Not Balderdash or Piffle

I always thought Victoria Coren — of Balderdash and Piffle and Only Connect was an intelligent person but now I realise she’s a rarer breed — an intelligent person who’s not a cultural snob.

In her column from today’s Observer (retweeted by Carole Blake) she ranges about familiar targets of intellectual derision, such as Harry Potter and Michael McIntyre, and exposes the very unpleasant assumptions that lie hidden beneath the snobbery.

However, it’s her story about how a King Lear DVD has become a surprise bestseller at Poundland that hits home because it ties in closely with the arguments in Jonthan Rose’s book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (review from the Independent here and Guardian here). Coren’s comment is true of far more walks of life than the literary:

Give it six more months, a million more sales, and we’ll start hearing that King Lear is a rubbish play from a second-rate crowd-pleaser; John Webster was always the man.

This makes the powerful point that many people marginalised by traditional intellectual educational establishments still have a thirst for the pleasure and satisfaction achieved through classical, literary or artistic knowledge. It seems to me that one of the most grievious mistakes the left has made in the post-war era is to conflate a lack of formal higher education with philistinism.

The comments she makes about the demise of The News of the World also resonate with me. It certainy wasn’t my Sunday newspaper of choice but I can’t believe that everyone gleeful about its demise was motivated by concerns over voicemail privacy.

The same principles hold true in novel writing: the closer one comes to the language and experiences of ‘normal people’ the more people will try to dispute your characters motives and credibility. If one writes about a nineteenth-century, deformed, psychotic serial killer then few people in a creative writing workshop will try to put themselves in the position of the character and try to question his (or her) motivations — and they’ll discreetly leave it to the author to work on his or her impressive feat of the imagination.

Yet write something set in the present day about someone who’s been working in an office whose marriage is a little unfulfiling and there will be

One Reply to “Not Balderdash or Piffle”

  1. The most amazing thing about the News of the World thing is how Labour middle class supporters sneer and take so much moral high ground. If anything the Murdoch papers were fanzines and indeed their immoral behaviour a pale reflection of the Govt we had and have.

    The anti intellectualism of tabloid headlines, digging of dirt, shouting people down with gossip, exposing personal flaws and the marginalisation of outsiders was exactly what Ali Campbell and his ilk brought to Govt.

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