Thursday, June 12, 2008

Are you political?

I am halfway through The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing. It's about a disparate group of political dissidents who set up a squat in London and plot to bring down society. Their self-righteous anger and disgust at the middle-classes is both pathetic and funny. They all come across pretty badly - even the main character, Alice, who is somewhat motherly and alternates between being the doormat skivvy of the group to abusing her parents and stealing from them "for the cause". She's also in love with a gay man who treats her with contempt and is always going off cruising, after taking her money.

Lessing wrote the novel in the 1980s - and it now looks like a historical parody. I wonder what her scruffy bunch of dissidents would make of 2008 - after 11 years of the Labour Party Britain is now shinier and most of us seem to have improved lifestyles, although there are rising figures for child poverty and pensioner poverty - and The Apprentice - a programme which celebrates capitalism is one of the top-rated tv programmes in the UK (I wonder how the tabloids would sell newspapers without it).

That line "The People United, will Never Be Defeated" seems quaint and overly idealistic. Perhaps people like that still do exist, but on the whole it seems that Thatcherism won out and most of us accept the inequalities that go along with it, while enjoying the competitiveness, acquisitiveness and hedonism that New Labour has helped to promote - the now famous Peter Mandleson quote "We are intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich" would have been unthinkable from a member of the Labour Party 20 years ago. New Labour turned out to be Thatcherism with a smiley face. One of the aspects of the research I do involves charting changes in language. It's probably not surprising but words like election, poll, vote and politics are a lot less frequently used these days than they were 15 years ago. In their place though, we have football, sexy, fuck and businesses.

And as for being politically motivated - for most people, voting now involves texting for some dancing buffoon to win a television contest. What happened to that "Make Poverty History" campaign that seemed to be everywhere? Did it work? Is poverty now history? It seems that i-pod flashmobbing or celebrating being drunk seem to have replaced political activism. Even the MayDay protests just seemed to be an excuse for people to smash things up.

I'm finding the book a bit difficult to get into though because the characters are all so unsympathetic and deluded. Maybe it's me though. I read Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller at the weekend, which was a much more enjoyable read. The cynical, out-of-touch narrative voice of Barbara Covett, with her dislike of pretty much everything modern and complete lack of idealism or care for society seems more fitting.

1 comment:

mike said...

I read The Good Terrorist back in the ideologically riven late 1980s, after a well meaning old friend bought it for me on impulse in a book shop. I think my friend was slightly worried by my slow slide towards orthodox left-wing dogmatism at the time, and wanted to issue a gentle corrective warning. And you know what: it worked. Despite some occasional implausibilities in the details (which I put down to Lessing's huge generational distance from her subjects), the book nailed some of the absurdities of far-far-left dogmatism (so far left that it bordered on far right in some ways), in a way that I hadn't encountered before. As such, it really did have a significant and far-reaching impact on the way that I viewed the world. Do finish it!