Monday, October 08, 2007

Social-Democratic Counterfactuals

Intriguing little piece by Neil Clark on what might have happened and not happened had Jim Callaghan called an election in 1978 (and as few of the as ever rabidly commensensical rightwing comments point out, even the '79 election was a close-run thing) - in short, that Britain wouldn't be a vicious little neoliberal basket case - with an also very fine response on what this might have meant for Pop from Robin Carmody. I find this very seductive, but almost impossible to think: Thatcherism's grim inevitability seems almost given now, and let's not forget it was a worldwide phenomenon, as much to do with the IMF and World Bank as the British electoral process. Yet the idea that Britain going Scandinavian, and never becoming the neoliberal 'success' flung at the rest of the world might have been a model for the post-Soviet states is a particularly sad 'what if'. But even so - would these states still have had their gastarbeiter, their colonial wars, their indenturing of the rest of the world...?

A rather different counterfactual, although again one based on the belief in the postwar consensus as something dynamic, rather than the grimly stagnant Brezhnevism we're led to think of, is at k-punk: essentially on - what if the new spaces of postwar Britain had really been accepted, or more precisely adapted, their residents? And this didn't even have to be as a Smithsons-Goldfinger-Foxx space of raw concrete and streets in the sky, but the sweetness and elegance of East Kilbride, as profiled at I Like - low-rise, thoughtfully planned New Towns that wouldn't necessarily have had to produce A New Kind Of Man to live in them. But in the same way that I'd really rather Tony Benn won an election than Jim Callaghan, the utopianism of the Brutalists seems more exciting than that of the New Towns - more Pop, sexier, more bloodymindedly ambitious - but the future could have been either of the two, rather than the aesthetically and politically hideous reality we got instead.


Blogger Qlipoth said...

Neil Clark: "... and Sheffield steel workers would not have had to become striptease artists."

The Full Monty was surely one of the most sickmakingly symptomatic films ever made. Mass unemployment as an opportunity for 'warm' laughter, and self-degradation sold to the previously working classes as self-liberation. Would call centres have been possible without it?

11:34 pm  
Blogger doppelganger said...

It is a sickbucket of a film... it's Zola's Germinal sugared with a bit of Hot Chocolate...

7:10 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Yeah, I was always amazed by how a film so dubious got so accepted: even an old Trot like my mum thought it was perfectly innocuous. Especially seeing as Brassed Off dealt with a similar subject in a far, far less idiotic manner around the same time. And don't even get me started on Billy Elliott.

(There are great kickings administered to both of these atrocities by David Stubbs)

2:24 pm  
Blogger Qlipoth said...

That David Stubbs site is most invigorating. The entries on (just for starters) The Clash, the Marx Brothers, Pulp Fiction and Bjork should be on every school syllabus.

8:01 pm  
Anonymous National Psychogeographic said...

Gimme a break. The Marx Brothers are a joy to watch. A couple of minutes enjoying them is a far greater use of my time than reading egotistical and pathetic attempts at controversy by slaying so-called 'sacred cows'. It was exactly the type of po-faced, self-important dribble that gives the Left a bad name. Having said that Billy Elliot does lick arse.

3:21 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Heh. I like the Marx Brothers a lot too, but I tend to think The Left needs to spend more, not less, time mercilessly slagging things off...

4:54 pm  
Anonymous foreignerd said...

East Killbride reminds me a bit of some of the higher-end "eco-villages" found in the States, i.e. in Ithaca or Twin Oaks. Unforunately, these are primarily green kibbutzes, playing host to very little in the way of macro-critique of capitalist development. And concrete construction, sadly, is all but verboten. I personally hope the post-capitalist future will not smell like hay bales...

12:20 am  
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