(An Outlook on Tradition and
Modernity in the U.K.)
As I am sure you have noticed, most
of the things we buy these days are labeled “Made in Taiwan”
or China or even better Bangladesh. Rare are the moments when we
actually get a hold of a “Made in the U.K.” product.
“Made in Britain” seems to withhold a content that is
more than a label. A Cadbury chocolate is not just any ‘chocolate’
and a Royce isn’t exactly a Dacia; well it depends on how you
look at it!
What are the first ideas that enter
our minds when we think “The United Kingdom?” Apart from
the images that everyone seems to embrace such as the royal family,
Shakespeare or the British weather, people tend to understand Britain
from two angles: of tradition and modernity.
to the №survey
undergone by the British Council in 2001, the U.K. is viewed as being
traditional in high-income countries while in the middle and
low-income countries it is seen as modern. The
same survey shows that the image of the U.K. is also different in the
cases of those people that have or haven’t visited the country.
The former tend to see the British society as modern, while the
latter, gather that the U.K is more ‘traditional.’ Using
this information we can conclude that people draw up an image of
another country according to many factors such as the level of
development (of that certain country), the degree of education and
also on personal experience and information.
Comprehending the two
terms ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ is
essential in fully analyzing their relationship in the U.K.
Does one know the old
saw about the secret behind the loveliness of English gardens? Asked
to explain a lord replied: ‘ Simple, take ordinary grass and
turn the soil regularly for five hundred years.’ This,
metaphorically speaking, has created the image of tradition in the
U.K.: regularity, permanence, devotement, and rigor, a continuous
glorification of the past and a constant appraisal and opening to the
Hi-tech gadgets that
make the society „technologically advanced,” so to say,
do not represent modernity in the U.K., or anywhere else in the
world. Modernity refers to the character of life under changed
circumstances; on one hand having the capacity to make the moment one
lives in as vibrant as possible, while on the other hand, strongly
maintaining traditional values.
visits the U.K. one is bewildered by how everything around from
houses to museums or shops are beautifully conserved but at the same
time astoundingly modern. Taxi’s are no longer a sober black
but full of colour
and personality, double-
deckers move rather fast on the little,
narrow streets so picturesque
that one has the impression they wont fit or that only a 19th
century carriage would. History is everywhere you turn in Britain but
the ‘decorations’ bring light and individuality to the
picture. The U.K. has never lagged behind in the process of
modernization nor in the process of keeping traditions alive: in
architecture, in design, in fashion, in car making, in its gardens,
in its literature, in other words in its ‘image’.
In my opinion, Britain
is not all about Manchester United, kings and queens, the blue blood
phobia or five o’clock tea.
British design for
example is a topic that well enhances the liaison between tradition
Huygen sees British design as: “… Burberry raincoats,
floral interior fabrics, Jaguars, Shetland pullovers, Dunhill
lighters and Wedgwood pottery. Tradition, respectability and
quality.” But later in the work we discover that even though
traditionally that is what British design stands for, modernisation
does not make this image disappear.
has been the witness of several radical movements brought along by
what is known as the “street culture,” such as the
anarchy of punk and pop musicians such as the Sex Pistols whose music
was a blasphemous treatment of the monarchy and country. Well-known
pop musicians like Boy George, David Bowie or Adam Ant created a new
statement in British fashion design by wearing shocking outfits
created by young fashion designers. But
such movements did not create profound changes in Britain’s
image. In fact, design was known as the tonic for Britain’s
economy that had drastically fallen after the two World Wars, and
brought industry back to life by sheer unbridled competition.
Actually British design became “shocking” rather late due
to British reluctance to all that was modern. Even
though the U.K. was the actual ‘generator’ of
industrialization, the late arrival of a Modern Movement is often
associated with the quest of acceptance of the machine.
British society pushed
aside mass production and classless products over hand-made and small
scale production, until it realized that tradition and modernity are
not contradictory or exclusive thus learning how to make the two
coexist. For example, a radical movement such as punk anarchy
together with the art school’s creativity brought innovation to
design in the U.K. The effects were that starting with the 80’s
fashion was back in the international spotlight, the industry made a
huge profit and alongside other industries it aided economy in
regaining its strengths. Designs by Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano,
John Richmond, succeeded in finding their identity in the world of
‘haute-couture’ by creating a twist of tradition and
branch of British design, is the car-making industry. I find car
making in the U.K. to be a relevant example of the way in which it
has always strived to combine the traditional and the modern. Well
known for their class car manufacturing of models such as the Rolls
Royce, Aston Martin, Walter Owen Bentley or the Jaguar, the term
“Britishness” becomes self-explanatory.
