Lurid: The New Way Of Looking At Things


I’ve often wondered, when seeing a particularly raunchy film, a daring play or an exhibition, ‘Where can things go from here?’ It’s not a question of censorship; more one of taste. We live in tasteless times. Trump looks like a bright orange clown, UK politicians run from an albino clown, Lord Snooty, Catweazle and Farridge, a man who looks like one of those rotating Victorian open-mouthed funfair ball catchers.

Perhaps they’re influencing people more than we realise, because everything had lately become lurid. Watching ‘Patrick Melrose’ I became fascinated with the colour saturation of the show. The South of France was repainted in searing tropical tones, and looked ridiculous. In many shows the colour is turned up to eleven, so much so that the 16 year-old TV series ‘Kath & Kim’, which was known for its eye-watering colours, now seems rather restrained.

Of course we’re all tampering with our photographs, which gives us a false idea of how the world looks. There are other ways of getting our attention; podcasts are  vary-speeding voices to get more information in, to an often ridiculous level. Music still auto-tunes voices to give us ludicrous chipmunk sounds.

And newspapers are relying on photo library stock-shots that have more impact than actual genuine photographs. Two days ago, the London Evening Standard, not exactly a benchmark of fine writing, hit a new low. Running a story about a mean bride who cancelled her wedding because her guests wouldn’t pay for it, they didn’t bother to source her photo but threw in a stock-shot of someone else instead.

A new version of ‘Vanity Fair’ is on TV (because obviously we needed more country house frock romps) and it has been depressingly labelled ‘Becky Sharp was a Kardashian’. So we accept the bedroom shenanigans and the modern language because it’s more fun than some boring old book.

I just read ‘Kim’ by Rudyard Kipling’. It looks, sounds and feels like a different time and place. The priorities are all upended; gods first, then people, then the British. My favourite historical playwright Charles Wood is one of the few authors to catch the past in his language and attitudes – and it’s utterly shocking because it’s so different. Okay, we can’t expect a bodice-ripper in lime greens and purples to care much about history, but it would be nice to see something that did.

It’s a level of falsity taking a cue from Trump – ‘We know you know it’s not real, but who cares?’ Well, some of us care about grammar and syntax and historical fact and how things look, sound and feel.

Cleverly, the TV series ‘Taboo’ came closest by painting its portrait of the East India Company by getting the tone right and then using broad modernist strokes to show difference.

Perhaps what the country really wants is the Kardashians in period dress, but there are enough of us who’d like something less juvenile and – in the oldest sense – vulgar.

9 comments on “Lurid: The New Way Of Looking At Things”

  1. SteveB says:

    Yes I also thought Taboo was really good. It took the past on its own terms.
    If you aren’t shocked or surprised or offended by the past, you aren’t learning anything.
    I find even reading a book in its original language instead of a translation can be a surprise.

  2. Brooke says:

    Reading De Quincey’s The English Mail Coach. Very different time and place but prescient in heralding then-new values: time and speed. Not sure I’m shocked surprised or offended by the past, e.g.which passengers could ride inside; “lower” class outside passengers not served at the same table as inside passenger at coaching inns, or passion about the war. But I am learning about how a writer takes concepts (time and speed), embodies concepts in a character and ties to a very personal meditation on death (what are we rushing toward?) and god (is there intervention in time and speed?).

    Reading Calvino in English– which I had Italian. I sense that I am missing a lot.

  3. Brooke says:

    wish not which.
    Are the desperate, competitive economics of media (loosing audience across all age and income segments and therefore ad revenue) driving us toward lurid and vulgar, in the latin sense, common masses? We’re reaching bottom when Mrs. Trump on a visit to children isolated and held in camps wears a jacket with “I don’t really care… ” plastered on the back.

  4. Ken Mann says:

    ..when I read that the new BBC “War of the Worlds” was being described by its makers as “true to the spirit” of the original my heart sank.

  5. Mike says:

    “Kim” is one of my all time favourite books, first read when I was 10

  6. Peter Tromans says:

    I was tempted to write something about a widening division in society between rich and poor and between well and badly educated with the rich and well-educated exploiting the vulgar poor. But Chris mentioned the Kardashian family, who don’t quite seem to fit into such a convenient model.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    The Kardashians (a name which always makes me think of a pissed Starfleet officer telling someone which race built Deep Space Nine station), would fit very nicely into a dumpster. And then a garbage compactor. No, I’m not a fan.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Not a fan of much of the present. I remember a teacher friend being horrified by some of his 12 year olds saying they wanted to be famous. “For what?” “For being famous.” Like the Kardashians, I assume.
    I watched two programs the other night that left my mouth hanging open:
    Invisible Cities: Athens at the the battle of Salamis. There is a car park in the modern city where, between the lower level concrete supports, you can see the wall built by the citizens after that battle and long before they rebuilt the city.
    Nova: everything in the world can be modelled with origami. As proof they showed a kevlar shield which folds down to briefcase size, experimental stents which can be slid up a blood vessel till they reach the narrowing and which then unfold to full diameter under the influence of the body’s heat, and insulation for airbus planes which is a sandwich with the many folded insulation between two strata. A 12 inch square piece of this latter is one inch thick, weighs one ounce, and can support a full ton without weakening. Due to the folding there are grooves which can carry the electrical cables for the plane.
    The last item was the most mind-boggling. We were shown a group of astronomy students who had a table sized photo of the visible universe. They were connecting up things which belonged together, parts of galaxies and such, and then folding. I am no astronomer and definitely need to see this again, but they say that eventually they’ll have folded everything into an origami piece that will demonstrate the motion following the Big Bang.
    Now there are goals to aim for, and positive things to find in the world.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    Ken – I share your trepidation about ‘War Of The Worlds’. After the utter disappointment of Spielberg’s attempt, I was cheered up by the thought of the BBC making it. At it’s heart, it’s a Victorian costume drama, and the BBC are great at those – Alien hardware – the BBC is great at that, too. So if ‘Auntie’ can churn out endless tedious costume dramas that people profess to enjoy, then a seminal piece of science fiction, set in the late 19th century, should be a pushover. Nobody has made a proper version before; it NEEDS to be set at a time when mankind’s technology was way, way below that of the Martian invaders, to show how insignificant we were/are. But this weak “In the spirit of” phrase is bandied about, and one gets the unpleasant feeling that the BBC have bottled it, and we’ll be left with an appalling mess, like the remake of ‘The Time Machine’ years ago. Were I to do ‘War Of The Worlds’, I’d preface it with Wells’ short story ‘The Crystal Egg’, by the way.

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