Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Being a fan of any genre means liking the mediocre stuff as well

Stephen King once made a good point about what it meant to be a horror fiction fan – you even enjoyed reading the bad stuff. (As a book of mine was among those he was reviewing in the article in which he shared this perception, my reactions were distinctly mixed.)

He overstated the case, I think. Being a fan of any creative genre implies a willingness to read, watch or view the mediocre stuff as well as the sparkling gems - but it does mean you can at least bear to watch or listen to poor examples as well.

In my case, I suppose that means I’m not a true art fan: I only like top-notch artists (and there are many of them I don’t like). I can take mediocre 19th Century pictures if they offer a glimpse of the society or times that produced them, but otherwise standard fare leaves me cold.

I can’t be bothered reading second-rate poetry – so my knowledge of contemporary work is pitifully limited. Ditto classical music. And opera. And literature (being a member of a book group means that I have read to the end of several mediocre novels which I would previously have abandoned after ten pages – which has made my appreciation of really good writing even keener).

I am not a genuine football fan, because I can’t bear to watch anything but the very best (which means I rarely watch games involving England). Cricket’s the same. In fact, if the teams I’m supporting are doing badly, I won’t watch at all, even if the opposition is dazzling.  I can’t even pretend to be a real tennis fan: I cannot watch two Spaniards – no matter how competent – exchange endless baseline rallies, and I prefer the early parts of tournaments when you can flick between lots of matches.

So, are there any exceptions – any instances of true genre fandom?

Yes, but they don’t reflect well on my taste!

I can watch almost any crime drama on TV – it has to be very bad indeed for me to turn over. Good God, I’m even following the second series of ITV’s dire Stephen Tompkinson vehicle, DCI Banks, despite regularly roaring disapproval at the screen (the plotting is hilariously inept, and the characters of the principal figures change with every scene). I’ve never missed Midsomer Murders, no matter how snooze-inducingly silly or dull. Poirot, CSI Wherever… almost anything goes. (On holiday two years ago, I even got stuck into repeats of professional fat actor Richard Griffith’s Pie in the Sky, a tepid, badly-made meal which any normal person would have sent back to the kitchen after one bite.

I will watch almost any black and white film made between 1935 and 1955. So I suppose that makes me a fan of old movies.

I used to be a horror fiction fan – but, apart from some H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, I haven’t read any in years, so that’s off the list. (I also used to consume science fiction short stories by the score, but, unlike horror, I could never abide the real rubbish.)

When it comes to music, it will come as no surprise to regular readers that I am a fan of rockabilly and surf, where the performer has to reach an excruciating level of direness before I won’t listen. With every other genre – even 1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll – I won’t listen to anything but the best.

Being a fan of individual artists, writers, sportsmen or musicians is different, of course – but I’ll leave that for another day. 


  1. Stephen Tompkinson? I saw one of these BBC "Let's send one of our favourite sons/daughters on an expensive holiday and let him/her talk balls for an hour" and call it a documentary. Tompkinson - one of the wettest, drippiest, blandest "actors" ever to tread the boards - was sent on a railway journey through some Asiatic backwater and kept intoning "Triffic" while gazing at the landscape. At one stage the train passed through a forest and Tompkinson turned to the camera and said "trees". And yet the networks keep throwing work at him.

    I cannot stand British TV [film is a different matter] crime drama [honourable exception: The Sweeny]. They are always very badly written and acted. Much against my better judgement I tuned into "Murder in Paradise" with Ben Miller and I could not believe how awful it was. The BBC have managed to combine drama and the sleb travelogue into a 2 for 1 combo. And given the Beeb's profligacy with production money I hate to think how much this dross has cost [it is even worse than Minghella of Arabia's Ladies Detective Agency if such a thing is imaginable].

    I love crime drama on TV - as long as it's not British. I feel better for sharing this with you.

  2. Yes, TV Viewer, there's nothing more annoying than being subjected to a travelogue by a sleb who - invariably - has absolutely nothing of interest to say about anything. The worst fault of this genre, as you point out, is the tendency to tell you things you can either see for yourself, or which you should be left to judge for yourself. "What a fantastic view!", "Isn't that amazing!", or, often, just "Wow!" I mean, this isn't radio.

    As for Tompkinson, his only means of expressing emotion is to go red and make his veins stick out. Another commenter pointed out that David Starkey tends to speak as though straining on a particularly monstrous stool - Tompkinson looks as though he's doing the same thing.

    My wife informs me that Mr. T lives in South Africa, having appeared in some drama series shot there, and commutes back to the UK to make programmes. This is of no relevance whatsoever, but I just thought I'd pass it on.