The Opinion Engine 2.0:
When really was the
golden age?


Guest answer from Ian Jones of TV Cream.

I'm a sucker for compartmentalism.

Life is far more manageable when ordered and filed in different boxes. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Trouble is, you need to decide which boxes are which before you begin. Then there are the criteria for keeping item A separate from item B.

And on whose terms are you trying to file, slice, categorise and datestamp the people and things you like to believe are important to you? Theirs, or yours?

Compartmentalising is addictive. You find yourself doing it while washing up after tea or lying in bed trying to sleep. Then you find yourself wanting to do it while washing up after tea or lying in bed trying to sleep. It ends with you washing up or lying in bed simply to give yourself another opportunity for doing it.

But as a pastime, it's often less personally intrusive or distressing to try doing it at one remove.

By this I mean applying a bit of compartmentalism to, for example, time itself.

I think it's fun to argue that the 1960s didn't run from 1960 to 1969, but in fact ran from 6 June 1962 to 1 April 1970: the dates of the very first and the very last Beatles recording sessions at Abbey Road.

Or that the 1990s didn't start until Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party, and lasted until 11 September 2001.

Or that 20th century pop culture lasted from the birth of Radio 1 to the death of Princess Diana.

This last time-frame is the one loosely adhered to over on TV Cream, where various people including myself attempt to make nostalgia sound as fresh and as funny as it did 10 years ago when all those clip shows were on the telly. (A time when, mark you, TV Cream was already getting on for being five years old.)

To be honest, such a rule came about more through expediency than decree.

We needed some kind of start and end point to give the site a bit of shape and focus. Perhaps one day we’ll actually manage both.

Yet all this cultural compartmentalising is again something of a diversion from applying similar sorts of itemisation to more personal matters.

And yes, it can be more fun, but only if you've already decided into which box you've put the people with which you intend to do the compartmentalising.

You can see that this can all become a bit of a chore.

Historians build and destroy reputations when splicing up the past in order to give it meaning. The idea that the whole of the 1970s could be shoved in a cabinet labelled GHASTLY MISTAKE, or perhaps more precisely GHASTLY MISTAKE WHERE EVERYONE WORE FLARES HA HA HA, has only recently, and thankfully, been challenged by more thoughtful accounts from the likes of Andy Beckett and Dominic Sandbrook.

Yet the notion of an entire era being singly and neatly summed up is surely something that appeals to all of us, not just those of a historical persuasion.

Who doesn't like to believe that the UK was a better or worse place in such and such a decade, or during so and so's reign as prime minister?

Compartmentalising something as a "golden age", however, always comes with the charge of a different, more potent kind of addiction: that of a misplaced wielding of rose-tinted spectacles, or the wrong kind of conservatism (yes, there is a right and a wrong kind), or delusion about a uniformity of excellence that once flourished and is now extinct.

In response, I would simply question the idea of a “golden age” needing both a start and end point.

Take, for example, the idea of there being a “golden age” for pop music, for cinema, or for television.

In all cases there certainly has been one. But it’s one that began when the first note was recorded, the first reel projected, the first broadcast transmitted; and in each case, it hasn’t finished yet.

These are all open-ended compartments. Which, on reflection, also happen to be the very best kind.

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