So after Britain leaves the European Union at the end of this week, will things change culturally here over the next few years?
They certainly did after ‘The War To End All Wars’ when shock-wave after shock-wave struck the UK. When the ‘boys’ came home in 1918, although some would have expected and hoped to return to the way things were in 1914, many having survived the war, wanted to forget the past, put the old life behind them and hoped for things to change, really change. And change they did.
Their Victorian relatives must have been horrified, shaken rigid. Imagine it: out went women’s long dresses and in came, for the first time in our history, skirts which gradually inched up a woman’s legs showing not only ankles (good gracious!), but also knees (appalling!). Then out went Mozart, Bach and Tchaikovsky and in came jazz (dreadful, my dear, quite dreadful!). And out went the waltz and in came the Charleston (how can they call that dancing??). And as to the painting (what’s that supposed to be?). In fact, the 1920s became a time which jumped from the past to the future, a time of complete change in all forms of creativity, technology, social progress and even in sexuality and morals. It was called Modernism.
As the 20s became the 30s, a new wave called ‘art deco’ swept Britain, Europe and the West. This was Modernism turned into more sophisticated fashion in clothes, furniture, art, music, books, plays and above all, in architecture (my dear, it’s white and has a flat roof!). This might have developed into something spectacular if it hadn’t, in 1939, run into The Second War To End All Wars, which brought everything but guns and butter to a shuddering halt.
When this war came to an end in 1945 it took the boys (and this time the girls as well) a few years to recover, but by the early 50s their younger siblings had moved on from Bing Crosby and Glen Miller to Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard and had taken the jazz and swing of the 1940s and turned it into rock ‘n’ roll music and dance. The boys wore a style inspired by fashion in the Edwardian era; the girls swirling skirts and tight tops.
Paintings continued as abstract expressionism painted by such artists as Picasso and Francis Bacon and then up popped pop art. Cinema expanded into wide-screen and technicolour. In plays and books, this was the era of the Angry Young Man, a term applied by the British media to describe young writers who were disillusioned with traditional British society and with what they termed ‘The Elite’. Sadly architecture became far from as elegant as it had been in the late 1930’s and the new style became known as ‘brutalism’, characterised by block-like structures made of concrete and most commonly used for the new tower blocks and institutional buildings.
And then came the 1960s. And what an explosion that was.
By now, the ‘baby boomers’, the children of the post-war years, had come of age and for them, even the 50s were too staid. Skirts shot up past the knee and boys formed gangs. First came the Mods and Rockers, two youth cultures which went head-to-head. The Rockers had their motorcycles and black leather jackets, the Mods rode motor scooters, wore tailored suits, polos and slim-fitting pants. Both gangs enjoyed a good fight and sparked a moral panic amongst their elders. (That isn’t how they were brought up!) However, one remarkable and long-overdue effect of the two world wars was that the class system gradually began to break down over the next two decades.
But then came the pill, the contraceptive which was officially not available to single women but rapidly became as easy to obtain as the cannabis and other illegal drugs which swept through Britain in that decade. With the pill came free love which broke the sexual mores of centuries, gradually replacing the idea of a permanent two-parent family, so it wasn’t surprising that the hippies, a youth counterculture, arrived in the 1967 Summer of Love with their slogan of ‘Make Love Not War’. They favoured communal living, vegetarianism, holistic medicine, long clothes in psychedelic colours and outdoor festivals of the favourite music of the time such as, in Britain, the Beatles and the Stones. The first festival was held in Woodstock, New York in 1969 and this was followed in 1970 by one with an even larger crowd on the Isle of Wight.
As can be imagined, in the main their parents were horrified. (Good grief! Is this what we fought for?)
So, what is likely to happen here in Britain when we leave the European Union this Friday, 31st January 2020? Agreed, membership of the EU cannot be equated with being in a war, but at least for Brexiteers it will feel like getting out of jail and like ex-cons we shall want a better life –– yes, to have our own borders, our own laws and definitely free speech as we have always said. But while we can’t go backwards, perhaps we could have more attractive architecture in the future, more elegant clothes for both men and women, new plays, books and films with less sex and violence. Better mores.
On the other hand, there are also the Remainers and we can only hope that they will not be so furious at their defeat that they will want to drag us, and the country, down again into the dark.