Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Inventing the Victorians - and the 1950s

I have just posted part of Matthew Sweet's conclusion to his Inventing the Victorians to my anthology blog Serendib.

Sweet argues that we have invested a great deal in defining ourselves as not being like the Victorians, and that we therefore have a vested interest in maintaining a false picture of them. The more "cruel, hypocritical, repressive, intolerant, prudish and cheerless" they appear, the more modern and creditable we seem by contrast. (It also shows just how well Sweet can write.)

The other evening I wrote that the past - in particular the 1940s and 1950s - took place in colour. An obvious point, though one that was lost on the makers of the film Pleasantville, who were convinced that the fifties happened in black and white.

Another reason we are so down on the fifties is our reverence for the sixties. Just as we define ourselves by not being like the Victorians, so we think the important thing about the sixties is that they were not the fifties. Yet as both decades recede into the past, the similarities between them become more apparent.

Central to the iconography of the sixties were symbols of authority like traditional bobbies, London buses and red pillar boxes. The grown ups were in charge and the flower children free to play as a result. It all looks rather innocent now, and evokes the Planet Ladybird that was mentioned in a quotation in another recent post.

See how all this stuff hangs together?

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