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Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender Kindle Edition
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Jones argues that pop culture has gradually drifted to the right, particularly over the last ten years, cutting off one of the key avenues of self expression to all but those privileged enough to be able to be self sufficient. As a result protest against the untrammelled progress of ideological capitalism has been neutered at the same time that the constant and prolonged dismissal of working class society as 'chavs' has resulted in an all but conquered society.
It is difficult to read this book without feeling a growing sense of anger. Jones does not offer any answers, since that is not her purpose. She is simply pointing out the issues. Although this book uses pop culture, and specifically music, of the last twenty years as its theme, this is merely a lens through which to examine the changes society has undergone.
I would encourage anyone remotely interested in the current state of politics to read it.
It's a passionate lament, and the targets of Jones' ire are on the whole well-chosen. For example, she elucidates the class-inflected sneering of "I Predict a Riot", which heralded an era of dreary "landfill indie"; I am not, though, persuaded that Louise Werner altogether deserves the kicking she gets here. I would also note the sometimes rather joyless prose style - especially given her concluding advocacy of unapologetic hedonism. Overall though, this is an urgent and important contribution to a debate about contemporary popular music. It deserves to be read and discussed.
Where the book loses marks is that it is not the easiest of reads. It is a shame that a book exploring class lapses into some quite inaccessible use of language and a tendency to over-intellectualise. There is a tendency to long paragraphs and at times the text can be turgid, this is a shame because some very good points get buried and lost.
This is a book I would recommend, I look forward to a follow up.
The other problem with this section is that none of the examples given has anything to do with the pop industry. They mostly come from comedy shows, the gruesome Little Britain in particular. So the expectation would be at this stage in the book that the previous analysis of the female chav stereotype would now be applied to pop and show how working class performers were being sidelined in favour of posh young ladies.
Clunk! No such luck. Instead the book launches into that old cliché of Noel Gallagher and Alan McGee in a photograph with Tony Blair. Then there’s Damon Albarn’s support for the New Labour, subsequently withdrawn. And finally there’s the whole Blur versus Oasis thing. Is this middle-class arty boys versus salt of the earth working class Mancs? This is briefly discussed and then dropped.
There follows a strangely selective history of pop from 1996, the time of the Blair photograph, until about 2010. Bizarrely much of the focus is on male performers. Stranger still black performers are giving short shrift or not mentioned at all, so no, Massive Attack, Tricky or Dizzee Rascal. Foreign acts are ignored, although obviously artists like Beyoncé had a significant influence on British pop of the time. Most of the performers discussed are from the so called indie sector and there seems a distaste in discussing The Spice Girls or X-Factor, although I would have thought both of these need to analysed in detail in order to understand British pop in the fifteen years between 1995 and 2010 and gender stereotyping within it in particular.
There is a need for a class analysis of the music business in the UK, but it will not be easy. Class is a tricky concept to start with, becoming even more difficult when dealing with groups of people. Most bands are formed from musicians who tend to have a classless bohemian outlook and are not bothered by the social background of the new drummer, just whether he can play and shares the musical objectives of the rest of the group. So we have Ringo as the only unambiguously working class Beatle, LSE student Jagger joining with Richards from the working class end of Dartford, former independent school boy Joe Strummer in the Clash, etc.
Perhaps it is better to focus on solo performers, say white British women artists in the period 1995-2010. I can think of PJ Harvey, Amy Winehouse, Lilly Allen, Adele, Duffy, Joss Stone, Tulisa Contostavios, Florence Welch, Paloma Faith, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Kate Nash, Billie Piper, Cheryl Cole, Cerys Matthews, Beth Gibbons and Pixie Lott. It’s an odd mixture. True Florence Welch is outright posh, at least two come from families that owned businesses and a couple of the others went to fee-paying schools for at least part of their education, but it would be hard to argue that this was a wholly middle-class list. Why would this be the case anyway, because the working classes are a significant portion of the consumers of pop, so might be expected to support performers with whom they could identify?
There are more interesting questions than the class origins of the performer that arise from the list above. Firstly it is the number that attended performing arts schools and colleges, showing the extent to which pop has become professionalised by 1995. Secondly there may not be a class bias, but Londoners do seem to be disproportionately represented. Thirdly, if it is class you want, the two genuinely world class performers on the list (both from London and both alumnae of performing arts schools) come from modest backgrounds. And fourthly and perhaps most importantly, the widely diverging careers of the performers show Cheryl Cole on the one hand following Victoria Beckham (Sorry. I could not bring myself to include her in my list as it was supposed to be one of singers.) into the cult of celebrity, personal branding, product sponsorship and TV work, while the more middle class performers and those who broke out of their class origins pursue a more traditional route of album releases, tours and festival appearances.
There are middle-class ghettos in pop and Jones nails one. It is the number of indie bands that seem to spew out of the music departments of the independent school sector. No surprise that boys with access to music lessons, decent instruments, vehicles with which to move the instruments around and places in which to rehearse have a head start. Even their success despite their obvious limited talent (hence the term indie landfill) is not a surprise, as the legions of similar boys in other music departments in sixth forms and universities up and down the country (i.e. what in pre-internet days would have been the readership of the NME) are there to buy this stuff (and then send it to landfill or its digital equivalent as soon as they get married).
This book is a missed opportunity that fails completely to live up to its title. It is little more that a run through of bands and performers already analysed way beyond their true sociological significance by the music press and ignores or glosses over artists that do not conform to the author’s theories. The analysis is superficial at best and fails to support the author’s second-hand theories.
The frustrating thing is that this author has something really interesting to say about the takeover of our pop culture (as well as everything else) by the new ruling elite, but it's pretty hard to figure it out because of the weird style.
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