The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today ran Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill’s essay on the peculiar police state Britain is becoming – in which light, sound, and even the so-called classics of Western culture are all mere tools of the never-ending battle with hoodies, chavs, and ASBO’s.
His piece revolves around a growing number of communities in which classical music is being used to either punish or discourage young people – be that exposure to Mozart in after-school detention, or the use of Shostakovich to keep kids from loitering in various public places. It’s revelatory to see the way that Britain – well, let’s face it, England – has become so security-minded as to turn an entire generation of its populace against the very cultural foundations that we in the West allegedly hold so dear. (Of note, however, is the anti-hoodie playlist, which, at least amongst O’Neill’s brief mentions, boasts no Benjamin Britten, no Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney, Frank Bridge or John Ireland. Even when dispersing hooligans, xenophobia plays its part.)
That old British troublemaker, Class, seems to rear its head in the argument, too. Why is it that this generation of hoodies implicitly understands classical music to be punitive? Is there that little exposure – rivaling or event beating-out the lack of arts education in America – that this music is understood from birth to be below even “uncool”? Or is there an understanding that this is music attached, by its very origin and nature, to a Class – that it is understood to be beyond the pale for anyone without an Eton jacket or at least a closet full of Midsomer Murders DVDs?
In the 1950s and early-1960s, the ruffians of the English underculture took their implicit cultural non-existence and turned it on its head, as Teddy Boys and Mods re-imagined the Edwardian dandy and the tailored City banker as street-savvy knife merchants, making dangerous fashions out of the very cloth they’d been taught to read as of a superior class. More recently, before being entirely taken over by the more “casual” side of Casual and the hip-hop elements of funky and grime, the more violent elements of English society turned Burberry, Hackett, and other top-name brands into signifiers of street crime and football extracurricular activities – to the point that as recently as 10 years ago there were pubs with “No Burberry” signs on their doors. (In a rather nasty pub I once met a footie lad of the scariest variety – scar-faced and black-eye’d (glad not to have seen The Other Guy) – and realized that his outfit a) Cost more than my rent and b) would’ve gotten him on the A-list at any ritzy Manhattan gay bar. I did not mention this.)
Might it be that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see the love of Ludwig Van espoused by Anthony Burgess’ thugs come to a true fruition – that Mahler and Mozart will be the watchwords of a new breed of horrific post-ASBO mugs? That the thunderous conclusions of Frank Bridge’s The Sea (Suite) will become, like a Burberry check or an Edwardian pocket-watch, the nationalist’s pastoral – the signifier of a hidden Stanley knife and a nasty disposition? Maybe my sick admiration for the urban bricoleur is too twisted to be trusted, but somehow it just seems right. And the idea of dodgy Dagenham pub filled with football lads swaying glasses to Ivor Gurney is just sci-fi enough to adore.