Thursday, February 02, 2006

Intellectual snobbery, Big Brother, and Jodie Marsh

You probably won't be in the least surprised if I tell you that intellectual snobbery (IS) is alive and well and living in England -- yea, unto this very day. Proof was provided, with knobs on, by the reaction to the TV show Celebrity Big Brother -- of which more in a moment. Here, however, are a couple of gems of IS from other contexts.

First we have had a flurry of nonsense these past few days -- based on an article in the Royal Society of Literature magazine -- in which various bigwigs of the book world have been explaining which ten books they think every British child should read before leaving school. Andrew Motion, for instance, thinks that all kids should have read James Joyce's Ulysses. And he's the poet laureate.

Where does this man live? The simple truth (recognised by some people who were approached by the RSL), is that many schoolkids can barely read at all. It would be an improvement over the present state of affairs if they could all finish one book by Enid Blyton.

(Note for overseas readers: Enid Blyton was the author of hundreds of hugely popular books for the kiddie-winkies; these were despised by librarians, teachers, and sniffy parents, for their repetitious simplicity. In her private life, Ms Blyton, it is said, had a penchant for playing tennis in the nude. But I cannot vouch for that from personal observation. Dammit.)

Then there's a letter in the Times (not online), in which someone maintains that the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber should not be confused with music. You get the idea. Lloyd Webber is a hugely popular composer, so his stuff can't possibly be any good.

But the reaction to Big Brother (BB) really took the biscuit. For three solid weeks BB occupied the tabloid headlines. Except when that whale came up the Thames -- that took precedence of course, because newspaper editors do have some sense of proportion. But what did the top people's paper, The Times, make of all this? Why, it tried to have its cake and eat it, of course.

First we had a couple of articles telling us how utterly ghastly BB was, and how it was unthinkable that anyone with any brains was watching it. One article was by Viv Groskop, whoever he/she may be, and another by Oliver James, ditto. But at the same time the Times was running a Big Brother blog, in which several Times columnists gave us their views. and numerous readers ditto. Also you could hardly turn a page of the Times without coming across a BB-related report or cartoon.

BB was TV for immature, lonely voyeurs, said Oliver James. Well, count me in, Olly, is all I can say to that. I watched a lot of it. I got many more laughs out of it than I ever got out of The Office or Little Britain. I thought it was an extremely well produced and entertaining show.

But what, you may be asking, has all this to do with books? Patience, patience. I am getting there.

First, in my earlier survey of BB-related literature, I omitted several books which are actually by Dennis Rodman, rather than just about him. Well, sorta. There's Rebound, which Dennis wrote with a little help from some friends. Then there's Bad as I Wanna Be, and its sequel, Walk on the Wild Side -- though I doubt whether the latter compares with the Nelson Algren version. And finally I Should Be Dead By Now. There also seem to be various rip-offs and spin-offs, making use of Dennis's name.

So far as I know, the only participant in the latest BB who has garnered a book contract as a result of appearing on the programme is Jodie Marsh. Precise details are imprecise, as of this moment, but the story is that she has signed a five-book deal.

Well, I must say, I was very sceptical about that -- and still am, about the five books bit. However, since research is my middle name, I have been having a look at Jodie's official web site. You have to register to get into it, but curiously enough I was quite glad I did. (No, you don't get any really rude pictures; none that I've found yet, anyway; and, believe me, I've been looking.) But the girl has a blog. And you know what? It gives every appearance of having been written by Jodie herself.

Now that was a surprise. For several reasons. Not the least is the brutal nature of her comments about her fellow BB contestants. I'm not even going to repeat them here. But she certainly doesn't have writer's block.

Before embarking on this blog I was assuming that the lovely Jodie was going to act as front girl for the alleged novels while someone else actually did the work. But it rather looks as if she might be going to write her own stuff after all. Though if she and the publisher are smart they will enlist a hardened professional to give her guidance. Someone like... well, someone like me, for instance.

Well, why not? What's to stop Jodie going to the top? She looks good enough on television and seems to have led an -- ahem -- adventurous life.

The comparator who first comes to my mind is Jackie Collins. Jackie's early books were really pretty badly written, and would never have seen the light of day but for the fact that she's Joan's sister. And as a matter of act I think her later books are technically flawed too: too many viewpoint characters. But Jackie persevered, improved her technique as she went along, and got herself huge commercial hits.

Then there's Martina Cole, of course. Another Essex girl who done good.

So, go for it Jodie. The intellectual snobs of this world won't like it, but who gives a.


Anne Weale said...

Agree with you about Enid Blyton and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I don't think that, had BB been available in the backwoods of Spain, I should have watched it if a politician pretending to be a cat was a highspot.

Overall, TV seems such a waste of reading-time.

Bernita said...

My children loved Enid Blyton. Were they really reviled?

Anonymous said...

That's the problem Anne. British TV doesn't require you to think anymore. It just requires you to judge, or pay to judge (phone voting) after spending ridiculous chunks of your day watching it. And my teachers encouraged me to read Enid Blyton at school, but that was in the 70s. And another *and*: I quite liked Motion's list due to the emphasis on poetry, although I do think Ulysses was the only title which seemed a bit odd.

(A lot of adults can't read Medieval/Early Modern poetry these days due to lack of exposure to it at school, and I can't help but think a bit of Milton (amongst others) during the teenage years would better adapt students to the English language at that time. We read Shakespeare at school without major problems...and it doesn't seem a major leap to me...unless the alleged decline in standards is worse than I thought.)

Annette said...

Personnally,I can't stand B.B.It doesn't matter who is on it.It really is an insult to you're intelligence!It really doesn't leave you wanting more!

Anonymous said...

It really is an insult to you're intelligence!

*spits coffee all over keyboard*

Yes. Yes it is. That's just what it is.