Just Above Sunset
September 25, 2005 - Things I Don't Get (from the Pussycat Dolls to Iraq)
Over the last few weeks I've used this column to pass on those bits and pieces of contemporary British culture that I felt worthy of your attention. Implicit in this act of trans-Atlantic sharing is the sense that I fully understand, or at least have a working knowledge, of the things I'm going on about. I could, for example, use this week's column to mull over the week's most exciting bit of pop cultural news here in the UK: the return, after a decade's absence, of the reclusive singer Kate Bush (yes, she of Wuthering Heights and Babooshka), whose new single King of the Mountains not only sounds like nothing else around at the moment, but actually proves, after a couple of listens, to be quite something indeed.
But, instead, I'm going to focus this week on those aspects of modern life I just don't understand, in the hope of bringing about some greater enlightenment. (Any answers to the questions I raise are cordially welcomed at the e-mail address below.) Take, by way of a starter, Los Angeles' very own Pussycat Dolls, currently sitting pretty atop the UK singles charts with their debut release Don't Cha, a title which just begs the response "erm, no, not really, thanks ever so much".
I was watching the Dolls pout and strut their way through a performance on one of our music shows the other day, and was suddenly struck by the irony of the whole thing. Am I alone in thinking there's something odd about a bunch of strippers heavy-breathing their way through the chorus' incessant refrain "don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me…", when surely there have been few musical acts more clearly aimed at young men without a girlfriend in the first place?
I digress. (The nostalgic amongst us are invited at this point to wonder how we got from the New York Dolls to the Pussycat Dolls in the space of three decades. And to conclude those arguing the case against evolution in humankind might have a point.) It seems to me that just as the modern world offers more stuff than ever before, so there might be more stuff to see, hear and do that goes beyond our frame of reference, stuff we just don't understand. Another case in point: the UK's current number one movie, Pride & Prejudice.
Britain loves Pride & Prejudice. As Alan revealed last week, the Jane Austen novel is one of those books repeatedly voted into the top fives of Best Book Ever polls, and repeatedly adapted for television, radio and now the movies. This version, directed by Joe Wright and with a surprisingly good Keira Knightley in the lead role, has elicited glowing reviews from the British critics and clearly proved popular with the general public.
Now, I don't get Pride & Prejudice, although I understand that perhaps I'm not supposed to get it. A novel written by a woman for women, its strengths lie in the interplay between a set of sisters and their mother. Its lauded dialogue is as the twitter amongst birds. (Which is not to do Austin a disservice, for we all know how pleasing birdsong can sometimes be on the ear.)
The reason news of yet another version of P&P inspires as much flutter in the hearts of the fairer sex as, say, the Doom movie probably causes in the hearts and palms of teenage boys is that Austen's novel is very specifically about how women see themselves, and how they would like to be seen. Hence the new film's truest-seeming scene, where the Bennet sisters and ma, lounging around their drawing room, are suddenly spurred into frantic redress by the arrival of an eligible suitor at the front door.
All this can be lost on unapologetic guys like me, and neither book nor film do themselves much in the way of favours by doing what the irksome Bridget Jones phenomenon subsequently did: assembling male characters no sane man could honestly identify with. As far as I can see, P&P hunk Mr. Darcy is only considered hunky because: a) he's always been played by apparently hunky actors, and b) he owns half of Derbyshire. (And if you've ever been to Derbyshire, well, you'll know it's not all that.)
Speaking of unsuitable suitors: the British tabloids, and their opposite number, the nation's moralists, have been getting in a right old flap this week, after supermodel Kate Moss (boyfriend of rehab-regular minor rock star Pete Doherty) was photographed in front of a line of cocaine. Putting aside the fact I don't get the appeal of Kate Moss, either - so this is our contemporary model of femininity, what all women are supposed to aspire to? - I don't quite what get what the newspapers' fuss was all about: stick-thin clothes horse with (ex-)junkie boyfriend in "uses drugs" shocker! You read it here first!
Of course, you could argue, this is a classic example of the newspapers' now seemingly ongoing "silly season", where minor indiscretions are trumped up to fill column inches at the expense of the real stories of the age. Like Iraq, for instance, which this week started to resemble John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13, with British forces having to break into a besieged police station in Basra to liberate, erm, two of their own Special Ops men.
Quite why those men had been arrested is, again, something we'll scratch our heads about now and hope to understand at a later date: an undercover operation gone wrong is the unofficial line being proposed at the present time. But with a significant number of British troops now being moved from Iraq and "strategically redeployed" to the relative peace and calm of nearby Afghanistan, is it possible that someone in high places has finally understood what might be going on over there?
September 22, 2005
Copyright © 2005 – Mike McCahill
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