Canon Reloaded: images of London – reality over the centuries

Canon ReloadedI came across the excellent Canon Reloaded text at the Brisbane conference. Held by the Australian Literacy Educators Association and the Australian Association of Teachers of English, publishers often reveal new publications at this national event.

The text, written by Jacqueline Grassmayr and published by Cambridge Education, is beautifully presented and allows teachers to dip into different eras and concepts. Although aimed at the junior high class room, there are many starting points for senior students who have had a limited exposure to important classics. Sharing this resource in the staff room, I found myself listening to my Head Teacher reciting William Blake’s London. As the vivid images came, I found myself thinking of Lily Allen’s music video and how both texts present similar ideas through different techniques. Actually, the wikipedia page ( suggests that Blake’s poem may have been inspirational. The basis of some comparative exercises on representation?

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Read the poem here, then find an analysis of LDN.

London (1794)

I wander thro’ each chartered street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.


In every cry of every man,

In every Infant’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:


How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry

Every blackning Church appalls,

And the hapless Soldier’s sigh,

Runs in blood down Palace walls.


But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlot’s curse

Blasts the new-born Infant’s tear

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Ldn 1Released in 2006, Version 2 of the LDN music video was directed by Nima Nourizadeh. A mix of performative and narrative styles, we follow Allen as she sings and walks down urban streets where different situations from the lyrics are enacted. The following points cover the three modes – music, lyric and film – that could be included in analytical paragraphs:

  • opens with Allen talking on mobile phone, arranging a meeting, while in music shop
  • discussion with retailers requesting various musical genres suggests a self-reflexive reference to her own style; could be considered a parody or hyperbole, particularly the repeated reference to different ‘beat’ styles

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  • as Allen exits the store, we are introduced to the main elements of juxtaposition that becomes a motif throughout the video: the screen wipe with exaggerated bulging and blurring, suggesting a fantasy perspective
  • this is accompanied by brass instruments in a cheery fanfare indicating happiness at the pending encounter
  • first person lyrics, using slang – filth – and colloquial terms reinforce Allen’s views and position the audience to agree with, and accept, her interpretation of everyday life in London

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  • Allen’s overbright red maxi dress and sparkling earrings accentuate her sunny disposition supported by her sweet voice and positive lyrical sentiments: sun is in the sky oh why oh why would I wanna be anywhere else?
  • these ideas are repeated, and could be the result of her optimistic world view as she heads toward her rendezvous

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  • the upbeat melody and brass beat, coupled with the sarcastic lyrics become obviously incongruous with the experience of contemporary city life as scenes and situations in Allen’s wake shift to a dull, bleak and harsh reality

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  • this incongruity is enhanced by Allen’s combination of sneakers, albeit neat and clean, with the maxi dress more easily associated with evening wear and typically paired with evening shoes or heels

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  • as Allen walks, a series of close ups reveal the shift from everyday items to sinister examples of refuse, such as used syringes, cigarette butts and dog excrement

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  • joyfully Allen sings ‘You might laugh, you might frown, walking round London town’ which offers listeners a choice in their reaction to city life and echoes the images explored in Blake’s poem
  • she further suggests that people may choose to notice the poverty, degradation and indignity of modern cities ‘When you look with your eyes, everything seems nice, But if you look twice, you can see it’s all lies’. These lyrics use assonance (by repeating the ‘i’ vowel sounds) to aid the cheerful pace, but the repetition of the word ‘lies’ and ‘city lies’ reminds us of the negative impact of living in large urban spaces

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  • increasingly surreal fantasy elements, such as a purple moon, penny farthing and parrot, serves as hyperbole for Allen’s unrealistic perspective of city life, influenced by her expectations of the ultimate meeting that we expect will be with her lover, perhaps characterised as a ‘saviour’ or Prince Charming

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  • Allen eventually reaches her destination, only to find that the other person can no longer make the meeting. Her obvious disappointment is shown in the shift away from bright jewelry ‘bling’ to a dull outlook and eventual kicking of bagged rubbish

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