‘Popular fiction can be a useful indicator of popular attitudes and obsessions’, argues one academic. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to justify in a written document exactly how popular fiction – and films and comics and radio and TV dramas – reflect how we think and feel. It’s difficult to do – and it feels like I’ve written several thousand words beating round the bush.
I have no doubt that popular culture and popular attitudes are somehow linked. Many others have felt the same. But there’s no definitive description of the relationship, and academics have spilt a sea of ink seeking the elusive words that would clinch it. Some, like the scholar quoted above, find sneaky ways round the problem. Read it again and you’ll see that the unassuming words ‘can be’ allow him to avoid having to define the relationship exactly. We’re left asking, ‘but how do we know when fiction reflects popular attitudes?’ ‘Is it sometimes completely off-beam?’ Only silence greets us.
Outside of the rigorous academic world, I’m happy to say ‘there’s a link’ and move on. This has got me thinking. Assuming that academia (or indeed, the planet) is still thriving in 50 years time, what will our children and grandchildren be studying as they plumb the depths of our own culture? What books, films and TV shows will they analyse, pen and notebook (or virtual tablet) in hand, to discover our attitudes and obsessions?
They’ll see us eagerly devouring violent detective novels and dramas from Scandinavia; they’ll see our penchant for superhero films and tolerably erotic novels; they’ll see our relentless appetite for increasingly fantastical Second World War fictions; they’ll see our relish for thieving, fighting and murdering in games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.
They’ll also see our YouTube obsessions with cats in boxes, talking dogs and naked popstars. They’ll see that our favourite news stories from 2013 included a telepathic dolphin, the death of a cartoon dog and a horse doing its business in a Manchester McDonald’s.
So what are the trends? Sex, death and funny animals? It’s not too tempting to delve into what this says about modern Britain. I’ll leave that to the lucky future academics.