In the end I watched it because Catherine Grant very kindly invited me to speak at an event that she organised with Diarmaid Kelliher, on Pride and its Precursors and I was too honoured, and too embarrassed, to say no. When the film first came out I ducked and dived out of numerous press requests to comment on it. I had toyed with the idea of presenting at the symposium without actually having watched the film, maybe as a sort of thought experiment. I’d floated the idea over drinks with the talented historian Ben Jones from UEA but lost my confidence after he described some of the scenes I might have missed out on (the alien invasion and massive shoot out at the end).
On 19th November I stood in the Latest Music Bar Brighton and read out bits of my teenage diary from the year 1984-1985. The event, ‘Cringe at Mass Observation‘ was jointly organised by Cringe and Mass Observation as part of ‘Being Human: The Festival of Humanities’. London Cringe organise events where “Funny ‘grown-ups’ read aloud from their teenage diaries”. It’s a model that was picked up from New York and spread from there. Fiona Courage and Jessica Scantlebury from Mass Observation had been to one of the events and had immediately recognised Cringe’s resonance with Mass Observation writers who also share their private experiences and analysis for public consumption.
You can hear a bit more about Cringe, where it came from and the Brighton event on a podcast of an interview myself and Cringe organiser Ana McGloughlin did for Radio Reverb with Melita Dennett. (at about 22 minutes in)
Earlier this month I attended two conferences in a week. Not great planning on my part but it was really interesting to move across geographical locations and organisational structures to ask in essence very similar questions but with very different answers. The first symposium I attended as a discussant was Rethinking Contemporary British Political History at Queen Mary’s Mile End campus organised by Dr Helen McCarthy. (The second was the Workshop on Voluntary Action and Philanthropy at Frankfurt University which I will write about later)
When we began the Brighton hub of Wellcome’s sexology and Song-writing project we imagined that the young women involved would undertake some sort of original research and then write songs about it. It quickly became clear that the young women participants and the youth work and music practitioners had some different priorities. The practitioners wanted to concentrate on building a secure and supportive environment in which to build a collective group identity, and the young women wanted to sing songs that they already knew and liked. The young sexology song-writers didn’t want to write songs. They wanted to cover and recover them. Once we recognised that the priorities of the practitioners and of the young women needed to be our priorities too, we moved towards their goals. We weren’t training them to be researchers. They were training us in their modes of re-enactment: an active and creative intervention in a cultural circuit that brought together the legitimacy of publicly celebrated singer-songwriters, with their own experiences and voices.
Charity singles were the perfect cultural form for Thatcher’s Eighties. They were packaged and sold within the Victorian values of philanthropy but in a form that fitted well with new media opportunities, new media technology and new ‘yoof’ orientated broadcasting space. Charity singles facilitated a set of donations; the primary donation was the time of musicians and celebrities, (and sometimes technicians and distributors) which may have included additional donations of royalties, rights and or all profits.
The secondary donation was by the consumer who bought the single regardless of their motivation; for the cause, for their favourite pop star, for the song, or for a combination thereof. Whatever Thatcher said about there being no such thing as society, and however many clips of champagne quaffing Yuppies we see on retro documentaries, in the Eighties people turned to charity to fill the gaps they saw opening up in social provision. Charitable donation increased in Thatcher’s Britain, as did the number of charities and the number of ways of making a donation. Charity singles, like all parts of a charity campaign, were not just about raising money. Charitable donation raises funds, but it also raises awareness about particular issues and builds a sense of community. It builds a sense of the community for the donors, as well as an imagined community of worthy recipients. By the end of the Eighties these three functions produced a recognizable charity single formula; collective choruses, recognizable voices on individual lines, and ego-free co-operation between different generations of musicians.
I’ve just parked up a chapter on Princess Diana that will eventually end up in my new book about the 1980s. I’ve been writing the chapter for a long time and I’m not sure I’ve finished it – but it is definitely not getting any better for now so I better leave it alone. I’ve read more books on Diana in the last couple of months than I ever dreamed likely. The more I worked through the pile of unauthorised biographies and memoirs, the more the lines between the two sorts of books began to blur. It became harder to tell when people were writing about Diana, and when they were writing about themselves. I should also add, the more I read the less of an idea of what she was ‘really like’ I had. Although to be honest that wasn’t what I was looking for and it isn’t really what I’m interested in. What I’m interested in is how and why these books sell the idea of the Real Diana. Whilst academic approaches have tended to displace the Real Diana, by analysing what she signified and why people cared about her. Popular biographies and memoirs market their access to the ‘real woman’ underneath; who she was.
Here is a written up version of my 2013 talk at The Rest is Noise Festival on politics and spirituality in the late 20thcentury. I’ve added a couple of thoughts as I went along based on contributions from the audience. One thing that really struck me throughout the other discussions during the day was the importance of the individual or ‘the self’, in both political and religious engagement through the period. The creative tension for me, was the ways in which Thatcherite individual resilience (Tebbit ‘getting on his bike’) and post-punk ‘any one can do it’ seemed to weave together.
On Friday 8th November 2013 I introduced and chaired the ESRC Festival of Social Science sponsored event ‘What is Happiness?’ organised by Mass Observation at the Quadrant Pub, Brighton. On a rainy, dark, Friday evening four different academics sat in the pub to talk about how their work illuminated the idea of Happiness. The project’s resident blogger has responded to the overall session, and the discussion, but I thought I’d share part of the introductory talk I gave. After introducing the Observing the 80s project generally I talked about what I might have gathered about happiness from Observing the 80s, and why it has made me so happy to be involved.
This post is based on a speech that I gave as part of UCU industrial action I had proposed that Union members and students shared our two hour strike on 28th January 2014 by watching the 1984 film Footloose. I’m not sure how I got away with it, but I did. Here is how I explained why to those who came to watch the film.
At the end of April 2014 I spoke at the History After Hobsbawm Conference as part of a panel on Marxist and post-Marxist social history. Fittingly, I presented a collaborative collective project on protest Political Protest and the Police: Young People in Brighton that I produced with Tom Akehurst and Louise Purbrick. We produced the report in response to what we had witnessed at the demonstrations in defence of further and higher education in 2011.