“Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday”

I recently visited the V & A’s big exhibition: “Postmodernism. Style and Subversion, 1970-1980”. Go see it! It is a unique musealization of our near past, and a candidate for the  museal event of the year, digging postmodernism or not!  I will present an article about it in the forthcoming volume of “Danske Museer”, the journal of Danish museums.

The exhibition ends with a fascinating piece of work: Artist Robert Longo’s music video for the New Order number “Bizarre Love Triangle” (1986). It is an flickering row of changing images with a returning motif of a suit clad man falling through the air. This particular image is of course reminiscent of Longo’s famous photo series “Men in the City” and the 1980’s proto Young Urban Professional. Here, the Young Urban Postmodern is rather out of control. See it where you can – it is an interesting and important work of its time, combining visual art, the music video and the music itself in a deconstructing artistic time capsule.

The image of the falling suit is still with us. For one thing in the 9/11 iconography and Don DeLillo’s “The Falling Man”. But also in the intro to the “Mad Men” series where the graphics show the silhouette of man falling between the Manhattan skyscrapers through drinks, women and other accessories. An interesting similarity.

A line in the New Order song goes: “Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday”. A confession from the days of postmodern insincerety and a manifesto for the current retromania age where also the electropop of New Order has had its revival. The “ourselves as we were yesterday” of Mad Men is an interesting affair, ballancing between elegance and destruction, marking both distance towards the ancient days of 1963 and creating an affection for the style and look.  Talking about modernism and postmodernism, I just came across a sentence from Andreas Huyssen from 1986 about one of the good things of postmodernism being the ability to look upon modernism in a more reflected way:

“rather than being bound to a one-way history … which interprets it as a logical unfolding toward some imaginary goal, and which thus is based on a whole series of exclusions, we are beginning to explore its contradictions and contingencies, its tensions and internal resistances to its own “forward” movement” (After The Great Divide, p. 217).

Pretty descriptive of what Mad Men does!

Disco – an educational warning from 1981

Welcome back to Retro Culture. It has been a while, due to courses and field studies in postmodernism in Victorian museums in London. But back at office I want to share an object found in the deep storage of the library: “Disco-Kulturen” by Bent Pedersbæk Hansen, an edition of a series of educational booklets published by the association of Danish teachers in 1981. (Dansklærerforeningen).


“The world is gone crazy. In disco”. This is the alarming condition for the long haired teacher generation of “bongo-patter” (‘bongo tits’: slang word from the book meaning “the prototype of teachers wearing purple velvet trousers, a pink t-shirt and a colored napper on the head” / “Den prototype af pædagoger, der går med lilla fløjlsbukser, lyserød T-shirt og en farvet ble om håret. Og på fødderne et par solide fodformede sko”).

Thus this booklet that turns out to be a consciousness awakening warning against the artificial disco and its artificial needs. “Disco is not just entertainment. It is escapism” (p. 3). “Disco is not for the head. It is not about social lyrics, that one needs to think about .. The relaxing music is syrup for the eardrums at the party. To your party there must be disco – who dares to host a party without SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER on the turntable. Or maybe DON’T YA THINK I’M SEXY with Rod Stewart that has also become a ‘disco-drønert’..”

This is followed by interviews with teenagers spending all their money on clothes and hairdressing. And the ultimate warning: John Travolta only gets a minor part of the income of the disco industry! “There should be problems enough to adress”, as the good teachers state.
Lukily, they suggest an alternative. In the end Pink Floyd is mentioned as “ambitious and original music” that is “living all the time. “This is “good music””. The bongo tits have talked!

From the perspective of today, disco is a remarkably silent youth culture that has not been discussed with the idleness of punk, hiphop or any new phenomena that quickly gets reckonized as a new object of study. Hurrah, says the cultural studies community immediately. They did not with disco.
At the same time it must be said, that disco and its many offsprings gets an intensive connoiseur, collector and revival fashion attention nowadays. Just see the many elaborate outings as the Disco Discharge series, the Horse Meat Disco or, if I may confess my latest purchase: “Disco Deutschland Disco. Soul, philly and disco from Germany, 1975-1980″.