I know I know: the writers of the Guardian lifestyle section are easy targets, to say the least — just as easy as Trump and Johnson and company — and really very little is served by criticising them. But as I was recently researching the trivial lives of the trivial classes for a story, I put together this and the last post on Fleabag for your trivial pleasure. So if you fancy another waltz through the fields of scorn, then come with me, as we explore the marvellous adventures of Emma Brockes, Hannah Jane Parkinson, Arwa Mahdawi and the rest of the professional goodthinkers of Minitrue…
Emma Brockes, who lives in New York and has kids, writes about living in New York and having kids. She wrote a book about it last year, ‘An Excellent Choice’ (which, oddly seems to be coming out again this year, under the title of ‘Panic & Joy’). Here’s the blurb:
Emma Brockes is thirty-seven, lives alone, and wants children. She is in a relationship (good!) but they aren’t doing the parenting together (weird!). Emma needs sperm, a doctor, and not to bankrupt herself. And that’s just the beginning…
Just the beginning!1 If you’re wondering what else might happen to this hapless gal, I suggest taking a look at her Guardian articles, which run the full gamut of the human experience, from feeling a bit awkward about employing poor people to take care of your children…
…all the way up to those same children having ten weeks off for summer.
Some might say a whole article saying just that — my kids are off for ten weeks — is a little bit thin, but there’s an audience out there for this; of women just like Emma Brockes, who read such articles and think, ‘Thank God! I’m not mad! Someone like me! Someone who also has kids who are on a ten week break from school!’
Although it’s really good to be Emma Brockes, living in a ‘comforting community, that warms you inside and out’, there are some dark clouds on the horizon…
Only one step away from rape, basically. But that’s not all. There are horrendous problems with the avocado toast too.
Thankfully the terrible scare we all had over quinoa being unethical has passed now.
But let’s not dwell on Emma. She’s not the only one with problems.
This poor man humps stuffed tigers.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There is, for example, relief for all those mums out there…
And not just mums…
At last, right!? You might find you’re unlucky enough to be in a job that doesn’t offer paid holidays when you get a new puppy though. Stressful! What’s the solution?
Unfortunately not everyone has access to goats:
Guardian writers don’t just have quinoa and yoga-based woes. That would be strange. There’s the worldwide plague of manchildren to deal with for a start.
Actually I do sympathise there. It must be awful going out with a manchild. I wonder if Eleanor has tried brushing her teeth for fifteen minutes? The problem is finding a really good guide to this kind of thing though. If only there was a full length feature about bru… wait a minute! What’s this!?
This brilliant piece was written by Hannah Jane Parkinson, who does a regular spot called ‘the joy of small things’, in which she wanders around her marvellous flat trying to find something to get really excited about. In May she recommended scratching. In March she told us all why she loves the smell of wood. And in January she confessed to being a floor enthusiast. She’s also into wanking.
And haircuts of course, and shoes. If Guardian lifestyle blogs are an easy target for sarcasm then the fashion section is a barrel of snark-apples…
Do you see the reference there?
Back to the trials of life. Arwa Mahdawi also has problems, as you can see from her profile picture. Like so many people, she was horrified about the famous fish-eating vegan influencer.
But she doesn’t just whine about the dreadful state of the world. She offers practical solutions too.
Here’s another solution to a perennial problem — love. This is offered by cuddly restaurant critic Grace Dent who has problems with her partner leaving the window open.
It’s been this way for a couple of years. I don’t want to change it. On days apart, we speak constantly via WhatsApp. If I need him, he’ll appear – say, if a big spider is loose in the house, or if very bad news has happened. He is cherished entirely, but I can cherish him 13 miles away.
She needs three days a week off from her relationship to ‘emotionally recalibrate’ with ‘silence’ while her partner needs to get away because she…
[eats] oatcakes, harissa and hummus with pickled onions for dinner if I’m not really hungry, play[s] tinny 90s R&B through my iPhone, stack[s] the dishwasher illogically so the glasses look gritty, and indulge[s] many other unique personality bolt-ons that my ex-husband feasibly still talks about in a PTSD support group.
That’s it is it Grace? Nothing else? No other reason that you feel such a need to get away from your lover that you have to live in two separate properties? Looking into Grace’s eyes suggests (to me at least) that she’s not telling the full story here. But at least she has a solution!
As in fact do so many writers at the Guardian. We’ll finish this brief review with this classic headline, although there are many like it which help us grown-ups (no kidults here!) to navigate the complexities of life in the modern world.
Okay, I’m done.
