Wednesday, June 3, 2009
In George Orwell's 1941 essay on the "saucy seaside postcards" of the era, the 1984 author found something essential to the human spirit in the endless scenes of fat, shrewish wives nagging bitter, balding little men and what he described as the "mother-in-law, baby's nappy, policemen's boot type of joke." (Note that that link to Orwell's essay contains an offensive and possibly NSFW racial epithet, used in the context of describing the seaside minstrel acts that were still common in the '40s.)
"It will not do to condemn (the postcards) on the ground that they are vulgar and ugly," Orwell wrote. "That is exactly what they are meant to be. Their whole meaning and virtue is in their unredeemed lowness, not only in the sense of obscenity, but lowness of outlook in every direction whatever. The slightest hint of 'higher' influences would ruin them utterly. They stand for the worm's-eye view of life, for the music-hall world where marriage is a dirty joke or a comic disaster, where the rent is always behind and the clothes are always up the spout, where the lawyer is always a crook and the Scotsman always a miser, where the newly-weds make fools of themselves on the hideous beds of seaside lodging-houses and the drunken, red-nosed husbands roll home at four in the morning to meet the linen-nightgowned wives who wait for them behind the front door, poker in hand."
The video for John Lydon's 1997 single Sun is a viciously cheeky little number featuring comic seaside postcards of the kind Orwell described, but here they're not just a bunch of random jokes. Using crude animation, the postcards tell the complete story of one man's wretched, joyless life, from sunburned trips to the beach as a child, to his loveless marriage, tedious job and beyond. Every now and again Lydon comes dancing into the frame like a cackling little demon, mocking the many failures of our hapless cartoon anti-hero.
The song comes from Lydon's uneven but fascinating CD Psycho's Path. Lydon played all the instruments himself, designed the CD cover, etc. This video serves as a kind of sequel to Holidays in the Sun, and it turned out to be pretty much the last great thing Lydon ever did. After this we lost him to listless Sex Pistols reunions, reality show gigs, et al, as he transformed from punk rock superhero to pop cultural irritant. But hey, the Idiot Dance was pretty great while it lasted.
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