Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Crap Britannia vs Cool Britannia as False Ethical Choice

I was strangely proud to find today that one of the Caravan Gallery' series of grim British postcards depicts Shirley, the Southampton district where I spent two very happy years in my late teens just before I fucked off permanently to London, a time which I devoted mostly to exploring its charity shops, second hand bookshops, cemeteries and council estates, and was probably permanently aesthetically damaged by what I found there. These cards do undeniably represent something peculiar - has a country ever been so proud of its own crapness as Britain in the 21st century?

This might originally have served as a corrective to the vainglory of Blairism (the unctuous war criminal even slotting into his resignation speech the claim that this is 'the greatest country in the world'), and in some cases it's distinctly necessary: the countering of London triumphalism in this month's Blueprint for instance. But then look at these postcards, and the things depicted, and find an ethic almost as bad as the seamless Barratt world it counters: whether Cumbernauld, the Tricorn centre or the New Towns, its usually yet another kicking adminstered to the all-too-brief notion that Britain could be Modern, revelling in its spalling concrete and overgrown wastelands: a negative flipside to their recent rehabilitation, loudly proclaiming that they were always already crap, the attempt doomed from the outset, their taglines raising the familiar easy laugh at the country getting ideas above its station.


Blogger joe said...

as a portsmouth resident i always had great fun in the tricorn, as kids we would discover the different rooms via the tunnels and steel ladders. quite a bizarre construction inside, one of few places you could enjoy as a kid without paying...

11:20 pm  
Blogger Chris said...

Top left in the Cumbernauld postcard is the College designed by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia in the early '70s. We stumbled upon it while investigating the more famous shopping centre next door.

It seemed much more together than its peeling neighbour and would be worthy of a neb inside to see the GKC deep plan in action.

The residential parts of Cumbernauld have much more of the optimism of their age, but that would be a completely different set of postcards.

1:41 pm  
OpenID ivan007 said...

In my youth, back in the late seventies and early eighties, my cousin lived in Reading which I visited regularly. One of our running jokes was the available postcard of the Butts centre - we could hardly believe anyone would make a postcard of this dull abomination and we used to send it to eachother as a running joke.
A few years ago I got a copy of Boring Postcards from someone and immediately was reminded of the Butts Centre postcard from my youth. Imagine my utter joy as the book proved the quality of its research by including that very postcard. Genius.

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