Know This: Faux-folk pox, Iron Lady forgotten, primary politics, Asperger pony, YouTube history
Who's saying what
Launching off from a recent book, Folk Opposition, that attempts to revive the critical potential of folk art, UK critic Josh Hall sets his sights on Mumford & Sons. This band has drawn ire on TheVine before, mostly for their awful lyrics. Perhaps they are so awful not (only) because they lack facility, but because they are faking it. The band is the perfect symbol of a once grassroots art form in the hands of rich-boy poseurs. Here is UK folk music shorn of its grinding misery, its bleak landscapes and its memorably nasty characters. But why is it so popular? "The faux-folk pox is particularly troubling,” Hall writes, “because it aims to reconstitute the very things that capitalism destroys – solidarity, humanity, co-operation without a profit motive – and sell them back to us." And, he adds, "the sepia-tinged promo shots, the endless self-satisfied tours of windswept Scottish islands, the fucking waistcoats... The labels behind these acts (and, of course, the acts themselves) aren’t just selling music. Rather, they are selling a feeling of realness; a sense of connection with the rustic England of some imagined yesterday, away from the consumerism and vulgarity in which their predominantly middle class audiences otherwise embroil themselves."
There was a response along similar lines recently about an article in The Age that celebrated a “back-to-basics” return to op-shop fashion. Melbourne critic Mel Campbell rightly called this out on Twitter: “This story on the 'make do & mend' revival annoys me because it's basically privileged people aestheticising poverty.”
Speaking of rich people and poverty, this cracking piece by Seamus Milne reminds us what is at stake in the weird attempt to revive the reputation of Margaret Thatcher—chief immiserator of England’s poor. The benign humanist vision of Thatcher in Iron Lady is the artistic version of this currently on offer: “Remarkably,” Milne writes, “a woman who vehemently rejected feminism is celebrated as a feminist icon, and a politician who waged naked class war is portrayed battling against class prejudice.” Meanwhile, the parallel political and cultural move in the UK is the attempt to secure her a state funeral, a privilege only extended to Winston Churchill in the past fifty years. Milne says this would be a divisive event. “This is a politician, after all, who never won the votes of more than a third of the electorate; destroyed communities; created mass unemployment; deindustrialised Britain; redistributed from poor to rich; and, by her deregulation of the City, laid the basis for the crisis that has engulfed us 25 years later.”
Meanwhile, politics in the US is stepping into its circus phase. Seen from afar, the spectacle and pageantry of US politics never quite makes sense. Recent television series like The West Wing, Boss and parts of The Wire have shown us the elaborate yet crude mechanisms at work in how politics is served up to the US population. The Australian equivalent was the satirical series The Hollowmen. All of this now going meta: there are virile young policy advisers who take their career model from these shows, like our provincial gangsters playing at being Don Corleone or, worse, Al Pacino. (Can we get Bret Easton Ellis on to this, stat?) And yet these series have also foregrounded the complicity of power-drunk, uncritical journalists in the spectacle. Joan Didion, some twenty or so years ago, joined the media pack that trails these events and skewered the shallowness and desperation of much political reporting. She is one of the best essayists of recent times, so you know that this 10,000 word piece on a late 80s campaign is worth the time. It remains deeply—unfortunately—relevant. David Foster Wallace did a great piece like this on McCain more recently. And here’s a short interview with US author Thomas Frank about his new book on the Tea Party and their “utopian market populism.”
And in the New York Times this week, an enlightening article set out to challenge some preconceptions about Asperger syndrome. It related the story of two college students diagnosed with Asperger who came to their relationship after previous attempts with others (non-sufferers) had failed, largely due to their sometimes anti-social symptoms. And yet the whole thing was overshadowed by this correction which appeared in the New York Times the following day:
What a punchline.
Here’s a short history of YouTube and a glance at its scarifying future. Monetised. Profitised. Capitalise. Seek your alternatives now, friends.
More murmurings recently about the possible End of Europe. European thinkers have been turning over the question of just how interested the people of Europe really are in this EU idea. There are signs that the whole scene of bureaucrats, lawyers and economists is alienating whole tracts of the continent. Swedish writer Per Wirtén summarises this, with reference to prominent German theorist, Juergen Habermas: "Recent developments have arguably added edge to his warning that, in the shadow cast by the crisis, the Union risks being transformed into a ‘post-democratic regime of bureaucrats’ ... According to Habermas, the fact that an elite is closing ranks around the EU, seeing it as a private, elitist project, is “insolent”. The outcome of this insolence is that the citizenry is once more attracted to the illusion of nationhood, complete with the historically only-too-familiar package of border patrols, anti-European rhetoric and xenophobia." In a translated piece, sociologist Ulrich Beck basically agrees, but with a different emphasis. While David Runcimann, in the London Review of Books, puts it with bluntness: "One of the most striking things about this crisis is that the basic divide it has revealed is not between fundamentally different political views of the future, but simply between optimists and pessimists. Looking back on all the hundreds of articles and commentaries I have read, this is the theme that dominates. Either we’re fucked or we aren’t."