Living with guilt and boredom in the real world

Every TV show creates a parallel world where other people's lives are more ordered than yours

IT IS perhaps only fair to warn you that, over the next few paragraphs, I shall be referring, frankly and without apology, to a Sunday night religious programme on the BBC, and that you may, therefore, prefer to hide this page from younger members of the family. Although many of today's children acquire a knowledge of the basic facts of life from TV, the traditional birds-and-bees chat from the biology teacher having been replaced by an update on cigars and Altoid mints by Jeremy Paxman, this was a discussion programme with an ethical bent in which virtually any filth was acceptable.

The discussion, it goes without saying, was about Viagra. Representing the masculine viewpoint were David Thomas (words), Peter Stringfellow (action), and a couple of noisy men with beards, while Sheena Macdonald and Joan Bakewell spoke up for women. I was about to switch off, having heard more than enough about other men's private parts over the past month, when the debate took a surprising turn.

Sheena Macdonald pointed out that the very fact that we were all so obsessed with the erection pill was significant indication of society's in-built sexism. An example: she herself had recently written about an important recent medical breakthrough revealing that the female clitoris (yes, there is a male one, in fact, but it's not relevant to this discussion) is considerably larger than hitherto had been thought. Where was the debate about that important issue? The men in the studio looked shame-faced, and even the two beards were quiet for a moment.

As it happened, I had read about this new insight into female anatomy in a recent edition of New Scientist. It appears that what was once thought to be a small but important organ is in fact impressively large - in fact, in the case of the exceptionally well endowed, it's so enormous that its owners are little more than female versions of Beardsleyesque walking sex organs with a bit of make-up and a hairdo.

At the time, I took this to be one of those bits of information that was interesting but vaguely useless, a bit like the news that the ozone layer is largely being destroyed by the flatulence of termites. Now, thanks to Sheena Macdonald, I saw that my reaction was typically male and bigoted. Had I ever engaged in conversations about the new pill for limp men, the new stresses it might put upon spouses who had rather liked the fact that their partner was sexually dormant? Er, yes. And had I even once had an equivalent discussion about the new super-clitoris? Exactly.

The problem is that there are now just so many things to feel guilty about. Dr Oliver James has written about the way contemporary dissatisfaction is kept simmering by commercials, films and sitcoms, neat little dramas where bodies are beautiful, relationships are either resolved satisfactorily or dissolved in a zany, dramatic and amusing manner, where life is a well- turned story with a balancing sub-plot and tidy conclusion, where the sheer grinding, intractable ordinariness of everyday existence plays no part.

But perhaps it's not the fiction that's the problem, so much as the carefully manicured facts. Every TV chat show, each newspaper profile, helps to create a fantasy parallel universe thronging with people whose lives are more ordered than your own. There are writers out there on life's front line, crashing about, gathering material - living, for heaven's sake; or, there are others so focused on their art that they will not be deflected by the mess of everyday existence, who actually put aside two hours in the afternoon as reading time.

There are parents who have spent more time with their children, who have virtuously done simple, yet heart-warming, things that will make their family happier and more successful in a profound and meaningful way. When was the last time you told someone you loved them? Well, come on, when was it? Everybody else does.

Get in the car, and you suddenly know that it's not the farting termites that are destroying Planet Earth, but you. In the supermarket, however many organic vegetables you buy, it's never enough. That lamb chop: British, is it? Of course not. And what about those poor Welsh hill farmers? In fact, what were you doing in a supermarket in the first place? Just down the road there are small, lovely, family-run retail shops literally dying because people like you prefer your precious one-stop shop.

It stains the soul and does little or no good, freezing you into the sort of helpless inactivity that leads you to watch Sunday night religious discussions, writhing with generalised, non-specific, universal middle- class guilt.

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?