Value Judgement

Warning: this post may make some readers come over all 'thinky'.

She Who Must Be Consulted On Matters Of Importance and I were having an spirited debate recently. Not about the relative merits of onion in pasta sauce (for a change), but about the relative values if the various narrative forms.

Ooh, heavy.

I have to admit that this was my fault -- after a couple of speciality teas I get a bit giddy and move on to the great moral conundrums of our day. And sometimes a debate about whether or not, if you were shipwrecked in the South Indian Sea, you could make a raft out of Anne Widdecombe by hollowing out her innards and living off the proceeds while you float upon the briny blue. Sort of depends how the Sauvignon Blank takes us at the time*.

The moral conundrum in this particular case was 'what value crime fiction?'

This is what we call a 'Pernod' question, because we have to drink pretty much everything else in the house before we start asking it.

And the aniseed-flavoured question** has me thinking 'Not that much.'

Now I'm not saying that I don't rate crime fiction: I do. Given the option, it's the genre I'd read by choice. Most of the people I know, write it***. But let's face it, in the great pantheon of world-wide popular entertainment it's not exactly rocking the Casaba, is it?

When I said this to She Who Must Be Given A Wide Berth When There's Sharp Implements Involved, she said, "Rubbish."**** And so I challenged her: "How often," I asked, with rakish abandon and a sliver of dinner caught in my beard, "have you read THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE -- your favouritist book in the world -- in your life?"
She thought about this and replied with pride, "At least a dozen times."
Which I think you'll agree is pretty good going for a book written about treacherous bedroom furniture published in 1950. Then I asked her, "How many times did you listen to Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT last year?"
Answer: lots. Lots and lots and lots.

Most of us will read a book only once. Even a book we really like. Some books transcend that -- they speak to something deep inside us we don't fully understand, and we go back to them time and time again. But it pales into insignificance when compared to the number of times we'll listen to an album. Or watch a film. Or a TV series.

Which brings me to the question I did ask at the start of this rambling monologue: 'what value crime fiction?'

As far as I can see, on the scale of things it goes like this:

  1. Music -- this stuff gets stuck in your iPod, or your car stereo and played and played and played until you want to dig the artist's eyes out with spoons and eat the salty goo. Then four weeks later, you're loading the same damn CDs back in your car.
    This is why Pop and Rock stars get to appear on Top Gear, driving a crappy car around a race circuit. When did you last see a writer on a popular programme being vaunted as a 'star'? That's because we're something unpleasantly sticky on the shoe of The Scale Of Thing What Matter. And that's not meant to sound bitter -- that's meant to be an honest value judgement based on what the real world is like. You stick David Bowie next to Patricia Cornwell and see who more people recognise.
  2. TV Shows -- thanks to DVD these are more popular than ever. She Who Must Be Indulged, Even If It Goes Against The Laws Of God And Nature got the entire six seasons of Sex In The City for Christmas.... Oh dear Jesus HELP ME!!!*****
  3. Films -- I would have put this at number 2 a couple of years ago, but let's be honest, people like their reruns of ER and 24 more than they like Casablanca. Still, things like Alien and Blade Runner and The Big Lebowski are going to be watched again, and again, and again, and again... until the microscopic grooves on your DVD wear out from all that jam you've been smearing on them (on the advice of Tomorrow's World, lying toss-pots that they were). At Casa MacBride we make a point of watching Groundhog Day about once a year, but never on February the 2nd, because I'm just not that organised.
  4. Video Games -- A shorter shelf-life than books, but again, they get a lot more play at the time. Mind you, have you ever seen a shoot-em-up advertised as 'You'll laugh, you'll cry, Resident Evil 6 (Zombie Mutant Tea Party with the exploding fairy cake expansion pack) will change your life'?
  5. Books. There you go, number five. Bottom of the list. Scraping the arse-end of the barrel.

I know that sounds cynical, but be honest, how often have you read your favourite book compared to how often you've watched reruns of your favourite TV show? Or listened to your favourite album?

This is why so few writers are zillionaires. And probably why all my groupies are over 50.

Anyone up for a spirited public debate?

* For those who're interested, my money's on yes. In fact I think it could sleep four and be a strong contender in the next Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. We could use her pants for a sail.
** Like the $64,000 question, only more tasty ... and let's face it: cheaper.
*** And yes, I know that's a seriously bloody sad admission.
**** Actually, what she said was a darn sight ruder than that, but this is a family blog and one never knows when cats or kittens may be reading it.
***** Though technically I bought it for her, so it's my own fault. And yet another reason you should petition the Pope to get me canonised while I'm still alive -- what the hell's the point in being a Saint if you're dead? How's that going to help you pick up women in bars?

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