Thursday, 28 July 2011

'It put Liverpool on the map.'

What did?

Liverpool FC's tremendous run of success under Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish, three Scotsmen who made a significant contribution to sport in England?

The Cavern Club, where the Mersey Sound originated, where the Beatles began their careers, changing the face of pop culture and setting the tone for the Swinging Sixties?

Was it the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, the first railway line built to connect two major cities and the first purpose built passenger railway (famous also for what happened to the government minister William Huskisson on the opening day)?

Or was it the Port of Liverpool and its trade? In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries millions of bales of cotton were imported through Liverpool, feeding the cotton mills of Lancashire, which along with coal and iron formed the basis for the nation's industrial power. Liverpool was also one of the principal tobacco ports.

Liverpool was also the principal English port involved in the Triangular Trade, shipping enslaved people from West Africa to North America and the Caribbean.

The Port of Liverpool played a vital role in the Second World War, being the destination of many of the merchant shipping convoys which brought vital supplies from America and elsewhere. The city was heavily bombed in an attempt to disrupt the work of the port.

No, it was none of those things that 'put Liverpool on the map'. It was a soap opera.

At the risk of sounding like a Grumpy Old Woman, this is the kind of trivialisation that sees celebrities and fictional characters given equal status to people with real achievements to their credit. It shows a lack of historical perspective; nothing beyond the memory of the person speaking counts. In public votes for the Top 100 of anything, results are always overloaded with recent examples, whatever their relative merit.

Present day ways of thinking and doing things are always superior to the past. Or, alternatively, people in the past always thought exactly the same as people in the present day. In historical fiction, characters who don't share modern values are often presented unsympathetically. The context in which people in the past thought and acted is not considered.

Television presenters reinforce these attitudes by suggesting, for example, that people in the 1920s and 1930s had poor quality of life because they did not have washing machines, televisions and computers. Whereas many people moving in to their new houses with bathrooms and inside toilets, with access to radio and the cinema, considered themselves to have a much better standard of living than their parents and their grandparents.

The first thing a history teacher, or a writer of historical fiction, must convey is that things were different in the past.  Most people were not stupid or ignorant or cruel. Most of them did the best they could with what they had and what they knew.

And if we are talking tv, for my generation, this was the show that 'put Liverpool on the map'. And this was the song. 

No comments:

Post a Comment