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John Bird: Old clothes, old music, old ideas. At least consumerism moves on

The biggest change in the last 50 years is the advance in buying power of even the world's poorest people.

Dirty Grandpa is not for thoughtful, sensitive people. The star, Robert De Niro, was the draw for me. But an old man, recently widowed, going out to invade a youth resort and ‘dick’ as many college girls as he can is not likely to win on the moral front.

The De Niro character shaves his pre-funeral beard and coerces his young and innocent grandson to hit the road for Florida and wild drunk fun.

Repulsive, obscene and, at times, funny, the De Niro character redeems himself in the end by being sincere, true and honest.

Compare with Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii and there is not a dirty old man in sight. And all of the seaside fun resort is wholesomely clean. Obviously something has happened to Hollywood in those 50 years. Now farts, shits and penetration are cause for laughter. And, of course, the old man turns out to be a real hero in the end.

When I was a boy you knew who the old people were. They were laden down with old clothes and old voices, and a continuous commentary on how the young were guttersnipes and wasters. Now of course the old are simply hedonistic indulgers from the 1960s and the 1970s who have grown up and old.

What happened is that ‘youth culture’ froze with Presley and The Beatles, and has been stuck there ever since. So the formerly young and foolishly wild have grown old but the culture has stayed exactly where it was.

Except it’s got ruder and more toilet-obsessed. And there’s more crap to buy. That is the only refinement.

It’s the old anger, recurring. It’s the protest over politics. As if the last 50 years did not teach us anything new about politics and thinking.

Now, to me, all the young look like they’re old because there’re stuck in the clothes of their grandparents. And the re- and re- and re-emergence over 55 years of the ragged denim, torn-and-worn-looking at the knee is a symbol of… what? That the record is stuck?

But it is not as if it’s only the clothes and the music that have got stuck – only the Tommy Hilfiger and rap style of a few years ago seemed to me truly modern. It’s the thinking. It’s the old anger, recurring. It’s the protest over politics. As if the last 50 years did not teach us anything new about politics and thinking.

In that 50 years we have got into more danger. More consumerism to destroy the very fabric of society. More globalisation and automation to undermine working communities. More plastic in our seas. More gadgets to destroy our mind and fry our brains. More hedonism and more getting out of your heads because there are more and more stimulants to do it with.

More of a gap between rich and poor. More mental health problems, greatly aided by a society that seems obsessed with appearance and distractions for life itself.

And standing over us, like the Norse gods of old, are the Google, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc gods of commerce. Perhaps a couple of hundred people in the world who magnetise our money to them. And our loyalty and our time.

And yet, where are the counter arguments, the counter politics to handle this unbrave new world?

Only the worn-out protest politics of the ’60s and the ’70s that didn’t work then and aren’t working now.

Old clothes, old music and old ideas; yet new needs, new markets, new threats, new poverties.

I found myself last week sending out a tweet early one morning (my best thinking time): “Buy from the community, not the gated community!” Or words to that effect.

Why? Because I believe that the biggest, biggest, biggest change that has taken place in the last 50 years is the enormous advance in the buying power of even the poorest in the world. To make the fortunes of people who are destroying the world with their overbearing wealth.

Why does Big Mac scan the Earth, from Tokyo to Totnes, from Washington to Widnes? Because lots of people, often with little disposable income, have bought their food.

I did not watch to the end of Dirty Grandpa. But it had every insult to modern life within it; to me. And it also showed how outrageous, drug-induced, drink-spiked, head-banging and sex-
obsessed you have to be sometimes in Hollywood just to paint a picture that people want to see.

We may wear the clothes of old, and carry the ideas of old, but at least our consumerisms are modernising before our eyes to keep pace with our decline into nonsense.

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