Thursday, July 27, 2006

What the Cornflake said

Who's the most profound, perceptive analyst of modern culture that we have? Baudrillard, maybe? Habermas? Harold Bloom? Pah! Lightweights.

No, it's Dave Lee Travis. You heard it right, people. Opining on the reasons for the imminent demise of Top Of The Pops, ex-Radio One jock DLT had this to say (after some inevitable zaniness about kids with WiFi aerials in their heads):

"There's just too much stuff out there. Everything's becoming marginalised."

Now, like the best Zen koan, that's a seemingly meaningless, paradoxical statement that packs a powerful pipeful of truth. Everything is marginalised. We have no canon any more, no core cultural identity. You can't assume any knowledge on the part of your audience, which means that at every step you run the risk of patronising half of them, and shooting the conceptual ball way over the heads of the other half.

There's a bit in Ulysses where Deasy, the pompous headmaster, admonishes Stephen to be more prudent, noting that Shakespeare said "Put but money in thy purse." Stephen's response is to mutter the single word "Iago" under his breath.

Now, the joke only works if we know that Iago is a villain, so we shouldn't necessarily be taking advice from him. But how do we deal with this, if we don't know how much the reader knows? Stick with "Iago"? Maybe play safe with "Iago, the villain in Othello"? Or do we have to aim for the lowest common denominator, and explain that it's from "Othello, a play, by the playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), who also wrote William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet"?

Of course, you can go to the opposite extreme. One thing I love about Eliot's notes for The Waste Land (apart from the fact that he can't remember which Antarctic expedition he's talking about) is that he kindly translates the Sanskrit for us; but assumes we'll be OK with the Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian. That's right. Eliot. He wrote Cats.

So where do you pitch it? The problem is, it's one thing to bemoan the lack of a cultural centre, another to decide what and where that centre should be. I'd be happy with, say, Shakespeare and Eliot and Joyce. (Sorry, make that "the Irish author James Joyce (1882-1941), who wrote Ulysses".) Whereas DLT's vision of what can unite us within a common, unmarginalised, cultural identity would probably be ELO and Snooker On The Radio. But who am I to argue with a mind and beard like that?


Molly Bloom said...

DLT does speak some truth there. The advent of new technologies has led to a sprawling mass of references hasn't it? Perhaps the centre (TOTP?) cannot hold after all?

But...we can still connect. Only connect. We can still have shared experiences. I think things will change even further. In some ways, with new technologies and new points of reference, we have opened up certain cultural sites of meaning. But, to think of Joyce (again, sorry) all is like Sandymount Strand...all is ineluctable. We are constantly shifting. Words, music, texts. All constantly shifting and mutating. The ineluctable modality of being.

I think it is a sad loss though. So much of my youth was spent watching TOTP. It was a great moment ever Thursday evening. Everybody sat around watching it. I loved it.

And that beard. How can you not love him?

Sorry..thinking aloud...

Betty said...

I think that DLT can identify with his own statement ("everything has become marginalised"). In the same way that there is now a state of flux in the world, no centre, DLT is "marginalised" out there on BBC Radio Suffolk at 2 in the morning (or wherever he is ... some tiny particle of the shattered atom). He is no longer at the "centre" with Batesy, "Oooh" Gary Davies and the like. In effect, there is no "Hairy Cornflake" ... indeed, the "Hairy Cornflake" is so much dust, floating out there in the ether, ungraspable.

Anyway, monkey's nuts to DLT. When PIL were high in the charts with Death Disco he said "I will NEVER play a Public Image record on my show". I was fifteen and he immediately became Public Enemy Number One.

Spinsterella said...

I spent ALL of last year reading Ulysses, and I can't remember any of it.

Robert A. Swipe said...

What's everyone's favourite Top of the Pops Moment?

Mine has to be Mozzer's machine-gunning down the audience mime on Valentine's Day.

Close second, Rupert Holmes performing The Pina Colada song.

Molly Bloom said...

Well, I've already mentioned this on my blog...but it has to be Hilda Baker and Arthur Mullard doing 'You're the one that I want' - it's a classic.

First Nations said...

an astute teenager (conflict in terms? well...) could lay it all out for you in fifteen minutes.
this argument has been floating around ever since i can remember. and yet there continues to be a flourishing popular media. it does so because it is aimed at the limited. i mean limited by lack of experience, i.q.points, economic status, what have you. pop is a l.c.d. genre.
you are SUPPOSED to outgrow it. if you are lucky, you do. there should be a trophy, in fact.

Billy said...

I like the, 'who are they talking about, better look it up' moments, especially the intertexuality things you get. I remember reading The Hours, and purely by chance I'd read Mrs Dalloway not so long before so I picked up lots of references I wouldn't have got had I read the book ages before on not at all.

I've not read Ulysses but I can imagine a similar thing happening were I have recently read the Odyssey just before reading it.

Billy said...

Oh and Tim, why when I read your posts do I imagine you readind them out sounding like Richard Hoggart?

You write nothing like him.

Tim Footman said...

