1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

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1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Elliott » 02 May 2013, 01:38

Some books came into my shop today that I instantly knew were from around 1995, because their cover photographs had the vivid colours and the over-exposed look that were so popular around that time (how many mediocre Britpop bands can we now smugly say were over-exposed?). I could also tell that they were what is now (but wasn't then) called "chick lit", because each cover showed a young woman being feisty.

Well, intrigued, I read the blurbs. They give an interesting reminder of what was going on - at least according to the media - in trendy British cities in the mid and late 1990s. Huge amounts of money sloshing around, total sexual license, depravity, bicuriousness, independent women, confident women, professional women, men being usurped all over the place, men looking stupid no matter what they do, single motherhood (you mean there's something called double motherhood?), casual drug use, gay friends, casual affairs, ladette-ism, cocktails and, of course... girl power.

Below are the blurbs transcribed. Marvel at the rampant man-hate, the tediously self-consciously matter-of-fact treatment of sex, and the cringeworthy puns:

Foetal Attraction (1993)

Aussie Madeline Wolfe has left her home, her surfboard, her hemisphere, for the new man in her life. Alexander Drake, undisputed King of the TV jungle, gives the best cunnilingus this side of a detachable shower nozzle. He's also the kind of bloke who goes through the Tunnel of Love holding his own hand.

By the time Maddy discovers that it's not just Alex's feet but his entire body that's made of clay, she's taken a pregnancy test... and failed. Will Alex chicken out of his obligation to his egg?

Set amongst London's literati, glitterati and cliterati*, Kathy Lette's brilliant new novel goes straight for the jocular vein.

Sue Townsend review: Buy this book - give it to every woman of child-bearing age you know. She will be maternally grateful. It is funny and profoundly moving.

Ian Hislop review: Reading this book, my wife laughed so much she gave birth.

* damn disappointed - I thought I'd made this word up myself a year ago!

Mad Cows (1996)

Maddy's first day out with her newborn takes a Kafkaesque turn when she's arrested in Harrods for shoplifting. If this is a miscarriage of justice, then detaining her in Holloway Prison's Mother and Baby Unit is the D&C.

The only person she can turn to is her hot-to-trot ex-lover Alex, who proves himself as useful as a solar-powered vibrator on a rainy day. When will he realise that a paternity suit is not the latest look in men's leisurewear?

How do you brief a lawyer with a heat-seeking penis which doesn't report to mission control? And why the hell is Maddy's friend Gillian searching for a sperm happy to get egg all over its face?

There's hard knocks and rude shocks in this devastastingly witty follow-up to Foetal Attraction. You'll split your episiotomy stitches laughing.

Elle (magazine review): Lette's bitingly sarcastic prose... breaks through taboos with a wit so daring that you'll grasp at her bravado before you laugh out loud.

For the curious, here are some of the chapter titles from Mad Cows:

  • Giving Suck
  • Taking the Bitter with the Suite
  • There's a Baby in My Bath Water!
  • The Clit-Lick Hilton
  • Kiss and Sell
  • The Sperm Liqueur
and perhaps most telling of all: Baby, it's Cold Inside

Girls' Night Out (1995)

The seven friends who get together for a girls' night out believe there are only two things wrong with men: everything they say and everything they do. In twelve brilliantly funny short stories, Kathy Lette reveals the hilarious, poignant and bawdy secrets women tell each other - when the men aren't around.

Altar Ego (1999)

"Query. Would it be a serious breach of etiquette to run out on my own wedding?"

This is the question Becky Steele asks herself as she clings to the window ledge of her parents' bathroom, grimly regarding the ten-foot drop into the dustbins below. She stares in disbelief at the meringue dress for which she has drunk only skimmed water for four weeks to fit into. This is a fairytale wedding, all right. Scripted by the Brothers Grimm.

The jiltee is Julian, human rights lawyer. He airs the world's dirty linen for a living. Basically, the man frees the world's underdogs from their kennels. So why can't Becky commit to this Knight in Shining Armani? Because as far as she's concerned, the word commit should only be used next to the word murder - which marriage surely is? Once married, will she never again get the urge to lambada naked in front of her pets? Never again be a painter of towns? Never again steal a friend's fiance? Never again give him back again? Yes, Julian's the right man. But has she had enough wrong ones?

