Grace Dent: All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, Channel 4
There is meaning, emotional depth, and tenderness in spray-tan colour charts
Saturday 09 June 2012
Gosh, I loved Grayson Perry's joyful trip to working-class Sunderland this week to examine "taste".
Lots of TV these days is loaded, tweaked and polished to cause mass British sofa-cynic quacking, and Channel 4 makes most of it, but this was bliss. "Let's send him who won the Turner Prize out to meet real people," a berk in a C4 "breakout meeting" clad in Tunisian frou-frou trousers and a Slayer T-shirt must have said. "Y'know, Grayson Perry? Him with the 1950s lemon children's party frocks, the straw-coloured choppy bob and the goalie knees? Make him interact with some of those Jeremy Kyle sorts and do one of his tapestries about them."
Of course, Perry stepped into a community of funny, proud, sentimental Sunderland folk, a far wider working-class landscape than the one-note spectacles who make it on to ITV1 at 10am to be berated by Kyle for not knowing which one of a set of brothers impregnated them. Instead, Grayson skipped in to a land not dissimilar to where I come from, and drank in the horse-brass, Victorian lady figurines, the big Friday night going-out hair, Celtic bicep sleeve-tattoos, enormo-sepia photos of one's clan dressed as cowboys, and endless karaoke barbecue bank holidays under Asda garden awnings, celebrating the songbook of Heather Small and DJ Mike Pickering.
Grayson saw the sweetness in collections of plastic paperweights with the legend "Blackpool: Best Mum In The World", revolving figurines that tinkled through "You Light Up My Life" and the proud upkeep of Miami-shade, bottle-blonde hair even when the sky outside was perpetually threatening drizzle. I stand to inherit a delightful collection of these Victorian figurines, although I don't like to brag. Grayson looked at how different generations of the working classes formed their taste from whatever they'd tried to escape. Old ladies who'd been raised in poverty were infatuated by "stuff" (bejewelled ashtrays, porcelain cats, plates mounted on walls), glorying in heaving sideboards and mantlepieces. Many of my generation, sick to the back teeth of "stuff", yearned for a minimal pseudo "middle class" home like those smug cows called Tilly we see in Livingetc, who live in plain white studios with stripped floors, containing only a biodegradable futon, a reclaimed barn-door as a dining table and an £800 Quooker bespoke boiling-water tap with which to sterilise the bottles of some tousle-haired babies called Noah and Plink.
It was gratifying to see Grayson celebrate Sunderland people's pride in their spruced-up homes, and to see the ritual of their going-out Friday-night transformations from "worker" to "fantasy creature". Grayson found meaning, emotional depth and tenderness in spray-tan colour charts, bulging muscles, and the "tits out vs legs-out" conundrum. He celebrated the masculine joy of football colours, modified-car meets – the male emotional outlet of middle-aged family men – and cage-fighting skinheads. I loved the parts about the modern working-class man, examining how the loss of our macho, physical industries has lead to an abundance of men with tribal tattoos, kicking the hell out of punch-bags in the gym, then strutting about looking like Right Said Fred.
Grayson saw glee in Friday-night, Jägermeister-shot daftness and the beauty of commemorating the birth of your first son with a massive, inky grandfather clock on your arm noting the official time of arrival. I hope even three per cent of the people who suffer a migraine from reading these descriptions actually watch this show before honking on about generalisations, class-porn and other miscellaneous umbrage.
Next week, Grayson moves on to the middle classes: the trailer showed us shrill women going on about "combing the internet for the best sugar-free baby yoghurt", baby-buggy-aerobics, and nights out with Kate Middleton fillies who work hard to appear effortlessly fragrant. Grayson is rather excellent at stating the bloody obvious, then suddenly spitting out something profound, before scooting off back to his studio to begin, firstly by felt-tip squiggling, then by weaving his musings into a grand, tangible object. When it's displayed the subjects point, gasp and become teary. Art rarely ever ends up being art for art's sake.
Grace’s marmalade dropper
”It’s beautiful... it would make Monet proud!” Anneka Rice’s adorable reaction to a soggy Jubilee Pageant artist’s “work”. Rain may have made it a papier-mâché mess but it couldn't dampen Anneka’s spirits.
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