Nobody writes like Hoggart. But I don't think I've actually heard him speak. (I saw David Tennant impersonate him, and Simon H said it was uncanny, apart from the sideburns.) But I do think I might do a post on him and Raymond Williams.

Matthew Hoggart though, that's different.

Bob: Peelie following a performance by Wah! with "And if that doesn't get to number one, I'll come round and break wind in your kitchen."

Joel said...

'Supposed to outgrow pop'? Aren't you supposed to outgrow thinking that?

Spinsterella said...

Fave TOTP moment - Some auld boy on a chair talking his way through 'No Charge'(a Tammy Wynette number apparently).

Very odd and very funny.

Saw it on TOTP 2 a few years ago.

Wyndham said...

Christ, I need to sit down.

Tim Footman said...

No probs, Wynders, there's a pouffe in the corner.

Robert A. Swipe said...

"you are SUPPOSED to outgrow it."

That's right First Nations - outgrow pop and turn into one of those cunts like Norman Johnson and David Aaronovitch who sit there all day thinking up new ways to morally justify the morally outrageous....

Think I'll stick with the Shangri-Las, ta.

(I'm 42 next April by way....)

Robert A. Swipe said...

Spinny - yes, that's a classic, isn't it. J.J. Barrie


Copuple of other great Peel quotes:

"That was Hayzee Fantayzee being danced to by a group of Morroccan tumblers - I never drink oout of anything else, personally..."


"That was Big Country - the group that puts the tree back into Big Country"

It was a quip he made about some awful Foreigner type group that got him slung off TOTP, wasn't it? Can't remember it or the group.

His mandolin playing appearance on Maggie May was cool too..

Helga von porno said...

RE original post, I think there must be some mathematical equation where the swifter the travel and the easier the access of information, the more people you can access and the more shared information you can assume. The answer to the delemma is kick it over their heads the ignorant fuckers, there will be someone out there tall (or possibly fat) enough to head it back

Wyndham said...

Any biscuits?

Tim Footman said...

Bob: (after Aretha's duet with George Michael) You know, Aretha can make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just did.

Helga: DLT's quite tall. But I think it would still miss him. Maybe get lost in his chest thatch.

Wyndham: Go here for biscuits. Assam? Or something stronger?

The WV is "xdidleh", which is somebody who used to be a legendary rock 'n' roll guitarist.

First Nations said...

swipester: I am morally outrageous.
*flounces off to watch Star Trek*

Billy said...

Now I think about it, I don't think I've heard RH speak either. Must be how I imagine him to sound.

Unless (quelle horreur) I was thinking of EP Thompson? Christ alive!

Molly Bloom said...

Did you see the article in the Guardian today on TOTP? Every story a cracker!

Molly Bloom said...

I particularly like the Jimmy Savile going into one room and saying, 'Number one lads, number one' and then being heard...seconds the next room, 'Number one lads, number one.' That man has class.

james henry said...

DLT in nail/head interface.

Interpreter Pavlov said...

In my utterly marginalised world where DLT signifies a chronic tendency to delusion, it seems to me that the Mr Travis you mention has probably unwittingly tripped over a problem that's far from new, one which was neatly crystallised in the character of Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch, who was trying to systematize and concentrate all knowledge before the attempt drove his wife into the arms of somebody else and eventually killed him. I suppose if he had persisted he might have discovered the concept of fractalisation.

This brings me to your thoughts on The Waste Land. It seems to me that part of the magnificent stature of this poem is due to its fractalisation, that each reference leads to a succession of others, each born of the previous one and all complementary to each other. I've slowly come to the conclusion that you can't comprehend The Waste Land fully without understanding every single one of Eliot's allusions, quotations and references. After all, they meant something to him. Is the task worth it, or will the researcher end up like Casaubon?

The Waste Land was severely pruned by Ezra Pound, 'the better craftsman' referred to in the dedication, and one can only imagine what the poem was like before Pound went to work with his blue pencil. If only Pound and Joyce had got together...

Tim Footman said...

Well, I've always thought that the cultural overload in The Waste Land was Eliot's way of suggesting that Western Culture had simply become too diverse and complex, which accounted for its collapse (specifically WW1). This would explain his reaching for the relative simplicity of Buddhist/Hindu serenity, although obviously he never went through with it.

As to fully understanding everything about it, the Casaubon link is superb - all the times I'd joked about George and Tom being father and son I'd never thought of the link. And yes, before anybody screams, I know she was a woman, and so was Evelyn Waugh. But I do think people tend to forget Eliot's sense of humour, so it's quite possible that half the stuff in there he didn't understand either.

As for Pound, il miglior fabbro; I think Eliot realised he had quite a difficult piece on his hands, and wanted to show it to someone else, to check it wasn't too complex. Unfortunately, he showed it to Pound, who was even cleverer, and probably cut out the bits that he regarded as being too easy-peasy. But then Pound was an insane fascist - I always think of him as the playwright character in The Producers.

Oh, and while we're in the realms of how much you need to explain to a modern audience (cf Iago), here's a Reuters story that refers to "fictional detective Sherlock Holmes" (as opposed to say, real-life drag queen Sherlock Holmes).