Then there's the matter of the bionic buns of rock star toyboy Zack, a man so sexy he could open a deposit at a sperm bank. Nothing like a touch of IBS (Irritable Boyfriend Syndome) to make you horny and reckless with a complete and utter stranger. But having an affair with a younger man is exhausting. How can Becky keep herself going without drinking embalming fluid?

How amazingly tedious these jokes are! I don't know if they actually seemed "fresh" and "daring" in 1996 but from my vantage point now, good God, they seem so obvious and tired! I find myself laughing at them because they're such bad jokes. Some of them don't even make sense, of course: "so sexy he could open a deposit at a sperm bank"? Very good, very clever...

But of course the main thing here is that we see the Britain in which Tony Blair swept to power; the Britain for which he designed his persona, his manifesto and his party. I recall catching a bit of the first Bridget Jones film in which she was discussing the appeal of New Labour: "they're the party that's for single mothers, for liberalism, for gay people" sort of thing.

I just wonder how passe this all is nowadays. Of course none of it has the shock value of novelty that it might have had in the 1990s - "so you're gay, big deal..." - but is it also true that some of these things have not only worn thin but actually been "disproven" in any way?

I think that's definitely the case with single motherhood. I think most people nowadays believe that it would be better for couples to be together to raise children, even as our culture makes it an ever rarer phenomenon.

The gay thing is more complicated. I think it had really run its course - until this whole gay marriage question erupted a year or two ago (thanks mostly to politicians trying to divert attention from their economic incompetence and cultural spinelessness) and suddenly being gay, or rather being seen to be gay-friendly, is an issue again.

As for casual sex and casual drug use, I think we are very much living in the world the 1990s set up. (Of course other decades set it up too, but the 1990s was when it really crystallised and became "okay" to be a single mother who used cocaine and had gay friends and was nursing an affected interest in lesbianism etc. etc.) Casual sex might have been a sort of cultural status marker in the 1990s (look how liberated I am, I just don't care how many men I sleep with...) but nowadays it's not a status marker, because it's just so normal.

I would also say that multiculturalism was an implicit, if not explicit, part of the whole Cool Britannia thing. What I mean is it was just assumed, it was part of the new Britain without being self-consciously discussed. And multiculturalism is another thing that has now blown up in our faces. Some people still defend it as a concept and a working practice of social policy but I think most people are somewhere on the spectrum between "bored and ambivalent towards it" and "staunchly opposed to it and fearful about the future because of it".

Then there's feminism. I don't think this has much mileage left. Back in the 1990s if you were against women being in the workplace or women going it alone or women eating ice cream with their friends etc. you were just totally outdated and a misogynist pig. The new rules had been created over decades and now it was everyone's duty to show that they believed in the new rules. Well, I think things are different now. Of course there are still feminist crazeys like Laurie Penny, stretching out the "problem" as long as possible so that they can forge a career in spouting drivel they got from some witch from the 1960s that they only half-understand, but I think most people are just bored with feminism. Even my "career girl" sister-in-law doesn't bat an eyelid when I say that I'm against feminism, and before that, when I casually asked her if she was a feminist, quickly said "no, no..."

But, as the lefties say, the plural of anecdote is not data, so my own experiences probably count for little here. I just don't think that there's much left for feminism to demand, short of the castration and disenfranchisement of all men. They could ask for more child support and more women-only shortlists, but that's about it. They could also demand 50% female corporate boards etc. but I think that the absurdity of that is rapidly becoming obvious to people, so it only makes feminists look absurd when they moot the idea.

There are two other things that distinguish 2013 from the Cool Britannia era. The first is money. Looking back at that time, it appears to be sloshing with money! I don't know how real this was, or what the background was (success of Thatcherite policies?) but there is definitely a sense that, for example, London or Manchester in 1997 were places where "everyone was becoming middle-class". It's easy to see how New Labour fitted into that, both culturally and politically: "we can ignore the white working-class now", "there's loads of money to pump into welfare" and "everyone wants to be rich nowadays". Well of course, nowadays money is a lot tighter, or at least everyone knows that it should be.

