The Corner

Pop-Culture Was Filth?

The Gracie Fields song I included clips of in today’s Radio Derb is actually titled “The Biggest Aspidistra in the World.” Lyrics here. Aspidistra here. The song was a music-hall (=Vaudeville) standard in England in the 1930s. Gracie Fields made it famous.

Does it employ double entendre? You bet. Music halls were places of low — sometimes very low — entertainment. When their productions reached the radio or recording studio, they had to be considerably toned down to evade the censors. People of my parents’ generation, though, would tell you that when Gracie sang “Biggest Aspidistra” on the music-hall stage, she left you in absolutely no doubt what she was singing about. There’s a wisp of that, I think, in Gracie’s rapturous murmuring at the very end of the second clip I included.

So has pop culture always been filth? I’d argue not. Even in the music-halls, there were understood boundaries the performers had to observe, or face prosecution. You may think that double entendre is a species of filth, and you may be right; but at least it demanded a certain wit and style from performers, and certain powers of discernment and irony on the part of the audience. If it was filth, it was clever, subtle filth.

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