Platform Blues

It’s all about platform. Katie Price is more important than you and I. Why? Because she has a platform. Katie Price’s thoughts on the government would be listened to, noted down, and widely disseminated. Likewise her thoughts on religion and evolution. Katie Price matters. It doesn’t matter how wise or clever you or I are, how incisive our analysis, how breathtaking your insight, because… well, no-one’s listening; no-one cares; no-one, to adopt a Heselteeny, a shit gives. I don’t matter, and neither do you. You need an audience to matter. It is better to be thick and have an audience than to be bright without one. If you want to be heard, that is. If you don’t mind not being heard, then you can be as bright as you like. It doesn’t matter. Someone will know, sure; you’ll be paid for it somewhere, but you won’t matter as much as Katie Price. Fame is the name of the game. Imagine Simon Cowell holding forth on politics in an interview. That would be headline news. And the Bieber boy’s asinine antics, his every vacuous utterance, attracts the pens and microphones of the world’s media. Imagine if he held forth on quantum mechanics…

Okay. Elongated, Paxmanesque Okaaay. A question: do you buy the above sketchily sketched thesis? Here’s the bit I purchase – that you need a platform. You need a platform to be heard. That much should be, and is (I hope), obvious. The rest of the thesisette is, to say the least, speculative. Where lies the cause and effect? Wherefore are the whys? Dear Katie! How long would she hold her platform if she did, indeed, hold forth on the NHS? Ah, there, as Shakie might have remarked, is the rubbette. Maybe the roles are pre-decided, and the likes of Katie and Simon are just actors successful in the business (the getting on business) of auditioning for them. There probably isn’t a role for a busty babette to hold forth on the issues of the day. Imagine Katie, with a curious look on her botoxed face, remarking, “Isn’t it funny how we always have to be bombing someone. I mean, weird or what. Still, thinking about it, what else are you going to do with all that military hardware?” No, I don’t thinks so. Our Katie would simply stop being heard. The amplifiers know how to put people in their place.

Things only matter when other people say they matter, and they have to be persuaded that they matter. So – obviously – most of Africa doesn’t matter. Doesn’t get reported, no-one who matters talks about it, so it doesn’t matter. It only matters when a BT Ratter says it matters – when it’s celebrity endorsed. That’s the way of the world. It’s a struggle – possibly an impossible struggle – to be heard on one’s own terms, though independent media might fleetingly create the illusion that it’s not. It may be that once you’ve been heard, heard enough to guarantee that the next time you utter you’ll also be heard, that your message has already been corrupted. You’re heard because someone, some floating agenda, wants you to be heard, not because there was anything intrinsically valuable about your words or utterances. Every idea with currency has someone with an agenda giving it currency. Notice how no-one talks about Nationalization any more, not even Katie Price or Simon Cowell. It’s not an idea that anyone wants to be heard. Agenda has decided that that idea is buried, interred, unresurrectable. Mentioned, if at all, by political zombies uninterested in the important business of being elected. You can always speak the truth, so long as you don’t care about being heard. Why did America invade Iraq? Oh, yeah, oil. Not if you want to be heard, it isn’t. If you want to be heard, it was to promote democracy. Feel free to debate whether it went well or not, whether it was a good idea or not, whether it went wrong in the execution or not, but don’t, if you want to be heard, suggest it was anything other than the promotion of democracy. This is how we got America, the victim, in the Vietnam war.

