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Table of Contents
– Clare Maas
– Karina Akuova & Laura Bay
– Theresa Berhörster & Tobias Serf
– Annika Gehl & Larissa Manderfeld
– Viola Michaelis & Kristina Steuer
– Anna Brachmann & Kathrin Wirbel
– Susanne Beck & Madelaine Schäfer
– Egle Beinoraviciute & Jeanette Fischer
– Christine Claes & Valérie Keppenne
– Jana Reimers & Maria Zinchenko
– Lisa Terwer
– Lisa Missler & Dana Schmidt
Do you remember the 1990s in the UK? If you lived through it, you might remember the rises in multiculturalism, new technology and media, and will have experienced first-hand social, political and economic change. The 1990s witnessed a segmentation of popular British culture, and artistic and social rebellion. Were you a part of it?
The writers of this ebook were intrigued by a positive view in the literature on the 1990s which sees the decade as both a buoyant assertion of British culture and a repackaging of ‘Britannia’ for global export, thus fusing together almost everything great that had happened in British culture in the preceding 40 years. Is this how you remember it? This collection of essays takes a broad-based approach to understanding the key developments in social and cultural life in Britain in the 1990s. If you were there, reading this ebook may bring back some fond memories. And even if you weren’t, the essays make for interesting reading on a decade that has come to symbolise a turning point in recent British social history.
The essays collected here were written by postgraduate students on English Studies programmes at Trier University (Germany), who were excited to know about this (in)famous decade. They assess the extent to which 1990s developments were predictable from or reflections of phenomena observed in preceding decades, and evaluate whether and how they actually enriched society in general. The ebook is divided into three parts, namely Changing Britain, Cool Britannia and New Britain, roughly reflecting chronological progression through the decade in a number of areas.
The section Changing Britain includes essays on how life in the UK differed from previous decades and changed during the 1990s, exploring political tendencies, economic decisions, and perceptions of the monarchy. The first essay, entitled , gives background information on Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative politics and analyses the contradictions and changes that arose with John Major and Tony Blair. The second chapter, entitled , examines how the economic policies of Thatcher, Major and Blair affected the gap between the richer and poorer inhabitants of the UK in the 1990s. The following essay, , focuses on the decreasing popularity of the Royal Family in the 1990s, evaluating Princess Diana’s death as a potential trigger.
The Cool Britannia section of this ebook explores youth culture and the rebellious tendencies it displayed during the 1990s in Britain. The topics covered in these essays, on drugs, music, fashion and cinema, are highly interconnected. The first chapter, entitled discusses reasons for the rise of drug abuse during the nineties in Great Britain, especially among young people. The close connection between drug use, youth culture and music is also presented in the following chapter , one of two chapters of this ebook dealing with music and its relationship with socio-political issues. Changes in society and youth culture were also depicted in British films that were made in this decade. The chapter aims to determine whether those films realistically depict living circumstances and lifestyles of people during the 1990s. The last chapter of this section, describes another way ‘coolness’ and rebellion were expressed in this decade, namely through people’s fashion choices and popular fashion icons.
As the 1990s were also a decade full of innovations in terms of international politics, race and gender issues, and technology, the final section of the ebook, New Britain, analyses these in light of the contradictions and changes that arose. The chapter discusses British relations to the European Union and the question of whether the 2016 British EU referendum was a consequence of decisions taken in the 1990s. The subsequent chapter, entitled , explores the issues of multiculturalism and race relations in 1990s Britain and impacts for the future. Similarly, discusses the development of the ‘New Lad Culture’ and whether it can be seen as a reaction to earlier feminist movements. The final essay in this collection, , sketches the rapid technological progress witnessed in the 1990s and its influence on everyday life in Britain. These technological innovations, in combination with the new political, racial, and gender attitudes constituted the feeling of a New Britain and the starting point for the new millennium.
We have decided to make our ebook available for free. Instead of charging you to read the essays, we ask you to donate whatever you think our work is worth to SHINE Education charity (UK registered charity number 1082777), by clicking on our .
What’s the story? Labour, Tory
When Tony Blair named his party ‘New Labour’ in 1994 and used this for his campaign in 1997, in fact, it was not a revolutionary idea. Beforehand in 1989, a new policy document ‘Meet the Challenge, Make the Change’ was unveiled by the Labour Party, which already showed first signs of New Labour: a growing acceptance of Britain’s economic situation, the shift from unilateralism to multilateralism, and the favour of the party in European issues (Pearce and Stewart 565). Although the Labour Party was in decline, losing many of their voters, they had a good chance of success at the end of the 1990s. After the Thatcher era, followed by the rule of Major, Blair and his New Labour seemed like a reasonable alternative, since people desired change in politics (Kavanagh 4). But how new was the transformed New Labour? Was it really a revolution or just a successful political campaign? Thatcher lost people’s support and Major was described as inefficient (Heppell 382), but was Blair able to fulfil the people’s expectations for change? Even though New Labour promised a completely new political direction, the policies implemented were not really new, but inherited either from the party’s predecessors or previous Prime Ministers.
After ruling Great Britain for 11 years, it is not surprising that Margaret Thatcher and her politics still had a great impact on the politics of the 1990s. When she was first elected in 1979, it was a time of economic and political decline (See: ). The developing crisis caused a high unemployment rate among British workers, and members of the increasing public sector belonged to the lowest-paid employees throughout the UK. During the ‘winter of discontent’ between 1978 and 1979, many of them went on strike (Reitan 24). The Conservatives used these struggles for their campaign and blamed the Labour government for the ‘industrial chaos’ (Pearce and Stewart 520). Consequently, the Labour Party lost many of its voters to the Conservatives. In 1979, Thatcher won the election “because […] the Labour Party had been discredited and she offered new leadership and a fresh start” (Reitan 25). After the election, Thatcher moved away from the Labour revolution of 1945 – 1951, and committed to a market economy instead of a planned economy, justifying free competition and enterprise (Reitan 27). She claimed that public ownerships were inefficient, since they “became politicized without the test of the free market” (Reitan 38). Therefore, her first term from 1979-1983 was a time of economic policy: income tax was lowered while value-added-tax (VAT) rose, interest rates increased and controls over exchange currencies were purged (Jackson and Saunders 5). One of the main points of her policy included the control of inflation (Pearce and Stewart 520), in which she succeeded, since the economy improved during her second term from 1983-1987: the inflation rate fell, interest rates declined and the GDP grew (Jackson and Saunders 6). The establishment of an ‘enterprise culture’ caused an increase in new businesses and self-employment (Reitan 54-55). Furthermore, privatisation was probably one of the major issues of Thatcher’s politics. This was of financial importance because it brought large funds into the Treasury, but “the price of the shares rose so rapidly that employees who did not take up their quota of shares soon regretted it” (Reitan 38). After all, the greatest issue during her rule was probably the so-called “poll tax”, a fixed community charge that made her even more unpopular.
Although Margaret Thatcher had always been a controversial figure, she had to struggle with her decreasing popularity among the people in Britain during her third and last legislative period. According to a poll in 1989, “67 percent of the respondents disliked her, but 63 percent respected her” (Reitan 76). In addition, dismissals and reshuffles in the cabinet in order match her own ideas (Reitan 29), along with her ‘confrontational leadership’ made her unpopular, even within her own Conservative Party (Reitan 75). In addition, her critical position towards Europe, resisting “the bureaucratic regulations of the European Commission in Brussels”, made her “an unwelcome colleague at meetings of the Council of Ministers” (Reitan 44) (See: ). She had never been popular among the people, though she turned into an established leader over the years. She was convinced of her ideals and plans, and sometimes “revealed a shrewish nature as she shouted down those who disagreed with her” in the Cabinet (Reitan 28). In public, she endeavoured to show a strong image, prepared her speeches carefully, and appealed to the middle- and working classes (Reitan 51). Despite her strong appearance, “[t]he leadership and confidence that were welcome when she first became Prime Minister [became] an imperious manner that led her to ignore or defy political advice”, and the introduction of poll tax probably had a significant impact on her breakdown (Reitan 96). Thatcher's era ended on the 22nd November 1990 when she informed the Cabinet about her intentions to resign.
The new leader of the Conservative Party, who automatically became Prime Minister of the UK after the resignation of Margaret Thatcher in 1990, was John Major. Even though Major belonged to the same party, he differed significantly from Thatcher, mainly due to his personality. “He was seen as a moderate, who would continue the fiscal and economic policies of Thatcher, but with more understanding of the needs of ordinary people and greater willingness to work within the European Community” (Reitan 117). Due to Major’s social background, he was highly interested in extending and improving the quality of social services, especially with regard to health care (Reitan 119). In 1992, no one expected John Major to win the general election, so Reitan writes that “[m]any Conservatives saw Major as the sacrificial lamb, who would lead the party in an election it was expected to lose” (Reitan 127). However, arguably due to Thatcher’s resignation, the Tories won more votes than expected and were successful in the General Election of 1992 (Reitan 127). Even though Major’s policies were not drastically different from those of Thatcher, voters felt the change because of new politicians in the Cabinet and the new, young Prime Minister (Reitan 127). However, the General Election in 1992 was won largely because of Major’s pro-European views, though Major had a hard time being accepted by his own party. His party was split at that time, but Major tried to please both sides of the rift: Pro-Europeans and Euro-sceptics. Heppell, in his article Weak and Ineffective? Reassessing the Party Political Leadership of John Major, argues that it was during the legislative period of Major, when the Conservatives lost their reputation of being efficient at governing the country (Heppell 382). In comparison to Thatcher, Major was seen as lacking strong leadership skills due to his pragmatic views and seeking of consensus (Heppell 386). Towards the end of Majo’s premiership, many factors led voters to the wish for political change, among them Major’s unclear position about Europe, his failures in uniting the Tories, and economic events such as ‘Black Wednesday’. People’s dissatisfaction with Major’s style of governing the country thus led to a considerable change in the politics of the 1990s, namely, to the victory of the ‘New Labour’ Party with their leader Tony Blair in the general election of 1997.
It was the Conservative Party which had enabled the transformation of the Labour Party, as New Labour promised to create a more efficient government than that of the Tories. The new leader of Labour, Tony Blair, together with another important Labour politician, Gordon Brown, observed the Clinton campaign in the United States and learnt that one should concentrate on the voters in the centre of the political spectrum, and that these are most concerned about social issues such as education or health care (Reitan 158). As Blair was only 43 years old when he won the general election, his campaign was also seen as new and dynamic, since he had even encouraged musicians to perform during some events of his campaign. Blair’s campaign was successful because of many reasons, among them due to his appearances in the media. It was in 1994 when Blair announced that the ‘New Labour Party’ had been created and that it would be devoted to the future, not the past (Reitan 158). Blair knew that, in order to be successful, he needed to be the opposite of Major, his Party to be united and his personality to be strong (Reitan 159). New Labour was announced to be “the party of fiscal responsibility, free enterprise, and social reform” (Reitan 158). Although, it was called ‘New Labour’, most of the points of his election manifesto were inherited from the former Labour leader John Smith (Kavanagh 5). After 18 years of the Conservatives being in office, people expected change from Blair and his party; they expected reforms in public services, investment in infrastructure and better relations with Europe (Kavanagh 4). His first term, however, was a disappointment for the voters, as the reforms promised were not introduced; they were implemented later on, at the end of his third term (Kavanagh 5). Another interesting fact is that the reforms themselves were not new, but were influenced by Tories’ policies, especially by those first proposed by Thatcher (Kavanagh 14). Even though these reforms were not new, they were at least implemented, unlike Blair’s idea of Britain being the heart of the European Union, as well as the idea of Britain sharing a mutual currency with EU countries (Kavanagh 7, 12).
According to Welsh historian Martin Johnes, the only revolutionary New Labour policy was devolution (qtd. in Turner 454). Under the rule of Thatcher and Major, Scotland and Wales had felt restricted in their powers and ruled by the English (Mclean 492). Due to the fact that both Conservative Prime Ministers were strong unionists, they believed that devolution was half way to independence (Reitan 152). Blair inherited the devolution policy from his predecessor John Smith (Mclean 487). Despite the fact that Thatcher and Major did not support the process of devolution, it was already on the agenda in 1997 when Blair came to power. ‘The Constitutional Convention on Scotland’, for instance, was introduced in 1995, but Blair’s interest in this process was first noticed during his election campaign in 1997. Even though Scotland demanded their political independence more than Wales (Turner 458), in 1997, referenda in both countries were carried out. One year later, the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act were presented (Mclean 493), followed by the creations of local governments in both countries. Thus, the only completely new policy during Blair’s rule was devolution; other policies were rather similar to those of his predecessors or could not be implemented.
To summarise, although the Tories and the Labour Party had many differences in their policies, both shared similar ideas regarding the need for improving social services and reducing gaps between social classes. On the other hand, devolution and the European Union were policies in which they had different opinions. Another difference between the three Prime Ministers of the 1990s was their personalities. While Thatcher and Blair were both strong political figures and had already been opposition leaders before becoming Prime Minister, Major was a different kind of politician, who was looking for pragmatism and therefore seemed weak in comparison (Heppell 388). Major listened to his party while Blair listened to his voters (Kavanagh 7). This ineffectiveness of Major led to the considerable change in the British politics of the 1990s.
When British workers turned against the Labour Party in the late 1970s they paved the way for the Conservatives, Margaret Thatcher and her policies. The Conservatives promised change, just as New Labour did later on. New beginnings take time and it may not even be possible to start something completely new, since every new idea is shaped by the achievements and mistakes of the last governments. As Margaret Thatcher “had worn out her welcome” (Reitan 96), John Major had had to build on her past policies, as later ‘New Labour’ had to do. The three Prime Ministers were highly devoted to the improvement of social services and therefore the reforms carried out by Blair were not entirely new. One can say that devolution, which is counted as Blair’s achievement, was new, but this policy was inherited from his predecessor. Blair’s hopes concerning the European Union might be seen as new after 18 years of the Conservatives, but this policy could not be implemented. Thus, one can conclude that Blair’s New Labour was rather a successful campaign, influenced by the Clinton campaign in the United States, rather than a Labour revolution. Changes within a political party may only be a reaction to changes within the society, and in Labour’s transformation there was hardly anything that had not been on the political agenda previously.
Blair, Tony. New Britain – My Vision of a Young Country. London: Fourth Estate. 1996.
Casey, Terrence. The Blair legacy: politics, policy, governance, and foreign affairs. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2009.
Jackson, Ben and Saunders, Robert. Making Thatcher’s Britain. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2012.
Heppell, Timothy. Weak and Ineffective? Reassessing the Party Political Leadership of John Major. The Political Quarterly Vol. 78, No.3. 2007. pp. 383-391.
Kavanagh, Dennis. The Blair premiership. Blair’s Britain. Edited by Anothny Seldon. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 2007. pp. 3-15.
Mclean, Iain. The national question. Blair’s Britain. Edited by Anothny Seldon. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 2007. pp. 487-508.
Pearce, Malcolm and Stewart, Geoffrey. [_ British Political History 1867- 2001 – Democracy and Decline. _] New York: Routledge. 2002.
Reitan, Earl A. The Thatcher Revolution – Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-2001. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. 2003.
Turner, A.W. A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s. Aurum Press. 2014. pp. 452-463.
Economic Policy and Social Shifts
The economy of the UK was devastated after World War II. Although Britain appeared to be one of the ‘Big Three powers’, the country had just “survived the war, but its wealth, prestige and authority had been severely reduced” (Darwin). In the 1940s, for example, the national debt, the most important feature of post-War Britain, increased to nearly 250% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Britain was in debt and many people needed to rebuild their property. Accordingly, Britain spent most of its budget on developments inside the country rather than abroad. The government thus worked to help not only the middle and upper classes, but also the poor and the working class to regain a place in society and to move toward economic success. In the following decades, Britain became known as a world leader in the high-tech industries (See: ) and as a provider of financial services. The new situation led to different economic ideas on how to gain better control over the economy. One step the government took to aim for prosperity and economic growth was one in the direction of the Continent. In 1973, Britain became not only part of the European Economic Community, but also of a trading community allowing free trade between the European countries. These steps appeared fruitful. Indeed, in the 1950s and 1960s, many people enjoyed full employment in a place where people “never had it so good” (Carnevali et al 3f.). By the end of the twentieth century, the focus was thus placed on a ‘sustainable development’ to allow the economy to continue to grow steadily (Darwin). Over the course of the 1990s, then, the economy and, therefore, society in the United Kingdom again changed for the better due to economic developments as well as political decisions made during this decade.
Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair represent an economically turbulent decade in the history of the UK (See: ), which witnessed a key shift in terms of workforce distribution. In the first six decades of the 20th century, the British economy had been dominated by heavy industry, manufacturing, the construction sector and mining (Crafts 12). In contrast, the 1990s were characterised by massive declines and deindustrialization in these areas. In return, the service sector, mainly the areas of financial services and healthcare, experienced a tremendous boom. Expressed in figures, 15.7 per cent of the UK workforce formed the manufacturing sector and only 7.2 per cent worked in the remainders of industry at the end of the 1990s (Crafts 13). As an open economy, economic activities intensive in the use of human capital, mainly financial services, were favoured over activities connected with unskilled labour which, for example, included employees in the textile sector (Crafts 13). The rapid advancements happening in the technological sector were also partly responsible for this development. A higher productivity in manufacturing could be realized though the employment of new technologies. Therefore, the unskilled work force could be replaced, and more people came to work in the service sector (Crafts 13).
