Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Merry Widow

The hundred million self-confident German masters were to be brutally installed in Europe, and secured in power by a monopoly of technical civilisation and the slave-labour of a dwindling native population of neglected, diseased, illiterate cretins, in order that they might have leisure to buzz along infinite Autobahnen, admire the Strength-Through-Joy Hostel, the Party headquarters, the Military Museum and the Planetarium which their Fuhrer would have built in Linz (his new Hitleropolis), trot round local picture-galleries, and listen over their cream buns to endless recordings of The Merry Widow. This was to be the German Millennium, from which even the imagination was to have no means of escape.
- Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Mind of Adolf Hitler (1953)

The Guardian's acquisition of Bashar and Asma al-Assad's emails makes me wonder if anyone's ever done a sociological analysis of the material culture choices made by dictators. The Assads, like Hitler, seem to go for a fairly straightforward bourgeois consumerism - a banality of culture to go alongside the banality of evil. Gaddafi, meanwhile, went for the full-on Tony-Montana-in-Scarface aesthetic. Further datapoints are required to spin the concept out to book-length, of course.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Condition of Stockport

There is Stockport, too, which lies on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, but belongs nevertheless to the manufacturing district of Manchester. It lies in a narrow valley along the Mersey, so that the streets slope down a steep hill on one side and up an equally steep one on the other, while the railway from Manchester to Birmingham passes over a high viaduct above the city and the whole valley. Stockport is renowned throughout the entire district as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes, and looks, indeed, especially when viewed from the viaduct, excessively repellent. But far more repulsive are the cottages and cellar dwellings of the working-class, which stretch in long rows through all parts of the town from the valley bottom to the crest of the hill. I do not remember to have seen so many cellars used as dwellings in any other town of this district.
- Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)
You have to wonder what he'd make of Merseyway, a piece of Le Corbusier-esque High Modernism which is increasingly inhabited by pawnbrokers shops. On the other hand, the description of it that I just gave tells you pretty much everything you need to know.