Friday, May 16, 2014

Really Melvyn?

I am a regular and enthusiastic listener of In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg on BBC Radio 4. It's been my preferred form of entertainment recently. Over the last month or so I've probably gone through a quarter of the archives (I spend a lot of time in the car).
It was Melvyn who broke the obsessive Chrome loop I'd worked myself into.

Ok...maybe not completely.
The topics are usually interesting ...and sometimes even those that aren't of obvious interest to me turn out to be really engaging...the Tale of Sinuhe is a recent example. (though I'm probably gonna take a pass on Photosynthesis...I can't for the life of me even pretend to have any interest in that). Some are just dead boring...Medici, Absolute Zero and shockingly The Amazons (how do you make Amazons boring?). The range of topics, the expertise involved and Melvyn's ability to pleasantly dictate the course of conversation...generally make for a delightful 45 minutes.
Has it always been this way?
I just tried to listen to the episode on Modernity from 1999. I could only take about ten minutes of it. It should have been called why Roger Scruton is a Dickhead...because that was the topic. Now, some of you may, I'm almost certain that some of you do, think that Roger Scruton is a dickhead. Do you want to spend the next 30 minutes contemplating that fact? You gonna hunt that up on the radio? Be sure to look under the sub-heading Modernity so you don't end up listening to a discussion on Baudelaire or Joyce.
If they ever discussed Modernity it was after point 10.01. I think Scruton had about 15 seconds before he was interrupted, by Indignant Academic, and called an elitist for not considering the importance of Afro-Caribbean beats to the Modern Era and focusing too much on the likes of Schopenhauer and Eliot, etc (by the way, if you're interested all of these "dead white men" have been featured on an episode of In Our Time...with Melvyn Bragg...still waiting on the episode for Dub or Hip Hop).* 
The real problem seemed to be that Roger had made a distinction between Popular and High Culture...Oh Aunt could he? And on a radio program that regularly features housewives discussing Big Brother and Eastenders.  
Maybe it got better...maybe Scruton committed suicide on the radio and everybody was satisfied. I don't know... sh*t was irritating and spoiled my usual Friday afternoon I've been writing instead.
I will talk about Yankees at Cracker Barrel next.
 *Am I the only one here who sees the Modern Era as a distinct, though hard to pin down on the timeline, period in History that is not to be confused with the Contemporary?


  1. To me there are two eras in human history . . . when men didn't wear pants, and then when they started wearing pants. It's all been rapid spiral downhill toward extinction since then.

    1. I would never wear pants...or britches but Martha makes me.

  2. Melvyn, eh? He's brought us a lot of culture over the years and I'm pleased to find his fame spread far and wide. His voice can be a little alarming as I want to tell him to clear his sinuses but he is a far superior specimen of humanity that Roger Scruton. Scruton has been trying to make Fascism hip since at least the 80's but his 'high end' form of cultural prejudice will never mean anything to the foot soldiers of the right. I think you probably right about the 'Modern Era' as everything is post-Modern now. Does this mean we have 'no culture' as Mark E. Smith once 'bragged'? Melvyn? Unless it is purely Big Brother and East Enders. By the way, I haven't heard 'In Our Time' for years and I'm now feeling like an intellectual pygmy. Apologies to Pygmies for that one.

    1. Hee Hee!

      Like I said...I know there's an element of our readership for whom Scruton is a villain (we'll set aside the issue of Scruton for a moment). I also know that Melvyn is a man of the Left.

      Right then... :phlegmaticgrunt:

      If you didn't know anything about Roger Scruton and his thoughts or Melvyn Bragg and In Our Time...or this other fella that was on....or you didn't know anything about Modernity...all you would know after this episode (or the first 10 minutes of it anyway). All you would know afterwards is...
      One, In Our Time is a show where a topic is picked from a hat in order to bring on a guest, with views contrary to the host's, so he can be rough talked...before he's ever made the first point.

      Two, Melvyn is savvy and makes sure to have another guest, a snippy little ***, to do the dirty business of being rude....making sure the targeted guest never finishes a sentence. can't understand the Modern Era without understanding the profound influence that contemporary culture had on it...doh.

      In other words...In Our Time is just a cable news network show for pseudo-intellectuals.

      Maybe it was originally but, it's not now...and that was part of the disappointment. I listened to one recently that featured Niall Ferguson among the guests. He's certainly someone who sends shivers of disgust down certain spines...but, you wouldn't have known it from the episode. He wasn't immediately marked out as a man of the Right, a crypto-imperialist, a "controversial" figure.

      I don't always agree with the conclusions Melvyn and his guests reach...every time American history comes they always conflate America with witch-burning New England. A very peculiar view that is a direct result of 1865. Still the proceedings are always gently managed and pleasant.

      That episode would not have flown here...or at the old blogs...this is not U.S. are in Dixie here, Free speech, speaking freely and most importantly manners are the may also be required to share e hugs after disagreements or face the grim possibility of a temporary ban.

