Friday Video: “Common People” – Pulp, Plus Unfocused Linkage

Thatcher, like Churchill before her, had deliberately evoked and exploited ideas of Britain’s former “greatness.” But because the world had changed– because those ideas could have no grounding in reality– the ideas took on a life of their own, running out of her control. One politician in the film likens history to a drug– an intoxicating potion which traps and overtakes whoever uses it, but which remains a constant temptation.

. . .

[B]oth [Thatcher’s notions of British heritage and those of the Britpop kids] were fictions, one pastoral and one comic, one sincere and one– it seemed– ironic. But even a version of Britishness grounded in youth and energy was subject to the gravity pull of heritage, and that pull was very strong. Pulp’s “Common People” was kept from the No. 1 slot by a revival of Vera Lynn’s “White Cliffs of Dover”, sung by two actors who played soldiers on the BBC. It was the biggest selling single that year.

Tom Ewing has a column at Pitchfork today about the rise of Britpop, and what it had to do with the British manner of thinking about the past. And basically he’s quite convincing, but the phenomenon Ewing describes, taken broadly enough, doesn’t seem distinctly British at all—notions of former greatness, and the vague promise of a return to it, being part and parcel of U.S. political campaign rhetoric (particularly in the rhetoric of angry reactionary white people, sure, but it’s everywhere). (Did other, older countries spend so much time looking backwards at our age?) I don’t want to do too much equivocating and claim that Sarah Palin is basically the girl Jarvis Cocker’s singing about. She isn’t. But one of the reasons why is that Palin is much better than that girl at pretending to be something that she’s not. (Speaking of P-fork and looking backwards—they recently named the song the second-best of the nineties!)

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