Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistence Since the Sixties

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Verso Books, Jun 17, 1996 - History - 224 pages
Welcome to the social and environmental devastation that is Britain in 1996. Welcome to interchangeable political parties and their chattering media jesters pulling together to make Johnny Rotten’s dream come true: no future. But despite their best efforts, fear, cynicism and the National Lottery aren’t the whole story. Protest hasn’t disappeared during the last twenty years, and nor have solidarity and imagination. They have simply taken new forms; they have moved out and moved on. More and more people, young people especially, are making a virtue of necessity and living outside Britain’s rotting institutional fabric. Travelers, tribes, ravers or squatters, direct-action protesters of every kind, DIYers. This book is the first attempt to write their history, to explore and to celebrate their endlessly creative senselessness.

George McKay looks back at the hippies of the sixties and punks of the seventies, and shows how their legacies have been transformed into what he calls cultures of resistance. His journey through the undergrounds of the last two decades take us from the Windsor Free Festival of 1972 to the Castlemorton Free Rave Megaparty exactly twenty years later, from the anarchopunk band Crass via Teepee Valley and Glastonbury to today’s ever-intensifying anti-road protests, and to the widespread opposition to the Criminal Justice Act.

Drawing on fanzines and free papers, record lyrics, interviews and diaries, Senseless Acts of Beauty gives a vivid, insider account of countercultures, networks and movements that until now have remained largely unrecorded. At the same time, George McKay analyzes their effects, and gives his own answers to the questions they pose: what are their politics, their aspirations, their consequences? One thing is certain, he argues: if there is resistance anywhere in Britain today, then it is here, in the beat-up buses, beleaguered squats and tree-top barricades, that we should start to look for it.

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About the author (1996)

George McKay is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Salford, UK, where he is Director of the Communication, Cultural & Media Studies Research Centre. He writes on alternative cultures and identities—‘cultural studies with a soundtrack’ is how his website puts it—and his books include DiY Culture, Senseless Acts of Beauty, Glastonbury: A Very English Fair, Community Music: A Handbook (co-edited with Pete Moser), Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism & Rebellion in the Garden, and Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability. He maintains his own website at

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