Margaret Thatcher’s decisions during her premiership for the Conservatives famously influenced the economy of the UK. What was mainly responsible for this development was her decision to reject a welfare state policy and, particularly, the introduction of ideas centred on privatisation, which led to widespread conflicts in the UK. The idea behind this new direction was to counteract inflation. Inevitably, this new political course hit the central organs of the British labour market (Sturm). Here, the mining unions are seen as a historical representation of this process. The miners union constituted an inherent part of traditional British society and were disempowered by the Conservatives under Thatcher. This marked a crucial point of change which ended in a significant rise in unemployment. The Prime principle of social politics became the bankability of social services. Thatcher’s objective of a new, self-sufficient society was fulfilled in large parts at the end of her time in office (Sturm). In contrast to prior governments, this shift in social policies can be valued as a central contradiction.
As the successor of Thatcher and her administration characterised by conflicts with unions, Major became Prime Minister at the start of this very divisive decade. Initially, his main objective was to eliminate the tensions which had arisen within his party and the country as a whole (Boulton). One of his most popular official acts regarding economy was the reversing of the disliked poll tax charge which had been introduced by Thatcher in 1989. People interpreted this act as increasing social justice (Boulton). At the same time, a threatening economic disaster darkened the economy of the UK: the recession of 1991-1992. Its chief causes were high interest rates, falling house prices and an overvalued exchange rate. Especially the UK’s membership in the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), which was executed in Thatcher’s final days as PM with the objective to counter the double-digit inflation, kept the interest rates extremely high. Eventually, on a historic day in 1992, ‘Black Wednesday’, Britain was forced out of the ERM (See: ). The interest rates decreased and the UK economy recovered (Pettinger), marking “the beginning of Britain’s longest period of continuous economic growth” under the leadership of John Major (Boulton).
Tony Blair’s premiership likewise represents a steady period of economic growth and stability, with Gordon Brown as the protagonist of important decisions. The threat of inflation was avoided by passing the responsibility for setting interest rates to the Bank of England while the treasury determined inflation targets (In Pictures: Blair and the UK Economy). Another key parameter of a successful economy policy is portrayed by figures on unemployment: the Blair administration reached a record number of people in work following a period where many people had been unemployed. At the end of the decade, unemployment had decreased to five per cent (In Pictures: Blair and the UK Economy). Regarding taxes and tax spending, the Labour government humbled itself in the first term. On the contrary, their second term in the 1990s was characterised by huge expenses and a rising public sector deficit. Due to Britain’s strong currency at this time, the inland manufacturing sector suffered. Therefore, British consumers tended to buy cheaper products from abroad. This development marked a weak point of Blair’s economy policy in terms of trade balance (In Pictures: Blair and the UK Economy).
As detailed above, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair had enormous influences on the British economy, thus they also impacted the social class system. Affiliation with a social class is shaped by many aspects such as family background and education. However, especially employment influenced how people thought about class in the 1990s, since “the concept of class [was] deployed to make sense of the social and economic inequality that characterized British society” (Carnevali et al 43). Still, social classes in Britain in the nineties were not fixed entities, but rather shifting concepts. When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, she said:
And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. (The Sunday Times, 1980)
Her time as a politician changed the social class system and people’s social attitudes in the 1990s. Between 1900 and 1940 more than three quarters of the British population had been classified as working class, whereas in 1991, one year after Thatcher’s departure, the number had decreased to 38.4 per cent (Carnevali et al 45 ff.). As a consequence of the shift to a service-centred economy, Britain’s middle-class became predominant. However, at the same time in the early 1990s, society was faced with a rise in economic inactivity due to illness, disability and early retirement within the working class, as well as an increasing rate of unemployment. According to the US academic Murray, the ‘underclass’ of poor people in Britain preferred to receive benefit payments rather than seek unskilled or low-paid work. For this reason, the implementation of benefits by Thatcher into the welfare system is seen as having led to more poor households and low-paid work. This situation worsened during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and articles about the “benefit scroungers” were featured almost daily in newspapers. Moreover, the working class was “deemed to have departed the social landscape […] as an economic entity” (Kirk 2). The shift towards the dependent economy on the service sector led to the split in society. These boundaries changed the acceptance of class as a central organ of Britain to “the sources of change […] within society” (Kirk 2).
In 1990, when John Major became Prime Minister, he said that he could not be compared to Margaret Thatcher in policies in this area since he wanted to create more workplaces for the population. The Conservatives under Major thus implemented a jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) to cover the living expenses for those who were unemployed or seeking work. However, changes in the labour market also caused a great division within the working class between skilled and unskilled workers (Carnevali et al 45). The number of manual workers represented by unions decreased from 5,442,000 members in 1971 to 4,301,000 members in 1991. “These changes […] encouraged the belief that the working classes were in the midst of ‘disintegration” (Carnevali, et al 47). At the beginning of the twentieth-century, one could speak of a working class, united and represented by the trade union movement, whereas at the end the working class had changed. Under the legislation of the Conservative government for 18 years, the trade unions’ representation of the working class had suffered horrendously. Some claimed to be living in ‘grinding poverty’, especially after losing their jobs due to privatisation. Due to this, there was no shared identity within the working class since “working and living together, with some real place and common interests to identify with” was no longer possible (Kirk 70). On top of that, the high unemployment rate and the value of class structure was “continually contested” and a division within the working class was, therefore, indispensable (Kirk 73).
The major division within the classes under Margaret Thatcher and John Major was between employed and unemployed people with the focus on the individual only. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, people had hoped for a change to establish the idea of a common culture and society (Kirk 71). Although the Labour party did not present solutions for all the roots of economic inactivity, the government tried to encourage people back to work and introduced the ‘New Deal for Young People’ (Carneavli et al 316). People under 25 were enrolled in the scheme if they had been unemployed for at least six months. They were given the chance to improve their labour market prospects by receiving training or education, or by gaining experience through voluntary work. On top of that, a national minimum wage of £4.85 per hour as implemented in 1997 which aimed to provide low-income households with some security. These measures re-interpreted the term ‘social exclusion’ (Carnevali et al) and saw the causes of living in poverty as part-time work or limited education. As a result, the average income increased for the majority of people living in the UK at the end of the decade. Nonetheless, the number of people living in relative poverty further increased, and the concept the ‘underclass’ gained recognition. Even though Tony Blair and the Labour party tried to improve the living conditions of the population, unemployment and poverty proved hard to combat; the “gap between the richest and poorest became wider” and Blair’s aim “to bury forever old class divisions in Britain” failed (Turner 23ff. and 317ff.) and led to “viewing individuals and groups as essentially different and separate” (Kirk 70) because the working class culture was destroyed by economic and political decisions. After that, the focus was on new social movements (ibid. 94).
As a conclusion, it is obvious that the economic developments in the UK of the 1990s had a tremendous impact on its social class system. The beginning of this decade witnessed a shift away from the previously dominant working class towards a predominantly middle-class nation. Under the leadership of John Major, the new distribution of dominant sectors, in contrast to formerly powerful areas such as heavy industry with its unions, split the working class. When Tony Blair became PM, the relative stability in terms of economic growth he provided was highlighted frequently in the media. Nevertheless, promises such as the assimilation of living conditions between the social classes were not realized. In fact, the gap between the rich and poor people living in the UK even increased. The realization of equal chances and opportunities for all social classes has been very questionable. However, “class has begun to make something of a comeback” because “Britons are obsessed with class in the way that other nations are obsessed with food or race or sex or drugs or alcohol”. (Kirk 1f.)
Boulton, Jon. “Past Prime Ministers.” GOV.UK, www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/john-major. Accessed 18 June 2017.
Carnevali, Francesca, Julie-Marie Strange, and Paul Johnsen [ed.]. Twentieth-century Britain. London and New York: Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group, 2007. Print.
Crafts, Nicholas. “The British Economy.” Twentieth-Century Britain: Eonomic, Cultural And Social Change , edited by Francesca Carnevali, Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group, London and New York, 2007, pp. 7–26.
Darwin, Dr.John. “History- British History in Depth: Britain, the commonwealth and the End of Empire-“ BBC, bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/endofempire_overview_01.shtml. 03 March 2011. Web. 14 June 2017.
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Kirk, John. “Class, Culture and Social Change. On the Trail of the Working class”: Houndmills [u.a.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.Print.
“In Pictures: Blair and the UK Economy.” BBC News, BBC, news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/07/business_blair_and_the_uk_economy/html/1.stm. Accessed 18 June 2017.
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Sturm, Roland. “Entwicklung Großbritanniens Seit 1945 .” Entwicklung Großbritanniens Seit 1945, 27 Feb 2009, Bundeszentrale Für Politische Bildung, www.bpb.de/izpb/10533/entwicklung-grossbritanniens-seit-1945. Accessed 1 July 2017.
Royal Popularity in Crisis
“I think it’s never going to be easy for the two of us to talk about our mother, but 20 years on seems like a good time to remind people of the difference that she made not just to the Royal Family but also to the world” is what Prince Harry said on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Lady Di’s death in August 2017 (qtd. in Conlan). For a long time the royal Princes William and Harry did not talk about this crucial moment of their lives. But now in 2017, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary or her death, they are ready to stand up for their mother’s name and to honour her. Many people always longed for this type of emotion from the Royals, which appeared to be absent in the Royal Family’s attitude when Diana died in 1997 (Conlan). The death of the beloved Princess, who stood out with her character during her lifetime, but also other major events in the nineties such as the divorce of Charles and Diana, had huge impacts on the society and on the popularity of the Royal Family. These events demonstrated an apparent absence of emotionalism expressed in public and led to criticism of the seemingly cold-hearted character of the Royals, and to a decrease in their popularity.
Princess Diana captured the mood and the sympathy of the nation, especially during the Margaret Thatcher’s premiership (See: ). She became ‘the People’s Princess’, as Tony Blair once said (Storry & Childs 22-23). Also Diana herself said that “[she]‘d like to be a queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts, but [she] [does not] see [her]self being Queen of this country” (Mountbatten-Windsor). She had a grassroots attitude and shared characteristics with the nation, which most royals did not. Features that made her so popular were, for example, her strong opinion against land mines and her compassion for sick people (Storry & Childs 22-23). Her humanity struck a chord in the heartless Thatcherite world. Furthermore, she was in favour of a multicultural Britain and had a strong belief in women’s emancipation and sexual freedom (Storry & Childs 22-23). During the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, Britain, many commentators believe, needed the humane Diana through whom people could have a closer relationship with their leaders (Rosebush). Nevertheless, her rather detached counterpart, Thatcher, was also important as the symbol of persistence and of strong leadership (Rosebush).
In comparison to the other Royal Family members at the time, Diana stood out with her humble and warm-hearted attitude. As a consequence, a poll from September 1997 demonstrates that 66% of the participants preferred the way the humanitarian Princess Diana had conducted herself in the past to the reserved behaviour of the other Royal Family members (Ipsos Mory Public Opinion Poll). Thanks to the media, Diana was presented like a saint, a heroine who was subdued by the “malice of powerful sources” (Bennett & Rowbottom 274). In an interview with Martin Bashir, a BBC reporter, which took place after her divorce, Diana revealed that she never really had been in tune with the other royals (The Panorama Interview).
Diana was not only portrayed as this beloved down-to-earth heroine but also as a fashion icon (See: ) (Storry & Childs 22). She communicated through her clothing and that is what made her distinctive as a fashion icon. She was sometimes called ‘Shy Di’ and, in fact, she did not talk that much in public, but through her clothes she expressed her personality and impressed the nation (Tashjian). Her character was illustrated at meetings with other nations by adapting her clothes to the national dress. For instance, she wore a dress decorated with gold falcons, a symbol of Saudi Arabia, during a visit to that country in 1986 (Tashjian). Moreover, she had her ‘caring wardrobe’ which consisted of clothes that were especially for philanthropic visits and represented her humanitarianism because they displayed, for example, warmth. In this #caring’ role, she also liked to wear bright and colourful clothes as well as soft fabrics (Tashjian). Furthermore, she did not wear gloves because she wanted to hold people’s hands, and when she visited blind people, she preferred to wear velvet so that the people could feel warmth by touching her (Tashjian).
Not only Diana was a representative of the country, but all the Royals were and still are figureheads of the nation, although, especially during the nineties, the myth of the perfect Royal Family with traditional Christian values started to crumble. Since Queen Victoria’s reign, the Queen and her family have had the role of a model for Christian family life and many people used to look up to them (O’Driscoll 80). Figures from UK Religious Trends show that high percentages of people believed in God between 1991and1995 (Bennett & Rowbottom 276), and that is one reason why the many matrimonial scandals in the nineties lowered the esteem of the monarchy (O’Driscoll 80). Not only the Queen’s only sister, Princess Margaret, but also the Queen’s children, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew, divorced during the nineties. And into the bargain Anne even remarried, something that had not happened since Henry VIII. In addition to all these separations, rumours surfaced about Prince Philip committing adultery. But the most shocking and influential dissolution was the divorce of the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana (Childs 293). When their separation was announced in 1992, many British newspapers reported about the topic in detail. Even the more ‘serious’ newspapers, such as The Sunday Times, discussed the issue on many pages (O’Driscoll 80). Moreover, a poll from September 1997 showed that most people stood on the side of Diana on the occasion of their divorce (Ipsos Mory Public Opinion Poll). As a consequence of all these scandals, there were uncertainties about the suitability of the Royals to be the head of the Church of England (Childs 293).
Besides these ethical reasons, economic ones may also have caused the decrease in popularity of the monarchy. On November 20, 1992, one of the Queen’s homes burnt down and the nation felt sympathy for her. However, this compassion diminished when people realised that public money should pay for the repairs (O’Driscoll 80-81). Money became one of the most important reasons for the anti-monarchy opinion with the result that even the Conservative Members of Parliament, who were always rather in favour of the maintenance of the monarchy, complained about the Royals’ high expenditure in the nineties (O’Driscoll 80-81). And in fact the royal yacht, their flights and even the clothes they wore were paid for with taxpayers’ money (Childs 294). Until that point, the Queen never had been paying taxes (O’Driscoll 80-81). All these scandals and outrages led to the opinion that the monarchy should at least be curtailed (Childs 295). As a reaction to this negative attitude towards the institution of the monarchy, the Queen decided to pay taxes on her private income. Furthermore, the doors of Buckingham Palace were opened for public visits to create the image of a down-to-earth and grassroots Royal Family (O’Driscoll 80-81).
In spite of these scandals, the monarchs remained relatively popular until the death of Diana, which can be seen as the real turning point in their reputation. When she died on August 3, 1997 in a car accident in Paris, the reactions, days and even weeks after, were exceptional. But while the British people were conjoint in a common grief and mourning about the Princess and the media featured this on a daily basis, the Royal Family stayed at Balmoral Castle in Scotland completely isolated and secluded from the public (Montgomery 13). The increasing pressure that was put on them by the media was omnipresent. On the one hand, some newspapers, either explicitly or implicitly, demanded the abolition of the monarchy, and on the other hand the public wanted to hear them express the feelings and emotions the whole country felt (Hermes&Noordhuizen 88). Together with Diana, the last hope and opportunity for a change seemed to have died (Hermes&Noordhuizen 76). According to an opinion poll that was conducted by ABC News between Diana’s death and the Queen’s public speech on September 5, almost one in four people argued for the abolition of the monarchy, more than ever before (Ipsos Mory Public Opinion Poll).
Finally, on September 5, five days after Diana’s death, the Queen spoke on camera to the public (Montgomery 13). At 6 p.m., the crowds before Buckingham Palace listened to her speech with great interest (Montgomery 13). The reactions to her speech were split. It was structured with many coordinate pairings such as ‘warmth and kindness’ or ‘grief and respect’, but without many gestures and pauses, which raised scepticism on whether her words actually matched her feelings and whether the speech was an authentic expression of her emotions (Montgomery 14). Tony Blair’s speech delivered only six hours after the accident gave the opportunity for a comparison. His tribute to Diana was made directly to the audience without referencing to notes or a script. Unlike the Queen’s speech, it was marked by pausing and hesitation, which is why it was perceived as very honest, strengthening the impression that these were his own words and true feelings (Montgomery 9).
Altogether, for some people the Queen’s words, although late, had the consoling effect they wished for, whereas for many others the Royal Family’s reaction to Diana’s death, including the Queen’s speech, were reasons for a feeling of anger that was evoked alongside the grief and sadness, and raised further questions concerning reforms of the monarchy (Rotaru 48). Many people could no longer identify with the Royal Family, since they did not seem to capture the mood of the British people on the princess’ death (Witchell). Many people perceived the Royals as “aloof, cold and uncaring” (Witchell). The Royal Family’s distance and isolation in Scotland can be seen symbolically as a further expansion of the distance between the Royal Family and the British people, who expressed their grief publicly in London, for example at St. James Palace, where many people signed a book of condolence (Watson 5). The Royal Family’s popularity had decreased. The opinion poll that was conducted in September 1997 shows that the Queen did not top the popularity voting after her mother anymore, which hints at the expression of disappointment by many British people (Ipsos Mori Public Opinion Poll).
The public grief on Diana’s death took different forms and lasted even weeks after the accident. Diana’s death evoked an emotion that was not only individual, but felt to be common to all and the reactions evolved into “collective rituals” that can be seen as a starting point for a new sense of togetherness in the British society, evoking national identification and shared values (Watson 4). This can be seen, for example, in a change in language use in chat rooms that was examined after Diana’s death which shows that people tended to use more collective language than before, such as the personal pronoun ‘we’ (Pennebaker & Stone 13).
