From one blog to another

[Apologies to anyone who cares that there's been a two-and-a-half year gap since the last post. I may start doing this more regularly, even if it's just to get something a little productive from hours of internet browsing.]

Today, I stumbled on a little blog that, for some reason, got under my skin. It may be fairly notorious to some – since it started in early July 2012, it’s been gradually counting down what it deems to be ‘The 100 Worst People On Twitter‘. I say ‘it’, but the author’s (or rather authors’) gender is male: apparently they are Dom Passantino and Callum Hamilton.

It’s not new that the internet contains morons displaying cruel, unthinking aggression. In fact, it infects corners of the web to such an extent that low-level trolls and irony-ignorant commenters are generally ignored by most. They’ve sort of become a benign white noise, so much so that I hardly see them any more. One of the reasons Adam Buxton’s BUG works so well is the unsaid toil and inherent sadness as he presents audiences with stupid and angry missives from the bowels of YouTube that he’s dug up – each one implies lonely hours he’s spent scrolling through tedium and dirge to dig up weird, accidental gold, and that subtext makes it all the funnier.

Yet this blog’s a little different. It seems to have got under my skin, I guess because it’s intelligent. The authors are well-informed. They’re angry, yes, but unlike most internet trolls, they know their stuff. They seem to understand each of the subjects they profile, break down in excruciating detail exactly why they’re awful, then finish with some choice tweets to prove their point.

That’s what makes it so frustrating and compelling to read. All their irony and flippancy and anger and put-downs and everything else come after genuine research. They compile a dossier on each person that must have taken a good while to scrape together, then use that to obliterate the subject.

They mention that the blog’s been accused of ‘prejudice against the middle classes’, which they gleefully embrace as they attack Rufus Hound (with knowing irony) for his private education and stage name. Leaving aside the absurdity of the accusation (the whole blog targets far more than just privilege or the old cliches of middle class pretensions – it’s saturated with joyfully sneering misanthropy [plus, as a member of this so-called class, it would take a lot before I could justifiably call attitudes against someone like me 'prejudice']), this entry is pretty typical of the whole collection.

It sort of reminds me of Private Eye, with its personal jibes and scornful, sarcastic tone. And I like Private Eye. So why don’t I like this?

It’s sneering, but it knows it’s sneering. And it doesn’t bother them. Pretty much every entry seems to contain some kind of ad hominem attack, yet always suggests that they know exactly what they’re doing and still do it. It’s so painfully full of aggression and self-awareness and apathy and irony that criticism of it is pointless. It constantly suggests its own bitterness and negativity is also pathetic, but then shrugs this off. It’s a pose that’s one of total apathy, immune to criticism. It’s pretty nihilistic, in its own little way.

The two men attack sincerity, and puncture holes in every media-type and tweeter they deem fit. The political message isn’t the point – the point is just to pour scorn (and – goddamn it – generally fairly well-written and well-researched scorn) on a select 100 people.

And it does so with maddening certainty.

It lacerates hypocrisy in a hyper-aggressive manner, and goes for those who represent conventional thinking, complacency, and anything else. In particular, they gleefully jump on liberal sacred cows like Charlie Brooker. (Incidentally, in order to argue that Brooker’s done nothing of worth, they seem to have to ignore Black Mirror entirely…)

So on one level, the blog has drawn me to my keyboard because I flat out disagree with it at various points. But it also attacks people I dislike (Piers Morgan, Giles Coren) and does it pretty well.

In fact, the blog rejoices in attacking the media, and what a network-y, self-involved and self-obsessed place it can be. A fair target, and hit pretty accurately most of the time. But since I’m trying to make my way into that world, the venom of each attack struck painfully close to home.