The last thing that I would say differentiates 2013 from 1997 is perhaps more interesting: national identity. Obviously Cool Britannia was an absurd, lightweight and frivolous marketing slogan, and I don't think the Britpop party-goers and the BritArt set cared nearly as much about the Britannia as they did for the cool. If anyone had asked these people what it meant to be British, I imagine they would have just come out with the sort of vapid remarks that New Labour recycled endlessly: we're a tolerant nation, we're a liberal society, we're a caring society, we're a post-racial society, we're a gay-friendly society... which is to say that their notion of Britishness was nothing more, and nothing more specific, than their notion of every single Western country, only with the cosmetic add-ons of ironic bowler hats, funny upper-class walks and cheeky Cockney "wit".

But now... the question of Britishness has become much more serious, hasn't it? Of course this is partly for economic reasons - when there's plenty, people can afford to be and will be frivolous. And it's partly because of the Iraq War, a perverse remix of the days of the Empire when we would go and civilise distant barbarian lands. But most of all, I think, it's because of the number one issue, mass immigration. I won't go into that here. I just think it's interesting to contrast the worried nation of Britain in 2013, worrying about itself, what it is, even who comprises it, with the silly happy Britain of 1997.

Which brings me back to the point: the 1990s was a time when so many ideas were new and shocking, and celebrated precisely because they were shocking. Now those ideas are just old and boring and... failed. So much for the vivid colours and the over-exposure. I think we've had just about as much as we can take!
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Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Nathan » 02 May 2013, 06:56

Excellent essay, Elliott. I knew at the time that "something" (well, more than one thing!) wasn't right in the society in which I lived, but definitely couldn't put it into words the same way you have. You managed to describe the vapidity of the period well even without mentioning the "Girl Power" nonsense (how much money did all that make the men at the record company who probably came up with the phrase, I wonder?) A perfect antidote to any future nostalgic "everything was better when I were a lad" thinking - it wasn't.
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Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Gavin » 02 May 2013, 09:24

I remember the Nineties well and I believe that period defined some of the most harmful ideas we have seen for many years.

The Brit-Pop idea was, as you say, all about "girl pride" and generally being debauched but not really about Britain at all. It was a period during which drug taking was much glamourised to the kids (Pulp for the Es and whizz, Oasis for the cocaine) and feminism really started to get a grip and it became "unacceptable" to suggest that perhaps it was misguided.

Even in fashion and glamour, out went any softness, femininity or light in womens' eyes and in came the androgynous look, the skeletal models, the assumed superiority, the "heroin chic" look, Kate Moss etc. It heralded a selfish period for women which has, I believe, nowhere near been eradicated yet. From the Nineties onward women who risked staying at home to raise their own children risked ridicule from other women.

Also during this period talentless people like Tracey Emin got a grip and the most ridiculous modern art was valued at millions (thanks to people like Charles Saatchi). I was only looking at a review of an Enigma album last night. Some woman - a critic - who had probably never created anything herself, said of it in the mid-Nineties "It sounded okay in 1990, but now it's just embarrassing". I mention this not to draw attention to Enigma in particular (who, aside from the lyrics which are indeed inane, I do like) but more to illustrate the relativist mindset that also gained a grip at this time: nothing can be just "good", timelessly. If it is not contemporary, it is embarrassing. This - I think - idiotic, view is the opposite of conservatism. On this thinking, presumably the music of Mozart is even more embarrassing now.

New ideas can be good, but they are not good because they are new. Older ideas can be good too, and they do not necessarily cease to be good because they are older.

The Nineties, then, ushered in aggressive, narcissistic and damaging age of feminism and it also introduced a period of somewhat self-obsessed and almost nihilistic rock (Nirvana), an admiration of thuggery (Oasis), a fascination with androgyny (Suede, even Pulp) and more silly behaviour (I critique the accompanying ethos, not the sound of the music, some of which, of course, I like). Alongside this was developing, on MTV, the insidious culture of gangsta rap and hypersexualised hip-hop. I remember observing this on the screen while I was living in Camden Town. Black girls gyrating on car bonnets (hoods) etc., thugs gesticulating at the camera. It was the time of Tupac, Biggie etc. Much admired but apparently not very intelligent. Of course, it was already "racist" to breathe the slightest objection to this kind of thing, too.

