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THE LEGACY OF MARGARET THATCHER

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Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013) is a titan of world politics. A conservative heavyweight who effectively championed the conservative ethos in the public sphere and, in doing so, managed to transform her country for the better.

Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13th, 1925 above a green grocer’s store in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Thatcher was an ambitious and driven student who won scholarships to Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ school and Oxford University. After university, Thatcher worked as a chemist but abandoned it to study for the legal bar after meeting her husband Dennis Thatcher (1915 -2003), whom she married in 1954. Thatcher became a fully qualified lawyer that same year. Thatcher became the Conservative member for Finchley in 1959.

During her rise to power, Thatcher was not massively popular. Facing oppositions because of her gender – when she was elected she was one of only twenty-four female Parliamentarians (out of six-hundred members) and, even more unusually, was the mother of twins – and her social class. The Conservative Party had not changed its structure since the 19th century. She was often denounced as the “grocer’s daughter”, one conservative politician even commented that she was “a good-looking woman without doubt, but common as dirt.” In spite of these barriers, Thatcher managed to rise through numerous junior ministerial positions to become the shadow education spokeswoman in 1967. She became the Secretary of State for Education and Science when Edward Heath (1916 – 2005) became Prime Minister in June of 1970. Thatcher became the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.

Margaret Thatcher was conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990 and in her time, she changed Britain and helped define the times she lived in. Thatcher became Prime Minister after defeating James Callaghan (1912 – 2005) with a seven percent majority. There were many reasons for the conservative victory, the main ones being economic failure and the lack of union control. Thatcher was seen as aggressive but also as something of a paradox. She was the first scientist in Downing Street and was enthusiastic in pushing Great Britain’s technological innovations forward, but was an anti-counterculture revolutionary who opposed trade unions and the socialism they represented.

During Thatcher’s first term, however, it was the economy that needed the most attention. By the late 1970s inflation in Great Britain had peaked at twenty percent due to rising oil prices and wage-push inflation. The once mighty nation had become known as the ‘sick man of Europe’. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, by 1980/81 Britain was suffering from downward trends in employment and productivity. The great industrial cities were in decline. Glasgow, for example, had seen a decline in its population from 1.2 million following World War One to eight hundred thousand in the early 1980s. In some areas of Glasgow, male unemployment would remain at between sixty and seventy percent throughout the 1980s.  The director of the Department of Applied Economics, Wayne Godfrey, stated on the prospect of the 1980s: “it is a prospect so dreadful I cannot really believe there won’t be a sort of political revolution which will demand a basic change to policy.”

Inflation, particularly cost-push inflation, was seen as the biggest enemy. However, Thatcher knew that tackling inflation would require restricting the flow of money and causing mass job losses. It was a sacrifice she was willing to make. The government had a three-step process for tackling the issue. First, they increased interest rates. Second, they reduced the budget deficit by raising taxes and cutting government spending. Third, they pursued monetarist policies to control the supply of money. Despite great job losses, the economy slowly improved over Thatcher’s first two years in power.

In 1981, however, her policies caused a recession and unemployment peaked at three million. In fact, unemployment would remain a characteristic of the 1980s. Following the recession, Great Britain saw a period of economic growth with inflation dropping below four percent, although unemployment soared to 3.2 million before easing off a little. It is also of note that despite the mass unemployment, average earnings were, in fact, rising twice as fast inflation and those in employment had it better than ever. The Secretary of Transport, David Howell (1936 – ), stated in 1983: “if the conservative revolution has an infantry, it is the self-employed. It is in the growth of the self-employed, spreading out to small family businesses, that the job opportunities of the future are going to come.”  Thatcher’s biggest achievement in her first term, and the one which endeared her most to the British public was the Falklands War. Following the Argentinean surrender in 1982, Thatcher stated: “today has put the great back into Britain.” The Falklands War rekindled the British public’s pride in her navy and in the nation, itself.

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The Conservative Party won the 1983 election by an overwhelming majority. Thatcher had become the uncontested leader and saviour of the Conservative Party. Thatcher used the victory as an opportunity to change the configuration of the Conservative Party and reshape it in her image. She fired Foreign Secretary, Francis Pym (1922 – 2008) and sent the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw (1918 – 1999) to the House of Lords. Having ended the ancien regime, she refilled the front bench with dedicated Thatcherites. Only one old Etonian remained: Lord Chancellor Hailsham (1907 – 2001), who was eighty-five at the time. Thatcher then embarked on a policy of privatisation and deregulation with the intention of decreasing dependency on the government and encouraging personal responsibility.  Critics accused Thatcher of attempting to dismantle the welfare state and refusing to provide a base safety net for those down on their luck.  Unusually for an anti-socialist, Thatcher established the Greater London Council along with six metropolitan councils in an attempt to control local councils from Whitehall.