But undoubtedly the reason it’s bothered me most of all can be found in the entry on Helen Lewis. They say how irritatingly predictable her background is (Oxford and City), and so make me feel like mine must be too. And, in a way, they’re right. This little jibe was so effective because I can’t do anything about it. If people criticise anything I do or make, I really don’t mind, but I’ve not really been criticised for my background much. Maybe I should be. 1

The other reason I’ve been dwelling on the blog is because its attitude is the polar opposite to mine; I generally suffer from pretty severe cases of hero worship. I’ll latch onto some writer or musician or even friend and idolise them a bit. Or a lot. Cases in point have been Christopher Hitchens, Johann Hari, Salman Rushdie, Richard Dawkins, and lots of others. Most recently it’s David Foster Wallace. And every single time, I eventually realise that that particular person isn’t actually infallible, and in fact may be greatly flawed, or a liar, or an arsehole, or just a human being. 2

So I guess what I’m saying is that this blog takes a subject’s flaws (which I always try so hard to ignore in someone I admire), and focuses only on them. The authors reduce each person to their worst traits or most glaring moments of hypocrisy. And I have a problem with this. I think it’s John Dickerson who always warns not to judge someone by their worst moments – if we did, no-one would ever be good in anyone’s eyes. Everyone’s flawed, etc.

That said, I guess we need commentary like Passantino and Hamilton’s. It stops the hero-worship to which I’m dangerously prone. But it’s also nasty, hollow, and extremely uncomfortable for me to read.

——-

1 And anyway, it’s stupidly solipsistic of me to even bring myself into the whole arena, because I haven’t been the target of a withering profile (and likely never will be, with all my 106 followers).

2 Right now, D T Max’s detailed biography of DFW is serving very well indeed to de-deify the late author in my mind. But it does so in an accepting way – it’s sympathetic, not a hatchet job, and also unflinchingly honest. Quite an impressive balancing act, really. (I’ll stop with the pseudo-DFW footnotes now. But I can see the appeal. They’re moreish.)

Ultra Culture vs. Scott Pilgrim

Well that was awesome. I just returned from Ultra Culture Cinema Event Thing #4, a whole evening devoted to Edgar Wright’s newest offering, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and it was OFFICIALLY the greatest (and the first) Ultra Culture Cinema Event Thing I’ve ever been to. I’d been meaning to come to the first few, but due to UC’s anti-non-Londoner racist policies, I was forced to miss Bad Lieutenant, Trash Humpers and Mother. And I think I’m right in writing that this was the first time the film being shown was already out on general release (albeit on that day). So I booked tickets for it waaaaay back when, but then accidentally went to a screening of the film on the 12th August, two weeks before its release. Damn. Even worse, the film didn’t live up to expectations. OBSERVE: http://www.benkirby.net/index.php/reviews/film/scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world Still, I suspected that Ultra Culture would make the evening a good ’un, even if I’d already seen – and been mildly underwhelmed by – the film, so on Wednesday 25 August, I happily trotted along with a friend to the ICA.

I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from being a little put out by the London prices of drink (at least 80p more than my local village pub – an excellent saving if you’re prepared to ignore the mildly racist regulars), ICA was really rather nice, full of very pretentious and arty films/books for sale and extremely nice Ultra Culture people handing out bourbons, which were a lot less tasty than my childhood would have me remember. So we queued to get in and then found our seats, only to be delighted by a miniature package waiting on each one, containing one sweet and one rather over-enthusiastic programme. QUOTE: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World couldn’t be much more universally enjoyable if they gave everybody on the planet a free ticket and the free ticket came with a free balloon. [That would be awesome though.] As it is, Pilgrim clocks in at just under two hours and wastes precisely zero percent of that runtime, packing every single minute with shit-hot action, cockle-warming romance and numerous Culkin-based ROFLs.’ Watch out, Helen O’Hara. You may yet be beaten in the contest to be Edgar Wright’s most sycophantic reviewer.

