Groundhog Day was on the other night, that existential masterpiece in which Bill Murray plays a modern-day Sisyphus, doomed to relive the same miserable day, over and over. I started watching for a bit, then I thought, ‘Hang on, I’ve seen this before’. Since then, I’ve become convinced that the film is not a parable; it’s a work of pitiless realism.
Let me explain. This morning, like Bill Murray’s hangdog weatherman being tormented by Sonny and Cher, I was woken up by the radio. On 6 Music there was Bono at the MTV Awards, singing ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ at the Brandenburg Gate. Appalled, I flicked to Radio 4 – where Sue MacGregor was chortling about Sesame Street. That’s weird, I thought. What decade are we in again?
In a half-awake daze, I glanced at the listings in Time Out. Sure enough: Whitney Houston’s in the Top 10, Michael Jackson is the nation’s top box-office drawer, and Fleetwood Mac are touring. I think I know what’s happening here. As a new Conservative regime hurtles towards us, in an act of collective self-hating fatalism, we’ve looped back to 1983. In the most dismal way imaginable, history is repeating itself. We’re stuck in a moment we can’t get out of.
Think about it. Isn’t there something slightly eerie about the fact that this year’s biggest breakthrough artist is La Roux, a woman who looks, and sounds, like Annie Lennox circa ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’? Open up any music mag and you’ll find a retrospective on Frankie Goes To Hollywood (their greatest hits is out now, again), alongside Peter Hook banging on about The Hacienda. Then there’s mock-metal berks Steel Panther, stretching their spandex on the capital’s red carpets, reheating the stale spoofs of Spinal Tap – who are still touring, of course: they played Glastonbury last year.
But the freakish time-echoes go beyond mere music. As unemployment explodes and buffoonish ex-Etonians prepare to take control of the country, old-school, adversarial politics is reasserting itself. In the ’80s, indie bands raged against skinheads and the National Front. Now it’s the BNP.
Babyshambles have just written a song called ‘The BNP Blues’. At a recent Specials gig in Liverpool, Terry Hall changed the title of ‘It Doesn’t Make It Alright’ to ‘Nick Griffin Is A Dickhead One-Eyed Fat Cunt’ (I think I’ve heard Michael Buble crooning that one).
Meanwhile, in place of Arthur Scargill and the miner’s strike (OK, that was ’84, not ’83), we’ve got Billy Hayes and the postal strike. It’s difficult to imagine how things could be any more like the early 80s, short of Renee And Renata reforming for a guest spot on The X Factor.
What the hell is wrong with us? There’s a simple, but depressing, explanation for this demented nostalgia for an age many of us never even lived through: we’re terrified of the future.
You can tell a lot about an era by its hit movies. In the 80s the dominant forms were the pop-culture-obsessed teen romances of John Hughes, and fast-and-furious techno-blockbusters like Ghostbusters and Back To The Future. These were films in love with their own ‘nowness’, thrilled and galvanized by the possibilities of onrushing modernity.
By contrast, what stories do we tell about our own era? Endless apocalyptic disaster movies – great, bloated 3-hour epics that meditate long-windedly on good and evil, while cheerfully wiping billions of people off the face of the planet (Roland Emmerich’s forthcoming 2012 is just the latest of these). And if we can’t think of any new films, we remake old ones, even the shit ones like Fame – and then somehow contrive to make them worse.
You could blame this fear of the future on the threat of looming environmental collapse. Then again, maybe we’ve just run out of ideas. It’s also possible that we’re all just miserable, cynical bastards. Whatever the cause, the net result is a culture that seems to have become contemptuous of the whole idea of progress, and is now seemingly content to plod round in circles for all eternity.
I’m complicit in this. Last week I went to a club night in Camden called Ultimate Power, which was packed with twenty-somethings bellowing along to the hits of Bonnie Tyler, Meat Loaf and Bon Jovi (I know, shoot me). Tonight I’m going to see Fleetwood Mac. In fact, come to think of it, I’ve even written this blog before, back when Faith No More reformed.
All of which makes me think Groundhog Day is not, in fact, relevant or similar to our own times after all. After all, in the film, Bill Murray’s character ultimately finds a way out of the time-loop – and I’m not convinced we ever will.