Friday 22 October 2010

Unaccustomed as I am to public blogging...

Reading the excellent and humbling analysis of trends in 70s cinema, TV & comics by Phil and Wayne [Hello! by the way, I’m Niall] below I was given pause to wonder “Did I actually go and see a film at the cinema in the 1970s?” I was born in 1966 and actually, the answer is “yes,” A Bridge Too Far. With that honourable exceptional I will only have seen films on TV – possibly, early 70s fare such as Carry On and James Bond recycled in the later 70s through a tiny B&W set. And perhaps, the “big” Xmas film on BBC1 - again a few years out of date when it reached the small screen.
I’m squeamish about commenting on 70s cultural product when I didn’t experience it in its original medium and milieu, but I am also genuinely interested in the events [and the representation of them] of the time and their relationship to current representations. Carl seems to be doing a job on the Music, Economics & Politics, and I can understand why, on a personal level, an effort to grapple with these themes might promise a degree of personal resolution.
Rigorous quantitative and qualitative research into socio-cultural phenomena [which are what, I think, are left after “actual events” are taken out of the equation] is not, I’m given to understand, the remit of a blog. An archetypal bloggers trope in my very limited experience is to assert the existence of a phenomenon and then to insert You Tube footage to support the observation and is something I’m keen to steer clear of [partly because I can’t be bothered, but partly because I think it’s intrinsically reductive]. Nor do I have time to review the entire oeuvre that concerns the subject of discussion, not even time, in fact, to read a single book or watch a single episode. The third way then [unless one is to resort to totally unsubstantiated generalisations] is personal reflection. One trouble with this is [Brookerism alert!] –if you’re anything like me- you’ll be sick of me using the word “I” already and you’ll have reacted to the phrase ‘if you’re anything like me’ by thinking “ugh, of course I’m not anything like you...” which means that you are actually a bit like me because that’s how I always react to the phrase “if you’re anything like me”
The oblique reference [above] to the poverty of my upbringing also bespeaks an urge to use reflection on the seventies as a form of therapy and to assume that others are doing the same [see gratuitous vague reference to Carl’s background above] and although my self-analysis might blur the picture somewhat the first point I want to make about the Seventies is that the articulation of an ‘era’ through its cultural product seems legitimate now because everyone has access to all such product today - so its hard to remember that this wasn’t always so. We also legitimate this approach by bonding through our nostalgic recollections. This cannot be assumed to be representative of the 1970s as lived experience though.
We had a TV, but we were “not an ITV family” so no adverts, no Coronation Street. No car, no phone, no record player, no Sun, no Mirror, no fashion [home-made clothes] or haircuts, no seaside holidays [home or abroad], no celebrities. No such thing as “lifestyle.” Never had a pizza, never set foot in a cafe, hotel, pub or restaurant. No camera – no photos...I was brought up by my single mum on a council estate in the North of England – so I can hardly have been unique. There must be millions like me who barely experienced “popular culture” at all except with certain bafflement. Why, I would have wondered at the time, were people suddenly wearing trousers with a tartan stripe down the side? And how did they know to wear these trousers simultaneously? And where did they buy them from?
The main common discourses with which I engaged would have been televised sport [of which more later] and the “News” – the BBC Six O’Clock News, followed by Look North [Regional BBC News] and/or Nationwide [National Magazine programme] and the Yorkshire Post [National newspaper for Yorkshire, broadly right-wing]. From this News I concluded that Britain had a rubbish economy, made shit cars and we were crap at sports. The following people were mad or bad – Anthony Wedgewood Benn, the IRA , Arthur Scargill, Leonid Brezhnev, football hooligans, the Yorkshire Ripper, Don Revie and Brian Clough. [Not that I’ve read any of his books but it seems David Pease has accurately identified his bogeymen, I look forward to not reading his book about Jimmy Savile and to not watching Michael Sheen’s impersonation of him]. Funnily enough, I have no recollection of who the “good guys” were in a political sense –it certainly wasn’t their obvious opposites. Anyone who wasn’t mad or bad was corrupt, incompetent or naive. In this context it must be remembered that Margaret Thatcher made complete and utter sense [well, to this 13 year-old anyway.]
To respond to Carl’s original inquiry, the answer to the question of for whom the 1970s was a period of crisis is a resounding “Me!” I could list all the obvious things that made it dreadful and I may refer to some of them later, but if my memory serves me correctly, on top of the fear of power cuts, coal shortages [the fire provided our only heating and our hot water], escorting my sisters after dark for fear of the Yorkshire Ripper, came the hyperinflation that genuinely appeared made one week’s benefits worthless the next.
People seemed [cliché alert] brutal- racist, sexist, homophobic and vicious about anyone with a mental illness or disability. The concept of “bullying” as aberrant or even wrong didn’t really exist. In this environment, “Mrs” Thatcher did not seem, in 1979, - an extreme political figure. I would argue that the most common perception of politics and politicians was, much as it is now that “one lot are as bad as the other”. That Stalin = Hitler, Loyalist=Republican, Benn = Powell etc. Thatcher was the ‘third way’ - she was, in the most literal sense, financially and morally conservative She had a hinterland, she was middle-class, nostalgic, romantic, “common-sense,” basically an apolitical figure for people who were sick of politicians. Reagonomics and the dismantling of the working class power base came later, arguably more as collateral damage in a moral war than from any rigid economic ideology. This much has been argued elsewhere, but for England [I doubt much of the rest of the UK would recognise themselves as having “voted for her”], in my memory, she was a breath of fresh air.

So, having thought long and hard about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that no assessment of the 70s would be complete without significant reference to the sport of the time. So we’ll begin close to home, with this clip [Leeds v St Helens in the 1978 RL Challenge cup final, if you can't be arsed watching it] and the observation that at no point in the 1970s did I attend a live sporting event or travel the 25 miles that separate York [where] I lived to Leeds [which might as well have been Timbuktu for all the connection I felt with it.]

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