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IMAGE ARTWORK:  Astronauta de Mármore, Heróis Da Estrada (2021)


10 March 2024

No Distance Left To Run


I have had, have heard retold, and have overheard, so many conversations about Saltburn recently.

They all seem to either be an agreement about being disappointed by it not being as interesting as they imagined, or it not really using the class elements that it seemed to pose, or about how clever (or not) its symbolism is. But broadly, what does Saltburn actually do? It provides a point of bland conversation that everyone can contribute to. As a cultural artefact, it exists to facilitate small talk. It says very little, provides no meaningful social commentary, and seems to exist to shock,and provoke the TikTok algorithm. There isn’t the potential for a transcendent conversation, or any real societal observations from its mediocre engagement with class, which in a country utterly obsessed with class that loves nothing more than to discuss it, is designed to get people talking about it.

The film’s writer, director and producer, Emerald Fennel, said that the 2007 setting of the film was chosen because it was perfectly in the realm of our recent past – not too far away to be distant, and therefore able to be viewed as cool or ironic. Put simply, there is no nostalgia for the very recent past. Discussions about nostalgia, and the extent to which culture has been dominated by it for the past two decades is nothing new – Simon Reynolds’ 2010 book Retromania is an early example of this discourse in the mainstream. Over the last ten years, as the socio-economic situation in the UK has rapidly deteriorated, nostalgia seems increasingly understandable to indulge in as a respite from the brutal onslaught of the present, which through social media’s transformation of mass media, we are more aware of than ever before. Yet seeking respite in the past is increasingly alienating precisely because of this – our present is so different from the past, so devoid of optimism or any belief in a future that isn’t “today, but the same” or “today, but much worse”.


The 21st century has, so far, been charaterised by the systematic destruction of hope for a better future.

In this sense, the attractive quality of an era such as the 1990s is its simultaneous distance from and proximity to our present. We can no longer really imagine living in the Nineties despite constant attempts to evoke it, and yet it seems so close temporally and culturally that it is only just out of reach. Whether through Pulp and Blur touring again or Liam Gallagher labouring under the false apprehension that there is still a genuine public desire for his music, nothing is quite able to truly recreate, or conjure, or transport us to, that moment. The mid to late Nineties was characterised by a banal optimism, perfectly encapsulated in New Labour’s gaudy 1997 campaign theme, D:Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better”. Even though the coke-fuelled optimism of the Nineties was patently facile and hollow, characterised by the further entrenching of neoliberalism which has helped to produce the malaise of our own alienating present, we still yearn to return to the innocence of these easily idealised “better times”. Banal optimism, in its banality, provides no pathway to any concrete destination. Yet even an ultimately meaningless banal optimism seems better than the exhaustion that seems to linger around cultural life in Britain in our present moment.

Britpop, as a music movement in reaction to the perceived pervasiveness of American grunge, was the first mainstreamed nostalgia product.


Kicked off by Suede’s self-titled debut which was followed by arguably the most purely thematically “Britpop” album, Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish, the music being described by the moniker had its roots firmly in Britain’s recent musical past. Suede were massively influenced by Bowie’s Seventies albums, whilst Blur found their inspiration most clearly in The Kinks’ late-Sixties work, updated for a Nineties audience. Oasis was effectively a simulation of a coked-up Beatles tribute band that briefly gained sentience between 1994 and 2000, and Pulp were just Pulp. The creation of the Big Four of Britpop and the ridiculous Oasis v Blur battle over the mediocre singles “Roll With It” and “Country House” was entirely a media curation. These bands had little in common sonically beyond their obsessions with past styles and their attempts to translate past themes to the present. The irony of the Nineties revival that began around the time of the release of the Oasis Supersonic documentary is that it was a revival of a revival, nostalgia for nostalgia. In this sense, it represented the first mainstream cultural moment that was a completely closed feedback loop – an attempt to relive the experiences of those who themselves were attempting to recreate the atmosphere of a previous era. However, the Nineties at least had similarities to the Sixties in that it came with a pervasive optimism, a contention that things were fundamentally looking up. With the finality of the year 2000 approaching and New Labour’s declaration of the “end of boom and bust”, the period allowed for the projection of any hopes or dreams onto a future knowable only insomuch that it would be good.

Obviously, this did not come to be. However, in trying to relive the Sixties nostalgia-fest of the Nineties in a period devoid of any of the optimism that characterised either era, the thing made most explicitly apparent is the total absence of hope for the future existing in our present. Our consumption of music, and pop culture more broadly, has been massively re-oriented towards the past. New trends, styles and forms being derived from the past are dominating popular culture – whether it be the Nineties revival or the Y2K rebirth that seems will outstay its welcome indefinitely due to its logical successor, pre-and-post-financial-crash-core, being absolutely devoid of any aesthetic or spiritual redemption. We are no longer in the late Nineties, where the new millennium promised an everyman utopia, or in the early 2000s, still drunk from the 31st December 1999. Our present moment is faced with the incredibly daunting length of our century, from which the distance from our miserable present allows for mounting projections of apocalypse to only grow and grow. Things, it seems, can only get worse. 

