Thursday, 22 September 2022

The past is a foreign country

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

L. P. Hartley - The Go-Between (1953)

A commonly repeated observation on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II is her lifelong dedication to the role, a dedication she explicitly intended to pursue until the day she died. Born in 1926, her generation generally took life seriously. Perhaps it could be said that our late Queen’s generation was the last to take life seriously. The possibility is certainly worth a thought or two. 
By 1926, a whole raft of frivolity was bubbling to the surface of the developed world, driven by technology and economic growth. Cinema, radio, recorded music, television, telephone, mass transport and mass communication all seem to have played a part in promoting mass frivolity.

World War II stamped all over that of course, but the frivolous phoenix did not take long to rise again. Only on this side of the Iron Curtain perhaps, but even that didn't keep the entertainment business buried for long once normal life had resumed.   

Entertainment has always been popular, but it is not a wild exaggeration to describe our previous UK prime minister as an entertainer. Which ought to be a little odd, but it isn't. In a somewhat macabre sense even Joe Biden... perhaps not... but the thought is there.

If we don’t take life as seriously as previous generations, perhaps we don’t need to. As a general rule we could easily claim that entertainment is easy and taking life seriously less easy. As the good old slippery slope cliché reminds us, we do tend to go for easy over difficult even if easy has some obvious perils.

Entertainment is persuasive. Taking life seriously isn’t. Hence…


Mark Wadsworth said...

You'd take your job seriously if you got paid £50 million a year for doing it and knew it would be passed on to your heirs.

Sam Vega said...

Some interesting thoughts there. The Frankfurt School of Marxists would say that frivolity was written into capitalism as a deliberate attempt to mesmerise the proletariat and keep them happy.

I think it's probably deeper than that. A person without frivolity is now seen as miserable, lacking something, lacking taste. The person who takes life seriously is now a figure of entertainment: either an object of ridicule as in the pompous and officious little authoritarian, or the "deep" artist or spiritual seeker who is in some ways admirable, but not to be emulated.

Perhaps those who had come through the Great War had seen enough of seriousness and developed frivolity as a defence. Huxley's early novels like "Antic Hay" deal with this theme brilliantly. But was it ever like that before? Did politicians and the public go through periods when they disarmed the big questions with jokes and irony and dissembling and actind like fools all the time.

If you haven't read this about Boris and what is wrong with him, have a look. And watch the linked video, if you have time.

I have no understanding of the "God" bit, but it really made me think.

A K Haart said...

Mark - I'd see it as optional. For me, an attractive option would be to earn enough to walk away and still have enough left for my heirs on my expiry date. Yet if I earned that much, I wouldn't be the person I am now.

Sam - thanks for the link, I've bookmarked it. I imagine troops used humour and frivolity in the Great War trenches as an antidote to the horror of it, but we use it all the time and as you say, we also use it to disarm the big questions. Maybe we are always using it to disarm something.

James Higham said...

"Yet if I earned that much, I wouldn't be the person I am now."

And imagine how good you'd be in penury!

dearieme said...

"Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all." Balfour.

There are more of his pensées here.

Tammly said...

All my life, (which I think I've taken more seriously than most of my contemporaries), I've been struck with the tide of flippancy with which I have been confronted. At school, amongst fellow under graduates and around the party dinner table, it is nothing but frivolity and flippant banter. That's why AK's blog is such an oasis of seriousness which I can't get anywhere else except with my brother.

A K Haart said...

James - almost saintly (:

dearieme - thanks for the link - I've bookmarked it. Unfortunately, he was right although it's not an outlook we can use for getting anything done.

Tammly - thanks - it does seem to be a common problem. It's as if we use flippancy to avoid our tendency to conform.

Peter MacFarlane said...

"If we don’t take life as seriously as previous generations, perhaps we don’t need to. "

If we don’t take life as seriously as previous generations, perhaps we haven't needed to up till now.


A K Haart said...

Peter - good point, I hope we haven't forgotten how.