Tarnishing


Posted by in June's Magazine

Once upon a time, Saturday mornings used to mean something. Today, they’re a respite offering blessed relief from the dolour of another humdrum week –smiley brackets between angry spidery sentences, hurriedly scratched out until we run out of pages. But back when I was a mere Halfling in the concrete Shire, Saturday mornings were full of possibility – and anything did seem possible.

There was no better expression of that juvenile liberation than Tiswas. It was kids Saturday morning TV as if scripted by avant-garde poet Tristan Tzara whilst anticipating the chaotic scat-art of filthy exhibitionist Paul McCarthy (minus the blood, piss and shit of course). Random Phantom Flan Thrower attacks, caged guests being water-boarded, dummy fights ahoy…it left Swap Shop sobbing in a corner, and rightly made no apologies for doing so.

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Truth is, Tiswas was frowned upon in my house – too anarchic or something. A strange state of affairs, as Dad was a big fan of Python, the Marx Brothers and Spike Milligan’s Q series. But if anything, that proscribed status made it ever more seductive, an exotic beast glimpsed only briefly between occasional parental departures to the kitchen to whisk a damp cloth round the sink.
This meander down memory lane is getting us nowhere of course – but that’s rather the point. For it’s the perfect analogy in both form and content for the monstrous meltdown that has seen public discourse of late transformed into a never-ending episode of Britain’s Most Unedifying Pissing Contests. On Channel 5. With Vernon ‘Love Rat’ Kay. And incidental music by Swervedriver.

I say public debate, but let’s be blunt, the pachyderm in the parlour here is the internecine shambles that is the EU Referendum. You’ve had enough from the main protagonists in that particular freakshow to depress you to the moon and back. So I won’t dwell on the whys, wherefores and whiff-whaffery etc. But I will stick it under the microscope to tweezer out evidence of a greater pathology.

It’s a shame to drag the glorious memory of Tiswas back into this dung heap, but it does justify/make sense of the wistful recollections/nascent argument above. Which is to say, that…drum roll please, coz here comes this month’s nugget… someone’s accidentally whacked the volume, contrast and brightness up on the remote control marked reasonable discussion in a public forum.

Yes, the long-established parameters and accepted rules of engagement are null and void. Shouting, barracking and threats are de rigueur. It’s the lionization of the limbic system. The apotheosis of arseholedom. A fanfare for fannies. BBC’s Question Time is now a William Golding screenplay with megaphones. PMQs is a pungent pie fight. Social media? That’s been a vortex of venom for long enough.

Right about now though, I can feel the cold clammy hand of hypocrisy gripping my shoulder, whispering “But you are a hatemonger yourself sir, sowing seeds of discord with your skewed schoolboy rants.” Fair play, sweaty digits, but there’s a fat galaxy between local sub-satirical lampoonery and nationwide trash talking. Even worse, it’s trash-talking masquerading as intellectually coherent argument.

Then again, there are those who consider polemic to be a perfectly acceptable weapon in the armoury of any debater. They see the supposedly existential nature of the political, social and economic challenges of the times as worthy of windy broadsides from the margins. The passion we so often bemoan as missing from our national conversations is back and all is well with the world…hurrah!

Nope, it’s not passion. It’s Pound Shop Powellism (and yes, I am happy to demote the old classicist’s pseudo-intellectual posturing to the rank of insult; if you want to make a valid point about population growth, try not dipping it in blood first). I have no time for the shrill apocalyptic trills of the establishment shills either by the way. To my mind they’re equally at fault as this fact-free farrago unfolds.

Again, might it be said that moderation always seems miles away amidst the smoke and noise of a good old ding-dong debate? It’s when the ding-donging drowns out all reason that we have trouble. I sometimes wonder if this is destined to be the natural state of affairs – an infernal perpetual foghorn to turn us deaf to voices of balance, nuance and compromise. Silently doomed.
Christ. That was depressing. I can’t finish on that. For there must be an antidote to the acrimony, right? Here’s a thought. Tiswas. We draw back from the abyss by bringing back Tiswas. We’ll restaff it though; Tarrant isn’t getting on TV as long as I have breath in my dadbod. It can be a kind of sin eater, taking the childish extremes that have beset our discourse and rendering them safely into innocent mayhem. Trump first up for a flan in the face with Farage a close second.

It’s either that or we all scuttle down to the local Angry Mobs Superstore to stock up on torches, pitchforks and burning placards. And you know, after two divisive referendums I don’t have the stomach for that. So if we can’t restore civility by any other means, I shall have to end on the burning question that was forever on a lot of blokes’ lips back in 1982 – has anyone got Sally James’s phone number?

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