Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not Voodoo's Heroes of Prose: Charlie Brooker

The second in a series of features in which I pontificate about people who write really well in an utterly transparent attempt to establish myself on some kind of equal footing with them.

This week Charlie Brooker.

I was going to save him for later, but he wrote this piece on the horrible horrible Windows 7 launch parties thing that Microsoft made. It's fine when he's writing about TV, but when he starts on advertising then I'm like oi Brooker stay the fuck off my patch you trout-faced old hack.

He's over at his desk laughing. Ha, ha, ha. That's the relationship we have you see.

All male journalists under 30 want to write like Charlie Brooker. Which is ironic, given that he's rapidly approaching 40.

The extraordinary thing about him is that, in an age when the media cares less and less about talent and more and more about youth and beauty, he's managed to build an extremely successful career, work with Chris Morris, present TV shows and poon beautiful former Big Brother contestants, on the basis of a powerful imagination and an expletive-laden prose style. And it all starts with the writing - initially for PC Zone, then for his own website TVgohome.

TVgohome is still the funniest thing on the internet. It doesn't seem to get old. I had to stop reading it during the years I spent working as a medical secretary because people kept coming into the room to find me with my head on the keyboard apparently crying. Whilst I was living in South America I used to read it to remind me that there were parts of the world where humour was relatively widespread.

Here is a hasty and inadequate survey of some of the characteristics of his writing:
  • hyphenation and conjunction - so A&R men are shark-eyed, Nathan Barley is cock-haired, his friends are shitcreeps, etc. By stacking a load of these up you can create the impression of language straining to accommodate spleen, or misery or whatever else you're trying to express.
  • surreal flights of description, but studded with weirdly poetic detail. So here, describing his experience of a minor neck operation: 'What if, just at the crucial moment they stuck the needle in, I was seized by some awful Tourettes-like urge to suddenly jerk around on the slab, cackling like a madman in a rainstorm, deliberately severing my spinal cord against the cold, hard spike?'
  • precise technical specifications. In 2002 Nathan Barley was using a Sony Vaio laptop and a Nokia with an infra-red connection, today Brooker revels in the full name of the Mac operating system 'Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard'. These add sudden moments of focus and clarity and give the whole schtick an Easton Ellis-type hypermodern feel. (He's up on product numbers because he used to work behind the counter at CEX, not sure which one, maybe down the road from Dave Trott's place, which raises the possibility that they might have met, and probably argued, neither one aware of the other as a culturally significant prose stylist.)
  • Cloacal fixation cf. the fictional Ralph Fiennes vehicle, Widdleplop III on TVgohome.
  • All of these things put to the service of an amazed horror at human selfishness, cruelty and self-regard eg.: 'While filming himself receiving fellatio from a coke-twisted anorexic work experience girl plucked from the corridors of his uncle's TV production company, Nathan Barley momentarily interrupts his warm-gummed prickbliss to read a text message from the Ananova automatic news update service informing him of the latest Afghan death toll, before sliding his hideous gitprong back into position and intuitively grasping the back of her head like a man trying to pierce a basketball with his fingers.'
Interestingly, it is a rule in advertising that the more like Nathan Barley someone actually is, the more likely they are to namecheck Nathan Barley as a self-aware conversational gambit.

So there you go. Charlie Brooker, we salute you.

Next week will be less predictable, I promise.

I'm not going to be posting much tho', because I've just started this MA and am already having anxiety dreams about writing a book.


simon said...

A hero to us all. Quality post, big man

worm said...

Excellent stuff as always!

mixed views on Booker:
can be v. funny, especially on TV go home

Nathan Barley is one of my favourite ever TV shows - every person who works in advertising should be forced to watch it.

Its good that whilst appearing to be a typical london-based Guardian-reading media type, he does occasionally hold up a mirror to this section of society and say 'look at you, you're behaving like a bunch of morons'

His screenwipe persona is often not that funny and about as subtle as a brick. (oh haha I'm grumpy! Hilarious)

oh, and reading his column in the Guardian online unfortunately means I then read all the pathetic needy fanboy comments posted afterwards.

worm said...

this bit of current Brooker is really very good:

I especially like:

"It's so terrible, it induces an entirely new emotion: a blend of vertigo, disgust, anger and embarrassment which I like to call "shitasmia". It not only creates this emotion: it defines it. It's the most shitasmic cultural artefact in history."