, rising crime levels, race-issues, a ‘drug’ problem, civil disorder, de-industrialisation, further rises in young people attending university and a heating up of the Cold War which led to a surprising, spectacular collapse. All these factors and more were woven into the fabric of British culture of the time, usually called the ‘1980s’
No other British political leader before or since has attracted more praise or hatred than Margaret Thatcher. It can be argued that the polarisation of the country that came about during her tenure as Prime Minister has never really gone away and influences much of our present culture. Yet the die was set earlier, during the 1970s. Economic collapse, racial tensions, massive de-industrialisation, unemployment and an angry lashing out of young people (Punks etc.) all made for a volatile cultural brew that handed the country a new opportunity and ideology, Thatcherism. Both the UK and the USA renewed their marriage vows to the point that the latest nuclear weapons were based on UK soil. The 1980s were marked by the worst civil disorder seen on mainland Britain since WW2, a terrorist attack that attempted to wipe out the British government, record levels of unemployment, record crime levels, massive drug abuse and an eventual increase in living standards for some parts of the country and some socio-economic groups.
Was it all bad? Well not quite. In some northern cities blighted by economic recession, de-industrialisation and unemployment vibrant artistic, literary and musical scenes flourished. British pop music and culture, pre-dominant for almost three decades reached a pinnacle with the ‘Live-Aid’ benefit concert. Towards the end of the decade there was a noticeable change towards tolerance and respect of different ethnic and religious groups, an early awareness and acceptance of Multi-Culturalism and diversity. European and intercontinental travel became more widespread and the influence of aspects of European culture began to grow within the UK. Higher education numbers continued to grow steadily throughout the decade and the roots of Globalisation were laid down. London became a wealthy world-city and started to put some of its social and ethnic problems behind it. The West-East divide remained but with a new, liberal regime in place in the Soviet Union, just perhaps …
November 1989 took everyone by surprise. Not least the East German border guards who were swamped by countless thousands streaming through the Berlin Wall into the West. The impossible had happened and we all stood about wondering what would happen next. In Britain, there was a guarded approach to European expansion with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Historians, philosophers and culturalists began to speak of a new age: Postmodernism. The problem with the term was (and is) its definition and where it lies in the current age. Following the collapse of much of world Communism the planet moved towards a new mantra-Globalisation. This was fuelled by a rapid technological, communications and digital revolution that has had an ongoing effect on every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Combined with advanced capitalism, the internet and the nascent social media scene the world suddenly seemed a very small place. Britain embraced the new age with open arms, personified in 1997 by a new government led by a youthful prime minister who was keen to be associated with ‘Cool-Britannia.’ The economy looked good, unemployment fell and the media spoke of a new ‘Feel-Good’ factor. The ‘Special Relationship’ with the USA seemed as fruitful as ever and the number of students attending university rocketed. Britain basked in new found confidence and was courted by other countries as a friend and ally. The tragic death of a Princess appeared to pull the country together unlike anything seen since WW2.
The new nirvana came to an end on one day-September 11th, 2001. Ever since 1989 a dangerous vacuum of sorts had been created as certain nations, groupings and individuals, once allied to either the Soviet Union or the United States began looking for a new way and a new role in the world. A rejection of advanced capitalism, globalisation and western values by certain groups flourished in many of these countries, somewhat ignored by the intelligence agencies of the major powers. At home and in other European countries some individuals, inspired by this global phenomenon started taking terrorism to new lows. Since 9/11 some economists had predicted serious problems and these hit the world and Britain in 2008. This ushered in an age of austerity in the UK.
Where are we now? Where are we going?
In the new millennium Britain has struggled to find a role on the world stage. From a cultural viewpoint, this uncertainty and realisation that the country is no longer even a regional superpower has and is having an enormous effect on how we go about living our lives, our arts, writing, filmmaking, journalism, music and of course, politics. I have written about dates, events and cultural shifts since the late 1950s. Future historians will look at 23 June 2016 and add this to the list of key dates in the make-up of this century. The road to Brexit didn’t happen overnight. It has its roots deep in the previous century and is intertwined with many cultural characteristics of the British people and nation. Its tied up with an Island mentality, of a natural Xenophobia laminated to a class system which although modified has been around for the previous 250 years that the establishment and populace cling onto, like many other things that are outmoded and outdated. Our political system would be a case in point.
Two primary factors that characterise our culture and had a considerable influence on the EU Referendum are Individualism and Nostalgia. Ask any foreigner what single characteristic sums us up and they will tell you-Individualism. It’s one of our greatest strengths yet can be a slippery banana skin at times. It’s been the catalyst for our amazing creativity, freedoms, inventions, entrepreneurial skill, literature, music and politics. Yet, it has its downsides. It can stifle a collective strength which in testing times is required. It can preface a selfish attitude, the ‘I’m all right jack’ syndrome which seems to permeate postmodern Britain. It is indirectly responsible for our legendary apathy, often mistaken for stoicism and the famous ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude. Normally, we simply don’t care or don’t know-usually both. Fortunately for us these negative attitudes can be set aside at times of greatest, national, collective need as seen during the recent hideous terrorist outrages.
