Sunday, 13 April 2014

I Think Therefore I'm Not...

At some point in the past decade introversion was criminalised. Being what was called ‘an introvert’ somehow became synonymous with old hackneyed phrases much loved by the media such as ‘loner’ and ‘misfit’. ‘Oh, he liked to keep himself to himself’ has taken on an ominous meaning implying dark habits in dingy rooms involving shaved cats and rubber spatulas. It doesn’t mean what I know it to mean, which is writing, reading books, or drawing the odd (hopefully) funny cartoon, which is how I’ve been ‘keeping to myself’ these past few weeks. Tom Wait’s odd song, ‘What’s He Building In There?’, wouldn’t have any exciting answers if applied to my life. That answer would be:  a silly little Android game which will never earn me a fortune but has taught me how to write games for mobile devices.

Of course, being an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m completely without human contact. I like being with those close to me and I like having friends but I’m totally indifferent to leading a social life out there [points vaguely towards the window]. Watching a Youtube video last night, I heard some guy describing how he couldn’t practise his hobby (the topic of the video) because somebody had rang him to say that he and his wife had been invited to dinner. That sounds like a definition of ‘living hell’, when small talk over a dinner table keeps you from doing what you actually want to be doing. Parties, drinking, pubs, clubs, and all that’s associated with that has never interested me and what little I’ve experienced of it makes me even more confident in my choices. I’m an introvert and I’ve always been quite happy about that.

Yet tonight I feel like I’ve been caught paddling a shaved cat. I’m still being harassed for my photograph since it seems inconceivable to some people that a person might not actually want his mugshot on the internet for no other reason that he simply doesn’t want his photo on the internet. I suppose there might have been a time when I might have submitted to this petty request without much protest. Yet the more I’m pressed to do something that I instinctively don’t wish to do, the more trenchant my refusals become. It has now become a small point of principal to me. Yet I’m not entirely sure what that principal is. Or, at least, I think I know but it probably sounds shallow.

The reason, I suppose, is because I refuse to crust myself in the self-generated effluent of the ‘me’ generation to whom style means everything over substance. I don’t think putting my photo on some corporate website is robbing me of my soul but I also think that it is. I don’t mind giving time over to people to do their work but using me to advertise their company is to rob me of something more precious than a few hours. It’s to take away my individuality and to turn me into another bean-counter in the sham kingdom that would have us all identical and servile to the people in marketing. I don’t want to be another gormless victim of a selfie, gazing dead-eyed into a camera that can never record anything truly meaningful about me. I don’t wish to be judged by my eyes, my nose, my double chin, or my thinning crown. None of that actually means anything beyond what was written into my DNA by the great cosmic finger. I suppose that’s why I’ve blogged for so many years but always used something else to stand as proxy for me.

I grew up watching TV and admiring people who seems enormously gifted in the things they did but were also humble by their achievements. My earliest comedy hero was Spike Milligan, though I was a few generations too young to have heard The Goon Show. Milligan never seemed overtly bothered by his appearance and that never mattered to me. Nobody seemed that bothered by their appearance. Oliver Reed (who it’s so easy to forget was really talented actor) would appear drunk on TV and the great Barry Humphries would occasionally adopt the personal of Les Patterson and push the boundaries of unpleasantness. Peter Cook smoked and was cruel on mainstream TV and there were truly abrasive stars on film and television that were somehow more human because they were abrasive.

Yet at some point, a change started to happen. Beautiful people started take over TV and shows lost their rough but life-affirming edge. TV forgot that we get most pleasure from moments of accident and unpolished spontaneity and replaced it with a professionalism that remains obvious to this day. We entered into the Vernon Kaye years when men could be famous for simply being famous. When Vernon Kaye could be famous for being Vernon Kaye, whatever the hell that actually means. Sky News has gone from a young upstart that broken the rules by broking news, often via hastily set up cameras, to a channel that seems to exist to review the day’s papers in the company of two polished London types, one usually a professional woman with big hair and who self-importantly describes herself as ‘writer and broadcaster’ and some bequiffed shirt-open-to-his-navel Henry who trots out the usual slightly right of centre guff.

It’s why I detest polish in TV and why I’m drawn to enjoy comedy that isn’t hugely professional. It’s why, for example, I rate Stewart Lee so highly. I know that some of what he does isn’t funny but I’m pretty sure he knows that too and that’s why it’s hilarious. It’s not because he couldn’t do what other comedians do and do with perfection. It’s because he doesn’t want to do what they do and that’s what I always seek out. There is more to life than perfection. There is more to life than vanity and appearance.

So I don’t do Facebook and I’ve written everything I’ve ever written under other names and I’ve never once published anything to the internet as the real me. Yet thinking about this over the course of the past few days, I find myself wondering if there can be any form of success these days without a preceding image. Those people we celebrate the most are often accused of being ‘all image’. They are the celebrities who have no real or discernable talent other than the talent of being themselves in loud and obvious ways. Perhaps that’s part of the ‘postmodern’ condition that we all supposedly share where it’s impossible to separate the artist and his work. I don’t know. There are exceptions. Robert Crumb is front and centre in most of the things he draws but he does so in a way that’s unruly and unkempt and perhaps that’s why I’m a fan. We are all part of the Gonzo generation in which the news can never be reported objectively. It sometimes feels like we don’t exist unless we have our faces in an avatar. I don’t have my face on the internet. In a sense, I don’t exist. The extroverts have won.

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