International Writers Magazine: Comment
the past seven or eight years, I have spent more time in India
than I have in Britain. There are times when in India that I get
homesick. I have come to realise, however, that it is not England
that I miss but the idea of the place. The reality is somewhat
happened to Britain? The place where a pub existed on every street corner
and a church on every other one. Indeed, whatever happened to the British
pub? Its plight mirrors that of hollowed out British society. Many of
the churches are now empty shells, but the pub it has been transformed
into the modern theme bar, the theme being a
notion of the very tradition that was destroyed under the banner of
progress. Now that traditional communities have
been swept away and lost, there is a media-induced thirst for what once
was. Or, more precisely, to a fairytale, misty-eyed view of the past,
bogusly reproduced and resold for profit.
The modern pub: mass-produced real ale, wooden
floorboards and old-world mythology. There is a huge profit in nostalgia,
even if the whole thing is a massive con trick. People now sip at the
trough of make-belief sentimentality of how they think things
used to be. But it is not how it really used to be; it is how it is
now a theme world dreamt up by advertising executives and consumer
trend analysts. It is a cynically manufactured reality, which quenches
the thirst for community lost.
Britain is now a place of quick-fix divorces and immediate gratification,
where the notion of community has been bulldozed away by a society that
worships at the altar of the individual. I just have to look at the
various web sites of UK newspapers to cringe at the result. A black
boy gets an axe embedded in his skull just for being black: he dies.
In a case of road rage, a man gets out of his
car and attacks another with a crowbar for beeping his horn at him.
Womens health is in danger because so many now indulge in binge
drinking on a regular basis. You only have to walk down the vomit-soaked
streets on any Friday night in any city centre to see the grip that
The last time I was in the UK, I was in my local post office when a
man ran in, attacked the cash delivery man with a cosh, and made off
with the takings. It must have been the third time that something like
this happened at that office in the last 18 months. As the thief absconded,
I thought to myself: Welcome home!
When I am back in Britain, I will only realise that I am there for sure
when I see shopkeepers and cashiers caged in behind reinforced glass,
and when I walk down the road, or enter a shop or a railway station,
only to see CCTV cameras pointed at me. The almost ubiquitous arm of
law and order has found its way into every nook
and cranny of public life in the UK.
CCTV came into its own when certain peoples livelihoods were being
stripped away in the name of producing a flexible
and cost-effective workforce, again in the name
of progress. They couldnt become fully paid-up members
of the consumer society, so they were sacrificed on its altar.
The legacy has been a permanent underclass of people who cannot pay
their way. They are now surplus to requirements: a drain
on welfare resources at best and a threat to society at worst. It was
impossible to wall them in on their housing estates, so CCTV became
the next best option. In order to root out the unsavoury
elements everyone is now on screen. Paranoia at its finest.
And entertainment on TV is not much better. It is part of the same act.
The advertisements and the game-shows that interrupt the commercial
breaks are exponents of the kind of self-seeking materialism that now
all too often passes for entertainment. Why be aware of the worlds
ills and challenge anything when you can live in the dark, drink Pepsi,
wear Reebok and shop till you drop? It is a consumer paradise where
unfettered desire is a virtue and obsession is the faith.
The poor old Brits can see no way out. For instance, they are disengaging
from party politics, and who can blame them? Theres little to
choose from. In recent times, the shaping and controlling of agendas
has meant that the threshold of opinions considered subversive
has grown: forms of political involvement are
encouraged which seek to guarantee integration and participation,
rather than forms of action that may lead to a direct questioning of
or a challenge to prevailing forms of institutionalised power.
Consensus is manufactured both in cultural and
political terms. Political discourse and much of the popular mass media
is void of analytical debate, and even the news has become public theatre,
often presented in emotive, one-dimensional, human-interest
Harold Macmillan, the Tory Prime Minister in the 1950s, once told the
Brits that 'theyd never had it so good', as a result of rising
post-war affluence. Times have changed since then, from a period of
factory labour trade unionism to an era of consumerism and gleaming
shopping malls bathed in designer lifestyle propaganda. Maybe now its
a case of youve never had it so bad as
people drown in their Friday night vomit, shop till they drop for things
they dont really need or indeed want, arrange the next credit
loan from their banks, and bask in their emptiness by watching TV with
eyes wide shut. Yes, its the idea of England that I miss, not
Todhunter June 2006
of a Travel Writer
Lifestyles and Comment
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