This brings me to nostalgia. Like all our other great national characteristics and bedrocks of our culture this has been around for a long, long time. The novels of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, the poetry of Blake, Wordsworth, Rossetti and Yeats drip with nostalgia. It not just something that we’re remarkably good at; it’s something we deeply love and cherish to the point it has become largely subliminal. Ask any executive producer of a television costume drama if he thinks it will be a hit with the public. He would be rubbing his hands as he gave you his reply. The different strands of nostalgia run deep into our consciousness and impacts on much more than we realise. Recently it was made known that the Houses of Parliament were falling to bits and would need to be renovated at great public cost. The easiest and cheapest option would be to move to another site and rebuild. The outcry was tremendous. The Palace of Westminster will stay as our Parliament. When foreign and even British tourists are asked how old the building is most reply that it’s at least medieval. Most of the building dates from the mid-nineteenth century and was a huge, expensive exercise in neo-Gothic nostalgia, evoking a time of medieval knights and damsels in distress! Hollywood would be proud of the visual deception on offer.
This obsession with the past is particularly strong at the present time and may well be a worrying feature of the uncertainty and instability that people feel. Whether it be vinyl records, antiques, black & white films, Genealogy, Filofaxes, renovating old furniture, vintage cars, cameras and wot-nots. I could go on and on. The important thing here is that this was a factor in people’s thinking when voting to leave the European Union. It’s estimated that up to 80% of voters over 65 voted Leave. They were thinking of times past – the glory days of Empire, a time when the British produced the best goods in countless factories and exported them across the world. When hospitals had just a few patients, full-employment, church on Sundays, holidays on the beach, picnic’s in the park, steam trains and footballers who caught the bus to the match on Saturday’s and had a few pints with the fans in the pub afterwards.
Younger voters in the Referendum will not have been affected by nostalgia yet there is also a case for some Remain voters looking to the past, albeit of a more recent vintage. As they entered the ballot booth they will have recalled a more stable time with less political uncertainty, a stronger economy, a unification of nations (of sorts) cosy European summits, student exchange trips and a relatively peaceful, stress free period. However, there are many other factors involved and who voted for what side and why is the subject of much current and future academic research and debate that will no doubt continue for many years.
So, the British people appear to have reached a crossroads in their cultural history. Currently we have an uneasy relationship not just with Europe but also The United States with strong views on both sides indicating a polarisation within our society. We won’t have a divorce from our American partner but relations are already strained with the election of Donald Trump. The European question is the difficult one. A backlash to Brexit may well have started with the rejection of right-wing populist parties in Austria, Holland and Germany and with the election of a strongly pro-EU president in France. Are we seeing an isolated Britain, marginalised, insular and perhaps rejected? Was 2016 an odd, Anglo-Saxon aberration and if so, will we return to some kind of normalisation? I very much doubt it. Already, the country seems bitterly divided. I write after a terrible General Election campaign that will be remembered for the horror of terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. The British people have shown how calm and stoic they can be and how they come together under such attacks yet there is an ominous uncertainty about the future and what it will bring to all aspects of our life.
I started this work at a point in the late 1950s and have brought it to the present. In any culture there are inevitable shifts, trends, fashions, movements and blips. There have been dozens, if not hundreds over the previous 60 years. One thing’s certain, our core culture is unlikely to change anytime soon. It would take something catastrophic to change it. In 1941 during an air raid on London George Orwell wrote one of the great, seminal works of British culture: The Lion and the Unicorn. He wrote how difficult, almost impossible it was to change a culture …
‘It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture.’
Our culture won’t change, whether due to Brexit, terrorism or for that matter, anything that’s on the near horizon. As Orwell wrote on …
‘It has the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.’
P G Ronane
Thank you so much for this!
And many thanks to Rachel at Authoright for the opportunity to take part in the tour.
You can get your copy of the book over at Amazon UK … Here’s the blurb …
On 24th June 2016, Mike McCarthy wakes up to the news that Britain has voted to leave the EU. A committed European, he is shattered. Over the coming weeks and months, he takes a long, hard look at himself, determined to uncover the reasons why this travesty has occurred, scrutinising the faces of everyone he meets for those he believes may have voted in or out.
As he tries to cope with the looming horror of Brexit, Mike fondly recalls his visits to Europe as a young man, the relationships he formed and how these have moulded his pan-European outlook.
Digging too deeply into issues has always been his problem. Mike begins to question the views he holds so dear and discovers new things about those closest to him. As McCarthy staggers on from The Referendum to the unthinkable triggering of Article 50, he finds himself plunged himself into a different world of social comment and political media. As the strategy for Bredit emerges, he wonders where his future lies and questions his commitment to a cause that may yet plunge his and Britain’s hopes and dreams into the abyss.
About the author …
After three decades of serving as a police officer in the inner-city areas of Liverpool, P.G.Ronane retired and decided to go back to school, run for office and travel the European continent. Now 61, he is an education manager living in Wirral with his family. This is his first book.
Follow P.G. Ronane on Twitter – https://twitter.com/pgronane_author