Grumpy Chic

As Polly Toynbee points out today, it’s quite fashionable to be a curmudgeonly old fucker. This is quite fortuitous for me, as I’ve been miserable ever since I developed sentience*. At last I am in vogue.

Ms. Toynbee proposes that we give up this grumpiness on the grounds that we live in a "golden age" – a golden age in which iPods, the Internet and mobile phones have revolutionised the way we live and have made everything free and accessible. She goes on to ridicule people who object to "mass culture" and those who search for "authenticity". She even goes on to describe the "cornucopia of affordable pleasures" involved in leisure-shopping.

Has Polly gone stark raving bonkers? I’m a big fan but as a member of the British Humanist Association I’m sure she once wrote something along the lines of "when you’re a humanist, even buying a bunch of grapes becomes an ethical consideration." I may have got her confused with someone else, but she’s definitely a member of the group and this is really one of the founding principals.

The problem with leisure-shopping is that it’s a form of unnecessary consumption. People have to stop buying shit they don’t need. Doing so just makes a place for mind-numbing, underpaid jobs. Most things in the mall are made partly or entirely of plastic: every time you buy something you stimulate further demand for oil and consequentially the demand for war. That’s what’s wrong with it, Polly.

And have iPods and the likes made anything better? Have they made us happier? Can they indeed? Not me. Sadly, it’s really all shit. As a librarian, I know how devoid of good stuff and full of dangerously misleading shit the Internet is. Take my blog for example. As for MP3 Players, I‘ve got through three different models in as many weeks because they are cheap and shit. It’s not made me happy: it’s merely justified my grumpiness.

It’s important not to be anti-progress but it’s difficult to enjoy this "golden age" when all the new technology is ever used for is making plastic-looking dinosaurs in the appalling new King Kong. Toynbee has a go at nostalgia and young people pining for a past that they never experienced, but it’s more complex than that. Directors of films in, say, the 1950s, had honed their craft: they’d perfected the various arts involved in black and white filmstock. When you look at the new King Kong or Sky Captain or something else heavy with GCI, you just think "what on Earth are they doing?”

Having said all of this, ‘grumpo chic’ is undeniably an unhealthy fashion to follow. It can be justified, I think, with John Stuart Mill’s famous maxim "it’s better to be an unhappy Socrates than a happy pig", but even then it must be bad for your health. Be happy if you can, sure, but it’s important not to go around in a daze of retail therapy and constant iPoddery. I almost got run over the other day for doing just that.

I feel like such a prick for criticising Polly Toynbee. I love her! But I don’t know what she was on about today.


*< size="1">It happened at 1:23pm on December 15th 2001. I was spiral-binding scripts for a play I’d written for an amateur theatre group and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d wasted my youth.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *