Fashionably late capitalism

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Tiffany Korta
    November 28, 2012 @ 1:03 am

    My memory is a little fuzzy on exactly when but there was a point when the BBC was told to stop chasing rating and just make quality telly.


  2. Scott
    November 28, 2012 @ 1:19 am

    RE: Jimmy Saville, it should perhaps be noted for legalistic purposes if nothing else that we technically still don't know precisely what he did or didn't do with any great accuracy (although yes, granted, the sheer weight of evidence that has emerged has indicated that he more than likely got up to some very nasty things indeed; at this point, it's looking more a question of 'exactly how guilty is he?' rather than 'is he guilty?'), and the issue has only been made foggier by a bunch of higher-ups and then-contemporary celebs falling over themselves to insist that they knew something was going on and a tabloid press which is taking nothing but hypocritical vindictive glee in the chance to stick the boot into the Beeb's kidneys. Not that this changes the fundamental point being made, but still.

    As for Warren Ellis, I have to admit that I'm not quite sure of the point you're making there — yes, he wrote more about Blair than Thatcher, but I'd imagine that that's simply because Blair was the contemporary figure when he was writing whereas Thatcher, for all that he's obviously not a fan, was history by the point that his career was sufficiently established that people cared about what he had to say concerning British Prime Ministers. From my exposure to his work I'd say that Ellis is clearly a writer who prefers to engage more with the present / future than the past, so I'm not really sure that there's anything truly meaningful in the fact that he chooses to focus more on Blair than Thatcher than it simply being the fact that Blair was Prime Minister when he was writing "Transmetropolitan" and that Ellis didn't like him either.

    In fact, the same issue of "Planetary" you discuss where Ellis has his monologue about Thatcher also has Ellis pointing out that all the satirical characters who emerged from critiques of Thatcher's Britain, for all that they clearly had a lot of anger and justification behind them, for the most part now look unavoidably and in many cases laughably dated. Ellis is clearly making the point that as much as he might hate Thatcher, there's clearly little point in continuing to stick the boot in when her power and influence beyond the purely historical has dwindled to practically nothing and there are new things to focus on.


  3. peeeeeeet
    November 28, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    Nor is it even accurate to say that Our Friends in the North marks the point where the BBC returned to the top of its game in producing prestige dramas: that’s clearly 1995 and Pride and Prejudice.

    … Aaaaand 1994's Middlemarch adaptation gets overlooked yet again. ::goes off to sob into his beer::


  4. Jesse
    November 28, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    It’s certainly better than any other broadcaster I can think of.



  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 28, 2012 @ 6:36 am

    My main point regarding Ellis is simply that Blair is as savagely hatable to parts of the left as Thatcher is. Which is not something I assume that the 50% of my readership who comes from the US knows. Much as the American left may grumble about Clinton's welfare reform and Obama's executive overreaching, we never come close to what Blair's legacy on the left was. (This is perhaps related to the lengthy parenthetical on third parties, which in an earlier version contained direct reference to the American left's rather traumatic experience with them in 2000.)


  6. Robin Carmody
    November 28, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    An important thing to remember about Savile, something a lot of people in the UK have forgotten these last two months, is that he got away with it largely because he worked in light entertainment and Radio 1 (the latter a concept – a non-commercial pop radio station – wholly foreign to most Americans, as it also was, for entirely different reasons, to many senior BBC people when it was created to meet demand after offshore stations were banned). Because of the class system and the deep-rooted quasi-feudal structures of British society, these parts of the BBC were historically viewed as almost beneath moral responsibility, so socially and culturally low-grade as to be unworthy of the proper oversight which the BBC did give to its more Reithian output – so the cynical neglect of its audience on its pop side and the constant challenging and stretching of its audience on its highbrow side in some ways had the same roots; the former was the price that had to be paid for the latter, and had the wrongs been righted on the former front, the latter would have somehow been weakened and trivialised.

    Which is pretty much what has happened from Birt onwards; the BBC is far better and more representative in terms of light entertainment and popular culture than it ever used to be, and treats its moral responsibilities to its audiences in those fields far more seriously, but this has come at the price of a decline in some of the BBC's more traditional qualities. This mirrors a change in British society more broadly, where post-modernism's long march through the institutions (facilitated both by commercialism and the Murdoch axis and by post-structuralism and semiotics, by the New Right and the New Left – or by the legacies of both Suez and Hungary, if you like) and a broader generational shift have greatly reduced distinctions between high and low, posh and pop. As in British society more generally, its effects on the BBC have been both positive and negative – much of the old stuff was horribly patronising and feudal (and dismissed pop culture's artistic potential and strength as a voice of the working class in favour of mid-Atlantic cabaret), and absolutely had to go, but there was also a baby of artistic endeavour thrown out with the bathwater of snobbery. It's the same in pop music – Mumford and Sons represent a horrible assertion of a slumming-it elite over a mass cultural form, but you'd probably need a major resurgence of Hyacinth Bucket-ism to have a Britain without them, and would that be a price worth paying? It's the question I ask myself almost every waking second.


