Sex and drugs and natural history
Thursday 06 February 1997
I suddenly remembered where I had come across all this before. In CS Lewis. Yes, in a book by the author of the Narnia stories. When I was a little lad, before my voice broke, I was made to read his book called The Screwtape Letters, which is a series of exchanges between a senior devil and a junior devil sent out to Earth for his first tempting expedition. (Heady stuff for a 12-year-old.)
At one point the devil shakes his head over the idea of people paying to see a strip-tease. "I can never quite understand why men hand over money to gather in a room and watch a woman's body being paraded," he says, or words to that effect. "After all, eating is just as powerful an impulse as sex, but do people sit down and watch piles of attractive cookery being carried round in front of them? Do audiences lick their lips and frenziedly applaud as a cook shows off his or her creations?"
At the time this was all a bit lost on me. I had not yet reached puberty and the idea of paying to see a woman's body struck me as a waste of pocket money. I didn't much fancy the idea of watching food being carried round either, though it seemed somewhat the better option of the two. But CS Lewis was being prescient by accident. Yes, CS Lewis would be depressed to learn, people would line up these days to watch cookery being done, or at least gather in their homes to do it. People buy videos of it. And the people who are featured in these videos become pin-ups. Step forward Gary Rhodes. Thank you, Gary. Step back now.
Or, as media man Mike Ainsworth says, in the aforementioned piece by Belinda Archer, "From being something we didn't really care about as a nation, food is now a major form of social currency. It is the new sex, the new rock 'n' roll, and even if you are not a cook, it is impossible now not to have a view about cooking because of the impact of TV chefs. We are no longer what we eat - we are what we watch."
Hot diggity! The new rock 'n' roll! Already in 1997 something new is being greeted as the new rock 'n' roll! So many journalists last year had sworn never again to greet anything as the new rock 'n' roll, and here we go already! In the last few years there have been so many things greeted as the new rock 'n' roll. There was comedy, of course, which was the new rock 'n' roll in the sense that young kids suddenly want to be stand-up stars instead of rock stars. There was football, which was like rock 'n' roll in that it was noisy and energetic and annoyed your parents, even though they had enjoyed it all along. There was fashion, and there was the Internet, and there was aerobics, and there was world music, and there was line dancing, and there was cartoon animation, and they have all been the new rock 'n' roll in their day, in the sense that journalists couldn't think what else to call them.
And now it's food. Food is the new rock 'n' roll. Well, this might be true if you sat quietly at home listening to rock 'n' roll with a take- away on your knee, but I think Mike Ainsworth was nearer the mark when he said that food was the new sex. Food and sex have a lot in common. They are both vital to our survival. They represent basic urges which man has tried to make sophisticated. They can both be great fun, and also extremely tiresome. And they can both be very dangerous. Safe sex was, for a time, the new safe rock 'n' roll, and safe eating (slimming, dieting, vegetarianism, etc) is the other side of the gourmet gospel.
But there is one thing that encompasses all this, and that is something which is on our TV sets the whole time and which I haven't mentioned yet: natural history. When we sit gaping at natural history programmes on our TV, we get the best of everything. We get all those other things which have been greeted as the new rock 'n' roll. We get nature performing oodles of sex, we get nature eating and drinking whenever possible, we get nature producing the most wonderful fashion ideas, we get nature doing blood sports, and we even get nature being very funny.
It's got everything.
Except rock 'n' roll.
Natural history is the last rock 'n' roll-free zone.
I think natural history may be the new world music.
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