It was interesting to be surrounded by people who were clearly expecting the world from this film, and for Scott Pilgrim to fight it. I felt like jumping up and ordering them all to lower their expectations appropriately, and to prepare for Edgar Wright’s third best film. But there was no time for this, as Mr Ultra Culture (I think his name’s Charlie) took to the microphone, and surprised me by a.) being my age, and b.) looking about twelve. It seems I haven’t looked after myself like he has. Time has ravaged my once youthful looks. But Charlie/Ultra seemed very nice and quite funny, and announced that some volunteers would be performing the trailer prior to watching the film. No-one volunteered for Scott, so I shoved my hand into the air and was chosen for the lead. My moment had arrived. I went up onto the stage along with the other lovely volunteers, and we proceeded to act out the trailer in an extremely ramshackle but fun way. I got to fly through a window like MichaelCeraMan, which was fun, and to mime kissing an absolute stranger, which I’m sure looked utterly convincing and made me the envy of the audience. Then everybody cheered for who they thought was best, and the guy playing Lucas Lee won, and I came second. We each got a backpack, a t-shirt, a hat and a rare copy of Plumtree’s LP, ‘Preserving Wildlife’, which has the song ‘Scott Pilgrim’ on.

Then the film started (after a nice message from Edgar Wright and the cast) and it was better than I remembered. Maybe it was just from knowing what to expect this time around, or from lowering my expectations (which had been ridiculously high the first time), or from acting out the trailer to an enthusiastic audience, but I enjoyed it far more. However, it still suffers from an over-abundance of glossy effects and editing at the cost of a coherent or involving story, and it needs to take one or two opportunities just to calm down for five minutes. On the second viewing, I also realised just how much it is a film of two halves, with the second being a whole lot weaker than the first. Still, everyone enjoyed it and clapped at the end, before we were forced to remain in our seats for ten minutes. It was all rather ominous, but we were given a pleasant surprise went none other than EDGAR BLOODY WRIGHT walked into the room and started answering our questions.

He came fresh (or haggard) from finishing off the DVD, and had to go back and carry on with that after chatting to us. I tried to be professional and record it all, but unfortunately it was all inaudible to my phone’s pitiful microphone. Still, Mr Wright did divulge some fun little facts which I very professionally committed to memory, including:

  • The writing of the script and the comic book took place simultaneously, and each influenced the other in certain ways.
  • It took a year and two editors to edit.
  • They finished it just two weeks before Comic-Con.
  • Beck recorded a shitload of songs for the film within about 72 hours, and even wrote the musical highlight of the film, ‘Ramona’.
  • His original, improvised recording of ‘Ramona’ also features in the finished film, when Scott is smacking his head against the telegraph pole.
  • He recognises the Incredible Suit man by face alone.
  • The music stuff was more fun to film than the fight stuff (though the latter was easier to edit).
  • The DVD will have a huge haul of extras, including outtakes, deleted scenes, animatic sequences (which apparently look like the film’s been badly Sweded)
  • He wants his next film to have approximately NO REFERENCES AT ALL, seeing as he’s sick of doing trivia tracks. This might mean that The World’s End will be a lot less hyperactive and be around 34% better as a result.
  • He’d never had Coke Zero until now. And thinks it tastes like Pepsi. SCOOP.

Wonderful. He was nice and friendly, and it capped off an amazing evening rather well. We all hung around in the bar afterwards, where some people played on Rock Band 3 (apparently the first time it’s been played publicly anywhere in Europe), but I had to leave to catch my train back to the rural non-London part of England.

So in summary, it was a bloody great evening, and the film was better the second time around. ULTRA CULTURE, I SALUTE YOU.

My First Premiere

Welcome, one and all, to the second instalment of the explosively, orgiastically popular series, ‘My First [insert noun here]’. This week’s edition is roughly 73% more exciting than last week’s, since it’s only an account of the flipping WORLD PREMIERE OF INCEPTION! Please forgive me if I get a little overexcited and sweat a little too much. It’s just that world premieres tend to be fairly exciting things. Anyway, it’s probably best for me to calm down, and to try and give you a rough idea of how it all came about.

