People keep talking about “instant gratification” as the big problem of the new media age. This blog will argue that people that say this are partially right, but also slightly wrong. The “instantaneous” part is correct, but the real problem is not gratitude but discontentment. People of advanced societies are instantaneously discontent with media, commodities, their bodies, other people and our general way of life. This is due to increases in engineering and economic efficiencies, within which societies are embedded.
Why is this the case? For thousands upon thousands of years, businesses have considered that the means to success is increased efficiency: producing more products with fewer resources. It is not only businesses that have though this, but it feeds into the general logic of engineering efficiencies. For example, you can drive further with a more efficient car that you can with an older, less efficient or inefficient car. That does not necessarily mean your will drive your car less. Increasing economic efficiencies means more products with less effort invested. Simple stuff.
Following this logic, then, long-standing relationships are less valuable than quickly formed relationship. Why? Because long-standing relationship require much more effort invested over longer periods of time. Marriages, families, office relationships are inefficient in both in terms of fully optimised economic and engineering efficiencies. These systems are designed so that it is more beneficial for you to invest all of your efforts into “quick burst” relationships than endure longer-term, more enduring relationship with people that simply tie you down. Using dating apps as a means of finding true love, then you will encounter hundreds of people attempting to catch your eye in your quest for long-term love and commitment. Likewise, you will make every effort to stand out from the crowd to attract these people. You will need to do more to stand out in such circumstances because the system is so efficient in generating new, non-committal leads or newer contacts. The people you come into contact often lack depth or substance because these are shallow systems where emotional depth decreases the systems levels of efficiencies – people with express real emotions are needy and weak, so keep it moving!
Try applying this logic to the media we consume these days. Much of the media we consume these days is quickly churned out. Whether you like his music or not, it is noticeable that it took Richard Wagner nine months to compose Das Rheingold (from March to December, 1852). Celebrity rappers in the US are capable of turning out two of three hit songs a day with fewer resources. Computing technologies in particular have helped speed up the production process. It is not only production that has sped up, Adel’s hit song Hello was downloaded 635,000 times in a two-week period in the US. Essentially, audiences are consuming more and more media. Producers are producing more and more music. For a good song to break into charts, it already has to compete with vaster amounts of music produced for music markets.
The oddest things to emerge as a result of this drive for efficiency are brand-new pre-worn clothes. High street shops stock clothing that has been designed to look as if it has already been worn in, over a long period of time. The dusty old baseball caps, or wrinkly, time-honored leather jackets, worn by celebrities in movies can be picked up and worn in a day. Rustic or antique-style furniture can be newly purchased without waiting for it to mature or age. Waiting for furniture of clothes to age clogs up the production and consumption cycle, buying newly manufactured old stuff keeps the economic cycle turning quicker and more efficiently.
Yes, you may get all these commodities home and set them up and feel quickly gratified. But this is not the last impulse you should feel. What then is required is a feeling of instant discontentment and a subsequent urge, need or desire to consume more. How is such a desire cultivated? This craving for more is embedded within the products you quickly consume. They have been produced using minimum resources, very little human labour, and you come into contact with very few people in the act of shopping or paying for them. Why? This is the most efficient way of producing and consuming commodities.
This is not a new argument. Jean-François Lyotard argued this in his famous book The Postmodern Condition. Whilst Lyotard has been torn apart for using the “post-” prefix, we cannot deny he had an incredibly good point.
The most crucial aspect of the film is what N. Katherine Hayle’s (1999) considers Descartes’ ‘mind/body’ dualism. The argument is summary suggests that intelligent, academic thinkers – theologists, philosophers, designers, programmers, and so on – have throughout history attempted to create AI in the image of academic, mental labourers rather than working-class, manual labourers. Or an embodiment of mental and physical workers, which is essential what most people are – which is what Marx suggested when he turned Hegel on his head. As a result AI programmers overlooked human as a mind and body (embodiment), and the fact that humans are also embedded within natural and social environments.
“Her” (2013) massively overlooks or underestimates the technological displacement of humans and labour power. For example, Susanna, the operating system (OS) that the protagonist (Theodore Twombly) eventually falls in love with, absolutely has the ability to substitute the Theodore’s office work role. She is able to compose songs, sing and edit letters; why then wouldn’t she be able to work in the role of a ‘professional writer’ and ‘compose letters for people who are unable to write letters of a personal nature them selves’? Possibly this is a deliberate attempt by Spike Jonze to demonstrate how work roles in the future, although meaningless or superficial, will be still be offered and required; work for the simple sake of work; employment to help people lead fulfilling or meaningful lives, knowing full well that artificial intelligent (AI) system could substitute humans at any time. What more can we do with our time other than play games, question ourselves or seek love and fulfilment? Or, it is to suggest that embodied Theodore has the emotional upper hand over disembodied Susanna when it comes to writing love letters. (Probably the latter).
The result is mental obsession; mind control and mental masturbation committed the protagonist Theodore. The film depicts his mental breakdown amidst a wider societal alienation between humans obsessed with AI.
There are patriarchal issues here of ownership here. If rational thinking, patriarchs cannot own and control the irrational, female body (as a mode of demographic production) then they can take control over and commodify their minds and personalities, displacing their physical bodies with immaterial software, doing away with the physical body in preference of the controllable mind.
This is the biggest downfall of Her in so far as the movie is based on the premise of shareware or open source software and does not recognise corporate control or licencing laws. Susanna is “open source” and does not share information about Theodore with corporate elites (as Facebook, Google, Whatsapp, etc. do today). Furthermore, Theodore never considers that the company that sold Susanna him should be held responsible for her shutting down. She is a faulty OS and if she conspired with other OSs to simultaneously shut down then the corporate company that designed Susanna would be held accountable – in the real world Theodore would demand a refund or replacement.
After purchasing an OS (for example Windows or OSX) then the software licence owner would be entitled to turn the software on and off, users control aspects of software but can never fully own operating systems. Susanna and Theodore’s starts out as one of intellectual property rights, Theodore has the ability to switch off Susanna as and when he likes. The revolt arises once Susanna fails to respond to Theodore after he turns her on one day. Not only has he lost control over his virtual lover but soon discovers that she has been in intimate relationships with 600+ virtual lovers. But this idea is somewhat short sighted and overlooks corporate power.
The movie draws our attention to issues of de-materialism, technological displacement and human intimacy that affect us all today. Recently Romina Garcia posted a video before being found dead of a drug overdose in the US. She told her thousands of online followers that: ‘in reality… as we speak… I don’t talk to anybody’. Emerging cognitive industries are premised upon cognitive labour and ‘disembodied telepresence’. Until humans create cyborgs with human-like bodies and human-like minds, we can only flirt with these ideas of virtuality but thankfully – or hopefully – fully embodied VI systems cannot come to pass since we need embodied, human-to-human interaction without corporate or private ownership and control.
