THE spotlight in recent weeks has been on 1914, but Bright
Lights, Brilliant Minds: A tale of three cities (BBC4,
Wednesday of last week) focused attention six years earlier. Dr
James Fox showed what a crucial part events in Vienna that year
played in the genesis of the Great War.
Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was vibrant
with new ideas. Modern architecture challenged the classic
decorated styles. Young artists such as Schiele and Kokoschka
caused a stir with works that were born of a dark realism. The
composer Schoenberg plumbed similar dark depths in his atonal
music. The thousand coffee-shops were centres of artistic and
political argument. And, hard at work in his consulting-room,
Sigmund Freud was trying to map the unconscious psychic life that,
he believed, drove human behaviour.
At the same time, there was another Vienna - a city of
prostitutes living in crowded brothels, and of such poverty that
thousands of people found nowhere to live but the sewers of the
city. Unrest grew, but the mayor found a scapegoat in its
influential Jewish population. Wealthy Jews were denounced. Jewish
schoolteachers were sacked.
At the same time, a budding artist, Adolf Hitler, was rejected
by the Academy of Fine Art, and, instead, turned his attention to
the politics of power.
To cap it all, the Austrian Empire annexed the neighbouring
Balkan state Bosnia-Herzegovina, setting in train events that led
to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 and - well, we
all know what. Within ten years, the old Europe had gone for
Britain's Compulsive Shoppers (BBC1, Thursday of last
week) was a sympathetic exploration of the world of the addicted
purchaser. The presenter, Jasmine Harman, explored the experiences
of three shopping addicts: a young woman, Dipna; a mother of two
teenage boys, Ebony; and an older man, Dene. The only thing they
had in common was the "rush" that they got from completing a
purchase - an experience that an addiction consultant compared to
Dipna, who spends £8000 a year on shopping, reckoned that she
had perhaps 3000 handbags, and more clothes than she could ever
wear. Ebony could not resist a bargain of any kind: boxes full of
toys and household items filled her small house to overflowing.
"The pleasure is the purchase, no matter what it is." Her current
debt is £15,000.
Dene's addiction was to online purchases, mostly through eBay.
His wife said that he was often up until four in the morning trying
to complete a bid for an item. His house is also full of unwanted
goods, because, once they are bought, he loses interest in
Harman's approach was sensitive rather than judgemental. Guided
by the consultant, she proposed various possible remedies, but
Dipna could see no problem (she is subsidised by her wealthy
parents). Ebony tried working to a shopping list, but gave up after
a fortnight ("It's boring"). But Dene did take positive steps,
cancelling his eBay account and, with it, all online shopping. But
then he wasn't buying handbags.