Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reflections on Richard Neville's Play Power 1

In my train reading, I have finally finished Richard Neville's Play Power (Jonathon Cape, London 1970).  In the end, it left me curiously dissatisfied.
What's it all about, Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
As an historical period piece, I think that it's very good. It describes the various threads in the counter-culture movement as they existed in the last years of the 1960s, including the conflict between those who were politically inspired and those following a different hippy drum. It provides a snapshot of the underground press at the time, a press at the height of its influence and popularity. It captures the life of those who tuned in and dropped out, who joined the hippy trails, some never to return.

At the time of writing, Neville believed that a revolution was underway:
For while the Establishment, with its flair for survival, can ultimately absorb policies, no matter how radical or anarchistic ………, how long can it withstand the impact of an alien culture? – a culture that is destined to create a new type of man (pp 66-67). 
Note the use of the word man. The counter culture is sometimes credited with contributing to the rise of feminism. Reading the book, I can't see that. At least as Neville describes what he calls the Movement, it is totally male-centric. All the main figures are male. The trends that led to feminism, are much older. Freidan's the Feminine Mystique, a seminal work in the modern feminist movement, was published in 1963, predating the rise of the Movement. That rise was coming, but not there yet.

In Neville's world, I accept that this may be unfair, women were there to be screwed, especially while stoned. Neville writes (p 67):

Meanwhile, into the world, children are being born like they never have before. ‘We want our son the be free, unprogrammed and completely unidentified with the state’, says one child’s young father who delivered the baby himself…That means no birth certificate, no schooling unless the child wants it, no taxation, no official record of his existence. These children will be tranquilised by hash, lullabied by rock and roll, educated by the community. And if one of them is ever discovered by the bureaucracy? ‘He will tell them he’s from another planet,’ advises one father.

I found this deeply troubling at several levels. One was the absence of any reference to the mother, it's all he. A second is the deep naivety of the concept.

At the time that Neville was writing, it was still possible to follow the hippy route overland from India to England. Of course, it wasn't just hippies. Aunt Helen, always adventurous, went on that trip. It was still possible to dream of Marakesh or dropping out on the beaches of Goa. It was still possible to dream of acquiring a cheap block and doing what you want.

Richard Neville can not be blamed for failing to recognise that the future lay not with his Movement but with George Orwell, an emerging gray society in which every person has a number, in which freedom reigns but only within narrowing defined bounds, in which turn on, tune in, drop out would become a social ill that needs to be addressed with all the social instruments available to computer empowered governments driven by key performance indicators.

Richard Neville could not have realise, although perhaps he should have, that his revolution would end in a war on drugs that would place an increasing proportion of the population of at least some western countries in jail, that would lead to the execution of others in counties that were once on the hippy trail.

I said perhaps he should have. His book is full of stories on increasing government restrictions from destination countries, of local reactions to what came to be seen as interlopers breaching local customs.

Neville has no time for this. The Movement will sweep forward. For my part, I am left with the impression of a group of self-indulgent young from certain wealthy countries who believed that their needs, perceptions and values should over-ride everything else

I will complete this story in a later post..


Anonymous said...

OK I'll bite: twice now you've mentioned this train reading as 'Power Play' - when it's title is 'Play Power'?

And not to get too deep, but living in an echo chamber sometimes produces not much more than hollow noise.


Anonymous said...

its not it's. kvd

Jim Belshaw said...

Seriously, I think that I suffer from mild dyslexia. I was a hopeless speller at school and (among other things) transposed letters or numbers. I can't see it. Worst with numbers even now.