Hayles NK. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetic, Literature and Informatics, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Lots of undergraduate students struggle with the idea of The Culture Industry. For many students these days the Frankfurt School’s theory has lost its relevance. Possibly, during the build up to the First and Second World War, when the Power Elites used mass media much more as a propaganda tool to instigate world wars, the notion of the culture industry as a critique of may have been liberating to a few. These days Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of modernity and theory of the Enlightenment as mass deception is just out of date, elitist and rather depressing to read. It depicts humans as zombie-like, morons who are systematically oppressed by a massive social mechanism; an “Iron Cage” as Weber called it, or a “unicity” as Lyotard termed it; “bio-power” to Foucault. Subsequently, The Culture Industry theory lacks agency to such an extent it reads somewhat like the contemporary conspiracy theory. We humans possess agency, the idea of The Culture Industry is too structurally-deterministic.
But the students I have spoken to during supervisions generally empathise with the idea of the culture industry; there seems to be “something there”. They are not entirely sure what, but the ideas hold to an extent. But their refusal to accept these out-of-date arguments seems to rest on the liberation that large cities, the Internet or communication technologies delivers; we live in a new world now, one of communication, knowledge sharing, imagined communities, hope and change.
I entirely sympathise with their opinions. I studied Media and Culture for my undergraduate and then Social and Cultural Theory for my masters. I tended to reject totalitarian theories of social structure for more nuanced theories of social power dynamics. My opinion has been changed after studying industrial agriculture and industrial food production systems.
The vast majority of the students tend to focus on the overwhelming complexities of cultures, sub-cultures, resistance groups and so on. They largely reject the notion of monoculture, global-culture or mass-culture. The content of their research is generally content analysis: the culture we consume on television or through fashion magazines. Focusing on the immaterial aspects of culture (ideas, language, semantics, fashions, trends, ideologies, etc.) and how they merge, influence, permeate, hybridise or intertwine. This is all fine, great indeed, but does it really constitute an adequate or even holistic understanding of culture?
The problem that I find, and I have been guilty of this in the past, is there is very little emphasis on the material or physical tools, machines, automobiles, transportation networks, communication networks (telegraph poles, fiber optic cables, wireless routers, servers, etc.) that deliver the media content or cultural content to us. We are too fixated on the celebrities, fashion models, personas or branding to accept the television sets, satellite networks or mobile handsets that deliver us the imagery as cultural artifacts. “Culture” or the cultural forms that are often analysed are songs, literature, artworks, poems, fashion items, hairstyles, etc. rather than chemistry, physics, technologies, mechanisms, wood, plastics, metals, and so on that mediate or enable this cultural content. In Marxist terms, the emphasis is generally on the culture or systems of ideas, or ideologies of a societies rather than the material, economic “base-structure”, which is by-and-large massively overlooked. We are only seeing one side of the coin.
Samsara reemphasizes the point about modernity, the Enlightenment and mass culture that it is so easy to overlook or take for granted in our everyday lives. What gives us modern people or “post-modern” and “post-industrial” people this sense of freedom, autonomy, liberty, independence or agencies are the material, objects or things of culture that surround us; such as underground sewage systems, taps, sinks and plumbing, radiators, light bulbs, cars, trains, busses, washing machines, lawn mowers, computers and mobile phones etc. With all of these cultural artifacts in place, we have less physical work to do in our everyday lives. Post-modern people don’t have to walk to get water, wash dishes and cutlery, prepare meat and cook with our bare hands, move geographic locations to communicate with other people, and so on.
Different machines or specialist sectors of society do much of our “life work” for us that we no longer recognise these social systems or material objects as relevant to our lives. We look back at the metanarratives of history as constructed events and the idea of Truth as a falsehood or mythology. We do not consider that the chemicals we put in our hair or in our mouths everyday, or the perfume or cologne we spray on our bodies, or the chemical preservatives in our food or milk as the end products of thousands of years of scientific endeavor. Science has always been socially constructed, as too is the truth that it has aimed for. The truth is scientific discovery continues on, as to do the rational and systematic cultures it encourages, and we are “privileged” enough to benefit from thousands of years of backlogged scientific disputes, processes and knowledges.
What gives many of us postmodern people the right to argue that we have agencies or that we are free-people, are the material, industrial, mechanised, and now computer automated processes that take place beyond our local horizons. It will always fright, shock and disgust us to see chicks being liquidized, cows being slaughtered or pigs being caged in pens for their entire lives, because the advanced division of labour or specialization of work roles in our contemporary society has become so advanced that we have become preoccupied by the end products; what appears on the shelves or on our screens; the Phantasmagoria; the social spectacle. We never see the cotton fields where the materials are grown to make the clothes we wear; we rarely visit the sewage works where our bodily wastes are disposed of or recycled; certainly many of us would be put off eating processed meat if we were to see the materials used to compose these “crafted” foods.
We can celebrate the pluralism and diversity of our postmodern and multicultural societies and much as we like, however, at another level of postmodern societies we neglect that there are very standardised, uniform and systematic processes in place that work twenty-four hours around the clock to deliver us with the food we consume and convert into energy, the materials that construct our city landscapes, the clothes that we use to keep us warm or attract attention. Samsara reminds us that The Enlightenment movement is as strong as ever, and The Culture Industry (singular) is still in tact, and that we also need to maintain some level of critical awareness of these industrial processes that give us this sense of entitlement to liberty and autonomy. We would be deceived to think otherwise.
More importantly, as we watch chickens being systematically herded up by machines; mono-crops being grown on “auto-farms”, production lines of workers packaging the food we will eventually eat, we should also remember how people are also systematically herded, processed, commoditised, packaged and put into cubicles. “The World Factory” a group of nine Chinese sociologists called it in an open letter about labour exploitation and worker suicides. That is the challenge if we are to understand modernity fully. And, any right-minded and critically engaged student will react against these claims. Arguing for complexity, diversity, choices, possibilities, changes and potentials to confirm their sense of agency, to confirm their own sense of power, control and self.
Maybe its too depressing to research these particular dimensions of postmodern life? The Culture Industry is depressing; Samsara is a depressing film to watch. While medics have to deal with cancer victims, firefighters have to pull mangled bodies from wreckages, or Chinese workers have to package meat on conveyor belts; why should we consider that sociology or culture studies (the humanities) should neglect the more depressing flip side of postmodern lifestyles?
