The Culturally Rich Get Richer

Allow for a moment this flash of irritation. It does have the ghost of a point.

Why can the success of others arouse such annoyance?

No doubt envy plays its bitter part. To see success for thee but not for me can hurt. Elite British culture in particular dislikes success – it is, after all, either a product or signal of vulgarity. Other shades of the national character disapprove of anyone trying too hard, or outwardly enjoying or getting a kick from doing well.

But there are likely other things to consider. One need not always reach for the discreditable motive.

Throat clearing aside, then, let’s get to it. This week, a now famous and preternaturally successful writer published an objectionable Q and A column in Vice. I know. Imagine.

It was objectionable on content and character grounds. Content first.

Her correspondent writes that he is poor. His life has little to offer. He feels broken and depressed and even the little money he sets aside for ‘fun’ brings him little of it. ‘Jack’ wants reassurance, but, more clearly, his letter speaks of someone who simply wants some help.

Our columnist takes up his cause but not his case. He is treated to a charmless seminar. Austerity appears. So too do the ever-handy dismissals of ‘boomers’ who think the youth should cease eating avocados and instead get on with the business of earning a living. The suffering correspondent is advised to see if talking to the CAB might help.

Now character.

Our columnist is the child of a good, expensive education and speaks in the tones perfected by the privileged.

She has had a succession of media jobs at a young age, many of them requiring (and allowing) the successful applicant to speak their brains.

The columnist seems to be on TV news more often than the weather.

She has published a book on financialisation, with which a number of well-informed types took issue, under the imprint of an ideological publishing house.

All the measures of success, given to one clearly enjoying their results. A gleeful commentary on Twitter surrounds each TV appearance, with a fun meta game insisting that the economist, analyst and advice columnist is not just all of these things, but also something of a legend.

Enough of her for a moment.

Isn’t it a little strange how, in a country of millions, and with two statute-restricted 24 hour news channels, the faces on screen seem so staid and familiar?

We have a few imported from a red radio station, a couple freshly brought in from the Young Tory battery farm, and a few reality stars trying to follow the ignominious example of Katie Hopkins in being all big and serious (and hopefully falling short of the fascism).

A few grim double acts complete the tally. Kevin Maguire and Andrew Pierce being a particularly dour one: both of them might wish to be described as ‘acerbic’, while ‘twat’ would do.

(And, just in a pre-emptive – but ineffective – fit of covering myself, let’s tackle briefly why I wrote a little more about these people, and not those people. That’s straightforward. The Tom Harwoods and Darren Grimeses of this world are likely laughed at enough, and roundly; there’s little more I could add on their accounts.)

Since we are at that point in the cycle when the BBC has to perfunctorily justify its continued existence (and Sky News has to pretend it adds something), why not consider this situation.

The left in this country correctly diagnoses the problem with much of our media, an analysis it shares with Dominic Cummings. Too much Oxbridge, too much nonsense.

Too metropolitan, too liberal, patently unserious, and dilettante – that’s the rough shape. (For Americans, ‘liberal’ in Britain means being a pedantic squish.)

Now, isn’t it funny, just a touch, that when a batch of Corbyn supporters were lifted from obscurity onto the airwaves in 2015, they ended up fulfilling part of their own prophecy?

The rich get richer, and so do those flush with cultural capital.

Young, with an ideology, and willing to say anything on TV? Have a column! Why not two?

Talking for its own sake, as well as serving the leader’s line, corrupts even the most politically committed.

Now, en bloc, some in the new TV cadre have begun to take on the smug complacency of any broadsheet bore or middle-market stirrer who once occupied a similar position.

Some are even settling into the writing of advice columns with no small delight.

Where once the imagined metro dinner party could typify all that’s wrong with the media landscape; or reading of the hacks’ joy in pub visits (recounted with too much enjoyment in memoirs and obits); or perhaps what a crude characterisation might call ‘smug liberal Twitter’ circa 2013-17 might do – in fact, all you have to do now is turn on the TV, or the radio, or open any magazine.

They’re all there – the new commentary class, same as the old commentary class, grinning proudly, delighted to be doing quite so well for themselves.

Now that’s worth indulging irritation.

This piece was originally published on Medium.

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