Do you want to know the worst I ever behaved?
Everyone who knows me probably has some example they would hold up – my parents would probably be hard-pushed to choose just one crowning moment from the litany of choices I’ve provided them with, I’m sure my sister could produce a bratty gem, anyone who’s ever lived with me probably has a favourite story in which I act like a complete cock to somebody. Some of these things I regret, some I’m rather proud of and the vast majority I can justify and offer a full explanation as to why it was acceptable.
I can only really think of one example where I behaved horribly, had no excuse for it, and still feel ashamed of.
When I was 14 or 15, there was a kid at my school, we’ll call him Rory, who was the first real eccentric I ever met. I went to a string of state schools full of the spawn of every walk of life, so I wouldn’t say I was sheltered or the schools ethnically uniform – I knew lots of different people. But this guy was a real piece of work. He was comically tall with gangly legs and a pronounced limp. His hair was a shock of tufty brown wire, he wore a suit, carried a briefcase with his name written in huge white letters on the side, he was loud and cartoonish, he spoke with a posh accent which varied in town between an enraged high court judge and Margaret Thatcher at her most sickly sweet and quietly patronising. He’d clasp his hands together to show emotion and make large grotesque faces to amuse.
I didn’t like him.
The reason I didn’t like him was that the first time I met him, he strode into the classroom, did a ‘heil Hitler’ salute and sat down. All eyes and slack jaws turned to me as the only Jew in the school. I took him to task and was swiftly deposited in the head of year’s office. An irritable woman who, brilliantly for me, also had a pronounced limp and bellowed at me about surely being above bullying a disabled boy. I hadn’t even noticed his limp at this point. Being the teenager that I was, I got into deeper trouble for refusing to apologise and stuck to my guns right into detention. Which always seemed preferable to me than admitting culpability.
That night, Rory’s mum phoned my mum, who grabbed me as I walked past and sat me on the stairs to witness the conversation which was developing. I got the gist of it fairly quickly and was relieved to see that my mum was greatly amused by this woman who appeared to be every bit as mad as her offspring. At one point, Mrs Rory asked my mum if we were practicing Jews, to which mum replied ‘No, we’re perfect’ which I thought was brilliant. After the call, mum very reasonably put it to me that the family were clearly a bit odd and that I should just ignore him – engaging with it would only lead to more hassle for me. Apparently Rory’s excuse for the ‘heil Hitler’ was that he’d recently left a private school and on telling people the name of his new school was frequently told that the students there were a bunch of little Nazis. He’d taken it literally and was trying to fit in.
I backed off. I still didn’t like him, though. He quickly became a bit of a mascot for our year, popular through eccentricity. I think he was bullied quite a lot but I don’t think he realised he was being bullied. Maybe he did, maybe he internalized, but on the surface of it, he laughed along or played up to it and seemed to enjoy his role within, or without, the social order.
In time I began to warm to him. I didn’t particularly want to spend time with him but became as fascinated by his outlandish exploits as everybody else was. At some point, in our new found accord, he invited my friend and I to dinner at his house. We went because we thought it’d be a laugh. What a pair of dicks. And a laugh it was, there was plenty in his home for us to share raised eyebrows over behind his back, plenty to be dumbfounded and amused by. His mother had baked macaroni cheese with boiled eggs in it. Years later, I found out this was commonplace and an acceptable form of the recipe but to me and my pal it was MAD. We were in a mad house with a mad guy and his mad mum eating mad food and we got the giggles. The worst kind of giggles. The arrogant giggles where you barely try to suppress them. I know Rory laughed along at first but eventually petered out as he didn’t understand the joke. His mother must have seen the disdain we had for her son and home, which in retrospect is particularly ghastly as she must have been so pleased when he’d asked if he could have friends home to dinner.
I think about that night a couple of times a year and cringe and hate myself a bit. Just inexcusable rudeness, adding to a family’s sadness. His father had died when Rory was quite young. So I mocked a widow and her awkward son in their own home. Pretty fucking low.