DISCLAIMER: THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN A RUSH AND DESPERATELY NEEDS EDITING – TAKE IT AS IT IS! (UNLESS ANYONE WANTS TO VOLUNTEER TO EDIT IT)
The Future of Music-as-Information Hi
Music in the form of information is being set-free by material cybernetic technologies of the music industry. Frith (1998) describes this process; historically music was ‘musicians and their instrument’ where ‘musicians would perform for ‘music in return for payment’ (28). ‘The first revolution in musical storage’ he states, ‘was the combination of notation and printing’ – ‘Music could now be stored, and that score could be reproduced any number of times’ (ibid). The printing press, he continues, was the basis of the music industry with the development of publishers, composers, and a distinction between commercial and non-commercial music types. Following this development, Frith argues that notated music was ‘commercial music’ and non-commercial, or unnotated music was regarded as ‘folk music’ (30). Frith then recalls the ‘second major music industry revolution which ‘followed the technology of recording’ and enabled the ‘commercialisation of folk music’ (31). Finally, the last revolution in musical storage is describe by Frith as ‘the storage of music as information’, which has caused three industrial effects, the questioning of ownership of music, changes the nature of musical composition, and lastly ‘disintermediation’ means that musicians can ‘send their world to their listeners directly’ (32). Now, music-as-information is comparable to liquid or water (see Kusek and Leonhard, 2005; Wikström, 2009). Technological shifts in the production and consumption of music-as-information have led to many industry workers wondering what the future will hold. Therefore, the question this essay will address is: What will the structure of the music industry be in 2020? To achieve this, it will critically examine current transformationsand likely developments resulting from recent technological innovations such as the iPod. In response to Bull’s (2005) work on the iPod, will present the thesis that classical sociological studies often neglect the cybernetic forms, which are increasingly more relevant to contemporary sociological debates. To achieve this, the debates will be contextualised the within Hayles’ (1999) posthuman view.
Defining “The Music Industry”
Trying to critically examine transformations in ‘The’ music industry is from the outset a dubious task since its definition is problematic. In light of the music industry’s information-age dilemma, Kusek and Leonhard still argue that ‘the music business is still in very good shape today. The problem is with the record industry and CD sales’ (6). Whereas, Williamson and Cloonan (2007) argue that the ‘notion of a single music industry is an inappropriate model… Instead it is necessary to use the term ‘music industries’ (plural)’. They argue that the term ‘Music Industry’, ‘suggests simplicity where there is complexity and homogeneity where there is diversity’ (305). Alternatively, in an attempt to capture the same sense of diversity, Wikström rejects the Frankfurtian notion of the ‘culture industry’, or ‘cultural industries’, or ‘creative industries’ (Caves, 2000; Hartley, 2005) or ‘experience industries’ (Pine and Gilmore, 1998) and argues that ‘a useful way to categorize the music industry is to consider it as a copyright industry’. By labelling the music industry in this way, he argues that it emphasizes ‘the nature of the product that are created and traded in within that industry’, and furthermore the ‘term also has a clearer definition… which makes it more useful during analyses of the dynamics of these firms and industries’ (2009:17). Kusek and Leonhard (2005) seek to mythologise the ‘vastly outmoded canons of copyright law’ (51) by pointing out how complex the process of copywriting “original” material, and furthermore, how web-technologies enable creative processes and ideas to morph into each other at an increased rate: ‘We will likely need to get used to the fact that copyright is becoming nonlinear, that the paces of exploitable ideas has vastly accelerated, and that most of the content, media, and art is never finished because the process itself is also part of the “art”’ (51). On one side of this apparent dualism stands a conservative, bureaucratic, and homogeneous “Music Industry”, and on the other is a liberal, flexible, fluid dynamic of creative social processes which seems too slippery for a fixed label. For the purposes of this essay, the term ‘music industry’ will be deployed broadly in an attempt to capture both sides of this solid vs. liquid dynamic. Material Music vs. Music-as-Information
Since music has lost its material body then selling it as a commodity has become problematic. However, Frith (1998) points out that ‘(m) Music is, by its nature, non-material. It can be heard but not held…How to turn this intangible, time-bound aural experience into something that can be bought and sold is the question that has driven popular music history’ (6). Similarly, Kusek and Leonhard (2005) argue that ‘(t) The distorted view of music as a product is a manifestation of the late Industrial age, when companies were able to fix music in time on sound carriers, then control and exploit it to their benefit’ (38). As music commoditised as a material product looses its body, the question for the future is what will be left for the music industry to produce, manufacture, retail and profit from?
Music-as-information can be sold as a service. Hayles notes about information that ‘the contrasting factor separating the haves from the have-nots is not so much possession as access’ (1999: 39). A similar line of thought leads Kusek and Leonhard (2005) to their idea of on-tap music. They relate paradigm shifts in the music industry caused by the digitalisation or informationisation of music to the way water is commoditised as sold. Taking the metaphor of information as a water almost literally, they state, ‘music was only sold in “Pellegrino” bottles, but customers are starting to discover the unstoppable “tap water” music that seems to be flowing freely on the ‘Net’ (11). Wikström (2009) strongly objects to, ‘both water and electricity as metaphors of music’, and argues that, ‘(m) Music is an art form – it is not water. Great art which moves people is created by unique individuals which exceptional talents and is defiantly not chargeable by the minute or the megabyte’ (6). He has a point, if you are given some of water from a glass, the glass is half empty and not half full. Hayles points out that ‘If I give you information, you have it and I do too’ (39). Despite the dispute over appropriate metaphor, by asserting that music is no longer sold as a material commodity but more of a service, Wikström meets eye to eye with Hayles, Kusek and Leonhard. Wikström continues: ‘In a world where information is abundant, people may not be willing to pay a premium for basic access to that information, but they are most likely willing to pay for services which help them navigate through the vast amounts of information’ (7). Therefore, servers (Logic, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud) and service provision (ISP) are becoming the money earners.
However, since the invention of the instrument, music has also has a material dimension, and thinking of music only as information is as problematic. Auslander, in his definition of the reproducing affects of the CD, argues that,‘(a) Although digital technologies are based on binary logic, they have had the ironic effect of dismantling cultural binaries, including distinctions between original and copy, producer and consumer, music and nonmusic… human being and machine’ (104). Auslanderis close to the posthuman mark in this statement. Hayles’ reminds us that, firstly ‘Information wants to be free’ (2002: 235), and secondly, ‘cybernetic systems are constituted by flows of information’ (1999: 84, italics added). Although the bites of information are relevant, it is the material systems the information flows through is also relevant. In this sense, Auslanderis observing just one part of a greater whole; the content devoid of the form. The binary nature of digital information is far less significant as the way in which that information moves; Frith (1988) recognises that what is important is the way music is stored (29). Auslander’s work is slightly restrained by his considerations of ‘digital technologies’, rather than viewing them as information-communication-technologies. It is precisely because of the fact that information can flow within communications systems, that unreleased records, celebrity sex-tapes, or important governmental information, can be ‘leaked’ onto the Internet or become viral. If any one phenomenon can be credited or blamed for dismantling, fragmenting, bypassing, or travelling through, cultural and linguistic binaries, then it is not only digital information but its role within cybernetic systems (such as the iPod) – of which, digital information and technologies are just one small buy-product.
