Driving along the south coast the other day I found myself on a flyover. Like half the world I’ve seen LaLaLand (I loved it). This flyover (slow traffic, grim weather, not quite stationary) was enough to evoke the ear worm that is the opening song from the movie.
Doot-doot-doot, doo-dy doot-doot-doot, doo-dy doot-doot-doot, doo-dy doot-doot-doot.
I imagined the man in front stepping out of his Mondeo, juggling three Ginsters and a Snickers in the light drizzle.
I’m hugely susceptible to audio as well as visual cues. At St Pancras station there is a three note sound that heralds the station announcements. It is almost the three opening notes of a jazz standard that my dad used to sing to himself when melancholy descended. When I hear it it hands me the mic. When I worked in St Albans, the entry phone on the door sounded like the opening bar of the theme tune to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. I’d be stuck with these songs for hours. (I’m told, incidentally, that chewing gum is a cure for ear worms, though this may be an alternative fact.)
On the face of it, with my trigger ear, I’d be the world champion of the Intro Round on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, but the nineties and noughties were decades when I stepped away from chart music, my attention devoted to offspring and musicals. An intro round that covered 60s and 70s TV themes on the other hand and I’d be the victor. Our temperamental black and white TV in the outer suburbs of Canberra in the seventies pumped out everything from Gentle Ben to Skippie, via F Troop and My Favourite Martian while my brother and I took turns holding the primitive aerial aloft beside the set, like disconsolate Statues of Liberty.
La La Land has divided the audience. I loved it, I think because the two central characters seem to have unwittingly stepped into a musical. There’s no pretence that they’re the peak of dancing or singing proficiency. It lends it an everyperson quality that magnifies the emotional resonance.
But division is what we do now on an ever-larger scale. The greatest conceit of contemporary life might have been the idea that nuance can flourish more readily. We’ve been pointed to the idea that ‘big data’ will help us to understand and appreciate subtle shades. But what if what we discover is less subtlety and simply a choice between a one and a zero? Look at Twitter any day and you see that it invariably splits into two camps – the ones and the zeroes, the Rowlings and the Morgans, the Clintons and the SCROTUSes, the Wrexiteers and the Remainers, the I love the OA team, the I loathe the OA team.
The human condition invites us to sing songs of ourselves when perhaps everything is just a psychic murmuration.
It’s like the Chuck Close paintings comprised of little, supposedly subtle, squares.
When you pull back you see a dishevelled man, his morning face in repose, caught in an accidental selfie.
Or those strange collages of pictures that, when seen en masse, form an image of Marilyn Monroe or Mao Tse Tung.
Perhaps these grand divisions of opinion lend our perspectives an illusory granite coating, as though they were fact. Shared attitudes en masse begin to invite the idea that they are empirical. Views become news. Fake views become fake news. Maybe one of the downsides of social media is that it dulls individuality. Mass market opinion creates a gravitational pull, drawing us to one side of the argument or the other. Looking at the feeds of even the most sensitive of cultural critics and commentators, I see some evidence of entrenchment. We expend more energy defending our opinions rather than thinking them through. The ‘truth’, for the most part, sits somewhere between two polls, robbed of the tidy precision that we crave. The best answers are vague and subtle, not always at the midpoint, but somewhere in the No Man’s Land between.