Picture, if you can, the world on 4 January 2020, when I sat down and began to write this post. I was three weeks into a news black-out that lasted almost three months. In this time, I avoided all news: radio, television, newspapers, internet. What news I heard was caught by accident from conversations or random online apparitions. For my mental well-being, it was bliss. Then there was this virus that I couldn’t ignore.
But in early January, I was in a reflective mood…
New Year’s Eve, and we spurned any year-in-review nonsense in favour of the oblivion of nostalgia on DVD. But we’re not immune to tradition, and as midnight approached, the FM radio went on for the chimes of Big Ben (the FM signal has less delay than the digital), and we had a look at the fireworks on the telly.
It was the usual expensive bombast, soundtracked by brief snippets of energetic music. I don’t think anyone was in the pods of the London Eye, but it would have been a terrifying view, surrounded by the explosions as the Mayor of London blasted the wretched old year into smithereens.
I’d like to know who chose (or ‘curated’) the music selection, because it really wasn’t necessary to play the riff from The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, or, to give it its official title “The Theme From ‘O Jeremy Corbyn'”. In more optimistic days, Richard Seymour described it as ‘a sort of joyous battle cry’ (preface to the second edition of Corbyn, 2017, p. xiii). It was a complex sign, to be sure, and I’m not going to unpack here what it meant in 2017. At the end of 2019, though, it had certainly been loaded with many more emotions. Maybe it was endorsed by Sadiq Khan as an attempt to reappropriate the tune. Maybe it was played to laugh in the face of anyone who had the foolishness to hope that we could have a government that would take seriously the global challenge of the climate crisis, and the local one of health care (to name but two). Perhaps whoever selected it expected the audience to start singing along, unbidden, as they surprised themselves to recall how a political movement that proposed some mildly redistributive policies, led by a deeply principled man who is, at worst, arguably ill-suited to commanding a major political coalition, failed to stand up under the barrage of shit that materialised directly from the capitalist death-drive unconscious.
Yes. I like to think that’s what everyone thought, as they stood on the freezing banks of the Thames, about to step into the great chasm of 2020.