Tuesday, October 20, 2009

on Christopher Booker's The Neophiliacs: A Study of the Revolution in English life in the Fifties and Sixties

The Booker one is really interesting -- especially his view of Americanisation as malign, which he ties to the obvious well known forces (rock'n'roll) but also things i wouldn't have considered or even known about, e.g. the arrival of supermarkets, a new thing; or the liberalisation of gambling laws, with casinos opening in London for the first time; also the spy movie is a particular bug bear of his, the James Bond movies he credits as glamorising sex and violence in a new way! Although I love the Sixties and know quite a bit about them, I learned so much from reading this book, even with its very "anti" prism of looking at the decade. I think it's partly his odd methodology, which appears to have been to sit with piles of newspapers and work his way through the late 50s and Sixties year by year. It's lazy on one level, a chronicle, insufficiently analytic, but fascinating on another level --you get to know what the weather was like, how that affected the national mood. All kinds of little stories get included that a historian of the era operating later on might not include, like a reference to some kind of "power breakfast" that David Frost held with all kinds of cultural bigwigs and movers and shakers in attendance -- i'd never heard of this, no doubt a big deal at the time for a few weeks.

Another interesting tic is the way he often lists what school people went to, or university -- all part of his running theme of how the old social barriers were collapsing.

The overall theme is the idea of Sixties neophilia as a kind of collective national hysteria, a delusional mass mirage caused by media stimulation and faddishness that stoked its own appetite for newness leading to this spiralling upwards of demand that couldn't be satisifed, short of revolution, and could only crash and burn into bitterness and disillusionment -- history as a series of spasms of irrational exuberance ... which is quite convincing, especially looking at the market euphoria and crash of recent years, but also has this potent effect as you read, such that even a "Sixties fan" like myself finds the sense of it all being really quite insane is quite hard to shake off, you really start to see it through Booker's eyes. Of course his viewpoint is based on this totally Christian view of society as ideally being in a state of equilibrium, nothing should change, everyone knows their place and is humble and stoical and doesn't try to get above themselves or shake things up.

it is bizarre that Booker was so involved in the satire boom of the 60s but had this totally conservative worldview. and in the book he is quite critical of all those TV satire shows like That Was the Week That Was which is ... odd, and possibly hypocritical

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