It all started to go wrong with monotheism. One god controlling us all; one world view; one way of doing things. It was so much better with the multiple gods of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome with their suite of gods of the hearth and home, for love, for communication. It was even nice that you could create your own gods. Emperor Augustus given an upgrade. Caligula giving himself a (maybe premature) upgrade. The more you spread the power the better. In fact, so called primitive beliefs and superstitions often do a good job. I remember many years ago someone asked me where and when I was born. A week later she gave me a cassette with a 90 minutes analysis of my sun sign, rising sign, the situation of the moon and planets at the time of my birth. For the first time I was described as “difficult”. I had never seen myself as “difficult”, always seen myself as a simple open type. Just the proposal of another pointed alternative struck me hard. It made me look at my life in a different way. We do not have ways of looking at ourselves; we need a filter to examine our own behaviour. There are other ways of doing it. Reading a novel you live a vicarious life via the adventures of a protagonist. Identifying or not identifying with a character in a film. Subconsciously, through this process of identification, we undertake an auto-analysis. Without these filters it is difficult. Astrology is useful fun. Much more useful than the notion of the one Big Brother god.
These days you have to be a master logician to unpick your own moral or ethical standpoint on most issues. You’ll be pleased to know that advertizing has got wind of this and is delighting in complicating the unravelling. I have never liked the National Lottery. True, you have a slim chance of winning a pile of money and the money goes to causes you might like (you might like shovelling money into that new opium of the people that is sport) but, on the other hand, it fosters a chancer’s approach to life and it takes its money from those people who do not have it to spare. Now the Lottery is blurring the tracks even more with its message that when you win you can help your mates (when you win, who wins with you?) and its suite of heart-warmers (‘Archie helped me when I was down. I’d give him a nice lump sum’. Who wants to deprive old Archie od some money to do up his old garden shed?). How can modern man shun Archie’s old shed? My advice to modern man: keep pouring an ice bucket onto your own heart. The other example of this that has always stuck in my throat is the Pudsie-style BBC-organised celebrity-led charities based on sport or entertainent that constantly constellate our Saturday-night entertainment schedules. Again, the money that members of the public raise or donate is for good causes, but the culture that produces it (celebrity-led, sentimentalized sponging of money from those least able to afford it) is deeply unpleasant. It’s also rubbish telly. Newscasters dancing and dancers newscasting; singers telling you about their favourite books and television actors playing football. The man who once played ‘Dr Who’ telling me off. Some comedian who put his money in an off-shore bank not smiling when he shows pictures of poverty in the world. It’s dystopia. Once again it is the business of a gentle blackmail telling us to give money or feel bad. Unpicking how you feel globally about issues that are intentionally complexified by various institutions is a fact of life these days. You get to feel bad for free. Or, rather, feeling bad has become the entertainment they feed us.
The recent rise of metoo culture, a more analytical way of looking at gender is only bringing into popular culture trends that have existed in academia for decades. It has been a slow filtering process. It makes me wonder how much of the drifts of literary theory are applicable to real life and individual behaviour. What are the basic tenets of literary theory? Here they are, as I see them: politics is in everything; human nature is not as universal and unchanging as has been thought; language is a key problem zone for thinking; yon need to get altitude to look at things clearly sometimes; nothing is sacred.
Most of this stuff is actually applicable to the self. The self is a shiftable shape and we need to see things from other points of view sometimes. It’s actually the same material of theory, of structuralism et al. Common sense.
In the summer, insects take back control. It starts simply. There are too many flies buzzing around you, parking themselves on your forkfull of al-fresco chicken, kamikazee smashing into window panes, evading your swats (hard to outwit a fly). Underfoot more species present themselves, fatter, longer, highly tinted. You realize that it is they who have dominion over the earth, not us. Their reign goes on quietly through winter, but in summer it is incontrovertible. Then mosquitoes arrive. What had been a pleasant stay on the Mediterranean transmutes over the week into an attempt to limit bite damage. In the end you just want to go home to the darker north. There is also the idea of a snake. The snake is mostly an idea, but you know they are there. Lizards I can deal with. They are sudden zig-zags on the wall with very human shifts of their stance and centre of gravity, as if they were wearing boots and constantly needed to get onto the right axis. But the snake is alien. There is nothing human about a snake. There would be no compromise with a snake. A snake was seen as we hiked up a steep slope away from a river pool in the Cevennes. Not by me. But it was seen. I am glad I didn’t see it and only heard about it. If I had seen it it would have infiltrated into my dreams. I’m less squeamish about spiders though I don’t see myself picking them up. Whereas I am very happy picking up a daddy-long-legs to carry it over to the front doot and help it out into the fresh air. i actually enjoy the expulsion of a daddy-long-legs. It’s one small zone where my manhood can flourish. The other is opening jars. For the rest, forget it.
My niece was giving me one of those reaction tests where you hit the knee just under it and the lower leg springs up instinctively. It struck me how little the knee being hit by a small hammer by a doctor now figured in popular culture as a motif. Time was when it was a perennial in sketch shows as a gag set-up. I even remember seeing it in one Norman Wisdom film where he wants to be a policeman but is too short so comes in to the medical on stilts. It all goes well till they do the knee reaction thing on him and the leg springs up and sends the stilt flying across the room. There are other joke set-ups you don’t see anymore. Scenes from Shakespeare. Alas poor yorick with a skull was forever being used on Morecombe and Wise, as was Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo? and Double Double Toil and Trouble from Macbeth. These set-ups don’t figure now bcause they have passed out of common currency. I remember a few years ago I asked a group of fifteen year olds to write down the names of as many Shakespeare plays as they could. You got Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, but not much beyond that. You also got Rumplestiltzkin, as I recall. The common currency of culture has now become Disney and Pixall references. Scenes from Shrek or Toy Story or Frozen, which everone with kids knows. There is a Shrek theme centre in London, as well as, and I can’t even begin to comprehend this, an M and M’s museum. I would have thought, at least a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory museum or World or whatever, but M nd M’s? What is the culture of M and M’s? Are there M and M’s characters? Sometimes I peer through the glass into the world of M and M’s. It is in the West End near Leicester Square. There is no evidence of any particular cultural engagement going on. Just families merrily walking through aisles of M and M’s. It reminds me of once when I passed by a Macdonalds on the South Bank, ironically next to where the new Shrek World now lives. There was a bright-eyed lad with a bucket and a Macdonalds uniform on asking for donations. Oh, what’s it for? I naively asked. Passers-by were happily dropping their loose change in. For Macdonalds<, he said. Am I missing something about the modern world? Please drop me a line at…