Compared to the death of pop idols such as Freddie Mercury in 1991 that also evoked public grief, Diana is different. While such celebrities can always be seen as artificial and created by their fans, Diana on the contrary, was not perceived as a media-created idol, but as authentic and real (Watson 5). However, the representation of her death in the media, especially by newspapers such as The Sun, The Mirror or The Times, was one important factor that accelerated the dimension of public grief (Hermes & Noordhuizen 77). They presented the loss of Diana as a loss of a heroine, of a value that cannot be replaced. Diana was admired for her exceptional warmth and human behaviour, as a “secular saint” (Hermes & Noordhuizen 77). These newspapers wanted, although briefly, a change in British society and in social orders (Hermes & Noordhuizen 88). On the other hand, newspapers more critical towards the Royal Family such as The Guardian or The Independent had a completely different audience that did not engage to the same degree in the mourning for Diana (Hermes & Noordhuizen 88). Accordingly, not everyone was mourning Diana’s death, although it was some newspaper’s intention to create exactly that image, criticising the Royal Family even more for their cold-hearted reactions.
Nevertheless, Diana’s death and the reactions to it felt like a state of shock and an interruption of social continuity to most people (Jackson). While it definitely raised further scepticism on the Royal Family and their role within the country, it also shaped the British society, because large sections of the population experienced a common emotional feeling that was so strong and unprecedented.
The 1990s was not an easy decade for the Royal Family and their reputation in Britain. Scandals, divorces and Diana’s death as the climax challenged their stability and at the same time opened up new emotions within the British society. Today, 20 years after Diana’s death, much has changed and the situation around the Royal Family has largely calmed down (Davies). Diana and her death are still present in the British collective memory, and Harry and William are finally ready to talk about their mother’s death, showing Britain the emotional support it had longed for. This might at the same time cause a positive attitude towards the Royal Family and may also foreshadow an increase in their popularity in the future.
Bennett, Gillian, and Anne Rowbottom. “‘Born a Lady, Married a Prince, Died a Saint’: The Deification of Diana in the Press and Popular Opinion in Britain.” Media & Folklore. Contemporary Folklore IV, edited by Mare Koiva, ELM Scholarly Press, 2009, pp. 271-287.
Childs, David. “Monarchy in crisis.” Britain since 1945: A political history. Taylor & Francis, 2006, pp. 293-295.
Conlan, Tara. “Princes William and Harry to Talk about Diana’s Death for BBC Documentary.“The Guardian, 1 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jun/01/princes-william-and-harry-to-talk-about-dianas-death-for-bbc-documentary. Accessed 10 June 2017.
Davies, Caroline. “How the royal family bounced back from its ‘annus horribilis’.theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media Limited. 24 May 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/may/24/royal-family-bounced-back-annus-horribilis. Accessed 09 June 2017.
Hermes, Joke and Merel Noordhuizen. “Diana. Death of a media-styled secular saint“. Etnofoor Anthropological Journal, Vol.12, N°2, 1999, pp. 76-91.
Mountbatten-Windsor, Diana Frances. “The Panorama Interview”. Interview with BBC, by Martin Bashir, November 1995.
Montgomery, Martin. “Speaking sincerely: public reactions to the death of Diana“. Language and Literature, Vol 8, N°1, 1999, pp. 5-33.
O’Driscoll, James. “The Monarchy.” Britain: For Learners of English ; Understand the Country and Its People. Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 77-81.
Rosebush, James. “What Talking with Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher Taught Me about Leadership.” Business Insider, 21 Apr. 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/princess-diana-and-margaret-thatcher-2015-4?IR=T. Accessed 8 June 2017.
Rotaru, Marina-Cristiana. “Royal speech prevents crisis. Queen Elizabeth’s speech on the death of Princess Diana.” Professional Communication and Translation Studies, Vol. 3, 2010, pp. 41-48.
Stone, Lori D. and James W. Pennebaker. “Trauma in Real Time: Talking and Avoiding Online Conversations About the Death of Princess Diana“. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, vol. 24, no. 3, Jan. 2002, pp. 173–183.
Storry, Mike, and Peter Childs. “Princess Diana.” British Cultural Identities, 2nd ed., Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group, 2002, pp. 22–24.
Tashjian, Rachel. “How Princess Diana Became a Fashion Icon.” Vanities. Vanity Fair, 23 Feb. 2017, http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/02/princess-diana-fashion-icon. Accessed 11 June 2017.
“The Power of Public Opinion: Princess Diana: 1961-1997”. Ipsos Mori News & Polls: News, 3 Oct. 1997, https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/power-public-opinion-princess-diana-1961-1997#publicopinion. Accessed 11 June 2017.
Watson, C.W. “‘Born a Lady, Became a Princess, Died a Saint’: The Reaction to the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales.” Anthropology Today, vol. 13, no. 6, 1997, pp. 3-7.
Williams, Edwina R. L., et al. “Death of Diana, Princess of Wales.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 315, no. 7120, 1997, pp. 1467–1468.
Witchell, Nicholas. “Monarchy changed by Diana’s death“. Bbc.co.uk. BBC. 31 August 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6968583.stm. Accessed 08 June 2017.
Drug Abuse among Rebellious Youth
A society’s youth culture has often been a cauldron of changes that, sooner or later, influence the whole society of a country. To understand youth culture in nineties Britain, drug consumption and substance abuse is an important factor to focus on. The topic of dependence on drugs in the UK has a longstanding history, starting from the sixties to the new Millennium and up till now. The changes that happened in Britain during the nineties not only affected politics, socio-economy and the class system (See: ); they had a huge impact on the notion of the rebellious youth, too. Drug consumption was arguably a topic associated specifically with this rebellious youth culture: The era of Britpop was strongly connected to illicit drug use, which was somehow romanticised due to the drug-consuming attitudes of the rising music idols, and in film adaptations such as Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (See: ). Some commentators therefore view the 1990s as a more significant turning point in the UK’s drug-taking history, which saw massive increases in numbers of addicts still visible today. Evaluating the reasons behind these increases in illegal substance consumption, however, rather highlights that specific factors from changes within society in the 1990s provided a foundation for higher substance abuse, especially among young people, which has subsequently diminished.
For analysing and understanding the changes that drugs had on young people in Britain throughout the nineties, a definition of the term youth culture is vital. ‘Youth culture’ is a rather vague concept, describing the collective behaviour, norms and values of a certain age group. The term ‘youth’ correlates with a certain level of dependence on parents, family and the state. In the 1990s, the idea of ‘youth culture’ correlating with a ‘transitional phase’ into adulthood was first introduced. Contradicting earlier models, in 1995 Coles defined three interrelated transitions that are accomplished by young people before they are widely accepted as adults, regardless of their biological age. Those stages, as described by Furlong and Cartmel, are the transition from school to work, “a move from the family of origin to the family of destination” and a housing transition away from the parents (40). These stages do not necessarily cover a specific age range, although in general most of these aspects take place between the ages of approximately 16-25 – the age-group focused on when exploring ‘youth culture’. Perhaps because of the transitions they were undergoing, this age group was especially affected by changes in society, economy and politics that happened throughout the 1990s in the UK. Those aspects that prompted changes in young people’s attitude towards taking drugs during the nineties were thus arguably rooted in questioning authority and dissatisfaction with political and economic decisions affecting their opportunities to transition to adulthood (Wright 228). The issue was also reflected in the media, where the general depiction of the new wave of, especially synthetic, drugs was as a highly dangerous and risky escape mechanism from the struggles of daily life. Still, for young people at that time, their drug consumption was focused on a specific feeling of freedom they tried to evoke from their overall dissatisfaction with the general situation, thus it was considered by most a component of their lifestyle, rather than being perceived as a risk to their health and future.
The consumption of illicit drugs and the concerns over drug addiction first became an issue in British society in the 1960s, when the media paid close attention to an “epidemic” of drug addiction (Smart 169). Heroin, LSD and opiates were prominent in the sixties, predominantly in London and other urban areas, where a “new drug subculture began to emerge” (Seddon 238). Faced with this “new social problem” of drug addiction, primarily among the young and rebellious generation, the authorities had difficulties dealing with these new developments (Smart 172). According to Seddon, author of the article Youth, Heroin, Crack: A Review of Recent British Trends, the upsurge in heroin use was just a “mini-epidemic” in comparison to the crisis in North America. Nevertheless, the new users tended to be younger, which, combined with the fact that the users came from diverse social backgrounds, leads to the assumption that the sixties can be viewed as “the beginning of the connection between heroin and young people in Britain” (Seddon 237). In the year 1979, the situation regarding drug consumption changed tremendously since cheap brown heroin in smokeable form became accessible in major cities of the UK (Seddon 238). Some cities, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, were most badly hit by this new heroin outbreak. These developments signified a shift of the centres of drug abuse away from London to other urban areas, “primarily located in economically deprived neighbourhoods” (Seddon 238). What could be observed in the eighties as well is the fact that the drug users were even younger than their predecessors from the sixties and seventies. According to Seddon, three quarters of the listed consumers can be tracked down in the group of young people, aged 16-24, which established once and for all the prominent connection of the young generation and the problem of illicit drug abuse in the 1980s (Seddon 239). With the beginning of the 1990s, a new scenario of public outcry over a rising addiction to drugs amongst young people became omnipresent, with regular reports in newspapers and magazines, re-evoking the ‘moral panic’ of the 1960s (Smart 179). The decade brought a new wave of heroin abuse, with first-time users of an average age of 14 to 17 (Seddon 239). Table 1 illustrates the peak of illicit drug abuse in the mid-nineties, by which time the total number of addicts in the UK had almost quadrupled compared to the end of the 1980s (Morgan 2014).
Table 1: Total addicts notified, by police force area, 1988-1996
(The Addicts Index, Home Office)
According to Benedictus, a British journalist writing for The Guardian, the rising trend of drug abuse peaked in the mid-nineties, when almost half of all young adults reported having taken drugs at least once. Alongside heroin, crack-cocaine became popular among young consumers, which created serious concerns among older generations in society. The ‘moral anxieties’ of the nineties thus centred primarily on the use of hard drugs, which were often connected to a heightened crime rate during that period (Oakland 217). Especially the media took up this agenda again, focusing on early age consumption and on tragic cases of hard-drug misuse. As Aldridge puts it, these “scare” stories created a link between drugs and death, primarily with ecstasy, the new “raver” drug, eventually ending in “a decade of heightened attention to and fears about youthful drug use (Aldridge 191).
The most popular drugs connected to the rave-movement in Britain during the 1990s were new, synthetic drugs. One of those was MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, which is one of the three most commonly used illegal substances in Britain nowadays, alongside cannabis and cocaine (Drugwise). MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 by the German Chemist Anton Köllisch, who had intended to find an analogous remedy for a Bayer product used to stop heavy bleeding (Narconon International). During the process of chemical synthesizing, MDMA occurred as an intermediate compound, was employed in psychotherapy, and later became more common among young people wanting to experience the mind-altering effects it promised. In 1977, the substance was made illegal in the UK by a modification to the Misuse of Drugs Act from 1971. Nonetheless, MDMA and other synthetic drugs remained very popular, especially within the techno and rave scene, which comprised mainly young people and grew significantly during the 1990s. The increase in ecstasy use was reported as scandalous in the media, particularly when the first deaths in correlation to drug abuse occurred in people the rest of society would not typically associate with the rave scene – prompting more anxiety among the population about the dangerous behaviours becoming part of young people’s rebellion.
One very famous case was the death of Leah Betts, an18-year-old from Latchingdon, who died after taking an ecstasy tablet and then drinking about 7 litres of water (BBC On this day). As Leah clearly came from a middle-class background, the media hyped the image of her as ignorant victim, with reports focussing on the risks of the new drugs, the worryingly high levels of substance abuse among Britain’s youth and the related, mostly exaggerated, dangers for the rest of society (Blackman). What is noteworthy about Leah Betts’ case, though, is the fact that she actually died because of the intake of an extremely high amount of water – which was indeed originated by the tablet she consumed. Nonetheless, it was not the chemical substance itself that caused her death, but her own reaction afterwards – a fact that was not widely covered by the mass of reports that followed. After the tragedy, a poster campaign was started, with a photo of her in a coma and the statement “Sorted: Just one ecstasy tablet took Leah Betts”. This campaign caused a lot of controversy throughout the country as the crucial role of water was not mentioned at all but was eventually the actual cause of Leah’s tragic death. Blackman states in his work Chilling out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy: “Leah Betts death could be described as a media death: It was not a private family event ‘her parents were determined to use her death as an anti-drug parable” (172).
Again demonstrating the link between music idols and drug taking in youth culture, the pop band Chumbawamba produced their own series of posters in reaction to the “sorted” campaign, saying: “Distorted. You are just as likely to die from eating a bay leaf as from an ecstasy tablet.” The band’s criticism was regarding the fact that the poster was published by a private corporation “which was ‘selling capitalism showing a young corpse.’”, according to the band (Blackman 173). In return, Chumbawamba and members of other bands, for example Oasis, were themselves criticised for what was seen as encouraging young people to turn to drugs, either by such overt means, or simply by their lax attitude towards their roles as celebrity role model (See: ). However, contrary to the negative media coverage of estimated further increases in the number of drug addicts in the UK, the total number of drug abusers actually slightly decreased towards the end of the 1990s (Aldridge 191), showing that the ‘moral panic’ of the mid 1990s was either exaggerated, or at least shrinking, just like the music scenes said to have inspired it.
The literature reviewed in this essay shows a generally high level of illegal substance use and abuse in the UK – even today, illicit drug consumption in Britain is still among the highest in Europe (Benedictus). Although the data does depict a rise in overall drug consumption during the 1990s, particularly among young people and in certain music scenes, this peak in consumption decreased again towards the millennium. The assumption that the nineties were a turning point towards higher substance abuse in Britain should thus be challenged. Newly created drugs caused deaths, in ever-younger users, which then became a focus in the general media and raised awareness of drug use within British youth culture(s), perhaps leading to this assumption. Instead, though, it seems there was an overall change in the substances being used, by whom, and for what reasons. Young people’s growing acceptance, in some cases normalisation, of using these synthetically created drugs, among others, can be largely put down to wide-reaching social changes within society, new forms of music and popular idols, and the political situation that caused high unemployment rates and obscured many young people’s transitions into adulthood – these factors coincided forged an inseparable connection between the youth culture(s) that evolved in the 1990s in Britain and to illicit drug and substance abuse.
“A Brief Outline of the Drug Ecstasy.” Narconon International, Association for Better Living and Education International, www.narconon.org/drug-information/ecstasy-brief-outline.html. Accessed 2 July 2017.
Aldridge, Judith. “Decline but no fall?: New millennium trends in young people’s use of illegal and illicit drugs in Britain” Health Education, 108 (3), 2008, pp.189-206.
“BBC ON THIS DAY | 13 | 1995: Ecstasy Pill Puts Party Girl in Coma.” BBC News, BBC, 13 Nov.1995, news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/13/newsid_2516000/2516593.stm. Accessed 2 July 2017.
Benedictus, Leo. How the British fell out of love with drugs. The Guardian. 2011.https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/feb/24/british-drug-use-falling Accessed 25 June 2017.
Blackman, Shane J. Chilling out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy. Maidenhead, Open University Press, 2004.
Furlong, Andy, and Fred Cartmel. Young People and Social Change: Individualization and Risk in Late Modernity. Buckingham, Open University Press, 1999.
Morgan, Nick .The heroin epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and its effect on crime trends – then and now. Research Report 79. Home Office.
Oakland, John. Contemporary Britain – A Survey with Texts. Routledge, London and New York, 2001.
Seddon, Tobi. Youth, heroin, crack: a review of recent British trends. Health Education 108(3), 2008, pp. 237-246.
Smart, Carol. Social Policy and Drug Dependence: An Historical Case Study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence (16), 1985, pp. 169-180.
“What Is MDMA?” NIDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Mar. 2006, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse/what-mdma. Accessed 2 July 2017.
Wright, Mary Anna. “The Great British Ecstasy Revolution.” DiY Culture Party and Protest in Nineties Britain, edited by George McKay, Verso, London, 1998.
Fashion Icons in the 1990s
Every decade, including the 1990s, embodies specific characteristics which are exceptional for the given period of time and can therefore be regarded as changes and contradictions differing from any other decade. During the nineties in Britain, there were visible changes in politics, economy, society and other branches (See: ); the socio-political characteristics tended to be rather down and dreary. However, arts, especially music and fashion were a breath of fresh air that brought the British society not only some luminaries to the music and film worlds, but also to the world of fashion. Fashion in the 1990s and British idols such as Kate Moss and Princess Diana depicted a social move away from the conservatism of the 1980s to a sexy and modern image of the UK in the 1990s.
After the conservativism of the 1980s, one could definitely feel the sense of the 1960s coming back; it could be referred to as a revival, which was one of the key features of the 1990s fashion. Sharp shoulders and voluminous hair, which were typical for fashion in the 1980s, disappeared. In came a style which was certainly more casual and relaxed, characterised by bootleg trousers, platform shoes and stretch leggings. In 1993, the new subculture grunge came to the UK, which originated from the United States of America. This particular style was defined by flannel, plaid shirts and a general unkempt look as well as piercings, tattoos and dreadlocks came into style. A lot of women wore high waist jeans, oversized shirts, floral dresses or turtleneck tops, which can even be seen in fashion attitudes today (Dudbridge). One of the slogans of 1990s fashion was ‘less is more’ which meant, that the shorter the outfits, the better and seemingly more erotic and appealing. Women and girls tended to wear belly shirts, hot pants and short skirts, as well as high heels (Weston).
