Series 1, Episode 1: Smoke gets in your eyes

Advertising is a very small world…keep it up and even if you do get my job you’ll never run this place. You’ll die, in that corner office, a mid level executive with a little bit of hair that women go home with out of pity. Wanna know why? Cause no-one will like you.

So we’re supposed to be believe that people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite? That’s ridiculous.

This is a blog for Mad Men junkies. I’ve decided to watch Mad Men from the beginning to see how it feels now we know what we know. Clues, character developments and cultural reference points will take the place of description. I’ll be steering clear of the wilder shores; Megan’s Sharon Tate t-shirt is fun, but I’m not sure it merits quite such debate! The idea is that, rather like The Guardian blog it will be like an open book club. I’ll watch and comment on an episode a week and try my best to stimulate debate below the line.

Spoiler alert! Everything we know, from series 6 episode 13 will be referenced here. If you’ve missed any episode and don’t want to know what happens, this might not be the place for you!

The year, 1960. The place, Madison Avenue.

Scene 1 – Don and Midge

A young(ish) man sits alone in a bar, scribbling ideas down on a napkin. He engages a waiter in a conversation about why he smokes Old Gold instead of Lucky Strike, orders on Old Fashioned, scans the room and leaves.

The young man visits a young woman. She is an independent artist, he clearly a little older initially wants to discuss ideas. it’s a scene with echoes of Vertigo; Midge, a commercial artist, works standing at her desk, comforting her older friend/lover as he works through his problems.  They are clearly very comfortable with one another. We see them flirt, kiss and wake up together. Welcome to the world of Don Draper, adman and rake.

Scene 2 – When Harry met Peggy

Three men in a lift, one young woman. We are in the city. The woman is subject to a little fratboy flirting. The three men are as yet indistinguishable. We follow them into an office where they discuss their colleague’s bachelor party and ‘the new girl’ in the lift. They join their colleague in his office where he is busy reassuring his fiancee (I’m giving up the rest of my life to be with you) and dissembling. We are now familiar with Pete Campbell, Ken, Harry and Paul.

Scene 3 – Joan meets Peggy

Joan tours the office with ‘the new girl’ Peggy dispensing pearls of wisdom. Joan is glamourous and worldly, Peggy earnest and a little dowdy.

Scene 4 – Roger and Don

Hello Roger! Mr Sterling and Mr Draper pass Joan and Peggy and enter Don’s office; ‘ morning girls’. Roger arrives fully formed, carefree, confident and unflustered. They discuss appointments, Roger is clearly in control.

Scene 5 – Don, Sal and Dr Guttman

Sal, arch and camp, enters Don’s office with drawings for Lucky Strike. His model is a buff neighbour who ‘always looks relaxed’. They are joined by Dr Guttman who pace Anna Freud, deals out the latest research on tobacco and suggests a few ideas, notably, that smoking may be associated with a rugged American way of life. She points to Freud’s theory of the death drive as a pointer. Don curtly dismisses Dr Guttman ‘Freud, you say, what agency is he with?’ (an extremely rare show of humour), he finds her approach perverse. Don’s attitude to women is revealed by his referring to Dr Guttman and Miss Guttman and dismissing psychology as ‘all very well at cocktail parties’ (don’t forget the purple heart….)

Scene 6 – Pete and Don

Pete enters with a flourish, uninvited: ‘ready to sweet talk some retail Jews?’. Don: ‘You are tough to take in the morning Pete’. Pete tries to flirt with Peggy who rejects his aggressive approach, Don apologises on Pete’s behalf’ he left his manners in the fraternity house’. Pete and Don walk to their meeting with Menkens, Pete badgering Don. Their relationship is immediately established. Pete as ruthless, ambitious, gauche up and comer to Don’s more mature, experienced professional. It is immediately apparent that Pete has aggressive tendencies towards women.  Pete’s resentment is clear from the off ‘you always get the new girl, management gets all the perks’.

Scene 7 – When Don met Rachel

The meeting. Roger carried out the introductions.

Scene 8 – Peggy and the gynaecologist

This is one of the most unpleasant scenes in the whole of Mad Men. I don’t want to talk about it. Please feel free to leave your own comments, but that gynaecologist, ugh!

