Some people are inescapable fixtures in the cultural ether
I nearly fell out of my chair the other day when I got an email from a barrister friend who is so contemptuous of popular culture he rarely, if ever, watches television – and he probably isn’t sure what Twitter is either. “Sorry to hear you cannot make the 28th,” he wrote, “no doubt you have to go off and interview Tulissa (sic) about her bejazzelling, or some such.”
How on earth had Tulisa — at least he had the decency to misspell her name — penetrated his consciousness? I was so shocked he had heard of her that I rang him immediately. It turned out that he had pretty much used up his knowledge about her in that message, though he had a vague idea that she was on “some game show” and might also have been in a band.
Well, I commended his effort, especially his brave stab at putting her in some kind of context by mentioning her “bejazzelling”, by which I assumed he meant vajazzling. I asked if he had picked up these contemporary references from reading Heat. Or Grazia perhaps. He had never heard of either.
Now, you’ve probably assumed that my friend must be in his sixties at least, but he is in fact the same age as me, 48, an age when you are not expected to know about Tulisa – unless, that is, you are a journalist. We, in our much-maligned tribe, are expected to have our inky fingers on the pulse of contemporary culture, for good or ill.
That is why – and I am not particularly proud of saying this – I can not only talk you through Gangnam Style, but I can also tell you Gangnam is a fashionable district of Seoul. I can also shed light on what a Kardashian is, and break it down into its component parts.
Next week, I am going to a fancy dress party and the theme is TOWIE. To my shame I didn’t have to ask what TOWIE is, even though I have never knowingly watched an episode of it. I knew, by some kind of social osmosis, that I would be expected to wear fake tan and hair gel.
That said, I was quite surprised on Friday to realise I knew all about Harry Redknapp, the new manager of QPR, even though football leaves me cold. I suppose he is to me what Tulisa is to my barrister friend. There are just some people from whom you cannot escape, however hard you try. They are in the cultural ether, flapping around like trapped birds.
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I feel a twinge of sadness at the news that the Royal Mail is cancelling deliveries to homeowners whose dogs chase their postmen. Obviously, being chased by a dog is no laughing matter, but it does seem like the end of an era, the equivalent of hearing that castaways will no longer be allowed to put messages in bottles, or old maids will be banned from bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist. How are cartoonists going to cope? They have already had to give up depicting explorers stewing in cannibals’ pots.
The thought of a postman running down the garden path pursued by a yapping dog raises a smile. It’s unfair, but there it is. And there are worse stereotypes their profession could have: in America the expression “going postal” refers to running amok in a crowded place with a semi-automatic (something postmen are prone to do over there, apparently).
And they might take consolation in the thought that all professions have to live with stereotypes. Journalists have pens tucked behind their ears, teachers have elbow patches, farmers are always depicted as being elbow-deep in a cow’s fundament.
The James Herriot television series is largely to blame for that last stereotype. I’m not saying farmers don’t sometimes do it – indeed there was one in the news the other day who lost his iPhone inside a cow because he was using his torch app to look around in there. But it is a slightly misleading stereotype. You see, and there is no delicate way to put this, it is far more likely that the farmer would be having a rummage around in the cow’s birth canal. Actually, that was quite delicate. Much more delicate than my use of the word vajazzle earlier. And again now.