Have you got cultural anxiety disorder?
The show everyone’s talking about, a must-hear podcast, that woke music video – when did downtime become such hard work, wonders Alix O’neill
on maternity leave earlier this year, I read Lullaby, the story of a killer nanny. An odd choice for a woman in the throes of new motherhood, you might think. Suffice to say, I had nightmares for a week. But Leïla Slimani’s chilling tale was the book everyone was talking about. And while I was happy to take a hiatus from the news, I wanted to keep my finger on the zeitgeist, regardless of my mental health.
It’s not just the latest reads I feel compelled to stay on top of. I’ve subscribed to 17 podcasts, three of which I’ve actually managed to listen to. There’s a ton of bookmarked articles on my web browser and an ever-growing pile of flyers in my flat advertising the exhibition/show/gig
I absolutely cannot miss ( but probably will because I have a job and a six-month-old).
It’s all because I have a serious case of cultural anxiety disorder (CAD). The symptoms are easy to spot. Is your bedside table crammed with books you’ve yet to read? Do you panic when colleagues start greeting each other with, ‘Blessed be the fruit,’ because you still haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale? Is your inbox overflowing with newsletters you don’t have time to get through? If you answered yes to any of the above, you could be a sufferer.
Fellow CAD sufferers include my friend Jess, who, at a dinner a few weeks ago, pretended to have seen A Rachel Divide when conversation turned to race and identity. ‘I’d heard of Rachel Dolezal [the controversial white woman who identifies as black], but didn’t realise Netflix had released a documentary about her life. I didn’t want to appear ignorant, so just kept nodding and going “hmmm” like I had a clue what was going on. The amount of things I have to watch is stressing me out.’
Marketing consultant Emma, 32, feels the same. She’s still speed-reading her way through the 2017 Man Booker shortlist before this year’s candidates are revealed. ‘I’d love to revisit some of my favourite books, but every week more “must reads” come out.’
That’s the thing about culture these days – there’s simply too much of it to absorb. Yet we’re all expected to be polymaths now. Culture has become the new status symbol. Instead of Instagramming our brunch, we’re showing off our book towers – always the hottest and most woke reads. I’ve done it myself, only to get stuck into a Jilly Cooper afterwards as a cultural cleanse.
But surely this competitive consumption of culture is lessening our enjoyment of it? Leisure seems to have become as pressurised as work. Whatever happened to the art of being idle? To kick-start my recovery, I’ll share my dirty little secret. My name is Alix. I have never seen Mad Men or read anything by Zadie Smith and, recently, I rewatched every single episode of Dawson’s Creek. #noshame