Friday, July 24, 2009

Compare and Contrast: Modesty Blaise's "Swinging London" with Today's London Social Scene

There are many similarities and differences between the social scenes of the swinging London period of the 1960s and London’s present social culture. London was an exciting place to be during the 1960s with an economic boom in the later half of the decade allowing for increased experimentation in color, style, and way of thinking. The 1966 camp movie Modesty Blaise is a clear example of what the social scene was like during the “swinging London” period. Like Modesty Blaise’s hair color, everyone and everything was changing continuously in the film hinting at the fact that this was a period where people altered the way they dressed, thought, and spoke on a constant basis. Mod subculture also played a prominent role in the film influencing Modesty Blaise’s bold outfits and imagery of all-night clubs. Sexuality was also beginning to become more accepted with references to the gay community through flamboyant characters like the evil mastermind Gabriel and his male servants in the film. In comparison to today’s social culture, there are still some remaining influences from “swinging London” but differences still. Experimentation is still a vital part of London’s social scene today with fashion, music, and art constantly taking on new forms. Mod subculture is still a prominent group, leaving its mark on London with the miniskirt bigger than ever and all night clubs far more popular. Sexuality, such as the present gay community, is bigger and more accepted than ever. Londoners, however, have become far more frugal since the economic recession compared to the economic boom during the 1960s. In this essay, I will compare and contrast Modesty Blaise’s “swinging London” social scene with London’s present social culture through ways of style, social subcultures, sexuality, and ways of thinking.

Modesty Blaise is the epitome of what “swinging London” was like during the later half of the 1960s. The lurid fashion clothing and prints to the influential mod culture to the witty and outrageous personalities and ways of thinking all added to this social phenomenon taking place at that time. The “swinging London” period resulted from an economic boom “after post world war II austerity and rationing” (1960s Fashion and Textiles). After London having to spend such a great deal of time recovering from war, Londoners finally had a chance to immerse in the social areas of their culture. In a scene from the film, Modesty Blaise and her partner in crime Willie Garvin drive carelessly on a desert road, enjoying ice cream and joining together in song all while being chased by their employers. The viewer is filled with a sense of liberation through the characters’ fearlessness and carefree attitudes in the film. This was the universal feeling during the later 1960s because Londoners finally had a chance to not worry and just enjoy what London had to offer. With new ideas sprouting left and right, fashion became an asset to individual expression during this period. The style during the “swinging London” period was heavily driven by the younger crowd where pricey couture was out and more affordable outfits were in (1960s Fashion and Textiles). The mod subculture also played a part in what was fashionable at the time popularizing “the simple geometric shapes” and “tailor-made attire” for maximum impact (1960s Fashion and Textiles). The youth were finally beginning to be recognized as an influential generation partly due to their impeccable taste in fashion. There no longer was a demand to pay high prices for pieces of clothing and younger people were one of the first to make affordable clothing look hip and fashionable. Another fashionable trend was “boldly colored garments” and miniskirts which were sold cheaply all over London (1960s Fashion and Textiles). In the movie Modesty Blaise, Modesty dons many of the popular trends of the time such as a tightly fitted hot pink dress in one scene while running through the streets of London.  Textiles in “brightly colored large-scale geometric repeats” were incorporated into clothing, furnishing fabrics, and even home decor.  When Modesty is held prisoner by Gabriel in the film, he places her in a groovy dungeon filled with a swirly, colored wallpapred room. Another influential factor to the “swinging London” social scene was the mod subculture. Mods were not only known for their fashion but for their “amphetamine-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs” (website). They believed in rejecting the "dull, timid, old-fashioned, and uninspired" culture of London that surrounded them (The Mod Generation). The Mods opened up a whole new way of social life for the younger crowd that was a complete digression from what was considered proper in British culture. The 1960s was also considered an era of “sexual freedom” where the pill was a “reliable method for contraception”, abortion became legal, and homosexuality was “decriminalized” (1960s Fashion and Textiles). The 1960s helped pave a new way for what was considered sexually acceptable. In Modesty Blaise, there are many references to sexual exploration such as the evil mastermind Gabriel and his male servants who are extremely flamboyant in their style and manner. The “swinging London” period broke all barriers for sexuality where things that would have been shunned in society before were finally beginning to become accepted. Not only was this era influential in its own time, but remnants of the “swinging London” period can still be seen in present British culture today.

Although there are still many remaining influences from the “swinging London” period in London’s present social culture, there are still some differences between the two eras. For instance, since this year’s global financial crisis, London has been hit since it has such a “prominent global role” where there is an expected loss of “70,000 jobs” in finance will be lost (1960s Fashion and Textiles).  From personal observation, there no longer seems to be that carefree attitude that was once so highly regarded during the “swinging London” period. Londoners have become far more serious which is what the reality of an economic recession can do versus the economic boom during the 1960s. However, there are still some aspects of the “swinging London” period that are still heavily present in today’s social scene. Mod style and subculture, for example, have made a comeback in recent years. The miniskirt is an essential in any girl’s closet and one can never fail finding geometric prints at affordable boutiques like Top Shop. Even all night clubs that were so popular in the 1960s are a still a huge part of today’s London night scene. Today a mixture of “21st century mods” form today’s “Mod Generation” where mods from the “late 70s/80s revival and original mods from the 60s” come together and arrange “club nights and events” similar to those in the 60s (The Mod Generation). Even today, the mod subculture is being kept alive and still is a strong presence in the growing nightlife of London. Sexuality has reached even greater acceptance over the decades especially for the gay community. Just recently there was a Pride London parade right here in London where over 1,000,000 came and participated which makes it the “largest LGBT event in the UK” (Pride London). This shows how prominent a role the gay community still plays in London and has continued to grow since the “swinging London” days where homosexuality was just starting to be accepted.

London has continued to evolve since the “swinging London” era but also maintain some of the social culture that took place during the later half of the 1960s. There are remaining influences of “swinging London” in today’s social culture because it was such an experimental time in London’s history, despite the differences that have accumulated over the decades. However, there is one thing that can be agreed on: London is a social mecca that is constantly changing and molding to its current yet still knows how to mix old with modern.

 Works Cited

“1960s Fashion and Textiles”. The Victoria and Albert Museum. 23 July 2009.            

 “Pride London.” 23 July 2009.

 “The Mod Generation.” 23 July 2009.

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