England Follows the Colonies on the Road to Perdition

By Fields, Suzanne | Insight on the News, July 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

England Follows the Colonies on the Road to Perdition


Fields, Suzanne, Insight on the News


The American philosopher Yogi Berra could figure out Mother England in a nanosecond: "It's deja vu all over again."

On matters of cultural rot, rude behavior, decline of morals and manners and the increasing violence of young men, the English are following the sad example of their colonial offspring. Instead of learning from our cultural failures and avoiding the sleaze pits we've explored first, the Brits are like children who must learn the hard way.

The chic elites finally admit they are at least partly responsible for the incivility unleashed in their popular culture. When they reached down to the rude and rowdy and called them "cool," they not only elevated bad taste but bad behavior. We're talking the nineties here, not the sixties. (By comparison, the sixties are bathed in a nostalgic glow of childhood innocence, as if afloat on a yellow submarine.)

"We like our artists to be mad, bad and dangerous to know," writes a critic in the Sunday Times. "We find something heroically rebellious in their unrestrained hedonism, their contempt for standards of decency, etiquette and social manners. Yet at the same time, we complain about the moral and social state of society; we long for the return of civil society, while supporting a culture that subverts the very values necessary to create the kind of civilized world we want to live in."

Where is Bill Bennett now that the English need him?

Every generation tut-tuts the one that follows, of course, but this time there really is bad stuff chasing us. Perverse art, loutish rock bands, nasty sitcoms and violent movies, once the pride of media snobs, have got the critics wondering how they can stuff the grotesque genie back into the bottle.

The writer for Men Behave Badly, a popular British sitcom whose title tells you all you need to know about its content, says ruefully, "I do feel I've created a monster." He loathes the "yobbish" culture of the audiences attracted to his mean, tacky dramas, which appeal to the basest brow of the lowest common denominator."

An editor of Face magazine, a style guide for the young and hip if not necessarily beautiful English, laments that wit and irony have been pushed aside by "beers and leers." The lower classes just didn't get it. But such intellectual posturing only widens the class gap as critics and writers hide shamelessly behind callow intellectual defenses. …

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