Friday, 5 July 2013

05/07/13 - Modern Composites

Modern man is a composite character. We aren’t like cavemen, adapting and developing according to the immediate reference points of surroundings, family, peers, climate and prey. We’re bombarded by a constant onslaught of cultural references which inform our behaviour and opinions, and ultimately alter who we are, how we act, what we believe, how we think… as countless creations of other people’s brains pour forth from our TVs, computers and smartphones, we absorb elements of all of these cultural snapshots, for better or worse, and become caricatures of ourselves. What is ‘ourselves’ anyway? We’re all unique entities, but not in the way we think we are: your friend Bill is not ‘Bill’ in pure form, as he believes. He is ‘base Bill’, mixed with myriad influences from all corners of the media spectrum. Every actor, every character, every musician, every writer that he admires adds something to his own character. Bill is a composite – a ball of modernity with a Bill-flavoured core.

There’s nothing wrong with this of course, that’s just how the world works. Rather than being influenced by rocks and gazelles, we align our development with game show hosts and billboards.
So, who are the key influencers that make up the modern thirty-something man? Let’s take a look at them one by one. It’ll all make sense.

Alan Partridge
Partridge is the key influencer of this generation. Eminently quotable, he represents a personality that, in part, exists within as all. As hapless and occasionally reprehensible as he may be, he does sometimes say things that you can’t help but agree with. He’s also frequently horribly wrong, of course, but it’s the unabashed fusion of neuroses and belligerent self-unawareness that creates something we can all relate to. He ploughs through life steamrollering his opinions, seeking fame and recognition that he feels the world owes him due to his perception of himself as an interesting guy, and the world’s (or more specifically, the BBC’s) rejection of this leads him to total meltdown.
Alanisms are so ingrained in our day-to-day speech, we barely notice them. We’re all a bit Partridge, whether we like it or not.

Edmund Blackadder
A lovable bastard. Don’t we all want to be a lovable bastard sometimes? Supremely confident in his own abilities and opinions – and yet, like Alan Partridge, frequently wrong or misguided, and set on a path to ruin by his own errors – he’s a genuine git with a black heart, and enormously likable with it.
It’s his ability to pithily cut a foe in two with a single searing witticism that we all want to live out. Few people are that witty off the cuff. But what we lack in wit, we can try to make up for with a damning, disgusted disdain for the world at large, and a horrible sense of superiority. Everyone else is stupider than you, and you’re the only one who can see it – surely there’s a way to exploit this position for your own material gain?
We all feel this way sometimes, right?

Gary Strang
…aka ‘Gary from Men Behaving Badly’. He’s just an ordinary bloke – likes a beer, doesn’t like his job all that much, happiest when in the pub or eating pizza in front the TV. He’s also a horrendous misogynist, a terrible slob, hideously selfish and insensitive, and generally the sort of person that, should we all live his way, would surely usher in the chaotic downfall of society as we know it. But to his credit, he’s a fundamentally decent guy. He gives us all hope that, despite our occasional propensity to get horribly drunk, not do the washing-up, ogle boobs or make jokes that go way beyond the acceptable side of xenophobic, we are fundamentally decent people. He also gives us a good excuse to say ‘WAHEY!’ without a hint of irony.

Mark Corrigan
…aka ‘Mark from Peep Show’. I worry sometimes that my inner monologue is so closely aligned with Mark’s, we’re largely the same person. Recently, in a nightclub in Brighton, I couldn’t stop his voice in my head as I looked around, saying to me ‘these are literally the worst people in the world’.
Mark is a man who just gets on with things because he has to. Who accepts outlandish, unexpected, unlikely or just plain unfair situations, simply because the world is a shitty place and he’s just one insignificant person within it. Using Mark’s world-weary cynicism as a mask for our own is a helpful get-out. It allows us to despair of the idiocy of humanity, but say it in his voice as if to distance ourselves from it somehow.
Basically, Mark Corrigan isn’t cool. And neither are we.

Jeremy Usbourne
That’s ‘Jez from Peep Show’ to you. He’s the cool, trendy foil to Mark’s old-before-his-time ball of neuroses… except that he isn’t, at all. He wants to be a famous musician, he wants to see out his days in a fug of ganj an’ ting. But he also just wants to have a nice biscuit and watch Morse.
Jez is the part of us that accepts that there’s a cool layer within the social strata, and to a degree aspires to it. But can’t actually be bothered, and isn’t really that cool.

Peter Griffin
We all want to do stupid shit, say what we think regardless of how awful it may be, and generally live in the moment. We can’t do these things, obviously, the world doesn’t work that way. As Mark Corrigan would say ‘there are systems in place for a reason’. But Peter Griffin is the acceptable face of shitty behaviour. Why can’t we build a massive blimp with our own face on the front and fly it into some power lines? Why can’t we get drunk and take all our clothes off in the supermarket? Why can’t we make fun of people with amusing accents?
Because we just can’t, alright? But there’s a little of that mindless why-can’t-we in all of us.

Arnold Rimmer
None of us wants to be like Rimmer. We just are. He’s a petty, vindictive mess, and would step over his own grandmother if it meant the slightest flash of personal advancement. That’s a lurking evil within you, admit it.

Father Ted
Reassuring proof that even the supposedly untouchably good can be greedy, mendacious, dishonest and self-serving. Ted’s utter disbelief at the increasingly irritating circumstances that befall him make him a latter-day Victor Meldrew, with each endeavour turning into a hard-fought battle to at least return to the point at which he started rather than actually losing anything and finding himself worse off. I think we can all relate to that. The modern world is a cavalcade of despair. You usually lose.

Nathan Barley

This is more true of some people than others. But there’s a lot of Barleys out there. Do you ever get the feeling that you’re totally right about everything, and that everyone else is a twat for not realising? Do you often find that this approach leads to your own public exposure as the one in the wrong? Yeah, it’s unfortunate, that, isn’t it?

Chandler Bing
We all want to be funny. We all want to be liked. Sometimes we allow this to envelope everything we do, regardless of how much we’re irritating people. It’s just because we’re neurotic.

Homer Simpson
We opened with Alan Partridge, we’re closing with Homer Simpson – the two biggest influences on the character of the modern thirty-something man. Homer is a dichotomy; an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum. He’s sweet, loving, stupid, annoying, selfish, perceptive, ignorant, cheerful, angry, vivacious, disinterested, lazy, determined… no combination of him should work. But that’s pretty much all of us in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Most of our heroes – and anti-heroes – are cynics. That’s why we all dislike each other these days.

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