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This piece was originally going to be titled: Running with Goats and Picking Lemons in the Sunshine. I know that sounds way better than my own but it is the copyrighted material of Jack Monroe Sadly, there was no reply to my request.
So, you are just going to have to unhear or unread that bit but it is always good to try and get a genuine laugh upfront – a bit like the leader of my old jazz trio who would ask for applause in advance for the guitarist.
Here’s the thing: I was perusing Twitter one fine sunny day when I tripped over this item by the now legendary Jack Monroe. The name ‘Jack’ seems to be intentionally ambiguous but perhaps what is most noteworthy is that she is an author of a series of cookbooks aimed at those who have found themselves on the wrong side of – well let’s just call it what it really is: a state-sanctioned cost of living crisis. Jack was replying to someone called Kevin (there’s always a Kevin) who had gleefully posted a response to a BBC News article about a nurse who skipped meals in order to feed her kids:
[Kevin with regional accent]
“You can buy a big bag of dried pasta that would feed a family for about £0.50p. If you shop and cook properly, you can eat healthy meals really cheaply.”
Kevin, a 35 year-old self-described ‘opinionated Conservative’ Brexiteer goes on to say “I would love to see how she spends her salary…”
You can read Jack’s response on her website: cookingonabootstrap.com but if you follow her links she recommends checking your blood pressure medication first.
Why Kevin felt compelled to dispense advice to low-income families remains a bit of a mystery. And one which I hope to unravel here. He had been posting boastful pictures of meals in restaurants together with the odd bottle of Blossom Hill White Zinfandel. His solution was a no-brainer; it was of course magical pasta.
Jack delivered a surgical evisceration of this ‘let-them-eat-pasta’ mindset. However, it did leave me wondering why Kevin, and his cohorts, felt the need to share – well, anything, really. What authority or expertise was he bringing to the table?
As puzzling as this was, it also had me pondering my own issues with platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and the delightfully imbecilic TikTok. Jack Monroe had all the qualifications necessary to post recipes and cooking advice for the less well-off. She had suffered extreme poverty firsthand and was a published author of cookbooks. Kevin, on the other hand, his main qualifications appeared to be a rudimentary command of the camera on his phone, coupled with a hard-boiled ignorance of social deprivation, lightly seasoned with bigotry. I can spare you the time in looking him up, because most of his posts are about living the good life whilst making the odd sneering comment about those less well-off. Oh, come on, we’ve all done it. – OK, maybe not, but for me this is one of the most unfathomable aspects of how social media works.
Call me pernickety if you want but I doubt The Poor needs Kevin’s peculiar culinary advice. One imagines that if you are queuing at the food bank, reading his Instagram timeline is unlikely to improve your day. Another question I found myself asking was: Who is his audience? To put it bluntly, what type of person is going to connect with this drivel and smash that ‘like’ and ‘share’ button? I can only guess. Could it be the same bunch of suburban curtain-twitching a*****s that voted to deport desperate refugees to Rwanda for processing?
Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Those of you who know me, may be aware that I have a book out: Permissive Ink, a mystery thriller set in Spain and London. There is a second underway, which is why I have burdened myself with the challenge of a better understanding of social media. I started YouTube and Instagram accounts to market the podcasts but then I realised that these visual platforms are not ideal for written and verbal communication. Ah, but that’s where I’m clever, because I also play guitar.
People will be amazed when they hear my lyrical renditions of the great guitar classics. They will fall in love with my narration and interpretation of Tárrega and Villa Lobos and then maybe, just ever so slightly maybe – buy my book.
Well, a man can dream can’t he?
I pressed on and posted a video trailer for the book and a few guitar recordings including the main themes for the podcast, all shorter than a minute or two as people can become bored quickly.
There are a zillion beautiful pneumatic young women that post short musical extracts on Instagram. Their timelines are full of ‘Oooh look at me, oh and by the way – I’m super-sexy and just happen to be a virtuoso guitarist. Did I mention I juggle and have a black belt in karate?’ Well, slap me down with a wet kipper if that isn’t exactly like myself, except I’m a bit old, probably not as good a guitarist as I think and have been told by my wife that she didn’t marry me for my good looks. Besides, I love to play jazz and apparently that’s sooooo yesterday.
I became aware of this specific shortcoming after watching an Indian drama called The Family Man. The main protagonist, Srikant Tawari has an 8-year-old son who is rather keen on music. The boy attends a school in Mumbai run by nuns (so we must assume a semi-privileged lifestyle). His headmistress, a feisty nun (head nuns nearly always are) is pleading with the father.
