Ten reasons for a tradition of modernity

Ten reasons for a tradition of modernity


(An Outlook on Tradition and Modernity in the U.K.)

As I am sure you have noticed, most of the things we buy these days are labeled Made in Taiwan or China or even better Bangladesh. Rare are the moments when we actually get a hold of a Made in the U.K. product. Made in Britain seems to withhold a content that is more than a label. A Cadbury chocolate is not just any chocolate and a Royce isnt exactly a Dacia; well it depends on how you look at it!

What are the first ideas that enter our minds when we think The United Kingdom? Apart from the images that everyone seems to embrace such as the royal family, Shakespeare or the British weather, people tend to understand Britain from two angles: of tradition and modernity.

According to the ¹survey undergone by the British Council in 2001, the U.K. is viewed as being traditional in high-income countries while in the middle and low-income countries it is seen as modern. The same survey shows that the image of the U.K. is also different in the cases of those people that have or havent visited the country. The former tend to see the British society as modern, while the latter, gather that the U.K is more traditional. Using this information we can conclude that people draw up an image of another country according to many factors such as the level of development (of that certain country), the degree of education and also on personal experience and information.

Comprehending the two terms tradition and modernity is essential in fully analyzing their relationship in the U.K.

Does one know the old saw about the secret behind the loveliness of English gardens? Asked to explain a lord replied: Simple, take ordinary grass and turn the soil regularly for five hundred years. This, metaphorically speaking, has created the image of tradition in the U.K.: regularity, permanence, devotement, and rigor, a continuous glorification of the past and a constant appraisal and opening to the future.

Hi-tech gadgets that make the society technologically advanced, so to say, do not represent modernity in the U.K., or anywhere else in the world. Modernity refers to the character of life under changed circumstances; on one hand having the capacity to make the moment one lives in as vibrant as possible, while on the other hand, strongly maintaining traditional values.

When one visits the U.K. one is bewildered by how everything around from houses to museums or shops are beautifully conserved but at the same time astoundingly modern. Taxis are no longer a sober black but full of colour and personality, double- deckers move rather fast on the little, narrow streets so picturesque that one has the impression they wont fit or that only a 19th century carriage would. History is everywhere you turn in Britain but the decorations bring light and individuality to the picture. The U.K. has never lagged behind in the process of modernization nor in the process of keeping traditions alive: in architecture, in design, in fashion, in car making, in its gardens, in its literature, in other words in its image.

In my opinion, Britain is not all about Manchester United, kings and queens, the blue blood phobia or five oclock tea.

British design for example is a topic that well enhances the liaison between tradition and modernity.

² Frederique Huygen sees British design as: Burberry raincoats, floral interior fabrics, Jaguars, Shetland pullovers, Dunhill lighters and Wedgwood pottery. Tradition, respectability and quality. But later in the work we discover that even though traditionally that is what British design stands for, modernisation does not make this image disappear.

Britain has been the witness of several radical movements brought along by what is known as the street culture, such as the anarchy of punk and pop musicians such as the Sex Pistols whose music was a blasphemous treatment of the monarchy and country. Well-known pop musicians like Boy George, David Bowie or Adam Ant created a new statement in British fashion design by wearing shocking outfits created by young fashion designers. But such movements did not create profound changes in Britains image. In fact, design was known as the tonic for Britains economy that had drastically fallen after the two World Wars, and brought industry back to life by sheer unbridled competition. Actually British design became shocking rather late due to British reluctance to all that was modern. Even though the U.K. was the actual generator of industrialization, the late arrival of a Modern Movement is often associated with the quest of acceptance of the machine.

British society pushed aside mass production and classless products over hand-made and small scale production, until it realized that tradition and modernity are not contradictory or exclusive thus learning how to make the two coexist. For example, a radical movement such as punk anarchy together with the art schools creativity brought innovation to design in the U.K. The effects were that starting with the 80s fashion was back in the international spotlight, the industry made a huge profit and alongside other industries it aided economy in regaining its strengths. Designs by Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, John Richmond, succeeded in finding their identity in the world of haute-couture by creating a twist of tradition and modernity.

Another important branch of British design, is the car-making industry. I find car making in the U.K. to be a relevant example of the way in which it has always strived to combine the traditional and the modern. Well known for their class car manufacturing of models such as the Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Walter Owen Bentley or the Jaguar, the term Britishness becomes self-explanatory.

Due to the fact that British approach to design is one of common sense rooted in the craft tradition, the cars have maintained that classic design and style that spell British or better said ²´well groomed and tame as the Jaguar is described. But these types of cars are spicily priced and their affordability comes easy only to those who are willing and can pay large sums of money. An interesting fact is that according to ³ BBC News, in 2000 car makers in Britain were ordered to cut prices for they were up to 10% and even 20% higher than in other European countries. Still, the 2000 figure of sales was that of 2.21 million sold cars and in 2001 sales established a record sale of 2.33 million beating the record of 1989.

Although the class cars do not figure in the top ten most sold, they do appear in the top 30 and 40 which no doubt shows the relatively high living standard in Britain. Even though it is still considered to be a class-structured society, high-income rates have contributed to political tranquillity. ˉ To paraphrase the work 20th Century Britain, compared to the 1900 when British society was sharply divided among class and gender lines, in Edwardian Britain this structured status quo was not meekly accepted by everyone (we are to remember the Suffragette movement). Therefore, we can see that as society evolved so did mentality and as living standards surged the class and gender issues dissipated and Britain ˉ seemed to be moving towards a fairer, more egalitarian society.

Modernity lies in the power to somehow shape mentality, much like modern ideas give a new and polished look to a classic Bentley or make the Range Rover more equipped to win the Paris- Dakar.

Art has no history because ˜ history has an unchanging basic structure and as car making, fashion or everything design represents is art, art knows no temporal boundaries. Because just like tradition is at times erroneously considered a thing of the past without any contemporary legitimacy, and modernity is often mistakenly understood as a synonym for modernism, art is timeless.

A tradition can be born today and referred to as being modern or not. Today we so often state that some clothing article is modern when in fact it was also known to be modern in the 60s or at the beginning of the century!

By this I would like to conclude that modernity is not necessarily something happening right now or in the future and tradition is not just the docile transmission of some dead deposit but the living repetition that manages to suggest a fresh truth.

Ulrich Bez, CEO for Aston Martin describes this car in such a way that clearly elicits what tradition and modernity are in the U.K. Therefore, when you ever ask yourselves: What can a car say about a country? think of this:

Aston Martin is also about being British; the best of British. Those characteristics which appear to be opposites: Discipline with creativitytradition with a new twistrespect of craft and love of modernitytraditions combined with free thinking inventiveness.

This is how I see tradition and modernity in the U.K. A profound respect for traditional values, a promoter of creativity and an inborn pride in saying: Made in Britain. Now you can understand what I meant that this is more than a label!



1. www.Britishcouncil.com

2; 2 Frederique Huygen British Design Image & Identity first published 1989 in Great Britain, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London (page 15 (2), page 24 (2))

3.     BBC News, Sunday April 8th 2001(also exists in article form at www.bbc.com)

4.     20th Century Britain-Economic, Social and Cultural Change edited by Paul Johnson, first published 1994 in London and New York, Longman,( page 123)

5.     Peter Donaldson and John Farquhar Understanding the British Economy, Penguin Group 1988,( page 11)

6.     Art Has No History- The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art edited by John Roberts, Verso 1994, (page1)

7. www.astonmartin.com

Name: Irina Oana Gligor

Address: Aura Buzescu #32

Sector 2


Telephone: 250.65.93

E-mail: chieffy1@excite.com now: irinagligor@localgenius.com

2009 .