Thursday, May 31, 2007
The return of Big Brother reminds me of some, probably ancient, Top Gear I saw recently. BB's presenter, Davina McCall, was the 'star in the reasonably priced car'. Clarkson made some scathing remarks about BB, adding that he would never watch it. McCall's response was significant. She accused him of taking no interest in 'popular culture'. What she did not say was, 'You should watch it, it's a great show.' The phrase 'popular culture' is a way of saying, 'I know it's crap, but you can't call my bluff because that would sound elitist and, anyway, some popular culture like The Simpsons is, in fact, high culture.' In other words, Davina was hiding rabid elitism behind a mask of populism. Of course, BB is not only crap, it's vile crap and Davina is not the only elitist responsible. As I pointed out in my article about the betrayals of the boomers, Peter Bazalgette, the power behind the show, is a privileged man - he should be, he is the great great grandson of the great Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette who built the Thames Embankment and the sewers that suppressed cholera in London. Joseph saved the working classes from disease; Peter poisons their imaginations to make money. This is, in its most savage and cynical form, the contemporary form of condescension brilliantly described by my friend George Walden in his book The New Elites. The wealthy and well-educated affect populism out of self-interest. Once it was only the preening and condescending Tony Benn that did this, now everybody is at it; it is the only political game in town. As far as the left is concerned, it is, of course, a complete reversal of the postwar aspirations born of the conviction that 'nothing was too good for the working man.' Blair understands this change perfectly. No wonder. His primary task when he took over the Labour Party was to ditch socialism and turn the party into something acceptable to the secular, materialistic, barely-educated masses. Again, as with legalism, it seems to be the case that the cultural trend was in place and all Blair had to do was exploit it. Now the spectacle of privileged people talking, with infinite condescension, about 'popular culture' is so commonplace that it goes unnoticed. This tends to neutralise what energy there actually is in mass art by smothering it with old Etonian middle men and, more seriously, it deepens class divides. That these effects have been so successfully concealed is yet another testament to the political genius of Blair and the commercial talents of the new elites.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:50 am