October 11th, 2015


Tribal Totems

There was this chap on a panel show who couldn't (or pretended he couldn't) recognise the finalists in this year's Great British Bake Off. Diane Abbott (who gets to be on every panel show going these days) was indignant. "But you ought to know that!" she said.

Question: Is "ought" the right word. Are there certain developments in popular culture that one is morally bound to be aware of?

Well, obviously not.  Ignorance is no crime. On the other hand full participation in any community does rather require one to keep abreast of certain things that are going on in its culture. Corrie, Eastenders, Dr Who, Strictly, Dad's Army- knowing about these shows- even if you deplore them- is part of the freemasonry of being British. They're the esoterica we've been initiated into and foreigners mostly haven't.  They bind us together.  And the people who appear in them rank among our tribal totems.  If I were to post a picture of Sir Bruce Forsyth here- which- perish the thought- I have no intention of doing- I'd expect every Brit on my friend's list to recognise him and every non-Brit (apart from one or two extreme Anglophiles) to go, "Who on earth is that weasel?"

Personally, I can't  see the point of Bake Off,  but I know who Nadiya Hussain is. I sort of feel it's my duty. "England expects..." and all that. 

I Agree With Matt

Matt Damon was asked the other day about Hollywood stars who are in or out of the closet and he said he thought it was better for audiences if they knew nothing about the private lives of actors.

This got him into terrible trouble with the hosts of people who scour the media in the hope of being offended-  and they jumped in to say it was alright for him as a straight white man and blah, blah, blah.... But- putting all that aside- I like the point I think he was trying to make. Actors are in the business of pretending to be people they're not- and the more we know about them as everyday people the harder it is for them to pull the wool over over eyes.   There's a reason why the ancient Greek actors- who started the ball rolling- wore masks.

Apparently Matt Damon is married with kids. I didn't know that. And now I do know it I could wish I didn't. If I'm watching him in a film I want to believe he's serial killer X or heroic astronaut Y. Knowing that- as soon as the camera stops rolling- he reverts to being a loving husband and father doesn't help the game of lets pretend. In fact it rather detracts from it.

Some actors- and Matt isn't one of them- have such enormously public private lives that it becomes very hard to see them as anyone but their off-screen selves. In the past there were Burton and Taylor. Who could watch them together- even in their better films like Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf- and forget how very married to one another they were? Today there's Tom Cruise. I like Tom as an actor- I even think he's under-rated- but his attempts to convince me he's a super-dooper secret agent  or somebody's straight-arrow, blue-collar dad are undermined by everything I know about the Scientology and the wives and the jumping about on furniture.

I was reading an interview with Anne-Marie Duff this morning. Actually it wasn't so much an interview as a stitch-up. Duff was resenting having to make polite conversation about herself- and let it show- and the interviewer was trying to win our sympathy and get us to gang up against her.  But really why should Duff have to submit graciously to all this impertinence? They say it's part of the job these days-  but it shouldn't be. Actors strip themselves bare in their performances- and that's enough. Let them retain a certain anonymity off stage. Duff was a brilliant St Joan- that's all I need to know. Who cares where she went to school or who her husband is!