In a culture of excess, what did we expect from Ross and Brand?
AS AN actor his most unforgettable utterance was a whimpered, “I’m from Barcelona, I know nothing” as he was beaten over the head by John Cleese. He was the most famously abused person in Britain.
Now, once again, Andrew Sachs is the most famously abused person in Britain – recipient of the most notorious recorded phone message ever. And him a grandfather!
This time he’s from north London. He seems to know something quite important and he puts it rather well.
“Everybody goes for the extreme nowadays,” he says. “The middle road is difficult to tread. You want to drive in a faster car or climb a higher mountain or use swear words to excess. Everything’s extreme and nobody seems to restrict themselves.”
You don’t have to be at the receiving end of Messrs Ross and Brand to see the truth of it.
Never mind infamous comedians, even our most famous television chefs use swear words and not only as seasoning but as their main course.
Everything must be newer, flasher, wilder, more amazing, more shocking, more delicious, more disgusting, more disturbing, more expensive, more groundbreaking, bigger, louder or cruder simply to get our attention these days.
Yesterday Westfield, Europe’s biggest city centre shopping mall, opened in west London, in the teeth of what may well be the biggest recession of modern times. WESTFIELD
is there to supply our addiction to extreme shopping – ordinary shops, ordinary high streets, even ordinary malls don’t do the trick any longer. The monster recession is the legacy of what made extreme shopping possible – our excessive borrowing to finance our extreme desire to have more and to have it now.
In the past couple of decades the very rich have been overtaken by the super-rich – multimillion-pound bonus types, the Masters of the Universe who have become masters of disaster. Reading about them in the high days provoked a combination of lust and envy. There was something sexy in the glinting flash of it all. Now we know what looked like an endless ascent was actually a dance on the edge of a precipice.
Premier League football long since moved into the financial stratosphere; television and merciless merchandising of the biggest clubs has cruelly curtailed youngsters’ support of the lesser local teams which would have claimed their fathers’ loyalty. David Beckham’s fame long ago reached dimensions no other player in history ever reached.
Even our cricketers, traditionally moderately paid participants in a long, slow, subtle game, are currently in the West Indies playing in a whambam, $20million winner-takesall contest, financed by a tycoon who flirts with the players’ wives and even sits them on his knee.
We live in a loud world of crude sensationalism, corrosive impatience and instant anger. Road rage, check-out rage, plane rage, youth rage, age rage – new names for extreme new syndromes. Street fights have moved on from fists to knives and guns. Instead of hurting each other, they kill each other.
Life has become a sort of jeu sans frontieres. With etiquette out of the window and restraint old-fashioned, we only know something has gone wrong when someone gets hurt and sometimes not even then.
How much of a philosopher Andrew Sachs is we do not know, nor whether he spoke in sorrow or in anger. But suddenly, thanks to a telephone message which has become a totally out-of-proportion (if passing) national obsession, he too has been moved from the middle road of elderly, well-known actor to become the nation’s best-known grandfather.
Even by the standards of today’s comedians, Messrs Ross and Brand seemed licensed to show no restraint or at least pretend to. Daring and danger was their game.
But the further you are from the middle of the road, the closer you are to the gutter. Behind what seemed to be endless public appetite for smut, cheek and sensation lay a puritanical backlash. Like the big-bonus bankers, the two comedians know that the middle road led to nowhere (Brand never knew where the middle of the road was; Ross has got ruder as he got richer).
JUSTas mad borrowing has led to recession, so their madness has led to disgrace. What some thought of as edgy is now called pathetic, childish and spiteful. Suddenly forgotten words such as “inappropriate” and “unacceptable” crack like whips. Some people always hated bloated bankers, some always hated swearing comedians, but rather more have decided that perhaps they were always appalled yet only fully realise it now.
“Everybody” goes for the extreme nowadays because society has lost sensitivity. There is so much on offer, so much assault on the senses that only the flashy, delicious and disgraceful really impinges. There’s a tendency for everyone to do their worst, even when they think they are doing their best. Sometimes they don’t seem to know the difference.
The middle road may offer steadiness and safety; on the other hand, it may promise only mediocrity and boredom. Artists, poets, religious leaders and, I suspect, Mr Sachs know that. Christopher Logue’s poem expresses beautifully what the edge can offer and the middle road does not. Come to the edge, he said They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came He pushed them and they flew.
What the poem didn’t say is that for every one who flew, there were several others who almost certainly fell.
VICTIM: Andrew Sachs, our most famously abused grandad