Scene 9 – The meeting II

We see Don at work for the first time. His pitch fails to impress the client (Rachel); Pete makes things worse by clumsily hinting at the stores Jewish origins. Rachel expresses her disappointment, the agency lacks charm and does not deserve its reputation for innovation. At this point Don leaves the room; ‘I’m not gonna let a woman talk to me like this. This meeting is over’. Pete follows Don out of the room congratulating him ‘I’m not gonna pretend I don’t want your job but I’m no good with people’…’A man like you I would follow into combat blindfold’. ‘Let’s take it a little slower I don’t wanna wake up pregnant.’. Pete and Don have reached an accommodation that will last for some time. Pete holds out his hand, Don ignores it. Pete looks into the camera sourly mumbling ‘fuck you’ and stalks back from whence he came.

Scene 10 – The telephonists

Joan introduces Peggy to the telephonists and dispenses more wisdom. Peggy is once again encouraged to show some leg.

Scene 11 – The big meeting – Lucky Strike

A comic moment. Lee Garner, Lucky Strike’s owner complains about the health scare. Almost everyone in the room lights up, followed by much coughing and wheezing. We meet Lee Garner Jr who is to play an important role later in the series. Roger sets up the pitch, Don freezes. Pete makes his play, having stolen Dr Guttman’s research from Don’s wastepaper basket. Lee Garner is unimpressed ‘is that your slogan? you’re gonna die anyway, die with us’, mirroring Don and Sal’s initial response to Dr Guttman. When Pete refers to the death wish Lee Garner asks ‘are you insane?”. They are about to leave the room when we see Don’s creative genius for the first time. Lee Garner Jr remarks ‘at least we know if we have this problem, everybody has this problem’ which triggers Don’s creative process. What makes Lucky Strike different in the post health scare tobacco industry? ‘This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal….we can say anything we want’. ‘Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car, it’s freedom from fear, it’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s ok. You are ok’.  Roger looks smug, Pete defeated. Lee Garner ‘get’s it’. Don has won the day.

Scene 12 – Roger and Don – post meeting, the Nixon campaign.

Don reclines with a cigar while Roger pours the drinks; ‘that was inspired’. Roger asks Don to reconsider the Nixon campaign. Don is cool. Consider the product: ‘He’s young, handsome, navy hero…honestly it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince America people that Dick Nixon is a winner’. Pete and the boys enter the room to congratulate Don. Pete tries to make right his error: ‘I told them how great you were…I’m still tingling’. Don asks them to leave but holds Pete back to upbraid him; ‘If Greta’s research was any good I’d have used it…I had a report just like that and it’s not like there’s some magic machine that makes identical copies’. Pete: ‘I still think she was right’.

Scene 13 – Peggy and Don

‘I heard you were amazing in the meeting’. ‘Fear stimulates my imagination’. Peggy thanks Don for standing up for her with Pete, then makes an ungainly play for Don, reaching for his hand. ‘First of all Peggy I’m your boss, not your boyfriend. Second of all you ever let Pete Campbell go through my trash again and you won’t be able to find a job selling sandwiches at Penn Station. In the end, he let’s Peggy off gently.

Scene 14 – Pete’s bachelor party

Pete, Harry, Ken, Paul and Sal. ‘Do you have a boyfriend Salvatore?’ ‘C’mon I’m Italian’. Ken introduces a group of women he’d invited, Pete plays rough, refusing to move his hand from the leg of one of the party. We are instantly made aware that Pete has problems with boundaries. The girl moves away. One of the girls ‘I love this place, its hot, loud and filled with men’. Sal ‘I know what you mean’. ‘So what do you fellas do?’ Harry: ‘You’re looking at the finest ad men in New York, hell the world’. Bespeaks American confidence at the time.

Scene 15 – Don and Rachel II

Don meets Rachel at a restaurant at Roger’s bidding, to charm her and win the business. He apologises then asks Rachel why she isn’t married. ‘Are you asking what’s wrong with me?’ It’s just that you’re a beautiful, educated woman, don’t you think that getting married and having a family would make you happier than all the headaches involved in fighting people like me?”If I weren’t a woman would I be allowed to ask you the same question? And if I weren’t a woman I wouldn’t have to choose between putting on an apron and the thrill of making my father’s store what I always thought it should be.’ ‘So that’s it. You won’t get married because you find business to be a thrill.’ ‘That, and, I’ve never been in love’. Don then cynically derides Rachel’s notion of love. ‘The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me to sell nylons’….’You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a lot of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one’. Rachel responds cooly ‘I don’t think I realised until this moment, but it must be hard being a man too….Mr Draper, I don’t know what it is you believe in but I do know what it is to be out of place, to be disconnected….there’s something about you that tells me you know it too’. Don has overplayed his hand, been taken out of his comfort zone. He has failed to impress Rachel with his hard boiled speech; she sees through him. Rachel refuses another drink; ‘but you can tell your boss that you charmed me’. Rachel has remained in control throughout the meeting.

