Magazine article The Spectator

Mandatory Fun

Magazine article The Spectator

Mandatory Fun

Article excerpt

Forced, studenty wackiness has taken over our culture. It's time to take a stand

At Glastonbury in 2000 I noticed two young men both wearing enormous Y-fronts and carrying an even bigger pair with the word 'pants' written on it. They both looked miserable as you would if you'd come up with the idea while drunk and then found yourself stuck like that for the duration of the festival. Some of the more thuggish elements jeered and threw beer cans.

Seven years later, at another festival I attended, they wouldn't have attracted a second glance, because dressing up had become ubiquitous. This year, seven years on from that, far from being weird, wearing Y-fronts superhero-style over your trousers is all the rage -- not just at festivals but out and about in normal life. It's the latest charity fund-raising craze, and come Christmas you'll be a party pooper if your pants aren't on display.

Of course, the odd eccentric has always done wacky things for charity: bathed in baked beans or run a marathon in a gorilla suit. The difference with Movember, the ice bucket challenge or the new fashion for Superman Pants is that the wackiness is communal, almost compulsory. It's become the default setting for the British at play.

Weddings have caught the 'wacky' bug. I know a bride who came down the aisle to the 'Imperial March' from Star Wars. At others there have been dressing-up boxes, even animals from petting zoos. Architecture is at it too: why have elegant buildings when you could have the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater or the Walkie Talkie?

It's at work and in the world of advertising, though, that wackiness is most pernicious, and most tiresomely knowing. The staff at Pret A Manger are encouraged to banter with customers -- exhausting when all you want is your morning coffee handed over. The mission statement for O2, the telephone company, is 'Be more dog.' When you get the bill at a Hotel du Vin it comes on a bit of paper labelled 'The Damage'.

Worst of all are the corporate Twitter accounts with a brief to be funny which then interact with other corporate accounts. There was a particularly appalling exchange last year between Tesco, Yorkshire Tea and Cadburys . Buzz-feed picked it up and deemed it hilarious. They move fast, these crazy marketing people: no sooner had an American tourist been trapped overnight in Waterstones Trafalgar Square than they announced a 'sleep-over' in the shop. …

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