Whilst on a short family break earlier this week, I made the mistake of turning on one of the network channels to see the news headlines. I was greeted with the sight of a person with a waxed moustache (look at me, aren’t I eccentric!) dribbling on about a modernised version of Shakespeare based on the second Globe Theatre that some university professor had spent the last five years (!) researching. My first reaction was that any university that pleads poverty whilst paying someone to waste five years on this tosh should be cut off from public funds. My second thought was to wonder why Shakespeare continues to have such a hold on our culture four centuries after his death. Personally, I feel the same way about Shakespeare as Rowan Atkinson in “Blackadder: Back and Forth.” And I don’t think I’m alone.William Shakespeare is widely considered the finest writer in English history. This has been repeated so often that people simply say it as though it were self-evident. Anyone who disagrees is dismissed as an uncultured “philistine” – an slur that is about as scary to anyone with half a brain as the Establishment’s other favourite insults that end in “phobia” or “ism.” But Shakespeare is not the finest writer in English – a title that rightly belongs to George Orwell – or even close to being the finest. Shakespeare’s dramas – “Romeo and Juliet” springs to mind – are dull and his comedies are not remotely amusing. His jokes are either convoluted word play or simply not funny. And his so-called histories are propaganda designed to justify the Tudor seizure of power. William Shakespeare, Elizabeth I’s Dr Goebbels?
Like Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien enjoys an undeserved and unquestioned place in the pantheon of great English writers. But pages and pages of utter drivel interspersed with the odd good scene is not my idea of a classic. I liked “The Hobbit” when I was younger but “The Lord of the Rings” is over-the-top, long-winded trash. And I wonder how many of the people who vote for the latter as their favourite book are really voting for Peter Jackson’s films? And Peter Jackson? Anyone who can turn a 280 page children’s book into more than nine hours of cinematic Onanism is in desperate need of an editor.
But then the media in the UK are nor really known for their self-awareness. They like to think in binary terms – this is great, fantastic, the best ever or this is horrible, terrible, the worse of the worse. And they apply this rule to people too. The Establishment’s mouthpiece – the BBC – is probably the best example of this. We are reliably informed that the BBC is a “world class broadcaster” and the “envy of the world.” It is nothing of the kind. Look at its flagship programmes – a bakery show presented by two unfunny comedians whose “”repartee” consists of childish double entendres culled from a Finbarr Saunders cartoon circa 1988 and a soap opera that allows the Tristrams to demonstrate their ignorance of and hatred for the working class. The criminal destruction of my favourite childhood show – Doctor Who – should see Stephen Moffat arraigned in The Hague.
When the media are not driveling on about Shakespeare or how wonderful the BBC is, they love to tell us who we should admire. As soon as someone is described as a “national treasure” then I know the person is either annoying (Ed Sheeran, Jamie Oliver), talentless (Victoria Beckham, Clare Balding) or fat (Jennifer Saunders, Linda Robson). And sometimes all three – step forward James Corden. Remember how Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris were once described as “national treasures”? Wonder what the media will have to say about the current crop in 2050?