Scene 16 – Pete and Peggy

We see Pete, drunk and alone, his bachelor night clearly a washout, knocking on an apartment door. Peggy comes to the door. ‘So what are you doing…I’m getting married on Sunday…you must think I’m a creep…I wanted to see you tonight;, ‘me’ ‘I had to see you’. Peggy takes Pete into her room.

Final scene – Don and Betty

We see Don on a train. He gets off the train and into a car and drives to a suburban home. He is greeted by his wife who is already in bed. Domestic bliss; his wife loves him and is ready for him, there’s a plate in the oven and the kids are asleep. Final scene: Don watching over his sleeping children, Betty in the doorway watching Don. Domestic harmony: a christmas card ending (reminding us that Midge designs greeting cards)? The man who has it all. Fade to ‘On The Street Where You Live’.

Analysis

In a busy opening episode we are introduced to the main actors: Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Roger and Betty. Sal could be a major player at this point. What is uncanny from our vantage point now is how the characters emerge fully formed: Don the suave ladies man and creative genius, Pete an ambitious creep, Roger, cocksure and carefree, Joan worldly though conservative, Peggy, equal parts  earnestness and ambition.  Don’s relative humour and youth is similarly striking, particularly when contrasted with the broken man at the end of Season 6. He is vulnerable, though he tries to hide it.

Time stamps

Richard Nixon stood for election in 1960. He was favourite to win having served as VP under Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy was relatively unknown, and, as this episode makes clear, unfancied, his catholicism seen by many as a weakness.

Health scares and tobacco: as is made clear, there had been growing pressure on the tobacco industry and, much like the sugar industry today, tobacco had hired it’s own doctors, lobbied government, and tried to blind consumers, doctors and politicians with science – alpha cellulose filters anyone?  The Readers Digest article referred to rated tar/nicotine levels brand by brand. For more see: http://archive.tobacco.org/resources/history/tobacco_history20-2.html

The death drive: This was a current in the advertising industry, popularised by Edward Bernays. For more on this I’d recommend Adam Curtis’ The Century of the Self: http://thoughtmaybe.com/the-century-of-the-self/

Meta humour

Roger on Nixon: ‘He’s young, handsome, navy hero…honestly it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince America people that Dick Nixon is a winner

Don on technology: ‘it’s not like there’s some magic machine that makes identical copies’

The smoking and coughing scene.

Killer lines

Don to Pete:

Advertising is a very small world…keep it up and even if you do get my job you’ll never run this place. You’ll die, in that corner office, a mid level executive with a little bit of hair that women go home with out of pity. Wanna know why? Cause no-one will like you.

Don to Peggy:

Fear stimulates my imagination.

Sal to Dr Guttman:

So we’re supposed to be believe that people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite? That’s ridiculous.

Sal:

I love this place, its hot, loud and filled with men’. Sal ‘I know what you mean’.

Don to Rachel (overplaying his hand in an effort to impress):

What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me to sell nylons’….’You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a lot of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one’.

Rachel to Don:

I don’t know what it is you believe in but I do know what it is to be out of place, to be disconnected….there’s something about you that tells me you know it too’

Film/style references

I won’t overplay this but the scene between Don and Midge echoes those between Mac and Midge in Vertigo. The name, the work, the posture, the dress. Thoroughly modern millie flirting with a slightly older man.

The bar scene: Rachel and Don seems to be set up as a parody of film noir. Rachel has already been set up as the femme fatale: the cigarette case, the holder, the drink, the coat, the icy control. Don engages in some hard boiled patter, it don’t impress her much. When she leaves, Don drapes her overcoat over her shoulders recalling both Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon and Joan Crawford (more of whom in later blogs) in Mildred Pierce.

