Anti-Thatcher songs (4): assessing the Lady’s artistic inheritance

This is the last in a series of four posts on anti-Thatcher songs and songwriters. The following excerpt from a Guardian article was originally used in a test: students were asked to write a synthesis highlighting the various ways in which Thatcher can be said to have influenced British pop culture. The article provide rich material, and can be used in various other ways: for instance, students can be asked to present individually the various works of art featured in the article. For this post, I stick to the synthesis exercise, and provide a possible outline at the end of the post, along with the main elements which I expected to be mentioned in a synthesis. 


 

Instructions:

Based on the following Guardian article, write a synthesis which highlights the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and British culture. Your synthesis must include an introduction presenting the source, as well as a conclusion. Papers presenting a “problématique” and a clear structure are encouraged. Good luck!

“How Margaret Thatcher left her mark on British culture”, The Guardian, Saturday 13 Apr 2013.

From Meryl Streep’s Iron Lady to the Spice Girls, writers and critics of The Guardian pick the films, books, art, music and TV that show Thatcher’s lasting influence [Note: only the art, films and music are included here].

Art, chosen by Laura Cumming

Treatment Room (1983)

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In Richard Hamilton’s installation, Thatcher administered her own harsh medicine from a video above the operating table with the viewer as helpless patient: a case of kill or cure.

Taking Stock (1984)

8a20960a63b9b8669035babb0c7f6c1e--political-art-contemporary-art

Hans Haacke portrayed Thatcher enthroned, nose in the air like a gun-dog, surrounded by images of Queen Victoria, the Saatchi Brothers and, ominously, Pandora. Caused national furore in 1984.

 

In the Sleep of Reason (1982)

Thatcherpedia-Mark-Wallin-003
Still from installation by Mark Wallinger The Sleep of Reason. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Mark Wallinger edited Thatcher’s 1982 Falklands speech from blink to blink, fading to black in between, emphasising her solipsistic tendency to close her eyes when speaking as if nobody else existed.

 

 

The Battle of Orgreave (2001)

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Mike Figgis filming Jeremy Deller’s re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave, June 2001. Photograph: Parisa Taghizadeh


Jeremy Deller restaged the worst conflict of the miners’ strike from multiple viewpoints, uniting two strands of British culture – trade unionism and civil war re-enactment – in an act of catharsis.

 

 

For the Love of God (2007)

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Damien Hirst’s career – Thatcherism applied to art – reached self-parody with this skull, calculating material value against aesthetic worth: £15m for the jewels, £50m for the Hirst.

Films, chosen by Philip French

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

MV5BMzQ4YzUzNGQtMDNkYS00NTk5LTkyMDgtNmVkMjg5MjIzNTdmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY2MTk1ODk@._V1_Director John Glen has Roger Moore’s Bond, who has recovered a top-secret naval device, being congratulated by the PM (Janet Brown), phoning from the kitchen at No 10 with Denis Thatcher beside her, Gin &Tonic in hand.

The Ploughman’s Lunch (1983)

The_Ploughman_s_Lunch-745557987-mmedDirector Richard Eyre and writer Ian McEwan anatomise and anathematise Thatcher’s Britain with Jonathan Pryce as a BBC producer writing a revisionist history of the Suez affair while the Falklands war proceeds.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

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Thatcher created Channel 4, which produced some of the major films attacking her regime – most memorably this Stephen Frears satirical fable, scripted by Hanif Kureishi, about immigrant entrepreneurs in divided Britain.

Riff-Raff (1991)

r8TLVWaIiW0bVH5WbivplK8mgwaKen Loach has been Thatcher’s foremost cinematic antagonist. In this angry comedy he turns a non-union London building site (a former hospital being remodelled as luxury flats) into a potent image for Thatcher’s Britain.

The Iron Lady (2011)

4139iMBVtoLThere’s Richard Attenborough’s Young Winston, and The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918), but Meryl Streep’s uncanny portrayal of Thatcher (directed by Phyllida Lloyd) is the only substantial biopic of a 20th-century PM.

Music, chosen by Kitty Empire

“Tramp the Dirt Down” by Elvis Costello


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EnteCover of Spike, album by Elvis Costello featuring Tramp the Dirt Downr a caption

 

 

 

Political pop was not born in 1979. But it received an almighty fillip [=boost] with the Thatcher era, allowing everyone from Billy Bragg to Wham! to rally around loathing of one of the most hated figures of modern times.

 
Cover of the single “Common People” by Pulp

 

“Common People” by Pulp

220px-Pulp_-_Common_PeopleThe Eighties were a golden age for musicians, with squatters’ rights and these state-funded arts-grants-by-proxy, allowing bands such as Pulp to live on the dole [= toucher le chômage] or go to art college and create.

“Supersonic” by Oasis

Oasis_supersonic_sleeve
Cover of the single “Supersonic” by Oasis


Thatcher’s efforts to reduce unemployment gave rise to the enterprise allowance scheme – a £40 a week handout that helped kickstart labels such as Alan McGee’s Creation Records.

 

 

 

Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” by the cast of The Wizard of Oz

Wizard_of_oz_movie_posterAt the time of writing, the song is in the Top 10 and heading north, thanks to a Facebook campaign to get the Wizard of Oz song to No 1 by the time you read this.

“Spice Up Your Life” by The Spice Girls

 

Spice_Girls_-_Spice_Up_Your_Life
Cover of the single “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls

The Spice Girls encapsulated the legacy of rampant individualism of the Thatcher era: sing about pish, sell the lie that fame is the apex of human endeavour, and hijack feminism with an ersatz analogue.

 

 

 


 

Synthesis

Introduction:

  • article published at the time of M. Thatcher’s death
  • The Guardian: anti-Thatcher paper
  • Thatcher was a Conservative Prime Minister, 1979-1990
  • the article is a collection of selections of work of arts by various critics
  • a variety of artistic media are featured

Main elements expected in the synthesis:

  • art was used as a way of criticising MT and her policies
  • more specifically, the following elements of her policies were criticised in art: neoliberal economics, their effects in terms of social inequalities, her repression of social movements, in particular the Miners’ Strike (1984-1985), her foreign policy (Falklands War 1982), her authoritative governing style, and her personality.
  • but her relationship to art is more complex than that. there are other ways in which she influenced artistic productions: according to the article, she had created good conditions for artistic production; art was also used to represent/describe a whole era, along with its characteristic such as individualism. some works of art also amount to a eulogy of Thatcher. 
  • could also be tackled: the question of the reception of such pieces (censorship? outrage?), and the modes of representation of Thatcher (satire, use of archival footage, playing on artistic genres…)
  • paradox of the article: amounts to a eulogy of Thatcher and her “artistic career” in a paper which was very hostile to the Prime Minister

Possible outline:

I. Critical works
II. Works who benefitted from Thatcher’s policies
III. A mythical figure 

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