Saturday, January 09, 2010

History of Now: Do the Fat Shoppers have a Vision?

It's been a weird week, a combination of a nasty infection and snow has meant no evening engagements at all. Instead, BBC2's History of Now has been a good way to spend some of that time, giving a retrospective on the Noughties and even giving Andrew Marr the last word as a nod to his work on the 100 years before that.

Last nights was on globalisation, and featured the (not often heard) story of London as a multicultural success story, and recent record immigration levels not resulting in riots in the streets as a big achievement. There was also the irony of Britain hosting G8 at Gleneagles to try to make progress on climate change whilst half the population was jumping into planes for a cheap weekend break to Prague.

A couple of things have really jumped out at me.
1. The Noughties was the decade when restraint went out the window. Any sense of moderation when it came to consumption, travel, sex, alcohol or food consumption (the average weight of male and female rose significantly over the decade), borrowing, spending, emotion, language, behaviour, greed, self expression you name it, the idea of anything having a limit, being enough, seemed to have been thrown out entirely.

Which in turn reminded me of Proverbs 29:18 'where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint', or 'where there is no vision, the people perish' in other versions.

In the last couple of years, sheer economics, plus a few other factors, has reintroduced some sense of limits. Cut price air travel is down, partly due to the debt crunch, partly because we're more aware of the carbon footprint. Bad language on TV, and 'edgy' (Newspeak for 'offensive') material has been reeled in in the wake of the Brandon Ross affair. Consumption has, sort of, pulled back in the last 18 months, but not massively - we're still addicted to shopping.

And what's the vision?

2. If you were Karl Marx in 2010, identifying the opiate of the people, I doubt religion would be anywhere in your top 5 candidates. History of Now pointed out that social mobility had ground to a halt, and the gap between rich and poor had grown much wider. How had that happened without social unrest? Because of enough high-profile opiates to keep the masses always hopeful of breaking in: the Lottery, X Factor, Pop Idol, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. It maybe wasn't a coincidence that Britains biggest export in the Noughties was game show formats. It's a classic bit of magical misdirection: keep everyones eyes on Cheryl Cole and Jimmy Choo, and they won't notice what's really happening.

I'd love for this next decade to be unrestrained, but in the right things. Love, service, compassion, generosity, humility, kindness, truth, wisdom. There's more to life than shopping, and there's more to fulfilment than singing to Simon Cowell. If the next decade is more of the same, then we'll accumulate a few more toys, put on a few more pounds, and the sound of the Emperors' fiddle will grow louder over a burning world.

1 comment:

  1. Alcohol's quite cheap, as well.
    Social mobility reduces as the number of university places proliferate and exam results become easier to achieve. This levels out the CVs allowing the more emotionally literate, socially confident children of the dim middle classes to thrive.
    Meanwhile an expansion in university places means a removal of the grant, to be replaced with loans. And the working classes have traditionally been terrified by debt. Unlike the middle classes, safe in the knowledge that they know how debt works, and that mummy and daddy can be guaranteed to die and leave a few quid one day, of all else fails.
    Or is that hopelessly cynical?