No-one on mainstream media is ever going to suggest that Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney are evil, though they most certainly are – either that or sociopathically deluded to an extent that makes the distinction in terms of outcomes and effects near meaningless. The BBC won’t be commissioning any programmes that suggest that the USA is the major problem in the world or the principal aggressor – that’s simply not going to happen. The bigger the platform, the less likely you are to hear the truth. When you have a big platform, you become risk-averse and mediocre. Protecting the platform becomes the name of the game, keeping the audience. Why risk alienating anyone, especially if you can be accused of abusing your privileged platform position if you do? A rogue voice might get through on a live broadcast, but you can be sure it won’t be repeated in subsequent bulletins. Didn’t happen; move on; now for some sleb news. “Tom Cruise is in town today to promote…” OMG!. And here’s some more click-bait to keep you stupid…


New Grub Street

NNewGrubStreetew Grub Street by George Gissing is a novel that should be read by anyone interested in writing or the lives of writers. It should certainly be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to be a writer. It’s a novel I wish I’d read years ago, since it would have disabused me of some absurd Romantic notions I insisted on entertaining about writing. There are so many shocks of recognition. This is a late-Victorian novel, but – apart from the technology – nothing has changed. The tension between Art and Money remains, the need to make a living versus the desire to do Art. Fifty Shades of Shite triumphed in the market while, no doubt, novels with artistic merit struggled to get representation or recognition. I’ve no idea why this fact of life still rankles with me; you’d think I’d have grown up by now.

In Gissing’s novel, the shadow of poverty is large and looming, particularly for Edwin Reardon, who loathes his need to write for money, but feels guilty about not supplying a certain standard of living for his wife and child. Reardon is, in many ways, his own worst enemy, since he spurns advice and opportunities that would help him prosper. And as his poverty increases, and his inability to write impacts his health, his relationship with his wife, Amy, deteriorates. His friend, Jasper, on the other hand is interested in writing for the market, in furthering a career, and in getting on and becoming prosperous. He is, of course, rightly cynical about the tastes of the average reader.

The sensational and crass triumph with the masses while works of merit go unremarked and unrewarded. True then as now. Reardon rushes out a three volume novel called Margaret Home, which he despises and of which he refuses to speak. Again, opportunities to go out into Society as a writer are spurned because he doesn’t believe in his work.

New Grub Street is populated by men and woman broken by the struggle to make ends meet, and making the ends meet when you want to do art – or Art, upper case A – isn’t easy. It puts a strain on relationships and pollutes every aspect of your life. Just as it does today.  Then, as now, the crass and vulgar prosper. Art doesn’t triumph (what an idiot I was); at best it will only ever achieve a modest success in comparison to the crudely populace. Harold Biffen, unlike Reardon, is not embittered by his plight, though he is worn down by it. He has produced a novel of everyday life, Mr. Bailey, Grocer, of which he’s proud (and which he dramatically rescues from a fire), but which has little or no prospect of commercial success.

Alfred Yule is also broken: a man out of sync with his time, tormented and poisoned by unfulfilled ambitions. When his daughter, Marian, inherits five thousand pounds, he becomes uncharacteristically convivial towards her and her mother because he wants Marian to invest her money in a literary magazine, which he proposes to edit.  It is (has always been) his dream to be a man of importance in literary circles, something he feels has been denied him by fate and circumstance, those being the prospering of vulgar, less deserving men, such as Fadge. Marian, to whom Jasper proposes (also on the basis of the inheritance), doubts the wisdom of her father’s enterprise, and puts off a decision on the matter. Unfortunately, her inheritance falls through, putting her marriage to Jasper in jeopardy, and ultimately derailing it. Jasper is not a cad. He is not a one-dimensional self-centred character; rather, he’s a man who wants to do and be good, but believes that this will be impossible without a degree of affluence. During their extended engagement, the marriage having been postponed, Jasper proposes unsuccessfully to a wealthy woman, much to the disgust of his sister, Dora.

“We will never go to Greece together, old friend.” Reardon on his deathbed to Biffen. Another shared dream thwarted. Amy is, by this time, living with her mother, having left Reardon when he proposes to get a clerk’s position. She had wanted him to take break by the sea and to approach his writing with renewed vigour. Reconciled when their son becomes ill, the son dies while Reardon himself lies fevered on what will be his death bed. Amy, without ties (and in possession of a ten thousand pound inheritance), marries Jasper Milvain. Jasper subsequently secures the editorship of a leading literary journal, and they live comfortably ever after.

