Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Spirit of the Times

Zeitgeist [tsite-guyst]
the spirit or general outlook of a specific time or period [German, literally: time spirit]
(Image from artwork for The Smashing Pumpkins' album, 'Zeitgeist'.)

A Facebook friend of mine posts daily updates, giving his favourite word for that day, like 'corpuscle' or 'quango'. Funny how we form attachments to certain words just because we enjoy saying them, regardless of their associations. 'Zeitgeist' is one that has this effect on me – though it's not a word I routinely drop into my conversation, as I suspect that if I did that I'd sound pompous and high-falutin' (two other terms, incidentally, that have a high Fun Factor).

My agent and Orchard editors have often described my writing as 'zeitgeisty', i.e. it embodies the spirit of the times – which is a jolly good thing, I reckon. This is at least partly due to the fact that I absorb huge amounts of daily STUFF, good, bad and indifferent, from newspapers, TV, the Internet, books, magazines...the lot. And lately, events have been occurring that seem like something out of one of one of my books.

Take the Susan Boyle phenomenon. In the sort of alternate-future world of my Silk Sisters books, 'celebrities' have become so disposable that the only way to deal with the has-beens is to dump them all in a sort of Disneyland 'Beverly Hills' pumped full of happy drugs, so that they can go on believing they still have hordes of adoring fans.
Now, Susan still has plenty of fans, but the past week has been something of a nightmare for her. 'Boyle has simply suffered a more accelerated version of a common musical journey, from unknown to Priory in seven weeks rather than the months it takes hardened professionals,' said Mark Lawson in The Guardian. 'Television, most voracious of mediums, just chewed and spat out another innocent,' said Quentin Letts; similarly, a Yahoo journalist said she was 'just another victim of the celebrity machine. It sucks them in, uses them, and then spits them out: used and worthless.' (Incidentally, the best article I've read on the subject of Susan Boyle is by Howard Jacobson and can be found here .) Well folks, you saw it all here first, in the character of Gula in the Silk Sisters trilogy!

In my Lulu Baker trilogy I have, in the character of Varaminta le Bone, another washed-up 'celebrity'; an over-the-hill supermodel, desperate to cling onto the limelight (don'tcha just love mixing your metaphors?) After disappointing sales of her diet book 'How To Be As Thin As Me', she turns to the celebrity magazines in an attempt to gain publicity. Trouble is, she needs to DO something in order to interest them, so she decides to Have a Wedding; all she needs next is to find a candidate for Husband. This is where poor Lulu's dad comes in, the unwitting pawn in Varaminta's game. The role of celebrity magazines (something which didn't exist in my youth) in the lives of some prominent figures (pun intended) is quite disturbing; witness the recent collapse of the marriage between Jordan/Katie Price/Whatever and Peter Andre. Having your every waking moment recorded for public consumption seems to become, for some people, the only reason to do anything in the first place, and the price (oh dear, another pun) of such a lifestyle can be great.
In contrast, I notice something happening in the fashion world that's actually positive; in this instance, a TV programme that carries the same message as The Silk Sisters: namely, can we stop just throwing stuff away, please? Hurray, then, for Mary Queen of Charity Shops! Mary Portas, probably the nearest thing we have to my fictional character Nolita Newbuck in my Silk Sisters books, says 'People are aware of the need for sustainability, the importance of re-use, the greener option. So why are charity shops failing to perform well?’ She's out to do something about that.

I'm grateful to John Lloyd of Bookbag for his very positive and thoughtful review of Tiger-Lily Gold; however, I do have to take issue with one of his comments: 'This could have been a stinging rant against modern celeb-culture...Instead it uses those when it needs to...there is [no] serious attempt to get readers to abandon their weekly shopping trips and think again.' No?? OK, I don't want to give away the ending, but hang on a minute! The public are increasingly at the mercy of powerful corporate machine Rexco, which is robbing them of their identities. This is in part down to the rampant consumerism they generate: you are what you buy. It defines you. So that's the baddy; the goodies are the parents of Rorie and Elsie who, just before they go missing, were on the point of introducing revolutionary Smart clothing technology capable of transforming itself into different styles and renewing its cellular structure, thus dramatically reducing the need for new clothing production. There is absolutely NO DOUBT as to whose side I'm on, and I would hope the dramatic events provoke some thought on the subject!

It's true that I don't want to kill fashion: I love it! Any idea that it should be done away with is preposterous. What I hate is the accelerated consumer machine it has become, the third-world sweat shops producing bargain clothes for decadent westerners to wear for a season and discard.

Anyway, off the soapbox now. My primary aim is to entertain, but if I haven't also made you think a bit about these wider issues, then I haven't succeeded in what I set out to do. It's all very well embodying the zeitgeist, but simply mirroring the world around you is a singularly uninteresting thing to do; you need teeth. So...over to you. Did I succeed or fail? Am I toothless, or do I have bite?


Annaxx said...

I think you are very right about celebs i hate all their publisity stunts when all it does is end up in tears like katie price and peter audre!! who did you want to win britans got talent?? i thourght diversity where briliant so i am glad they won!! love annax

fionadunbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fionadunbar said...

I voted for Shaheen. I really liked Diversity, but the music was annoying! But Anna, you haven't answered my question about that review; what are your thoughts?

Mary Hoffman said...

Can't answer your question, Fiona, not having read Tiger-Lily Gold. But I can verify your fine teeth, more often seen in a smile than a snarl.

And how do you insert pictures partway through your blog? That's clever

fionadunbar said...

Thanks Mary! Am cultivating a snarl. Ooh, and I've just seen your 'sick of pink' blog post! See you three...

With the pictures, I just drag and drop.

fionadunbar said...

I mean 'there'! Oh dear...

Charlotte said...

I am glad that katie and peter borke up , i think peters really nice and katie is awful!!
I hate susan boyle too, shes getting way toobig for her boots.
I am glad that diversity won and i really like shaheen and aidan too.
Publicity stunts are stupid too, whats the point?!!!
Celebs are good as long as they dont start to become big headed etc because no on elike anyone like that!!
Fion, and anyone else who has an opinion, did you think Hollie Steel should have got through to the final, if she was so nervous she shouldnt have been on it!
Now there is an age limit of 16 apparently!!
love charlotte x

fionadunbar said...

Ooh Charlotte, I wouldn't be so harsh about Susan! I found the spectacle painful to watch. I didn't see the Hollie Steel one, but I think the new age limit is sensible. But you too have yet to answer my question! Obviously I have put in too many distractions...

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking!

Lovely teeth you've got, btw.