Due to the
fact that British approach to design is one of common sense rooted in
the craft tradition, the cars have maintained that classic design and
style that spell ‘British’ or better said Іґ“well
groomed and tame” as the Jaguar is described. But these types
of cars are spicily priced and their affordability comes easy only to
those who are willing and can pay large sums of money. An interesting
fact is that according to і
BBC News, in 2000 car makers in Britain were ordered to cut prices
for they were up to 10% and even 20% higher than in other European
countries. Still, the 2000 figure of sales was that of 2.21 million
sold cars and in 2001 sales established a record sale of 2.33 million
beating the record of 1989.
the class cars do not figure in the top ten most sold, they do appear
in the top 30 and 40 which no doubt shows the relatively high living
standard in Britain. Even though it is still considered to be a
class-structured society, high-income rates have contributed to
political tranquillity. ˉ To paraphrase the work “20th
Century Britain,” compared to the 1900 when British society was
sharply divided among class and gender lines, in Edwardian Britain
this structured status quo was not meekly accepted by everyone (we
are to remember the Suffragette movement). Therefore, we can see that
as society evolved so did mentality and as living standards surged
the class and gender issues dissipated and Britain ˉ “seemed
to be moving towards a fairer, more egalitarian society.”
lies in the power to somehow shape mentality, much like modern ideas
give a new and polished look to a classic Bentley or make the Range
Rover more equipped to win the Paris- Dakar.
has no history because ˜ “history has an unchanging basic
structure” and as car making, fashion or everything design
represents is art, art
knows no temporal
boundaries. Because just like tradition is at times erroneously
considered a “thing of the past” without any contemporary
legitimacy, and modernity is often mistakenly understood as a synonym
for modernism, art is timeless.
tradition can be born today and referred to as being modern or not.
Today we so often state that some clothing article is ‘modern’
when in fact it was also known to be ‘modern’ in the 60’s
or at the beginning of the century!
By this I
would like to conclude that ‘modernity’ is not
necessarily something happening right now or in the future and
‘tradition’ is not just the docile transmission of some
dead deposit but the living repetition that manages to suggest a
Ulrich Bez, CEO for
Aston Martin describes this car in such a way that clearly elicits
what tradition and modernity are in the U.K. Therefore, when you ever
ask yourselves: “What can a car say about a country?”
think of this:
“ Aston Martin is
also about being British; the best of British. Those characteristics
which appear to be opposites: Discipline with creativity…tradition
with a new twist…respect of craft and love of
modernity…traditions combined with free thinking
This is how I see
tradition and modernity in the U.K. A profound respect for
traditional values, a promoter of creativity and an inborn pride in
saying: “Made in Britain.” Now you can understand what I
meant that this “is more than a label!”
Frederique Huygen “British Design Image & Identity”
first published 1989 in Great Britain, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London
– (page 15 (2), page 24 (2’))
BBC News, Sunday
2001(also exists in article form at www.bbc.com)
Century Britain-Economic, Social and Cultural Change” edited
by Paul Johnson, first published 1994 in London and New York,
Longman,( page 123)
Peter Donaldson and John
Farquhar “Understanding the British Economy”, Penguin
Group 1988,( page 11)
“Art Has No History-
The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art” edited by John Roberts,
Verso 1994, (page1)
Name: Irina Oana Gligor
Aura Buzescu #32
TEN REASONS FOR A TRADITION OF
is a truth universally acknowledged that Britain is unique. Really,
who can possibly deny it? It is also very much true, although not so
universal that the image Britain projects overseas is rather
inaccurate. Mostly because the traditional opinion is that Britain
lacks modernity, that it is caught in a golden Victorian cage, and
this cage, in spite of its material, is restricting the way towards
whatever is considered modern. WRONG.
is it so wrong (and in capitals)? Because of at least 10 reasons.
speaking, the first reason that comes to mind is
M. W. Turner,
who can be considered as a painter with nerve. When everyone's'
paintings were oils on canvas "photographing" important
personalities, he had the impulse to use watercolours to paint ships
caught in storms. "His paintings are … so different and
often [painted] in such an ambiguous manner, were often misunderstood
by contemporaries", say Fleming and Honour in their "A
World History of Art". And being misunderstood by contemporaries
is often the sign of modernity. A modernity that strikes at the
first sight of a painting by Turner. One cannot believe that they
have been painted in the first decades of the nineteenth century. As
one cannot believe that Caulfield or Hodgkin’s works are so
resembling and have so "vital links" with the past, with
the traditional methods of painting, when they have shocked the art
community. Turner even finds a disciple in what concerns the
preference for marine themes in Tim Stoner. Turner stopped time for a
ship, Stoner stopped time for a couple of kids in a garden plastic
pool: the modern ships are too ugly to have the time stooped for
them, and besides nowadays the sea means the holiday there during the
summer , not pirates' adventures. Centuries apart, all these modern
painters support the idea of a Britishness in British art, of a
certain sense of insularity. And this is tradition.
mind's track often brakes loose from the dominance of time, so let us
abandon the chronological trail and follow the white rabbit through
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennet and Bridget Jones.
