Monday, 14 March 2011

Introductory post 3

So we begin, or rather I begin. I don't feel I need to write at length about my initial childhood experiences with television and my opinions over the change in ethos and values since deregulation, because I am of a similar vintage (two years older - "Ashes to Ashes", still so much better than anything named after it, was number one when I entered the world - so I probably caught a bit more first hand) and, I suspect, share a similar cultural grounding (to simplify: I knew Flanders & Swann as a child like I knew oxygen, but didn't catch Stock Aitken Waterman until their tide was ebbing) to the other two contributors here. We are all products of the time and place in which we grew up and the values and assumptions of the homes we grow up in, and my mother being the oldest of seven, and both the only one of those seven who was too old to be a babyboomer and the only one who was educated beyond the compulsory school leaving age, combined with my socially alienating and disconnecting condition, made me what is often euphemistically called that sort of child, the sort who would no more have watched the action cartoons that so many of my contemporaries seem to look back on as the height of their childhoods than pick up dogshit in the street and eat it.

The three series from my childhood that did the most to form me culturally were Moondial (on which subject I could not improve on Tom's devotional words, because the first thing that really changes your life and teaches you that there are other worlds out there is the thing that sticks with you in your last moments), The Moomins (narrator older than both my grandfathers indeed, and the source for my love of a certain profoundly Scandinavian melancholy; when I first heard references to Rupert Murdoch, seeping upstairs from The Financial World Tonight, I thought he was Richard Murdoch, and when I conversed at the turn of the century with someone less than four years my junior who only remembered the post-1993 Japanese anime version I realised for the first time how completely someone so close to me in age is from a different cultural generation), and Windmill (what pre-Sky Sundays really felt like when the Open University was on its holidays - a fantastically varied melange of archive extracts, presented by the avuncular Chris Serle, which thought nothing of showing 1949 television newsreels, placed wholly within their natural context, to a mostly young audience; when it was replaced by the ultra-fast, pop-based Boxpops my eight-year-old self felt an umbilical cord had been cut). None of these series were shown after Gazza's tears. All of them led me to a rich vein of discoveries from beyond my own direct experience, including many of the series already cited here, and to that extent (although I am warmed by the YouTube commenter who far prefers the original Moomins to the Anstis-era abomination despite only remembering the latter in person) I am the product of a very specific experience which became a lot harder to grasp for the generation immediately following mine, where the common core of broadcasting was eroded and the range on offer to the mass was, in many ways, narrowed as it appeared to be widened. It would be easy simply to lament.

Easy but, I think, misguided. While I am staunchly politically opposed to what has happened, I am acutely aware that much of the old structure would probably have been eroded by other forces even if the specific forces which did erode it had not taken that precise neoliberal/ultra-consumerist form; as Karl Naylor has persuasively argued, the very habit of television watching contained within it the seeds of the erosion of the very same vestigial/residual common culture (with its echoes of music hall, pre-rock popular music generally, and the local peculiarities of industries from mining to farming) which early mass television reflected and mirrored back to its audience (at this point, I think back to one of my cohorts' comments in his introductory post here to the effect that most people can claim that they caught an ebbing tide in childhood, and thus inevitably of Peter Hitchens' obsession with just being able to remember Before The Beatles (TM); I don't want to end up like that). We of the social-democratic Left need to ask ourselves perhaps more often than we do whether we could actually stand to live in the society we may romanticise (for me growing up, the repeats from 1989 and throughout the 1990s were as fundamental as breathing, but with the exception of some of the subtler, mostly earlier episodes, I have come to pretty much dislike Dad's Army, not so much for what it is itself as for the way a certain set of people seem to think that if you don't like it then you're at the very least not "really" English, sometimes even not "really" British).

As for the pop-cultural movement that has defined itself by reclaiming the paternalistic ethos of old-school British broadcasting from the sneering dismissal of the new, pop-rooted post-Blairite establishment, I have largely fallen out of love, probably as a result of my repoliticisation and re-engagement with militancy and outsiderdom in the present. Mordant Music's Dead Air, with its brilliant use of Philip Elsmore, the voice of friendly, paternalistic, balanced authority-on-Thames which drained out forever on what might have been the last night of my childhood, is unquestionably one of the finest albums of the last decade, but give me Durrty Goodz on Channel AKA or Martin Solveig on Clubland TV a million times over Moon Wiring Club's insultingly obvious and hamfisted Gordon Murray allusions - to listen to that sort of thing after Mordant is like hearing Camel after Van der Graaf Generator, and just as unwelcome. I wonder whether I was right to allude so frequently to the likes of Lucy M. Boston in a pop-cultural / blogging context, back when they were generally only mentioned by older conservatives (who were/are usually also Conservatives, though they shouldn't be), whether I've inspired through the back door a load of bandwagon jumpers who embalm all the signifiers as part of their desire to live in a museum, which may be intended as a statement of opposition to neoliberal hegemony, but in reality is the exact opposite, as it holds back from any kind of political engagement in the present, and subtly depoliticises the past as well.

So whatever you expect here, don't expect it. Expectations are the enemy of creativity, in television as everywhere else. I want to challenge myself as much as, or more than, anyone else. That is, after all, the truest reincarnation of the spirit of Hugh Carleton Greene, Howard Thomas, Sydney Newman and the Bernsteins - and it's the one thing the worn-out Ghost Boxers aren't doing. The rare occasions when deregulated television is genuinely democratic, rather than simply a platform for the rich to get richer, will be as likely to be discussed in my posts here as anything else. When the past is revisited, it will often be to evoke what could have happened, but equally as much what still could - every minute spent wondering, aching with sadness so as to stop yourself shivering with fear, what might have happened had this Nine O'Clock News had a rather different lead story is a minute of the precise same disengagement which led to Welcome to Godalming. Nostalgia is another enemy of creativity, but a belief in true representative democracy is the precise opposite, and if I find more stimulation in certain aspects of the television of the past than in much of what is allowed within mass platforms today, it is hardly surprising that I may be drawn to the former. But that is the only reason. I don't want to end up in 30 years' time talking about "With Every Heartbeat" or "Heartbroken" on whichever satellite channels I first saw them on in the way some socialists who have lost touch with the true meaning of their creed may talk about "Forever Autumn" on Top of the Pops. We can't go home again, and I'm not old enough really to have been there anyway. But if this blog is to mean anything, as I understand it, it is as a platform for exploration of the past as a subject for further research. There isn't enough of that. There never has been. Let there be much more.

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