What we know now, what we knew then

Just a few points. Don seems almost carefree when we consider what he has become. Lighter, slimmer, younger, a little vulnerable; he smiles on occasion and even makes a little joke (Freud). We are immediately aware that he’s a loner;  he sits alone in the bar, observing. He refuses to host Pete’s pre-bachelor party or attend the party itself. But he’s comfortable, happy even. His speech to Rachel may hint at later developments, his caressing of the purple heart moreso. The killer line: ‘Fear stimulates my imagination.’ His attitude towards women is complex: on the one hand he is a conservative chauvinist, on the other he admires Midge her independence. He’s not quite so forgiving professionally as Peggy and Rachel discover.

Joan seems a little less worldly (though oh! how she tries) and hints that she’d really like a home in the country with a husband. Peggy is elusive, unless we know what we know now. Why would she allow Pete into her room, him having treated her so badly? It is perhaps only with the benefit of hindsight that we can marry her ambition to her earnestness. It is also fair to assume that she gives in because she’s doesn’t expect to be desired, this makes more sense when we meet Peggy’s family.

Pete, I’m afraid, is a creep from the off. We see that he has either no respect or understanding of boundaries both professionally and emotionally. His problems with women (more pertinently women’s problems with him) culminate in his assault on his neighbour’s nanny. We see no evidence of his inner life, or complexity in this episode, other than his acknowledgement that his not good with people. What we do see is ambition, gaucheness, charmlessness, abrasiveness, ambition, unctuousness and hubris. We do get to see Pete’s first sour face, something alluded to by his mother in Season 6.

Don’s advertising windom no 1: 

‘Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car, it’s freedom from fear, it’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s ok. You are ok’

Right, that was more work than I thought it’d be. Please leave any comments you may have below. I’d particularly welcome suggestions about the layout of the blog; it’s my first time (in case you couldn’t tell) and feels basic, busy and poorly laid out. I hope to get rid of the scene by scene theme, but thought it necessary for a very busy first episode. What do you think? Does it help or hinder?

Advertisements

Re-thinking the long 1970s

I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1970s recently. About how and when it’s referenced, and how it’s remembered, and it occurs to me that there’s been a sea change in recent months: weaponising the 1970s no longer works.

It’s easy to see why: in an era of austerity and precarity, with tax avoidance and failing services dominating the news cycle, what’s not to like about an era of hope manifested in growing wages and equality, full employment, secure rents, social housing and rising home ownership?

Except this wasn’t the image of 1970s that defined the politics of the 1980s and 1990s and colonised the public imagination. That 1970s, though unstable, was made up of a repertoire of images, stories and sounds consisting of strikes and power cuts, followed by anger and ennui: from the picket-line to punk and back again, shot through with grainy images and perpetual beiges, browns and greys.

Then there’s the comic, patronising version of the era, one that depicts figures as pitiful, underdeveloped versions of our modern selves: think Abigail’s Party or The Family, repeated in the 1980s and 90s to much mirth, as we laughed at characters poor taste, their pretensions and their furnishings. This version of the 1970s ends with the nadir of c-list celebrities and talking heads remembering their Choppers and Curly Wurlies in the risible ‘I Love the 1970s’ series.

This version works by highlighting popular cultural reference points, often located in the void’s chidhood, and burbling about how great things were: the visual equivalent to A.J.P. Taylor’s withering critique of Oral History (the drooling of old men). This is the past domesticated, sealed off and smoothed out; the past as a foreign country, one we’re quite happy to revisit, but not relive.

But such a move in itself, marks a change, and it’s worth taking a little time to consider what’s going on here, as it may inform the present re-membering of the period. Because one of the reasons that the 1970s holds no fear for milennials (see survey) is that the version of the 1970s they remember is the version played on their television screens in the 1990s.

Now there may have been any number of reasons for re-presenting the 1970s in the 1990s (and one should never underestimate commercial imperatives), but, and this is just conjecture at this point, one of the reasons for domesticating the period, is that it was considered settled. The work of ideological closure was complete: capitalist realism was here to stay so why not have a little fun with the era? Those threats, those dangers posed by the politics of the period and repeated by every political leader from Thatcher to Cameron were done, weren’t they? Neoliberalism had triumphed.