The conservatives won the 1987 election having lost twenty-one seats, but with a majority of more than one hundred. Thatcher focused on social issues and embarked on a program for social engineering. This was a seven-step process. First, the program actively encouraged women to stay at home and look after their children rather than join the workforce. Second, the program suggested putting the care of the old, unemployed and disabled into the hands of families. Third, the program suggested helping parents set up their own schools. Fourth, the program suggested providing support for schools with a clear, moral base, including religious schools. Fifth, the program suggested creating a voucher system to encourage parents to send their children to private schools. Sixth, the program suggested training children in the management of pocket money and the setting up of savings accounts. Seventh, the program wished to alter the way the public viewed wealth creation so that it would be seen as an admirable pursuit. Thatcher’s tenor as Prime Minister ended when she stood down from cabinet after her party refused to support her in a second round of leadership challenges. She was replaced by John Major (1943 – ).

After leaving office, Thatcher wrote two memoirs: The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995). Thatcher was known as many things, including ‘The Last of the Eminent Victorians’, ‘New Britannia’, and, most famously, ‘The Iron Lady’. However, despite her many years in politics and her eleven years as Prime Minister, Thatcher was never a populist. This was probably because of her deep personal convictions which were stronger than her fear of the consequences. Thatcher did, however, demand and receive respect from the public. Satire almost always focused on her husband Dennis rather than on her. It is also worth noting that in her time Thatcher never lost an election. As a politician, Thatcher revolutionised political debate, transformed the Conservative Party, and altered many aspects of British life that had long been deemed permanent. Paul Johnson (1928 – ), a prominent English journalist, stated on Thatcher’s abilities as a politician: “though it is true in Margaret Thatcher’s case, she does have two advantages. She did start quite young. She does possess the most remarkable physical stamina of any politician I’ve come across.” In her time, Thatcher was determined to curb government subsidies to industry and to end the power of the trade unions. She made the trade unions liable for damages if their actions became unlawful and forced the Labour Party to modernise itself. Margaret Thatcher was an impressive and important Prime Minister whose political career and personality helped change Great Britain for the better.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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12 ANGRY MEN

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This week for our cultural article we will be examining the classic 1957 courtroom drama12 Angry Men.

BACKGROUND

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12 Angry Men is based on a television play inspired by Reginald Rose’s (1920 – 2002) real-life experience as a juror on a manslaughter case in early 1954. It was first aired on CBS’ Studio One in September 1954.

It was inevitable that the television play would result in a film adaptation. With Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) and Rose acting as producers, and with Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) acting as director, the resulting film was filmed in under three weeks and made for a paltry US$340,000 (US$2,961,823.49 in today’s money).

THE MOVIE

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12 Angry Men is a small film in every sense of the word. Twelve jurors are locked in a room on the hottest day of the year to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. As per the law, the vote must be unanimous. Initially, all but one, Juror Eight (Henry Fonda – the only real star in the movie), vote guilty.

It’s not that Juror Eight thinks the defendant is innocent, but that he isn’t sure. He argues that the boy had an inadequate legal defence and that they, the jury, ought to examine the evidence more closely.

Initially, he has trouble persuading the other jurors to change their vote. But, as they begin to examine the pieces of evidence, more and more of the juror’s find room for reasonable doubt. The film ends with a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.

ANALYSIS

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12 Angry Men stands out in an era of sweeping epics and technicolour. It is a small, minimalist, black and white film shot mostly in real time. The mood is created through the creative use of camera angles, camera lenses, and editing.

At the beginning of the film, there are long, unbroken takes filmed from above with wide angled-lenses which give a sense of distance between the characters. They are dominated by the task ahead of them. As the film progresses, the takes become shorter, the camera moves steadily from above to below the action, and the focal length is decreased. This makes the film feel more claustrophobic. No longer at the jurors dominated by the task ahead of them, they are dominated by the force of each other’s personalities. As Lumet wrote:

“I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level, and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end, the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot  to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.”

12 Angry Men is primarily driven by its characters. Tension arises from body language, dialogue, and personality clashes. The characters represent an almost perfect cross-section of different personality types and temperaments.

12 Angry Men acts as a crash course on the parts of the US Constitution that guarantee a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  It is never stated whether the Defendant is innocent or not but instead asks us to look beyond our biases and arrogance and examine the evidence closer at hand. 12 Angry Men symbolises how well the American legal system can work when people are prepared to look beyond their personal feelings use their integrity for its benefit.

ROCK IS MASCULINE

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This July, Elvis Presley’s first single, That’s All Right, turned sixty-three years old. For the youth of the time, Elvis Presley’s arrival marks the cultural shift away from the Bing Crosby and Doris Day mentality of their parents’ generation to one that is centred around youth and adolescence. The repercussions of this seismic shift can still be felt.

Like all cultural phenomena, rock was denounced as a passing fancy at best, and satanic at worst. And like all cultural phenomena, many have failed to grasp its masculine cultural symbology: while there have been some great female rockers (Grace Slick, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, Deborah Harry, to name a few), rock has primarily been the manifestation of raw masculine energy and lust.

