Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Idea Porn

Question: When do ideas become shallow and worthless? Answer: When they become fashionable.

It has been brought to my attention that the ‘chattering classes’ are developing a penchant for non-fiction, devouring ghastly little books that analyse modern cultural trends. It appears that a number of self-styled ‘public intellectuals’ have been doing very nicely producing books on everything from understanding children through to deciphering politicians (same thing no doubt.) Apparently the aspirational middle classes, desperate not to appear lacking in the erudition stakes, are lapping it up.

Self help manuals – which is essentially what these wretched books are – have previously been the preserve of the poorly educated and the socially insecure. Works like How to Influence People have sold in their millions to ambitious working folk who believed that a pot of gold awaited them at the end of the final chapter. But the sad thing about the latest crop of manuals is that they appeal to a supposedly better educated class of citizen, the ones who went to decent Universities. So what exactly has brought this about?

Well, one thing that became apparent during the Thatcher / Blair decades was that conspicuous consumption not only infected the vulgar nouveau riches, but also spread to those that had spent three years in higher education, studying subjects normally considered pretty highbrow. I, for one have been to countless dinner parties where to a man (and woman) the guests have been Oxbridge educated – with perhaps the occasional red-brick gooseberry. And yet for most of the evening these couples have banged on about their five star holidays or their dinners at the Ivy or rising house prices, as though there were nothing else to life.

I have often wondered what people get out of University, Oxbridge included. But when you discover that some of the most vacuous public figures attended the most revered institutions - including a raft of bland, blond newsreaders and witless television personalities – you realize that for many they are simply a stepping stone to ‘the most enviable jobs in society.’

Problem is that a lot of these BA Hons. lightweights are now facing intellectual mid-life crisis. It is dawning on them that the viewing public doesn’t consider them any wiser than the stars of X-factor or Come Dancing. Similarly, my old dinner party set look back on what they have achieved and discover that there is little more than material wealth – houses, cars, designer clothing.

They all know that they cannot return to college, so they have decided that a crash course in some fashionable, pseudo-intellectual topic is just the ticket. They can cherry pick ideas from easy-to-read paperbacks and regurgitate them in front of their peers (who are doing the same thing). Then they can hold their heads up high, and no doubt sleep nights, confident that their formative years at college weren’t all pissed down the drain in the pursuit of shallow materialism and keeping up with the X-factor generation.
By guest blogger Lord Trencherman of Furmity