Sunday, 4 July 2010

On History Repeating Itself

On Friday, N accompanied me to the Tate Britain, although the Philistine would only agree to go if I promised to buy him a burger. The gallery is currently hosting an exhibition called Rude Britannia that spans 500 years' worth of British caricature, satire and comic art. I'd decided, being all cultured and stuff, that I wanted to see it. The weird and wonderful collection gives an insight into the development of caricature and comic art in Britain and includes some iconic pieces, from Hogarth's Gin Lane to the Margaret Thatcher puppet from Spitting Image. Plenty to get your teeth into, then [and I don't mean N's burger].

But what set me thinking, what I remember most, wasn't one of the bigger pieces. It's not one of the works plastered over the promotional literature and websites. It's not even sold as a postcard in the giftshop. It was a cartoon from the 18th June 1842 edition of 19th century periodical The Penny Satirist, if the notes hurriedly typed into my phone are correct. The cartoon showed John Bull (Britain) beset by vultures. Around one of his ankles was a chain, restricting his movement and keeping him tied down, representing something that's become an all-too-familiar a term of late: NATIONAL DEBT.

I know I'm prone to looking backwards rather than forwards. I admit that I harp on about the past and ancestry and our bleak future too often, but I can't help it.

The cartoon is nearly 200 years old, yet it depicts the UK in what seems like the same financial situation as it is now - up to its neck in debt. Times have changed, and I live in a very different country to the Britain of the 1800s [thank fuck], but some things remain constant. What does this mean? Does history repeat itself? Let's hope not. Are the politicians of today too ignorant of past political errors to avoid them recurring? Like they care, as long as they have their second homes [Bitter much TbR?]. Is resistance to debt futile? Of course, debt can eat your soul.

What this also highlights is my complete lack of understanding when faced with anything even remotely linked to economics. Anyone with a half decent understanding of how the markets work could probably tell me - in very simple terms of course, 'cos I'm not too bright - that these things do work in cycles, peaks of plenty followed by troughs of debt and misery, much like where we are at the moment.

I don't know the answer, but I would like to say thank you to the good people of the Tate Britain for making me feel far less concerned about owing money on my credit card. I'm a child of my society, of my time. Of course I'm in debt, History made me do it.

"And if History jumped off a bridge, would you follow?"

Shut up.


  1. I feel for you TbR, well my country has this NATIONAL DEBT too that is too much now. It means more taxes for us grrrr!!!

  2. I really love your writing. Sarcastic but passionate. You think about stuff too much. But that's what makes this awesome.

    Anyway, national debt-- is it our fault? No. I don't understand economics too and I refuse to even understand it. I pay my taxes and I don't know where it goes. We are still in debt! So maybe, just maybe, history does repeat itself. We can just look at it that way.

    Or maybe you're right too. Maybe today's politicians are too ignorant of past political errors to avoid them from happening again.

  3. love your writing :)
    left you something here:

  4. @ Mish - I think everywhere in the world is in debt. Literally everywhere. Debt is King of the World, not Leonardo diCaprio. I'm not sure which I'd prefer?

    @ Gnetch - I do think too much! You're completely right. I think, and then I get angry, or sad, or confused. Either way, it can't be a good thing.

    @ Lauren - CHALLENGE! I'm going to have to think about this one - I'll have to try and look forwards rather than looking over my shoulder. Not that I'm not chuffed, of course :) Thanks!

  5. loved the question is resistance to debt futile and your answer, and I have an almost zero knowledge on economics, the worse thing being that I have to mandatorily take up economics 101 next sem. for my graduation. Love your writing style and btw you have a little something over my blog as well

  6. I wish I could go to the Tate. That exhibit seems like it's right up my alley.

    Debt. It sucks and just won't go away. But if you could somehow resurrect the cartoonist of that 200 year-old comic and tell him what your national debt is right now in the 21st century, he'd have a heart attack and die.

  7. @ Analyst - unlucky re: Economics 101, although maybe you'll discover the answers to my questions, in which case report back. Good luck with it and thanks for the award. I'm going to post it this weekend - it's a good one!

    @ Amber - with your inspired drawings you'll probably be in there soon. If you do, make sure I get free booze on the late night opening? It was a good exhibition - felt a little bit like they had tried to cram too much in, but still really interesting. And your point about the 200 year-old artist is a good one - they probably only owed about a tenner back then.