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British Pop Culture’s Ambivalent Relationship with Margaret Thatcher: A Retrospective

As you’ve no doubt heard, Margaret Thatcher died this morning, leading to a flood of internet coverage of her divisive years in power and her legacy. The serious commentary is best left to our friends across the Atlantic (if you’re after such, we recommend David Stubbs’ coruscating obituary for the The Quietus.) We’ll limit ourselves to a survey of how the Thatcher era manifested in popular culture — and for all that plenty of outlets have published articles today about anti-Thatcher songs, etc., the truth is rather more nuanced — for every “Margaret on the Guillotine” or “The Day That Thatcher Dies,” there’s a Thatcherite pop star waiting in the wings. Anyway, here’s a brief look at how the Thatcher years and the woman herself have been depicted in popular culture, both at the time and the benefit of hindsight.

Elvis Costello — “Shipbuilding”

The Falklands war was the tipping point for Thatcher’s popularity, and also the tipping point for musical opposition to her government. There were plenty of songs written about the war — our pick is Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding,” a composition about the conflict that captures the sort of quietly bewildered sadness that comes with being a pacifist in a country that’s suddenly marching to a militantly patriotic beat. (We’re sure we remember reading somewhere that the song was banned during the Falklands War for undermining national morale, although we can’t find any confirmation of this on the internet — does anyone know?)

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