“Normally, we like to encourage children to play a musical instrument but in your son’s case, it may be for the best if he stopped.”
In the next scene the boy is with his dad being driven home from school. He has with him a soprano saxophone, an instrument which I concede is not universally considered easy-listening. The young lad is playing what could be tactfully described as progressive jazz. The father turns to him and says, “If you blow any harder you’ll shit yourself!” The boy is not discouraged and asks him to name a song from any film, and he will play it. Dad obliges by requesting a Bollywood musical hit. The boy looks mystified, “What the hell is that?” His dad replies, “Promise me you will never say that in company; people will laugh at you!”
After seeing this, I concluded that the real problem with music and nearly all the creative arts is generational; one generation does not easily appreciate the culture of the previous. However, it is much worse than that. I’ll cycle back to that in a minute.
So what has this to do with Jack and Kevin’s Twitter spat and my own difficulties with social media? There is a feeling amongst the Baby Boomer generation that hard work and talent matter. We should strive to develop our skills if we are to be rewarded with an audience. This of course is utter poppycock.
And I can’t stress enough how much it pains me to say this. It is also fatally flawed logic, especially when it comes to social media. In my previous podcast, Episode 15: Specs, Drugs and Sausage Rolls, I gave the example of how some of the biggest dimwits in UK politics had made it into the top echelons of government. Not because they were talented but simply because they were willing to do or say whatever was required to hold the office.
Sure, some remarkable people strut their stuff on Instagram but you are more likely to find the platform dominated by shallow narcissists showing off their good looks, cute bum or nice legs. Many of them dance, even the blokes; it’s not just teen girls who stare vacantly into the lens. And it really doesn’t matter if you are not that good looking; there are always filters.
Just as an aside, whilst we are on this whole filters thing, your facial features have nothing to do with talent; it’s just down to genetics and if you use filters to enhance them, you are projecting a falsehood. At a subconscious level, you are saying to yourself and others, ‘I’m not good enough’. But here’s my point: Whilst I’m OK with the idea that people may want a quick thrill, I am now starting to worry about what this is all doing to our brains. It feels as if the whole world is slipping down a rabbit hole of inadequacy and that the child born out of this unholy wedlock is self-serving, shallow populism.
I fear that our attention span is becoming exponentially shorter. We view videos for a few seconds then swipe to the next.
The platforms encourage this and even YouTube has started the same with YouTube shorts. The clue is in the title Insta – gram or Shorts as in not long-lasting. It is all about instant gratification; unless we get that dopamine hit, we move on. It is as if a whole generation has become addicted, searching for the next fix, only it needs to be stronger and faster to achieve the same high as before. Social media hubs know this and are using metrics to measure how long we spend looking at each post or advert before swiping to the next. They measure our reaction and have learned that the engagement process has a short window indeed. They harvest your personal data so that they can sell it to marketing companies who will use it to sell you exciting products such as funeral plans, junk food home-delivery services or private healthcare insurance.
Leaving aside any moral justification, this is a big problem if you create music or write books or host a 30-minute podcast once or twice a month. It’s insufficiently instant and will be passed over. So what material are ‘content providers’ expected to produce that is cherished? Well, sex, obviously but it does not matter if you are hopelessly unsexy as long as you combine your performance with a few seconds of unadulterated banality. A bit like Kevin, ‘Oh I don’t like to think too hard but, well – poor people, they’re a bit annoying aren’t they’ – Tweeeeet!!! This is all there is now. Forget a great classical guitarist playing the cadenza from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. If it takes longer than 5 seconds and you are not a beautiful East European 18-year-old with legs up to your armpits –
I saw one Instagram video of a girl eating a bag of crisps. She was considered an influencer and had about a million ‘likes’. Mercifully, the video was short. They are always ‘short’.
One possible answer to the question: How do I get the Instagram / TikTok generation to listen or read my stuff?.. could be to give it away. As long as the platforms that host it can make money leeching off your freely-provided content.
Get used to it; you are a content provider and of equal or lesser value than those that do little dances in tight pants whilst scoffing snacks.
Don’t even think of asking for money – because we have bags of ‘content providers’ eating BAGS OF SODDING CRISPS. Oh, here’s the microphone I use to record my farts. How many dishwasher tablets can I shove in my gob before I vomit? Oh, I stuck toothpaste on my willy and it hurts! AAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Don’t forget to like and subscribe for more big jug-dancing, tight-pants, snack-scoffing venal stupidity… [Transmission Ends]
This extract is from the TakeOut Podcast episode 16. You can hear the rest of the episode here: including an update on the bear that broke into an Italian bakery and tractor porn.