All of this changed with the financial crisis in 2008 as the toolkit used to solve the problems of the 1970s turned out to be flawed. Consequently those politicians who had staked their careers on reviling the period, found themselves facing a dilemma: not only did the 1970s not look so unappealing to a generation born in the 1980s and 90s, facing an uncertain future when compared to their parents and grandparents, but the version of the 1970s they remembered was mediated. They remembered ‘I Love the 1970s’ far more than ‘Britain’s Not Working’ and had no direct memories of the period to fall back on.

The above goes some way to explaining why today’s milennials are the first express a desire to live in the past: that is the first generation on record to favour living in their parent’s generation. It also explains how Philip Hammond’s recent attempt to weaponise (Corbyn will take us back to the 1970s) the period feels increasingly like a damp squib: it simply does not resonate with a generation who increasingly have no living memory of the era.

So, it would appear that the 1970s are far from settled, and that poses a number of questions around history and memory, about the way we remember, about how certain memories are privileged over others, and about how we forget. It also raises historiographical issues, around the authority and writing of history, about our temptation to segment time into years, decades and eras and about when history becomes either usable or reliable. Importantly, it insists, I will argue, that the historian position his or her self in relation to both his or her materials and his or her materialism.

But equally, it suggests that the way we think about the past is problematic: did the 1970s end with the first Thatcher government in 1979 as is often assumed or did it end with the reforming government in 1983, as David Edgar and others have argued? Can we even talk about a long 1970s or should we break it up into specific blocs, from, say 1970-74 and 74-79 as Dominic Sandbrook maintains? Or do decades from discrete blocs, if so, why?

One way of interrogating this is to consider how the 1970s looked in the 1970s and how it looks today, that is once we take for granted that history is written from a presentist perspective, then we might begin to acknowledge that the past is a) never settled and b) subject to constant revision due to both the availability of data and the demands and circumstances of the present. In short, we should listen to both Santayana and Jameson (history is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten, and always historicize!). We should also bear in mind Michel Foucault’s injunction, that any history that proceeds unproblematically from the past to the present, should be treated with scepticism.

It is undoubtedly true that the period is subject to much revision and interest at the moment and there are, I would speculate, a number of reasons for the renewed interest in the period. One, should be obvious, but takes some explaining: non-cultural historians tend to rely on state archives, particularly Cabinet Papers subject to the ‘thirty year rule’. What this means in practice, is that for historians engaged in an overview of the period, there may be value in working from archives released between 2009 and 2010.

So historians working on the period, would need to spend time in the archive before producing work. But this alone doesn’t fully explain the relative absence of work on the period (Smith). Could it be that historians, at least at a subconscious level, bought into the consensus that gave us the end of history, as Mark Fisher suggests?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost narratives or the re-framing of British politics: explaining Jeremy Corbyn

This is a short essay about framing and narratives. It’s an outtake from some workI I’m doing on popular representations of the miners’ strike but the more it develops, the more I understand what it’s really about, and that is what French historian Pierre Nora called the ‘memory nation.’ Following Ernest Renan and Maurice Hallbwachs, Nora argued that the nation is made up of memories, but that those memories are winnowed out by historians and storytellers, so that dominant memories emerge whilst others are actively forgotten. This is an essay about two lost narratives and one new one. It is about the lost narrative of postwar collectivism and the hollowness of the language of austerity when there’s no longer an ‘it’ that we’re ‘in together’. It’s a piece about nostalgia, memory and (left) melancholia: about defeat and revival in the wake of 2008.

Part I.

Constructing the New Jerusalem: Optimism and Guilty Men.

Part II.

Deconstructing the New Jerusalem: Thatcherism and Left Melancholia.

Part III.

Reconstructing the New Jerusalem: No Jam Tomorrow: Syriza, the SNP and the Corbyn effect.

