5 years, 10 months ago
Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea is a recurring feature in which things that are not Doctor Who are looked at in terms of their relation to Doctor Who. This time, we engage in the frankly insane task of looking at 1960s counterculture, extremist occultism, and the FIFA World Cup.
There is a 60s that we all know originated in San Francisco, and through the haze of marijuana we can still just about make out that there was some sort of revolution lurking underneath that tie-dye. Some aspects - sexual freedom, the de facto legalization of marijuana (which is, let's face it, not so much illegal to smoke as it is illegal to be caught smoking, with virtually no police forces in European or European-descended cultures actually bothering to seek out individual users), and certain hazy new age concepts have stuck around. But the hippie movement is, by and large, a dessicated corpse of a rebellion now seen as defined primarily through its failure - i.e. as a symbol of a failed revolution whose proponents are too naive to realize that they have long since failed.
But in 1966, as mod culture is about to suffer a fatal capitalism hemorrhage and psychedelia is about to take the center stage, we have the opposite problem. Just as in The War Machines we were caught between the context that led us there and our knowledge of what was to come, 1966 is an impossible year to grasp. We cannot understand it without peeking at the future. Which is the point of this entry - a loose assortment of tendencies in British culture, revolutionary and mainstream, in the 1960s so that we know what to keep track of as Doctor Who begins to change everything about itself.
The point here is not so much to identify styles as ideologies. If the hippies were a flamed out failure of a revolution, they were also practically on the other side of the world from London. What did the fringes of British culture in the 1960s think, want, and do? As a result, this entry isn't going to talk about Doctor Who all that much. On the other hand, the next eight years of Doctor Who are going to talk about this entry a lot.
The best place to start is probably the International Times
and Oz Magazine
- two of the leading counterculture zines of the 1960s. IT debuted in 1966, Oz in 1967, so we're looking here more at what is emerging out of the culture right now than what was strictly mainstream. IT's debut in October of 1966 is distinct most immediately because of its sheer practicality. Its opening editorial, entitled YOU (except that the word is printed upside-down) gives a good sense of its attitude. Speaking of a boondoggle of a project to create a London poetry centre, the magazine writes:
No-one seems to have realized that a basement and a few notebooks, plus the necessary poets, could be a suitable starting base for a poetry centre. Everyone was too involved with the Arts Council and the money-poewr game such a body is bound to make you play. That is not to say that the people involved necessarily acted in bad faith, but more to point to where their approaches are confusing them.
What's striking about this compared with the stereotypical assumptions of 60s counter-culture is how planned it is. No organic gatherings and be-ins are in sight here. Instead, IT is focused relentlessly on the business of doing. It wants action. The first page of its first issue is devoted primarily to a theater review that takes to task the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of US, a play about the Vietnam War, saying that "A century ago, the theatre's task, according to Chekov, was to ask questions. This has been superseded by a world-situation in which, if the theatre is to pull its weight, it must - at such times and on such themes - begin to supply answers." Practical results. Not mood, not art, not beauty, but action. This despite an entire column devoted to tracking the use of cannabis and LSD across the world. The drugs, in other words, are tools, part of an arsenal of tactics being used to force change. But what sort
Crucially, that seems to be somewhat more fuzzily defined. IT spend the first two pages of its second issue publishing 20 year old speeches by Ezra Pound during World War II, in which he was a raving fascist anti-Semite . Why? What significance did IT attach to this decision? "Because they exist... The fact is that despite Pound's treason trial, the speeches have never been published in their entirety" This is their style of revolution - printing antisemitic, fascist speeches they don't even agree with. This is a revolutionary act because of one key assumption - that the world is so broken that simple depiction of it is a damning indictment.
By early 1967, this was clearly IT's official policy. Their lead feature on LSD begins with a lengthy explanation of why they've largely avoided the topic to date, noting that "London, 1967, is not ready for a completely flipped-out newspaper," and that "to keep in existence we are having to at least make a show of playing the right games with the law, the Establishment, the etc." One issue later, the magazine seems to be starting to let it hang out with pieces about UFOs and the like. And as time went on, it would get more aggressively weird.
