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In 24 Hour Party People, Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan) has the following exchange with a music journalist: "How do you respond to charges that Joy Division are a neo-Nazi band?" "Are you not aware of situationalism? Postmodernism? Haven't … Read More

By / November 30, 2006

In 24 Hour Party People, Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan) has the following exchange with a music journalist:

"How do you respond to charges that Joy Division are a neo-Nazi band?" "Are you not aware of situationalism? Postmodernism? Haven't you heard of the free play of signs and signifiers?"

But it wasn't so much the naming of the post-punk quartet after a squad of female sex slaves in Nazi concentration camps, or giving dun-colored uniforms worn by a cropped and hard-featured Ian Curtis on stage in Manchester in the late seventies, that evokes ominous politics as much as "World in Motion" by Joy Division's successor band, the no less provocatively titled New Order (minus Curtis, who committed suicide.)

The song was commissioned by the Football Association in 1990 to celebrate English patriotism — if not quite populist nationalism — for the World Cup, which was staged in Italy that year. You may recall some of the media hiccups over German ruffians nostalgic for the Hitler-hosted Olympics in last summer's World Cup. The allusions to the Allied/Axis conflict replaying itself all over again through sport were even more nail-bitingly made in 1990.

The English team was actually sequestered on the island of Sardinia — home to the most feral species of boar, mind you — due to the fear that heavy boozing and drug-use would make them violent. Italian counter-terrorism forces were actually enlisted to monitor the Anglo strikers, with the full consent of the Conservative Minister of Sport back in London who fretted that his countrymen, whose clubs had been banned in 1985 from competing in European games after the notorious 'Heysel disaster' in Brussels, were to once more become pariahs and personas non grata on the continent.

The climate was ripe for an "incident." Margaret Thatcher's regressive poll tax had galvanized class antagonism at home; the twilight of Soviet dominion signaled at least one loss of postwar English purpose abroad; and the first rattles of the strange death of Tory England were beginning to be felt — all combining to create a frisson in English society, especially in the working-class industrial Midland cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The Union Jack and soccer hooliganism are more or less bywords for the BNP-style neo-fascism that's still quite visible and smellable in Albion. It was good of a band juggling enough complicated iconography as it was to insist on keeping the sports anthem — which became a veritable national anthem — all about love. Here is Barney Sumner, lead singer of New Order:

At one stage, the Football Association came to us and made it clear that the song really had to distance itself from hooliganism. Hence our line, 'Love's got the world in motion.' It's an anti-hooligan song. There's a deliberate ambiguity about the words which don't have to refer to football. I think you're right when you say that pop and football culture are nearer than they've been in years. And from our point of view, there's been a football element in our fans for about the last six years. Even so, there was no way I could have written the lyrics. I really couldn't write a football lyric.

Here's the chorus of "World in Motion":

Love's got the world in motion and I know what we can do; love's got the world in motion and I can't believe it's true.

There's also an anti-hooliganism rap midway through the tune. The video is extremely low-grade and camp, but that's far better than something a po-faced Leni Riefenstahl might have come up with.

For more on "World in Motion" and the 1990 World Cup, check out this learned essay on the New Order website.

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