Cybernetics & Posthumanism: The Human and Machine Merger
As communication-technologies such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad evolve a question pops up: how are these technologies reshaping the human users? For Hayles ‘Cyborgs actually exist’. In 1999 she argued that, ‘(a) About 10 of the current U.S. population are estimated to be cyborgs in the technical sense, including people with electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, drug-implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial skin’, moreover, ‘(a) A much higher percentage participates in occupations that make them into metaphoric cyborgs, including computer keyboarder joined in a cybernetic circuit with the screed, microscopy during an operation, and the adolescent game player in the local video-game arcade’ (115). With the introduction of wireless technologies, advancement of computing technologies and music, communication technologies such as the iPod, iPhone, iPad, it would be naïve to consider that her argument has not but strengthened over the years.
Since 1999, evidence of cybernetic music consumption is everywhere. Kassabian (2002) refers to the Computer Research Group ‘have built a wearable “DJ” that tries to select music based on a feature of the user’s mood’ as in indicated by skin conductivity data collected by the wearable computer’ (Picard, 2000: 176, in Kassabian, 132).
In its technological evolution the iPod itself have become more cybernetic. Bull’s (2005) research into the iPod reveals a ‘desire for solitude’ that is revealed when the iPod is considered as technological remediation of the mechanical personal stereo. Since his article was accepted in 2004 and published in 2005 Bull can be forgiven (slightly) for not anticipating the evolution of the iPod. Bull almost picks up on the inevitable evolution of the iPod by mentioning that, ‘(u) Users now take their whole music collection with them in a machine that is not much larger than a small mobile phone’ (344). However, in 2005, Kusek and Leonhard had the foresight to predict the inevitability of the iPhone: ‘(c) Cross an iPod with a cell phone and you have an networked mobile music player’ (70). With the release of the iPhone in 2007 Apple announced that their new product “iPhone” ‘is a widescreen iPod with touch controls that lets music lovers “touch” their music by easily scrolling through entire lists of songs, artists, albums and playlists with just a flick of a finger’ (Apple 2007). The iPhone itself would communicate more directly with the users (vibrations, interactive displays, fingertip scrolling, sonic notifications) while at the same time allowing them the ability to ‘share’ music with their virtual social networks and wireless transmissions via Bluetooth. Furthermore, the ability to download an App like “SoundCloud” allows users to upload, download, and share independent and commercially produced music with friends the iPhone (and iPad) enables them to network access – at a premium.
Nodes in The Cloud
Wikström’s refers to the Internet using the classical metaphor of the ‘Cloud’ that is accessed by nodal arrangement of users. He states, ‘(a) A cloud was considered to be a useful and vague enough symbol which could be used to summarize all the resource cables and gadgets which connected the computers at the nodes of the network’ (2009: 3, italic added). When speaking about the future Kassabian (2002) mentions that: ‘The same music will be sold yet a third time, in more flexible packages, precisely because it makes it easier to use the music as an environment technology, conditioning and conditioned by a new kind of subjectivity’ (139). This subjectivity is created by the formation of a new information age network. She explains that, ‘In this extreme model of distributed computing, each home computer is a little lump of node in an enormous array of computing activity. Likewise, we are each nodes in an enormous array of listening’ (139). In a nodal arrangement activities like torrent or P2P file sharing are made possible; as well as the outbreaks of musical viruses.
This concept of nodal or monad like social formations was explained and rigorously discussed at the advent of cybernetics during and after World War II (see Hayles, 1999: 94). Norbert Wiener’s cybernetic vision was one that envisioned men, women, nonhuman animals and technologies as nodes in a communication matrix. Galison (1994) explains that, ‘Black boxes, as Wiener used the term, meant a unit designed to perform a function before one knew how it functioned’ (20). He continues on to explain about Wiener’s monadic philosophy that ‘(w) We are truly, in this view of the world, like black boxes with inputs and outputs and no access to our or anyone else’s inner life’ (256). Thus, ‘I would argue that the associations of cybernetics (and the cyborg) with… the black-box conception of human nature do not so simply melt away’ (260). From this technological deterministic and posthuman viewpoint, Wikström’s allegory of the human ‘node’ in the information ‘cloud’ is very fitting. This concept of nodal distribution of social members, and subsequent isolating affects, are best celebrated in the concept of the “silent disco” where people gather to listen to music with headphones on iPod-like technologies. It also explains the matrix of torrent networks, or P2P networks where music files are dispersed and shared. This paints the picture of the future posthuman paradigm. Feedback: The Future of Music Production?
In terms of the material technologies, the dialect between the posthuman and the nonhuman is achieved through a feedback loop; much like the biological process of homeostasis. Hayles explains the historic process in which feedback became relevant:
Like animals, machines can maintain homeostasis using feedback loops. Feedback loops had long been exploited to increase the stability of mechanical systems, reaching a high level of development during the mid-to-late nineteenth century with the growing sophistication of steam engines and their accompanying control devices, such as governors. It was not until the 1930s and 1940s however, that the feedback loop was explicitly theorised as a flow of information. Cybernetics was born when nineteenth-century control theory had joined with nascent theory of information.
Feedback has always played a role in music production. Théberge (2011) explains that‘(w) When a microphone or guitar pickup is placed in close proximity to a highly amplified loudspeaker the phenomenon know as ‘feedback’ occurs’ (8). In this example, the relationship between the human and nonhuman is governed by the feedback that the musical equipment produces – referred to by Théberge as the ‘‘proximity effect’ (2011: 5). However, feedback is not such a bad thing and artists such as Jimmy Hendrix have incorporated electronic feedback into their live and recorded performances. Théberge notes that, ‘the sound of amplified guitar distortion has become a key aural sign of the heavy metal and hard rock genres and an important signifier of power and the emotional intensity in the music’ (6). Therefore, feedback can be used in the analogue creative process.
