Archive for March 22nd, 2009


Recessionary nostaglia

With unemployment levels reaching numbers we thought we’d left behind in the 80s, there has emerged a sort of nostalgia for the other things we left behind a generation ago. The ever excellent fashion journalist Hadley Freeman was recently asked to discuss the return of shoulder-pads in her column in the Guardian’s “G2” supplement, and in the same supplement Sam Leith later wrote about how apparently we were all happiest in 1976. The problem with nostalgia, however, is that we sometimes tend to remember fondly things that really should have stayed forgotten. It is therefore worth looking at various aspects of a generation past that could possibly find themselves exhumed, regardless of whether or not they should be.

Rubik’s Cubes

It’s hard to see this fad returning. It was utterly pointless in the first place, and you had to be a super genius to complete it anyway. Sure we have Playstations now.

Great bad music

Absolutely essential! We’ve become far too clever with our musical tastes since the Noughties, what with our Kings of Leon and Band of Horses or some crowd equally brilliant but not so much that most people have heard of them. I sometimes wonder if we deliberately seek out obscure bands just to seem cool when other people ask, “who?” I’m not for an instant saying I’m above this (or below this, depending on your perspective). My favourite band is Lambchop. On the other hand, we award mass-popularity to insufferably bland acts that for the good of humanity need to stop (© Coldplay, Snow Patrol or any Scrubs soundtrack). We’re a bit self-congratulatory when we remember music from the 80s, in that we consider it naff compared to our more sophisticated contemporary ears. Regardless, few can honestly deny the toe-tapping appeal of these songs and this is something we really need to get back. There has, admittedly, been some move in this direction recently, with the likes of Lily Allen and that Katy Perry song about a poor lad who’s hot and cold all the time (he should get a nice cardie), but I really don’t think these stand up to Grandmaster Flash and Kids in America, et al. We need bands to save pop music from Louis Walsh and reclaim the naff as an art-form again. This being said, there is absolutely no need to return to the television of the 80s. Recession or not, Knight Rider was always shit and we have The Wire now.


The rest of the world may have had MTV, but for the paddies it was all Music Television: USA. This was a show that guided 80s kids on the coolest new sounds and latest trends. We do have plenty of similar outlets today, but few that are free from unwitting self-parody and ironic bullshit of NME and whathaveyou. A music show that avoids being too clever for its own good would be very welcome in today’s age. However, the problem with MTUSA is that it was a product of an age when America was seen as a refuge in recessionary times, rather than, say, the sources of it. Today “MTUSA” provides an unfortunate acronym that may serve to reflect the state of the US Federal Reserve.


What I remember most from MTUSA was the presenter’s impressive lip-fuzz, a seemingly popular trend of the day. I recall several uncles who sported similar face-fungus at the time, as well as Kevin off Coronation Street. It’s impossible to say with certainty what caused this trend (it might have been Mangum PI, but who can be sure), so it would be foolish to think we’ll never see another outbreak. We can only hope this horrible condition is behind us.

U2 recording an album worth listening to

Irrelevant. It’s not going to happen.

Custard Creams

I recall biscuits in my formative years being a very simple affair. The criterion for a good biscuit was something mildly sweet that you could dip into a cup, and so custard creams, bourbon creams, or perhaps a Rich Tea satisfied us perfectly. If we wanted to splash out we’d opt for a digestive with cholocate on it, or perhaps even a Jammie Dodger. However, things changed when we started using the term “cookies”. Suddenly the simple biscuit wasn’t good enough. We demanded niceties with chocolate chips in them. They started putting hazelnut bits in them and we weren’t even satisfied with that. We demanded whole hazelnuts, in biscuits the size of saucers. The less likely that it would fit in a cup, the better. In a way, our tastes in biscuits symbolise our universal greed during the Celtic Tiger years. As the money came rolling in, we blew in on chocolate-coated trifles (figuratively but perhaps also literally). One hopes, now that our priorities are shifting, we will once again regard the humble custard cream with fondness.


On last Monday’s Questions & Answers, one of the Dragons Den Dragons (I forget which one) argued that we’re wasting time squabbling over who’s to blame for the financial downturn, and that we should instead unite to concentrate on finding a cure. It’s a nice thought, but one easily dismissed. If we fail to establish the crisis’ causal factors, we’re only setting ourselves up for another bubble burst. I’ve already given an indirect example of this, by highlighting the continued risk of a resurgence of the moustache craze. Well, proof may come in the recent spate of Mullets around our city centres (I’m surely not the only one who’s noticed this). The trend stopped so we thought it had gone away for good. And now it’s back because we failed to address its root causes. Haircuts have as much to teach us about the recession as biscuits do.


Watchmen: apparently it really happened

There are peculiar goings on with the Nielsen BookScan weekly charts (as published in the “Review” supplement in the weekend’s Guardian) lately. The comic Watchmen is listed as the second most popular book in its category this week, a jump from its position of 5th last week. Hardly that odd! With the hype over the film adaptation, people are obviously trying to see what the fuss is about. Prior to the film’s release several reviewers (particularly in the newspaper supplements) suggested that despite the comic’s cult following it was largely forgotten by mainstream readers, which was a handy way of admitting, “we may be writers on popular culture, but we’ve never heard of this thing before.” With Watchmen, a lot of people are having to catch up with a culture they’re supposedly experts on.

But that’s not what I’m on about here. What’s odd about Watchmen’s placing is the chart in which it’s placed. Nielsen seems to consider the book a paperback non-fiction, along with such publications as Marley & Me and Jamie’s Red Nose Recipes. I had thought it was fiction myself, indeed, science fiction. But no, it seems there really was a bunch of superheroes in the 80s, including a great big blue fellow who reconstructed himself at a molecular level, and there really was a nuclear standoff between the US and USSR that only ended when half of New York was levelled by an artificial “alien” squid. It’s just that I didn’t notice this before.

Sarcasm aside, it’s hard to see this as anything but sneer on books produced in the graphic novel format. They simply don’t belong in the chart for real novels (which, incidentally, is topped this week by Marion Keyes). Personally, there is not much I despise more than when people insist on calling comics “graphic novels”. To me it’s a desperate attempt for comic books to be regarded as serious literature, which only serves to admit that comic books’ standing as serious literature needs to be defended. I grew up reading comics and I’m not ashamed of that. Nonetheless, it’s a genre that does deserve at least a little respect. Watchmen is a book that accomplishes more than most proper novels I’ve read, and if sales reflect that then so should the charts.

It could be argued, I suppose, that Watchmen is more than simple fiction. It is, in fact, a treatise on the superhero genre, and as such is provides a non-fiction discussion on this genre’s usual tropes and literary devices. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and I look forward to an academic discussion on it. However, it’s a hypothesis outside the scope of a sales chart. I can’t see this as anything other than snobbery, which there is far too much of in literature.