on 27 February 2004
Recently, I was asked if I had seen a programme on television called 'Grumpy Old Men'. I hadn't, but it was explained to me that, because of something that I had said about the misuse of a particular word, that I sounded like one of the participants in the programme. As a result of this, I found out when the programme was being transmitted and watched it. As some of you will possibly know, the programme trivialised and lampooned a series, of what might be considered by some, to be genuine concerns about various aspects of contemporary life in this country. In no way did the programme really seek to address any of those concerns as it was perceived as entertainment and after all, weren't they just concerns expressed by 'grumpy old men'; in others words, they can be dismissed as irrelevant.
If you value many of the things which appear to be disappearing from our culture; if you care and are concerned about the uses and misuses of language; if you care and are concerned about sponsorship in the arts and in education and, particularly in the light of a recently published report, commissioned by the Conservative Party, with proposals for the future of broadcasting and also in the light of the forthcoming review of the BBC's Royal Charter, if you care about the future of Public Service Broadcasting, then I recommend you read this book. In doing so, you will discover that, after all, you are not alone with your concerns as, in this book you will, in my opinion, find many of them elegantly articulated, discussed and explained within the context of our changing society. It is usual to say, 'I found it difficult to put the book down,' when referring to works of fiction. I would use it for this book!
on 12 April 2007
This book is worth a few hours of anyone's time. Utilising his long life and extensive experience, Richard Hoggart provides an independent analysis of some of the ills of modern cultural life. His working-class background seems to provide some of the incentive to say what all-too-few middle and upper class intellectuals are willing to say, which is that much in modern culture deserves criticism and that giving people 'what they want' is often just an excuse for patronising them by assuming low aspirations. Hoggart takes aim at the BBC, at the advertising industry, at relativism, at politicians and at the press, amongst others. He notes both gains and losses in the past 60 years or so, but rightly concentrates on the negatives (there are far too many others puffing up modern cultural life, many of them busy making money from the credulous and ill-informed while they do so).
It has its weaknesses, though. It wouldn't be too much to ask, surely, for him to buttress his undoubted authority and good sense with some more independent factual evidence of the developments he discusses? 'Social Trends' and other sources of information are full of invaluable and easily available data that support and strengthen much of what he says. This would have helped him to reach out to a wider audience than those who already know and respect his work. The eclecticism is also a little diluting. The discussion of language use, for example, occasionally betrays personal irritation rather than coherent analysis and the discussion of the House of Lords and Quangos at the end weakens what was building up to a strong conclusion. One also gets the impression that he isn't familiar with important wider discussions on related themes. One thinks of the work of Neil Postman ('Amusing Ourselves to Death'), Marie Winn ('The Plug-in Drug') and Robert Putnam ('Bowling Alone'). I'd love to have seen Hoggart engage with those authors. This also points to the absence of any explicit discussion of the biggest issue at the heart of Hoggart's analysis, which is the almost total dominance of broadcasting, especially television, as a contemporary source of information and entertainment. Hoggart's cursory treatment of this issue makes some of what the says - for example, about the benefits of reading within families - appear to be quixotic when it is, of course, absolutely essential.
Still, Hoggart is a highly thoughtful and learned writer. This book may be less than it could have been, but it is an excellent read on an important set of issues. Hoggart writing at half-pace (he must now be a very old man, to be fair) is better than most writers at full, frenetic pelt. Give your brain a pep talk and knock it out of the grooves that the mass media persistently knock it back into.