  7. Adam Riggio
    November 28, 2012 @ 9:50 am

    Canadian situations on the left are even stranger, lately, because we have a Conservative government with a completely unpredictable opposition. The old Liberal Party (which was popularly referred to as "Canada's natural governing party," so should give you a sign of the pride that comes before a fall) has been squashed by its own philosophical emptiness, but is trying a resurgence.

    The problem is that any Liberal Party comeback will come at the expense, not of the Conservatives, but the New Democratic Party, Canada's actual left-wing party (recently broadened to include urban progressives from Quebec and the major cities, and environmentalists, along with its traditional labour union base). The New Democrats are more powerful federally than they've ever been — official opposition status in parliament — thanks to that broadening of their support, and I think they do have the potential to replace PM Harper. But there's also a Green Party, which only has one seat in parliament, but came in strong seconds in a couple of by-elections recently. They're fiscally conservative, but heavily environmentalist.

    Yet Canada still has a UK style system of first-past-the-post geographically representative seats. We've hardly ever had to deal with minority parliaments, so don't have a political culture where governing coalitions among parties are seen as legitimate or reasonable. We aren't dealing so much with a third party problem, as a damn confusing mess of five parties all jockeying for dominance. That's the Canadian politics trauma.


  8. Adam Riggio
    November 28, 2012 @ 10:46 am

    "The crux of what Our Friends in the North is about: the agonizing imperfection of politics, and the way in which both radical politics and working within institutional structures fail, often painfully, to be adequate to the task. . . . The sixties ended. The good guys lost."

    This is where I think a lot of progressive people were in the 1990s, and I think that status continues today. Some of my own developing research projects focus on many elements of radical politics that constitute self-destructive tendencies. To pick the simplest example, radical slogans and core ideas alienate many of the people for whom such movements claim to speak. Anecdote. I was once at a party where a dedicated Marxist, devoted to a revolution of the working class against capitalist exploitation, delightfully renounced the neighbour across the street, who we could see watching a sports game on tv, as psychotic, for having bought into capitalist structures that subvert his mind. Not exactly a recipe for success, declaring those for whom you advocate to be psychotic.

    There's no more radical statement than "tomorrow's too late." It means that the revolution has to start now, that incremental change works too slowly to work at all. But the radical slogan as a guide to political activity and social transformation leads to two outcomes. 1) The defeat of the movement as the majority of the populace remains unconvinced of the new politics, or afraid and hostile to movement leaders, as happened in the US, UK, and France. 2) The failure of the movement in its own success, as leftist revolutionary movements, in taking power, become brutal dictatorships that enforce their ideology through violence, as in the USSR and Mao's China.

    Perhaps this is the problem with the radical point of view: at particular thresholds of size of the institution under discussion, the radical attitude just can't work anymore. I think this is why Occupy has largely gone underground, surfacing only for wonderfully efficient anarchist hurricane relief, but leaving many of the larger questions of governance behind. Doctor Who chasing down his might-have-been at the end of the series, saying "Tomorrow's too late," is a radical path to happiness that throws away the status quo, and opens up previously inconceivable possibilities for existence. But it's the kind of action that may only be physically possible at the level of individual things, the "small, beautiful moments."


  9. Stephen
    November 29, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    On Saville, I'm going to echo something Ian Hislop said on Have I Got News For You – when people say "they knew" what they mean is that "they'd heard the rumours", not "they knew that the rumours were true".


  10. Daibhid C
    June 23, 2015 @ 7:18 am

    Coming in late to this, on a random surf through the archive, but absolutely.

    I remember someone a few years back touting an obvious fake transcript of a HIGNFY outtake as evidence everyone in the BBC knew about Saville and did nothing. When it was pointed out it was an obvious fake, this person replied that the fact someone knew enough to make this fake transcript was evidence everyone in the BBC knew about Saville.

    Problem: The people who created the transcript (one of whom had the fantastic pseudonym of "Emergency Lalla Ward Ten") had no actual connection to the BBC. They'd just heard the same "Saville's a bit weird" memes as everyone else.

    At the time I remember commenting somewhere that if it had turned out Michael Howard was really a vampire, that wouldn't necessarily mean HIGNFY had access to this information but chose to make jokes about it rather than informing the Watchers' Council.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.