Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The 80s is Now History

This is really just another excuse to mention BBC4's exemplary "In their own words" and suggest that you watch all 3 episodes on iPlayer before it disappears next Sunday or so.

I had a feeling that the 70s and 80s episode would be far less interesting than the previous two. However, perhaps because they had more footage to choose from, or because there was more linkages between history and literature during this period, it stood up well. We get McEwan, Rushdie and Amis Jr. in spades, of course, but their contemporary younger selves. Respectively earnest, mischievous and slightly prissy, which possibly reflects their books of that period, the show pulled out a great piece with Martin Amis appearing as Martin Amis in "Money" opposite Mel Smith, as well as a weird dramatisation of Rushdie over some blue-screen animation. Even better was the legendary footage of a leggy Selina Scott making a buffoon of herself by asking Booker judge Angela Carter (a) what she thought of the judges choices and (b) who she was; the other Booker highlights - Rushdie's anecdote of being invited to meet Indira Gandhi at Downing Street, and John Berger's giving away his prize money to the black panthers, were equally fantastic.

As a study in literature of the 70s and 80s, it was a little thin - the seventies hasn't worn well, after all - and a shame they hadn't anything of Doris Lessing on this episode, whose "The Good Terrorist" remains one of the best novels about the 80s - but it was great footage, nonetheless.

That the 80s is now history, no different than the 60s or 20s, seems strange, but is emphasised by the other worldiness of some of the footage, as well as a few perceptive comments. Thatcher had quickly gone from being ignored to being a mocked charicature. A little like George W. Bush twenty years later, the liberal intelligentsia's hatred for Thatcher meant that in novels of the day she was dismissed satirically, despite her dominant appeal to a certain element of the British psyche. If someone's not already done it, there's a clear essay to be written on depictions of Thatcher in fiction over the last 30 years. Songwriters like Elvis Costello and Morrissey mocked her, and took her seriously, in comparison. It's perhaps why the portrayal of her in Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty" received such attention. Yet if the Spitting Image-ish Thatcher of 80s novels is a dangerous reductionism, I'm not sure that the latter's revisionism, so centred on the monied England that she so appealed to, is any more valid.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

For me it was because the authors in the first programs were unfamiliar to me as people - they were simply names - but there wasn't one in the last programme that I didn't know as a personality rather than a writer.