A place of politics, culture (!!) & random subjects from Airstrip One. Noel hopes it will be of interest and/or use to all sorts of voyagers in cyberspace!

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Culture with George Orwell

As anyone who examines the blurb at the start of this blog will see, this blog is supposed to be about culture as well as politics. I've neglected the culture somewhat since starting but I hope to rectify this a bit in the next few postings.

If I was asked to name my big 4 English cultural icons of the 20th Century (& there's not a lot to challenge them in the 21st Century thus far) I would say: (1) Works of George Orwell; (2) "The Lord of the Rings"; (3) The various outpourings of Monty Python: & (4) The Sex Pistols. So I will dedicate my next few blog posts to these 4, beginning with Mr E. Blair, who seems to have understood pop culture better than anyone since...

Homage to catatonia: Andrew Mueller is inspired by Orwell to produce a pop hit
The Guardian, Saturday March 8, 2003

In days like these, when the powers that be are working harder than usual to persuade us that two and two equal five, that we are at war with Eurasia - that we have always been at war with Eurasia - it is instructive to take another look at George Orwell's 1984.

On a recent re-reading, as the leaders of Airstrip One paraded exquisite doublethink - war, it seems, is indeed peace - in fluent newspeak on our telescreens, Orwell's words seemed more astute than ever.

But the thing that struck me this time was not the stuff that Orwell always gets credit for. His understanding of power, and appreciation of the importance of language, are all dealt with far better than they can be here in Christopher Hitchens' Orwell's Victory - Hitchens' recent reinvention as a sort of O'Brien to the left's Winston Smith notwithstanding.

What stunned me to the point of dropping the book was something I'd forgotten: that Orwell invented modern pop music. Detailing the work of Winston's employers, the Ministry of Truth, Orwell explains how the Ministry creates all the culture consumed by the wretched citizens of Oceania - films, plays, novels.

He then notes that it also does the same thing, "at a lower level", for the proles - the unwashed, uneducated, unwitting underclasses who teem in the slums, beyond Big Brother's reach or interest.

Among the diversions manufactured for this irredeemable peasantry are "rubbishy newspapers containing nothing except sport, crime and astrology", which may remind you of something, and "sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator".

What better description of the Pete Waterman pop which now dominates our charts - and, by extension, our shops, restaurants, and lives?

The present is an anodyne ballad, battering a human eardrum for ever and ever. Orwell describes a fictional song called It Was Only A Hopeless Fancy as "one of countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles" - a description applicable to anything by Westlife.

This has given me an idea. I'm going to form a pop group, called Versificator. I'm going to get a musician friend to crank out a suitably fatuous accompaniment on his computer (a total lack of organic input is obviously crucial).

We'll get some presentable young woman to sing Orwell's lyrics ("It was only a hopeless fancy/It passed like an April day" - deliberate rubbish, but compared to Atomic Kitten, positively Yeatsian) over the top of it. It will be a hit. In a world where people buy disco versions of Don Henley's Boys Of Summer, how can it not?

And we'll have pulled off a glorious prank, selling a cruel satire of the public's complicity in its own repression right back at it. They won't learn anything from it, they never do - they bought Girls Aloud - but we might make a few quid, and the inner glow of smugness will warm our hearts for years. Interested record companies can contact me via the address at the front.


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