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Saturday, July 15, 2006 

The rise and rise of the idiots.

(Obsolete has posted something similar to this before, so it may sound familiar.)

Last year on Channel 4, there was a comedy show titled Nathan Barley. Developed by Chris Morris, who co-wrote and starred in the seminal Brass Eye spoof documentary series, and Charlie Brooker, who ran the TVGoHome website, as well as writing the Screen Burn column in the Guardian Guide, it was much anticipated by Morris's fans, who hadn't seen much of him since the deeply weird (some would say disturbing) Jam series, as well as his short film My Wrongs 8245 - 8249 and 117.

Most however were to be disappointed. Nathan Barley lacked the savage satire which Brass Eye was both celebrated and notorious for, leading many to believe that Morris had lost his touch. It was also criticised for being years out of date, set as it was in trendy London, and much of it based around Barley's website. Fortunately, for those who dipped deeper into it, it soon became clear that the other main character in the show, Dan Ashcroft, was a projection of Morris himself. The first episode, which begins with Barley reading Ashcroft's article for SugaRape magazine about the rise and rise of the idiots, sets the stage for the whole series: Ashcroft is held up to be a genius by the very people he detests and writes about, despite pleading with them that he's not. As a result, he can't win, and the "idiots" are victorious every time.

What most who criticised Nathan Barley seemed to fail to notice is that what is happening in the series is also happening in the country at large. The rise of the idiots is inexorable. The rise of the idiots, as it is, is inextricably linked with the also seemingly unstoppable rise of celebrities.

Monday the 10th of July then may go down as a result as the start of the idiot and celebrity apocalypse. At 9pm, 3 of the 4 main terrestrial channels in the UK were either broadcasting "reality" or "celebrity" shows. BBC1 was showing Only Fools on Horses, one of those shows which the BBC promised it would be cutting down on, but because it's raising money for their "sport relief" charity drive, it's OK. The show itself, if you can't guess from the name, involves celebrities learning to ride and show jump horses, then competing against each other, with the public involved in voting for who did best. Involved in the show are such well known idiots as Sara Cox and well... that's about it, because none of the others are the kind who you'd even recognise on the street, except for perhaps Ruby Wax. At 9pm over on ITV1, viewers were treated to "Love Island". Last year it was called Celebrity Love Island, and was possibly the most ridiculed, hated disaster that ITV has ever produced. It seems though that ITV executives are gluttons for punishment, and they seem to think that the nation's population is similarly inclined. This year's show features such well known celebrities, as err, Bianca Gascogine, step-daughter of Paul, and Chris Brosnan, son of Pierce. Other delightful characters involved are Sophie Anderton, someone known only for the amount of cocaine she managed to shovel up her nostrils while a model and "glamour" model Alicia Douvall, whom Obsolete is proud to say it's never heard of. Finally then, at 9pm on Channel 4, the station that has done much to aid the rise of the idiot and celebrity culture, was showing its tedious behemoth, Big Brother.

The rise of the idiots was at first slow to start. While the British tabloids have always loved a good idiot, none of them really managed to create one themselves, until at least the glamour model Jordan
came along. Jordan is probably the "model" for which most female idiots are based on, unless they are of the "laddete" type, such as Sara Cox, mentioned earlier (and I know I'm probably going to sound misogynistic here, but bear with me until I come to the male idiot); huge pouting lips, possibly created with the aid of collagen; hair extensions, of which blonde is the colour of choice; breast implants, in Jordan's case ridiculously huge; pierced navel, with expensive gold dangling things being the first port of call in a crisis; a lower back tattoo, usually in the "tribal" style; and, without getting into it, a "Brazilian" is a must. In addition to physical attributes, the female idiot must also be unsurprisingly, of very little brain. Jordan fits this requirement admirably, frequently referring to her second child, as the "normal" one. (Her first was born blind.)

Jordan's success as being Britain's favourite female idiot has been threatened by various others who have come along, mainly out of Channel 4's Big Brother show. They are often, like Jordan, referred to by just their single name; hence we have "Jade", who has lately been joined by "Chantelle". Tonight both are taking part in BBC's spectacular "Sport Relief" Saturday Night, competing on "Mastermind". The hilarity. The most widely known American female idiot would probably be "Paris", although "Anna-Nicole" would give her a run for her money.

So then, to the male idiot. The male idiot, as it is, is more complex than the female idiot. Perhaps best described as a mixture of footballer (or sportsman), playboy and TV presenter, the celebrity male idiot is exemplified by Vernon Kay or David Beckham, or perhaps "Preston", who may well start the craze for male idiots becoming known just by their first name. He is often dressed immaculately, has his hair in whichever is the current hip style, and may, like the female idiot, have a huge love of hideous body art. Most arresting about the male idiot will be his face; it will have a slight pout, but the eyes will be incredibly distant, as if his brain is in a vacuum, which it most likely is.

