There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure

A few weeks ago I read a Guardian article that asked whether someone’s taste in books could predict dating compatibility. My first reaction was, “hell yeah!” If a bloke reads the same kind of books as me there’s a good chance we’ll hit it off. However the article contains comments from people who are extremely judgmental about others’ reading habits and this is where the whole idea falls down. First of all, frankly if a bloke reads at all, I’m interested, but mainly this pretentious distinction between “high-brow” and “low-brow” or “cultured” and “popular” art is a nonsense. What can you tell about someone who professes that Infinite Jest is their favourite book? That they may or may not have actually read Infinite Jest and that’s about it. What about someone who likes sitcoms? What if they are the same person?

Last week I was doing the “what shall I watch next?” thing, skipping from Netflix to Prime to iPlayer trying to settle on something and not quite feeling into anything. Netflix now has a suggestions button that will cycle through options based on previous viewing. The first few recommendations I had already seen elsewhere but then it came to Superstore, based on my viewing of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation. Both excellent shows. But I felt like if something was along those lines and any good, I would have heard of it already? Schitt’s Creek was recommended to me multiple times by multiple people before I finally tried and yes, it does live up to its reputation. But I had literally never heard of Superstore. However the ennui had set in by then so I gave it a try. I could see the similarities to B99 and Parks, but thought it was a bit derivative, bit too fluffy and slapstick in places. A few days later and I’m crying as Jonah comforts Amy as she’s going through a tough time. Later I’m on the edge of my seat as a natural disaster befalls the store. But wait, this is disposable fluff telly, right? Well like most tv these days it is well written and well acted. It does have moments of silliness but also surprisingly deep themes, like worker’s rights, healthcare and immigration, which, by the way America, what the hell is wrong with you? The character of Amy (America Ferrera) has experiences that chime remarkably with my own life. Not totally – I did get married young and had a very similar divorce journey but didn’t get pregnant at 19 and sadly don’t have a Jonah (Ben Feldman) but still I found myself thinking “wow, that’s me” on multiple occasions. It is light, it is fluffy, it is silly, it is low-brow but it is also very good and I am loving it.

The whole idea of this artificial division and associated judgements is class-ist. I remember when I was in my early 20s, taking part in a quiz with some university friends. A lot of the questions related to opera, classical music, theatre etc and I was clueless. It’s not that I’m not intelligent, or that I don’t have good general knowledge, its that coming from a working class background gives you a very different cultural upbringing than those from the middle or upper-middle classes. That isn’t to say that I had no exposure to culture, quite the opposite – but traditional Scottish, folk and popular culture, as “low-brow” doesn’t have the same status or likelihood to appear as questions in quizzes, but it is as rich and fully rounded and as culturally significant as “cultured” culture. At the time I felt ashamed at my lack of knowledge of high culture, but looking back I realise that knowing your Wagner from your Puccini doesn’t make you a better person, just as knowing your Coronation Street from your Eastenders doesn’t make you a lesser person.

I have always liked the lyric from the Franz Ferdinand song “Dark of the Matinee” (one of their best songs if you ask me)

“Time every journey to bump into you, accidentally
I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate
All the words I hate
All the clothes I hate
How I’ll never be anything I hate
You smile, mention something that you like
Oh how you’d have a happy life if you did the things you like”

It’s all too easy to pass judgement. It is easy to hate on things, criticise things and make fun of them. I’m no exception, I’ve definitely engaged in that myself. By nature I’m a cynical person and I have strong opinions about a lot of things, A good judgy session can strengthen bonds and cement “us” vs “them” which as social animals we need sometimes. But expressing dislike, criticism or judgement about a tv programme/book/musician shouldn’t be the same as making judgements about the people who do like those things. The times when I’ve found someone who takes a more positive view of things, who talks enthusiastically about an interest or who I share an obsession for something with have been the most life-affirming and uplifting experiences in my life, far outweighing any camaraderie gained from a griping session. The pleasure gained from sharing a passion, sharing joy is a beautiful thing.

