John Osborne has been variously termed (amongst other things) an angry young man, a socialist, a conservative and a wilful artistic iconoclast. His position in 1950s drama has been, alternately, de-emphasised and over-emphasised. Randall Stevenson is critical of his dominant position in dramatic histories of the post-war period (c.f. The Last of England); by contrast, the contemporary critic Kenneth Allsopp was utterly convinced of his central importance. His treatment of female characters and nostalgic attachment to imperial values lends itself to a critique of his work as inherently backward, quasi-imperialist, sexist and unreconstructed. Yet his key 1950s work — particularly The Entertainer — represents various strands of a sensibility in British popular culture, extending from the Movement writings of the previous chapter, through to the Beatles, and on to 1970s drama, the Smiths and beyond. The cynic sensibility — drawing on Peter Sloterdijk’s dictum that “modern cynicism presents itself as that state of consciousness that follows after naive ideologies and their enlightenment” (Critique of Cynical Reason 3) — occurs in the wake of the death of overarching grand narratives. It entails synthesising an engagement with popular culture across traditional high and low cultural lines, an overall disengagement from direct political action and a Bohemian/quasi-Romantic attachment to the role of the artist.
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