Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Iconic Sanctity

Don't worry. The title isn't a belated attempt at a googlewhack.

There was a discussion on the radio yesterday morning (BBC Radio Bristol) about the Massive Attack gig on Clifton Downs last Saturday. I was phoned to offer an opinion.

During the course of the debate one contributor (who was clearly against it ever having happened) suggested that Clifton Downs is 'an iconic place' and its 'sanctity' should not be spoiled in this way.

I won't rehearse the for and against of the gig. I was there. It was wet. It was enjoyable. It was not my experience that it was badly organised but it was for some.

I want to discuss being iconic. For me the use of the word 'iconic' in this way suggests a thing that can be made to stand for something larger. When you see a picture of it you think of the bigger picture. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is iconic. An image of it across the gorge stands for Bristol. Maybe with balloons flying over it. I don't think the Downs pass this test. A picture of the Downs does not speak of Bristol. I could not pick our Downs out of a downs line-up.

Secondly 'sanctity'. This word has two uses. The first is 'holy' or 'sacred'. I don't think this is true of the Downs. Second is 'ultimate importance and inviolability'. I imagine this is what the speaker refers to.

How do places become ultimately important and inviolable? Shared memories? Repeat events? Unique use? And what places a gig for 20,000 people on the no list but Sunday football and dog-walking on the yes?

I don't think the caller is saying anything more than 'I don't like this kind of thing'. I do.

Cathedrals are iconic and places of sanctity. But if they didn't have event-memories soaked into the bricks they would be nothing.

The big wheel keeps on turning
On a simple line day by day
The earth spins on its axis
One man struggle while another relaxes.

(Hymn of the Big Wheel - Massive Attack)

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