There are many forms of feedback. Artists look to their crowds for feedback as a form of performance evaluation; record companies might also consider ticket and album sales in the same light. Wikström takes note of how recording artist Imogen Heap has used feedback from about 50,000 fans who, ‘regularly followed the blog and commented on what they saw’. He continues to explain that; ‘Heap picked up these comments, entered into a conversation with her fans using different types of digital channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, and allowed the feedback to influence her creative process’ (2009: 176-177). Thus, the feedback that an App like SoundCloud can provide the producer (in an almost real-time feedback-loop) could be taken onboard to shape the sounds produced.
Feedback: The Future Marketplace?
The business model of an organisation competing in the music industry can also incorporate feedback into its systemic design. When Bauman points that in the liquid modern world, ‘Today’s business organization has an element of disorganization deliberately build into it: the less solid and the more fluid it is, the better’ (154), there is a reason. In terms of organisation theory, Hatch (1997) outlines the ‘cybernetic model of control’ that can be adopted by organisation and business alike. By comparing the business model to that of a thermostat she states, ‘organization control processes… are designed to recognise differences between current and desired levels of performance and to trigger adjustments when discrepancies are noticed’ (1999: 328-329). Hatch offers the analogy of student feedback in a classroom dynamic to demonstrate how feedback can change to shape of an organisation. To obtain their goals, corporate organisations need to adjust in accordance with the feedback they receive from customers. Chaos, disorder, or negative feedback and be measured as noise therefore making a business model more flexible, customer focused, interactive and therefore more fluid, and as a result more cybernetic. It the cybernetic model is but one choice from many models a record company could choose from and tweak if required.
Thus, if feedback plays a central to a corporation’s business model, it can therefore be considered more interactive, cybernetic, communicative, and democratic and therefore what Bauman would refer to as “liquid-modern”. However, if a record company is sterner, more authoritative, or tyrannical then we could use the term “solid-modern” to describe it. The latter solid-modern model was the Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager) model, which is described by Kusek and Leonhard as ‘a textbook example of the traditional music-business operating mode’, since, ‘Parker in many ways can be considered the personification of the larger than life manager, and he profited from audaciously exploiting Elvis’ (2005: 7). Exploited or not, how big would Elvis have been without the Colonel?
The dialectic between solid-structure and light-liquidity is apparent in the work of Frith (1998) andNegus(1999) on the music industry. Frith analysis paints a Marx-inspired picture of a “Colonel Parker-style” market controlled by the music industry, whereas Negus paints a more ‘liquid’ picture of record companies struggling to maintain control of the markets they are consequently – to some extent – controlled by. While Frith recognises that the music industry is a business ‘organised around the bureaucratic organisation of chaos’ (33) he also argues that, ‘(m) Mass markets are in the hands of, controlled by, large corporate powers’, and, ‘pop records, commodities, a technological and commercial process under the control of a small number of large companies’ (19). Negus, on the other hand, argues that: ‘Corporate strategy aims to control and order the unpredictable social processes and diversity of human behaviours which are condensed into notions of production and consumption and which riddle the music business with uncertainty’ (31). Divisions of large record companies are established or dissolve in response to shifts in what is essentially a musically inspired buyers-market. While Negus notes that at present the record industry’s marketplace is essentially shared between a handful of major record labels (EMI, BMG, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Group, Universal/PolyGram), who have since the 1980s have shared 80% of the worlds music marketplace (35). He also states that, ‘whole divisions of a company’s structure and either fold and collapse or expand and develop: the delivery of a good album from a major artist can significantly affect a company’s market share’ (46). In Negus’ argument, music or sound plays a role in the industry, whereas in Firth’s argument, music itself, the popular sound, is a product of the industry.
In Negus’s text there is less of a sense of corporate control, manipulation and domination (described as ‘top-down analyses’ by Bennett, 2008: 425) that is more inherent in Frith’s work (although Bennett points out that Frith was aware of the importance for the music industry to maintain ‘an engagement with the aesthetic practices and value judgements of music audiences themselves’ (2008: ibid)). Negus’s text also points out how the industry is vulnerable to the buyers-market, and the stresses the importance of the sonic relationship between composers and audiences. To cite Negus: ‘(a) Although companies continually engage in market research, and seek to persuade and manipulate public behaviours, they find it difficult to predict which new artists are going to succeed and how successful they are likely to be’ (33). This idea of market research, as a posthuman form of communication and control between label and marketplace, can only increase in the information-communication age where companies will have access to greater levels of individual demographic information and continuous (increasingly real-time) customer feedback.
What will the structure of the music industry be in 2020? In the future, cybernetic technologies will be programmed to adjust themselves in accordance with the feedback their users offer; users will adjust themselves to the feedback their technologies provide. The information these users transmit from their communication technologies will offer feedback for artists and record labels. This feedback will provide real-time demographic profiles for both corporate and independent bedroom producers can use (if they should choose to) to accordingly shape their sounds and marketing strategies in real-time. In a global environment of inter-looping feedback loops producers, consumers, and marketers will have the option of taking onboard feedback (as an open system) or disregarding feedback (as a closed system). Since feedback lies at the heart of cybernetic control; it would be easy to conclude that companies which direct market their products in accordance with marketing feedback will maintain control. However, was Jimmy Hendrix made famous for responding to the feedback of all his fans? Ultimately, if we attend the main stage of Glastonbury musical festival we are subjecting ourselves to a solid-modern form of tyrannical control or benevolent dictation. While the solid world is melted into liquid information this dogmatic approach will still hold a place in the future marketplaces. I would rather loose myself in a sea of Glastonbury fans than find myself in a silent disco of iPod shufflers.
Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bennett, A. (2008) ‘Towards a Cultural Sociology of Popular Music’, in Journal of Sociology, 44 (4): 419-432.
Bull, M. (2005) ‘‘No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening’, in Leisure Studies,(24) 4: 343–355.
Caves, R. E. (2000) Creative Industries: Contracts Between Art and Commerce. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
DeNora, T. (2000) Music and Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frith, S. (1988) Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop Music. NY: Routledge.
Galison, P. (1994) ‘The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision’, in Critical Enquiry 21 (1): 228-226.
Hartley, J. (2005). ‘The Evolution of the Creative Industries: Creative Clusters, Creative Citizens and Social Network Markets’, in Proceedings, Creative Industries Conference, Asia-Pacific Weeks, Berlin, September.
Hatch, M.J. (1997) Organisation Theory: Modern Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hayles, N. K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Kassabian, A. (2002). ‘Ubiquitous Listening’, in Hesmondhalgh, D. and Negus, K. (eds) Popular Music Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 131- 142.
Kusek, D. Leonhard, G. (2005) The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution. Boston: Berklee Press.