Our story begins many moons ago, when the first trailer for Inception was unleashed upon the world on 24 August 2009. I immediately watched then re-watched it, and then proceeded to show anyone I could, with my ecstatic high-pitched giggling an uncontrollable reaction each time it was replayed. But the next day, I had a grand epiphany: I should deliberately avoid all of the film’s publicity, and watch the finished product knowing as little as possible about it. That would mean shunning all trailers, posters, interviews, articles, everything. Not an easy task for me. And I’d seen better men than me fail before. Before Hot Fuzz came out in that craziest of years, 2007, my friend Ned vowed to avoid all publicity, then promptly fell at the very first (and hilarious) hurdle with the release of the trailer. I would have to have a reservoir of self-restraint on standby for the next eleven months. But worryingly, no matter how strong and handsomely square-jawed my resolve might be, I soon realised that things weren’t entirely in my control. I am a compulsive reader of film magazines and websites, as well as a frequent cinema visitor, so, with the increasingly intense coverage Inception began to get, it quickly began to feel as if the universe was conspiring against my vow of abstinence. Everywhere I looked, the film was being shoved in my face. This experience seemed remarkably similar to that of Ultra Culture, the less-famous-than-it-should-be film blog, the writer of which (not sure of his real name – unless it really is Ultra Culture, in which case Mr and Mrs Culture are very cruel and vindictive parents) decided to select a film at random to avoid at all costs until he saw the finished product. No easy task, and he eventually ended up knowing more about the film (Killers) than he probably would have had he not taken on the task. Observe! http://www.ultraculture.co.uk/3391-killers-five-months-on.htm Nonetheless, I stood fast, skipping the pages of Empire about the film and, when at the cinema, even leaping out of my chair and sprinting from the room screaming when the trailer began to play.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. A friend from university, Jack Secunda, had managed to get hold of a pair of tickets through his connections, yet outrageously refused to give them to me. Instead, he chose an older friend – ‘Chris’ (if that is his real name) – and left me distraught. The premiere would have been ideal for me, as it would let me see it before most people, thus avoiding fat morons waddling up to me and exclaiming with spittle-drenched enthusiasm how incredible the last shot of the film is. (That’s true by the way. That final shot is phenomenal.) I am, it must be said, a dribbly fat moron magnet. So I had resigned myself to my fate, when the very same friend told me and another friend (Will) of a Facebook competition for Inception where you win tickets to the premiere by finding their man in a briefcase in a particular city. We agreed to try it in London, and Jack agreed to help out, though I had personally resigned myself to the seemingly inevitable outcome of travelling back to Hemel Hempstead empty-handed that same afternoon. So when Thursday 8 June rolled around (which was also the day of the premiere), we positioned ourselves strategically around London. I myself stood in Trafalgar Square in a suit, trying not to look too shifty or out of place.

I quickly became paranoid, and thought that anyone else who was standing around for longer than a minute must be waiting for the briefcase man too. Finally the first clue as to his location was posted, and, amazingly, Jack found the briefcase man with the help of his trusty iPhone 4. He’s an Apple whore. Anyway, he rang Will and me to tell us to stand down, he’d succeeded, and we all convened in a lovely hotel where we picked up a pair of glossy and impossibly beautiful tickets from a lovely promotion lady.

It also turned out that we were being given free accommodation for the night (albeit in a Premier Inn, the most retina-scorchingly purple place in existence) and having our travel costs paid for. Things were going so strangely perfectly that I began to get suspicious that either the whole thing was an elaborate and extremely malicious set-up of Jack’s, or that things were about to all go wrong. I would be hit by a bus or would fall in the Thames or get sexually molested by a tramp. Something, anything, would surely happen to ruin what had, up until this point, been a perfect day. After all, I had done nothing to deserve such riches except stand in the middle of Trafalgar Square, wearing a suit and looking rather gormless – and a little too much like Napoleon Dynamite for my liking. I wasn’t even out of breath, since Jack had done all the running around for the tickets. But then I realised, with a flash of glee, that karma was the reason for all this. The first film I had ever decided to avoid publicity for, and it’s the first premiere I go to. Coincidence? I think not.

