I was at the physio for my aching back and numb neck the other (they mostly ignore the numb neck though that was why I came in the first place) and I was subjected to presssure to say that things were getting better. This is less tight than last time, said Ben, the physio. I did not point out that last time another physio had seen me (Flo) and this was the first time Ben had set eyes on me or my back. We can see improvements he said. Can we? I thought. I suppose over a three or four session block (this is the NHS) they are asked to create what people nowadays like to call a narrative with a happy ending. If my back has a narrative I’d opt more for the Waiting for Godot option.
This reminds me of one time when I was in Paris and a man heard me speaking English and asked me to come to a restaurant where they were shooting a Gordon Ramsay programme for British TV. I went. Ramsay was standing gracelessly outside the place, scowling at everyone. We were served a rotten meal, offered by the waiter a choice of red wine or white wine (talk of dumbing down) and then I was even presented with a bill (I had at least expected it to be a free meal). I asked the waiter what the programme was called and was informed: Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Oh cheers, you might have told me. As I was leaving I could see cameras set up for interviews with diners. I asked one of the production team if they wanted me to give my opinion about what I thought of the meal. No thanks, they said. What I had just eaten was the improved menu cooked up by Gordon Ramsay. This restaurant had already been turned around. My opinion, if it were negative, would not have fit into their narrative. The telly format is that the expert in cooking, personal makeover, house makeover, life makeover, whatever, operates an improvement. The implication is that our expertise is unimpeachable. We’re still asked to believe that the bankers know what they’re doing. Why this insistance on the inevitable upbeat outcome? I too am a believer in incremental effort as the best way forward to improvement, but only a fool or a propagandist would believe the narratives we’re fed. It is an example of form dictating content. We jam anything we do into the same brightly coloured box. And Ben, my neck is still numb!