I’m loving the new series of Peep Show. When I’m feeling especially self-deprecating I sometimes say there’s a touch of the Mark Corrigan about me, although as you don’t know me personally and may therefore take that literally I won’t say it here. The first episode brought to light something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Mark might say he likes watching documentaries about William Morris with his new flatmate, but really he’s just a basic bitch. Jeremy put it scathingly brilliantly:
‘The problem for you is I’m your friend. I know you, Mark. I know you like to pretend that you’re this stuffed shirt who reads incredibly boring books about dead people killing each other with bayonets and typhoid, but I know the truth. I’ve watched Grand Designs with you. That smile when some eco-glass gets delayed on its way from Antwerp and the nice couple gets pushed over budget. That’s the real you. … You’re this pathetic human who likes Twirls and Downton and Bond and burgers, so don’t come the big guy with me because it won’t fucking wash.’
A spectacular monologue. It hit home a little bit more than I would have liked, though. You see, I too am a pathetic human who likes Twirls, Downton, Bond and burgers. I went to the cinema to see the new Bond and if I happened to miss an episode of the latest series of Downton (which, let’s face it, didn’t happen a lot) I went so far as to watch it on catch-up. I might say I only watched it to play Downton bingo, shouting ‘CLANG’ every time a totally unsubtle historical reference was made- ‘What is this new-fangled ‘refrigerator’?’- or someone said the inevitable line ‘times are a-changing here at Downton’. But actually I loved it. I got emotionally invested in whether Lady Mary would marry Mr Racing Car Man and whether Poor Edith would get her happy ending. I was as delighted as Lord Grantham when, towards the end, he said ‘it seems all our ships are coming into port’ (CLANG). My Christmas day will be about over indulging, presents and family, but it will mainly be based around the Christmas special of Downton.
I am basic in many other ways. My favourite programme to veg out in front of is any of the Real Housewives, preferably Beverly Hills or New York. I became obsessed with Negronis and Aperol Spritzs just after their respective waves of popularity had crested. I watched, and loved, Poldark. I bought an earcuff from the supermarket. You know you’ve missed the zeitgeist by around a year when they’re selling it in Sainsbury’s. I got excited for the John Lewis Christmas ad (disappointing this year. Mog wins) and I enjoy a solitary glittery nail on each hand over the festive period. I’ve probably hammered home the point enough by this point but just in case you missed it: I’m basic. I was Kate Moss’ target audience in this totally brilliant Instagram with Marc Jacobs, a parody of this viral video, which was posted before her famed easyJet incident. God I love Mossy.
The thing is, I’m okay with being basic. It’s actually kind of necessary if you want to go about daily life and be able to interact with other people. You see, everyone has a bit of the basic within them. Well, most people. Some are so cerebral they don’t descend from the lofty heights of academia to pollute their minds with popular culture. I happen to know the one person in my generation who has neither read nor seen any of the Harry Potters. How he manages to get through the day without knowledge of any of that crucial cultural shorthand is beyond me. I find it hard enough to get through life having never seen Game of Thrones. (Yes, I know.) You meet someone you don’t know and you can fall back on Bake Off, The Bridge or Serial podcast. All of the basic stuff which we have in common.
There’s another reason why I don’t mind being deemed basic. It simply means I have an open mind. Sometimes I think I should read some great work that has passed me by, maybe a Dickens or something by Kafka, instead of letting my brain atrophy in front of Made in Chelsea. But by then it’s started and I’m mesmerised (and bewildered) by Mark Francis. However, watching MiC or enjoying any other activity which is perceived to be basic has it’s own cultural merits. It makes us more interested and therefore interesting people, and the lack of curiosity about subjects which are deemed to be beneath certain people is actually quite depressing.
Being ‘basic’ also doesn’t mean I am incapable of varied interests. I could hold down equally in-depth conversations about both sixteenth-century court culture in Europe and what Binky’s latest storyline is. Yes, that would be a strange conversation but it would also, arguably, be more interesting than either one in isolation. There is brilliance in the contrast. It’s like meeting an accountant who cries at tragic operas- we are all capable of holding down varied and fascinating pastimes. Besides, who are we to presume that someone who watches I’m A Celebrity hasn’t also read James Joyce’s entire oeuvre? Sanctimonious, prescriptive, pretentious and narrow-minded snobs, maybe?
The whole idea of someone being denigrated for being ‘basic’ is reminiscent of women being told they’re frivolous morons for enjoying things like make up or fashion, or anything else deemed a bit ‘girly’. The brilliant Sali Hughes put it better than I ever could when she wrote about ‘ignorant female stereotypes’, commenting on how ridiculous it is to think that one interest defines the whole person. In this superbly crafted column she wrote, sarcastically, ‘a woman who likes nice moisturiser can’t possibly have any awareness of important world issues, nor any capacity for charity, nor any real sense of perspective because our limited intellectual resources are all tied up with self-indulgence and mirror gazing.’ Hadley Freeman was equally brilliant in The Guardian when she wrote about women being mocked for taking an interest in fashion: ‘Being interested in something does not mean liking everything about that subject, nor does it mean one is utterly uninterested in everything else.’
I knew someone at university who used to have a go at me every time I bought Grazia magazine. He said (despite never having read it) that it was mindless bollocks. I relished my weekly Grazia treat. It was great to flick through its pages and read interesting features, rather than creaking open something brick sized for my French literature course or something I had to blow dust off the cover of for history. Funnily enough, I am capable of being interested in history, French and Grazia all at the same time. Making people feel bad for enjoying something light-hearted is just a bit mean. Someone who calls someone else basic has also betrayed the fact that they are probably hyper-concerned about how they themselves are perceived, and whether or not their pursuits are deemed ‘cool’.
This leads me onto another reason I don’t mind being basic. It means that I don’t live my life looking over my shoulder to check whether I’m cool enough. I don’t deny that sometimes it’s quite nice to keep up with the latest trends. However, there comes a point where people stop being themselves in order to be on trend, decorating their houses, clothing themselves and pursuing hobbies in ways they don’t understand or actually even like. This is another form of following the crowd, which you might say is, ironically enough, a bit basic. And please don’t think that my rejection of the pursuit of cool is simply me deciding to go ‘normcore’ and therefore be even more cool. I like what I like and I’m not doing it to be ironic. There is a reason that stuff goes mainstream, and that’s because it’s actually quite good. Serial podcast: good. House of Cards: good. Bake Off: gooood. Prosecco: the best. There’s no shame in liking good stuff!
Don’t call me a bitch, because that’s just not nice, but call me basic if you want. It just means that I like well-made and enjoyable things, and that I can’t be arsed to pander to the achingly hip or cynical. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t have varied interests. Some of them might be deemed basic, some are so niche I won’t bore you with them here, but the beauty lies in the contrast.
Right, I’m off to get a Starbucks in a red cup and drink it while singing along to the new Justin Bieber album in my Primark Christmas pyjamas and NO ONE CAN STOP ME.
[Feature Image credit: dave.hackbarth]