October 19: alienated by the alienation

In the gym those of us without earphones in are having to listen to the music beamed out across the space. I don’t want to go to school. I just want to break the rules, intones some teenage simulacrum. In the gym this Sunday afternoon we are mostly middle-aged. Thee are some people in their twenties. One or two oldsters. There are no schoolkids. Schoolkids aren’t allowed in our gym. So why are we listening to this? Come to think of it, why is the staple fare of all popular music and culture teenage rebellion? Why, twenty, thirty, forty years after leaving school and our spotty adolescent awkwardness, have we not found another mode for our popular culture? Ironic, of course, in that the companies producing this stuff, the music companies, the film studios, are the most conservative and reactionary of institutions. They peddle rebellion but they do not want rebellion. This music is the soft sop that keeps us all in thrall.

I remember thinking the same thing at university when studying Romantic literature. My university is the bastion of the staus quo. It has, I believe, produced every UK Prime Minister except John Major (no university) and Gordon Brown (Edinburgh?). Did the establishment (whatever that is) know that many of the heroes of Western literature we were meant to admire were marginals and drop-outs? We still live in the era of a form of late Romanticism. Our heroes are drunk, divorced ex-cops, the societies we portray in our literatures and music to evoke our world are dystopias.

It might be that many of us require the counter-balance of a leisure-life rebellion to tolerate the sacrifices of our working life. This is not an equation that includes me (remember leisure is work, work is leisure). I like my culture to be society-friendly I don’t want to pretend I want out. I want in. I want a voice to be genuinely realistic and include our compromises and compensations. I don’t want to break the rules especially, unless the rules genuinely need breaking. As we all pound along on the treadmills or accomplish another set of strokes on the rowing machines the fantasy of going back to school and breaking all the rules is enough to nourish many grown-ups. I am alienated by all this alienation.

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