You are probably wondering what two fictional characters and the
author of one of them have in common. They are all modern women. This
first two are actually more modern than the latter. For Jane Austen,
modernity meant independence, being able not to depend on a husband
to make a living, and writing. For Elizabeth Bennet, modernity meant
a marriage with a peer not in station but in mind. As for Bridget,
modernity means… Oh, Bridget is rather special. She is so
traditional in her quest for a husband, that makes one wonder whether
she is the real daughter of Mrs. Bennet. In fact, Bridget is not
modern at all, except that she, unlike her other nominee in this
category does know how to use a computer. She actually determines the
reader of her Diary to scream " Are all British women 30
year-olds in search of a husband and a job?" Apparently for
Bridget being British is like being called Heathcliff: you have to go
outside and bang your head on very tree you find, while yelling
trend nowadays is that old is new. Old mentalities, old things in
general. Everything traditional is remixed, redesigned and morphed
into the sensation of the month.( Often on the catwalk). This leads
John Galliano, or Stella McCartney , or any other British designer.
The reason: for using at least once in their collections the corset.
For a whole century, women all over the world, including Britain,
have tried to sack the corset, mostly due to its symbolism. British
designers never let it go for good, they just put it on hold. The
Goth image at the end of the past century gave them the opportunity
to put it out back in the open. They waited for the symbolism to blur
and vanish, and there it is: different colours, textures, but
nevertheless a corset.
verb "blur" used above sends to music. British music. And
when talking about British music, one must talk about:
As a matter of fact, they should be reason number one on this list.
They are the symbol of Modern Britain, of a certain Britain that
used to dare and that was part of the “Avant-garde”. They
were so modern for such a long time , they became tradition.
Film Director. The traditional British movie was either Sir Laurence
Olivier or Alfred Hitchcock. From time to time , directors used to
make a name out shocking puritans, as Peter Greenaway did. Ritchie
follows this unspoken tradition and tries to catch its bare essence:
to make a couple of hit-movies, shock everybody, get famous and marry
– this one is actually a “negative” argument. She
does not prove Britain is modern , she proves the image the world
perceives of Britain is wrong. Madonna is the epitome of modernity,
the trend-maker. Now she wants to have a normal life, although her
idea of normality is more resembling to Tony Ray-Jones’s
photograph – Glyndebourne ( a couple smartly-dressed, having
tea in a field , amidst or among cows). The critics said about this
photo that captures the “introverted , self-contained lives in
contrast to the more expressive world of the cattle”. So,
Madonna wants a normal life, to be a mid-aged wife with a couple of
kids, to live in Scottish manor, to spend her mornings giving orders
to the butler and her afternoons having tea with some high-class pure
British ladies, and during the holidays to go to Bath.
this is not Britain, it is the celluloid version of Britain. As for
celluloid, it has the tendency to exaggerate.
The Full Monty .
: In Sheffield, steel is produced.
In Sheffield, “Hot Steel” is produced.
difference: “Hot Steel” is formed of male strippers, who
actually are ex-steel workers.
Modernity in this one.
– It was invented in Britain, it’s a tradition in
Britain. And 1966 was a great year for British football: Cantona was
born. Considering British football is still one of the most praised,
it has won the honour to be also considered modern. And if Beckham
isn’t modern, who is?
“Traditionally” speaking, London is supposed to be
permanently foggy, with no other means of transportation but
double-deckers and cabs, populated by men wearing bowlers or looking
like James Bond. Well, it’s not. What is really traditional
about London is its scent, its atmosphere, it’s the arrogance
to have an area named so pompously “The City”, it’s
the mixture of trends, it’s the possibility of having Virgin
records and Harrods in the same part of town and it’s having
the Changing of the Guards happening just the same for such a long
time, may it be under the flashes of the last generation of cameras
or under the curious eyes of people that seemed to jump right out of
Especially Rolls-Royce. Probably the most British car ever, it is
impregnated with the glow of “Britishness” and yet it is
equipped with the latest discoveries in car technology.
were the ten reasons meant to show that Britain is a wonderful blend,
like a Lady Grey tea. Tradition never excluded modernity, and
modernity never excluded tradition. So, there is no place for a
“versus” between them. They were never parallel, never
had each a separate life. Some things are so new that they become
tradition, and some things , although obsolete for a while, become so
modern all over again.
Britain is not the celluloid image of Britain. And for once, it has
the power to say through the voice of Robbie Williams: “I will
talk and Hollywood will listen!”
Christopher – “100 Years at the Royal College of Art –
Collins & Brown, 1999
Andrew – “A History of British Art”, BBC, 1996
Hugh & Fleming, John – “A World History of Art”,
Photography Book, Phaidon Press, 1997
list of all the sources mentioned in this text and found in the
British Council Library is rather long, and I honestly think that
only the catalogue of the Library would cover them all. Nevertheless
here are at least fur that have had an impact on this article.
Jane – “Pride and Prejudice”
Helen – “The Diary of Bridget Jones”
Lewis- ”The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland”
Full Monty , VHS & DVD
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Directed by Guy Ritchie