      C...I'm looking at you.

    2. If you're looking at me then unfortunately you'll see my expression which is rather bewildered and bemused. Because I don't know who Roger Scruton is. And I keep reading his name as Scrotum. So all in all I thought it best to keep quiet. Until you looked at me, that is.

      BUT... a long, long time ago, I was fed up in the job I was doing and I didn't know what I wanted to do and I had this mad idea that it would be fun to be Melvyn Bragg's secretary. I was just thinking about his South Bank Show TV prog. on Sonic Youth really.

    3. As usual you just can't help trying to force your opinion on everyone.


      Did you apply for the job?

      You know why you got banned...I'm still dealing with your "long suffering" comment.

  3. I’d better stay out of this one, Erik. Why? Well, because (a) Roger Scruton was my tutor at university for three years, and we got on like a house on fire, (b) he’s one of my intellectual heroes, and I’m a great admirer of his work (I’ve just been asked by a magazine to review his latest book, which is about the religious impulse) (c) he’s a genuinely brave man, whose career in Britain has suffered markedly because of his traditional conservative beliefs (he was refused a fellowship at Cambridge, where he’d been an undergraduate, simply because he wouldn’t toe the standard left-wing academic establishment line – he had to travel up from London once a week to conduct tutorials) (d) I’m not a great admirer of Melvyn Bragg, who has done very well for himself by adhering to the left-wing establishment line on just about every aspect of culture, high or low.

    Do I fully agree with Scruton on the High/Popular Culture divide? No – I enjoy Popular Culture far too much. But I understand why he decided to become a cheerleader exclusively for High Culture. Despite the fact that he was a huge fan of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and all kinds of popular music at college, he felt Popular Culture had enough cheerleaders already. And I’m also pretty damned keen on the paintings, music, architecture, poetry etc. produced by dead white guys over the last few centuries.

    I suspect I’m now going be barred from this site yet again. Just hoping it’ll be temporary.

    1. Of course have been admirably restrained in your response. I knew it wouldn't be easy for you.

      I'm an admirer of his as well...and though I love much of popular culture. If I'm honest I've got a tooth for trashy culture too...but, I don't equate the things I like with things that are good. I try not to confuse my tastes with Judgment.

      I'm on the side of anyone who's willing to fight for the relevancy of Aesthetics and I think his thoughts on how Modernity forced even profound Christian thinkers into personal or inward speculation is a important point.

      Melvyn does a good job on the least these days...and he recently and quite rightly jumped on Richard Dawkins with both feet for being a horrible philosopher and for being rude. Maybe he's mellowed a little.

    2. Roger Scruton is a grownup with interesting and engaging ideas that rub people the wrong way and thus a good candidate for a radio show that should be piquant and interesting rather than a shut-down fest, and Richard Dawkins . . . well, if I expressed myself as I'd like to about him, I would probably ban myself - I'll draw the line at calling him an invidious hypocritical illiterate. Once he leaves the realm of discussing evolution (and even there he's annoying and dismissive of contradictory theory to a point that seems unreasonably political for the sciences) I've never read more than two paragraphs of his, or listened to more than three minutes of him speak without looking for something to throw - usually a book - he needs to read more of them. And yet I rise to his name like bait whenever I see it. I think the fact he passes as a cleverboots with important things to say these days is proof our culture has gone done the toilet.

    3. Tom Wolfe talks about the Intellectual being someone who is knowledgable in one field but only speaks on others. Chomsky (poetically enough for these tight quarters...a man who's brilliance in linguistics has caused great headaches for dogmatic evolutionists) was the one that finally drove Wolfe to this conclusion but Dawkins certainly fits the bill.
      He was so bad in responding to the ontological argument that I was embarrassed for him.

  4. Let me guess . . . that it's too silly to discuss? Or a totally off-point regurgitation of Bertrand Russell?

    1. Worse than all that. He was addressing Alvin Plantinga's argument. He actually says a nonexistent being that could create would be greater than an existent being who could create...therefore god doesn't exist. Doh!
      Then he brags about using the argument to prove to a gathering of philosophers and theologians that pigs can fly...he accuses them of "falling back" on modal logic to show where he's gone wrong. At which point you have to seriously consider the possibility that you are dealing with an imbecile.

  5. This "humanism" schtick of his has always been commercially opportunistic. The timing of him going from pop science writer rudely talking over people who disagree with him to social commentator rudely and illiterately talking over people who disagree with him coincided beautifully with international nervousness over some sort of clash of Christian and Islamic civilizations after September 2001. Those are, after all, the only two religions he has ever really engaged with - at least by his standards, which aren't that great. I wouldn't call him an imbecile so much as a man screeching incoherently at the choir for more money. Sometimes it's hard to tell though.

    God, he riles me.

    1. As he should.

      All I've ever heard is that he is a wizard of biology. Pity he's just used his abilities to create a daffy political platform.