As we experienced lockdowns though the COVID-19 Pandemic, most of us watched far more tv and films than we did before. The arts got very little government support during lockdown, yet people continued to create, often going to great lengths to either re-package their output for an online audience, or undergoing rigorous testing, isolation and distancing measures to produce something resembling normal to us. From my own viewing habits alone, I’m going to guess that a lot of the content that has been consumed over the past year has been of the lighter, fluffier, “lower-brow” variety. It offers escapism, gives us laughs and loves when we can’t be with those who make us smile or who we desperately want to hug. It serves a purpose and it serves it well. None of us should feel remotely guilty for that.

Franz Ferdinand

Last gig for a while so I wanted to make sure it was a good one, and it certainly was.  I have been a fan of Franz Ferdinand for ages, and I finally got to see them live for the first time last summer at the Hydro Connect festival.  Unfortunately I had just had an allergic reaction to some food and had thrown up at the side of the field so my enjoyment was tempered somewhat.  So when they announced they were coming to the Barrowlands I had to get tickets, even though I was 5 months pregnant.  I tried to chance my luck by contacting the venue to ask if we could get on a guest list and get some special treatment but they didn’t even reply.

So we arrived and tried to find a suitble spot that would avoid me being crushed to death.  My previous experience of the Barrowlands wasn’t great (see post on MGMT).  Also T was worried that I would get jostled / faint / harm the baby by being too close to an amp so I had to stop him fretting first.  Finally found a good spot at the side of the hall which was slightly raised and also handily near the First Aid station so I could see the stage, have some room and alleviate T’s concerns.

So the band came on and got stuck straight into a combo of old and new songs.  I had only got round to getting FF’s new album a couple of days before so I wasn’t too familiar with all the new stuff, but they are good catchy tunes in the familiar FF style, and they really worked well live so it didn’t matter.  The set was fast moving, one song straight into another, with minimal chat from the band.  In fact Alex barely said anything, and I don’t know if it was just where I was standing but I could hardly make out the few things he did say.  I caught “Glasgow”, “special” and “thank you” which may well have been the jist of what he said.

But what Alex K lacked in on on-stage banter he more than made up for in rock-star moves.  He strutted around the stage like he owned it and for those 2 hours he really did.  It wasn’t all posing, he did communicate with the audience, albeit through an elaborate sequence of gestures, actions, facial expressions, winks, nods, points and such like.  I imagine there were girls (and probably some boys) in the front of the crowd who were on the receiving end of these who were suitably swooning away.

We were on the side of the bass player Bob (such a great name for a rock star) who was like many other bass players and just stood there playing his bass like he was practising in his living room.  While Alex and guitarist Nick were cavorting around the stage, he was just standing there impassively, but his bass playing was top notch as usual and I guess posing isn’t for everyone.  It was quite interesting to watch actually, like playing the blinking game to see if he would move.

Unfortunately once again the Barrowlands crowd spoiled things a bit, at one pont in the middle of the gig some random bloke decided to pick a fight with another bloke standing near us, for no apparent reason.  He had to be taken away by security.   Also at one point in the set they slowed things down a bit, got a bit more acoustic.  Unfortunatley some of the audience decided that was a good time to head to the bar or have a conversation with their friends, so all I could hear was chatter and “excuse me” as people barged passed.

All in all though, it was a great gig, the band were on top form, played all the old hits and quite a few new songs, and kept us singing, dancing and jumping around the whole night. They varied songs from their single/album versions and played around with some, which kept it intersting and made it more of a special performance rather than a live version of their recordings (again, see MGMT for what not to do).  

I used my pregant lady priviladges at the end by sitting in the First Aid station until the hall had cleared, they were very nice and provided us with endless supplies of water until I reminded them my bladder was aproximately the size of a grape and didn’t fancy waiting in the ladies toilet queue yet again.  There was even one even-more-pregnant lady than me who sat with us too.  Didn’t hang around afterwards to see if we could meet the band, I was getting sore and tired and it was freezing outside.  Maybe next time.

Support Band – don’t know, we pitched up later to avoid standing around too long so we didn’t see them. The crowd were in a good mood when we arrived so they were probably good.

Merchandise – Good range of differnt t-shirts, scarves, random bits and bobs and CDs etc.  No ladies sizes in t-shirts, the girl at the desk was nice enough to suggest I get an extra-small, but given my expanding bump I opted for a small which was just fine.  5/5