Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A bit of fun but not going anywhere (repost)

As it's the tenth birthday of the London Eye I thought I'd repost this from last February (it was one of my earliest). It's a bit po-faced but I think the thought is worth considering:

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.

4 comments:

zmkc said...

Brilliant - plus it is hideous and clashes with the architecture it keeps looming up behind everywhere you look (well not quite everywhere, but when you look in its direction)

dearieme said...

It's a symbol of The Age of Blair.

Brit said...

There are mini-versions all over the place. I've been on the Manchester Eye and there's even one in Birmingham.

I did enjoy my ride on the London Eye and I don't find it an eyesore at all, since London is stuffed full of much worse ones and they don't really detract from the good bits, but yes, there's a lot in what you say.

Gaw said...

Zmkc: It is incredibly intrusive, nosing into just about every view of the river down there. On balance I'd prefer it without but then I'm probably overly grumpy.

Dearieme: I don't think future historians are going to be terribly kind to Blair. His main achievement was winning three elections, after which...

Brit: I didn't know it had been breeding. Birmingham hasn't got many views to ruin...