The Modern Review – By @lucyannp_

By Lucy Pennock


The Modern Review

As I stumble down the stairs and make my morning coffee I pick up an old copy of the Modern Review dated 1997. It’s the No.2 issue and a young-looking Tony Blair burns in flames on the front cover. It’s in good condition but the slightly fuzzy, grainy images and bold, over stretched typeface gives away that the magazine’s over a decade old.  
‘Like any publication which aspires to policing the zeitgeist, the Modern Review is reactive. We cannot dictate what happens, but we can provide a critical response which isn’t blunted by the imperative to always “be constructive” […] The Modern Review is a monitor, not a think-tank or a government commission, and as such can give no assurance that our writers thoughts will always be positive.’ 
That’s what Julie Burchill wrote in reaction to a critic, who despite liking the debut issue was overly concerned it was too negative for its mass audience. As I read on I recognise the names of well-known journalists. Decca Aitkenhead, Peter Bradshaw and Nick Cohen. Friends and old colleagues of Charlotte’s, whose article has been discretely torn out of the magazine. Pages 48-49 missing in-between a Donna Karen and a Motorola advert. She’s probably had it framed and hung up somewhere in her bathroom. I run upstairs to check. A series of framed magazine covers hang silently on the tiled walls but the article’s not there. However, there is a striking front cover that catches my attention. Ginger Spice limply hanging with a noose around her neck headlined “Swinging London”. Crikey. Now that’s some bold art direction. 
For those of you who don’t know Charlotte is my extremely cool older house-mate. I moved in with her and her family back in September when I started SCA and it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had so far. As I walk back down to the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time, I remember Charlotte briefly telling me about her journalistic background when I first moved inShe said that when she first met the trio who conceived the publication their intention for the magazine was to always cover low-culture for high-brows. To write about popular culture in an “academic” way that no one had really done before commercially. To give Roland Barthes and Bart Simpson equal cultural weight by not dismissing one or the other but to merge them inexplicably into one zeitgeist. I didn’t really understand what she meant until I read up about it.
From what I deciphered from Wikipedia, the Modern Review basically redrew the cultural map of writing at the time. It changed the coverage of cultural events and literature in England, opening up appreciation of a broader range of material. Soon the broadsheets were creating ‘Culture’ sections in the papers and poaching the magazine’s writers. But for someone born in the 90s that to me was really fascinating. I grew up with culture sections in newspapers, magazine supplements arriving with my Dad’s weekend Times, columns talking about sex, music, art and celebs. I didn’t know any different. But back then the papers only talked about politics and the news. Boring stuff I guess you could say. I’m presuming there was never really opinion pieces or comment sections in The Evening Standard – some of my favourite pages when I’m reading it on the tube after school. 
But back to my point – for the time it was novel. And that’s cool. I keep reading the issue, flicking between the old 90s adverts that are just as fascinating as the writing. An old Apple advert. A Tequila advert. A Bombay Saphire Gin double-page spread. Copy was a lot more prominent back in the 90s I think to myself. No one ever reads copy now. Shame that. I read on. Amused by the outlandish headlines of Julie Birchall but also nodding along in agreement with some of the points she makes. Her explanation about dope is my favourite.
“There has never been a better time to be a child-molester. It is a fact that men want to have sex with children in a way and on a scale that women don’t.” […] “Intellectuals speak as individuals on issues like social exclusion, but they’re far from being a part of any culture of resistance.” […] “Dope will do much worse than turn you into your parents, most of whom are quite good fun anyway. Dope will turn you into your dog. Yes, dope will turn you into a big, bouncing mutt, someone who finds everything funny but who never turns a witty line. Dope will make you want to eat and sleep and sit through Neighbours twice a day, and dope will invest the sofa with a near mystical importance.”
I don’t know why I decided to write a SCAB about a 90s magazine. But it sparked something nostalgic within me and lighted up my imagination I guess. The 90s was one of the most exciting cultural periods of its time. It took off! Quite literally. As much as I loved being a child in the 90s and early millennials I think about what it would have been like to be in my early twenties like I am now. Working in advertising and the media was far more lucrative than it is now. It was an era of decadence and exuberance that the last decade has somewhat lost. We’re more uptight, health conscious and boring than ever before. We’ve lost that spark of rebellion and counter culture that the 90s seemed to ignite. We’ve lost our sense of humour! Especially in advertising. Or that’s just what I think anyway. Anyway, who knows, I’m just a snowflake millennial who has anxiety, complains a lot, has no money and doesn’t ever have sex. So who am I to judge? But if I could time travel back to 1997 for a day I think I just might. 

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