I Confess: Howard Jacobson tells John Lyttle of a breakfast TV addiction

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The Independent Culture
The only shame I acknowledge is intellectual shame. In that area I don't want to be found backsliding. I honour the austerity of the life of the mind. I don't read 'good reads'. I don't listen to pop music. I wouldn't talk to anyone who can't see that the film of Much Ado About Nothing is trash, or who thinks that that empty- shanked actor who made it is gifted in some way. And I don't go to Harold Pinter plays.

It's the intellectual's duty to remain ignorant of popular culture. Remember those judges who would ask 'Who is Marilyn Monroe?' or 'What is a blow-job?' and the lawyer would have to say, 'She's a movie star, m'Lud . . . A method of contraception favoured by the lower orders, your Honour'. I loved those people.

Having established that, my secret is that I watch breakfast television. Regularly. Every morning. Now, I could make the best case for myself, say that it's like those novels about professors marrying show girls, that no matter how high your defences the world of popular feeling gets to you. But that would not be true. I do it to give myself a daily dose of horror.

I sit in my chair with the zapper - what's it called? a remote control? - and I flip from one item to another. BBC1 actually gives you news. So I don't spend much time on that. It doesn't revolt me enough.

On GMTV someone called Eamonn - is he really called Eamonn or do they call him that because of his resemblance to Eamonn Andrews? - is wearing a lemon jacket and interviewing a woman with tears spouting from her eyes. His question is 'How do you feel?' He's the only interviewer on British TV who still asks 'How do you feel?' This is supposed to be the world of everyday human feeling so GMTV has unbelievably deprived families on, people who haven't had a job in 300 years. Eamonn's role is to upset them and ask 'Are you distressed, then?'

Today he was talking to a Spitting Image of Mrs Thatcher. She was in a kitchen making a cabinet pudding. The pudding is Alan Clark. That was the joke. At the end Eamonn slid to the floor with the doll, as though to do what that High Court judge had never heard of. What would anyone from another culture think, a rubber model of one of our most venerated Prime Ministers on the floor with a breakfast TV host in a lemon jacket? You see why I use the word horror?

The fascinating one, the one that makes me absolutely sick, is The Big Breakfast. It's the ultimate TV programme. It's not about anything except television. Big Breakfast is completely self-referential in the way all post-modernist art is. It's telly about videos, computers and telly. And it's for children, although it's the last thing you'd want children to watch. It's shot through with smut: toilets, toplessness, triviality.

There's a gifted boy who fronts it, who wears a vest under his shirt (one of the checked shirts your mother used to buy from C & A and you would try to lose it). He's a cartoon boy with big round spectacles and he's terrifically good at what he does, by which I mean he's good at doing nothing.

He's aggressively low-brow and very rude to the girl who fronts with him. The surface is state of the art, but the attitudes are resolutely retrograde. She allows him to interrupt and upstage her. She sits with her head to one side, looking up at him, this cartoon video boy in specs who's still what bully boys always were, post-modern telly notwithstanding.

'What's the worst thing about being a woman?' was one of this morning's topics, and people rang to say 'not being able to write in the snow'. The boy with specs said 'That's a classic.' I sit there feeling iller. It's the end of civilisation.

Next week: D M Thomas on 'Zulu'

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