So Will and I found our way to the Premier Inn, where we were disappointed not to find Lenny Henry serving us at the front desk. Still, we recovered from this, freshened up excitedly, and then left for Leicester Square. Once we arrived, excitement levels were at critical. We had a quick bite to eat at that most sophisticated of food chains, Burger King, (its initials are particularly admirable) before being herded into a pen with some other excited people. At this point, glamour levels dipped somewhat, as we weren’t allowed to leave our little metal enclosure, and could only jig up and down in frustration as the microphone announced the arrival of famous people, followed by lots of screaming from the crowds. Finally, the over-officious security guard let us through, and we did an awkward and very English half run, half walk in a sad attempt to get to the red carpet first. Then suddenly we turned the corner and were confronted by hundreds of photographers and screaming fans and security people. And celebrities, sir. Thousands of ‘em. Not only was Michael Caine there, but we quickly stumbled upon Leonardo DiCaprio. He stood just three feet away from us, and it felt incredibly surreal. In fact, so close was he that I could well have lunged wildly at him, and no-one could have done a thing. In fact, I could have killed Leonardo DiCaprio. So in fact, Leonardo DiCaprio owes his life and continued existence all to me. And he hasn’t even thanked me.

Better. Although actually, I probably didn’t have time to kill him, since the security guards were eager to hurry us un-famous plebeians along into the cinema, so that the cameramen and autograph hunters didn’t have to stare in confused anger and outrage at our anonymous, ugly, ugly faces. We resisted these fascist oppressors for as long as we could, and made sure we took a nice picture.

How lovely. That’s Will on the left, me in the middle (looking quite painfully dapper what with the new tie clip and all) and Jack on the right (having apparently raided Jeremy Clarkson’s wardrobe). And then it was straight into the cinema, which gave the illusion that the film was about to start. In fact, we were sitting in our seats FOR OVER AN HOUR AND A HALF while increasingly less famous celebrities preened and posed outside for the cameras.  All this was broadcast inside the cinema on the screen, including interviews with each of the cast members, which meant I once again bolted from the cinema, paranoid of any last minute spoilers. I had come this far, and I was damned if I was going to fail now. However, the B List celebs soon turned up, and things reached their lowest point when Peaches Geldof trotted her horsey, famous-off-her-father’s-self-righteous-Irish-back self down the red carpet. She then was interviewed by the moronic mockney interviewer. An unstoppable idiot met an immovable cock. Still, eventually Peaches found her seat (though not without the help of a kindly usher who took pity on her), and things got underway. Eventually the cast walked onstage along with Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and the smallest man I’ve seen in a long time, who looked a bit like Tom Hollander but apparently was some Warner Brothers executive. Christopher Nolan did a nice speech, but to be honest I wasn’t really listening, as I was preoccupied instead with staring, slack-jawed and love-struck, at Ellen Page in the flesh (although I’m aware that using the word ‘flesh’ here makes me sound inescapably creepy), and the intense, stalkerish love I felt for her after watching Juno for the first time was immediately reignited more passionately than before.

But then she went away, along with the rest of the cast, and the film started. Everyone clapped at the beginning, watched it, and then clapped much more loudly at the end.

Just like when people read this blog. Now clap and then go away.

PS. Go and bloody see Inception. I might not have mentioned this, but it’s rather good. Read the erudite and witty review in the Film section if you don’t believe me.

My First Job

It’s been a long time coming. A boy’s first job seems to traditionally start as a young teen, doing paper rounds, mowing gardens and being paid by a priest to keep quiet. Not so for me. My parents aren’t Catholic, and as for any other jobs… Well, I guess laziness was partly to blame, but I also went to boarding school, which didn’t help matters. This boy’s (man’s probably too strong a term – it implies I can put up shelves, play sweaty football and eat a large steak, possibly all at the same time) first job comes when he (that is, I) is (that is, am) eighteen. Well, eighteen and eleven months. The need for money jolted me out of lethargy and sent me out onto the big bad streets of Bovingdon and beyond, handing out CVs to all who would take them.