It’s often argued that the Tories won the 2010 election, much as they won the 1979 election by spinning a lie into a narrative, then taking control of that narrative. Essentially, framing. The Conservatives have managed to frame UK politics since the late 70s. They were even able to spin the narrative out for another few years following the Financial Crisis, which, like the inflation and unemployment they created in the early 80s, they were able to blame on Labour. That narrative is finally unspooling, as more and more people are reaching the same conclusion: Thatcher’s reforms led ineluctably to 2008. That combined with the release of Cabinet Papers and the death of the arch villain herself, explains the steady stream of revelations relating to institutional corruption during the Thatcher years. The past has become indefensible, it is unusable precisely because it has led us to the present. In short, the Tories have lost the narrative hence the return to Corbyn and the reevaluation of the 1983 Manifesto (unthinkable just a couple of years ago), RTB, nationalisation and, that most epochal of events, the miners’ strike. The lost narrative, that which we now long for, is that of a Britain untouched by Thatcherism and New Labour. Why? Because we know how it ends. Which leads us to jam….on a very simplistic level, people can only take so much bad news. They need hope, something to get out of bed for each morning, the promise of an optimistic future. That’s been in short supply since 2008 and no other candidate or English political party offers it. Jam tomorrow only works if there is a pot of jam.

To be continued……

Memories a thought piece

Memories are both beguiling and disruptive. Photographs, films and images project us backwards and forwards to times remembered and times forgotten, to times we think we remember only to discover we were not yet born. So it is with sounds, old songs or radio shows take us back to moments we lived or wish we had lived. Upon opening the newspaper today I experienced just such a moment. An article about paternosters (and what more appropriate metaphor could there be for life, or memory cycles) in Germany took me back to my failed youth and opened a series of memories I’m yet to fully process. I have things to do today, but how can I function, now that I’ve been assailed by memory?

Indeed how can any of us function when the past is all around us, suffocating the present in an endless loop of memory and nostalgia? On reading this article I was transported back to the days of my youth, to university; a time of failed loves and failed application, of adolescent angst, occasional bouts of joyous hedonism, endless recovery, little learning and utter thoughtlessness. Of, and let us be truthful here, wasted time. But alongside those thoughts, triggered almost subconsciously, were memories of important, historical time. Fitful, convulsive, epochal time; from  The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, to the Velvet Revolution. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the end of the Cold War. To yellowing papers, pored over in squalid, smoke-filled rooms and endless personal failure. 

Such times. Joyous, world changing times, or so I thought at the time and indeed the world had changed, but in ways unimaginable to my youthful ill-formed mind, and to those living through such changes for whom life would not be an endless cycle of hamburgers, milkshakes, freedom and fries. Nor would it be a return to a long cherished past, untarnished by the present, of Empires and grandeur, and stately progress towards a limitless future. Then I looked a the images of paternosters, and was taken back again: to the Vienna of Stephan Zweig and Musil of Carol Reed and Orson Welles, to the Cold War Berlin of Le Carre, the Hamburg of Wim Wenders and Dennis Hopper. These stories, these images, like Sebald’s Austerlitz transform us as they transform time. They make us long for times lived and not lived. Memories and imagined, or facsimile memories run helter skelter through my disordered mind, at once both disorienting and delightful; maddening and magical.  

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARathaus%2C_Vienna_-_paternoster_01.jp

By Herzi Pinki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We live in mnemonic times, I tell myself, when everything means something and nothing. Were we feel entitled to not just our memories, but our memory traces, our symbols. It is no longer enough to remember, privately or socially, we must preserve and reconstruct. To give ballast to our sense of self, our identity in an increasingly complex and alienating world. It is no longer enough to remember the little green man in East Berlin or the paternosters of Stuttgart, he and they must be preserved forever; as a foundation, time caught in aspic. But what happens when he gives up? When the little green man fades away, when the paternoster is no longer able to ascend the great heights, when in last sputtering gasp it gives in, unable to traverse the excruciating loop, it’s belts worn thin by years carrying people. Smiling people, grumpy people unhappy people, angry people, endless bloody people. What then? Will we still campaign to save them? Or will they disappear, dispatched to the endless dustbin of history? What happens when things outlive their use and what does use mean today? There is practical, everyday use and there is nostalgic, placating use. The use that comforts us, that whispers platitudes, that tells us that we’ve learned from our destructive past, that we will preserve the good things, we no longer wish to rush headlong into the future, destroying all that stands in the way. We will not build motorways through cities, monolithic apartment blocks over shaded boulevards, shopping malls over Benjamin’s arcades.

We build and we rebuild as we construct and reconstruct our memories. The Arts Tower in Sheffield was built over….just as Potsdamerplatz…..every day, people make decisions about what to preserve from the past and what to lose. Decisons informed by commerce, pragmatism and ambition. We cannot begin to comprehend the number of decision that are made, suffice to day that every day, someone, somewhere is making a decision, and that decision is informed by innumerable, unknowable processes. The French historian Francois Hartog, tells us that the past is so present that it overwhelms the present. We look at everything with a museifying gaze, as though it may be gone tomorrow. This stops us from being fully present in the present, from appreciating all that is around us.

