Sunday, 15 February 2009

A bit of fun but not going anywhere

Simon Schama often begins his books by taking something - usually something intrinsically eye-catching and intriguing - and making it emblematic of his subject. In the case of 'Citizens', about the French Revolution, it was a life-size plaster elephant. In 'The Embarrassment of Riches', about the Dutch Golden Age, it was a beached whale.

He will take these rather unlikely things and metaphorically hold them up to the light, turning them around in order to reveal their significance, both contemporaneously and from our perspective. His imaginative riffs will then elaborate on this significance to tell us something profound about the people of the time.

Well, I was driving past the London Eye this evening and I wondered whether the Schama of the future might use it as an emblem of our 'age of irresponsibility'? There it is, almost overshadowing Westminster and Whitehall, the Mother of Parliaments and the administrative centre of what was the largest empire the world had seen. Right in the solemn heart of the country's government.

And what is it? Despite its impressive engineering and undeniably elegant design it is essentially a fairground ride. Does something as trivial and indulgent belong in this spot?

I think it may well be just right. It's perfectly emblematic of where we have been in recent years. Entertainment and self-indulgence have overridden the political and serious in our culture. Our obsession with celebrity, with entertainment and our fear of being challenged or educated makes it the right emblem for the 'noughties. We've really been going nowhere - just round and round with nothing to show for it except a bit of inconsequential fun.

And it was a bit of commercially paid-for inconsequential fun, that I understand is now struggling to get a sponsor.

No comments: