The Theme of Tradition Versus Modernization

The opposition between tradition and modernization is a concept that also seems to be closely linked to the idea of the “generation gap” that appears in many of the texts we have studied this semester. We see, post-war, a new set of values and beliefs beginning to take over the people of Britain and I feel that it is most notable in the actions and sentiments of the youth culture. We first see this opposition in Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs in the characters of the parents and their son.

The next place that we have seen this is in Dr. No when the viewer sees old items such as guns being replaced with newer more efficient ones. This opposition is best represented in Dick Hebdige’s Subculture The Meaning of Style. In this text the reader is able to define how the youth culture had changed from the previous groups that existed in Britain pre-war. The traditional path that a child followed from youth to adulthood began to lose it traditional meaning and began to be something that allowed for more fun and freedom for the youth.

In the graphic novel by Briggs the reader is presented with the married couple Ethel & Ernest. The reader follows them from their courtship to their deaths, and along the way we are given a history lesson through their eyes. The reader watches as they go through WWII, the use of television in the home, to the moon landing. While each of the technological advancements seemed as if they would provide convenience for the Briggs’ it in fact became a nuisance.

Ethel and Ernest, while aging, were becoming incapable of understanding change. When the TV became available for in home use, Ethel states “What’s that?…It looks like a wireless set with pictures on top of it. Moving pictures? Talkies?” (Briggs 26). This quote displays how Ethel’s confusion begins to turn to frustration when talking about the modern concept of the television. She does not understand what it is or why one would be needed in the home.

This resistance to modernization is also seen in the character of James Bond in Dr. No. when he is confronted with the need to upgrade his weapon. His gun is outdated and is malfunctioning, even causing him to be shot. He is told to use a newer more advanced gun, and is given the reason that all of the US CIA agents are using them. We see here that Britain is looking at America as an extremely modern society with only the best and most modern devices. Bond does not want the new gun and is intent on keeping his older, more traditional version. He is eventually forced to upgrade and reluctantly begins to use the new gun, but still has resentment towards using it.

Ethel and Ernest and James Bond both resist the modernization of their worlds but eventually give in to them. Ethel and Ernest never fully understand the technology or the need for advancements to be made in their society, whereas Bond, while reluctant, does eventually realize the need for modern tools. The advanced gun helped to save his life during the course of the film when he was in the Asian woman’s bedroom and the other spy’s gun locked up.

Bond was thankful that he had the newer model gun and was able to come out of the situation victorious as well as alive. Ethel and Ernest, on the other hand, never fully come to amicable terms with the technology in their lives. They do not ever warm up to the idea of the television or their son’s need to pursue art school. They die at odds with their surroundings due to the fact that they tried to remain living in the traditional Britain that they knew, while being surrounded by the newer and more modern advancements of society.

Dick Hebdige’s Subculture The Meaning of Style gives a detailed reading of how each of the youth culture groups in the post-war British society were changing. While the previous two texts depict characters that are fighting against modernization and the loss of their traditional values, Hebdige is tackling the issue head on by giving an account of each of the subculture groups and its attributes. Hebdige does not discount the fact that society was changing and that it was significant enough to need a closer look at its effects.

Hebdige looks to style as a main indicator of modernization and states, “The meaning of subculture is, then, always in dispute, and style is the area in which the opposing definitions clash with most dramatic force.” (Hebdige 3). This quote displays how style and culture are in fact linked concepts, and that culture can be tracked by the study of style. It is through this concept that the reader begins to make the connection that one can study the modernization of a culture through the styles that the culture is taking part in.

Each of the texts presents a view on a different aspect of the process of modernization. The topics covered range from household appliances to guns and even to the types of clothing that the youth culture is wearing. The one thing that each of them has in common is the fact that each is representative of a major change in society as a direct result of moving away from traditional values and belief to the more modern conveniences of technology.

While the modernization of Britain created anxiety amongst members of society it also created an entirely new group call the “teen” which allowed for capitalism to thrive on the newly founded group of citizens. The modernization of Britain was one of the major factors in the changing of the way that the British citizens lived, whether it was for the good or for the bad.

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel & Ernest. Panthenon. New York, New York. 1998.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture The Meaning of Style. Routledge. London and New York. 1997.

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