Comment: Social History of Britain: 1999, the Age of Irony
Blacker, Terence, The Independent (London, England)
TODAY, IN a special 2049 edition of This Sceptred Isle, we look back 50 years to 1999, the year in which this famous radio history series was first broadcast. What was Britain like in the dying days of the last century? Were its people looking back with nostalgia or were they looking forward with a sense of optimism? How did public life reflect the change from one age to another?
Historians still puzzle over these questions. The fact is that, half a century on, we have difficulty understanding millennial Britain. The government celebrated the epochal moment by investing hundreds of millions in a mighty construct designed to last no more than a decade. Politics had become wilfully futile. The new form of popular entertainment - watching celebrities rise from obscurity and then destroy themselves in a variety of amusing ways - served to remind the people not of the triumph of the human spirit but of its mediocrity and greed. The grand Millennium had arrived at last, and yet everything was unusually trivial and demeaning. What on earth was going on?
The most convincing historical theory is that 1999 was the crowning moment of what has become known as the Age of Irony. The lack of seriousness was not only intentional; it was the cultural keynote of the time. So a singer called George Michael, whose career had been threatened by a sexual incident in a lavatory, responded by producing a self-promotional video parodying his own personal embarrassment, to the soundtrack of his latest hit. As for other music, the newspapers gravely reported a titanic struggle between a naff 1970s hit revived by a "boy band" and a merciless take-off of pop Christianity by the satirist Sir Cliff Richard.
To all intents and purposes, political life had disappeared. The opposition provided little more than light entertainment, while the government, with a deft sense of irony, …
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Publication information: Article title: Comment: Social History of Britain: 1999, the Age of Irony. Contributors: Blacker, Terence - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 28, 1999. Page number: 4. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.