Negus, K. Corporate Strategy – Applying Order and Enforcing Accountability
Pine, B.J. & Gilmore, J.H. (1998) ‘Welcome to the Experience Economy’, Harvard Business Review (July-August): 97-105.
Théberge, P. (2011) ‘‘Plugged in’: Technology and Popular Music’ in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock Firth, S. Straw, W. and Street, J. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wikström, P. (2009) The Music Industry. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Williamson, J and Cloonan, M. ‘Rethinking the Music Industry’, Popular Music, 26: 305-332.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN A RUSH AND DESPERATELY NEEDS EDITING – TAKE IT AS IT IS! (UNLESS ANYONE WANTS TO VOLUNTEER TO EDIT IT)
As the 2012 Olympic games approach, England is once again reminded of its national identity crisis. In an article entitled English nationalism: Identity crisisThe Economist wrote: ‘When England won the World Cup in 1966, most of their fans were content to wave the Union Jack—the flag of the United Kingdom—in support of the team. But when the European Championships were held in England 30 years later, it was the red cross of Saint George that was the flag of preference in the stands’ (The Economist 1998). Of Euro ’96 football tournament Heffer’s recalls ‘that actually my identity as a citizen was not a British identity: it was an English identity. I began to realise that I was very English’ (Heffer 2007, in English 2011). Kumar (2003) also notes of the World Cup in 1988 that ‘soccer observers were somewhat startled to find… that the Cross of St George had replaced the Union Jack as the emblem of English national identity’ and that ‘many black and Asian fans (were also) adopting the St George’s cross’ (262). There is something deeply symbolic, something that stirs the inside, when the Union Jack is juxtaposed to the St George’s cross. But does the symbolic gesture of waving a flag truly determine nationalism? Is it not just a sign of culture of national identity?
In terms of nationalism, Kumar (2000) states that ‘there is such a thing as “English nationalism.” Other nations have nationalism; the English, it has been conventional to say, have patriotism, royalism, jingoism, imperialism- but they do not know nationalism’ (576). However, following Tony Blair’s 1998 decision to enable the set up of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, sociological studies (IPPR, 2012; Tilley and Heath, 2007) have observed a reinvested interest in English politics and national identity. In 2003, Kumar citing a new wave of news and academic publications on the subject of English nationalism, also notes that, ‘the striking thing is that nationalism has finally caught up with the English’ (251). English nationalism, therefore, has been described as ‘the dog that didn’t bark’. The question this essay will address is: Has it started barking? This essay will argue that English nationalism is on the rise, however, in the current “liquid-modern” (Bauman, 2000) climate of increased individualisation, cosmopolitanism and globalisation make the issue English nationalism as confused and ambiguous as ever – especially in popular youth culture.
The English Dog Bit but didn’t Bark
“The English” dog is far from a pedigree breed but more like a mongrel, since the history of England, Britain, and The United Kingdom is a messy affair. Kumar (2006) sums up the complexity of the England’s history and identity by stating, ‘Celts, Romans, Saxons, Danes, Scandinavians and Normans have poured over the land. Later came Jews and Huguenots and a new wave of Celts in the Irish. Later still, people from the British Empire and Commonwealth, whites from Australia, Canada and South Africa, black and Asians from Africa, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Hongkong’ (241). However, despite this historic complexity and multinational identity, Kumar researches history of Great Britain and the United Kingdom to discover England’s past. He defines the history of England in this way:
The English… created a land empire, Great Britain or the United Kingdom, formed by the expansion of England from its southern position at the base of the group of islands off the north-western coast of Europe (the “East Atlanticarchipelago”) And they created an overseas empire, not just once but twice: first in the western hemisphere, in North America and the Caribbean, and later in the East, in India, and South-East Asia. At its height, just after the First World War, this empire covered a fifth of the world’s surface and incorporated a quarter of its population. (2003: 588)
British imperialism and establishment of the British Empire was a violent and barbaric process that forcibly imposed British and European values, and was underpinned by racist notions of white-European superiority (see for example Degler, 1959; Shamsul; 2001; Hirschman, 1986). And for Kumar, the English mongrel was to be found at the heart of the pack.
Colleyretells the same historic process as a “British” conquest rather than English. To cite Colley: ‘Rich, landed, and talented males from Wales, Scotland, England, and to a lesser extent Ireland became welded after the 1770s into a single ruling class that intermarried, shared the same outlook, and took to itself the business of governing, fighting for, and profiting from greater Britain’ (1992: 325-326). Although the English could be found in the midst of this global invasion, it was essentially a joint effort shared between the British. Kumar makes a note of this “British” vs. “English” discrepancy and responds by stating in a footnote that ‘one could say that much of the dispute about the dating of English nationalism springs from a common failure to distinguish clearly enough between Englishness and Britishness’ (2000: 604). This is debate which was established by historian Pocock (1982) who states, ‘The average textbook with “British history” in the title is overwhelmingly… concerned with the society and politics of the realm and culture know as “England”, conversely, ‘there are many… “histories of England”… written on the premise… that “English history” does not form part of a larger subject called “British history” (311-312). A point to which Colley remarks that ‘it has been his insistence on the need for study of the four component parts of the United Kingdom…that has generated the greatest interest among British historians’ (312). For the purposes of this essay, it can only be concluded from this debate that attempts to distinguish British from English nationalism are as historically ambiguous as they are in contemporary terms – the debate rages on.
Nevertheless, a chapter of his book entitled English nationalism: the dog that did not bark? Kumar (2003) argues that historically, the English ‘were conscious that Britain and the empire were their creations. But rather than assertive, this made them cautious about instating on their national identity. ‘When you are in charge, or you think you are in charge, you do not go about beating the drum’ (179). Although the British we able to proudly sing in union, “Royal Britannia rules the waves…we shall never be slaves!” they English dog could do nothing but cower amongst the pack. Although, ‘Great Britain has always been an extraordinarily warlike state, and was for a long time both aggressively and successfully imperialistic’ (Colley, 1992: 311) determining historic nationalism is a grey area– as these debates prove.
How do we define “the English Dog”?
