There is something wonderfully sad and ephemeral about comedy. Consider, for example, the situation comedy and film franchise Sex and the City (1998). When Sex and the City arrived on TV screens, it reached out to a wide audience by challenging established attitudes towards sex and gender. Indeed, when Sex and the City first started, women (though sexually liberated) were expected to be less interested in sex than men. However, by the time Sex and the City graduated to cinema screens, cultural attitudes had moved on and it was now accepted that women could be just as crass and emotionally stunted as men. Thus, what began life as a critique of traditional values ended its life as a chest-thumping celebration of the status quo. The history of comedy is littered with examples of films and series that simply ran out of cultural currency as the attitudes they critiqued or embodied came to seem either more or less oppressive.
An excellent example of a series left culturally isolated by changing social attitudes is Andrew Davies and Bernadette Davis’s Game On.
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To say that humans are fond of self-delusion would be something of an understatement. Lacking the sort of all-encompassing social meta-narrative that delivers us a pre-packaged sense of place and identity, many of us choose to define ourselves through what we do. Some of us sing, some of us paint, some of us write and some of us have anonymous sex with multiple partners. We define ourselves not merely by doing these things but through a process of emotional investment whereby how well we are doing as individuals becomes intimately tied to how well we are doing at a particular activity. This process of emotional investment offers us some respite from the postmodern condition but it is also a minefield of self-delusion.
The more commonly travelled path to self-delusion involves becoming so emotionally invested in your undertakings that you become blind to your own inadequacies. This generally results in a hideous Catch-22 whereby people are doomed to mediocrity by their unwillingness to recognise the areas that would benefit from more work. The more areas of human undertaking I rub up against, the more I become convinced that this sort of thinking is endemic to the human condition. We all like to think of ourselves as special snowflakes and snowflakes tend not to fare too well in the baking heat of self-doubt. This, however, is not the sort of self-delusion that I want to write about today. I want to write about the need to be a good cultural citizen and to, as Dan Kois put it in a piece for the New York Times, “Eat Your Cultural Vegetables”.
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