Why John Waters thinks he is writing for ‘uninitiated ostriches’ I cannot say; I can only hope we are to see a police sweep of all internet-based ostrich grooming activities quick smart so that these beautiful, ugly birds can wind up in my burger buns with a minimum of trauma. I do hope, however, that our friend will at some stage be sufficiently humble to consider the possibility that people who read his articles also read other things, even if they do not reach the dizzying salutary heights of his own insights.
Before I go any further, can I just say ‘I don’t like Andrew Sachs’? Thank you. I never liked Manuel in Fawlty Towers, and I never liked his character on Countdown either. Manuel was a malign cultural stereotype, and gave the impression to generations of British people that Spanish people are stupid and subservient. There are few things more bigoted and ignorant than developing figures of mockery based on the fact that they cannot speak your language properly. A corollary to this is the fact that there are few things more laughable than the many English (and Irish, let’s be fair) people who, on learning to string a few pidgin sentences together in a given foreign language, genuinely believe they are dazzling the natives with their fluency. That said, I don’t approve of Ross and Brand’s behaviour: I don’t like it when humour is used to humiliate people who don’t deserve it.
Now, here’s the bit where I think M. Eaux is on the mark:
Russell Brand is an engaging comic talent who has created a persona suggesting a cross between Frank Spencer and Keith Richards, written in the style of Charles Dickens. For all his preening narcissism, there is something beguiling and deeply funny in Brand’s playing of himself as a Willy Wonka of the Pleasure Dome who can’t believe his luck.
Watching Brand and Ross in their occasional TV encounters, it is clear that Ross is utterly in awe, and perhaps a little envious, of the younger man. The transcript of the Sachs broadcast shows that this factor was rampant on that occasion, with Ross trying his hardest to out-Brand Brand. Ross was among the most talented of the 1980s TV generation, a witty and thoughtful facilitator who brought to television a sense of the ironic knowing of the first generation reared in front of the box. But he is now deep into middle age and desperately trying to make the right noises to hang in with the youth audience.
I think this is spot-on. Russell Brand is genuinely funny and Ross was struggling to keep up. But oho! – what’s this?
Brand belongs to a generation for which comedy is almost literally everything, and the laughter factor the only reliable test. The kinds of energies which previous youth generations expressed through music, art or protest have in his generation compressed into a single essence: a dissociated blend of ridicule and humour that lacks roots in any form of empathy.
The sisyphean task of teasing out the full richness of the insight must be resumed: Almost literally everything? Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, your figurative arms give way under the metaphorical rock, and the impenetrable rolls back over you, flattening your interpretative powers as though they were mere…poo.
Let’s break it down. What does ‘literally everything’ mean? It means, literally, everything. Evirthang! The alpha and the omega, all that surrounds it, and all that doesn’t. The problem of describing something, anything (not necessarily the Todd Rundgren album, but that would be as good an example as any) as everything should become clear. To say this means that the particular is literally the whole. But if the particular is literally the whole then the whole is literally particular, in which case it isn’t really the whole at all. So we get into this sort of goddam freaky mobius strip of interpretation that leaves us drooling and exhausted. And to make the conceptual leap into what might make something ‘almost literally everything’ requires a daring feat of the imagination, almost (literally) doomed to failure, and one which my poor brain cannot even contemplate without buckets of drink.
And all that stuff about energies…compressing…into..essence. This is some sort of sly multilingual pun on the operation of the combustion engine, right?
Let us carry on regardless, for it is the only thing to do. That, and find some bastards to blame for the whole affair.
This comedy obsession arose in large part because this generation had its capacity for idealism usurped and frustrated by the couple of generations which preceded it, which refuse to countenance that anyone could be more “progressive” or engaged than themselves. Because those who emerged from the 1960s have been running everything, and refusing to provide space for challenging alternative perspectives, irony and humour became, for those born after 1970 or so, the sole cultural outlets for their natural transformative energies.
Goddamm hippies. Might I make a plug, at this point, however, for the new album by John Fogerty, he of Creedence Clearwater Revival? Some pretty rockin’ tunes on that. The trademark Creedence guitar metronome, equal parts liberating and enslaving, is cranked up, and Mr Fogerty’s righteous yelp is put to good use in detailing how the whole place has gone to the dogs. Of course, it’s full of idealism-capacity-usurping, but don’t let that put you off.
The tone of detached, vacuous mockery that pervades the internet arises from this cultural stakelessness, now rendered artful by comedians like Russell Brand.
Detached, vacuous mockery, you say? The bastards.