Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Desert Island poll shows that we're all snobs at heart

We've all done it - invented likes and dislikes which we thought would impress people. Like pretending the only TV we watch is the news, documentaries on the Taliban and natural history programmes.

Or winnowing out from our bookshelves the thrillers, chick lit, 'true life' stories and the 'as told to' celeb autobiographies and propping up that old copy of David Copperfield. 'Light reading', you understand.

Or stripping the Lethal Weapon, Terminator and Nightmare series DVDs out of the cabinet in favour of Das Boot, Jean de Florette and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

It's called 'cultural insecurity'. Or, more plainly, 'snobbery'.

So, why the surprise that when it comes to Desert Island Discs, there isn't a single track by Elvis, Michael Jackson or Madonna in a new listeners' poll, with Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, Elgar's Nimrod and Beethoven's 9th Symphony topping instead?

When anyone wonders if there is such a thing as 'Britishness' now, they need only listen to Desert Island Discs.

Everything about it reeks of the rarity, pomposity, self-importance, class division, supposed 'good taste' and pure old-fashioned snobbery that we have all come to know and love about the concept of 'Britishness' in the first place.

Especially since the programme, which historically favoured powerful unknowns from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or some other arcane branch of the Civil Service - women were usually represented by Nobel Prize-winners - as its preferred guests, has dropped its standards to include broadcasters, elderly actors and vaguely-familiar Olympic sportspersons.

You'd think that such people might be a bit more catholic in their musical tastes, but that would be to misunderstand the nature of snobbery, which knows neither class barrier nor educational boundaries.

Ironically, it's actually more likely that Common People will plump for some of the more popular classical choons - Lark and Nimrod - to gain a little drawing-room credibility.

While the Nobs will think their street stock will soar if they opt for something by a pop combo beloved by their grandchildren.

Which accounts for the other two pieces in the top five - Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd.

Now, I adore Sir Freddie and he'd have been devastated not to have knocked Ralph and Sir Edward back a place or two in the classical popularity stakes. But it would be hard to find two pieces more steeped in the kind of overblown, stadium-rock, operatic grandiosity which could almost pass for being 'classical' anyway. For the same reasons, creeping in also are the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan.

No one looking for street cred is going to opt for the Pet Shop Boys or Buggles - never mind some rapper who might represent how the real musical tastes of the nation are actually being formed.

And certainly not the three titans of the contemporary music industry completely excluded. Which, of course, makes the idea of the poll more about gross snobbery than actual real-life musical or cultural influences. And hence completely useless.

No one will believe that Elvis, Jackson or Madonna are magically 'not listened to' by Desert Island Disc fans. Hence no one will believe the poll results, anymore than they will believe that the music selected by guests actually represents their genuine listening habits. Or that it represents the 'reality' of modern Britain.

But, thankfully, they're in a dreadful minority.

Desert Island Discs is itself one of the great secrets of Britishness. So secret that almost every media story about the poll has had to explain what the show is. Let alone why it's not called Desert Island Downloads ...

In case you think this is a bit harsh, bear this in mind. The poll trawled the massive total of, er, 25,000 listeners. What's depressing is that we are still, as a nation, desperate to impress just about everybody, especially ourselves.

Even if it means turning fibbing into an artform.

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