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This review is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

THE MORONIC INFERNO Dumbing Down: Culture, politics and the mass media, edited by Ivo Mosley (Imprint Academic) £12.95

T.S. Eliot was a devotee of the music hall and wrote appreciatively about the performances of Marie Lloyd. He advocated a poetry of primitive depth that would reach down into the roots of the collective psyche. He famously defined culture as a whole way of life that included a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenthcentury Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. So far so good for those who nowadays speak the rhetoric of populism, who frequently invoke 'the people' in a vague gesture of generosity. However, Eliot also argued that the social organism needed defending against the claims of commerce and bureaucracy, and against a naïve faith in technology. Though his list of representative artefacts stretched humorously yet approvingly across a broad cultural spectrum, it is hard to imagine him constructing one today that would include, for instance, the national lottery, muzak, TV makeover programmes, McDonalds fast food, karaoke, the Dome and the latest recipient of the Turner Prize. He might have some doubts about a globalized civilisation (he would withhold the word culture) which fosters greed and envy, which equates vitality with sensationalism, and which relies on indifference to the environment which sustains it.

Ivo Mosley's anthology is not compiled with Eliot in mind. Nor, surprisingly, is there any mention of F. R. Leavis or John Ruskin. After all, these three represent a most important tradition of resistance to ...


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