Pop Politics in the U.K.

The relationship between popular media and the United Kingdom has evolved drastically since the midpoint of the 20th century, undermining national goals in favor of a supranationalist culture, while maintaining a close association with local authority and regional taste. This can be evidentiary of broader interactions between media and the ever closer union of Europe. As a means of “pop populism”, globalization has facilitated the exchange of information and ideas across national borders and provided an open forum for public discourse which has otherwise been bureaucratized out of traditional political systems. However, national response to popular culture in the political sphere has been colored by a conservative resistance to change that exemplifies a fearfulness of the drastically evolving cultural landscape globally.

The advent of rock and roll in British mainstream media was characterized by indifference with regards to the U.K. government, but soon entered political discourse, first in a reactionary manner on the level of individual political players. In the 1960s, the U.K. government began in earnest to interact with pop culture, with some politicians using cultural association as a vehicle for political advancement. These interactions occurred with both positive and negative associations. The 1970s and the birth of punk showed a waning of interest by the central state in policing the music industry, though the BBC continued to censor its airwaves independent of legal requirements. However, the influence of local authorities on the dissemination of punk ideology was implicit in its development. Additionally, national media filled the reactionary void left by governmental indifference, characterizing punk as a movement of violence and radicalism.

In contrast, the 1980s were at first a time of political indifference, but entered the institutional lexicon in the form of raves, which incited moral panic in mainstream news media as well as parliament. Live Aid, an event that contrasted individualistic ideologies under Thatcherism by encouraging co-presence and unified human compassion, was kept at a distance by the conservative government at the time. By the late 1980s, however, Graham Blight, MP for Luton, introduced the foundation of what would become the Entertainments Increased Penalties Act of 1990, which created a judicial standing for prosecution of unlicensed event organizers. Thus, over the forty years since the advent of rock and roll, political reaction to cultural phenomena in Britain teetered between cautious acceptance and fearful resistance.

The 1990s saw the strengthening of political relationships with popular culture in Britain. This political influence on popular culture can be seen again in the BBC, which directly and indirectly receives state funding that make the broadcaster complicit in wider propagandist rhetoric. The advent of the internet has also largely strengthened popular culture’s influence on the political sphere. While accusations abound that young people are politically apathetic and non-participative in the democratic process globally, a growing number of academics argue that political involvement has simply taken on a new form, one that is created, cultivated, and curated by the internet and the age of information. Many youth have become disenchanted with mainstream political parties, and with those politicians who claim to speak on their behalf.

However, the latest generation of global citizens undoubtedly interprets political issues differently than previous generations, most noticeably due to the ways in which the underlying structure of the democratic process has evolved in the wake of the information age. Political leanings of young people are increasingly colored by a global identity and co-presence, rather than traditional influences of family and local community.

While many see the democratization of culture as a form of social progress that applies free market thinking to ideological discourse, scholars have also identified the colloquialization of political issues as a factor in the muddying of underlying philosophy. Thus, it is vital that cultural musings on political issues not be excluded from traditional enlightenment values of rationalism and logical reasoning.

In conclusion, it is clear that popular culture and politics are intrinsically linked, increasingly so in the digital era by virtue of rising co-presence via the internet. Globalization occurs culturally in addition to the more traditionally studied economic and political processes, and must be considered in the context of the media to better understand societal mechanisms as a whole. However, the ways in which this platform shift manifest itself embody many dualities, each of the importance and influence of local to supranational governance, reactionary and embracing responses to shifts in popular culture by individual politicians, and the nature of the dialogue itself in being characterized by a sense of global citizenship and engagement in the political process at large.

2 thoughts on “Pop Politics in the U.K.

  1. Rebecca Merson

    I really like your topic I think it is a very interesting and unique topic to write about. This is a topic I had no idea about and I did not realize that politicians used cultural association as a way for to politically advance. I think it is really great that you could take this topic and relate it to our class. I really liked how you compared the latest generation to previous generations. I never realized how closely related popular culture and politics were.

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  2. Hanah Leo

    In comparison to the Circassian minority in Turkey and their practices in expression, the popular culture in France is a refreshingly different viewpoint. The view in France gives almost a simulation of what the culture could have turned into had the Caucasus remained an individual country. Music is a large part of the culture in both of the groups discussed, and with the connection made to how political ties could be influenced by what is popular it is clear that rhythm and the way that a view is presented has amazing impact. The mention of internet and connectivity globally also points to a possibility of a homogeneous mix of different people in the long run.

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