This week, I caught two bits of popular TV shows that I never watch. The first was X-Factor, the second was Come Dine With Me. I’ve only ever been vaguely aware of the specifics of the Simon Cowell cuntfests. I get what they are and what they do and why (freakshows/humiliate/for profit) but I guess I wasn’t so familiar with the specifics. I’d always thought that the major freakshow parts of the series were contained within the first few episodes where the general public all audition at huge venues and we get to laugh at the mentally ill and un-educated people who are looking for an easy way out of poverty. The part of the show I caught this weekend had these people in the actual studio, in front of the live audience. In particular, I noticed a husband and wife, brought out one after the other who were both obviously had learning difficulties, if not actual mental health problems. They were invited to sing for the arena full of laughing, mocking nasty people before a well-paid celebrity panel took it in turns, in varying degrees of mock sincerity, to tell them they were shit.
I was struck by how fucked up this is. A TV show that big, with levels of directors, production team, producers, executives and network executives, not to mention venue staff and audience members, that not one person in the thousands of people involved and complicit between the auditions and this performance, not one person thought to say either to the producers ‘these people are clearly not of fully sound mind, it’s cruel to expose them to this’ or to the people themselves ‘this probably isn’t the right thing for you to do’ It was obvious to everybody that firstly they were intrinsically below the standard of competition and they were unaware of this and vulnerable to public mocking. But that’s acceptable on prime time television, apparently.
The Come Dine With Me episode tonight was slightly less explicit but still chilling. I haven’t seen any of the other episodes of the week to contextualize it fully but, essentially from the handy ‘catch-up’ piece at the start of the episode, out of the five contestants cooking dinner parties for each other, one of them was an eccentric. A suit-wearing, monarchy-loving, port-passing eccentric who lived alone in a one bedroom flat in some crappy city. As eccentrics will, he’d peppered the other diners parties with shocking declarations and attention hogging and an unconvincing air of class. The other diners discussed with glee behind his back how they would sabotage his dinner party. And they did. the black tie dress code was ignored, mocked. As was his food, his home, his beliefs and his behaviour. And that was the entertaining thrust of the episode.
I’d say he was less visibly mentally ill than the X-Factor contestants, he was clearly a functioning eccentric.
As you grow out of your teenage and experience the world, you’re supposed to learn things. Understand things. There are very few natural, wonderful, joyous eccentrics. You learn that the behaviour of these people often stems out of forms of autism, abuse as children, terrible life experiences… any number of things, always somewhat tragic. Their eccentricity is often an exaggerated defence mechanism, a desperate attempt to curry favour and fit in or to just get some desperately craved attention.
When did mainstream television become so fucking vile. So bullying and mean and misdirected. Abuse and exploitation of the mentally ill has become the nation’s favoured entertainment. It’s the lowest form of entertainment there is. It’s what children do. They laugh at other people to feel better about themselves. They delight and unite in the ridicule of people weaker than themselves so they can feel stronger and more confident.
I don’t watch these shows because I’m an intelligent person who hasn’t given up on the pursuit of culture and education. If you watch them every week, and the other ones – I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here – any of those kinds of shows – you’ve given up, you’ve embraced lowest common denominator entertainment and you’re fuelling society’s decline away from education, entertainment and enlightenment into pure pure commercialism. These shows aren’t made from the passion of their creators or for the uplifting of the nation, they are exploiting the weak and the strong for profit. And you may be above that or just find it entertainment but by watching it, you encourage it and fuck you for that.
When I was a teenager, mainstream weekend night entertainment was Noel’s (shitty) House Party. Strike it Lucky. Blind Date. Surprise Surprise. Bland, inoffensive rubbish. And I, a well-raised, intelligent kid still managed to act like a dick to a defenceless guy who deserved my sympathy and help.
I can only begin to wonder what these shows are doing to the current generation of kids and what implications that will have to us as a society in the future.