Friday, 12 February 2016

Mary Whitehouse v The Counterculture

The decade between the mid sixties and mid seventies was a time of considerable social change in Britain. At the beginning of this period British institutions were controlled by a conservative establishment, based on traditional morality infused by our Christian heritage. This came under attack from a coterie of political radicals who came to be labelled as the counterculture. Their agenda would gradually morph into the dominant social and cultural mindset of the present day known as political correctness. The strongest voice defending the values of the old conservative outlook was a Midlands schoolteacher Mary Whitehouse, who sprang to national prominence through her clean up TV campaign. The culture clash which ensued would determine what made Britain the society it is today.

Mary Whitehouse was a vociferous opponent of what she termed permissiveness, which promoted sexual relations outside marriage as a normal recreational activity. She was also concerned about the increased use of bad or suggestive language on TV, depictions of gratuitous violence, the increased availability of pornography, abortion, divorce, the 'gay liberation' movement, nudity, blasphemy and the spread of atheism. Her views were underpinned by her strong Christian faith and values, which she assumed were shared by the vast majority of the British public. In the early 1960s that was not an unreasonable assumption, but by the mid 1970s her views were becoming marginalised and outmoded, as she became the butt of ridicule from an increasingly self confident freewheeling counterculture whose values were beginning to permeate the political elite.

The counterculture specifically rejected the traditional commitment to chastity before marriage and fidelity within it that was the prevailing ethos within British society during the 1950s. They promoted campaigns to give equal rights to homosexuals and lesbians and supported the fledgling women's liberation movement. They adopted an 'if it feels good do it' attitude to life and enjoyed illegal recreational drugs. They were highly idealistic, opposed the Vietnam War, and treated with disdain the materialism and acquisitiveness of 'straight' society. They considered that mainstream religion appeared to be more concerned with spreading self righteous censoriousness, and a conservative cultural conformity, rather than promoting high spiritual ideals. Their culture was reflected in the new wave of psychedelic rock music, and by revolutionary changes in fashion featuring long hair and colourful clothes for men, and mini-skirts for women. The hippie and the 'dolly bird' became the symbols of this new generation of 'let it all hang out' radical bohemians, seeking a new utopia of peace and love.

Politically, the ideals of the counterculture were detested by the Conservative party and were treated with suspicion by the more working class elements of the Labour party. However, middle class supporters of the Labour and Liberal parties were more open to these new ideas and they became the foundation on which today's politically correct agenda was forged. In the 1960s the right were seen as the opponents of free speech, supporters of censorship and suspicious of change, whereas the left were considered to be the champions of modernity, openness, toleration, liberation, anti-authority and anti-puritanical, viewpoints that have proved difficult to dislodge. This ostensibly progressive outlook provided a cover in which the ideals of the bohemian freedom loving counterculture would gradually be hijacked by a combination of strident feminists, supporters of identity politics and promoters of the culture of victimhood, resulting in the oppressive, puritanical and meddling political correctness of today.

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