Friday, 13 February 2015

All Mod Cons

In the early chapters of Mod (Britain's biggest youth movement), Richard Weight identifies an irony at the heart of the movement. Although imagined and invented by working class youth, the emphasis on sharp fashion made it a movement defined by style, and the fetishisation of clothing made it a fundamentally consumerist movement, and a herald of Thatcherism.

Other youth movements, such as punk, would never acknowledge the intrinsic tension between their rebellious intentions and the financial reliance on capitalism - The Sex Pistols tried to convince that they were exploiting the system. Mod, however, was brand conscious and aped the mannerisms
of the ruling classes. Less than a subversive appropriation of fashion, it was aspirational: interviews in the book include words of support for the Conservative party, and comments on how the Mod look helped in the world of business. And Michael Heseltine, later a self-consciously dashing member of Thatcher's 1980s' cabinet, was involved in one of the earliest Mod magazines.

This might help to clear up one abiding mystery: in the 1970s, the left, at least in the theatre world, were constantly expecting a revolution. When it came, it came from the right. Free market values replaced the post-war consensus politics. If the dominant youth culture of the 1960s was Mod, with its consumerist bent, this is unsurprising. While the hippies may have won the culture war, the values of Mod had taken deeper root.

The rise of Mod suggests that even by the early 1960s, rebellion was compromised by its reliance on capital. The subsequent immersion of youth revolt into a dull mainstream factory-line (from The Damned to Blink 182, from illegal rave to the Ministry of Sound) is not necessarily an expression of how a cunning industry took advantage of trends. It implies the desire to sell out has always been present.

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