My first port of call was also the most depressing: the Hemel Hempstead branch of A Major Supermarket Chain That Sounds A Bit Like Fresco. If you’ve never been, it’s well worth avoiding. Hemel is an ugly, dull little town – its main tourist attraction being an optimistically titled ‘magic’ roundabout around which cars can drive both ways – but their branch of… Fresco.. really takes the stale and mouldy biscuit. I printed off the application form with a certain sense of dread and slowly filled it out. I’d be lying if I said that I wanted the job. The chance to stand around gormlessly, wearing an ill-fitting blue uniform and hearing colleagues inform customers that they “dunno what asparagus is” (an utterance I genuinely heard from an assistant a few years ago) seemed an experience too eye-clawingly painful to undertake. I’d rather go hungry. Once I filled in the form, I went off to the shop and handed it in along with my CV, only to be told that they didn’t take the latter. Good job too, really, since it seemed to scream at the reader, “I CAN’T SURVIVE IN THE REAL WORLD AND MIGHT BURN DOWN YOUR BUSINESS! AT THE VERY LEAST I’LL SCARE AWAY ALL THE CUSTOMERS BY BEING IMPOSSIBLY NERDY AND LACKING ALL SOCIAL SKILLS!” Things weren’t looking hopeful, but I was glad of that, particularly because on the afternoon I handed in the form, the sewage pipe had burst in the bakery section. The entire shop was spewing mephitic odours of doughy and faecal putrefaction, and with these various scents lingering in my nostrils, I left rather hopeful of being turned down.

I wasn’t disappointed. I soon got an email informing me that I wasn’t good enough for Fresco’s, leaving the pressing (and de-pressing) question of what exactly I was good for. Not much it seems. I spent an entire morning handing out CVs to all the shops on the Hemel High Street, but not one email or phone call came my way. Although this failure wasn’t financially encouraging, I was nonetheless beginning to warm to the notion that I might have a summer free of commitments. I had a big pile of books by my bed that I actually wanted to read (not a luxury afforded by an English degree, though I’ve thankfully now just about survived the banal ordeal of Old English) and I’d also just been made Film Editor of the Cherwell (Oxford’s student newspaper), which required me to go to the cinema about once a week to review a film. Such literary and cinematic self-indulgence seemed too good to be true, like instant mashed potato, and indeed it was, though the disappointment upon this discovery wasn’t as enormous as when I tasted Smash for the first time – that, to paraphrase Phillip J. Fry, was like a party in my mouth, and everyone was throwing up.

As I was living solely off a student loan, I soon had to face up to the annoying fact that a job really was needed, so out I went again, carrying CVs that boasted of having been unemployed for my entire life. I ended up being driven around to eight or nine pubs by my sister (my inability to drive being just another facet of my stunted usefulness in the real world), where I assured all who would listen that I would do anything for money. In retrospect, this was perhaps unwise – Bovingdon lacks anything in the way of a red light district, so I could well have accidentally stumbled upon a lucrative, if sticky, market – but it once again didn’t seem to yield much in the way of employment. So I returned to university to do my exams (which went fairly averagely, thanks for asking) feeling sure that I would have a summer of laziness and poverty. Then the realisation struck me that I wouldn’t be able to go to the cinema once a week if I didn’t get a job, and I was motivated to give one last desperate push to earn some money. I picked up the phone, and amazingly enough, one pub (an excellent establishment with impeccable and devastatingly handsome service on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout this summer) took me on.

So, on that historic day of Wednesday 23 June, I had my first job. I turned up, watched the England/Slovenia game, and then was given a rapid tour of everything behind the bar by a lovely lady named Kathy. Soon enough I was pulling my first pint, and it quickly became pretty intuitive. Except for the mental arithmetic involved in working out the change you owe customers, which has so far proved worryingly difficult. My Maths GCSE was apparently a complete waste of time. Kathy and I were soon joined by Karen, and thus with my last name, we became the KKK. I’ll probably have to come up with a better acronym than that, but still, we were a formidable team. I hid my social awkwardness fairly adequately and got along well enough with all the regulars (generally rather wheezy old men, grey in skin and hair), got given free drinks and a meal and even got let off an hour early. So all in all, it was “great success”. And, most surprisingly of all, I rather enjoyed this employment malarkey. I might do it again some day.