This style also appealed to the young supermodel Kate Moss, a well-known supermodel who embodies the 1990s as a time of changes and contradictions (Kendall 2). One of the changes that she brought to the fashion world was the transformation of the image of supermodels in general. Moreover, Kate Moss herself incorporated the contradiction in her personality, contradicting traditional images of a supermodel. Her career as supermodel and fashion idol could be evaluated ambivalently for a few reasons. First, at the beginning of the nineties Moss’ appearance did not seem to be appropriate in the fashion world. Lauren Cochrane states in her book, Fifty Women’s Fashion Icons that Changed the World that, “Kate Moss’ statistics do not sound like those of the model – and style icon – that defines [the nineties]” (88). In fact, Moss was a contradiction to contemporary supermodels of that time because in contrast to such models as Naomi Campbell or Christy Turlington, she looked rather boyish, skinny, almost anorexic and had a small gap between her front legs. Despite her differing appearance, the photographer Sarah Doukas described Kate Moss as someone natural and alive that made her exclusive among supermodels (qtd. in Kendall 19). The second feature which made the young supermodel the symbol of contradiction in the 1990s was Moss’ behaviour and her social life. As a teenager, she was not an exemplary schoolgirl. Besides smoking and drinking at the age of 13, she “never did her homework and viewed school as her primary social life” (Kendall 6). Although today, in the 21st century, one could say that this is nothing extraordinary, especially in the life of a teenager, Kate was at that time unusual, not only in the fashion world but also amongst her own people which caused an ‘if you want to be cool, you have to be different’ attitude among them. In Moss’ autobiography Kate Moss Model of Imperfection written by Katherine Kendall, the supermodel claims that in the 1990s she was a rebellious teenager but at the same time self-conscious (15). These two totally different feature characteristics were also reflected in her career as a model.
When Kate entered the fashion world in the 1990s, “the term ‘supermodel’ was seeping into the global vocabulary” (Kendall 19). Kate Moss was the one who broke barriers and standards in the fashion world, as a result the term ‘supermodel’ gained a new shade of meaning. However, it is important to emphasize that a supermodel herself creates the supermodel, not only because of her beauty and posing for pictures for various advertisements, but also for her sense of style, brightness of personality, and scandals. As Alison Crotzer Kimmel writes, Kate Moss “brought a new idea of what a model could be” (40). That was actually what Kate Moss embodied as a supermodel – the image of the supermodel. Moss did not even try to conceal the fact that she used to smoke marihuana regularly during shootings; however, she states that she has never been addicted to drugs (Kendall 86). For her, as for so many others, drugs, parties, clubs were an integral part of the nineties (See: ).
In this context, the question arises as to what made Kate Moss famous; was it only her naturalness and uniqueness that brought her success? At the beginning of the 1990s, People magazine published an article with the title How Thin is Too Thin? in which Kate’s appearance was described as anorexic. Moreover, the author of the article, Louise Lague, assumed that many girls in Britain attempted to adopt Kate’s “skin-and-bones look”. Her worrying appearance and her rebellious behaviour became an inspiring example for British girls and caused a massive desire to lose weight and to look just like Kate. However, this trend was criticized by many including neuropsychiatric Dr. Michael Strober, who said that a “woman becomes anorexic because her soul has been battered by the unreasonable expectation that you can never be too thin and that fat—any fat—equals failure” (qtd. in Lague). This idea suggests that on the one hand many women were affected by the flawless appearances of some famous celebrities and tried to copy their looks and manners; but on the other hand, it shows that according to some experts, for example Dr. Strober, many of these celebrities especially women had psychological problems. In contrast to critics, the supporters of Kate Moss, for instance Calvin Klein and Sarah Doukas, claim that her girly, skinny and natural look was something used to be called ‘modern’ (Lague). In opposition to the image of a woman in the 1980s that was “high-heeled, with big shoulder pads, lots of makeup, teased hair”, the 1990s thus embodied not only technological or political changes, but also in fashion and the social norms it expressed (Lague).
To find an answer to the question raised in the previous paragraph – Moss’ success was determined not only in her exceptional appearance but also in the people with whom she collaborated. Also, it is important to mention that what ordinary people wore in the 1990s was closely related to various music styles and movements. An American designer Anna Sui observed that Kate Moss’ image was also influenced by changes in the music world: “Kate’s look really reflects what has gone in the music world and that has influenced fashion” (qtd. in Kendall 39). In other words, music was also a very powerful force which had spread fast all around the world and brought its ideas and significance to various domains.
Calvin Klein was one of those whose designs brought some sexuality and nakedness to daily life and contributed to Kate Moss’ successful modelling career. At the beginning of the decade he said: “There’s going to be a big change to the nineties and it’s only just beginning. The eighties were a very conservative period, sexually and in so many ways. There’s a restructuring of priorities. It’s less about flash and more about people in the streets, the environment. People are becoming more real” (qtd. in Dudbridge). The conservative look, which he associated with Lague’s description of the superwoman image, i.e. high heels, bright makeup, tangled hairstyles and clothes with shoulder pads, needed to be changed in the 1990s. Moreover, in the 1980s there was a trend among models to embellish body shapes with the help of cosmetic surgery, for example by inserting silicone breast or lip implants (Kendall 56). Moss was one of the models whose face was shown regularly in the advertisements of Klein’s newest collections and who, in contrast to previous supermodels, embodied natural imperfection and simplicity at the same time.
When speaking of fashion icons of Britain in the 1990s, Princess Diana, also known as the famous Lady Di, needs to be mentioned. At the age of 20, she married Prince Charles in what McDermontt called a “fairy-tale fantasy showcasing traditional English craftwork, which became one of the most famous outfits in the world”. From this moment on, the new icon, Princess Diana had been born into the world of the fashion industry. One of the reasons why was that she loved clothes and loved to dress up, which evolved into her personal passion, moreover, it was one of her priorities and also her duty to dress appropriately chic in public. At first, her wardrobe only included ball gowns, matching hats and shoes that were appropriate and suitable for the standards of the Royal Family (See: ) but also adopted into the everyday world or mainstream fashion. After some time had passed, though, Lady Di enhanced her wardrobe, which became her most powerful tool of communication. McDermontt said that she was “determined to stamp a modern and youthful personal style”, with which she had the help of Catherine Walker, who was a fashion designer and passed away in 2010. She helped Princess Diana to “develop an elegant, tailored look that became her own” (McDermontt). Holt, too claimed that Diana’s inimitable style is as popular and obsessed-over as ever. She was depicted as a public figure who embodied duty, glamour and intrigue. One of her most signature outfits became famous on the night of Prince Charles admitting to infidelity in the year of 1994, when Princess Diana wore a black off-shoulder cocktail dress designed by Christina Stambolian; a look which subsequently became popular among a lot of women. Furthermore, she was also famous for wearing off-duty looks such as jazzy jumpers. “She was always very thoughtful about how her clothes would be interpreted, it was something that really mattered to her,” was verbalized by the former Vogue editor Anna Harvey, who was a great help in building Diana’s image and looks concerning the Princess’ passion for fashion (qtd. in Holt). Princess Diana still inspires a lot of people today, which can be seen in the Instagram page that posts selected pictures of Diana wearing her iconic clothes of her wardrobe daily. Thousands of people, who maybe nowadays cannot all remember the greatness of her style, still appreciate her sense of fashion and are mesmerized by it, which shows that she was not only a fashion icon in the nineties, but still today. This is also expressed by Harvey: “There’s a certain generation that will never forget her and she will always be their ultimate Princess, while people in their 20s are aware of her but perhaps don’t know quite so much about her.” (qtd. in Holt)
An interesting thought about Princess Diana is also that she was not known to have one certain style and not one item that would possibly sum up the Princess, but a wide range of moments and details between denim, flimsy dresses and combinations of blazers that all showed her individual taste. She inspired not only other Royals but also lots of everyday women, who felt that they were also able to wear and dress as a role model in fashion too, Princess Diana, which is also the reason why she and her sense of fashion are still beloved among so many people nowadays.
To conclude, one can say that fashion in the nineties is as interesting nowadays as it was back then. Despite the fact that Kate Moss and Princess Diana were from different social classes, both of them were perfect embodiments of contradictions and changes in the nineties fashion. The nineties attitude ‘less is more’ and the idea that simple is better changed the spirit of the eighties conservatism in the fashion world. Kate Moss’ and Diana’s appearance, dressing style and behaviour in public were inspiring and at the same something new that impressed many people from different social classes. In the 1990s, fashion became an expressive tool for everyone person because such fashion icons as Kate Moss and Princess Diana broke with the previous standards of women fashion and embraced simple but at the same time perfect and feminine styles.
Cochrane, Lauren. Fifty Women’s Fashion Icons that Changed the World. Hachette, 2016.
Crotzer Kimmel, Alison. Prepped and Punked: Bringing 1980s and 1990s Flair to Your Wardrobe. Capstone Press, 2014.
Dudbrigde, Saxony. “History of Fashion 1990’s – 2000’s”. Catwalk Yourself. http://www.catwalkyourself.com/fashion-history/1990s-2000s/. Accessed 23 May 2017.
Holt, Bethan. “Why Princess Diana remains an enduring style icon for all generations”. The Telegraph. The Telegraph Media Group, 19 November 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/people/why-princess-diana-remains-an-enduring-style-icon-for-all-genera/. Accessed 5 June 2017.
Kendall, Katherine. Kate Moss: Model of Imperfection. Chamberlain Bros, 2005.
Lague, Louise. “How Thin is Too Thin?“. People. 20 September 1993, http://people.com/archive/cover-story-how-thin-is-too-thin-vol-40-no-12/. Accessed 1 June 2017
McDermontt, Catherine. “Diana Princess of Wales Influence on Fashion”. LoveToKnow. http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-history-eras/diana-princess-wales-influence-fashion. Accessed 5 June 2017.
Weston Thomas, Pauline. “1990’s Fashion History – The Mood of the Millennium”. Fashion Era. http://www.fashion-era.com/the_1990s.htm. Accessed 23 May 2017.
Youth Culture and British Popular Music
“When you see people dress, and their style has an edge to it, that rebellious edge that bubbles up in every genre, that’s rock n’ roll. Everybody still wants to be a rock star, you know?”
This quote by the American designer John Varvatos (on BrainyQuote.com) contains a general idea often linked to music, namely the rebellious attitude expressed through and within music. This idea can clearly be seen in 1990s Britain where the diversity in music styles reflected various attitudes and values of different groups. Examining not only ‘Britpop’ as one of Britain’s most famous music styles in the 1990s, but also looking at grunge, dance music and the phenomenon of girl-groups, the focus of this work is to explore the influence of music on youth culture. Arguably, music plays a decisive role in youth culture by providing means of self-expression within a cultural frame and as a medium to mirror, but also to rebel against social and political values.
Concerning culture and music in general, it is obvious that America has had a big impact on British music all along. Looking specifically at grunge music, America’s significant influence becomes obvious. However, after the suicide of Nirvana’s front man Kurt Cobain, which Mazullo, an American professor for musicology, interprets as “the transformation of Kurt Cobain into a John Lennon-like generational idol” (716), “the emergence of Britpop signalled a welcome return to British guitar-based bands and a more optimistic agenda” (Whiteley 264). Therefore, the notion that grunge gave way to Britpop whilst incorporating a more optimistic mood into popular music “and lyrics about topics and concerns that were uniquely British and that British people could relate to” (Høglo 15) seems obvious, as the focus shifted to a pride for, and optimism about being British (Whiteley 264). Furthermore, Whiteley states that Britpop mirrored the enthusiasm linked to 1960s popular culture (265). The sense of British national identity pride was on the one hand positively highlighted by the term ‘Cool Britannia’, but on the other hand it also led to exaggerated national feelings in the long term, referred to as ‘jingoism’ by Høglo (39). Høglo names two reasons for the fall of Britpop: firstly, the hype it had experienced increased to such an extent that it slowly began lacking its previous significance and freshness and people eventually lost interest; secondly, the technological progress (See: ) enforced by the internet resulted in a decline in record sales (38).
The importance of music in the context of rebellion against social and political issues, especially concerning gender and feminism (See: ), social class, social and political beliefs and their interaction through music, can be detected in various styles of 1990s British music. Particularly with Britpop, it is interesting to investigate how this music style can actually be regarded as being influential with regard to socio-political concerns. Regarding different Britpop bands, such as Blur or Oasis, a tendency emerges of Britpop being “a very ‘white’ and arguably macho affair” (Whiteley 271). Furthermore, Høglo argues that the common social background of most Britpop bands was related especially to working-class contexts (8). This can be illustrated by the “chart war” (Høglo 14) between Blur and Oasis in the 1990s which can also be regarded as a conflict between two bands being linked to different social classes, as Oasis from Manchester were seen as a working-class band whereas Blur was perceived as middle-class (Chaudhary and Ward). Irrespectively of the fact that Britpop was a more male dominated sphere, this might lead to the wrong assumption that women did not have their place within the music business. Although neither of them are usually regarded as Britpop bands, The Spice Girls or All Saints can be seen as examples of popular girl-groups in youth culture in Britain in the 1990s, who were not instrumentalists but mainly singers and dancers. Dibben states that “All Saints were an all-female quartet often attributed with less manufactured beginnings than their contemporaries the Spice Girls” (170). What is meant by that is that the Spice Girls, in contrast to All Saints, had been externally put together and did not intentionally form a band by themselves: “Because the Spice Girls had been formed from young hopefuls who had replied to advertisement, they were immediately labelled as an inauthentic industry fabrication, attempting to cash in on the success of boy bands like Take That” (Leach 148). As the 1960s representation of women is often “relegated to the […] status of dolly-birds and sex objects” (Whiteley 271), one could argue that the 1990s status of feminism did not represent the 1960s reflection of women as objects of male desire in the very case of the Spice Girls. Rather, their presence strengthened “a particular form of post-Thatcherite feminism” (Dibben 168), whereby the term ‘Girl Power’ is often used representatively. The depictions of femininity shown by the Spice Girls and All Saints deviated nonetheless: in comparison to the more traditional image of All Saints, the Spice Girls represented a “patriarchal construction of femininity” (Dibben 171) expressed through both their make-up and their outfits. However, Dibben also asserts that this representation of femininity did not remain unnoticed regarding the public’s reception:
From a feminist perspective, this representation of adolescent femininity both enables mobilization of women as assertive and independent (which is necessary within a capitalist system in so far as they are required in the workplace) and retains other aspects of female subordination in which women are aligned with nature rather than technology, and in which female aspirations are channelled towards the attainment of a heterosexual relationship (172).
This independence within the representations of womanhood is part of a self-definition or a self-understanding which is often linked to an effort of introducing a certain feeling of masculinity into femininity. The term targeted here is ‘lad culture’, a “culture […] characterized by its emphasis on masculinity, British ethnicity [and] by an attempt to be anti-aspirational” (Høglo 17).
Although music was commonly used as an expression of rebellion against political concerns, politicians also attempted to use youth culture and particularly music as an attempt to gain publicity. During the 1990s this systematic employment of cultural elements, especially Britpop, in political endeavours, could be seen best during the campaign for the 1997 General Election in the UK (See: ). Both the Conservatives and the Labour party wanted to profit from the cultural movements, however, only Tony Blair and New Labour became known for the term ‘Cool Britannia’ (Høglo 26-27). New Labour’s success in the election is explained by Høglo as following:
After being led by a Conservative government for eighteen years, many people wanted change and the youthful Tony Blair and his New Labour party offered this, which helped them win the 1997 General Election. […] To promote British cultural renewal they used the phrase ‘Cool Britannia’ to symbolize the revival of all things British, but particularly British youth culture, music, art and fashion. (Høglo, 5)
In order to promote New Labour’s policies, Tony Blair met with Britpop stars and attended important cultural events such as the Brit Awards in 1996. As a consequence of his commitment, some people from the music industry, for example producer Alan McGee, Noel Gallagher from Oasis and Jarvis Cocker from Pulp became open supporters of Blair (Høglo 22-24). Nevertheless, New Labour was criticized for their exploitation of the cultural sector as the party did not stick to their promises regarding positive developments in this area (Høglo 32-33). On the contrary, New Labour’s first political decisions negatively affected the cultural sector, but the party adjusted their policies taking the strong criticism from people and media seriously (Høglo 36). Therefore, magazines reporting on people’s opinions stated that “[e]ven if people were not satisfied with Labour, they did not think that the Conservatives would have been any better” (Høglo 37).
