Many many years ago, old friend Paul Rogan said to me “you should have a column or a radio show, you have opinions on everything” … and I wasn’t entirely sure if he meant it quite in the friendly manner he said it (!), but he was right. I do have plenty of opinions. There are a few things I tend not to bother having opinions on – fashion (don’t care other than shoes and even then don’t care that much as long as they’re pretty), sport (don’t care unless it’s the All Blacks and a test match – or Olympic-level gymnastics), cars (just don’t care) … but most other things, especially if they have a political bent to them, then yes, I can find something to say. And, the personal being political (!), to me at least, most things do have a political bent to them!
Yesterday I reviewed for the Simon Mayo Radio 5 book programme, and tonight I’m doing BBC2’s Newsnight Review – and for both shows it is important to have opinions. These shows require that the person who’s come in to talk about the book or the film or the exhibition or whatever has paid attention to the thing they’ve been asked to consider and subsequently cares. Or if they don’t care, then they behave as if they do … and there’s the rub. Because while I do generally care, I don’t always care quite as much as I know makes good telly/radio/live panel. Because, as we all know, it’s better telly/radio/panel if there’s a bit of a discussion as well as vehement head-nodding. And, as someone who comes from theatre originally, it is always important to me to give good show. I want the whole to be good, as well as just what I say. Which means that sometimes, on these kinds of shows/programmes, one is encouraged to behave more interested/partisan/attached than you would feel at home, sitting in your slobby clothes, listening to the radio.
It’s not lying, but it is often an exaggeration of interest.
(I don’t think I could lie anyway – pretend that I believe one thing when I believe another entirely. I’m fine with acting and improvising, but when I used to debate at school, I found it close to impossible to pretend to agree with an idea I hated merely for the practice of arguing … it made me go cold. I see no point at all in just arguing for the hell of it.)
And the exaggeration of interest comes about because you want the show as a whole to be good too, not a fight (they bore me), but a discussion. And maybe even a slightly heightened one. Those live panels at book events are always better when there’s some meat being picked over than when everyone sits together and pats themselves on the back and says how nice we all are and how nice it is to all think the same. There’s often an unspoken pressure to engender the meat-picking rather than the back-slapping. It’s to do with the lights or the location or – at a live event – the audience’s engagement.
And I like it, and I feel pressured to make a ‘show’, and I wish I didn’t, and yet sometimes I wish more people – especially when I’m on one of those interminable draggy panels that goes on forever and there’s never a spark at all – also wanted to make a ‘show’ of the events that we, as writers/artists/makers of work are often asked to do.
Ah, ambiguity …