The Null Device

Giles Coren rails against escapism

The Times' Giles Coren (who's sort of like a more highbrow Jeremy Clarkson or something) has a terrific rant against the whole notion that, in times of economic hardship, what we need is low-brow escapism:
Escapism is an illusion. Escapism is what has got us into this mess. Buying on credit, from the tiddliest MasterCard lunch you couldn't really afford to billion-dollar leveraged buyouts, is, when you boil it down, just escapism - avoiding any sort of engagement with objective reality and doing something just because it feels good at the time. Like a child might do. Or a monkey.
If you had at least read a bit of Tolstoy, you might have expanded your mind a little. If, instead of watching all those reality shows, you had learnt Japanese, you would be in a better position to remain in work. And if, rather than calling radio phone-ins to say that Len Goodman is a spoilsport, you had learnt the French horn, you would, if nothing else, be able to play your children a bit of Mozart while they sit shivering round the last candle in the house.
I cannot tell you how furious I am with these people who seem to think they should be given back the money they spent on voting for John Sergeant. Anyone to whom a single pound represents a significant, useful quantity of money, and who spent it on a celebrity game show vote, should have his or her assets frozen immediately - under the counter-terrorism laws if need be. Their children should be taken into care. And they should have their credit cards melted and moulded into a stick with which they should be flogged until they bleed.
It was the fat years that made us lazy, dumbed us down, replaced great television with a series of reality shows and killed literature to make room for celebrity whingeing and kiddy books repackaged for adults. It is no coincidence that the publication cycle of Harry Potter, from the first book to the seventh, marked almost exactly the years of economic growth. It is a fat, lazy race that turns its brain off as a prelude to cultural engagement.
The original article was a response to a "scandal" to do with the voting on a BBC celebrity dancing programme, which came a few weeks after the BBC was involved in another scandal, to do with Russell Brand (a supposed comedian whose shtick seems to be "I'm a wild and crazy guy who thinks with his balls") leaving obscene messages on Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs' answering machine. Which does bring to mind the question of why is the BBC spending licence-payers' funds on putting out such drivel. Has the commercial media somehow failed at providing viewers with lowbrow junk food for the eyes, a failure which requires the intervention of an institution such as the BBC? Are its lofty Reithian principles of broadcasting as something to educate and elevate seen as too stodgy or snobbish or out of touch with the new democracy of the lowest common denominator? Has neo-Thatcherite everything-is-a-market fundamentalism and New Labour's image-driven culture redefined the BBC's mission in terms of competing for eyeballs with the Murdochs and lad mags in an orgy of sensationalism? Is there a secret compact between New Labour and News Corp. to let the public down gently, transforming a cherished and lofty institution through gradual neglect into just another peddler of celebrity scandal, so that the formerly unthinkable step of selling it off comes, the public, voting with their pocketbooks, will be all for it?

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