The Cultural Politics of Crisis in the UK
Political, media, and public responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK are embedded in a wider cultural politics of crisis. This chapter will explore parallels and connections between discursive responses to the pandemic and those to the global financial crisis of 2008 (and subsequent Great Recession), to show the common cultural-political resources that are engaged in both cases. Taking a discourse analytic approach rooted in cultural political economy (Jessop, 2010), the chapter will show how British responses to the pandemic have echoed the ‘cultural politics of austerity’ (Bramall, 2013), from an emphasis on national security, and on continuing consumption and resuming ‘business as usual’, to the resurgence of faux-solidarity soundbites like ‘we’re all in this together’ (Cameron, 2009; Johnson, 2020), and of nationalist and war-themed metaphors and imagery. UK television chef Jamie Oliver, whose ‘Ministry of Food’ used Second World War nostalgia to win people over to austerity following the financial crisis (Ali, 2012), launched the Channel 4 show ‘Keep Cooking and Carry On’ in response to the pandemic, drawing upon the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ British Second World War propaganda poster widely reproduced in the Great Recession and austerity period, and offering ‘recipes, tips and hacks tailored for the unique times we're living in’. The chapter will argue that the government-backed ‘clap for carers’, together with VE Day-themed ‘stay at home street parties’, the valorisation of death among healthcare and other key worker ‘heroes’ and ‘angels’, like Oliver’s show, have together helped to entrench a reactionary and nationalist discursive response to the pandemic crisis. It will be concluded that this response to the pandemic – enabled and encouraged especially by right-wing media and political discourse – has dangerous synergies with the recent mainstreaming and ‘domestication’ (Jones, 2019) of post-crash far-right racist political discourses in the UK.
Citation : Whitham, B. (2021) The Cultural Politics of Crisis in the UK. In: Price, Stuart and Harbisher, Ben, Power, Media, and the Covid 19 Pandemic: framing public discourse (Abingdon: Routledge).
Research Institute : Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)
Peer Reviewed : No