The Third Man

Since arriving at university, there has been a faint but growing background noise in my mind. It might be a malignant brain tumor, but perhaps more likely is that it is due to a slight nervousness about grades. None of the essays I’ve written so far have been graded, so, to me, the whole system of 1sts, 2.1s, 2.2s and 3rds seems bewildering and not a little scary. I’ve no idea what grade I’m heading for at the end of my first year, and I’ve especially got no idea what grade I should be happy with. Up until recently, I ignorantly assumed that a 1st would be the ideal outcome, and would see prospective employers and buxom women alike fall at my feet and beg for my services.

However, all that has changed. A 1st no longer holds that mystical allure that it once did for me, and it is largely thanks to David Cameron. I learnt the other day that he achieved a 1st in PPE back in his Bullingdon days at Oxford, and immediately heard alarm bells. Again, it may have been that tumor, but I suspect not. This fact has since been haunting me, and I’ve found myself returning to it numerous times. Do I really want to be like David Cameron? Would getting a 1st make me that much closer to him in character and intellect?

This fear has nothing to do with his politics, but more with him as a man. He just doesn’t look… right, somehow. It’s like he’s a fat man trapped in skin that’s far too tight for his cheeks. Or anywhere else for that matter. In the new campaign billboards, he implores passers-by “We can’t go on like this” and I couldn’t agree more. David and his shiny skin seem to be physically straining to contain a much fatter, less shiny and far posher man. It scares me. Add into the mix some apparently confused political beliefs and lacklustre public speaking skills and we have the heady combination of secret obesity and gentle idiocy. I don’t want to be like that. Getting a 1st won’t transform me into David Cameron, but it’ll make me one step closer to him.

After developing this paper-thin but self-comforting theory, I then stumbled across a further piece of evidence to lend it marginal credence. Two people for whom I have a far greater deal of respect for than ol’ DC apparently gained 3rds from Oxford: David Dimbleby and Christopher Hitchens. These two journalists have far greater integrity and are infinitely more intelligent and coherent communicators than Cameron; Hitchens, in particular, is one of the most eloquent and erudite writers I’ve ever read, a skill which he transfers with ease to his public speaking. On top of this, he embraces his inner fat man by having an outer fat man. Much more healthy and far less creepy.

So I finally have an excuse to cease trying. If I hardly work at all and instead procrastinate by watching TV or writing these time-wasting blogs, I might just follow the Dimbleby/Hitchens footsteps to become a witty, eloquent and ultra-successful journalist. In fact, I’d say it would pretty much guarantee it. So, I think I’ll have a marathon session of The Sopranos now – just one of the painful sacrifices I must endure to achieve success. My leisurely, couch-bound race towards my 3rd and my fortune has begun.

An Apocalypse of Sexy Proportions

And everything was going so well. Just as President Obama announces the imminent historic passing of comprehensive healthcare reform, the 1982 winner of Cosmopolitan’s “America’s Sexiest Man” threatens to completely derail it. Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts has made huge waves in America, with Fox News et al. proclaiming this to be a watershed moment for Obama and the President reportedly furious.

It was unexpected, to say the least. In succeeding Ted Kennedy’s vacancy, Brown has become the first Republican Massachusetts Senator in 38 years. Obama himself attributed the victory to the same anger and frustration which swept him into the White House just one short year ago. This is an astute analysis by the President, and it communicates an unavoidable truth: for much of America, change has not come, and the Obama administration is rapidly becoming the new scapegoat for the sufferings of the people.

It may be unfair to blame the Democrats for rising unemployment, unchanged healthcare and the relentless rise of US casualties in Afghanistan, yet the increasingly impatient voters of Massachusetts have done so. Indeed, all across America, people appear to be dissatisfied with the rate of progress from their new President: as of 21 January, Obama’s approval ratings stood at 45%, an all-time low. It is difficult not to feel frustrated with such harsh judgments so early into the Obama presidency, yet it seems that with each passing year, politics has increasingly become about short and snappy progress rather than the more realistic and necessarily slow pace of real change. To the fickle voters of middle America, Obama seems to be stagnating.

