The Bright Young Things

Watched an interesting documentary about the Bright Young Things of the 1920s and early 30s this morning.

Basically the emergence of a group of hedonistic, frivolous, image-obsessed rich kids after the first world war. They weren’t just any rich kids though, they were the upper class, Eton and Oxford educated children of the landed gentry. Having watched a Jane Austin adaptation the day before, it struck me that in some ways they were brave class reformers. They rejected the strict rules of social behaviour dictated by their class. They threw off the sensibilities which constrained their freedom- embracing and celebrating homosexuality and to an extent women’s liberation, but ultimately their protest only concerned itself with freedom for themselves. They remained a detached an elitist group, continuing to publicly snort cocaine, and throw fabulous parties whilst the great depression led thousands of unemployed workers to march on London…

So a bit of a random historical anecdote to add to the discussions on how victories against sexism and homophobia can happen in the context of increased economic inequality.  Worth a watch. Not something I’d given much thought to before…


6 thoughts on “The Bright Young Things

  1. Good point, well made. In the interests of equality (and to guard against the possibility that we become the hedonistic, frivolous, image-obsessed rich kids of the 2010s) I suggest we all join this

    On a similar topic, I know a couple of people who have decided to limit their earnings to the average wage. Since they’re all doctors they’re well above that already, so are engaged in a frenzy of charitable & political giving to bring themselves back down. Thoughts?

  2. Second point first – that’s incredible. Not sure I’ve heard anything like it. Which is why we need bathhouses.

    Do they work for the NHS?

  3. First point second, seeing as I seem to have gone on something of an LRB binge, I read a clunking review of The Spirit Level (which you can find here: ). Incidentally I hadn’t heard of the Equality Trust before. The book, and the trust, seem to set out a clear doctrine for the, well, ‘betterness’ of equality.

    Here’s a quote from The Spirit Level, I like it. ‘For several decades progressive politics have been seriously weakened by the loss of any concept of a better society. People have argued for piecemeal improvements in different areas of life . . . But nowhere is there a popular movement capable of inspiring people with a vision of how to make society a substantially better place to live for the vast majority. Without that vision, politics will rarely provoke more than a yawn.’

    So, a popular movment then bathhousers? NOT Avaaz. NOT only writing to our MP’s as the Equality Trust suggests. So, what?

    Sahil, what do you think about economic democracy? (

    Katy, did you see Johann Hari on newsnight a couple of evenings ago? Go to, the comments are about 3 mins 50 secs in. He’s debating with Anne Atkins on the increase in violent crime relating to homophobia during the recession. He’s brilliant.

  4. I’m beginning to dispair about popular movement (I’m aware this contradicts my ramble on the other post). If, to be popular, you have to submitt to the dominant cultural trends, then it seems popular movements will forever be conservative. Look at the highjacking of make poverty history, as it sought and found popularism over legitimacy. Maybe we should leave it to government to be popular leaving us to be elitist radicals? History is of course a tale of class struggle (though class in a much broader sense than the swp lets is imagine) but those struggles tend to be marginal and disparate. Like katy’s work at msf will more likely be a marginal rather than populist struggle to reform access to medicines, but could be a powerful vehicle for an important social change.

  5. Just to emphasise, I meant conservative with a small c, in my comment above. Also, to contradict myself again, I think it’s fantastic what will’s mates are doing, but surely there could not be a more Tory concept of equality than voluantary donations like that. I really think equality is about how people enter the work place rather than how they get paid. Which is why I see unions as pivotal, but so dated.

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