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Revolt into Style: Pop Arts in Britain by…

Revolt into Style: Pop Arts in Britain

by George Melly

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A remarkably clear-eyed vision of the pop culture of the 1960s written over the last few years of the decade. Melly’s great triumph is to understand the nature of pop culture as it evolved in that decade, how it came to prize an ephemeral moment and an eternal now. How it disdained history and celebrated novelty. What makes him sharper than most is that even when dissecting the nature of the movement he’s capable of determining its impact outside London and how important a national impact is if a movement is genuinely to be described as popular.

After defining his terms Melly deals with pop music (as the revolutionary catalyst this gets nearly half the book), visual pop (art and fashion, pop film and TV and finally pop literature. Throughout it’s clear that Melly’s a slightly detached observer, being slightly too old to participate in the pop revolution but this is a benefit – he can see the flaws of what’s happening by virtue of experience but isn’t so old that he automatically disparages the art produced by the young. As a result his conclusions are both intellectually and emotionally intelligent, able to see to the roots of his subjects without sneering at how derivative they might be. His key insight is to see pop culture as eternally seeking novelty, that its driving force lies with youth’s fascination with change and kicking against previous generations. Given Bowie’s literary omnivorousness you can perhaps imagine him reading this and realising the need for continual ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (whereas his contemporary Bolan remained trapped in an eternally perfected pop moment and thus was swiftly left behind once his time was done).

Of course, this also really means the book was outdated before the writing was done, but it remains relevant in the principles it finds. You can trace Melly’s central thesis through punk (startlingly you can see punk’s roots towards the book’s end, five years early), new wave, Smash Hits, MTV, Tarantino, Britpop and so forth. What’s slightly startling is the conclusion; that this injection of energy, of pop has left society less rigid and more emotionally intelligent. The specifics may have dated; this though remains an intelligent analysis of how culture works. ( )
  JonArnold | May 4, 2015 |
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