Scott Brown’s victory is a reflection of a wider dissatisfaction with the Democrats, having failed to fix the mess handed to them by the Bush administration as rapidly as was hoped. It has made Obama and his party appear weakened, and has jolted the Republicans back to life, after a confused and despondent preceding year. Yet the victory of the Republicans in Massachusetts is not merely symbolic – they have now taken away the Democrats’ 60-seat supermajority, thus regaining their power to delay and even destroy bills through the simple and somewhat bizarre method of filibustering. It is worrying that in a country claiming to be the greatest democracy in the world, any one Senator has the power to kill a bill simply through talking. Ironically, Obama’s legacy could be ended by the very thing which created it: rhetoric.

However, it’s important to get events such as these in perspective. Although it is true that Brown’s entry into the Senate has now taken away the Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, it has in no way killed Obama’s opportunity to get healthcare reform through Congress. Indeed, perhaps the real victim in Scott Brown’s success is the passage of a climate change bill. Compromises in this area are simply unacceptable, yet tragically they will have to occur if any progress is to be made. While healthcare reform will, in all likelihood, continue to struggle through the Senate (emerging on the other side severely battered, but able to take effect), effective legislation on climate change has been stopped dead in its tracks. Depressingly, the victory of America’s Sexiest Man may well prove to be Al Gore’s worst nightmare.

The Genius of Ignorance

As Thomas Gray has it, “where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Although Gray had in mind the “distant prospect of Eton college”, it is only since arriving at university last year that I have realised just how right he was. Knowledge isn’t power – it is impotence. While at school, I happily existed in a small and warm bubble of knowledge, entirely contented and unaware of how little I actually knew. Alas, no more. Never-ending reading lists and terrifyingly intelligent and eloquent tutors can only leave you huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth and dribbling uncontrollably. This is less than ideal. And the more you try to reach their standard, the less realistic your ambitions become, until you finally realise how impossibly little you know.

This is by no means a unique realisation of mine. Alexander Pope warned us of the same thing way back in 1709, advising his readers that “A little learning is a dangerous thing”. There is simply too much to absorb, too many authors to read, too many ideas to comprehend. Recently, some of my friends have had to write an essay on James Joyce in one week. One week. In 7 days that’s Joyce done, now move on to Woolf. We career through the history of literature at breakneck speed, pausing for only the briefest of moments on each author. But what other choice is there? In three years, it is impossible to study a wide range of literature in any depth, and the result seems to be to gain a knowledge only of superficialities.

The more I study, the less I know. Each week, reading something new reveals to me countless areas of knowledge of which I was previously happily unaware. It is somewhat depressing, even more so when one finds that Pope once again preempts this whiney little complaint of mine: “The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes, / Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!” I signed up for English, not bloody mountaineering. Of course, I am not being forced to climb these hills, but that’s not the point. Just knowing that they exist fuels my dejection, and makes me fully aware how little I comprehend. As such, I have become a full devotee to the ancient art of procrastination. Faced with the endless mountains of learning, I no longer cower in the corner and dribble but instead calmly smile, boil the kettle and become lost in Tony Soprano and his heavy nose-breathing.

As long as I stay aware of the dark, insurmountable hills that surround me, I’ve faced with no other choice but to give up on it all, really. What’s the point? But being so daunted by your own intellectual significance that you devote your life to ground-breaking HBO dramas is no way to carry on. When I caught myself saying “badabing, badaboom” to my tutor, this realisation dawned on me. As knowledge has only led to procrastination, I chose to listen to the wisdom of Thomas Gray and follow a life of ignorance. I’ll happily work away at my little essays, devoting one week to Dickens and the next to James, just so long as I don’t let my ambitions stretch any further. The only academic satisfaction I can find is to be ignorant of my own stupidity. It’s bliss.

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