But by and large, IT owes much to a movement that is, for one obvious reason, far less known in America and probably a fair deal less known in Britain than the hippies are - the Situationist International. Focused mostly in France, the SI was a movement of avant garde Marxists. Their goal was explicitly to create practical situations that would move people away from the capitalist order and towards... something else. In the end, the movement sits on the edge of Marxism and anarchism, using a Marxist view of what's wrong, but offering no meaningful choice beyond "burn it down," even as it offered a compelling set of mechanisms for doing so. In effect, SI and its descendent revolutionary groups like IT reverse-engineered practical social justice movements and reduced them to their ideological core, creating a practical manual to burn down the world.
In practice, this would run aground merely two years later when the SI-supported wildcat strikes of May 1968 in France fail spectacularly. We'll deal with this in two seasons when they actually happen, but the capsule summary is roughly this - in France, the youth rebellion became a youth revolution, and it failed.
Returning to jolly old England, then, we'll look at the other big counterculture zine of the 1960s, Oz Magazine. If IT were anarchist revolutionaries masquerading as something resembling a proper newspaper, Oz was simply Oz. Exhibit A in British psychedelia. A glance at the cover of issue #3 over to your right shows the tone of the magazine, but this is perhaps the least interesting thing about it, which is an impressive thing to say of the post-modernist collage style that was being embraced. More interesting seems to be the content, bemoaning "sad cells of anarchists, Marxists, pacifists and humanists who think they understand how power works." So psychedelia with the same sense of social realism we saw in IT, and the same "DIY politics" approach.
But where IT foregrounded its practicality, Oz foregrounds its panache. Drugs are front and center, with ringing endorsements of cannabis: "At your first puff, muscles relax, tension dissolves and suddenly the world is benign. While your body takes a deep breath, your mind gains another dimension: perception sharpens and you discover a tremendous capacity for concentration and details. Your sense of hearing changes from mono to stereo, you look at mundane objects with child-like freshness, everything smells like frankincense."
Actually, that's a bit interesting I suppose. There are some key phrases in there. "Your mind gains another dimension," "child-like freshness," and perhaps "frankincense" are the bits that should be jumping out. And here we do need to talk briefly about Doctor Who, and perhaps a quick tour of other spots of counterculture. Things like Gandalf's Garden, a later zine that was, as its title kind of suggests, explicitly mixes hippie culture and the classical children's literature sensibilities of nice old neo-Victorians like Tolkien. Let's quote their first issue, shall we?
GANDALF'S GARDEN is the magical garden of our inner worlds, overgrowing into the world of manifestation. GANDALF'S GARDEN is soulflow from the pens of creators - mystics, writers, artists, diggers, delvers and poets. A wellspring of love and anguish that those with searching thirsts may drink thereof. As in the Stone Gardens of the Orient, where Soul Wizards sit within the stimulus of their own silences, contemplating the smoothness of the million pebbles, so should we seek to stimulate our own inner gardens if we are to save our Earth and ourselves from engulfment.
And when we mention Tolkien, of course, we have to mention his good friend CS Lewis, who, intentionally nor not, crafted what is perhaps the most literal metaphor for these inner worlds, magical gardens, and other dimensions of child-like wonder - the ordinary wardrobe, a plain wooden box, whose door leads to an impossibly larger realm within and invites us to fall out of the world.
Lewis died, by the way, on November 22, 1963, almost exactly 24 hours before Doctor Who debuted.
The concept of differing dimensions and worlds used by Tolkien, Lewis, Oz, and the rest has deep roots in British culture. The obvious ones are, of course, the Celtic legends of the fae - something like Thomas the Rhymer.
‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
‘And see not ye that bonny road,
Which winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Whe[re] you and I this night maun gae.
And of course there's the obvious door to another world, the TARDIS itself. But there's another important tradition of dimensions and worlds we need to look at - one that is, albeit very lightly, signified by the claim that cannabis makes everything smell like frankincense. That's the tradition of occultism in British culture.
By its nature, occultism is hard to summarize well. This blog, being the more buttoned down and sane of my blogs, will mostly stick to a top down summary of English occultism as an ideological system. Those of you interested in Part 1
and Part 2
of the Nintendo Project entry "Towards An Occultism of Video Games," in which I go a bit mad and attempt to demonstrate the process.
