The rural myth

It is common to use ideas of natural landscape and idealised rural life to depict the British countryside. Photographs are often devoid of human activity and people are allowed to intrude only as strategically placed visual cues or as solitary bucolic figures tending sheep on remote hillsides.

The rural myth pervades modern life and immediately invokes a sense of a better, quieter time when communities were small and everything was in harmony.  Advertisers use it constantly and when images are combined with words like ‘natural’ it becomes almost irresistible.

The myth has many facets including an unspoken yet immensely powerful notion of nationhood. It has become a form of shorthand for everything that was good in some golden age when people helped each other, crime was low and food unadulterated. When such ideas are used to sell the countryside it is seen as the very fabric of what makes us who we are and thus offers the perfect escape from modern life. The land is seen as a place for recreation and solace.

What the myth cannot include are the realities of rural life past and present. It cannot show anything that is not perfect and it cannot include the people who use and shape the land as that would conflict with ideas of the ‘natural’.

The fact that the land has been shaped by human activity for thousands of years is either ignored or at best used to enhance tourist attractions. To fit the myth farming is defined by old photographs showing working horses and a slower, idyllic way of life. Villages are depicted as small, quaint and self-supporting where residents all know and help each other making a perfect society with no space for conflict. In reality modern rural communities rely on a diverse range of work and people to sustain them. The complexities of modern life in rural areas are very similar to those of urban living but with added factors like harsh weather and remoteness from services.

The rural myth cannot include is anything that is seen to despoil the landscape. What the myth ignores is that human beings have used the land for thousands of years and left marks of their activity. At best they will incorporated into the myth by being treated as historic places to visit.

© Colin Shaw 2014. All rights reserved, written permission MUST be obtained before reproduction or copying in any form including copying of material to other web sites, blogs, email lists or any other electronic media by whatever means. crs@colinshaw.co.uk


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