One of the most popular TV shows of the whole of the Nineties was the X-Files. (If it was Miami Vice in the Eighties it was The X Files in the Nineties!) It's a bit of fun but it did showcase silly supernatural ideas, believe without evidence and so on. And of course it had the woman as the intelligent skeptic and the man as the irrational believer. Highly unlikely. This combination allowed women to pick and mix and indulge in the combination of thinking they were the sensible ones while still believing nonsense. So we started to see the sidelining and ridiculing of men.

One parent families rocketed during the Nineties and Blair got in in towards the end. That's when things really went into overdrive. All of these crazy ways of thinking culminated in his election. The quangos were created (I actually worked at one for a while, though I honestly hardly knew what it was at first and then tried to leave). Millions were borrowed and wasted on foolish socialist "grand projects". (We're paying for that now.) Welfarism and the culture of "entitlement" was indulged. What, with the Spice Girls and more, feminism went into a hitherto unseen frenzy of self celebration quite regardless of intrinsic individual merit (it was enough to just be a woman) and of belittlement of men. The moment Blair got in, also, he threw open the doors of Britain to the Third World and, well, we know where that has got us.

I write here of the broad cultural zeitgeist of the period - not all was bad - but the broad cultural zeitgeist is what is important to understand, looking back, I think, if there is any chance of learning from history. In some sense it was a hard (confusing and alienating) time for a boy growing up and it's been hard ever since, I think, because we live in a period of twisted truths where common sense is denied.

Now reality is having its effect - truths have become undeniable, Elliott, as you suggest. The culture replacers are being put on the run. Multiculturalism is evidently - in the main - a failure. But what more can feminists claim? I agree, nothing really. That is partly why they look so ridiculous. But they also look silly because if they had any sense, feminists would be campaigning for a return to the 1950s! "We should not have to go to work! You men should look after us! We are important, you know, we have your children!" I could not agree more. Work is in most cases hard and unpleasant. It's a drain. Just look at women on the underground, and they are mostly just doing admin jobs.

Those women would be a lot better off at home looking after children (doing part time work at most) with a loving husband going out to work. That would obviously be far better for the children, too. But feminism has destroyed that possibility and in the Nineties, as you say, even made "going it alone" and "being like a man" the aim. How horrible and unnatural. Worse, during that period if any woman did want to do that, she surely risked ridicule from her peers.

So I think the Eighties wasn't too bad in comparison - it was a bit of a window between the 60s/70s and the Nineties (though there was something of an acid house subculture towards the end). I do not think all the crazy ideas of the Nineties have yet been seen as that destructive (the shallow and selfish chick lit you mentioned seems to still be popular), but hopefully it's starting. Maybe as the cultural replacement continues people, even women, will start to call it for what it was and change their priorities a little.
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Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Paul » 02 May 2013, 09:32

Good observations Elliott.

Gosh, was that really going on in 1995 - the literature I mean? I thought it was only about the music and that the females went along with that much like they did in previous decades. I do of course remember 'girl power' but thought it was just the slogan of the Spice Girls.

Even so, trying to recall the flavour of those mid 90s years, it would initially seem it was an era of Nu Labour, and yet it occurred at a time of a Conservative government, albeit one in their dying throes. No wonder Labour gained the majority in 1997. This scene was made for them and vice-versa.

I will always remember a friend of mine, Andy, a mere 9 days younger than me asking - 'Paul, have you heard all this music that's about? Something about 'common people'........?' And he said this with a quizzical but slightly annoyed look.

I chuckled at his annoyance - he was talking about Jarvis Cocker (and band) and the song they had as a hit. I agreed I had heard it here and there and similarly, didn't know what it was all about. I agree it somehow annoyed me too.

We were only 32 years old. How quickly one can get set in one's ways. And yet I missed most of it really. Far too busy working like the clappers and dealing with children. Britpop, that 'rave music stuff', girl power, ectsasy - all stupid so we thought. What do they know about music and what are these 'raves'? They're all just 'pop festivals' gone wrong we surmised.