Today, as I walked through the town centre I was assailed by the wail of police siren, an unusual sound in this small outpost on the Finnish/Russian border. What was I reminded of? Film. Film and magic, the feeling of being transported from the suburbs of South West London to Warsaw and the South of France, to Krystof Kieslowski’s mediation on mystical memory, The Double Life of Veronique. I must have been around 25 at the time, still fairly new to London and revelling in the cinematic delights it had to offer. My first few years in London were spent in Hampstead and Hammersmith, Dalston and Finchley. The brutalist and then desolate South Bank watching all the films I’d read about; Antonioni and Fellini, Truffaut, Goddard and Louis Malle. Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. And the newer auteurs; Wim Wenders and Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch and Mike Leigh. It was at The Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square that I first saw the film that has had the most profound effect on me. Claude Sautet’s Un Coeur en hiver: a film touched by beauty. It was whilst watching this graceful, melancholy film that I understood that perfection was possible. This was film making imbued with rigour: not a moment is wasted, a sound out of place. Never had music and film been so perfectly pared.  I fell in love with cinema that day, and with London and spent many days and nights alone with my muse.  To this day, those films that pare sound with movement move me more than any others: Jeanne Moreau walking through the streets of Paris to Miles Davis’s plaintive refrain, Daniel Auteil’s search for perfection, Emmanuel Beart’s joyous singing, Bruno Ganz….

Als das Kind Kind war,
ging es mit hängenden Armen,
wollte der Bach sei ein Fluß,
der Fluß sei ein Strom,
und diese Pfütze das Meer.
Als das Kind Kind war,
wußte es nicht, daß es Kind war,
alles war ihm beseelt,
und alle Seelen waren eins.

Als das Kind Kind war,
hatte es von nichts eine Meinung,
hatte keine Gewohnheit,
saß oft im Schneidersitz,
lief aus dem Stand,
hatte einen Wirbel im Haar
und machte kein Gesicht beim fotografieren.

This was magical, this was what I’d been looking for.

To be continued…..

The New Artisans

They are all around us, brewing, roasting,making, designing. Who are they and what do they represent? It is tempting to see this new artisinal class as a response to the recession: conspicuous consumption as a form of self identity on the one hand, ingenuity in a failing job market on the other. Why not start your own business, no-one else will give you a job. But the form is of interest, particularly in the UK where the industrial revolution all but destroyed the artisinal class. The artisan still needs to make money to survive so why the market demand? Given the current vogue for referencing world war two we could be looking at a case of old fashioned thrift. The belief that well made artisinal products represent better long term value than mass produced objects. Yet this disengagement from the high street, this return to faux rustic values represented by the fetishization of hand c rafted items is not without precedent in times of recession; one thinks of Terence Conran and Laura Ashley in the 1970s. Is this The Good Life revisited? If so, then why? (Arcadian nostalgia). (Conclusion or extra para on artisinal movement as rejection of capitalism in its current form and the inevitable tensions – to grow or not to grow, to sell or not to sell; see Able & Cole v Nude/Cable).

Arcadia et ego
It is 1981, Britain (or most of it) is deep in recession. Record levels of unemployment leading commentators to compare the period to the 30s. The least popular prime minister since polls began (check). What are British people watching? Brideshead Revisited a self-avowedly conservative response to socialism. Fast forward thirty years to 2011 and the nation is enthralled by Matthew and Mary’s romance in Downton Abbey. Throw in a couple of royal weddings to distract the masses, a radical conservative government privatizing everything in sight, visible homelessness and you get my point. It was ever thus, if in doubt read Virginia Woof’s Three Guineas. To paraphrase Marx it is tempting to think of the above as obfuscation. The above is a neat encapsulation of strategies employed by those in control of culture and ceremony but does not explain why or how such culture is consumed. Why should we cherish nostalgia in times of want? And why does nostalgia take such form? (Trace the elitist response to masss/urbanisation v rural organic ommunities to Leavis via modernism).

Parts – see notebook – think also of nationalism as a trope of recessions – how is this reflected in the artisinal movement? British food.

Advertisements