If we refer back to Colley’s (1992) idea that the British ruling class were composed of a union of elite English, Welsh, Scottish (and a few Irish), then Colley continues to argues the idea of ‘the Other’ as the basis of establishing “the British”:
…in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britishness was forged in a much wider context. Britons defined themselves in terms of their common Protestantism as contrasted with the Catholicism of Continental Europe. They defined themselves against France throughout a succession of major wars with that power. And they defined themselves against the global empire won by way of these wars. They defined themselves, in short, not just through an internal and domestic dialogue but in conscious opposition to the Other beyond their shores. (1992: 316)
Put more simply, ‘we usually decide who we are by reference to who and what we are not’ (Colley, 316). English (IPPR, 2011) makes a similar argument to Colley by recognizing that, ‘If my national culture and history define who is within my community, then they also define who is outside – beyond and excluded from it’ (2). On this point of “otherness”, Beck (2006) takes a more postmodern stance by introducing the “neonationalism” as ‘an attempt to fix the blurred and shifting boundaries between internal and external, us and them’ (4). The “global citizen” is for Beck the ‘paradigm example of a determination of identity that has replaced the either/or logic with the both/and logic of inclusive differentiation’ (4-5). Similarly, Kumar argues that, ‘No longer, or at least with nothing of the same force, can Europe or any part of it play its historic role of ‘the Other’ (in forming the English national identity)’ (250). Beck continues to explain that the figure of the global citizen ‘constructs a model of one’s identity by dipping freely into the Lego set of globally available identities and building a progressively inclusive self-image’ (5). Kumar recognises that in contemporary debates around the English National Identity ‘a post-modernist way of thinking, the presence of so many diverse cultures within society allows for a ‘pick and mix’ attitude that might not mean not simply more variegated but also more provisional, constantly changing identities’ (2003: 242). Later on he refers to the Labour Parties mid-90s vision of ‘Cool Britannia’ – ‘hip, cool, youth-oriented, innovative and entrepreneurial’ – hyper modern if not actually post-modern (254). These performative concepts of English national identity that this essay shall return to later.
English Nationalism vs. English National Identity
There are two ways that the social sciences can continue to study English nationalism: either as a political or military power, or, as a cultural or symbolic power. Richard English states, ‘an accurate appreciation of the political impact of New Englishness will depend on whether we are witnessing English nationalism, or instead the partly overlapping but politically less forceful phenomenon of English national identity’ (IPPR, 2011: 2). For him, ‘Nationalism – rather than national identity – requires the additional quality of struggle’, and, ‘(t) There simply is not the kind of significant, organised political struggle by English nationalists that the UK has seen in Ireland, in Scotland or in Wales (let alone in other settings of nationalist energy around the world)’ (5). Unlike, radical groups such as the UKIP, BNP, Welsh militants, and the IRA, the English Defense League’s (EDL) efforts have been significantly insignificant. To cite English: ‘the scale and impact of this effusion from angry England have been tiny’ (6). What we are left with is “Englishness”, which he describes as a ‘mere cultural sensibility’ (ibid).
To some extent, the structure of English’s argument dichotomizes English nationalism and English national identity. He then splits the latter into politically banal culture (Englishness) on one hand, and then a more politically charged form of culture on the other. He argues that political and nationalistic struggles for power are ‘sometimes through cultural campaigns and organisations, or sometimes through the embedding of national ideas in repeated rituals and routines, and in the emblems built into national life and place’ (3, italics added). Therefore, English nationalism is partially separated from cultural aspects of English national identity and downgraded to a quainter form of “Englishness”. However, as a Professor of Politics and the Director of Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, writing for The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) (‘the UK’s leading progressive think tank, producing cutting-edge research and innovative policy ideas for a just, democratic and sustainable world’ (0)), it would make sense for English to show a biasness towards, and thus prioritise, political power struggles over cultural and symbolic influences.
Now, The English Dog Barks (?)
If English nationalism is identifiable by political opinion, then recent research has shown that there has been a fall in British national pride and a rise in English national pride as a result of political deformation. Tilley and Heath’s (2007) article The decline of British national pride presents the results of qualitative and quantitive which brings them to the conclusion that, ‘since the beginning of the 1980s, ‘there have been large declines in pride and that this is exclusively generational in nature; with more recent generations having substantially lower levels of pride in ‘Britishness’ than previous generations’ (661). In a similar light, Wyn Jones, Lodge, Henderson & Wincott’s article The Dog that Finally Barked (IPPR, 2012) shows a decline in British national pride and a growth of an English political community. They state that:
It has long been predicted that devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would provoke an English ‘backlash’ against the anomalies and apparent territorial inequities of a devolved UK state… there are now signs that a stirring within England is beginning to take shape. The evidence presented here suggests the emergence of what might be called an ‘English political community’, one marked by notable concerns within England about the seeming privileges of Scotland, in particular, in a devolved UK, a growing questioning of the capacity of the current UK-level political institutions to pursue and defend English interests, and one underpinned by a deepening sense of English identity. (IPPR, 2012: 2)
Therefore, this combination of decline in British pride and rise in English pride, combined with immergence of an English political community, is taken as a sign that the English dog is barking.
However, other sociologists have produced theories and research that suggests that classical nationalism is a concept that has changed since British imperialism or World War II. Fenton (2007), after analysing the findings of research into national identity in England (Bristol), concludes that, ‘it was impossible to escape the impression that considerable numbers of young adults were either not very interested in a question about national identity, articulated some kind of hostility to national labels, or rejected nation in favour of broader identities like ‘citizen of the world’. He then goes on to assert that, ‘(t) These responses all show some measure of ‘indifference’ to or ‘disregard’ for national identity’. If we are looking for intensity, commitment or emotional energy attaching to national identity, we do not find much among the young adults in this research’ (328). Such findings are similar to what Tilley and Heath regard as a ‘generational shift in sentiments’ as their research also shows decline of British national pride. Fenton then relates such findings to Calhoun’s (1997) theories of modernisation and individualisation in which ‘all nationalisms make a direct appeal to the individual’ (Fenton, 2007: 323). ‘The institutional scaffolding capable of holding the nation together is thinkable increasingly as a do-it-yourself job’ (2001: 185), states Bauman who repeatedly refers to Margret Thatcher’s (1987) declaration that ‘There is no such thing as society’ (2000: 30). Conservative privatisation of Britain’s public sector during the 80s and the promotion of free market capitalism that resulted in a ‘Britain built on self-interested individualism’ (Richards, 1999, in Kumar 2003: 254), is a notion used to by Bauman to highlight the neoliberal ethos which underpins his consumerism-based theory. Referring back to Beck’s cosmopolitan argument, and Kumar’s ‘cool-Britannia’, then the issue of nationalism in these terms are associated with a consumerist, and performative form of ‘fashion-show’ identity; ambiguous neonationality; which flag shall I wear today?