And yet, if I do now hear any tunes from the Britpop era, I am more forgiving. To some degree this is because it evokes some nostalgia but also, it sounds at least passably musical compared to what's around today. Less so than the 1980s by a considerable degree and the 1980s less so than the 1970s (by a massive degree) - only in my opinion of course. Then again, I don't really know what's around today - apart from (mainly) what I am educated about by the good folk of this forum. A very little in passing, though I mean a very little. I can't bear to look or listen.

But all that other stuff was going on back then was it? I see. This has educated me a little more. Stupid people more than common people. I'm glad I was right - as usual.

Wasn't 'Common People' about some well-heeled girl choosing a poor working-class boyfriend - and him then being somehow resentful of that? I bet Jarvis Cocker is a socialist. I do know he hails from Sheffield. He would have been better off in a steel mill, but alas.....

I do remember that 1995 was a good (hot) summer and that 1996 was dominated by thoughts of football in a big way. Euro '96, 'Gazza' Gascoigne and, I think, the emergence of the Spice Girls. The football was an affirmation of 'Britishness' though.

1997 was a dark year, though more so in hindsight. Tony Blair and Nu Labour. Shortly after he gained office he had a 'party' at number 10 and invited many of the protaganists of Cool Britannia, including Oasis. I knew definitively from that exact point that things weren't going to pan out at all well with this with chap as PM. I couldn't exactly say why but I very strongly suspected the man had some foolish and dark agendas. That suggestion he was one of the 'common people' was so obviously a lie and so obviously designed to bamboozle people via a feel-good factor.

Isn't it strange that in many ways, an era or decade is defined almost wholly by the music around at the time?
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Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Caleb » 03 May 2013, 00:44

The other thing about the 1990s, which I didn't realise at the time (I was 19 in 1995 and not really aware of the bigger picture) was that it was supposedly the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama wrote. The Cold War had been won and economic times were good. The West really didn't have any major crises or threats to deal with, be they geopolitical or economic. There were a few people protesting Nike factories abroad, but those weren't really issues affecting the average Westerner directly. In fact, cheap goods from abroad masked a lot of very significant structural issues in economics that had been emerging for decades. It was such an optimistic and carefree decade. It was so naive in retrospect.
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Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Elliott » 03 May 2013, 04:00

You all make good points, and I'm glad I've inspired some thoughts/memories about that strange decade (though, really, every decade is strange in its own way!). But Nathan, I would hardly call the OP an essay! It was just written off-the-cuff last night, as a result of encountering those ridiculous books. As a result I'm not sure that I got my point across.

I think that what I was trying to "zero in on" (!) is a sense of how the 1990s were a frivolous, and knowingly stupid, decade, with obscene money/consumption coexisting with smug liberal/nihilistic humour. Several quotes from the Kathy Lette canon should bring this out:

Knight in Shining Armani

arrested in Harrods for shoplifting

When will he realise that a paternity suit is not the latest look in men's leisurewear?

Taking the Bitter with the Suite

The Clit-Lick Hilton

The Sperm Liqueur

The jiltee

"Query. Would it be a serious breach of etiquette to run out on my own wedding?"

That last one is the worst, with its affected naivety. It reminds me of a (reported by a friend) voiceover in one episode of Sex & the City: "Are 20-something men the new designer drug?" These stupid questions can be answered so simply if the questioners actually had any intention of being serious. But they don't. They're daydreaming and indulging nonsense, because they can afford to, because their society is wealthy and everything (as Caleb pointed out) is "safe" at the End of History. There's nothing to worry about, so let's just be irresponsible idiots in as many exciting ways as possible.

It's a society drunk on comfort and frivolous with it, impervious to anything deeper, like morals or meaning. For the Old Left to see the Labour Party being swept up into all of that must have been heartbreaking. Mike has pointed out several times that the Old Left is a very different beast from the New Left, and I think that is a very good point. Indeed, given the sheer scale of the problems and pathologies unleashed by the New Left, I suspect many of us on this forum would actually have quite a lot of agreement with members of the Old Left, on moral if not economic matters.

