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The Neophiliacs: Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties Paperback – 12 Nov 1992
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Around the mid-1950s, on a wave of technological advances, Western civilisation moved into a period of prosperity dwarfing anything that had ever gone before. How golden was this age of affluence? How did it come to spawn a legend? The Fifties and Sixties are said to have witnessed sexual, artistic and scientific revolutions, the explosion of youth culture, the creation of a classless society. The New Aristocrats were pop singers, clothes designers, actors and actresses, film-makers, photographers, artists, writers, models and restaurateurs. Christopher Booker disentangles fantasy and reality, the ephemeral from the enduring. He charts the rise and fall of a collective dream.
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I first read Christopher Booker’s “The Neophiliacs” in 1972, quite soon after its paperback release, when I was writing my student thesis on 20th century pop culture. This book explores the social and cultural changes which shook Britain between c.1950 to c.1968.
Booker’s theory is that many works of high art through the centuries, and many political and social events which changed and shaped the world in general, go through a five stage “fantasy cycle”: 1 Anticipation; 2 Dream; 3 Frustration; 4 Nightmare; 5 Death wish.
Booker recounts the history of Britain (and other notable wordly events), as they progress through that 5 stage cycle. Theatre, Parliament, music, cinema, newspapers, fashion, all are dealt with as the cycle rises and falls and rises again.
Fascinating theory. Can be a good book to dip in and out of according to need.
The book follows the events from 1955 to 1967 or 1968 very closely and it was fascinating to have the gaps in my knowledge and memory filled in (I was six years old in 1964). To have written it so soon after the events themselves shows precocious insight and intelligence. The role that fantasy, and mass fantasy or mass delusions, play in modern life does not seem to be widely known. I was interested to see a video on YouTube by Booker recently about AGW. He has written an very informative book about it called The Real Global Warming Disaster and I was interested to hear him in the video applying the same fantasy framework, although the stages were slightly different to those in The Neophiliacs. All these fantasies, mass delusions and witch hunts seem to have certain common elements, including the deliberate perversion of justice (Richard Webster calls it good cause corruption) or research, intimidation of those who refuse to go along with the fantasy and deceit. I believe that many of these fantasies are coalescing under the banner of political correctness.
A prominent kind of modern fantasy is the paedophile ring witch hunt. Booker doesn't address these, and is quite possibly unaware of their extent or even existence. The late Richard Webster's website, Sceptical Essays, is a good introduction. He died before the Jimmy Savile witch hunt came along and would be interesting to have heard his views as it shares the same elements as the others, including Bryn Estyn, Casa Pia in Portugal and Shieldfield. An important subset of this group is the anti-clerical abuse fantasy, which raged in Ireland from the early 1990s and is still bubbling along. The reference there would be Rory Connor's Irish Salem website.
Booker wrote an important book about the European Union and it seems that he sees this as fitrting into the fantasy framework too.
The Neophiliacs is an important and disturbing book. It seems that when he wrote it the fantasy cycle was only getting into its stride. While it is clear that episodes of mass fantasy and hysteria occurred regularly throughout history I think they have become more intense and dangerous since the Fab Sixties. Webster's excellent long two-part essay on the The Flat Earth News points out the danger to a modern society that believes it is immune to it. My own particular area of interest here is the role of extraverts (another of Jung's ideas). From what I can see these are the people who get swept along most wholeheartedly by fantasies and witch hunts (what 'everyone else' believes, or appears to believe, is of vital importance to them - see Dorothy Rowe) but they are also, paradoxically, the very people who can provide the analysis and insights to understand them. As it happens, Jung was an extravert and I believe Booker is. It is interesting how in the book, when talking about 1965, Booker identifies the sensation-seeking or sensationalist character of the fantasy. This is, of course, an extravert trait.
When I first read this, Booker's magnum opus, sometime around 1970, I threw it across the room. Didn't this fool realise the world had changed - nothing would ever be the same, and he and 'his kind' were heading for the 'dustbin of history'.
Then the 70s happened. A prosperous and easy-living country was brought to its knees by madmen in the unions and government. Following the destruction of the grammar schools, state school admissions to Oxford and Cambridge slumped from the records they had set during the 60s. The country was both more violent and, worse, in love with violence for its own sake. Films and TV of the time made this pleasure all too clear(eg If). And disaster seemed to follow disaster - the railways destroyed, the loss of the motor industry,increasing violence against teachers, the unspeakable IRA, drugs,... Yet at the same time, life seemed to get more and more comfortable as central heating and cars became ubiquitous. What could be going on?
I re-read The Neophiliacs. And I set about finding out for myself where Booker got his ideas,how his predictions, predilections and diagnoses seemed so prescient, ....so True...
I read Jung. I studied for a degree in philosophy and psychology...I read and read. For almost 30 years I tried to understand what was bothering him. Suddenly it dawned - I realised that the basis of his fears is the loss of the human conscience, which he claims is a result of the destruction of Christianity. It is a process he associates with the coming of a collectivised, mediocre world where the individual human spirit is to be crushed forever. So much for the ad homs of the 'progressives' who rightly sense a powerful and well-informed adversary in Booker.
Though the New Aristocracy has perished as surely as the era they represented, their legacy stays on in the ceaseless steam of pornography and phallic assertion shown by the mass media. Through pleasure, they seem to say, we can stay in the 'Land of the Young' forever. But this is not possible. For, as Booker is trying patiently and unfailingly politely to explain to us, children will always need a Father Protector after they have finished smashing up the place. The Jimmy Savile horror shows us what happened when we can no longer distinguish the adult from the child. In the age of the minnow, Booker sees through a glass darkly.