With a 90s video clash raging elsewhere on the net, plus the unannounced return from the Land Of The Free* of my old adversary in these matters Mr Marian Siedloczek, I think it’s time to open up that old 80s v 90s wound again.
Although we have found a considerable amount of common ground, for example concurring on the greatness of Pulp’s “Common People” when it came on the juke box the other night – an opinion, incidentally, which I notice is shared by the Impostume** – Marian and I nevertheless remain at ideological loggerheads on the general issue of which decade is The Best. And to be fair, he hasn’t made it easy for me, chucking a few well aimed darts to deflate the hectoring pomposity of my 80s paean of yore. I perhaps did him a disservice last time by caricaturing his dislike for the obviously tackier and more superficial aspects of the 80s, since his misgivings do indeed go far deeper. The reality is that what he spurns about the 80s is at least in part precisely what I love about them – the starkly clear divisions, ghettoism, oppositional posturing, commitment, lack of detachment. And set in the context of a part of the world which in the 80s was still under the heel of communist rule it’s not hard to understand a distrust of such good intentions, earnest enthusiasm, of spurious and sentimental notions of togetherness, having seen where all this can lead.
My protest here feels a bit lame here when set against my opponent’s kudos of having lived under a genuinely totalitarian regime. Talk about drop-dead cool. At the time I had to make do with Thatcher, who vile as she undoubtedly was, surely cannot be compared in terms of repressiveness to the conscienceless mediocrities in charge of running communist
Again I am guilty of crudeness, brazenly so. But I like crudeness, it makes me feel comfortable. Yes, I acknowledge that there are obvious dangers lurking within the “us and them” mentality, problems of how the supposedly united “us” are to be defined, and by whom. But isn’t it appealing all the same to be part of a gang, to have that sense of belonging? Isn’t it rather sad that these days we’re all too smugly supercool and cynically above things to allow any labels to be attached to ourselves, rather than being able to say, without feeling a little bit silly, “I’m a punk/mod/goth” etc.? On the other hand, look at the tenaciousness of these tribes – retro though they indisputably are, they have survived because they cater to a quite primal urge, providing sensitive teens with a refuge from anomie. And aesthetically speaking, isn’t it more thrilling to be shouted at by Henry Rollins than to have some dope-smoking slacker tell you “hey, lighten up, dude”? What do you mean, no?
I concede that I am not going to get around this one without mentioning the bloody French, as well as the tediously vague concept of post-modernism. In philosophical terms I’ve always been more of a Foucault than a Baudrillard man. Sure, meta-narratives have their dangers, but without any ideological tools at all we are utterly lost. As Foucault recognised, there will always be a need for ideology. In fact, isn’t “Common People” so great precisely because it is so polemical, and thus unrepresentative of the majority of 90s music? And if Baudrillard was right in his predictions, as the petering out of avant-gardism and the pallid resignation of Oasis-style pastiche that characterised so much 90s music suggests, then damn, I wish he was wrong. After all isn’t this supposedly sexy “playfulness” all a bit vacuous and unsatisfying?
Perhaps I am a sentimental old hypocrite, unsuited to these times, lamenting the loss of the pioneering spirit whilst being hopelessly retro myself. Nevertheless, I would rather live with (if not openly flaunt) my philosophical flaws than take the degenerate easy option of relativism. In the name of culture, I say: Get up off your arses and start making some bombs!
*Only joking, he was actually in the
**Though this is only to be expected from such a cloth-capped, chip-on-shoulder northerner. I mean, he even prefers the Smiths to the Jesus and Mary Chain!