Thursday, March 6, 2008
Ode to smeg
(Watch the video Ode to Smeg or read on...)
I seldom get homesick, for I am a born wanderer, but I recently suffered a bout of space-time sickness. I've been watching the BBC comedy Red Dwarf from the beginning (they recently released the entire series in two volumes, presumably to celebrate its 20-year anniversary).
Strange that nothing places me more squarely in moments in time and space in Britain in the latter quarter of the 20th century than a piece of science fiction, set millions of years in the future, after the demise of mankind. But, with references to the Sinclair ZX 81, Felicity Kendal's bottom and Topic bars (there's a hazelnut in every bite, don'tchaknow), the series anchors me more firmly to the Britain I grew up in than any of my unreliable memories.
I say I'm space-time sick - what I hanker after is student days of the early 90s, which Lister (the last human being) embodies. He's a former arts student, who dropped out because they had lectures first thing - in the afternoon. I read Philosophy, and bar the weekly supervision and a few afternoon lectures, I was totally free to do what I want, any old time.
At one point, Lister shoves a shed load of chili powder, some nondescript meat and ketchup into the microwave (straight in) and it delivers a fully fledged kebab. The microwave looks just like any contraption in a kitchen in a shared house. I'm thinking now of 609 Finchley Road, where a load of us lived when we began work, of sorts, in London.
I also love the patter. The officious Rimmer Hologram and Lister, a Scouser, are chalk and cheese and always arguing. Naturally, there's a good dose of culturally specific swearing. I grew up in spitting distance of Liverpool, with words like 'smeg-head' and 'keks' (not a curse, but far better than 'underpants') part of my vernacular.
I love Red Dwarf, unreservedly. I still feel like I'm wandering the universe and it is a lonely place, though I have a soulmate and a select handful of smeg-head mates. Like the life form that evolved from Lister's cat, I now have a wardrobe that crosses the International Time Zone. My place is very slightly less ramshackle and I do get up in the morning. I even enjoy my work, mostly. But, though I'm happier now, I always long somehow...
The thing is, the age of Red Dwarf is over. Although the series felt niche enough to be cool, it made cultural references that everyone of my generation in the UK could relate to. Ubiquitous cultural cues and mass-media icons are hard to come by these days, thanks to fragmented media, online video and thousands of subcultures. Consumers are creating culture, minute by minute, and much of it is specific to small groups. A product of today's mashed up digital environment, the online video The Soprano Wars satirises popular mass media, commenting on the declining position of its icons.
The journey continues...