Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste

By David Bell; Joanne Hollows | Go to book overview

11 Countryside formats and
ordinary lifestyles

Robert Fish


Rural lifestyles: the ordinary in flight from/to itself

If we wanted to pick on a site of popular cultural imaginings that seemed to function as the antithesis of ordinary experience, we could do worse than settle on the idea of countryside. Widely shared understandings of country life, it is consistently claimed, are fashioned around the idea of a rural idyll, the working label for highly affirmative enactments of community, nature and landscape (Mingay 1989; Bunce 1994). With its heightened and perfected states of meaning and being, this sedentary way of thinking about countryside appears, at first glance, more concerned with exceeding the limits of the ordinary than about grasping or shaping it. Certainly this seems true if we were to reflect on how this sign has been conventionally employed. To speak, for instance, of ‘being ordinary’ or of ‘leading an ordinary life’ is often to cast experience in highly unfavourable terms (Williams 1983). It is to emphasize the rather mundane, often unremarkable and typically imperfect events around which everyday life becomes familiar to itself, and through which it is contained and enclosed. In formative histories of critical thought, this reading has also often prevailed. Ideas of ordinary culture have frequently been treated as an issue of ‘disenchantment’, ‘alienation’ and ‘lack’, and it is telling that in accounting for this ‘condition’ of ordinary life, the imaginary of the city, and the social relations of the disempowered and duped inhabiting it, has tended to predominate. At the same time, affirmative ideas of countryside have often occupied a reflexive place within this critical frame. The radical potential of the everyday has, on various occasions, rested on marshalling the power of ‘authentic’ ways of living – a flight from the ordinary – in which appeals to the rural, apparently far from controlled systems of industrialized and mass media consumption, are by no means absent. In recent years, critical theory has departed significantly from these kinds of (reactionary) distinctions, in part by asserting a version of the ordinary that is overtly more creative, tactical, playful, in a word optimistic, in form, and one in which affirmative ideas of countryside might stage a different kind of entrance. The matter under consideration in this book, that of

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