Here, on the other hand, we'll hold to a more broad set of principles. Let me first note that almost every step of this is based on some dubious history. I'm presenting the history sympathetically to the occult tradition. Reality politely begs to differ at various points, and it is up to the reader how much that matters.
So, a long time ago, Rome was busy falling, and out of it came a couple of philosophical traditions. Among them were early Christianity, Gnosticism, and Neo-Platonism, all of which have well known and trackable impacts through the subsequent centuries. But the big weird one is Hermeticism - based on a set of writings dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries, but organized in Renaissance Italy as the Corpus Hermeticum. These writings were attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a fusion of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth.
This process of fusing religions - known as syncretism - is central to Hermeticism, which mashed up various pagan and mystical beliefs into a not entirely consistent whole. In the 15th century, Hermeticism had a bit of a revival with the creation of the Rosicrucian orders, then petered out for a bit, then emerged full force in the late 19th/early 20th centuries in England via the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is one of those surprisingly important things we like to overlook. Basically, anybody who was anybody for a while joined it. W.B. Yeats, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and Bram Stoker were all members. Tarot cards as we know them today, particularly the most famous deck, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, comes from the Golden Dawn tradition.
Central to the Golden Dawn was a syncretism of a couple of traditions - tarot cards, an Italian card game/divination device, Jewish Kabbalah, and old fashioned alchemy. These combine into a system that I'll spare you the extended details of, and give you a summary that would piss any self-respecting Kabbalist off, but that basically involves creating a world tree that has various planes of reality and human consciousness that one spiritually navigates. And this was huge
in Britain in the early 20th century. And one of the most important planes, known as Tiphireth, has as one of its symbols... frankincense. And is a plane particularly associated with spiritual enlightenment and contact with the divine, and the highest that man can aspire towards.
See where this is all coming together? You have a political ideology that is fundamentally based on tearing down the existing world, uninvested in the details of what comes next, and that spends a lot of time on drugs looking for higher states of consciousness, i.e. doors into magic realms and other worlds. That's at least one of the central thrusts of British counterculture in the 1960s. Where France was invested primarily in material political change, and the US invested primarily in a narcissistic personal expression that psychedelic drugs aided, British counterculture split the difference, using psychedelic (the word, I should note, means mind-expanding) culture as a tool to try to make the world a stranger and more magical place.
But there's a complication. Let's circle back to that occult tradition. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn basically imploded in an internal power struggle focusing on celebrity bad boy occultist Aleister Crowley. A thorough explication of what Crowley was all about is miles beyond the scope of this blog entry, but suffice it to say that he was not the moustache-twirling Satanist of legend. Reading Crowley himself one gets a compelling portrait of a social revolutionary with a flair for the mythic, and we'll see echoes of him throughout Doctor Who, but for our purposes, let's leave it at this - Crowley's vision of the world positioned it as a particular manifestation of much larger cosmic and mystical forces. In Crowley's view, history has a purpose, the future is inevitably moving towards something, and all of this is driven by the natural trends of spirituality. But as a result, the "real world" as understandable through tarot and Kaballah and Holy Guardian Angels and, inevitably, lots of debauchery and drugs is big and alien. Not scary as such, but equally importantly, not a cuddly garden tended by a kindly old wizard from Tolkien.
It is safe to say, however, that Crowley's followers were by and large somewhat more drawn to the sex and drugs than other aspects. All the same, Crowley was, if not mainstream, at least plausibly well known - and in 1966, was only 20 years dead. To be fair, 1966 was not a huge year for English occultism by any stretch of the imagination. But it's useful to look at what was going on in it.
The main thing going on in it was Kenneth Grant. A protege of both Crowley and the other great English magician of Crowley's generation, Austin Spare, Grant didn't start writing until 1972, but it was in the 1960s that he was busy having the formative mystical experiences of his life. So let's crack open Grant's 1972 debut text, The Magical Revival.
Writers in the horror genre, from Poe to Lovecraft, tended mostly to place a similar interpretation upon the intrusive presences sensed in dreams or abnormal states of consciousness, and many of them wove into their spells the barbarous names and monstrous speech of the ancient grimoires. Goetic magic liberates the consciousness from the thralldom of individual existence. It permits it to billow into cosmic immensity. The result is a divine madness, an inebriation of the senses which is none the less perfectly and exquisitely controlled.