Having examined Britpop as a predominantly male domain and girl-groups representing different views on feminism through music, it is interesting to go in depth considering specific political views represented in music. Punk music as well as rave reflected political issues through means of music, however the music styles contrast one another in terms of their agenda. Whereas the 1990s rave culture seemed to express a sense of unity and collectivism without the construction of boundaries splitting ethnicity, class or gender differences, punk represented the political left and kept its distance from the British dance culture:
Punk represented an unprecedented overlap between the left and popular culture: the ‘movement’ produced its own organic intellectuals who drew on leftist thought; and it encouraged intellectuals to rethink their relationship to popular culture. (Punk was also, of course, contradictory: violently misogynistic at times, and appropriatable [sic] by far-right groups as an expression of working-class reaction.) The left in Britain had a much more distant relationship with dance music culture. (Hesmondhalgh 169-170)
Hesmondhalgh, professor of media, music and culture at the University of Leeds, further describes the relationship between dance music and punk as oppositional in terms of their appearance in popular culture: punks devaluated dance music as an activating force for “rallying the troops” (171) and treated it as “new folk music” (171). In fact, dance music is supposed to have had a democratising effect (Hesmondhalgh 172), reaching a broader audience through purposeful distribution: on the one hand, musical authorship was extended by mixing and re-mixing already existent tracks in order to create something new. Moreover, ‘white label’ records were spread, containing deficient information on origin and contents. Lastly, the appearance of “bedroom studios” (Hesmondhalgh 173) as semi-professional locations contrasting professional music studios, were a site of decentralisation in music which allowed the distribution of cheap records. On the other hand, the extension of authorship through the re-mixing and re-forming of musical material naturally formed a paradox, as it can be argued that authorship was in fact challenged in equal measure. Thus, dance music could then be seen not solely as having been democratising, but as also radical, in a way that it “had a profound ambivalence about being popular, about being a mass form” (Hesmondhalgh 175). At the same time it suggested that the aim was to reach for a broad audience, making the music available more easily. Developing as a sub-genre of dance music, hardcore techno, also known as ‘jungle’ “became the one part of British dance music culture which drew significant black audiences” (Hesmondhalgh 176). Especially British Asians and British Caribbeans tended to be more attracted to dance music styles rather than rave (Hesmondhalgh 176). Although rave expressed a unifying character in terms of class, gender and ethnic differences, Hesmondhalgh argues that “there is little doubt about the very great degree of segregation between white dance music culture and black music institutions” (176). Nonetheless, ‘jungle’ functioned as “the most important black British sound and genre of the 1990s” (Hesmondhalgh 176), expressing a sense of new identity for minority groups.
Music and rebellion are terms which seem to be directly connected to one another. In the case of 1990s Britain, rebellion and music are equally melted together, where Britpop can be considered a revolutionary force which ousted grunge and integrated another mood into music. Thus, music was re-created or re-formed to something new. Since grunge was a style which originated from America before arriving in Britain, the innovation of Britpop can also be seen as an assertion about American culture. Equally, with Britpop being a male-dominated business, including the emergence of boy-bands, the appearance of girl-groups also represented rebellion in a way that the focus was drawn to women in the music business. As a matter of fact, the perspective on feminism shifted to a more self-determined image. Contrasting punk and dance music, one encounters the political background implemented in the musical attitude. On top, even within a music style such as dance music, differences concerning race and people’s relationship to the music existed: whereas rave addressed a predominantly white audience, the emergence of jungle included a diverse group of different ethnic backgrounds. Concluding, various musical trends intermingled and thus formed the British 1990s youth culture as a whole, although different interests, identities and rebellions were represented.
BrainyQuote. John Varvatos Quotes, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/john_varvatos.html. Accessed 3 July 2017.
Chaudhary, Vivek, and David Ward. “From the archive, 17 August 1995: Blur and Oasis do battle for number one spot.” The Guardian, 17 Aug. 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/aug/17/blur-oasis-britpop-number-one-1995-20-years. Accessed 10 June 2017.
Dibben, Nicola. “Constructions of Femininity in 1990s Girl-group Music”. Feminism and Psycology, vol. 12, no. 2, 2002, pp. 168-175, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0959353502012002007. Accessed 29 May 2017.
Hesmondhalgh, David. “The Cultural Politics of Dance Music.” Soundings, vol. 5, 1997. http://banmarchive.org.uk/collections/soundings/05_167.pdf. Accessed 18 May 2017.
Høglo, Ida Margrete. The Rise and Fall of “Cool Britannia” – British Culture and Politics in the 1990s. MA thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2014. NTNU, 2014.
Leach, Elizabeth Eva. “Vicars of ‘Wannabe’: Authenticity and the Spice Girls.” Popular Music, vol. 20, no. 2, 2001, pp. 143-167, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/853649.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Acaf53a1a66b608bb4e04099a4123160d. Accessed 22 May 2017.
Mazullo, Mark. “The Man Whom the World Sold: Kurt Cobain, Rock’s Progressive Aesthetic, and the Challenges of Authenticity.” The Musical Quarterly, vol. 84, no. 4, 2000, pp. 713-749, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/742606.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A0bac754d63d8596ac8e021000a6d7c80. Accessed 22 May 2017.
Whiteley, Sheila. “British Popular Music, Popular Culture and Exclusivity.” The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture, edited by Michael Higgins, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 262-278.
British Cinema in the 90s
Every day, people all over the world enjoy watching films, which makes film an extremely popular medium. But why is film so famous? Answering this question could be quite easy by saying that film tries to present society with all its problems and concerns. This could be hard to prove for some genres which people find difficult to identify with, like science fiction for example. However, there are many films depicting people and situations which seem to be similar to our daily life. As a result, many people can identify with the film characters. This is one goal of the film industry as it means that more people want to watch the film and therefore profits increase. To reach this identification, the film industry tries to observe individuals or groups to mirror their lives within a film. This also happened in Great Britain during the 1990s. For example, while society faced problems like mass unemployment, the film industry decided to use these challenges to produce new films including many realistic as well as fictional elements within the plot. However, political and economic changes not only influenced working adults who lost their jobs during a period of recession, but also young people not yet in work, as well as ethnic minorities and in some ways even every individual living in the UK at the time. This shows the importance of the connection between filmmaking and society when exploring contradiction and change in the UK in the 1990s. In particular, British film in the 1990s represented change in society by dealing with the working class people, youth culture, as well as including black film making.
The changes in society regarding the economic shift from industrial industry to service industry (See: ) are shown through the unemployed working class within the genre of the ‘underclass film’. This is a typical British film genre which developed from the ‘working class film’ which had its peak during the 1980s (Monk 276). Both genres have in common that they try to show a mostly realistic picture of society. However, as society and everything connected to it changed significantly in terms of economy, the main focus of both genres show remarkable differences. The ‘working class film’ of the 1980s mainly tries to portray the lives of working class people. These include detailed insights into their working life e.g. working in the steel industry, mining or industrial manufactures, as well as their daily struggles concerning money for example, and their hopes of respected employment and a better life (Hallam 261). In contrast, the ‘underclass film’ had its boom years during the 1990s.
“Thus, while the 90’s films draw attention to the widening of economic divisions characteristic of the Thatcher years, they also reveal how de-industrialisation, mass unemployment and anti-trade union legislation have not only significantly altered the social character of the British working class but have undermined the prospects for self-confident forms of working-class action as well” (Hill 179).
As many people of the former working class lost their jobs because of the closure or privatisation of traditional industries during the Thatcher Era (See: ), an underclass, consisting of the long-term unemployed became quite considerable. One popular film which deals with the problems of unemployment, poverty and the concomitant helplessness is The Full Monty (1997) (). Another example worth mentioning is the film Brassed Off (1996) (). Both films try to depict a realistic plot as well as covering “psychological and emotional effects” (Monk 278). However, it needs to be considered that both are comedic and fictional. This fictionality can especially be found at the end of the films as they both finish with a happy ending which probably intended to make the audience believe in a better future. Moreover, both films show the deprivation of men’s power as a problem (Monk 281). When former working-class men became unemployed, many women had to earn money for their families on their own. This change in the men’s role as the main breadwinner also caused a “loss of confidence and self-esteem” for men (Monk 281). The Full Monty shows the bewilderment of the protagonist Gaz: When he hides in the bathroom observing women using men’s toilets, drinking and talking dirt, he realises that gender roles have changed as fast as the whole society had done within a few years (See: ).
Many films in the 1990s focused on developments within youth culture and its link to drug use which was strongly connected to the term ‘cool Britannia’. Young people during this time struggled not only with unemployment, as mentioned before, but also with the image of popular youth which took drugs to entertain themselves when Britpop and rave became popular (See: ). This development of a new youth culture and the term ‘cool Britannia’ (See: ) were of interest for the film industry. “Youth culture has always been raided and exploited by commercial interests as a matter of course” (Thackara 29). Young people made up the biggest share of the mainstream cinema audience in the UK in the 1990s (Lury 104). And so the film industry took advantage of this circumstance and aimed to produce films which focused on addressing this target group. An example of a film addressing the issue of drugs and ‘cool Britannia’ in youth culture during this time is the film Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle and released in 1996 (). It depicts a group of young drug addicts and their struggle with illegal substances. It shows the dreadful circumstances in such a drug community, for example a young mother neglecting her baby thereby causing its death in order to take drugs. Mark Renton, the main protagonist, attempts to justify this behaviour many times in the film: “By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be” (Trainspotting). In the end, he intends to change his life with the money he steals from his friends after a heroin transaction. This leads to the question of whether this film also aims for a ‘feel-good ending’ as in the underclass films, where the main character escapes or overcomes their difficulties. It is rather unlikely that the majority of young drug addicts in real-life Britain were able to accomplish this step. Therefore, the overall poor circumstances of drug addicts are well shown in the film in order to sensitise the audience to this kind of lifestyle, but the ending is not very realistic. Thus one can say that films with young people in difficult life situations as their main storyline enable a critical consideration of the youth culture in the 1990s to a certain extent, but films are nevertheless still a medium used for entertainment and making money.
The representation of immigration and multicultural diversity in British film in the 1990s, known as ‘black filmmaking’, dealt with the integration of black people within British identity and their perception. Anne Ciecko in her article Representing the Spaces of Diaspora in Contemporary British Films by Woman Directors discusses definitions of ‘black-filmmaking’: “When ‘black’ filmmaking in Britain is discussed, one usually speaks about representations by and about Afro-Caribbean and Asian ‘blacks’ of the diasporas as postcolonial subjects. […] “Black” in Britain functions like “people of color” in the United States” (67-68). This combination of different cultures within British society is why Britain is also called the cultural capital of the world (Alexander 113). The representations of these groups in Britain in films were brought into focus at the beginning of the 1980s, but they were only portrayed within their ethnic groups, without addressing the aspect of integrating into British society (Alexander 109-110). However, racism was still an issue in the 1990s for these people, though their integration slowly developed positively over the decade (See: ). A woman who wanted to show the difficulties of this process and having a Indian inheritance whilst being British is Gurinder Chadha, the director of Bhaji on the Beach (1994). She herself represents the multicultural aspects of Britain as she “was born in Kenya to Punjabi parents and has lived in England for most of her life” (qtd. in Ciecko 68). The film deals with some prevalent prejudices against a group of Punjabi women who need to solve their conflicts over tradition in comparison to modernism, and how the younger, British-born generation of Asians identify themselves within British society (). “Although the film is often light-hearted and amusing, it takes pains to point out the frustrations of interracial, intercultural relations” (Ciecko 74). Chadha wanted to tell the story that not only she, but also the critics and audience, thought was often not heard or seen in films; the aspects of a female Indian community were women are not portrayed as silent and obedient (Alexander 112). The illustration of their real struggle in films in the 1990s was due to the on-going crisis of British identity itself in society and the different perceptions and transformations of it over generations (Alexander 113). Thus the representation and integration of multicultural immigration and diversity was just as difficult to portray in films as it was in reality during the 1990s.
Until Cool Britannia can acknowledge the visibility of others and think about inclusivity instead of exclusivity on a broad institutional and cultural level, the idea that the nation has on itself, namely that Britishness is something to aspire to, is under threat. […] If they are ever allowed a chance to speak again, audience will find their messages are for everyone. We want our cinema to be different, but not too different, we want to be celebrated not dismissed (Alexander 114).
During the 1990s many factors fostered remarkable changes within British society. As film tries to reflect society, these changes can also be found in many popular films of the 1990s. Although most of the aspects mentioned above did not have their origin within the 1990s but earlier, they all became highly important during this decade. Nevertheless, there are many more aspects which could be investigated in more detail. Especially within the genre of the ‘underclass film’ it could be interesting to analyse the extent of the connection between depicting reality and idealized settings and stories. As this text implies that film mirrors society to a certain degree, it could be important to have a closer look at the impact which film has on society. This would than lead to the question of in how far film and society mirror each other and therefore also influence each other. Furthermore, it could be worthwhile to have a closer look at filmmaking during the 1990s all over the world. Although the ‘Cool Britannia’ movement and the sudden decline of the traditional industries leading to extreme protests are mainly British phenomena, there might be some parallels to European and American filmmaking. In the end, films in the 1990s did not only deal with positive aspects of society but tried to mirror it as authentically as a fictional film could do whilst adding entertaining aspects.
Alexander, Karen. “Black British Cinema in the 90s: Going Going Gone” in: British cinema of the 90s. Edited by Murphey, London: BFI Publishing, 2009, pp. 109-114.
Ciecko, Anne. “Representing the Spaces of Diaspora in Contemporary British Films by Woman Directors”. In: Cinema Journal Vol. 38, No. 3, University of Texas Press. 1999, pp. 67-90
Hallam, Julia. “Film, class and national identity: re-imagining communities in the age of devolution” in: .British cinema, past and present. Edited by Ashby and Higson, London: Routledge, 2011, pp. 261-273.
Hill, John. “Failure and Utopianism: Representations of the Working Class in British Cinema of the 1990s” in: British cinema of the 90s. Edited by Murphey, London: BFI Publishing, 2009, pp. 178-187.
Lury, Karen. “Here and Then: Space, Place and Nostalgia in British Youth Cinema of the 1990s” in: British cinema of the 90s. Edited by Murphey, London: BFI Publishing, 2009, pp. 100-108.
Monk, Claire. “Underbelly UK: the 1990s underclass film, masculinity and theideologies of ‘new’ Britain in: .British cinema, past and present. Edited by Ashby and Higson, London: Routledge, 2011, pp. 274-287.
Thackara, John. “British Youth Culture”. The Spectator: 257, 8248; Collection 7, Periodicals Archive Online, Aug 9, 1986. pp. 29f.
Awkward Partners: EU Support versus Scepticism
The 1990s in the United Kingdom were not only a decade of important social and cultural changes, but they were also dominated on the international political level by an attitude of scepticism and distance towards the European Union. It is specifically this attitude that led to some significant political decisions made about Britain’s relationship to the EU. However, it was not before the 2016 EU referendum and vote for leave that the full consequences of the 1990s ‘Euroscepticism’ came into effect. According to Forster (1-2), Euroscepticism “has been employed as a generic label that defines a negative point of view towards the European Union (EU)” and usually criticizes the Union’s economic system, its international politics, and the currency union. As a consequence of wide spread Euroscepticism in Britain, it is no surprise that Britain and the EU have been ‘awkward partners’ from the very beginning (Leach et al. 274). Therefore, one question that arises is whether Britain might have already made the decision to leave the EU in the 1990s if the political circumstances had been different. Both Prime Ministers of the decade, John Major and Tony Blair, had to face significant criticism and opposition concerning their policies on EU membership and ‘Monetary Union’, as they were aiming to strike a balance in order to consolidate their respective parties. The main claim is that if John Major and Tony Blair had not been able to successfully implement a policy of compromise concerning EU membership in the 1990s, Britain would have distanced itself from the EU and previous treaties prior to 2016, as it was a decade of general Euroscepticism.
Euroscepticism as a typically British phenomenon which already existed long before the European Union was created, and continues to persist even more strongly than in other European countries, such as Denmark, that are also sceptical towards the EU (Dearlove & Saunders 729-730). The reasons for this are manifold since they are all grounded in the UK’s history and special status as an island disconnected from the European mainland. As Dearlove and Saunders (740) note, the last invasion of the islands was almost a millennium ago and there were no revolutions during the 18th or 19th century which drastically transformed the state. Additionally, other European countries have been created in recent history in contrast to Britain, which has evolved through the centuries into something that was not planned beforehand. The claim here is that these other countries are more used to “constructing political institutions out of nothing” and are therefore more open to the idea of “merging their national sovereignty” (Dearlove & Saunders 741). Furthermore, Britain’s distinctive legal system, its distinctive type of capitalism, its distinct individualistic culture, and its unique relationship to the US and the former Empire have been proposed as reasons for Britain’s fear of European integration (Dearlove & Saunders 741-748).
During the early 1990s, however, British Euroscepticism intensified. After Margaret Thatcher had warned British people during her 1988 Bruges speech against giving up their sovereignty and having Britain ruled by people sitting in Brussels, Britain was hit by a strong recession in 1991 (Dearlove & Saunders 537). It was primarily caused by high interest rates artificially held at that level in order to have more favourable exchange rates based on the European Exchange Mechanism (ERM) (See: ). Following the recession, where thousands of people had lost their jobs, Britain decided to leave the ERM after investors had started to bet against the pound. As a consequence, the British pound was devaluated by 13% between 1991 in 1993 (Dearlove & Saunders 540). Naturally, people increasingly lost faith in Prime Minister John Major’s economic abilities and blamed the EU for imposing unwelcome economic measures that Britain could not bear. Eventually, this also led to the creation of a number of single-issue political parties that opposed British membership in the EU, such as the Referendum Party or UKIP (UK Independence Party) in 1993 (Dearlove and Saunders 729-730).
