Friday, August 12, 2011

confessions of an anglophile

This was going to be a jovial little piece of perfume writing on the defunct house of Dukes of Pall Mall, the origin of my blog moniker and a bit of a fetish of mine - not just because their two perfumes, Cotswold and Belgravia, were indeed amazingly well-made, high-quality fragrances, but because I harbor an irrational fondness for the faded culture of the English gentleman and chap. A figure which could still instill hatred and mockery in the 70s as a principal symbol of British classism (Monty Python's upper class twit sketch would be a classic example)  but has meanwhile become so marginal it can actually now serve as a position from which to satirically and self-ironically observe the new inanities of  cool Britannia - witness chap hop. As London is once again burning, and a whole lot of other places, I started to wonder to what extent the inflexibility of the class system, in which the insignias of gentility from Savile Row suits to a shave at Trumper's were vital cultural capital, has contributed to the current malaise - Britain taking last place among all developed nations in terms of social mobility is a telling fact. What I didn't wonder about for a moment, was the extent to which 30 years of unbridled neoliberalism, whether of the Tory or New Labour variety, have turned much of the sceptere'd isle into a social wasteland of consumerist zombies (a fact the brilliant Shaun of the Dead made abundantly clear in the most hilarious way possible). In fact, these emotionally numbed mobs destroying their very own communities, armed with blackberries, apolitical, antisocial, narcissistic to the core, with nothing on their mind but loot, since their value system exclusively revolves around generating self-worth through sporting vaunted consumer goods (cultural capital!) are simply the underclass version of city bankers, brokers and hedgefund managers who have torched thousands of communities and wrecked innumerable businesses while piling up bonuses. These rioters are not rising up against the system, they are emulating it with the available means at hand. City bankers and Croydon wankers, tearing apart society from both ends.
Back to perfume (sort of): I say this not in self-defense of a personal favorite: but the old-fashioned classism embodied by Dukes of Pall Mall looks almost quaint beside the shallow and vain "American Psycho" consumerism of "luxe pour luxe" vanity, represented, for one, by the inanely priced Clive Christian fragrances, and the niche perfumery business as a whole, which, let's face it, has fed heavily upon the massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few which has been going on in the US and UK for decades under the guise of free markets, deregulation, tax cuts for those who don't need them and other Chicago School oddities. Those with less and less money keep up the facade of middle-class affluence by piling up debt and the ones with nothing will evidently smash windows.   Economically, socially and psychologically, the hyper-consumerism of postmodern capitalism has become a dead end. Replacing communities (public space) with shopping malls (consumer space), self-improvement with self-gratification and emotions with commodities is turning people (and then their neighborhoods) into burned-out wrecks, self- and world-loathing sociopaths or, at best, alienated shopping junkies.
Is a new asceticism the answer? Hardly. There's plenty of drabness in Tottenham already. Apart from the political necessity of restoring true social democracy, i.e. a society sincerely aiming to include, to meet out social justice and ensure true equality of opportunity through education and public services, we need to turn to enlightened hedonism, to indulge in pleasures that put us in touch with ourselves rather than providing surrogates for real life. I'm not saying that Utopia will be achieved by way of Guerlain. But if you can learn to see the beauty of a perfume, rather than its worth as cultural capital, perhaps you can also learn to see the beauty in yourself, rather than accepting the S&P rating you're stamped with by society. And people who can accept themselves as they are have no need to vent an inner rage on others, or establish their worth through symbolic consumption, whether as shopaholics or looters. Stop burning down houses, start burning credit cards, then go smell some roses.        


Anonymous said...

Ok I'll have a go at this one :)
It's to be remembered that England has been fighting a class war since the Norman conquest, during the period of American colonisation and then the Australian experiment England were able to export their social problems, now they can't and we're seeing a repeat of the social inequity of the 1930's.
What's happening in England is a lot like a midlife crisis, as a bloke as opposed to a Chap, (who would have no need of external validation) you get told from an early age that if you get the right education the, right job, then the house and kids you'll be a happy fulfilled man.
Then reality bites you're 45, can't stand the job, stopped having sex with the misses 5 years ago, don't know the kids and the house is a millstone, you're miserable and what the hell you may as well grow a pony tail and try and pick up lap dancers.
This relates how? Those kids of various ages don't even have the capacity to think of the dream, even if they do all the right things they'll never get the chance. When faced with a no hope why not destroy every thing?
There are in my mind three contributing factors, for the current crop of problems.
The GFC hit the poor hardest.
The bailout for the GFC isn't being paid for by the rich, those who created it, those who profited from it, or those who can afford to contribute to it.
The moral vacuum in England starts at the top, if the poor just see the country's leaders ripping the system off, why should they give a toss.
I don't know if more Chaps would improve the state of play but certainly the lack of Divines contributes. People for whom an ethical framework is the basis of there existance, who then become community leaders and rolemodels. Where is the noblessse oblige?
Yet for all the fuss these problems are still small, the vast majority are discontented youth, the real problem will be begin when the young parents of the middle classes start kicking up.
The only thing I'm surprised about is that this hasn't happened in the US, at some point the populace will lose their belief in the American dream, as something that is just unattainable for the vast majority, still the American mythology, the land of opportunity, the greatest country on earth is holding strong, but for how long?
In Australia, while we have survived the GFC better than most, the Australian dream is failing, it is now unaffordable to buy a house in any major city, too many of our youth are finishing University with $50,000-$100,000 debts and no prospect of employment. Our politicians spend all there time fighting over issues that really don't affect the lives of the electorate, deliberately portraying themselves anti intellectual pissants and wankers who work hard to be the loudest and most obnoxious bastard in the room.
While this may be the start I don't think it's going to be the end, there are always crux points in history when the decision makers either get it right or they stuff up and make things worse, the chronic failure of leadership over the GFC has guarenteed this outcome, who will make the difference and right the ship of state?


dukeofpallmall said...

I'm with you, and it's a terrifingly big problem across the globe. The uprisings in the Arab world are driven heavily by the young who have zero perspective, except migrating to Europe (where they are highly unwelcome). The highly educated young professionals and tsudents protesting in Spain are equally without a chance of finding adequate jobs. And even in Germany, where classism is less strong, the social net is still sort-of holding, and pre-emptive policies have avoided the worst (plus we have no comparable real estate bubble and artifical prosperity on credit) we speak of "generation internship," where young professionals are exploited for years on end in low-wage or unpaid trainee-positions with the carrot of "possible employment" dangled in front of them. It will get a lot worse, before it gets better.