Patrick Strudwick: How rebellion became suburban


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Did you hear that sound on Saturday night? It was the dull thud as British culture slumped into clinical depression. The TV presenter Alex Jones performed a tango on Strictly Come Dancing to "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The song's principle theme is sodomy. There were few traces of it on the primetime show. Instead, in all the "glamour" we saw the once-banned anthem of sexual subversion wrapped in clingfilm and served up as a teatime treat.

Gay sex has become cheesecake. We're all suburban now. How do we know? Even Holly Johnson himself, the leader singer of Frankie, tweeted about the performance to provide followers with a link to the footage. But at least he began his career by ripping Britain's polite face off. Today's gay pop stars scarcely utter a rebellious syllable between them, beyond, "I'm gay". Will Young pouting prettily as he warbles about heartache? Joe McElderry beaming dreamily as he is marketed by the X Factor machine? It's not a sign that progressive values have won. It is a sign that they have lost out to the commercial juggernaut. Few can afford to take risks now. And as Bjork once said: "If you don't take the risks you don't get the treats."

This suburbanisation of culture is the inevitable offspring of the baby boomers. They indulged their creative whims only to oversee a financial implosion that clamps youngsters' every true artistic impulse. Never mind the Sixties, even the Seventies and Eighties expose our ring-road blandness. Grace Jones, David Bowie and Boy George tossed gender into a skip as Andy Warhol dismantled the notion of artistic production. Today our prawn cocktail culture holds Lady Gaga up as the cutting edge. But the only edges she's ever cut are off the T-bone steaks in her infamous meat dress.

And which movement perfectly traces our dullsville decline? The YBAs. They are no longer the Young British Artists, whose unmade beds and animal cadavers made Brian Sewell spew. They are now, simply, crashing bores. They are Damien Hirst running a seafood restaurant in Ilfracombe. They are Tracey Emin voting Tory and whingeing about tax.

Who do we have left doing anything inventive? Grayson Perry, perhaps, and Kate Bush, whose new record managed to jolt even the most jaded of music critics. But they are both in their fifties. Our twentysomethings have less chance of damming the suburban tide than at any time since the war. Rising unemployment and disabling loans have seen to that. We should not be relaxed about this. We should gasp violently like someone in a Holly Johnson song.