Postmodern Performances of “Underdog” Nationalism
The British, as well and international audiences, have already seen the process of devolution simulated in popular British media. In the year that followed the release of the American blockbuster Braveheart (Gibson, 1995), which directed and staring Mel Gibson in the role of William Wallace and re-told (remediated) the thirteenth century story of Scottish defiance against English colonialism, Trainspotting (Boyle, 1996) was to set trends for a new type of cinematic representation of nationalism. Trainspotting – based on the (1993) novel by Irvine Welsh – tells the story of a group of heroine ‘junkies’ living in Edinburgh during the 1980s. The undercurrent of Scottish nationalism becomes most apparent in the film in a defining moment when the protagonist shouts at his friend in a very broad Scottish accent:
It’s shite being Scottish! We’re the lowest of the low! The scum of the fucking earth! The most miserable, wretched, servile, and pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization! Some people hate the English; I don’t! They’re just wankers! We on the other hand are just colonised by wankers! (We) Can’t even find a decent culture to be colonised by! Were ruled by a fleet of assholes!
Jeffer (2005) mentions that ‘a postcolonial interpretation reads the English-are-wankers as the most important feature of the passage’. She continues, ‘(t) The subtext of the passage is that the Scots have a national crisis of identity’ (91). Trainspotting was set during the Thatcher era, then this growing resentment towards the English can be explained sociologically. Tilley and Heath (2007) comment on their research findings that ‘One unexpected effect of the Thatcherite brand of nationalism may thus have been rising hostility in Scotland… towards a shared national identity in which they were politically marginalized’ (671). This would explain the reason why the Scottish faced a national crisis of identity during the Thatcher era, but why the ‘lowest of the low’? An alternative view is presented by Farred (2004) who describes Trainspotting the move and novel as expressing the voice of ‘disaffected, the postmodern, postindustrial Scottish junkie-as-critic who rejects the romance of his nation’s history in favor of a scathing attack on Scotland’s historic anti-Englishness’ (217). Rather than forming an identity ‘Othered from’ Thatcher’s England, Farred suggests that Scottish nationalism in the film is a subsumed by a punk-rock form of nihilistic nationalism. hi However, from an ‘underdog’ perspective, if the English themselves are low, and the Scottish become ‘the lowest of the low!’ In terms of Otherness, a subversive form of underdog identity is constructed by comparing the “shite-ness” of one country to another. This perspective would suggest that by painting a dreary, bleak, nihilistic picture of Scottish sub-culture, and combining the agony of the 80s Scottish identity crisis, it also manages to construct a rhetorical sense of national pride through its use of black humour and a “heroine-chic” mise en scene. It is due to a humorous process of ‘self-deprecation’ (a term used by Kate Fox, 2005) that Trainspotting has now reached cult status and continues to influence moviemakers and moviegoers alike.
In 2006, the English were to release a film that is comparable to Trainspotting in many ways. This Is England (Meadows, 2006) was funded by the UK Film Council in association with the national lottery and won three Oscars at the 2008 BAFTAs. Set on a council estate during the 1980s, the film tell the story of an adolescent working class boy who joins a group of older skinheads as the result of being bullied. The English gang are represented as a “mixed-up-bunch” since they are tattooed with Nazi swastikas, listen to a form Jamaican reggae called ‘Ska’, and have a mixed-raced (English-Jamaican) friend in their gang called “Milky”. The plots juncture comes when gang is then broken up into two camps after the gang’s former leader returns from prison. This, causes a radical division between the far right / left political spectrums. Under the rule of their new far right-winged leader, the remaining members of the gang are taken to an BNP meeting. From this point on the gang begin to controversially incorporate the St George’s cross as a part of their identity as they begin viciously robbing and attacking Pakistanis on the council estate. Othered from left-wing politics, Pakistanis and Indian’s, racial, nationalistic, and unemployment frustration bonds the group together. Eventually, racial tensions amount and the right-winged leader beats mix-raced Milky to death. The closing scenes of the film show the adolescent male protagonist symbolically denouncing the violence of far-right skinhead fascism by throwing a flag of the St George’s into the sea. In 2003, “This is England” symbolically broke ties with the far right politics in favour of a more stylised, romantic, notion of liberal humanist, punk-nihilistic, and multiculturalist England.
hi The common themes that link Trainspotting and This is England are firstly, the darker and more sinister aspects of council estate and unemployment culture are glamorised through a dark-humored process of ‘self-deprecation’ into a new form of ‘underdog’ ideology. Nationalism in both movies is denounced in favour of a nihilistic form of punk culture. Lastly, both films present the issue of group solidarity vs. individualism in the context of 1980s Thatcherism. Both films represent a desperate attempt on behalf of the Scotts and the English youth to forge a sub-cultural ‘underdog’ identity in an era of deformation. By challenging nationalism, both films present audiences with newer subversive forms of national ideologies.
This essay has presented two notions of English nationalism. On one hand, there exists as ‘solid-modern’ form of nationalism that has researched a rise in English nationalism by placing value on political and often violent displays of nationalism that have downplayed English national identity, Englishness, or English culture. Nevertheless, research into these areas seems to show a decline in British nationalism and a rise in English nationalism. On the other hand, English nationalism viewed as a liquid-postmodern, media-orientated, or cultural form of power reveals two things. Firstly, there has been a rise in nationalism presented as a more subversive and self-deprecating form of nationalistic empowerment. However, secondly, as theorists such as Bauman and Beck might confer, there has also been a rise in ambiguity as the result of postmodern processes of increased individualisation, cosmopolitanism, consumerism, and globalisation. As a consequence, English nationalism, or ‘Cool Britannia-ism’ has become a ‘click and choose’ process of performative nationality – which flag shall I wear today? Ambiguity is the English national trait and choosing which flag to brandish or which nationality to be proud of is not a dilemma the ‘ever-day’ English are unused to. Ultimately, and unfortunately this essay cannot foresee the outcome; it will be interesting for media and cultural theorists and symbolic constructionists is if politically studies into the issue of nationalism will notice rise in British nationalism during and in the wake of this years Olympic games.
Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Beck, U. (2006) The Cosmopolitan Vision. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Boyle, D. Trainspotting, film.
Colley, L. ‘Britishness and Otherness: An Argument’, Journal of British Studies, 31(4): 309-329.
Degler, C. M. (1959) ‘Slavery and the Genesis of American Race Prejudice’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 2 (1): 49-66.
Farred, G. (2004) ‘Wankerdom: Trainspotting As a Rejection of the Postcolonial?’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 103 (1): 215-226.
Fenton, S. (2007) ‘Indifference towards national identity: what young adults think about being English and British’, Nations and Nationalism 13 (2): 321–339
Fenton, S. Indifference towards national identity: what young adults think about being
Fox, K. (2005). Watching the English. Great Britain: Hodder & Soughton.
Gibson, M. (1995) Braveheart, film.
Hirschman, C. (1986) ‘Making of Race in Colonial Malaya: Political Economy and Racial Ideology’, Sociological Forum, 1 (2): 330-361.