I used to hate nostalgia. In my arrogant teens and early/mid 20s I thought it was the first refuge of the unimaginative. A cancer, stymying new ideas in culture while simultaneously diluting and devaluing the original ideas and blah and blah and blah. Fuckinell mate, just let people enjoy things. We’re all dying. Aren’t we entitled to some crumbs of comfort as we hurtle headlong towards the grave? Aren’t there more important things to worry about and be angry about than Back to the ‘80s Festivals? How else is Limahl supposed to make money? Hasn’t he earned it?! No? Ok, fair enough.
The same goes for ‘low-brow’ or mainstream culture. I used to be really belligerent about it, getting in a big flap about why Britney Spears, for example, is so popular when SHE DOESN’T EVEN WRITE HER OWN SONGS or some similar bollocks. I used to get proper lathered about the idea of Simon Cowell ruining the music industry by strangling the Christmas number 1 every year when in the past people like Gary Jules have built leviathan careers off the back of it. Leviathan. Pop Svengali types like Simon Cowell have always existed, right back to Colonel Tom Parker. Their business model has always been the same and more often than not their contribution to culture is dire (although Parker’s actual contribution to culture was literally zilch, even minus zilch, the parasite). If people want to enjoy Joe McElderry or Leona Lewis, though, who am I to say they’re wrong? Who am I to be so arsed about it? What is the point of getting all outraged about the fact that more people like Mrs. Brown’s Boys than Grandma’s House? People love tat. They love it! Always have, always will. If it makes them happy and no one is getting hurt, then go for it. As long as the world is still on fire and the Tories are still in power and Covid is still raging and people are still dying needlessly we don’t really have the luxury of being despondent or angry about the existence of The Masked Singer. For what it’s worth, I love a bit of tat. I love Lemar from Fame Academy and Danny Dyer’s The Wall just as much as I love 6 Music or Dostoevsky. So what? They’re fun.
Obviously with things like X Factor or Big Brother I still feel quite justified in hating them and being glad they’re gone, but for different reasons. Although early series of Big Brother are the only guilty pleasures I have, I feel justified in my ultimate disdain because the impact of their freakshow legacy has been long reverberating, far reaching and has proven corrosive in society. I genuinely believe the influence of shows like X Factor and Big Brother, and to an even greater extent The Jeremy Kyle Show has mutated. Over time they have contributed to emboldening of the base, animalistic nastiness with which we treat each other now on Social Media and in many ways in real life. Sometimes life reminds me of Ballard’s High Rise, particularly life on the internet in its long-form savagery and violence, the kind that has risen to the surface over a long auld time. The sheer intensity of the hate we spit now can be traced back to those particular cultural phenomena in a lot of ways. My point is I’m aware it’s not all black and white. Some cultural shit is genuinely poisonous. Not all of it is harmless fun.
I’m also aware that if you have too much nostalgia knocking about, or you lean too heavily on it you create an unfair environment and a breeding ground for lazy ideas. I’ve been playing in bands on a grassroots level for 16 years. I know all about the opportunities newer bands miss out on because they get handed to heritage acts by bookers and festivals with limited imagination or limited financial room to experiment. Not that I’ve ever been successful enough for those booking decisions to impact me. Maybe there’s a trickle-down effect of those lost opportunities that does ultimately affect me personally. Probably. I dunno. Either way, an entire culture built on nostalgia benefits nobody. So no, my attitude isn’t simply live and let live.
What’s my point here, three paragraphs in? Well, during the pandemic I’ve found myself leaning more heavily on nostalgia and things that might be considered ‘fodder for the bovine masses’ than I ever have. Don’t get me wrong; post-outbreak I’ve discovered and enjoyed loads of genuinely great new art and culture and stuff that I’d never experienced before. It’s just, whenever I’ve really, really felt the need for a comfort blanket to take me away from the hellscape we’re all in it’s been Masterchef, or rubbish ‘00s Indie landfill stuff, or old episodes of Hole in the Wall, or, weirdly, compilations of 90s TV adverts that work best. Probably because – certainly in the case of the latter three – they take me back to a less laborious time, when it didn’t feel like everyone was walking around with a balled-up fist in their pocket, when every single thing wasn’t so utterly, exhaustingly over-wrought. People weren’t nice then either but at least they weren’t all in your face with it screaming at you all the fucking time
Obviously, it’s that childhood thing as well. Being the big fat cliché that I am I can’t help but find things from my childhood the most soothing of balms because I was lucky enough to have a really nice childhood, so when I watch an old Tango advert or hear Dale Winton’s enthusiastic clarion ‘bring on the wall’ (not Anton DuBeke’s) I feel, for a second, just right. Things have strayed from that formula somewhat recently though…
Myself and my wife Gemma were watching an episode of Paul Sinha’s TV Showdown a few weeks ago, wherein the question was asked ‘Who presented the ITV dating show Man, Oh, Man?’ (not that it’s relevant yet but the answer is Chris Tarrant). I have no idea how we got into this, but we got into it about what Gemma remembered of Man, Oh Man from her childhood and what, exactly, Man Oh Man was, as I’d never heard of it in my life.
The basic premise of Man, Oh Man is that an audience of 300 women judge a group of 10 or so men over a series of challenges on who is the best… I dunno what really. The best man? Whatever, the women whittle them down to one and the winner wins, not a date with anyone, but a Motorbike. I don’t know why. That skeletal description just sounds like a proto-Take Me Out, and indeed that show clearly shared much of Man, Oh Man’s DNA. Man, Oh Man though, is a different beast. My description there doesn’t do it anywhere near the justice it deserves because it only tells you what happens. It’s how it happens; that’s the real crux.
It’s. How. It. Happens.
I don’t want to go into too much detail because this blog was supposed to be a blow-by-blow account of the only episode from Man, Oh Man’s glory days (series 1 from 1995, there were two other series’ in the late 90s wherein they gave the show a complete overhaul but they’re rubbish) that exists on YouTube, but I reckon I’ve spent too long ruminating on the nature of nostalgia and poor taste like an absolute prick, so it looks like this is going to be a two-parter. I think I’ll give it a suitably self-indulgent title… ‘Nostalgia, Cultural Detritus and Me’. Yeah.
What I will say is that Man, Oh Man would never be made today. It’s almost flagrantly sexist, deliriously absurd, offensive to the male and female genders, needlessly and relentlessly cruel… and utterly, utterly captivating. This is an obscure dating show-that-isn’t-really-a-dating-show from 1995 hosted by an out-of-his depth Chris Tarrant that breaks almost every moral rule in my book and yet, for a good couple of weeks in January 2021, I became obsessed with it. I became obsessed with the ridiculousness of it; obsessed with the shamelessness of it; obsessed with the raucous, irreverent chaos of it; the kind of irreverent chaos that seemed to cease existence beyond the millennium. This isn’t a show I had any happy memories of from childhood. Indeed, it wasn’t even a show I’d heard of before me and Gemma happened into a conversation on it. But what I derived from it went beyond the warm glow of nostalgic consumption I mentioned earlier. It came to define the first month of the year for me. Oh my God I can’t wait to tell you about it!