Friday, November 30, 2007

today : Yeah, but I prefferred the one you've never heard of.

So there I was watching Silence of The Lambs the other night. It is fantastic. Discussing it with a friend a couple of days later (this person is incidentally clearly deluded, being a fan of Hannibal - even thinking it's a better film that SOTL), it got me thinking.

I remember when 'Lambs' took over the culture for a while, bagging all those Oscars and being the must see movie of 1991. More than that, it's iconography slipped into the culture. The first example of this I can remember is int he Rosanne show, when DJ went trick or treating on Halloween 1992 and was wheeled around on a trolley with a muzzle on. When the film went ballistic there appeared a category of people who sniffed and declared that it wasn't as good as Manhunter. Hopkins's pantomimic Lecter was nothing like the book. Brian Cox did it much better.

I believe that, at the time, I may have said a few things like that myself. But what I actually doing was just following the lead of snobby broadsheet critics and self-declared cool people who used the Manhunter/Silence of the Lambs comparison as a way to nominate themselves as cooler/cleverer/better read/just better than the public. The same thing happened when Heat came out. People started raving about the TV movie version that Michael Mann made back in the eighties.

I've written before about my displeasure at the cult of 'edgy' and the cultural (actually the snobby media's) obsession with what is 'cool'. The fact remains that some things become popular because they are simply better than other things. There is no real formula to this (or if there is, I am not telling you before I've sold it to Hollywood and the record industry): certain songs, films, TV shows and consumer goods simply strike a chord with masses of the public. And that's that. Toy Story is a good example. It was a global phenomenon - and really really good by anyone's measure.

Which makes the 'cool' crowd uncomfortable. Their raison d'etre is to be different/better from the rest of the mundane world, and it makes them uncomfortable. So what they have to do is create new paradigms of cool and decry their previous pronouncements. Most often this is done by denouncing the creators of the once cool but now necessarily uncool thing.

There was a moment back there when James Blunt singing You're Beautiful was quite cool. I personally don't either love nor hate it, but let's face it, it's a pretty good pop song all in all. It has that wonderfully catchy hook and a simple sentiment that is put over well. Blunt was an interesting character with an unusual back-story. Had the song not taken over the world it would have been fine. But since it hit the top of the charts worldwide and became ubiquitous, it became risible, when really it is just annoying like any overplayed song. Blunt likewise is a laughing stock. His crime? To be successful and rich and apparently having it off with a succession of famous beauties.

In fact music is a great place to look at how cool works. Every music fan can remember being into a band before anyone else and knows the feeling of slight disappointment or even mild betrayal when suddenly they become popular and every bandwagon jumper becomes a fan.

This is most often how critics behave, like bratty adolescents who have had their secret cult taken away from them. But critics are always in the position where they discover things early because they get to see hear and read pretty much everything before the rest of us. That's why the most vitriol is reserved for cultural phenomena that seem to spring up out of nowhere; stuff the public adores without the championing of the critics.

The worst crime a cultural commentator can commit is to not be in the know about what is hot or cool en ce moment.

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