Margaret Thatcher’s foes turned anger into big business, and a soundtrack for the ’80s
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Hating Margaret Thatcher wasn’t just a political stance. It became something of an industry. From punk rock to TV and magazine satires, many entertainers and writers profited by criticizing her policies.
“She diminished a lot of cultural funding. She put the BBC really in her sites,” explains Toby Miller, professor of cultural studies at City University in London. In turn, the BBC put Thatcher in its sites, lampooning her in comedies, such as “Friday Night Live” and critiquing her policies in dramas, such as “Edge of Darkness.” The BBC hit “Dr. Who” even created a Thatcher-like character, Helen A, ruler of humans on Terra Firma.
“There was a lot of cultural creativity that managed to express what wasn’t really getting heard in the mainstream newspapers,” Miller says.
And then there was the music.
“No political figure in British politics has inspired quite so many songs that Margaret Thatcher has inspired,” says Paul Williams, head of business analysis for Music Week. “She certainly was very inspirational in terms of bringing out an anger.”
Williams says the punk movement gained a lot of momentum and global interest because of Thatcher’s policies. Thatcher became a sort of anti-muse for The Clash, Elvis Costello and Pink Floyd. Billy Bragg practically made a cottage industry out of hating the conservative prime minister.
And it wasn’t just British audiences getting the message.
“I can remember being a preteen listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’ and wondering, who’s this Maggie he’s so mad at?” says Aram Sinnreich, a professor of media at Rutgers University.
He says during the ’80s, cable TV and, specifically, MTV were coming of age, and that put a lot of British music in front of an American audience. “The digital era was just beginning,” he says. “You saw the rise of cable TV, especially of MTV and really the globalization of our media infrastructure… Because of that, the vitriolic hatred a lot of musicians had for Thatcher at the time was imported to us.”
Sinnreich doubts punk would have become the global movement it did without Thatcher.
“She really galvanized the culture war’s troops in England and helped them amplify their message,” he says. “It’s kind of ironic, because the deregulation that was one of the hallmarks of the politics that Thatcher herself espoused, lead to this explosion of anti-Thatcherist sentiment within the U.S. marketplace and around the globe.”
Sinnreich says thanks to that, the anti-Thatcher industry turned into a profitable export.
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