The following from today’s electronic Grauniad. Not a paper to be sighted regularly here at the Towers, allatsea is more of a ‘Wobblies Monthly’ sort of chap, but the article below, by Charlie Brooker, is both amusing and very thought provoking. It was for this keyboard tapper anyway.
There was a curious moment midway through Sunday’s Bafta ceremony that didn’t quite make it on to TV. Host Graham Norton introduced the traditional “roll call of the dead” VT in which clips and photos of recently deceased TV veterans fade in and out while poignant music yearns away in the background. The first face was Bob Hoskins, prompting a wave of respectful applause through the auditorium. He was followed by a photograph of the writer Eddie Braben.
Eddie Braben, of course, wrote most of Morecambe and Wise’s classic material, and thus deserves at least as much appreciation as Hoskins, but Braben’s wasn’t a familiar face, or at least not familiar enough to prompt a groundswell of applause among a crowd, even a showbiz crowd who really ought to know who he was. The effect was rather eerie, as though he’d somehow been judged not deserving enough.
The silence continued until a more recognisable face popped up in the form of David Frost, permitting people to applaud again. This continued throughout the VT and photos of some director or writer or lesser-known performer would be greeted by a soundless vacuum and general unease. You got the sense everyone present realised it was a bit creepy, applauding some dead people while snubbing others, but by then the pattern was established. To applaud every dead person on the roster would’ve seemed patronising and over-compensatory, or downright ghoulish, like actively cheering on the grim reaper. But the alternative – only applauding the famous ones – turned it into an edition of Corpses Got Talent.
The lesson – if there is one, and I’m hell-bent on pretending there is – is this: crowds crave familiarity. We’ll literally applaud it. That’s why most truly popular things are more predictable than a bowel movement. Soap operas. Pop songs. Talent contests. Chain restaurants. Superhero movies. You know what you’re getting – it’s that thing you like, done the way you like it, with no alarms and no surprises.
Of course, now and then something comes along which breaks the predictable mould, and quickly becomes wildly fashionable partly on account of its sheer novelty. This freak success then spawns imitators until a new formulaic norm is established. Take politics. Not so long ago, “character” politicians were frowned upon. We wanted slick, predictable salesfolk. Then, after about 15 increasingly disillusioning years of that, we suddenly embraced Boris Johnson: Bogus Man of the People. Now we’ve got the sequel, Nigel Farage: Bogus Man of the People 2.
Farage is a bulletproof fusion of novelty and familiarity. Among a crowd of guarded political automatons, he’s Mr Novelty, poking his head through the window like a wacky neighbour in a sitcom, breaking the monotony with some side-splitting anti-Romanian slurs. The news can’t get enough of him, because in TV terms he adds a bit of colour – ironic considering what he represents.
Farage says the unsayable. He says things so unsayable they’re said nigh-on constantly, often in large letters, on the front page of a newspaper. The sayable. He says the sayable. ROMANIAN STEALS WAR MEMORIAL. ONE IN THREE FOREIGNERS ISN’T BRITISH. NOW IT’S HALAL SMARTPHONES. That’s what he says.
All of which means that, as well as being a bit of sore thumb stunt casting, he simultaneously represents familiarity; specifically the cosy familiarity of a world in which you could walk down an English high street without your ears getting bunged up with foreign accents, unless someone was doing a hilarious Gunga Din voice in order to mock the waiter in a curry house.
That world is a corpse, but it’s a corpse that many want to revive, some because they feel financially or culturally threatened, others because they simply don’t get along with our current reality full of lesbian retweeting and so on. When Farage evokes the lovable corpse of the past, people applaud that vague nostalgic thing they like, and the no-nonsense pint-swigging I’m-every-woman former commodities broker reminding them of it.
The combination makes him somewhat unassailable to the mainstream party leaders. The more they criticise Farage, the more of their uncanny lifeforce he absorbs, because his entire schtick relies on seeming different to them, which isn’t all that difficult considering they all look and sound like wind-up waxed pigs possessed by the spirit of Tupperware, harder to relate to on a basic human level than a Playmobil character or a deck chair. Imagine being stuck in a lift with Cameron, Miliband or Clegg. Imagine being stuck in a lift with all of them. Trying to make conversation. Staring at your shoes. A deafening howl building in your head. You’d slash your own throat with a house key after five minutes, whereas at least with Farage you’d last about three minutes longer, until he finally ran out of filthy limericks and started muttering instead about lifts being better in the olden days before they ran on Polish cables and were full of foreign air.
Anyway, back to that death VT. The confused audience response was omitted entirely from the broadcast version, thereby robbing the viewing public of the full effect of this bizarre rank-a-body clap-o-meter of death. Probably just as well. And thank God the deceased were only represented by photographs, because if they’d wheeled their corpses onstage one by one, to be applauded like Crufts finalists, the awkwardness would soon have become unbearable. As would the smell.