In the period since the early-2000s, we have undergone a collective loss of the hope and spontaneity of the New, as cultural forms become saturated with reboots and reissues.


Music has always served as a means by which we can experience and dream of revolution, whether on the personal or collective level. Yet this sensation of motion, of moving through the present towards some desired future, seems to have been quietly cut off from culture. There may remain individual senses of movement and progression, but only relative to a static, ossified collective present. Forms of collective consciousness have been shattered, preventing culture from progressing in accordance with collective desire. Instead, we have an increasingly alienated culture focused on the individual, predicated on the lack of the existence of any collective opposition to it precisely through situating itself on the hill of individualism - divide and rule perfectly achieved through a strange cocktail of TikTok and Right-To-Buy schemes. Cultural production has been tailored towards consumption to an extent that has never existed before.

I don’t want to regurgitate tired criticisms of the cheap catharsis produced by the entertainment industry and try and argue that mainstream culture is designed to trap us in the present. I think that’s a reductive view – mainstream culture can not only usher in the future, but actively create it. However, that simply does not seem to happen anymore: our ability to move forward seems to have deserted us. The Sixties slogan “Be Here Now”, expressing the experience of the present as the future and the future as the present, has been horribly inverted. In that sense, it meant that the present represented futurity and possibility. Now, it seems instead to speak to the impossibility of futures different in some meaningful, odd, or positive way, to our present.

In 1962, Andy Warhol unveiled Green Coca-Cola Bottles to the world. The optimism imbued within the piece comes from Warhol’s assertion that “the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and, just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke.” In the Sixties, the birthplace of mass hedonistic individualism, consumption was presented as a means to emancipation – fundamentally, as an investment in aspiration. Green Coca-Cola Bottles could be argued at the time to be simultaneously egalitarian and aspirational, speaking to our desire to commune with the stars. Yet now, it seems more to represent banality and ubiquity, the hegemony of consumerism, the inability to escape meaningless consumption. In the era following the 2008 financial crash, neoliberalism has been fundamentally discredited, and yet it persists as a system. It’s not just that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, but that it is obvious that consumption itself has no meaning attached to it. What once seemed to provoke aspiration and the potential for transcendence is now left devoid of its utopian feeling, the potentiality that it once evoked, when considered in our present context. In this moment of pessimism and despair, we are consistently looking to the past as a repository of our hopes and dreams. Yet cultural artefacts from the past cease to evoke the hope they did in the moment of their creation. Because we lack the ability to find inspiration for futurity within our own moment, the non-fulfilment of the dreams of our collective past creates a veil separating past and present that acts almost like a paint-stripper of hope for the future. The future isn’t here yet because we simply cannot imagine it ever arriving. 

The late cultural critic Mark Fisher argued that young people suffer a generational depressive hedonia: a depression constituted not by an inability to attain pleasure, but due to an inability to do anything but seek it out.


Everybody is reduced to an atomised consumer, and everything is reduced to consumption. He argued that there exists a sensation of the present only being felt through the pervasiveness of exhaustion and dejection. It then makes a fair amount of sense to merely pursue pleasure at all costs as the only means by which you can try and escape daily drudgery and misery. Whilst pleasure-seeking can be productive when teamed with collective pursuits and spaces, like raves or their early predecesssors, the counter-cultural LSD-infused ‘happenings’ of the late Sixties, this form of pleasure pursuit is merely a reflection of the exhausted relationship between the past and present. It is simply the pursuit of pleasure, like all other things that exist within a highly neoliberalised society, to its material, physical and mental exhaustion. The song “Lost in Music” by Sister Sledge takes a fairly ironic meaning now as our generation lose themselves as much as they can through the limited collectivity that still exists in music so as to escape the seemingly inescapable present. 

Despite the clear contingency and arbitrariness of the socio-economic order being demonstrated quite bluntly by both the 2008 financial crash and the Covid pandemic, we are still being lectured that we simply must take part in the charade of markets and careers and property ladders as if we don’t know that it’s all a con. The forces of hedonism and individualism that the Sixties unshackled congealed throughout the Seventies, before letting rip in the Eighties, and creating the excess supernova of the Nineties. Now, we live in the post-supernova – a black hole of nostalgia, from which nothing can escape the past – a time after time. Not just on a comedown, but post-post-comedown. What’s left to do except pursue pleasure? Because pursuing pleasure is not facing the brutal reality of this present, characterised by exhausted futures and an overwhelming feeling of nothing existing outside of the here and now.


Our hope for the future now can only be the least-worst version of our present.

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