If these articles were just that, articles, I probably would just leave them alone. The reason I’ve posted them here is not just so that we can all have a good sneer, but because they are written by and for novelists, literary agents, publishers, current-affairs panelists, talk show guests, producers, commissioning editors and academics: people who are in charge of our culture. It is these people who ensure that television channels fill up with Fleabags and Russian Dolls and that bookshop displays fill up with heartwarming tales of one woman’s attempt to find a sperm donor in Waitrose and that newspaper column-inches overflow with, in essence, work-kitchen untalk.
Do you prefer blinds or curtains? Ooh! Good question! I dunno, because blinds are so practical? but then they break so easily!? You never really notice them until you have a problem. Oh my God yes that’s so true! I find blinds, like, so annoying? I much prefer curtains, I bought a lovely set from John Lewis? Pencil-pleated. Hahahaha oh wo-ow! Pencil-pleated curtains are a soft furnishings icon…
Yeah, yeah, went to Wilderness at the weekend. The hey-day is over though mate. It was great, but it’s already getting too commercial, you know what I mean? Yeah, yeah. Got any of that Rwandan coffee? Off camping for a week in Norway and I need the fuel, hahahaha! Cool, cool, let us know what you’re up to before I go because I’m doing a digital de-tox…
And so on for all eternity; in a stiff, colourless monotone. Do you know the one? Clench the back of your neck, pushing the vocalised air back and slightly into the nose. This tension — the permanent tension of the bland — forces all delicacy and nuance out of the voice, leaving a cutting nasality, a harsh tonal linoleum from which the entire furniture of the halfman mind is built from.
Of course the ‘art’ of the world is slightly more ‘serious’ than this endless, monovibe, anti-talk. It deals with ‘issues’ for a start, or it contains long, long, long ‘enigmatic’ shots of Rooney Mara eating a pie, or it tells you its important. But there is still nothing there. Take a look at this list of ‘insightful’ quotes from recently deceased Guardian-darling Toni Morrison. Nothing, no insights to be found. Zero! Wandering through the work of the culture-makers of the world is like looking for picnic spot on the moon.
I know, as someone trying to get books published and teevee shows made — good ones — I have a selfish reason to whine about this psychological-cultural wasteland, but this isn’t just my problem, nor is it trivial. As I said the other day; just as the earth suffocates from physical contamination so such intellectual plastic clogs up our cultural seas or the pools of intimacy we could be relaxing in; and, as with any pollution, it soon comes to seems normal. The body deals with it, becomes inured, and then fresh water can’t be enjoyed any more. There’s no delicacy of feeling to do so, so it is rejected as boring.
The thing about culture though is that it’s not ‘just entertainment’. It is, first of all, expression and reflection of our collective dream-life, the means by which we experience the non-literal source of humanity and bring it to recognition. Beneath that it mirrors the individual human psyche, or is supposed to. By experiencing the ‘shape of the unconscious’ — made conscious by great artists — we are made more conscious,2. This then elevates our ordinary experience of ourselves and each other. Inspired by, or even imitating, the characters in great stories or the moods of great songs, we learn to speak, react and experience more consciously, which is to say both more uniquely — as consciousness can only ever be my consciousness — and (paradoxically) at the same time more traditionally — as the formidable craftsmanship required for great art requires decades of practice based on hundreds of years of knowledge, which the audience then absorbs into its bones. Without all this we die inside and everything we do together becomes degraded, from the style of our hellos to the tone of our goodbyes.
Not that you need to be vibrating inside to Bach’s cantatas or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Great art can come in the most disposable or homely cultural forms. Pulp fiction, pop songs and soap operas can reflect the dream-life of the psyche. Can, but don’t. It’s almost impossible now for such popular artifacts to be made, for the reasons I spell out in Myth 19 — the Myth of Culture — of 33 Myths of the System. What the above journey through the compulsive irrelevance of modern culture-makers reminds us, is that the death of the unconscious has a face; and a flat in North London.
For a brief history of The Guardian and a brief account of its left-wing writers, see Guardian Bothering.
For a chat with ex-editor Michael White, see this exchange of e-mails.
For a guide to how the truth is filtered from the news, see The Myth of Truth.
- The New York Times said her book was ‘So smart and tartly charming; Think Fleabag meets Helen Fielding’.
- in a similar way to how our taste-buds are made more sensitive by eating good food in beautiful rooms; although actually on a qualitatively different level. The experience of the unconscious in the higher, ‘Ludwigian’ arts is fundamentally nothing like that in the lower, ‘Nigellian’, arts.