Rock music owes a lot to the myths and folklore of the past. In his book, the Secret History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Christopher Knowles postulates that rock music is deeply rooted in the mythological figures of Orpheus, Cybele and Attis, Isis, Mithra, the Druids, and so forth. Knowles writes:

“What did the Mysteries offer that other cults of time did not? Almost exactly what rock ‘n’ roll would, thousands of years later. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Loud music. Wild pyrotechnics. A feeling of transcendence – leaving your mind and your body and entering a different world, filled with mystery and danger. A personal connection to something deep, straight, and impossibly timeless. An opportunity to escape the grinding monotony of daily life and break all the rules of polite society. A place to dress up in wild costumes and dance and drink and trip all night.”

Nowhere is this sentiment better expressed than in heavy metal. A genre whose thematically operatic power is drawn from themes of violence, madness, mythology, and the iconography of horror. Central to heavy metal music are fantasies of masculine virtuosity and control. According to Robert Wasler, author of the book Running with the Devil, “metal songs usually include impressive technical and rhetorical feats on the electric guitar, counter-posed with an experience of power and control that is built up through vocal extremes, guitar power chords, distortion, and sheer volume of bass and drums.”

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Originally, the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ was an African American euphemism for sexual intercourse. Blues music, one of the roots of rock, contains a plethora of examples of the raw masculine aggression and lust that later rock music would allude to. Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man, for example, utilises the theme of masculine self-mythologization:

“The gipsy woman told my mother

Before I was born

I got a boy child comin’

He’s gonna be a son of a gun

He’s gonna make pretty women’s

Jump and shout

Then the world wanna know

What this all about

But you know I’m him

Everybody knows I’m him

Well you know I’m the hoochie coochie man

Everybody knows I’m him.”

In a similar way, Muddy Water’s Mannish Boy, itself a response to Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man, continues the theme of masculine self-mythologization:

“Now when I was a young boy

At the age of five

My mother said I was gonna be

The greatest man alive

But now I’m a man

I made twenty-one

I want you to believe me, baby

I had lots of fun

I’m a man,

Spelt ‘m’, ‘a-child’, n’

The represents ‘man’

No ‘b, o-child, y’

That spells ‘mannish boy’.”

Sex forms another important theme in blues music. Waters’ song Got My Mojo Working features themes of hoodoo – an African American form of folk spiritualism – and seduction. Other songs, such as Screaming Jay Hawkins I Put a Spell on You, focuses on the raw, animalistic qualities of lust:

“I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine

Stop the things you do

Watch out!

I ain’t lying, yeah

No running around

I can’t stand

I can’t stand, no put me down

I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine

Watch out, watch out

I ain’t lying

I love you

I love you

I love you, yeah

I don’t care if you don’t want me

I’m yours right now

I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine.”

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Masculinity and sex have always been themes in rock music. These themes manifest themselves most peculiarly in the quasi-religious experience of rock concerts. No one who has seen footage of Woodstock or its darker equivalent, Altamont, can fail to notice the undercurrents of tribalism present at these events. As one observer noted: “one of the most interesting developments in the United States in 1956 was the behaviour of hundreds of thousands of mostly white, middle-class girls, who screamed, danced, and sobbed to the point of ‘enthralment’, ‘near hysteria’, ‘mass hysteria’, or ‘pandemonium’.”

Rock songs of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s contained a plethora of references equating masculinity with sex. Dion’s the Wanderer is about a cad who roams ‘from town to town.’ Bob Seger’s Night Moves refers to a woman’s breasts – a natural object of male desire – as ‘points all her own sitting way up high, way up firm and high.’ More darkly, the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar contains themes of slavery, rape, interracial sex, underage sex, physical abuse, and drug taking. Then there are the music videos, many of which were banned from play on mainstream media. Duran Duran’s Girls On Film features nudity and mud wrestling. Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls features nude women riding bicycles around a sport’s track.

And, of course, it is not unusual for rockstars to enjoy favouritism from the opposite sex. Indeed, sexual prowess and adulation from women form an important theme in rock lore. Groupies of heavy metal artists, for instance, are not just female fans but are seen as extensions of the musician’s artistic identity. Women and access to sex are almost gifted to the rock star, much like the harems of the Ottoman Sultan, the mistresses of European monarchs, or the concubines of Chinese Emperors.

Rock music is the modern reincarnation of ancient myths and folklore. It relies on the same motifs and themes and therefore has a similar effect on the human psyche. As a result, rock music and mythology and folklore share many of the same tropes. Rock music glorifies masculine energy and lust through symbols and metaphors. It raises the rockstar to an exalted position and then confers benefits upon him by giving him greater access to women and sex. This, in turn, gives the rockstar an almost deific quality. Feelings of unity and tribalism are expressed through the quasi-religious nature of the rock concert. The long-lasting popularity of rock music arises from its ability to give expression to ancient symbols of masculinity, and in its capacity to provide an outlet for the more repressed aspects of our nature.