Nathan, I did make brief mention of "girl power" at the very start. One interesting (not) tidbit about that phrase/concept is that it did not originate with the Spice Girls, but with an all-but-forgotten femme duo called Shampoo, two riff-raffettes from Plumstead for whom I had the hots at the time. I even collected their postcards! They did the song Trouble which might be a guilty pleasure blast from the past for some of us. Anyway, their big thing was "girl power" and they were understandably outraged when the Spice Girls pilfered it and, of course, diluted it to make it more commercial!

As for whether things were better in the 1990s... well it's impossible (for me, anyway) not to feel some nostalgia and curiosity about any period in my life, however misguided. The 1990s were when I went from being 7 to being 17, so the whole late childhood -> puberty -> adolescence odyssey happened, and during it I did all sorts of things, including collecting every Erasure album, EP, single and remix single from 1985 to 1998. (That's a lot of plastic, I can assure you.) Then there was a trip to London in 1997, my first time in London, and it was all so sunny and hot and intriguing, a completely new world compared to Scotland. And there was Britpop going on - I was a fan of 80s electronic music while all my friends were into the latest over-rated Britpop bands. I didn't like Britpop and I didn't like the 1960s music it was apeing. I was the only kid at my school who refused to choose between Blur and Oasis. Actually I liked Pulp, the LibDems to Oasis and Blur's Tories and Labour. I still believe Pulp were a very talented group; the Different Class album is fantastic IMHO, streets ahead of anything the other two brought out. And then, towards the end of the 1990s, Queer as Folk came on TV and I, wrapped up in my own sexual confusion, watched it and lapped it up. But I remember even then being aware, though I denied it to myself, that there was something cold and unhealthy about it. In one scene a gay teenager talks about how his dad doesn't understand him, and an older gay man fills in the words for the boy: "because he's not good enough", talking about the boy's father like he's a consumer product that could be replaced for a better model.

Gavin, I well remember heroin chic. At the time I was buying magazines (I can't recall which magazines they were, unfortunately) that had photographic/fashion features in each issue, and there was a time when every month it was another skeletal model sitting in a derelict warehouse with as much cultural detritus around her/him as possible, staring pale-faced into the abyss of narcissism etc. etc.

What you say about Enigma is a really good point, I think. I can't think of anything to add to it, but just want to register that I fully understand what you're saying and fully agree.

Regarding grunge, it was quite interesting to me that when I first went to college in 2000, some of the other students (from Blackpool) seemed stuck in the early 1990s. They wore grunge clothes, listened Nirvana, idolised Cobain etc. and had a general "huh" attitude about everything. There was something about them which seemed oddly old-fashioned, as if they were stuck in 1992 and hadn't noticed the new optimism that came with the mid and late 1990s. I would now describe their attitude as Generation X-style cynicism. I think this shows how much actually happened in the 1990s: we went from grunge through Britpop to the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. Or in film terms, we went from Total Recall to The Truman Show. Or, within the scope of a single director's output, from Alien 3 to Fight Club - the former (1992) despairing and the latter (1999) having found some kind of solution.

The less said about Brit Art the better. I think we're all agreed - probably even the artists themselves, as they cash their cheques - that the whole thing was and is a sick joke. Actually it was just ending when I was at art college in 2002. Nobody talked about Damien Hirst, and if the subject was raised a lecturer (recalling the good old days of 1995 when they could celebrate such pap and not be challenged) would voice some mild approval but the students were generally wary of the whole Brit Art thing, even as they made conceptual art pieces that were just as inscrutable (if not as gratuitously offensive).

I hadn't noticed that The X-Files was peddling a feminist narrative but I think you're probably right. It's certainly true that the guy was the unstable irrational one and the woman was the careful, sensible one - though we should add that it did turn out that the guy was right!

One other thing that happened in the 1990s is that we saw the start of what we now call "Blair-style managerialism". But it actually started before Blair; in a sense he was just responding to it and amplifying it. What I mean is, if I just think of my own secondary school, there were new, young, teachers there who clearly didn't care about their subject, or even about teaching, and were only there because they'd used the right buzzwords, ticked the right boxes and voiced the right platitudes - and they'd be up the career ladder and away from actual pupils as soon as possible. I've written about what happened in the R.E. department at my school; that was an object lesson in what was going on, I think. And doubtless it's just an awful lot worse nowadays. (To think! That silly young R.E. teacher on her first placement must be in her forties now...)