Poverty is the beast that walks abroad in this novel. Everything is done under its shadow, and poisoned by its proximity. Those who prosper in worldly terms, like Whelpdale and Milvain are ultimately unintoxicated by art, and attend to the business of getting on. Those who fail – tragically so – like Reardon and Biffen, are not men of the world, and are not equipped for the business of making a living – indeed, are ground down by the necessity to do so.

The moral seems to be (and it may be ungenerous to draw one) that the desire to do art is a handicap if you’re struggling with the necessities of life. Art is not commercial, art will not bail you out or ennoble you if you are poor. Alfred Yule dies blind and disappointed, leaving Marian to support her mother. They are spoken about sympathetically at one of Milvain’s parties. Prospects for them are, we come away thinking, a little on the bleak side. Reardon and Biffen have fallen. Milvain, despite the odd vacillation, has taken the necessary steps to ensure he prospers.

Quote: Nothing is easier than to condemn a type of character that is unequal to the coarse demands of life as it suits the average man.

No, indeed. I can’t help thinking of a homeless person struggling to capture their precarious existence in a ragged exercise book while E.L. James and James Patterson chortle all the way to the bank and line up the next self-regarding interview at a literary lunch with their agent.

I don’t know how I missed this book for so long.

Jeffrey Archer – storyteller!

ArcherJeffrey Archer likes to say he’s a story-teller, a yarn-spinner. That’s what people want, he avers, “a good yarn, me dear.” This last bit added in a pantomime twang. No mention of art or writing, certainly not literature. A fake man writing fake stories (some of them borrowed) about fake people. I’ve got a terrible feeling it works because the undiscerning reader imagines they’re being granted an authentic insight into unauthentic, fake lives – political people who will do anything to succeed in the Game of Getting On.

He mentions in an interview that Kane & Abel has sold 37 million copies. “Are these 37 million idiots?” he asks defensively. Not idiots, necessarily (though some of them may well be), but undiscerning readers certainly. Archer’s success is only explicable in terms of a dumbed-down, undiscerning, celebrity-obsessed culture. He’s an appalling man and a worse writer. Apparently, it takes him fifteen drafts before he’s done. Fifteen drafts or thereabouts. Fifteen drafts! Let’s be clear, then: the shallow, badly written crap you’re holding in your hands when you buy an Archer took fifteen drafts, and is the result (make no mistake about it) of a lot of disciplined hard work. Jeffrey wants us to know this.

As well as being a producer of crap, Archer is a tetchy, self-important scamster, who doesn’t like being mocked. For British people of my vintage, this is the defining interview:

Despite a life of dodgy deals and dubious investments, he decided to stand for London mayor in 2000 backed by Thatcher and Major, and the then leader of the Tories, William Hague – and that was when the Daily Star libel case came back to haunt him. The prospect of Archer attaining a political office with real power was too much even for the people who had lied for him in the past. This is Archer on Michael Crick, a reporter for whom he doesn’t much care:

The Daily Star libel case is amusing, inasmuch as a tawdry tabloid newspaper’s allegations were true (Archer had visited a prostitute, and he did later give her £2000 to leave the country). But Archer sued, the judge (Justice Caulfield) salivated over Archer’s “fragrant” missus, and Archer won the case. He’d probably have got clean away with it had his political ambitions not reared their (very) ugly head again.

Things fell apart for Archer, and he ended up being tried for perjury. He was found guilty, and sentenced to four years in prison. Archer was by this time already enough of an absurd fiction himself for this to be absorbed (as an admittedly biggish chapter) in the dreadfully purple story that is the Life of Jeffrey Archer. He wrote and published his prison diaries, and has gone on writing successfully (in the kerching sense) ever since.

He’s seventy-four now, and goes on unquietly and unapologetically being Jeffrey Archer – storyteller! Like Patterson, another non-writer who presumes to hold forth on the subject of writing. Unlike Patterson, this clown’s British, and still a Lord of the realm.