Paul Johnson’s glimpse of the future

While the music is performed, the cameras linger savagely over the faces of the audience [below]. What a bottomless chasm of vacuity they reveal! The huge faces bloated with cheap confectionery and smeared with chain-store makeup, the open, sagging mouths and glazed eyes, the hands mindlessly drumming in time to the music, the broken stiletto heels, the shoddy, stereotyped, ‘with-it’ clothes: here, apparently is a collective portrait of a generation enslaved by a commercial machine.*

That was flame-haired splenetic, Paul Johnson, enjoying himself hugely in writing about Juke Box Jury, which I vaguely remember from my childhood as being fairly innocuous. I believe there was some potential to humiliate the behind-the-scenes pop stars brought on to meet the Jury after having had their latest single slammed as a ‘miss’. But hardly the coliseum – in fact, all rather bland.

It’s from a piece for the left-wing New Statesman, and it’s easy to dismiss it as illustrative of how socialism can provide a progressive cloak for straightforward misanthropy (and quite an imaginative misanthropy – ‘broken stiletto heels’ spied through a camera sweeping across a seated audience?).

But on reflection I’m not sure it so easy to dismiss – wasn’t he on to something? Hasn’t the ‘commercial machine’ he identified now run out of control, the cameras now no longer ‘linger[ing] savagely over the faces of the audience’ but making them the main attraction?

And ‘huge faces bloated with cheap confectionery’? Ever watched Supersize versus Superskinny? Presented by Dr Christian Jessen – a man who looks if he’s composed of body parts harvested from a gym full of exercise addicts – the programme gives us two children who are to be subjected to some remedial attention, one skinny, one fat. A great opportunity to feel shock, disgust, amusement and superiority, all at the expense of a couple of ten year olds.

Then, of course, there’s Jamie’s Dream School, of which no more needs to be said than this.

Yes, nominally it’s all for the good of the kids, the producers ensuring we see something along the lines of redemption or recovery by the end. But it’s obviously first and foremost entertainment: today’s ‘bottomless chasm of vacuity’ really is something of a coliseum. And, strangely, a large audience of Paul Johnsons peer into it. Reality TV is our own socialism for misanthropes: we can revel in our disdain for people – children, even – whilst hugging ourselves at how morally elevated we are in wanting their salvation.

* Here’s another picture of the Juke Box Jury audience (brace yourself):

 

The quote is from Black Vinyl, White Powder, not just full of very entertaining anecdotes but also a fascinating history of the pop music business.

Share This Post

About Author Profile: Gaw

15 thoughts on “Paul Johnson’s glimpse of the future

  1. zmkc@ymail.com'
    April 21, 2011 at 13:15

    It’s the snobbery of Johnson’s comments that astonishes me.

  2. hooting.yard@googlemail.com'
    April 21, 2011 at 13:25

    OMG! Reading that piece was a really amazing journey, innit? [Tears stream down my face.]

  3. Worm
    April 21, 2011 at 13:28

    yup, difficult to be a socialist if you think the common man is disgusting

  4. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    April 21, 2011 at 13:43

    “Paul loved to be spanked and it was a big part of our relationship. I had to tell him he was a very naughty boy.” (wikipedia)

    I think that puts it into perspective…

  5. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    April 21, 2011 at 13:56

    yes, I see that old Napier Bell likes an anecdote or two, don’t he?

  6. Worm
    April 21, 2011 at 13:57

    oh, apparently he’s a conservative, he was left wing but is now right wing

  7. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    john halliwell
    April 21, 2011 at 14:17

    “Piss off, you pompous prick, go and buy a bag of gob stoppers with your old age pension, and if you’ve got any left after bunging up your facial orifice, shove ’em up your ****”. That, I suspect, is how some of us who were so young at that time would have responded to the 30 year old Johnson. I don’t remember many ‘huge’ faces in a post-war generation, but I do remember ration books of a few years before, and the constant sporting activity which kept us as thin as lats. The sagging mouths and glazed eyes? Well, ok……….But what really upsets me is the reference to chain-store makeup. I saved up long and hard for the best quality available, and I’ll have Johnson know my stiletto heels, all four inches, were only broken once, when I stuck my foot in a grid running away from the local weirdo ‘Mike the Molester’.

