David Broder reviews ‘Is it just me or is everything shit?’, by Steve Lowe and former solidarity deputy editor Alan McArthur
The culture of ridiculously overblown praise, as embodied in the title, is merely one of the elements of modern society that Is it just me or is everything shit? lambasts. The book is an “encyclopedia of modern life” — an A-Z of attacks on subjects as diverse as Robert Kilroy-Silk, Che Guevara merchandise and “Fast food chains marketing themselves as ‘healthy’ (and feminist)”.
Before reading the book, I’d thought that books/programmes/articles being cynical about modern culture were just as passé as the subjects they attack. A good example of this is BBC2’s Grumpy Old Women — although I enjoy the show, the format is hardly a revolutionary development from BBC2’s Grumpy Old Men. However, Lowe and McArthur breathe fresh life into the genre.
Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly the different focus. The book’s attacks on the ethos of faith schools and the obvious inefficacy of “ethical consumerism” are far more relevant than Jeremy Clarkson moaning about excessive road signs or Janet Street-Porter going on about lazy shop assistants. Parts of the book are also politically spot-on — criticism of George Galloway, former NUS presidents and Bono and his Live8 cohorts was a welcome addition to the expected stuff like slagging off Bush and Blair.
However, given that one of the main themes of the book is attacking pretension — loft living, trends in interior design and supermarket delicatessens for instance — it would be foolish of me to try and offer a pseudo-cultured analysis of why the jokes are funny. Instead, some examples:
On using planes in election campaigns: “Sadly for Respect, the new party looking to put religion at the forefront of politics, the contacts that might have lent George Galloway an Iraqi fighter jet have moved on. But if he seeks funds from other sympathetic regimes, like the Saudis and the remaining Stalinist states, the MP for Ba’athnal and Bow should be airborne next time. Indefatigably.”
On “buy nothing day”: “ The single most pointless pseudo-political protest in the history of the world, short of actually killing yourself in protest about something but not telling anyone that’s why you’re killing yourself or what you’re protesting about. Don’t buy something today, buy it next week! That’ll bring down the system all right. Grr.”
On “public conveniences, lack of”: “Thank God for McDonald’s. As a pleasing bonus, when you relieve yourself in McDonald’s without purchasing one of their special patties of death you are quite literally taking the piss out of them. Actually, no — you’re quite literally giving piss to them. Anyway, they don’t like it.”
This book pulls apart the double-speak of advertisers and the bullshit of politicians. But part of what is so refreshing about it is that it’s not only the usual left/liberal stuff against Bush and McDonalds, but also some of the equally risible bullshit of pretend “alternatives” to the norm — such as urban villages, the Kabbalah cult and people who use Macs rather than PCs made by Microsoft.
As the inside cover puts it “this very funny, well informed compendium of bile adds up to an excoriating broadside against consumer capitalism that the authors hope will sell loads of copies.”