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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom and Peep Show

The great  success British comedy in recent years is Peep Show. It's a programme that is about fools, probably made by people who are fools, starring actors who are fools. Best of all, the Peep Show  fools are fools who I identify with - all men should identify with them if they're honest. The only ones who won't identify are the dishonest men - the double fools if you like. Sometimes I am Mark, the low-achieving ineffectual nerd able to talk himself out of all spontaneity, pleasure and fulfillment in life, but then sometimes I am Jeremy, the low-achieving ineffectual loser who believes in a self-entitled view that success, money and sex should be dealt to him on a plate because, because, because... just because he is who he is.

The message of Peep Show is that we are all losers, we all have unjustified feelings of self-entitlement and we are all ineffectual - and that even if Mark and Jez were efficient, successful and well-adapted they would still be complete tossers. Like the rest of us.

Which brings me to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom where the Mark and Jez characters are played by Walter Berglund and Richard Katz (Richard has a big dash of SuperHans, another character in Peep Show, thrown into the mix), the only difference being that we're in the United States now so Walter and Richard are tremendously more successful and self-aware than Mark and Jez - but they are still fools, American fools.

Like Jez, Richard has occasional insights  into the world and one of these comes as he is putting in a deck for a wealthy family. As he puts it in, he meets Zachary, the son of the household. Zachary is a fan of Richard's old band and wannabe guitar-hero. But Richard doesn't like Zachary.

"...it was important that Zachary be squished. The kid had been given his own practice room, a cubical space lined with eggshell foam and scattered with more guitars than Katz had owned in thirty years. Already.... the kid was a more  hotdog soloist than Katz had ever been or ever would be. But so were a hundred thousand American high-school boys. So what? Rather than thwarting his father's vicarious rock ambitions by pursuing entomology or interesting himself in financial derivatives, Zachary dutifully aped Jimi Hendrix. Somewhere there had been a failure of imagination."

I think all fair-minded and decent people can all agree that Richard's desire that Zachary should be squished is a just one. And one can wonder whether the same fate should befall the  photographic equivalents of Zachary - but what are the photographic equivalents and is everything is tilted to their advantage or am I just making all this up? Why is life so unfair? When am I going to find that bag of £50 notes so I can become like Zachary and have my large format digital doo-dahs with 20x24 prints of everything and not have to get up early in the morning and do things like go to work and wash the dishes?

Squish them indeed, squish 'em like bugs on a wall!

Now then, has Jonathan Frantzen ever seen Peep Show - or am I stretching this one too far.

You can read more on how the  wealthy and privileged have taken over rock music here. The story includes  some fine made-up statistics like " A new survey into the heritage of modern musical acts has found that 60 per cent of acts in the charts today - attended public school - compared to just one per cent two decades ago."


Gavin McL said...

I used to wear a tie just like Marks one in this photograph.

colin pantall said...

And I thought I was a fashion king. Thanks for sharing, Gavin - now I'm thinking how that would sound and even thinking about it makes me even more Mark-ish.

I am Mark.

No I am Mark.

No, I am Mark.