  8. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    April 21, 2011 at 20:20

    Forgive me father (Gaw) for I have sinned, I did become, for a while, a mere morsel of time, a layby in the relentless passage, a purchaser of Standpoint, and why not, as I hear the choral sounds of the multitude “Kyrie Eleison”, yes indeed, for my part I offer no excuse and why should I, M.Burleigh, C.James, the boy Cohen, all life is there.
    The moment arrived that comes to many of us, seduce my ancient footwear, why am I, a lowly gentile, reading this stuff and who is this wanker Johnson.

    I smell cancellation.

    Does cancellation have a smell.

    Defeat?

    Realisation?

    Awareness? hmmm..maybe.

  9. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    April 21, 2011 at 20:35

    They ran out of things to say you know, the BBCs idea of citizens suitably qualified to pass judgement, they were as out of touch with us then as they are now, the lumpen twat P.Murray and some brummie burd ” oil give it foive”, TOTP and that gormless quiz show guessing peoples jobs, no different.

    Dum de dum, dummy dum dum dum, dum dum, dummy dum dum dum.

    It bore into my brain like an AAGill review.

  10. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    john halliwell
    April 21, 2011 at 21:38

    I had a certain affection for J B J: John Barry’s theme ‘Hit and Miss’, Vic Flick’s lead guitar, David Jacob’s urbane chairmanship, his feigned rivalry with Pete Murray, the nerve-racked singer hidden behind a plywood partition, anxiously listening to the panel’s prediction, the self conscious teenage audience, not one looking less than 30, and the panel members themselves, some utterly clueless in things Pop. In its time, with bugger all to use as a progenitor, it was OK. For an idea of the greatness of pop music in 1960, look no further than this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax74FgLaEAA

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      malty
      April 21, 2011 at 22:58

      Stepped onto the isle of the dead there John, Nina and Fred? (no sound so I am guessing) Nina the one without the beard and Illya Kuryakin no less

      1960 was a pot-pourri of pop

      What do ya wanna make those eyes at me for
      If they don’t mean what they say
      They make me glad, they make me sad
      They make me want a lot of things that I never had

      You’re fooling around with me now
      Well you lead me on and then you run away
      Well that’s all right, I’ll get you alone some night
      And baby you’ll find, you’re messing with dynamite
      So what do ya wanna make those eyes at me for
      If they don’t mean what they say

      What do ya wanna make those eyes at me for
      If they don’t mean what they say
      They make me glad, they make me sad
      They make me want a lot of things that I never had

      You’re fooling around with me now
      Well you lead me on and then you run away
      Well that’s all right, I’ll get you alone some night
      And baby you’ll find, you’re messing with dynamite
      So what do ya wanna make those eyes at me for
      If they don’t mean what they say

      I bought the record, played it, didn’t work, still didn’t get the thing that I never had.

      • john.hh43@googlemail.com'
        john halliwell
        April 22, 2011 at 07:16

        You’ve brought me over all misty-eyed there, Malty. On reflection, I’m surprised Mahlerman didn’t use Emile’s heart-stopper in his ‘Welling Up’ post. It’s right up there with ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’

  11. zmkc@ymail.com'
    April 22, 2011 at 01:27

    Yes, it was the chain-store make-up jibe that seemed the unkindest cut to me too – even though I don’t actually wear make-up (polyfilla does the trick better, I find, although the colour isn’t a perfect match)

    • john.hh43@googlemail.com'
      john halliwell
      April 22, 2011 at 07:29

      I agree, zmkc, that jibe really upset me. And getting the colour match just right with polyfilla is almost impossible, or so I’m told.

  12. Gaw
    April 22, 2011 at 16:02

    Yes, it’s the ‘chain-store makeup’ reference that’s most interesting in all this. Who knew that handmade, artisanal makeup helped make you a better person?

Comments are closed.