Discuss English band Blur’s textual representations of British national identity, and analyse to what extent these representations are ideologically constructed. National Identity has become increasingly problematic to define. Hartley: “The concept of identity is now often viewed as relying on shared characteristics that are cultural rather than natural/biological. ” (Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, The Key Concepts, p101) Thus, the major factors defining identity are the culturally constructed concepts of class, gender and ethnicity.
Blur draw upon these concepts, as well as that of race, which is understood to be a biological constraint.
Representations of race however, are always cultural. Using the definition of culture, and by extension cultural to be: “The production and circulation of sense, meaning and consciousness” (Hartley, p51) one could state that “National identity is the sum of meanings that can be made from the traits of a nations people. ” Therein lies the difficulty of ascertaining national identity; which group of people will be used to surmise an identity that is all-inclusive for a multitude of different people?
As culture is now the sum of its representations, does national identity also come into “being” through the sum of its representations? To make the defining of national identity less problematic, a cultures representational system employs ideologies, which are represented in texts as being natural rather than cultural, and discourses, which produce subject positions.
Adding to the problematic nature of defining national identity, is the argument that in a late, post-modern society, national identity is no longer a credible concept.
The process of globalisation and its culturally homogenising effect, has dealt the very concept of nation a blow. Trans-national businesses have penetrated every nations border; mass media has enabled culture to be shared and swapped across the globe at an unprecedented rate. Indigenous/ethnic cultures are virtually powerless against the dominance of the new global culture. It seems that Blur resist the dominance of this global culture, and instead advocate the reconstruction of national identity, through representations that have an ideological basis.
The ideologies behind the representations depicted in Text A are constructed by way of semiotics. The text is a magazine cover, which features Blur’s lead singer Damon Albarn, wearing a school uniform against the backdrop of a diagonally turned, Union Jack. The uniform worn by Albarn is that of the “average” British high school, certainly not that of a public (private) or grammar school. This representation alludes to the discourse of class, but more significantly, the ideology of youth/age.
Hartley: “ideology is seen as the practise of reproducing social relations of inequality within the sphere of signification and discourse. “(p104) The concept of “youth” is completely a post-modern construct. In late-capitalist societies such as our own, youth are portrayed to be the innovators and reformers, and have therefore come to be thought of as more useful and productive than their older counterparts. Youth, also, have come to be thought of as being the only group within society who can inspire change.
This is evidenced in the text by the slogan “Blur: Brit up your ears,” which is saying, “We are the sound of a new British identity. ” This is ironic, as it would seem Blur are trying to resist post-modernism, which advocates terms such as “new” According to Jameson, “new” is no longer possible: ” a feature of post-modern societies is that stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles. ” (qtd in Irvine) The flag represents the ideology of nationhood, and the importance of tradition. However, the flag being presented on the diagonal suggests “same Britain, different view.
” The different view being represented is that of a young, British band in the late, post-modern era rejecting the post-modernist ideology, of individualism. Thereby, Blur is endorsing the modernist ideologies of tradition and nationhood. This continues in Blur’s paradigm, as the texts depict representations of a Britain alluding to the late 1950s/early 1960s. This can be clearly seen in Text B, a C. D sleeve. The artwork on the sleeve depicts a British steam engine known as the Mallard, which was in service between 1930-1959. The Mallard’s record setting time of 125mph still stands today.
Because of this, it is invested with ideological significance, as it is a symbolic representation of Britain “leading the way” in terms of technology. The steam engine was also invented by The British; and therefore was a symbol of national pride. The title of the album is “Modern Life Is Rubbish,” this develops the sense of nostalgia for Britain’s perceived “glory days,” when life was simple. The album’s title also suggests that the post-modern era, is “rubbish”, thus invariably saying that the modern era was a better time in which to live. Britain’s economy in the late modern/early post-modern period was driven by industry.
The working classes serviced these industries; they therefore had more precedence in society at this time, then at present. Britpop, the genre of music to which Blur belong, is musically aligned with the styles of other British bands such as The Kinks, who were active at the time when British bands were at the forefront of pop music culture. This is significant as pop, along with all musical styles, is becoming increasingly americanised. The ideology of nation, and national pride are therefore being represented to create identity through Blurs textual and musical invocations of nostalgia for a Britain gone-by.
They are enabled further by ideologically constructed representations pertaining to class such as the steam engine, which is a particularly strong symbol of the working class. These representations are actually at odds with the ideologies the hegemony of today. A very exclusive identity of Britain is depicted in Text C. The text depicts a greyhound race, “going to the dogs,” as it is known in Britain is a particularly white, working class, male activity. Blur’s paradigm excludes non-whites, women and those who do not belong to the working class, thus suggesting that these people do not play a part in the shaping of British identity.
This is obviously inaccurate, therefore the representations that are constructed by Blur’s paradigm have ideological basis in a resistant reading of the culture. A dominant, ideological reading of the culture, through the paradigm of reality television, depicts various groups of people within society and constructs its version of national identity through them. Thus, although it is still a culturally, constructed representation of national identity, it is more inclusive and therefore, to some extent, more accurate.
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