Just Say No

The artist Michael Wilkinson’s show ‘Lions After Slumber’, which was exhibited last May at the Modern Institute in Glasgow, was a repository of artefacts from past militant moments. The show was dominated by images and objects referring to the May ‘68 events in Paris and the punk and post-punk cultural sequences that happened in the UK in the late 70s and early 80s. The largest item in ‘Lions After Slumber’ was a massive photograph of Piccadilly Circus – the same image that had hung, upside down, in Malcolm McLaren’s shop Seditionaries in the 70s. But, tellingly, Wilkinson exhibited the photograph the right way up, a sign of the ways in which – in the thirty subsequent years – power has been restored. Wilkinson’s show was in many ways about the same malaise that I described in my book Capitalist Realism. [1] The book is about the retreat of the militancy, which ‘Lions After Slumber’ invokes. The surrender of any utopian impulse to a ‘capitalist realism’ which expects business to dominate all areas of culture has elicited a range of responses – a mordant sense of resignation, a cheerily compliant cynicism, an impotent protest, the quiet yet implacable plague of youth depression. All of which is manifested in a culture given over to (a largely unacknowledged) retrospection and pastiche. But even as pessimism totally pervades today’s culture at an unconscious level, negativity is officially abjured.

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