22 April 2008

You’ve got to smirk, haven’t you



The broadsheets have been dumbing down for some years, albeit in slightly different ways. So has the Daily Mail. The others I have less of a view on, since I read them less regularly.

The Telegraph has become a bit of a parody of itself, with the Hooray-Henry element coming to the fore, and there being a distinct tendency to emulate lads' mags. Ideologically, you get the feeling that they'd really like to throw in the towel, conservatism being so seriously uncool and all that.

The Guardian is the one which has embraced the blogosphere hardest, and been influenced by it the most, with the consequence that many of its articles are now more like blog rants — badly spelt, lazily written and sloppily thought out.

The Mail is the nearest to a paper defending bourgeois values, but it has gone downmarket-tabloid in recent years, and is not averse these days to a bit of leftist viciousness when it suits its book.

The Independent has perhaps dumbed down the least, though as mediocracy (i.e. bland, modern, facile, wishy-washy) was pretty much its selling point to begin with, there wasn't much need. It is also the one which has 'blogged out' least; perhaps there is a connection.

The current version of The Times in some ways represents the paradigm of mediocratisation. Most things in it now seem to be presented with a knowing archness, and a good deal of postmodern winking — rather like a pretentious intellectual version of the Sun. "We (the il-liberal elite) are so thoroughly proletarianised, you know, while of course maintaining our Chardonnay lifestyle. We are with the latest fads — rap music, swearing, The Sopranos, torture porn — it's all cool", it seems to be saying.

Take Caitlin Moran writing in last week’s Times about “vanilla sex”. Prima facie this was a piece trying to sound humorous about the current overemphasis on reproductive activities. Strip out the postmodern ‘irony’ and the sophisticated literary coating, however, and what you have left is really not that different from a saucy column in the Mirror.

... the best sex lasts 15 hours ... nine positions ... hammering dementedly away ... paradigmatic shag snack ... “Arrrr, that was smashing” ... no-frills act of jiggy-jiggy ... the “capsule poke” ... a lengthy rut ... Loving all night long would, surely, be equivalent to rubbing the tip of your nose between two pork chops for 19 hours ... coital sawing action ... a good old-fashioned mindless shag ... the one where I ended up being sick down the front of a Tudorbethan house in Aylesbury, and had to clean off the plasterwork with a broom soaked in hot Dettol, while the would-be lesbian's mum shouted at me.
Nudge nudge, wink wink.

I was a fan of Ms Moran in her original guise of young nerdy outsiderish cynic. A middle-aged mainstream version of the same is somehow not quite as appealing. Genuine counterculture is one thing, ‘counterculture’ turned into establishment values another.

Of course, there is a problem for those commentators who, having been cultural ‘revolutionaries’ in their youth, now have reservations about the trash-inducing effects of their earlier modernising zeal. Moral disapproval sits uneasily on the shoulders of someone who, only a few years previously, was shedding inhibitions like autumn leaves. So, turning to other examples from the Times stable, it can generate unpleasant cognitive dissonance to find former chick lit authors now railing against the irresponsibility of modern youth, and demanding that people pull their socks up.