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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/18/13

How Bowiemania buries Thatcherism

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The cut-up -- fast, asymmetrical jump cuts in the fabric of time -- are the essence of Bowie's creativity, his eternal legacy. As a post-Dada experiment that William Burroughs brilliantly summarized as "a new dimension into writing enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variations," cut-up techniques perfectly suited, as Bowie himself admitted, his fragmented consciousness (and the minds of millions around the world). 

So there I was at the V&A, looking for a Ziggy playing Maggie crossover. It had to be the video for Boys Keep Swinging, a song on Lodger  (1979), the final album in Bowie and Eno's Berlin Trilogy, which came out just as Maggie was coming to power. Here is Bowie as icy Valkyrie, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and the ultimate Queen b*tch; as the inimitable Camille Paglia puts it in her catalogue essay, it's Bowie penetrating "the cold masculine soul and monstrous lust for power of the great female stars." Ziggy playing Maggie -- and she didn't even know it. 

And then there's Bowie as Pierrot -- the classic 17th century commedia dell'arte  character -- in the still mesmerizing video for Ashes to Ashes (a phrase straight from the classic Anglican funeral).  

And then there's the Lady Grinning Soul; a mix of Circe, Calypso, Carmen, Judith (the Klimt version) and Lulu. Maggie may have been no femme fatale. But socially, "she will be your living end."  

Not for Young Americans (I got a suite and you got defeat) -- and older Americans as well. Vast swathes of the US -- where the Iron Lady is hailed as some Brit Statue of Liberty, a beacon of "freedom and democracy" -- have now been taken over by Thatcher's children, ruthlessly using good ol' class struggle against state, and even private sector, working families. 

Affable Barry, the US president, also known as Double O Bama with a license to kill (list), has sung the Iron Lady's praises as if she was Dame Judi Dench on a James Bond franchise. The rest of the world, as usual, knows better. She was an enthusiastic supporter of apartheid; branded Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist"; detested "alien cultures", [1] supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; and was so cozy with Chilean mass murderer Augusto Pinochet that she hosted him when he was trying to flee his heavy load. All across Latin America, her Fame, what's your name? may barely be hinted at here. [2] The custard in the rhubarb pie was a nasty, military coup-loving son. [3] 

A Thatcherism (and its side effects) roadmap would have to include Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Launderette (1985), Ken Loach's Riff-Raff (1991), and endless reruns of the cocaine-turbocharged The Tube on Channel 4. On pop music, if the Spice Girls later configured themselves as Thatcherism's spitting image, the aversion is best expressed by Elvis Costello in Tramp the Dirt Down. The Cure played Buenos Aires last Friday. Look at Robert Smith's guitar; the aversion is perennial. And packaging the whole zeitgeist as a narrative, still nothing beats Money by Martin Amis (1985). 

But the film is a saddening bore/cause I wrote it ten times or more/it's about to be writ again./And I ask you to focus on this piece by Will Hutton, former editor of the Observer. Post-Thatcherism is all here; the seeds of the current despair -- provoked by a monstrous 3D bubble of credit, banking and property -- were planted in 1979. Financial greed up, investment/innovation down.  

So much for "labor market flexibility"; inequality -- exacerbated by the Big Bang of 1986, which consolidated the City of London as the center of a global financial boom -- is now spelled as Doom and Gloom. Worse, actually, than in 1990. Perhaps you're smiling now, smiling through this darkness/But all I have to give is guilt for dreaming

Anger? Not really. Waiting so long, I've been waiting so, waiting so/Look back in anger, driven by the night. There was hardly any anger, for instance, in 1997; everyone was looking back towards Swingin' London, to be re-enacted by a Tony Blair winning by a landslide; but he lost the plot right away, and later would shrink to the sad, one-trick pony legacy of a vacuous warmonger. I thought you died alone, a long, long time ago/Oh no, not me, I never lost control./ You're face to face/With the man who sold the world. 

It's time to leave the capsule if you dare

Europe 2013, full of tension and fear. All the young dudes/carry the news. Civil rights are melting down, melting down. Thatcherism's trademark class struggle -- Divide and Rule the disparate tribes -- ended up fragmenting Britain's social tissue beyond repair. There may be the odd brother back at home with his Beatles and his Stones/we never got it off on that revolution stuff/what a drag, too many snags. But across the fence, one still may find these children that you spit on/as they try to change their worlds/they're quite aware of what they're going through

In a fabulous PR coup -- a single coming out of nowhere on his 66th birthday this past January, after 10 years of silence -- Bowie tried to answer the question Where Are We Now? He looks back on his 1970s Berlin days -- which yielded the fabulous trilogy of LowHeroes  and Lodger. By itself, in terms of shaping the Western zeitgeist, the trilogy has been as influential as the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes you get so lonely/sometimes you get nowhere/I've lived all over the world/I've lived every place

In a curiouser and curiouser way, Bowie had been silent all through the Global War on Terror (GWOT) years. But boys keep swinging, boys always work it out -- even as terror, including shadow and drone wars, has become the new normal. 

How to break out? Still, in this valley of unequal tears, O no love! You're not alone/No matter what or who you've been/No matter when or where you've seen/All the knives seem to lacerate your brain/I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain/You're not alone

Knives now lacerate the Facebook/Google generation's brains -- from orphans of the true Arab Spring to legions of unemployed-for-life Europeans. There's hardly any evidence that we can beat them/for ever and ever. After all,  We're nothing, and nothing will help us. But the old order won't get away with it. Cause we can be heroes/just for one day

1.  Thatcher and the Inner City Riots, Huffington Post, April 16, 2013. 
2.  Why Thatcher's shadow still lingers over Latin America, Al Jazeera, April 15, 2013. 
3.  Margaret Thatcher 'gave her approval' to her son Mark's failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, The Guardian, April 14, 2013. 

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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