Intense stuff, to be sure. Don't worry about making sense of it. The thing I want to highlight is Grant's idea that the mystical experience of higher states of consciousness is what is gestured at by horror writers such as Lovecraft. Lovecraft, if you've never read The Call of Cthulhu
, wrote horror stories about horrifying beings beyond all human comprehension that might one day happen to roll over in their sleep and annihilate all civilization by driving us mad. So Kenneth Grant was busy advancing the frankly terrifying idea that this was, in fact, the same process as psychedelic enlightenment. In other words, that expanding consciousness and exiting this world into a more magical world was not, in fact, a source of childlike wonder, but a source of utter terror.
It's not hard to see why, in 1966, with international conflict, looming nuclear war, and aggressive culture wars within every developed country between the youth rebellions and entrenched power, why a vision of the world as on a precipice and about to plummet into madness would be appealing. That's just Quatermass
, at the end of the day. What's bizarre is that this viewpoint and the revolutionary viewpoint are sitting so close to each other, and sharing tactics. The vast cosmic paranoia of Kenneth Grant doesn't mean Grant is anything short of eager to speak the barbarous names needed to attain divine madness, and the possibility that higher planes of consciousness will be terrifying experiences doesn't make revolutionaries any less willing to tear down the world to get to them.
So we are left with two competing ideas - on the one hand, it is necessary to fall out of the world into a better world. On the other, our world is a fragile thing surrounded by terrible monsters. That is the central tension right now in English counterculture.
And it's over that backdrop that the 1966 World Cup happened. Far from counterculture, it is possible that the 1966 World Cup is the single most mainstream event in British history. The country's most popular sport has its premiere competition in England. Five days before the finale of The War Machines, England plays its opening game against former champion Uruguay, coming to a 0-0 draw. 2-0 wins against Mexico and France send them to the next round of the competition. There they defeat Argentina, sewing the seeds of of a rivalry that will be massive in years to come. That's followed by a semifinal victory against Portugal, setting up the final on July 30th, in Wembley Stadium, against West Germany.
And so England plays Germany in what is inevitably billed and seen as World War III - the third decisive battle between the two countries. (Yes. Soccer, or, as we call it in the civilized world, Football is that nationalist. In a later England/Germany game, the chant from the crowds is "One World Cup and Two World Wars.")
Germany opens the scoring, with England pulling back the equalizer in the 19th minute, leaving the game 1-1 at halftime. In the second half, England takes the lead in the 77th minute with a shot from Martin Peters. Then, in the 89th minute, in a controversial goal possibly off of a handball, Germany equalized again, sending the match into extra time. Eleven minutes into extra time, England manages a controversial goal that ricochets off the crossbar and, arguably, into the goal - though the matter remains controversial to this day.
And then, mere seconds from the end, Geoff Hurst gets on the end of a long pass from the legendary Bobby Moore. As England fans begin charging the pitch in celebration, he lashed a vicious goal in, freely admitting that if he missed the net his second choice was to bury the ball deep in the Wembley stands to run out the clock. While on television, in the most watched broadcast in British history, Kenneth Wolstenhome provides one of the most famous moments of sports commentary: And here comes Hurst. He's got... some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over. It is now! It's four!
And with that, England win their first and to date only World Cup.
This is the height of the Swinging 60s. Britain, already viewing itself as cultural capital of the world, is now the home of the world champions of the world's sport. This is, quite literally, as good as it gets.
So to our already bizarre mix of higher states of consciousness and horrifying monsters, we add a tremendous sense of national pride. Nationalism, psychedelia, and cosmic paranoia. That's England, 1966.
And from our perspective, we should perhaps worry. That War Machines story we just saw was interesting, but let's face it, Doctor Who doesn't seem up to the task. The cheery mod sensibilities of Vicki are long gone, and ever since confronting the possibility of a truly hostile universe
, the show hasn't known what to do with itself. We should, perhaps, face the very real possibility that it is played out. The TARDIS has landed everywhere interesting it will ever land, and has nothing more to say to the world.
And yet despite falling ratings, the BBC renews Doctor Who to come back in a few months. Plus it's in the cinemas again with another Peter Cushing Dalek film. The question, then, is how and if it will reinvent itself into this strange new world.
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