I suppose that links with the quango culture that you mentioned, Gavin: people in a workplace that has an outward social purpose, and a secret other purpose which is pure bureaucracy, self-aggrandisement and perks.

As for the broad cultural zeitgeist, yes indeed that is what we should take from each decade, if we are able to extract it from all the noise. I think the 1990s were partly to blame for the person I was at age 17/18. The nihilism combined with the material comfort produced, at least in me, a person who was deeply unpleasant. I've written an essay about this but it's not ready, and when it is I'll put it in the members-only section.

But I don't consider myself a product of the 1990s. I think I'm forward-thinking enough to have evolved. I was a year younger than those other students at college, the grungy ones, and I actually wonder if it's possible for them to be Gen-X and me to be a Millennial! Certainly our attitudes are quite different, though not dramatically.

Paul wrote:Even so, trying to recall the flavour of those mid 90s years, it would initially seem it was an era of Nu Labour, and yet it occurred at a time of a Conservative government, albeit one in their dying throes.

Yes, it is surprising to think that the whole Britpop thing was really over by the time New Labour settled in. By 1998 I remember people in the media (DJs and music critics etc.) saying that the party was over.

Wasn't 'Common People' about some well-heeled girl choosing a poor working-class boyfriend - and him then being somehow resentful of that? I bet Jarvis Cocker is a socialist. I do know he hails from Sheffield. He would have been better off in a steel mill, but alas.....

It's a better song than that description would suggest. It's a lower-middle-class guy (Jarvis) talking about/to his upper-class girlfriend who has said she just wants to see how common people live, she just wants to be with common people. He resents this because he thinks she's just playing a game with herself; even when she is in the midst and living with "common people", she could get out of it at any time just by phoning her father, so it's never real for her despite her pretensions. I do think it is a very good song and actually very honest. As for Cocker's politics, his mother is actually a Tory councillor (or was, at least) but he said recently that he doesn't support the Tories.

1997 was a dark year, though more so in hindsight. Tony Blair and Nu Labour. Shortly after he gained office he had a 'party' at number 10 and invited many of the protaganists of Cool Britannia, including Oasis. I knew definitively from that exact point that things weren't going to pan out at all well with this with chap as PM.

The funny thing about that party at No.10 is that everyone says it was the rebel (Oasis) selling out to the Establishment. I would say it was the Establishment selling out to the rebel by allowing such an uncouth man as Noel Gallagher into Downing Street.

Isn't it strange that in many ways, an era or decade is defined almost wholly by the music around at the time?

And images, Paul, don't forget the images...
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Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Rachel » 03 May 2013, 16:33

This thread brought back memories.
Those books Elliott wrote about remind me of "More" Magazine.
That magazine was immenesly popular in the 90's. There was a "position of the fortnight" feature. I remember an article exclaiming something like
"Are there still women who stay virgins till marriage? we managed to find a few to interview."
I remember feeling a bit inferior reading that because I was still a virgin. It is sad when a culture regards a woman who wants to wait till marriage as a freak or something unusual.
I'ed forgotton about the magazine for years despite the fact that it was a large part of my teenage years. I looked it up now and I found out that it is closing.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree ... assing-mum

I also liked Pulp but not Oasis or anything else in the 90's. Perhaps one of the reasons you, Elliott, and I like them is that they were really a 80's band that only came to fame in the mid 90's. Therefore they had a little more of the 80's feel to them. Common People" and "Disco 2000" are songs that could have been released in the 80's because they have a good tune hook, make heavy use of synthesizers and have lyrics that are thought out.
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Location: Israel

Re: 1990s nonsense (Britpop, Cool Britannia, girl power...)

Postby Caleb » 04 May 2013, 05:34

I remember once, out of the blue (I must have been in my early twenties), my father asked me if I'd seen the video for Firestarter. He had never seen anything like it before. I believe he used the word manic. I just watched that video for the first time in a long time, probably since it was released, and it is indeed still manic.
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