Generally, Britain’s two largest and most significant parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, have always had opposing attitudes towards British integration into the EU. During the Thatcher era positions were radically reversed (Jones & Kavanagh 247), as it was initially the Conservative Party under Thatcher that campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Community (EC) in 1975 and criticized the 1978 Labour government for not joining the ERM. It was also Thatcher who signed the Single European Act, which was to create a single European economic market and allow free trade among the members of the EC. British EC membership was thus regarded as a Conservative achievement, until the Conservatives completely reversed their attitude, as it became clear that Britain was transferring power to a supranational state (Leach et al., 2006). Nevertheless, Thatcher still decided to join the ERM. Her anti-European tendencies intensified, together with those of many other Conservative politicians, despite her warning in her 1998 speech in Bruges, that
“[to] try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging […]. […] We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level […].” (Thatcher)
Labour, on the other hand, initially opposed EC membership, as they feared it would weaken British trade unions and aggravate working conditions. Under the Labour party leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith, however, the party became increasingly pro-European (George & Haythorne 2-4). With its clear European policy, the party was able to profit from the quarrels within the unsteady Conservative Party under Major and to present itself as a viable alternative. This very discord, paired with events like the recession of 1991, are said to ultimately have led to Major’s defeat in the 1997 General Election against Tony Blair, who seemed to embody a more positive and determined attitude towards the European and Monetary Unions.
When John Major became the Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister in 1990 (See: ), he was faced with the important task of bringing the party together again, which was split between pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics. Major’s policies, himself supporting a close relationship between Britain and the EU, can thus be characterized as policies of compromise. He, for instance, strongly supported British membership in the ERM while holding the view that this did not necessarily imply an accord on a single European currency. Likewise, Major obtained parliamentary approval to sign the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991, which was to unite three separate European Communities into a single union – Though neither without the support of oppositional politicians and nor without securing two important British opt-outs: firstly, Britain did not sign up for the ‘Social Chapter’, which would have provided the Union with the power to implement policies concerning social conditions of employment. More importantly, though, Britain did not agree to the third stage in the progression to Monetary Union, meaning that Britain would be able to benefit from a single market without having to adopt the European currency.
While Major clearly sided with the Euro-supporters in his party, there were numerous occasions where Major himself voiced rather Eurosceptical tones, trying to appease the internal opposition he regularly offended. For instance, Major delivered a speech in Leiden, The Netherlands, in 1994, in which he observed
“that Europe’s peoples in general retain their faith and confidence in the Nation State. […] The European Union seems temporarily to have lost the self-confidence of the 1980s. […] We need to listen to these warnings if we are to make the right moves in the future.” (Major)
The character of compromise was thus immanent in Major’s policies, “as [he] endeavoured to preserve a fragile semblance of party unity” (Holmes). According to Holmes, Major’s European policy and ultimately his term in office failed. This was due to his concentration on keeping the appearance of a unified Conservative Party, sometimes adopting contradicting positions toward the EU, instead of convincing the nation that full EU membership would be beneficial to Britain (Holmes). In 1997, he then had to resign as New Labour took over.
The Labour Party under Tony Blair (See: ) promised to pursue a more constructive European policy in comparison to the outgoing Conservative government, and successive Labour Party manifestoes declared that Britain sought to establish itself as a leading member state of the Union. Before being elected Prime Minister in 1997, Blair recognised that global British influence was dependent on the performance of Britain in the EU (Bulmer 602). Additionally, New Labour was willing to accept supranational European policies where they felt they represented British interests. Shortly after being elected into office, Blair was able to accede to the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, from which Major’s government had preferred to opt out, and initiated the creation of a common European defence system.
As time passed after the elections, however, New Labour and Blair had to adopt a more defensive position in order to secure favourable ratings back home. Even though the Blair government had agreed to the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, it continued to advocate a flexible labour market in opposition to the European approach of intervention, following the American free market model of capitalism. Once again, this illustrated that Britain and its former colony shared a closer relationship than Britain and its modern allies in the EU. This defensive posture became even clearer when Chancellor Brown announced that Britain would only join the European currency if five economic tests were passed with satisfying results. Additionally, Blair promised that the Euro would not be introduced in Britain without holding a public referendum on the issue. Ultimately, and contrary to his pre-election announcements, it seems thus that the public opinion and the securing of power at home were more important to Blair than quickly bringing forward the European project and reaching complete British integration into the EU eventually.
Policies of compromise were continuously pursued even after the turn of the millennium, as subsequent governments in Britain still debated joining the single European currency, believing believed this would weaken the nation’s economic power and relationship to the US. Additionally, the UK under Blair decided to openly break with leading European countries such as Germany and France with regard to the controversial issue of sending troops to support the US invading Iraq in 2003. Consequently, the UK continuously distanced itself from the EU regarding ideas of an economic market, social policies, and defence. This attitude was reflected in popular opinion towards the EU, which ultimately resulted in the 2016 EU Referendum led by Prime Minister David Cameron. As both Major and Blair had previously attempted to ameliorate British-EU relationships, both politicians campaigned for voters to vote “remain” as they tried to convince voters to “rise up against Brexit […] and that voters have the right to change their minds” after the referendum (Swinford). Additionally, they were quick at commenting on the decision made by the British citizens and the exit strategy pursued by current Prime Minister Theresa May (Mason).
All things considered, the 1990s in the UK were clearly characterised by a profound Euroscepticism that individual politicians tried to counter by implementing policies of compromise, trying to unite the nation and bring it closer to the EU. For instance, John Major signed the Treaty of Maastricht in 1991, but not without retreating from the Social Chapter and the third stage of Monetary Union. New Labour under Blair, on the contrary, managed to sign up Britain for the Social Chapter and celebrated this as an important milestone on the road to full membership. As time passed, however, they needed to follow a more defensive international political course in order to retain and secure the approval of Eurosceptic voters. Even though it is a highly hypothetical claim, considering the circumstances and key policies of the 1990s, it seems very likely that Britain would have initialised a referendum concerning EU membership earlier than it actually happened, if both Major and Blair had not pursued their policies of compromise and aimed for a closer relationship between Britain and the EU.
Bulmer, S. “New Labour, New European Policy? Blair, Brown and Utilitarian Supranationalism.” Parliamentary Affairs, vol. 61, no. 4, Aug. 2008, pp. 597–620., doi:10.1093/pa/gsn029.
Dearlove, John, and Peter Saunders. Introduction to British politics. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2000.
Forster, Anthony. Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics: Opposition to Europe in the Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945. London, Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2002.
George, Stephen, and Deborah Haythorne. The British Labour Party. Unspecified. Washington, DC. 1993.
Holmes, Martin. “John Major and Europe: The Failure of a Policy 1990-7.” Against EU integration and British involvement in the creation of a European Union super-State, www.brugesgroup.com/media-centre/papers/8-papers/801-john-major-and-europe-the-failure-of-a-policy-1990-7. Accessed 25 June 2017.
Jones, Bill, and Dennis Kavanagh. British politics today. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2003.
Leach, Robert, Bill Coxall, and Lynton Robins. British politics. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Mason, Rowena. “Tony Blair calls on remainers to ‘rise up in defence of our beliefs’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 Feb. 2017, www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/16/tony-blair-remainers-rise-up-brexit. Accessed 25 June 2017.
“Mr Major’s Speech in Leiden.” The RT Hon Sir John Major Kg Ch – Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997, www.johnmajor.co.uk/page1124.html. Accessed 25 June 2017.
“Speech to the College of Europe (“The Bruges Speech”).” Margaret Thatcher Foundation, www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107332. Accessed 25 June 2017.
Swinford, Steven. “Sir John Major launches extraordinary attack on Theresa Mays government over Brexit.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 27 Feb. 2017, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/27/sir-john-major-warns-theresa-may-hard-brexit-could-mean-cuts/. Accessed 25 June 2017.
After the Second World War, in the process of decolonisation, Britain witnessed significant inward migration from the Commonwealth countries. As the country’s population became increasingly diverse, questions surrounding immigration and race could no longer go unanswered. Initially, British society saw the waves of immigration as an assault on their culture. Heightened racial tensions, as well as complex political and economic situations, signified the need for a new, more inclusive, perspective. During the nineties, British society started to embrace racial differences and, through several phases, the UK developed into a multicultural country.
The nineties in the UK started with political and economic changes: a new Prime Minister had to be elected after Margaret Thatcher´s period of office ended in 1990, and problems of the recession in 1990/ 91 had to be tackled. It was considered to be the “worst recession since 1930” (Childs 276) and newly elected Prime Minister John Major declared inflation to be the central problem (Heyck 310). Regrettably, he was proved right on 16 September 1992, which went down in history as ‘Black Wednesday’ (See: ). The British government had to leave the ERM, watching their currency´s value drift to unknown depths (Childs 286). Besides inflation, high unemployment rates added to dissatisfaction among the working and middle classes. Opinion polls on General Elections held in 1992 revealed that the Conservatives lagged behind the Labour Party in terms of votes, therefore the fourth win in a row came as a surprise for the Conservatives (Childs 277) (See: ). Childs states that the Labour Party mainly suffered from being the “unknown party” and adds that “a general reason for the Conservatives to win was the person of John Major” (277). The replacement of Thatcher by Major was considered “a brilliant act of self-renewal” for British identity (Childs 277). British national identity is considered to be a hybrid of its four comprising nations which have always been dominated by England (Piper 58). Socialist Piper argues that “this domination was and is based on a sense of ‘racial’ superiority” (58). Exactly this attitude might have “resulted in a defensive type of nationalism of peripheral countries against the core” (Piper 58). The election of New Labour might be considered to be the first step in breaking with this old definition of British identity which was “strongly suggestive of a colonial context” (Piper 58) and opened up new perspectives, therefore redefining British identity.
Thus, in the first years of the nineties, Britain was so engaged in political and especially economic affairs that social problems, especially racial issues, were rarely discussed on political stages. However, those did not vanish completely. “Social attitude surveys and polls in the British context” dismantled prejudices and discrimination against ethnic minorities in The 1992 Report (Piper 115). According to this report, “fewer than one in ten viewed their society as prejudice free” and 40% of Conservative voters “admitted to any degree of prejudice against people of other races” in comparison to 25% of Labour followers (Piper 117).
The incident that shifted racial issues to the centre of political, institutional and therefore, public attention was the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. He, a black 19-year old student from Eltham, a suburb in southeast London, who was killed at a bus stop by a group of white youngsters, in a racially motivated attack (Bevan & Rufford 239). The Macpherson Report, later in 1999, accused the police of having committed several serious mistakes during the investigation of the case. The report by Macpherson therefore concluded that “institutional racism […] exists both in the Metropolitan police service and in other police services and institutions countrywide” (qtd. in Bevan & Rufford 240). It thus seems that racists existed in Britain just as in many other places, however Bevan and Rufford raise the question of whether this necessarily means that the British nation was racist (240). To sum up, racism against skin colour was a pressing problem in British society during the 1990s, both on individual and institutional levels, as the Macpherson Report stated.
Racism related to skin colour was accompanied by a form of ‘new racism’ in the early 1990s, reorganising the concept of race according to cultural rather than biological features (Beynon & Kushnick 236): “There was now a shift of focus from the ‘threat’ posed by ‘black’ culture to the ‘threat’ posed by ‘Islam’” (original emphasis Beynon & Kushnick 230). At this stage, the “threat to the British way of life” (Beynon & Kushnick 230) had grown two hostile threats: dark skin colour and Islam.
Besides the police, business employers were accused of recruiting their employees according to their racial background instead of their job qualifications. The reason for this and its consequence is summed up by the social historian Andrew Rosen: “Partly as a result of prejudice, levels of unemployment remained much higher among many (but not all) ethnic minorities than among whites” (94). However, looking for an easy way out by attributing the high unemployment rate exclusively to education level and/or a lack of English among ethnic minorities is evidently an insufficient overgeneralisation of reality.
Members of ethnic minorities in the 1990s were not immigrants who freshly settled in the UK for economic, social or safety reasons. There was already the second generation of ethnic minorities, the British-born, since the first wave of immigration took place between 1955 and 1974. In these times, immigrants were mainly from the New Commonwealth, which included the Caribbean, India and Pakistan (Rosen 92). In a second wave from 1980 until 1984, Bangladeshis arrived and finally settled in the UK (Rosen 92). By 1991, the UK became home to an estimated 500,000 West Indian or Caribbean, 840,000 Indian, 477,000 Pakistani and 163,000 Bangladeshi people, to name only the major groups of the manifold ethnic minorities in the UK (Rosen 90). Since “[t]o be born in Britain was to be educated in Britain” (Rosen 94), members of ethnic minorities successfully passed through the British educational system, and a great percentage of them achieved educational attainments, making them “more likely than whites to enter higher education” (Rosen 94). This statement can be supported by sheer numbers: “By 1998-2000, 29 per cent of Chinese, 25 per cent of Indians and 22 per cent of whites of working age had qualifications beyond A-levels” (Rosen 94).
Apart from being fully integrated into the educational system and consequently developing native or native near English skills, spatial and cultural distance from the home countries of their parents also meant “home language” usage decreased among the second generation of ethnic minorities in favour of English (Rosen 96). In 1994, 80 per cent of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women between the ages of 16 and 24 spoke English, in comparison to only 4 per cent of Bangladeshi women aged 45 to 64 and 28 per cent of Pakistani women in the same age (Rosen 96).
The generational impasse among ethnic minorities is obvious, as well as the cultural dilemma of the second generation of ethnic minorities in the UK during the 1990s. Being born in the UK guaranteed education, though it did not guarantee British identity. Not only did Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian people differ from white Brits in their skin colour, but often also in their religion. Concluding, Rosen states: “It has often been argued that Britain has become a multi-racial society, but it would be more accurate to state that Britain remains a predominantly white society which has come to include some truly multi-racial cities and metropolitan areas” (92).
For ethno-religious minorities, the 1990s were a period of assertiveness and struggle for equality. As professor of cultural studies Graeme Turner states, ethnicity, along with religious beliefs, were at the centre of debates about identity, representation, and belonging (Turner 210). The issues surrounding ethnicity and immigration have also been proved to be inseparable from religion. According to sociologist Tariq Modood, migrants were more religious than white British, both “in terms of collective identification and in terms of participation” (Modood 297). Though these elements were consistently discussed in British politics, they were not properly addressed until the New Labour government came to power. They funded approved faith schools, and created various policies and enacted legislation to prevent discrimination (Modood 301). One of the most important associations established during this time was the Muslim Council of Britain (Cook and Stevenson 155). This association sought to expose British society to the fundamentals of Islam and eradicate possible discrimination faced by Muslims. Organisations like this increased familiarisation and, therefore, provided the New Labour party the outlet to shift religion out of its ‘private matter’ boundaries, so much so that in 2001, the question on religion was included in the nationwide Census (Modood 303). New Labour thus facilitated a more open discussion of ethnical, religious, and cultural issues.
The popularity of the Conservative Party was at an all-time low when New Labour won the general election in 1997. The election outcome was the worst Conservative result of modern times (Cook and Stevenson 36) and demonstrated how much the British society craved change. No more was this change manifested than in the empowering and persuasive rhetoric of the Labour Party’s figure head, Tony Blair. His centrist political philosophy called ‘The Third Way’ tried to find middle ground between an Old Left and a New Right, offering “a modernised social democracy for a changing world” (Blair 33). Putting opportunity, progress, and social justice at the core of his vision, the New Labour leader managed to achieve enviable success with public.
Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ emphasised “the equal worth of each individual” and stressed the need to tackle discrimination (Blair 29). However, not every New Labour policy was in favour of multinational and multicultural Britain. Given the political situation in the world and the UK´s relationship with the EU (See: ), refugees and asylum seekers were a major cause of political conflict and one of the most controversial issues on New Labour’s agenda. Due to the constantly increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers, the intrusive media titled the end of the 1990s a period of ‘immigration crisis’ which roused discussions and issues about equality that Tony Blair had to deal with. Most importantly, the new government did not want to look weak in the eyes of the public and their concern with “being tough and being seen as tough” defined their immigration politics (Solomos 71).
Consequently, the party ended up being even more strict and unforgiving of immigrants than the Conservatives. New Labour’s first immigration policy Fairer, Faster and Firmer: A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum was introduced in 1998. According to sociologist John Solomos, this document favoured neither immigrants or asylum seekers, nor refugees and “changed the existing policies more in degree than direction” (Solomos 71). Thus, Labour´s migration programme hardly improved the issues of racism or discrimination, but announced new controls, a system of enforced dispersal outside London and perhaps most dispiritingly, increased detention and deportation (Solomos 71). These policies highlighted the inherent desire of the white British natives to protect their concept of ‘White Britishness’.
As immigration became an increasingly pressing issue, British natives struggled to maintain what professor of cultural studies John Storey calls the British ‘brand’, the supposed features that constitute and compose national identity (Storey 13). Britain was never perceived as a ‘melting pot’ by most white Brits, and for this reason the concept of an ethnically homogenous nation, as well as marking immigrants as black and Asian (Webster 106), served to protect their White British identity. Facing the challenge of assimilation and identification, ethnic minorities tried to offer their own interpretation of the British ‘brand’. In his book The Rainbow Sign, published in 1986, Hanif Kureishi, a writer of Pakistani and English descent, argues: “It is the British, the white British, who have to learn that being British isn’t what it was. Now it is a complex thing, involving new elements” (38). Thus, the British ‘brand’ itself had to be transformed to incorporate ethnic minorities and their identities.