Having established themselves, the idiots and celebrity idiots are on a quest to conquer the world. Once only being topics which the tabloids and celebrity gossip mags would dare touch, the broadsheets and rest of the media are latching on to them alarmingly quickly. The Guardian, once the secular serious left-liberal newspaper of choice, has recently carried interviews with "Jade", Jodie Marsh and "Paris". The Daily Telegraph, known universally in this case as the Daily Tottygraph, finds any excuse to print photographs of said totty, sometimes of the idiot type, sometimes not. The Times, whose formidable reputation was quickly destroyed by that purveyor of idiots, Rupert Murdoch, is a shell of its former self, especially since it went tabloid. As mentioned, television along with the tabloid was the beginning of the rise of the idiot, and as such has since gone nuclear. Tonight on BBC2, in addition to Sport Relief on BBC1, you can watch Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan partner themselves with the aforementioned Vernon Kay and Bradley Walsh, a failed comedian, for a game of snooker. The show's name? Celebrity Pot Black.

The rise of the idiot and celebrity idiot has been further exacerbated by the simultaneous rise of the weekly "lads" mag. Once only being of the monthly persuasion, the 90s heralded the start of the second sexual revolution. Feminism was dead, and the lads mag danced on its grave. While at first being no more explicit than page 3, except with more well known celebrity women taking their clothes off, it's evolved into the hell which is Nuts and Zoo. Both seem to compete to see whichever can get the most nipples into each issue, and both are of course the first port of call for the idiot and celebrity idiot to take their clothes off. Grace, within a week of being kicked out of this year's Big Brother, had already sold her soul and her body to Nuts. Both feature explicit sexual stories and advice of the kind you would have once only found on the top-shelf, and both also feature that other preserve of the wank mag; the reader's wife or girlfriend.

Which brings us to the questions which are connected at the hip to the idiot and celebrity idiot. Are we laughing at these people, are they laughing at us, or are they us? Many who claim that Nuts, Zoo, Big Brother etc are utterly harmless are those who argue that what most people are doing are laughing at these people; after all, they're grotesques, the most vapid of the vapid, those who crave attention and money so badly that they're prepared to humiliate themselves in the bargain. Yet the young and impressionable are growing up with this being their defining moment of popular culture, and they seem to be worryingly showing signs of not laughing at it, but being those who want to follow in their footsteps. Of 1,000 teenage girls in the 15-19 bracket who responded to a survey by The Lab, a mobile phone entertainment service, 63% said "glamour model" was their ideal profession. Either that's a lot of deluded teenage girls, an indictment of consumer society or a horrible practical joke. The idiots are also having a laugh at our obsession with them. "Jade" is said to have made £1.5 million as a result.
Being stupid seems to be increasingly lucrative. Then there's the nagging self-doubt that these people are us; you only have to watch the "Jeremy Kyle" show or "Trisha" to experience that.

Is there then any sign of a backlash against the idiots and celebrity idiots, then? Ariel Levy started something of a counter-attack against "raunch", with less than impressive results, with the launch of her book "Female Chauvinist Pigs". The problem with Levy is that she instantly is associated with the radical feminists that want to ban Page 3 and the likes of Nuts; a lot of us dislike both, but things have moved on since the days of banning and thinking about the consequences later. There's also no doubting that many of us, Obsolete included, enjoy pornography (although the vilest types which are available do nothing to shed the image of male dominance which doesn't ring as true as it once did). Those starring in it are the same idiots we should lambast, yet they again have the last laugh, making huge amounts of money having sex while middle aged men pay their wages. As adults, we have the choice whether to watch it or not. Censorship is never the answer. Yet all of this is interconnected with Britain's place in the world; the fact that our children seem to be growing up to be these idiots (and the odd Question Time programme is not proof that this isn't the case) is a huge cause for concern. Know nothings, no questioning, and no special skills; just fucking, shopping and drinking. It's true that young people have been doing this for generations, but it seems to be on the rise on a major scale, media panic or not.

It might just be that I'm a bitter young person who isn't experiencing the former. It might be that I'm a horrible pessimist, which I am. It might be that things, as usual, are honestly not as bad as they seem. Yet none of that reassures me. And there, when we turn to the idiot box to wind down, entertain us or educate us, the same idiots are there, mocking us and showing the world how stupid they are. Now that's fucked up.

(Or for an alternative view of pornography, you could watch the Annabel Chong story, which is about to start on Channel 4 now. Obviously an extreme case, but quite possibly one of the most soul-crushingly disturbing and depressing films you're ever likely to see.)

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