The chemist and novelist C P (later Lord) Snow is nowadays mostly known for his lecture entitled “Two Cultures” – highlighting the breakdown of communication between the sciences and the humanities. I am nominally a scientist – though as a lapsed mathematician, also view myself as a bit of an artist – but I do try and bridge the gap. As but a single illustration, my recent trip to Edinburgh was divided between the science festival on the one hand and JS Bach and some art galleries on the other.
However, it is to another division between two cultures that I shall address myself today – that rather artificial and fluid border between high and low culture. Some posts on GofaDM (including the last one) might give the impression that I am some refined, high-minded aesthete – aloof from the low culture enjoyed by the unwashed masses. This impression might be reinforced were I to reveal that over the long weekend I have been to three plays and two chamber music concerts. Some might imagine I do this to impress (though I’m not sure who) or to climb a little further up the social ladder (unlikely given my fear of social heights) – but in fact I do it for fun (which would amaze or horrify the youth I once was – though not as much as my current, uncoerced consumption of vegetables). I suppose I may be trying to impress myself: if so, it really isn’t working – I still think I’m an idiot. Anyway, to redress the balance, it’s time to admit to an entirely different, recent cultural pleasure about which I feel no guilt whatsoever.
I have recently replaced Lovefilm (or Amazon Instant as they seem to have renamed it) with Netflix – always good to keep tax-dodging US corporations on their toes. Talking of which, I could try and determine how much tax such companies (who have no obvious tax-paying competitors) should pay and then give that amount of money to an appropriate charity to try and redress the cosmic balance. This change of service gives me access to a slightly different set of films and television shows I can watch – and cuts out the mail altogether. As a new Netflix subscriber from the middle-classes, I should have been bingeing on the critically-acclaimed Breaking Bad – but that is all a bit obvious and, I fear, not a bundle of laughs and so I have gone in a very different direction. A long time ago, for reasons long since forgotten, I added a TV series called White Collar to the list of desired future rentals Lovefilm insisted I keep well-stocked (Netflix seems less demanding, so far). They were never able to supply this, but before I departed I made a note of my undelivered list and checked which (if any) were available from Netflix. And, so my addiction began…
The basic premise of the show is fairly simple: con-man and master criminal (Neal) escapes from jail and is soon re-captured by the FBI agent (Peter) who put him there. He (mostly) avoids going back to jail by using his knowledge and skills to help Peter (and by extension the Feds) solve crimes. Given that the crimes are white-collar in nature, there are very few corpses for a detective show and not much violence – Neal does get punched from time-to-time, but frankly he usually had it coming. Like the Doctor, Neal dislikes using guns and prefers to rely on his wits to get himself out of trouble (and often into it first). There is a strong buddy element, complicated by some trust issues, and a lot of laughs and wise-cracks. It has just enough story arc to keep you interested, but not too much to get in the way of the fun. Neal is unfeasibly pretty, though unusually this is actually important to the plot, but despite this is rarely seen even party undressed: indeed, he is usually seen in a tie and an expensive suit – and often a hat. There is a vague hint of Lovejoy about the series, albeit in a much slicker, better dressed New York form.
So, why have I become so fond of this show – so much so that I have managed to watch 18 episodes in only 10 days? I think a lot can be explained by the fact that it is just so much fun – and as a result, like so much of the culture I consume, it helps to keep afloat the rather unseaworthy hulk that is my sanity. There is something about Neal’s expressions of innocence, mock or outraged, that crack me up every time. He also spends a significant amount of time researching stuff in actual books – not something you see very often on the television which presumably fears the competition. I fear that I also secretly want to be Neal (and always have), despite my almost total lack of aptitude for such a role in the real world. There is something about the life of the gentleman, master-criminal that has always appealed – living the high life, trading quips and living off one’s wits has always been an aspiration. Sadly, despite the huge range of course offered by today’s universities and the alleged keenness of the government to encourage the entrepreneur, there really is nowhere to train for such a career. This unfulfilled want may explain my tendency to intellectual dilettante-ism and, indeed, my poorly sublimated need to show off. I also like to imagine that my current gymnastic training could help with the need to make a hurried escape if things gang aglay (to paraphrase Mr Burns) – I’m just worried that my hereditary clumsiness will be a major issue if I do make a career switch. Still there are five series of White Collar to enjoy – though only three are currently available in the UK – so there is an opportunity to obtain some training via that route. I can also take up drawing which could act as a useful precursor to my new vocation – and could well be fun in its own right. I suppose I could also source a cool hat and a decent suit (something rather too good for my current life of indentured servitude to the “man”) – that way I might look the part, even if I remain somewhat deficient in the area of actual performance. I’m fairly sure there is a saying that one should dress for the job you want, rather than the one you have – though I suspect there may be more to a successful career shift.
Still, while I remain in training I shall continue to enjoy culture both high and low – caring not a jot for who is impressed (or horrified) by my choices. It’s my fun and it doesn’t seem to be obviously harming others – well unless you count the readers of this blog, and they really only have themselves to blame!