The 1990s witnessed the response to ‘an unspoken normative whiteness’ (Turner 212) in the form of books and films, which expanded “notions of Britishness, putting black and Asian experiences at their centre, and foregrounding these experiences as distinctively British” (Webster 106) (See: ). However, the change was not limited to the increasing representation of ethnic minorities. According to Turner, the 1990s were the times of a widespread identity formation in politics and popular culture: “From the Spice Girls to British Airways’ updated livery, the Blaire-ite project of ‘rebranding’ Britain … British industries and institutions alike seemed interested in actively participating in the production of new national identities.” (Turner 212) (See: ). As a result, the concept of ‘Britishness’ underwent significant changes. The native white population evolved to see themselves as a part of new multicultural Britain, thus allowing ethnic minorities to be heard and recognised as equals. Britain’s population responded to the challenges of the modern globalised world and developed into a multicultural society.
During the final decade of the twentieth century, the attitude towards ethnic minorities in the UK gradually shifted from cold apprehension to integrative acceptance. The second generation of immigrants, generally well-educated and active in their attempts to establish themselves as British, called attention to inequalities in the job market and in representations in the media and popular culture. Towards the end of the 1990s, after a devastating economic recession and a lengthy Conservative rule, British society began to discuss the existence of discrimination and prejudice more openly. Among the problems addressed was the issue of institutional racism and the representation of ethno-religious minorities. This decade saw much progress in the areas of racial and cultural assimilation. However, certain degrees of hostility towards Muslim populations still exist today, and immigration remains an ever-pressing issue. Creating the new concept of Britishness, which includes contributions of ethnic minorities, might be one of numerous important steps Britain has to take in order to resolve it.
Bevan, Stephan and Rufford, Nicholas. “Is Britain really a nation of racists” in: Contemporary Britain a survey with texts . Ed. John Oakland. Routledge, 2001, pp. 226- 233.
Beynon, Huw, and Lou Kushnick. “Cool Britannia or Cruel Britannia? Racism and New Labour.” Socialist Register 39.39 (2009).
Blair, Tony. “The Third Way: New Politics for the New Century” in: New Labour. Edited by Stephen Driver and Luke Martell, 2006.
Childs, David. “11. In Mayor´s Classless Society 1990-1996”. Britain since 1945: A political history. Taylor & Francis, 2006, pp. 272-306.
Cook, Chris and Stevenson, John. The Longman companion to Britain since 1945. Longman Harlow, 2000.
Heyck, Thomas. A History of the Peoples of the British Isles. vol. 3. From 1870 to the Present. Routledge, 2002. pp. 309-322.
Kureishi, Hanif. The Rainbow Sign. Faber and Faber, 1986.
Modood, Tariq. “The struggle for ethno-religious equality in Britain: the place of the Muslim community” in: The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture. Edited by Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith and John Storey, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 296-312.
Piper, Nicola. “5.2. Identity as nation and as race: the individual cases of Britain and Germany.” “7. Mass Discourse”. Racism, nationalism and citizenship: Ethnic minorities in Britain and Germany. Ashgate Pub Limited, 1998, pp. 55-92; 114-133.
Rosen, Andrew. “8. Ethnic minorities”. The Transformation of British Life 1950-2000: A Social History. Manchester University Press, 2003, pp. 88-99.
Solomos, John. Race and Racism in Britain. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Storey, John. “Becoming British” in: The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture. Edited by Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith and John Storey, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 12-26.
Webster, Wendy. “Immigration and Racism” in: A companion to contemporary Britain: 1939-2000. Edited by Paul Addison and Harriet Jones, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, pp. 93-109
Turner, Graeme. British cultural studies: an introduction. Routledge, 2003.
Struggling for Identity
[_ We were 100% free to be ourselves, to do what we wanted and to say fuck you to everyone and everything. Go hard or go home. _]
The quote above nicely reflects the prevailing attitude of most British men during the nineties who were influenced by the so called ‘lad culture’. As a memorable movement that shaped millions of people’s lifestyles in the nineties, laddism is nowadays connected to “a group or ‘pack’ mentally residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which is ‘often sexists, misogynist and homophobic” according to the National Union of Students (Cosslett). Although it is perceived largely negatively today, laddism was an important movement of the nineties which helped men in developing an identity in a feminist era.
In the nineties, a fresh wind was blowing through the feminist movements. ‘Third-wave feminism’ emerged as a response to the failures of ‘Second-wave feminism’ (Marinucci 505). As a continuation of the second-wave feminism that was mainly concerned with questioning gender roles, the third wave was led by people who were raised in the seventies and during the women´s liberation movement (Marinucci 505). Compared to feminist movements of the sixties, seventies and eighties, the mind-expanding third-wave movement broke new ground by questioning and redefining basic concepts such as ‘gender’ and ‘gender roles’. Furthermore, the movement was not as politically focused as the waves beforehand. Nevertheless, it increased the self-awareness of its supporters and directed them to become equal, powerful and individual personalities (Brunell and Burkett). This new attitude was also reflected in the rise of a number of girl-groups in the nineties. The Spice Girls, for instance, can be mentioned as a self-confident group of young female singers who were not afraid to display their feminist attitude in public by using slogans such as ‘girl power’ (Turner 61). Besides that, the empowered female identity is also mirrored in the increasing number of female workers in the nineties which outweighed the number of male workers for the first time in the history (Dibben 171; Turner 55). However, this success was not only made possible by feminism; it was also connected to Britain’s transformed economic environment that made “women … the perceived beneficiaries” of the country’s economic situation as it changed from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based one (Godfrey 88-89).
Simultaneously, more and more men became victims of the economic transformation. If one compares the sixties to the nineties, a drop in male employment can be noticed. While 15 million male workers were counted in the sixties there were just 11 million in the nineties (Turner 55). Often this decrease is traced back to feminism, which “becomes, to an extent, a scapegoat on which many of the problems facing men can be blamed” (Godfrey 108). Thus, many people assumed that the success of women was taking place at the expense of men, and that feminism specifically could be blamed for this unfavourable fate of men (Godfrey 72). Nevertheless, the crisis of men in the nineties can be traced back to several factors. Apart from the impact of feminism, and Britain’s economic transformation there was a breakdown in social life and a changing view on the traditional roles of men, which lead to many men struggling for identity (Godfrey 80-106; Turner 49).
While searching for identity, some men found encouragement in ‘laddism’. This movement freed them from nearly all sorts of constraints so that they “no longer felt the pressure to be the detached silent breadwinners of previous generations” (Knox). The new lad of the nineties can be seen as a continuation of the ‘lad’ masculinity of the 1950s (Phipps and Young 460). Back then, the ‘lad’ masculinity was a reaction against the increasing number of ‘family men’, who were involved in raising children. The term, once used in the fifties, was taken up again in the mid-nineties to describe “the middle-class fetishization of working-class machismo and Jack-the-lad behaviour embodied in the UK by ‘new lads’ Noel Gallagher, Frank Skinner and David Badiel” (Phipps and Young 460). Loaded, as the first laddish lifestyle magazine, was in great demand in the nineties and encouraged men in their “devil-may-care” attitude (Turner 52-53). Compared to former expectations of how men were supposed to behave, such as the ‘new man’ in the fifties, laddish behaviour was attainable for men then, even without much effort (Turner 49). According to Alwyn Turner, the author of the book A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s, laddism gave the adolescent-inspired, working-class men a legitimate form of lifestyle which would have been considered irresponsible in previous decades (54).
Besides penetrating lifestyle magazines such as Loaded and FHM, lad culture also dominated fictional formats. Television series such as Men Behaving Badly, Fantasy Football League and Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush can be mentioned as examples shaped by laddism (Godfrey 93). Furthermore, there were several writers such as Simon Nye and Martin Amis who promoted lad culture by publishing novels such as Money or London Fields (Turner 50). All in all lad culture was firmly embedded in all sorts of British fiction and even cinema was no exception when one thinks of films such as Trainspotting (Godfrey 93, See: ).
In contrast to the nineties, today’s use of the term ‘lad culture’ is much more negatively connoted. As already described in the definition by the National Union of Students, lad culture is nowadays associated with heavy alcohol consumption, misogynist banter, discrimination and the objectification of women (Cosslett). It seems to be used as a trivialising “umbrella term” for all kinds of discrimination against women (Cosslett). Consequently, as a term that has changed its meaning over time, it needs to be used with caution nowadays (Phipps and Young 460).
In the nineties, however, lad culture was perceived as a memorable movement that offered men a counterpart to the “consciousness-raising” feminist movement (Turner 54). Although being “typified by a postmodern ambivalence towards all forms of politics its relationship with feminism was often […] antagonistic” (Godfrey 91). Nevertheless, one would force complex colourful data into black and white boxes by regarding lad culture of the nineties as a mere reaction to feminism (Phipps and Young 460-461). Apart from being a reaction to feminism it was a movement that helped men developing identity in a feminist decade (Phipps and Young 160-461). Thus, the importance of laddism for some men in the nineties should nto be completely forgotten these days when the term is almost exclusively used to refer to unfavourable and discriminating behaviour against women.
Adams, Michael. “Today’s Lads Vs 90’s Lad Culture.” Michael 84, Men’s Fashion and Lifestyle, 2016, https://www.michael84.co.uk/todays-lads-vs-90s-lad-culture/. Accessed 20 May 2017.
Brunell, Laura, and Elena Burkett. “The Third Wave Of Femninism.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/feminism/The-third-wave-of-feminism. Accessed 22 June 2017.
Burt, Keith, and Jacqueline Scott. “Parent and Adolescent Gender Role Attitudes in 1990s Great Britain.” Sex Roles, vol. 46, no. 7, 2002, pp. 239-245.
Champion, Anthony, and Cecilia Wong, Ann Rooke, Daniel Dorling, Mike Coombes, Chris Brunsdon. The population of Britain in the 1990s: A Social and Economic Atlas. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Cortese, Daniel, and Pamela Ling. “Enticing the New Lad: Masculinity as a Product of Consumption in Tobacco Industry-Developed Lifestyle Magazines.” Sage Pub, vol. 14, no. 1, 2011, pp. 4-30.
Cosslett, Rihannon Lucy. “It’s not ‘lad culture’, it’s misogyny- just look at the LSE rugby club.” The Guardian, 7 Oct. 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/07/lad-culture-women-rape-sexual-harassment-abuse-laddish, Accessed 20 May 2017.
Dibben, Nicola. “Constructions of Femininity in 1990s Girl-group Music.” Feminism and Psychology, vol. 12, no. 2, 2002, pp.168-175.
Godfrey, Sarah. Nowhere men: Representations of masculinity in nineties British cinema . 2010. University of East Anglia, PhD, pp. 71- 118, https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/20540/4/Nowhere_Men_Part_3.pdf. Accessed 17 May 2017.
Knox, Robbie. “90s Lad Culture Was Beautiful.” Huffington Post, 17 Nov. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/robbie-knox/lad-culture_b_8582284.html. Accessed 20 May 2017.
Marinucci, Mimi. “Television, Generation X, and Third Wave Feminism: A Contextual Analysis of The Brady Brunch.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 38, no. 3, 2005, pp. 505-524.
Phipps, Alison, and Isabel Young. “‘Lad culture’ in higher education: Agency in the sexualization debates.” Sexualities, vol. 18, no. 4, 2015, pp. 459-479.
Ramos, Xavier. “Domestic work time and gender differentials in Great Britain 1992-1998: What do “new” men look like?” International Journal of Manpower, vol. 26, no. 3, 2005, pp. 265-295.
Skeggs, Beverley. “Women’s Studies in Britain in the 1990s: Entitlement cultures and institutional constrains.” Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 13, no. 4, 1995, pp. 309-321.
Stevens, Jenny. “So Oasis were a lad band? Tell that to the women they dependent on.” The Guardian, 7 Oct. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/oct/07/oasis-lad-band-women-noel-liam-gallagher. Accessed 20 May 2017.
Turner, Alwyn W. A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s. Aurum Press, 2014.
Thinking of the 1990s it seems quite easy to be reminiscent of events that happened during that period or were in the news back then. The effect of the technological change in Britain was huge and it affected several areas of life. The 1990s can be characterised as “a time of globalization which science and technology saw notable growth” (Goel). With innovations being the key element to technological growth and economic development, the impact of technology becomes apparent by looking at the preceding technological achievements of the 1990s. Life in Britain was on a fast track thanks to technology. The differentiation of the 1990s between a period of technological revolution or technological evolution might not be common, but that is precisely why this assertion is even more thought-provoking.
Due to the words ‘revolution’ and ‘evolution’ coinciding in some points of their conceptual meanings, the difference between them is often disregarded. The distinction between these words is made by their temporal continuity. One dictionary meaning of evolution is “the gradual development of something” (Soanes 344). In other words, evolution is a development starting at some point and then continuing over a certain amount of time while passing through different stages. In this case the technological innovation emerged before the 1990s and was developed further during this decade. In contrast to this rather time-consuming change, the word ‘revolution’ is defined as “a great and far-reaching change” (Soanes 882). In contrast to the notion of evolution, the word revolution conveys a rather sudden and inexplicable quick change. “It is important to know that revolution brings about changes in culture, economy, and even socio-political conditions” (Admin). Against this background it shall be examined if the technological achievements during the 1990s, such as computers, the internet, mobile phones, emails and several others, appeared suddenly or if the process of development had already started before the 1990s and simply experienced a notable growth in that decade.
One important technological breakthrough in the 1990s was the introduction of the World Wide Web to the public. The rather “poor economic performance” in Britain before the 1990s was arguably caused by a lack of technological advance and a lack of investments in the technological sector (McIntosh 117). With British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee inventing the World Wide Web, the UK gained new international importance leading to technological growth (Nicholas 20). This served to reawaken British national pride, as well as kick-starting the British economy. In 1991, around three million computers were connected to the Internet in Britain (NHBC Foundation 34), and by 1999 around eight million people were connected to the Internet, which was more than “any other European country” (Turner 511). This shows just how quickly the Internet became an important part of people’s daily lives. Despite the technological features in the 1990s only being basic technologies when compared with today´s possibilities, the significance of the World Wide Web in Britain was substantial. Geographical distances were bridged by technological advances, as it was possible to stay in contact with people and friends via email and chat messengers (Mitchell). Considering that the UK is an island, those innovations represented a major change to people who were separated by the sea or any greater distance between them.
Furthermore, during the 1990s, mobile phones became smaller and cheaper, which meant that they became accessible to the mass market. “I remember the arrival of […] the mobile phone revolution – everybody just had to have one” (Price). The handiness of the mobile phones and laptop computers, and their prevalence due to cheap large-scale production, made it possible to work from almost everywhere, which made work more efficient. Moreover, the impact of technology on the labour market was significant with a distinct change in people’s occupations that finally led to a job polarisation (Goos, Manning 132) (See: ). The flexibility of location made possible by these small personal technologies offered the opportunity to always be connected to the workplace, and work could be done more easily and faster due to computerised equipment. As a result, the productivity rate rose, not least because of “communication technologies [which] […] raise[d] the productivity potential of work done outside those hours” (Green 7).
Although these changes made the 1990s a period of progress and economic boom, the inequality gap, a disparity between rich and poor, in British society initially widened. Still, the first steps towards a positive change quickly became apparent in services and support that could be offered due to computerised systems. "[A] quiet revolution was taking place as advances in technology and social sciences were assimilated in improved regulations, standards and guidelines for new housing developments" for example (NHBC Foundation 25). Most British households were slowly equipped with central heating, dishwashers, washing machines and microwaves; home comforts that are often taken for granted nowadays, but represented a big improvement during the 1990s (NHBC Foundation 33). And this technological progress moved fast, as by 1999 79% homes had central heating. A "technical transformation of new homes" was a part-result of the technological inventions (NHBC Expert Foundation 1).
The home entertainment industry also blossomed due to advancements in technology, with the launch of the Sony PlayStation in 1994 marking a significant step. By the mid-1990s gaming was one of the most lucrative branches of the entertainment industry, with Britain as one of the leaders in such software (Turner 135). However, family life changed as well because the launch of the Sony PlayStation was responsible for less “social time” as children but also adults preferred the console(s) over playing board or card games. Consequently, families did not come together to play as often as before (Respondent 1 . “Fwd.: A few questions (about the 1990s!)” Received by Dana Schmidt, 31 May 2017). Considering this, technological progress did not just have a future potential, but was also seen by some as leading to regression regarding to the social life of British people.
In aiming for an academic and thorough approach to technological change in Britain, a comparative survey was conducted to collect people’s perceptions of the developments described above. A small sample of British adults, who are able to remember their life during the 1990s quite well, were asked to answer a few questions: What big changes or developments do you remember concerning technology during the 1990s in Britain? What effects did those changes or developments have on your personal and work life? Do you remember any big advantages or disadvantages of those developments? It should be mentioned that this not a representative survey as the number of participants is limited. The respondents were between 7 and 47 years old during the 1990s. All of them were living in Britain during the decade.
The development of the computer and the accessibility of mobile phones were mentioned most frequently in responses to our small survey. Those developments seemed to be quite impressive as almost every participant wrote about them in a detailed reply. The youngest participant also mentioned that the development of the Sony PlayStation 1 was a “ground breaking” development for her because it made her “life feel like the future” (Respondent 1. “Fwd: A few questions (about the 1990s!)” Received by Dana Schmidt, 31 May 2017). Another respondent answered that computers were only used in corporations at first. The writing of emails started to become available in this period too, as mentioned above but, just like computers, this kind of communication was mostly “restricted to business computers rather than personal equipment” at the beginning of the decade (Respondent 2. “Questions about the 1990s” Received by Dana Schmidt, 13 June 2017). Furthermore, the survey revealed that “mobile phones started to become ubiquitous, although [they were] still limited to telephony rather than email/smart/web” as it is the case nowadays (Respondent 2. “Questions about the 1990s” Received by Dana Schmidt, 13 June 2017). Hence the development of mobile phones during the 1990s should be seen as a starting point for an ongoing change.
