Here at the cutting edge of anthropological research, one has to espouse one's thesis with vigour. Try this proposition for starters, then : Morris Dancers evolved from humans some time during the 1950s.
There are, of course, two prevalent theories about Morris Dancing. They are perfectly incompatible with each other. At first impression, this new theory is incompatible with both of them.
According to one well-known theory, Morris Dancing is alive and well, and represents an ancient ritual that is actually performed by humans. The second widely-accepted theory holds instead that Morris Dancers are technically extinct, and survive only in artificial environments such as Cotswolds craft-fairs.
It is indeed highly probable that Morris Dancers are no longer capable of reproducing themselves. Their mating rituals have become so elaborate and arcane, in fact, that the female of the species would rather die than have sex with them. It's more than twenty years since Herefordshire social workers reported the existence of a small population of elderly kaftan-sporting druid-talisman-fashioning females who sporadically consorted with Morris Men when paralytic.
Now, into this maelstrom of warring academic principles comes a concept so radical that it threatens to explain the enigma of Morris Dancing in its entirety. It will also resolve many of the burning questions surrounding the English Folk Music Tradition in the process. Ladies and Gentlemen, Learned Colleagues, prepare to become the first recipients of the Grand Unified Theory of Morris Dancing.
In order to comprehend the subtle axioms of this astounding new theory, we must first accept that the 1950s were a Very Long Time Ago. Almost no survivors of that time are with us today, and those few that remain are severely degraded in their intellectual capacities. Their senility is exemplified by the fact that it is common for people born before 1950 to believe that tennis balls should be white. Many of them also subscribe to the inexplicable notion that Gordon Brown doesn't know what he's talking about, since Britain actually adopted the European currency early in the 70s.
Small wonder then, that someone at the time became convinced that Englishmen were an endangered species. (He was called Cecil, to boot, which must in itself have fuelled his susceptibility to self-delusion).
In the long centuries Before Sharp, Morris Dancing had carried on without any particular need for emergency resuscitation. It had grown out of some pagan fertility ritual or other, and had survived everyone forgetting what all that was about, exactly. It had prospered in spite of being branded as sinful by a whole series of latter-day cults of a killjoy kidney. By Sharp's own time, it was even successfully negotiating the trauma brought about by the use of Mr Bill Haley's name during an episode of The Archers.
So why was something as daft as Morris Dancing practically eternal? Simple. Because it was justified and founded in the simple virtues of ale, and of bright-eyed and peach-cheeked young beauties eager to discover the Joy of Life.
Cecil Sharp tragically failed to appreciate that the one way to destroy something as indestructable as this was to surgically remove the licentious bits and then pickle it in academe.
The Grand Unified Theory of Morris Dancing is not, therefore, written and bound in a twenty-thousand word thesis. It has no bloated bibliography. It isn't even really about Morris Dancing. The bells and handkerchiefs are merely a symbol for something deeper.
There are only two axioms, in fact:
- If someone tries to tell you that popular music has to be contemporary and is somehow connected with fashion, just ignore them. They'll grow out of it.
- If someone tries to tell you, on the other hand, that popular music is a vital link with our past that simply must be preserved, then you are quite at liberty to cut their throat and fling them down a mineshaft, or to employ some similarly traditional way of getting rid of people.
You are encouraged to sing about any such act of justified slaying, of course, but you must on no account write down the words. Bar-stool oratory is arguably inadmissible as evidence in a court of law, whereas they'll get you with the transcription for certain. A more fundamental reason to rely on word-of-mouth recounting, however, is that popular culture is not particularly enhanced by the David Attenborough treatment, in case you hadn't noticed.
Perhaps you understand those strange urges of yours a little better now. It's because you're English (assuming of course that you are English. If you're not, though, it's improbable that you've read this far).
Provided that you're English, it's perfectly normal to:
- Find Lord Robert Winston creepy and voyeuristic
- Feel occasional compulsions to smash things
- Resist these compulsions with thrombosis-inducing ferocity
- Refuse to admit to yourself, let alone to anyone else, that you actually quite like folk music
- Sing through your nose in private
So, next time you encounter Morris Dancing, remember that it's only the bucolic equivalent of playing squash, ie an alternative to sexual activity indulged in by the repressed. Once you've recognised this, then you'll understand that analysis is prurient.
If it comes to this, do what I did. Leave it alone. Go and have a couple of pints. Better yet, have a couple more and then try it yourself.
That's as far as I've taken all this as yet. The chap with the funny accent said my half-hour was up. I plan to do some more research next week, though; same time, same couch, same price.