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240 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Andrew Horrall. Popular Culture in London c. 1890B1918: The Transformation of Entertainment Manchester University Press. xiv, 267. us $39.95 In this fascinating account of late-Victorian and Edwardian London, Andrew Horrall reconstructs the development of the music hall, and its interplay with transportation and sport, as home to an >up-to-date= culture. In other words, he suggests that >rampant topicality,= similar to Peter Bailey=s concept of >knowingness,= was the outstanding feature of popular culture. However, whereas Bailey was hinting at the complicity between performer and audience, Horrall is highlighting the superficiality of a music-hall culture that, derivative as it was, played to a level of local knowledge, rather than understanding, common to virtually every member of the community. Indeed, it was this up-to-dateness, built on the exploitation of the various crazes or fads of the period, that spawned the celebrity; in other words, a celebrity was someone whose fame was by definition ephemeral because their ability was less to do with their talent than with their ability to master a sensation that would, in turn, soon be overtaken by a new craze. An important element of Horrall=s argument is that so much of the entertainment of the period was rooted in public, meaning street, performance . While many could only rarely afford to buy tickets to the music hall, or the variety of sporting events on offer, everyone could experience London=s exciting and remarkably vital street culture. In a series of short chapters the author introduces London=s traditional, and entertaining, culture of street performance. Such public traditions were exploited by music-hall entrepreneurs who transported performers from hall to hall in carriages adorned with advertising hoardings. Similarly parades, incorporating American spectacle and British pomp, became popular fixtures on London=s street life. At the heart of this new popular culture was its topicality, born of its ability to co-opt the newest crazes. This tendency can be seen with the bicycle fad of the 1890s, which provided rich content for the variety stage. Given the nature of up-to-date culture, bicycles were soon replaced by the motorcar. However, whereas the general public could participate fully in bicycle culture, few could experience the expensive pleasures of motoring. Horrall suggests that the public could enjoy the pleasure of car ownership vicariously B but it is not quite the same thing! No matter, by 1913 aviation melodrama had replaced earlier transportation fads on the London variety stages. Within two decades, three major transportational trends had been variously incorporated and/or discarded by music-hall culture. Spectator sports, particularly baseball, cricket, boxing, and football, were also intimately associated with music hall=s fickle demand for up-todateness . Music-hall football drew London=s football teams and players into humanities 241 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 the >realms of modern celebrity= and confirmed that by the early twentieth century sport truly had become entertainment. Ultimately, Horrall=s case for the transformation of entertainment in the period lies with his suggestion that commodified music-hall culture spawned the modern celebrity. Yet, while between 1890 and 1918 this topical culture was innovative it was also unoriginal. Indeed, given the fact that the industry had not evolved structurally, and remained dominated by the entrepreneurs who had developed the industry, the implication might be that big business was happy to allow the audience to believe that it nurtured the fads of the day, while the industry remained, by Horrall=s own admission, a conservative institution. Horrall concludes by examining the development of popular culture during the Great War. His examination of trench culture is particularly rich, drawing upon the fragility of life in the trenches and the mingling of music hall and sport culture to create a unique trench culture that served to unite men from around the globe. The up-to-dateness and immediacy of this new culture provided these men with the ability to survive, emotionally and psychologically, in a world of death and horror, a world where the ephemeral took on new meaning. (CHRISTOPHER P...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 240-241
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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