As Respondent 2 was working for an IT company, initiating and selling IT, it was noted that corporations started to be computerised with the use of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other comparable programmes. Microsoft was becoming the number one business software. In one reply it was stated that the effects on people’s personal life as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the development went together. The connection to people’s work life and being mobile everywhere were an advantage for companies, but also a disadvantage for the workers, because work and personal life “blends into one seamless stream” and they were “always connected, not only to the people [one] would choose” (Respondent 2. “Questions about the 1990s” Received by Dana Schmidt, 13 June 2017). This factor mentioned by Respondent 2 is also taken up by Green (7) stating that people became more connected to their work following the development of computers during the 1990s. This means that they could work more and for a longer period of time, consequently making work more efficient. However, this fact might have been a disadvantage for their personal and family life, as work started to take over their leisure time. The oldest participants replied that computerisation was an advantage concerning their work life, simplifying the functioning. With regard to work pace and the possibility of removing mistakes more easily than before, computerised text production led to a greater efficiency of employees and to a more efficient operation. For instance copy making became effortless due to the use of the computer. Besides, the introduction of the internet made it possible to email documents, making the fax machine redundant. This enhanced workplace efficiency emerged as a side effect of the technological change. Concerning people’s private lives, “a mobile phone for personal use was also handy; if you were meeting up with somebody and running late you could let them know you were on your way” (Respondent 3. “Fwd: A few questions…” Received by Dana Schmidt, 2 June 2017). Nonetheless, this newly gained availability was both an advantage and disadvantage, as the borders between working time and leisure time blurred more and more.
The above discussion shows why it is quite difficult to give a clear statement on how to define the decade of the 1990s regarding technology. The extent and range of technological developments were incomparable. Almost all technologies we use today have their roots in the 1990s; a period of reorganisation and change. Considering the question of whether the 1990s were a decade of technological revolution or evolution, a clear cut conclusion cannot be drawn because there are instances where a revolution as well as an evolution can be deduced from the facts. This might be the case with the development of the internet and the launch of the Sony PlayStation, both not being innovated in any shape or form before 1990, so it could be argued that these are indicators of a revolution. But the change of the appearance of mobile phones as well as the fact that most of the houses had central heating, washing machines and several other electrical appliances hints more towards an evolution because those had already been in use before the 1990s: these appliances were rather improved than invented during that decade. Either way, the 1990s can be seen as a decade which led the British society into the future. The UK as it is now harbours some of the best universities in the world, a “highly educated workforce” and high-tech industries (Knowles-Cutler 1). Looking at the technological developments and innovations in Britain in the 1990s, it becomes clear that this decade was the starting point for the present and possibly even a starting point for the future. The impact of technology on certain areas like people’s social lives and the economy was remarkable. There were changes concerning the labour market, and new media within the World Wide Web were utilised in politics. Thus the meaning of technology for the past, the present and the future might be summarised well in one sentence that could be seen as characterising Britain in the 1990s: “The future will be here in a minute”.
Admin. “Difference between evolution and revolution”. differencebetween.com. Web. 07 July 2017.
Green, Francis. “Why Has Work Effort Become More Intense?” Industrial Relations 43.4 (2002): 709-41. Web. 23 May 2017.
Goel, Tarun. “Technological Advances of the 90s”. BrightHub. Web. 01 July 2017.
Goos, Maarten, and Alan Manning. “Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain.” Review of Economics and Statistics 89.1 (2007): 118-33. Web. 23 May 2017.
Knowles-Cutler, Angus. “From brawn to brains. The impact of technology on jobs in the UK.” London: Deloitte, 2015. PDF.
McIntosh, James. Economic growth and technical change in Britain 1950-1978. European Economic Review Vol.30/1, 1986. PDF.
Mitchell, Bradley. “The World Wide Web is not the Internet.” Lifewire. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2017.
NHBC Foundation. “Homes through the decades. The making of modern housing.” NHBC Foundation, Mar. 2015.
Nicholas, Tom. “Technology innovation and Economic growth in Britain since 1870.” The Cambridge Economic history of Modern Britain Volume II. 1870 to the Present. United Kingdom: Cambridge U Press, 2014. Page 181-204. Print.
Nickell, Stephen and John Van Reenen. “Technological Innovation and Economic Performance in the United Kingdom.” LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 783, London School of Economics and Political Science. LSE Library, 2001.
Price, Gill. “What the 90s means to you”. BBC News. Web. 07 July 2017.
Soanes, Catherine, and Sara Hawker. “Evolution.” Compact Oxford English Dictionary for University and College Students, Oxford University Press, 2006.
—-. “Revolution.” Compact Oxford English Dictionary for University and College Students, Oxford University Press, 2006.
Turner, A.W. A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s. Aurum Press, 2013.
Further Reading Recommendations
Aldridge, Judith. “Decline but no fall?: New millennium trends in young people’s use of illegal and illicit drugs in Britain.” Health Education, 108 (3), 2008, pp.189-206.
This article focuses on the recent trends in young people’s drug consumption. It aims to place them into a longer-term context alongside recent theorizing on illicit drug abuse among the youth. This rather short article is written in accessible style. Moreover, it provides a large set of primary data and further useful sources, as well as a narrative review of recent data and theory.
Alexander, Karen. “Black British Cinema in the 90s: Going Going Gone” in: British cinema of the 90s. Edited by Murphey. BFI Publishing, 2009, pp. 109-114.
This chapter from an edited book about British cinema culture in the 1990s is quit specific in its content, which made it a useful source for this ebook. The only detectable flaw is the lack of academic sources. Partly due to the topic itself, films are the predominant source used in this chapter. More academic texts would have been desirable. However, the structure is outstandingly comprehensive and the writing style very accessible. The chapter-length is appropriate and chapter divisions are logical. Especially the focus on cultural phenomena of the UK in the 1990s is very interesting.
Champion, Anthony, and Cecilia Wong, Ann Rooke, Daniel Dorling, Mike Coombes, Chris Brunsdon. The population of Britain in the 1990s: A Social and Economic Atlas. Oxford University Press, 1996.
The author bases his work on the 1991 Population Census, showing major changes in recent years. It consists of 168 pages in total and is arranged in double page spreads, one page showing maps while the other one containing explanatory texts, tables and diagrams. The atlas covers diverse subjects such as population change, age structure, employment rates and education in a comprehensive, though easily followable manner. The author makes also projections about Britain’s future, which is no doubt still interesting from today’s point of view.
Childs, David. Britain since 1945: A political history. Taylor & Francis, 2006.
The author focuses on politics in Britain since 1945 and the socio-economic situation that goes along with it. The chapters are structured according to the legislation periods of the Prime Ministers. Subchapters are short but very concise, therefore easily comprehensible and interesting. The most useful chapters and subchapters on the topics covered in this ebook are: “Maastricht: Britain at the heart of Europe?”,“Conservative´s war: put up or shut up”, , “Police: institutional racism?” and “Britain´s ethnic communities at the end of the century” which discusses the history of immigration, social attitude and situation.
Carnevali, Francesca, Julie-Marie Strange, and Paul Johnsen [ed.]. Twentieth-century Britain. Routledge, 2007.
This book provides an overview of this decade, with the main focus on how economy and society changed. The book is divided into three parts which are chronologically presented: first, the long twentieth century which covers economy, class, gender, international economy, war and national identity, second: themes pre-1945 which deals with suffrage, citizenship, World War I, recovery, society. The third one is on the themes post -1945 which covers economy (national and international), society after World War II, and the influence of politicians. The book is easy to read, it provides good explanation of technical jargon. The chapters are divided into specific subtopics, making it easy to look up certain aspects.
Dearlove, John and Peter Saunders. _*Introduction to British Politics._ *Polity Press, 2000.
This book gives a very broad overview about the British political system, about who has political power and about what influences voters and politicians. It is important to mention that suggestions for further reading are always offered. There are also separate subchapter on “The European Union: a New Superstate” (pp. 709-751), which explains both the history of the European Union, its institutions and policy-making process, and Britain’s relationship to the Union. The subchapter discusses reasons and explanations for British Euroscepticism as well as crucial turning points in the relationship to EU. This book gives a great overview of political attitudes and public opinion on the EU (especially for a generation that did not live to experience everything that was going on).
Forster, Anthony[_*. Euroscepticism in Contemporary British Politics. Opposition to Europe in British Conservative and Labour Parties since 1945._] *Routledge, 2002.
This book introduces crucial events in the relationship between Britain and the EU, such as the early referendum on continued British membership in the European Community (EC). The author introduces a good working definition of Euroscepticism and its origin in the creation of the European Community (EC). Additionally, one can find the parties’ changing attitudes towards the EU within the book. Furthermore, two specific chapters (the one on the struggle against political union from 1990-1993 and another one on the struggle against monetary union) provide relevant information for the discourse about British-EU relations in the 1990s.
Furlong, Andy and Fred Cartmel. Young People and Social Change: Individualization and Risk in Late Modernity. Open University Press, 1999.
This short compact book (9 chapters, 109 pages in total) on social change among young people in the UK offers some background information on society in the first chapter and diverse topics on youth culture in the following chapters in a logical sequence. Tables are shown where there are necessary in order to explain the topic. The authors use academic language without losing their comprehensible style. However, the book is probably best used as a general introduction to the topic.
Higgins, Michael, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
This work consists of 17 short and informative chapters on British culture, covering diverse topics, such as language, politics, geography, cinema, television, literature, theatre, fashion, sports, media, multiculturalism, and music, which are also often present in this ebook. It has a catchy introduction to modern British culture. In addition the language is comprehensive and easy to follow.
Høglo, Ida Margrete. The Rise and Fall of “Cool Britannia” – British Culture and Politics in the 1990s. MA thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2014. NTNU, 2014.
This thesis consists of 3 short and informative chapters and covers politics whilst focussing on culture and especially music, with a strong focus on Britpop. The author discusses the development of ‘Cool Britannia’ using a variety of primary sources, which make it a particularly interesting soruce. The language is comprehensive and easy to follow.
Kendall, Katherine. Kate Moss: Model of Imperfection. Chamberlain Bros, 2005.
The author presents Kate Moss’ career, lifestyle and personality as embodying the spirit of the 1990s. She uses data gained through interviews with famous people as Kate Moss, Calvin Klein or Sarah Doukas, as well as analyses of articles from various fashion magazines such as People, Vogue and The Face. The focus is clearly on ups and downs of Moss’ supermodel career and her representation of imperfection in terms of rebellious behaviour, dressing style and appearance in general, so the main disadvantage is that the focus is put on one single supermodel.
Monk, Claire. “Underbelly UK: the 1990s underclass film, masculinity and the ideologies of ‘new’ Britain” in: _*British cinema, past and present._ [*Edited by Ashby and Higson. Routledge, 2011, pp. 274-287.]
This chapter counts as a useful source for this ebook mainly because of its many fitting film examples to support the overall line of thought. From a formal point of view, the style can be considered as academic but yet accessible. The information provided is very detailed. The structure stands out with its overall clarity in the sense of several sections plus subheadings, which makes for easy orientation within the chapter. In terms of utilized sources, the author’s selection seems appropriate. One weak point of the chapter is its wordiness when it comes to film summaries.
Montgomery, Martin. “Speaking sincerely: public reactions to the death of Diana“. Language and Literature, Vol 8, N°1, 1999, pp. 5-33.
This journal article focuses on public reactions to Diana’s death with special attention directed to the historical speeches of Blair and Earl Spencer. Moreover, the speeches are described in very rich detail from a linguistic point of view. Additionally, the content of the speeches is analyzed critically, as are the different reactions to them. From a stylistic point of view, the article is easy to read but still formal in its character. First and foremost the analyses are valued comprehensive; much more detailed than those conducted in our ebook.
Nicholas, Tom. “Technology innovation and Economic growth in Britain since 1870.” The Cambridge Economic history of Modern Britain Volume II1870 to the Present. [*Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 181-204.
This book provides a portrait of innovation over the last 140 years, analysing technological development since the time of industrialization. The focus lies on technical change and highlights major trends in technological innovations. The detailed information about patent matters, however, might not be of less interest to those wanting a more general overview.
Nickell, Stephen and John van Reenen. “Technological innovation and economic performance in the United Kingdom.” _*LSE Research Documents on Economics,_ *Vol 783, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2001.
This text focuses on the connection between such issues as technology, economy and corporations. It is divided into five big chapters, each presenting a different topic with subchapters making it easier to find information. The authors provide a very detailed description including several statistics corroborating their framework. Covering a great period of time, it technological innovations in the UK and economic performance. This work may be used for getting an overview of the key issues. However, statistics might be difficult to understand for readers with limited prior knowledge in economics, as the authors address very specific issues that might require expert-knowledge.
Reitan, Earl A. The Thatcher Revolution – Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-2001. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
In this book, you can find detailed information on every legislative period of Thatcher and Major as well as on the first 4 years of Blair’s premiership. Due to the chronological structure, the text is easy to follow. The chapters are subdivided, so one can follow the direction of the content within every chapter. The author uses academic language but the text is still clear and easy to understand. The book is suitable for those who would like to gain a general overview about the political situation in the 11980s and 1990s but for more detailed information some additional sources might be needed.
Seldon, Anothny (ed). Blair’s Britain. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
This book highly recommendable, focussing on the Blair-government throughout all legislative periods. From a content-related point of view, the chapters of the book capture every important aspect of Blair’s premiership without exception. Much attention is directed to his work with the Cabinet and parliament as well as his political achievements. As an edited book, the chapters are written by different authors. Nonetheless, the general impression is very coherent. The information is characterized by its richness in detail.
Simonelli, David. Working Class Heroes: Rock Music and British Society in the 1960s and 1970s. Lexington Books, 2013.
This book is divided into 13 chapters, each describing a different music genre. The information is structured chronologically and is easy to follow. The main focus is British (rock) music and subcultures in the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, the book also covers political issues, economics and social class attitudes, which made it a useful resource for the ebook. One weak point is that the subchapters are not listed in the table of contents, which makes it difficult to find specific bands.
Solomos, John. Race and Racism in Britain. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
The author introduces historical background and context on the topic of race relations in Britain. Furthermore, the book gives a clear and concise overview of theoretical concepts, such as ‘nation’, ‘identity’, and ‘multiculturalism’. Through the chapters, one can find an analysis of the key areas of political debate and social processes. The author offers perspectives on the future development of race relations in Britain. Even though the author objectively refers to many studies in the field and has plenty of sources, he does not provide a lot of statistical data, which makes it difficult to talk about ‘racism in numbers’. One further disadvantage is that the same topic, for example, “Britain under John Major” might be discussed from different perspectives throughout the book – thus the book is better if read in larger portions.
Storry, Mike, and Peter Childs. British Cultural Identities, Routledge, 2002.
This book deals with a wide range of topics and themes, such as media celebrities, the royals, education, gender, youth culture, classes, politics, ethnicity, and religion. The book consists of 9 sections with many short chapters (5-10 per section). At the beginning of each chapter you can find a timeline about the chronology of the events and themes discussed in the section. Additionally, you may find reading recommendations, websites, or film recommendations at the end of each chapter. Although the style is comprehensive, some chapters are too short to provide a detailed outlook on the issues. This might be a useful source for those new to the topic.
Turner, Alwyn W. Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s. Aurum Press, 2013.
Altogether, the book can be valued as a recommendable work about British society in the 1990s. The author is known as an expert in this field. This specific book dealing with the decade of the Nineties is part of a three-decade trilogy. Many positive features can be mentioned: Firstly, its content is rich in details and comprehensive. The focus is set on politics, economy and popular culture, which makes it very useful for answering the research questions of this ebook. It is structured into sections displaying the decade under the Tories and the Labour government, each with 8/9 chapters respectively. An intro and outro complete the list of contents. What makes this book extremely authentic is the predominance of contemporary newspaper articles used as sources. Disadvantages of the book are restricted to its general wordiness and widespread chapters. This means that the chapters tend to deal with overall topics instead of focussing on specific phenomena of this time.
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Do you remember the 1990s in the UK? If you lived through it, you might remember the rises in multiculturalism, new technology and media, and will have experienced first-hand social, political and economic change. The 1990s witnessed a segmentation of popular British culture, and artistic and social rebellion. Were you a part of it? The writers of this ebook were intrigued by a positive view in the literature on the 1990s which sees the decade as both a buoyant assertion of British culture and a repackaging of ‘Britannia’ for global export, thus fusing together almost everything great that had happened in British culture in the preceding 40 years. Is this how you remember it? This collection of essays takes a broad-based approach to understanding the key developments in social and cultural life in Britain in the 1990s. If you were there, reading this ebook may bring back some fond memories. And even if you weren’t, the essays make for interesting reading on a decade that has come to symbolise a turning point in recent British social history. The essays collected here were written by postgraduate students on English Studies programmes at Trier University (Germany), who were excited to know about this (in)famous decade. They assess the extent to which 1990s developments were predictable from or reflections of phenomena observed in preceding decades, and evaluate whether and how they actually enriched society in general. The ebook is divided into three parts, namely Changing Britain, Cool Britannia and New Britain, roughly reflecting chronological progression through the decade in a number of areas.