imomus (imomus) wrote,
imomus
imomus

What's the secret of Charlie Brooker's unsuccess?

Charlie Brooker is my favourite columnist. His latest piece had me slumped in a continuous cackle. In it, Brooker claims to be a sad loser -- a "tragic singleton" -- who's "useless at every single aspect of holidays" and is therefore staying at home. Now, some would make this a claim to virtue -- "Save the Earth, holiday at home as I'm doing!" But that would not only be unBrookeresque, it would be unBritish. Never, ever (if you want British people to like you) present yourself as someone ethical, responsible, admirable, aspirational. Never pitch camp on high moral ground. Assume, instead, the position of a pitiful inadequate. Talk often about "my crushing sense of failure". Drop to your knees in front of your readers, weeping and swearing. Punch your head with a spike, no, two spikes. Beat your breast, shouting about your utter crapness, while spraying mace into your own face and...



Sorry, I'm getting carried away. That's how Charlie Brooker would write this piece. It would be filled with cartoon violence, either against himself or others, preferably both. Take paragraph six of his holiday piece, for instance. It's really an entire -- and extraordinary -- short story in itself, and the misanthropy it displays is hilariously psychopathic. Here it is:

"I don't want to go trekking with a bunch of disgusting strangers. What if a really annoying jabbering, bearded bloke latches on to me on the first day and decides I'm his best mate and won't leave me alone, and I'm stuck with him in some Arizonian wilderness and the sun's beating down and he's talking and talking and farting for comic effect and eating sandwiches and walking around with egg mayonnaise round his mouth until I want to grab the nearest rock and stove his skull in, and carry on smashing and smashing and roaring at the sky until the others dash over to pull me off him, but by then I've gone totally feral and start coming at them with the rock, which by now is all matted with gore and brain and beard hair, and I manage to clock one of them hard in the temple and they're flat on the ground, limbs jerking like an electrocuted dog, but as I swing for the next one some self-appointed hero rugby-tackles me, but I'm still putting up a fight so in desperation they all stamp on my neck until they're certain I'm dead, then throw my body in the river and make a lifelong pact to tell no one the truth of what happened that day? What sort of holiday is that?"

It's a rhetorical question in a piece of opinion-based commentary, Jim, but not as we know it. I call this "cartoon violence", but it would be more accurate to say it's "video game violence". Brooker used to review video games in the 90s, before he started the TV listings spoof TV Go Home, which is where I first became aware of him. My favourite part of TV Go Home was Cunt, the fly-on-the-wall documentary about a 20something trustafarian named Nathan Barley, a worthless braying would-be filmmaker who read style magazines and travelled often to Tokyo. Nathan was an aspirational character -- a 90s yuppie -- who got hammered in the small print. The producer's "we want to hear from you" note under the programme description would often feature Nathan getting what Brooker saw as his just deserts: being ejaculated on by a circle of hairy oilmen, chained to a rig in a gale, for instance, or having a hole punched in the back of his head by a waiter. Back in the 90s I enjoyed all this hugely, while essentially living Nathan Barley's London life in almost every detail. When, a few years later, Barley came to TV, the ratings were catastrophically low. Perhaps only self-hating Barley types -- creative classers like me, gadding about Clerkenwell and Shoreditch -- were watching.

But wait, I'm not self-hating. Not at all. I love myself, and I love the life I lead. This becomes particularly clear to me when I read my LiveJournal Friends Page -- or a Charlie Brooker column. Do other people really feel that negative about their lives, or is Misery Guts a persona they adopt to elicit sympathy from their readers? I don't know about my LJ friends, but Brooker is a successful and presumably well-paid writer for newspapers and television. He's a celebrity who went to Glastonbury with a glamour babe ("Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace, the "ghetto princess" from last year's Big Brother, who has, inexplicably, become a friend of mine") and still managed to describe it as a personal Waterloo.

Brooker could easily portray his life as positively as I portray my own (no lie, it really is good to be me!), but he doesn't because he's cleverer than me. This is why he has a column in The Guardian and I just have this blog (and the odd article in an art mag). We like Charlie because we never, ever sense he has a better life than us, no matter how miserable ours might be.

But it's this question of aspiration, this self-deprecation, which really marks the place I have to part company with Brooker. Temperamentally, stylistically, ideologically, in every way. I laugh along with his pieces, but actually I'm on the other side entirely. I'm with Nathan, and with aspiration. I would never piss on a peacock.

Have a look at this television essay Brooker did on aspirational television. Now, I hate the sort of bling culture he's puncturing here, but I don't hate aspiration. At all. I just hate aspiration to wealth. It's simply wrong to aspire to bling, because it doesn't make you happy. But aspiring to other things -- beauty, glamour, excitement, sex, travel, art, creativity -- can drastically improve your life. Anyway, let's watch.



Summary: "Isn't life fantastic; you've got the looks, the clothes, the money, you are living the dream, my friend. [Charlie shouts "fuck off" very loudly into a man's face.] You know what I'm talking about -- aspirational TV. Normal life's damp and grey by comparison. No wonder everyone's miserable. [Shot of ordinary people passing on street, Charlie's voice over saying "He's miserable. She's miserable. He's a completely miserable git."] Balls to aspiration, it's a tosser's mirage. It's far better to just sit here and sneer at the lot of it, isn't it? [Screams at tramp]."

Watching Charlie's TV journalism on YouTube, I suddenly spotted something I can't get out of my head. A resemblance (it's most evident in his American reportage) to disgraced pedo Jonathan King, circa his 80s series Entertainment USA. Brooker is like King post-Tarantino, post-Doom, and post- the world falling out of love with America as, itself, the number one aspirational lifestyle template. What they have in common (apart from something around the mouth) is their absolute mastery of the kind of populist tone required in Britain. King's hysterical levels of smugness and self-justification might seem the polar opposite of Brooker's self-deprecation, but we've already decided here at Click Opera that self-deprecation is just a cunningly-disguised sort of self-love, because (in Britain at least) it never ever comes with promises of self-improvement. Narcissism, negative narcissism, same difference. In love with my virtues, in love with my vices, whatever.

His TV essay on aspiration just seems to replace one tabloid cliché (bling envy) with another (schadenfreude). But where I really part company with Brooker -- and Britain as a whole -- is on this question of the toxicity of all aspiration. It is emphatically not "far better to just sit here and sneer at the lot of it". My solution is quite the opposite. Get up and go. Go to New York, go to Paris, to Berlin, to Tokyo. Go to places where people believe in something -- art, ambition, food, magnetic levitation trains! -- places where people are doing something. Never lose your hunger for something better, and never fall out of love with yourself and your dreams. Those things will, in themselves, make you attractive. You'll find a mate. You'll never have to holiday alone again.

Of course, it may be that Brooker just wants to make people laugh -- and that's an aspiration not to be sneered at. But can he really be as miserable as he pretends? Is the secret of Charlie Brooker's unsuccess that he hasn't got any? Is his ultraviolence really ultra-friendliness, a desire to see bitter British faces creased and smiling? And is it me -- with my amazing built-in self-righting mechanism, my self-sustaining self-satisfaction -- who's the true psychopath?
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 56 comments
Previous
← Ctrl ← Alt
Next
Ctrl → Alt →
Previous
← Ctrl ← Alt
Next
Ctrl → Alt →