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Tony Harrison and Society

Categories: AngerDreamSociety

Flying down to Rio, is “A Ballard of Beverly Hills”. The poem exploits American society through the voice of the ‘harshly critical’ Tony Harrison. Through its use of language, tone and imagery Harrison criticises the inequality in society, and the problems/issues caused from it.

“Big mouth of the horn of plenty horny horny Hollywood” is the opening lines of the poem. Immediately, Harrison uses ‘sexuality’ as an alternate description for Hollywood. I would argue that Harrison uses pornographic images “big mouth” to explicitly criticise the Hollywood lifestyle, and the social reputation it has made as a result.

“monitored each nook and cranny of this closed circuit paradise”. Here, Harrison presents Hollywood as being a closed circuit, artificially driven ‘paradise’. Its artificiality gives it an unreal, false status, and therefore a social disadvantage. Harrison then juxtaposes this idea with “so no slight unsightly sting blemishes the flesh of stars”. Harrison connotes the flesh of stars being valued and important contrasted with those of ordinary people.

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A harshly critical tone is used, in which Harrison questions the importance of the stars, and why they are more important than those of ‘ordinary people’.

An audience who are familiar with Harrison’s work, will notice the repetition of “blood” and “death” that runs through many of his poems. “Death the riveting romancer in sheerest x-ray underwear”. Death is used as an unseen threat, in which sees everything in society. Harrison raises the idea that only through the ‘eyes’ of death is everyone equal in society.

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The ‘x-ray’ is a clever way of Harrison presenting the idea that ‘death sees everything, and cannot be avoided’. Death is contrasted with “gigolo” and “romancer” to symbolise that only through death, will the stars be revealed as being ‘surgically repaired”. This links back with the ideas of artificiality and pornography that suitably describes the Hollywood lifestyle.

The structure of the poem worsens the situations occurring as the poem goes on. Harrison criticises the faults in the Hollywood society, and then continues to socially exclude those that don’t fit in. “Unaware she’ll soon join Bogart big C first and then big sleep”. Harrison has identified the weaknesses present in the society, and used “big sleep” as an alternate threat to death if things are left unchanged.

The poem then comes to a conclusion, that if things stay the way they are, destruction will occur. “Freeway skiddy with crashed star’s gore”, as a result of the fast paced lifestyle the stars have undergone, the car has crushed resulting in destruction and death. Through ignorance and self indulgence, the disadvantaged stars lifestyle has resulted in “the only gigolo” death.

Through the juxtapositions of dream and reality, rich film stars and starving people, Harrison has emphasised the social weakness present in the Hollywood lifestyle, and the dramatic consequences that will occur if things remain unchanged.

The ways in which Harrison questions society is also present in ‘The Red lights of plenty’, which links with ‘Flying down to Rio’. The Red lights of plenty symbolise the issue of capitalism and communism, whereas prosperity is symbolised by the horn of plenty. Equality and opportunity is established through Harrison’s constant critical tone towards American society “I stroll around Washington. November strews red welcomes on the pavements from the trees”. Here, Harrison uses harsh imagery to express the death and destruction occurring on the streets of Washington, symbolised by the ‘red’ which connotes danger and creates tension.

“An all souls pumpkin rots on someone’s porch”. The pumpkin is a conventional aspect of American culture, which celebrates the tradition of Halloween. The word “rots” refers to the status of the American society. Things are ‘rotting’ as a result of the crime, law and punishment. Although the pumpkin cannot see what is happening to society, Harrison can.

Harrison uses factual information in the poem, to protest a need for change. “that black youth, me, and, three years ago today, reached 4.5!”. This particular issue he picks up on, reflects the crime statistic current in America. Harrison uses the statistic to inform and without a doubt shock the audience. Harrison is protesting for a need to change in American society.

These two pieces or pessimistic, protest poetry, reflect the anger, darkness and frustration Harrison faces in modern day society. There is a sad and symbolic statue ‘the red lights of plenty’ that represents America and the society in which we live. The idea of ‘plenty’ refers to the amount of people living in America whom fulfil the conventional American symbols such as the American Dream. The American Dream is a dream of success, fame and wealth, which contrasts to the crime, failure and exclusion Harrison is writing about.

Harrison questions the society in which we live through his pessimism, anger and language. All Harrison’s work are created for a means for change in society, in which so many problems such as exclusion and crime (etc) are existent. “In a poem this long how many new souls born?”. Harrison uses the rhetorical question to express his anger for the “new souls being born” being brought into a society which is in a dramatic downfall both politically and socially.

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Tony Harrison and Society. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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