Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Of all the right wing's most obvious propaganda techniques, nothing is lamer than its use of the word 'trendy' to denote ideas of which it disapproves. Whenever some bullet-headed government minister wants to characterise a bad teaching method, or to attack social work which he imagines gratuitous, then he attaches the word 'trendy' to the practice, without pausing to consider that in fact it is all the simplistic ideas of the Right which have been so markedly ala mode for the last 20 years. It's pure adjectival trickery, and everyone can see through it. The case for supposing that the welfare state needs to be cut back may fairly be called 'trendy'. You can also use the word to describe the notion that private enterprise always does things better than public. However, the philosophy that insists we have genuine obligations to the poor, or that we need to allow children to develop their own creativity, may seem to you flawed or even misguided. The one thing you cannot call it is 'trendy'.

Something of the same rhetorical pretence now disfigures most writing about pop culture, which seeks to pretend that fans of rock music or the stupider kind of American movie are somehow beleaguered and under constant attack from the much more powerful forces of high culture. What is tiresome about all this pop culture writing - which is now everywhere, in every paper and magazine, every single day of the year - is that it represents itself as putupon and radical. In fact pop culture is so wholly in the ascendant that this kind of mock-defiant chippiness reads as nothing better than a camp kind of triumphalism. At dinner I once sat next to an advertising executive who told me that `the Sunday Times is a much underestimated paper'. This is the rough equivalent of saying that Jeffrey Archer is a much underpublicised author, or that Liz Hurley is a much underphotographed actress. So, too, writers about pop culture keep telling us that they have a grievance. Their favourite area of interest is always undervalued and misunderstood. But nobody's fooled. It's just the sound of the powerful laughing at the powerless. To give you an example: on holiday I made the mistake of reading a whole book about Arnold Schwarzenegger by Nigel Andrews. It was called True Myths. Since Andrews works for the Financial Times he can't resist a self-regarding little introduction in which he describes his friends' outrage that, as the film critic on a supposedly serious newspaper, he should be wasting his time on a figure apparently as crude as Schwarzenegger, rather than devoting himself to the Taviani brothers, or whomever. But all you learn by reading the book is that his friends were right. All Andrews can find to say in 284 pages is that Schwarzenegger used to be a body-builder and that he speaks with a funny accent. In the meanwhile, he has the cheek to invite us to mock French intellectuals because they take Schwarzenegger too seriously. What this kind of book teaches you is that writing about popular culture is actually much more difficult than writing about high culture, because things which are already popular rarely need much explication. What they need is illumination, and that's much harder to provide. The audience instinctively feels it knows much more about the subject than the writer does. Andrews can tell you the plot of Terminator 2. He can even tell you what day his hero got married. What he can't do is hazard a guess as to why so many people like the films, and what that tells us about ourselves. …

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