A few years ago I joined a book club. This ill-conceived lark lasted just the one episode but happily proffered a handful of anecdotes. My favourite was the ice-breaker.
Having myself repeatedly assigned such getting-to-know you exercises as a lecturer - and having had many inflicted on me as a student - I’m convinced that they’re always awful. Book club did not change my mind.
Introduce yourself by naming a book you’d be embarrassed to be caught reading.
I delude myself into thinking that I have a fantastic poker face. Photographic evidence proves the contrary. And I don’t doubt that I was scowling at the Group Leader. There were some Da Vinci Code responses, some bodice-rippers that I assumed involved pirates. Someone said something about War and Peace, her embarrassment irritatingly predicated on I-swear-I’m-not-pretentious idiocy.
One time. There’s only been one time where I cared about such matters. It was 2008, I was on a train, and I was preparing for my book on infidelity by perusing a copy of You Can’t Have Him, He’s Mine. (I draw your attention to the chain on the cover).
Even though - following the lead of every sprung-pedophile in history - I truly was only conducting research, reading it didn’t look good. It didn’t feel good. Being a possessive and clingy nutjob was not the impression I wanted to convey on public transport.
My annoyance with the stupid ice-breaker centred on how cringe-worthy it is that anyone might experience guilt about books. I hate that people feel deluded enough to distinguish between the apparently good, quality, high falutin’ books that we should want to be caught reading and the supposed shlock that we need to dive behind the couch to down, fearful that our unrefined palates might be exposed.
Pfft to that.
There’s something so significantly abhorrent about assembling tastes on the presumption of what other people think is cool. I hate Other People.
I say this in one breath, but am stuck on two contradictory thoughts.
One. I did recently mock someone incredibly dear to me for having not only read but paid for Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity. I still feel righteous, but concede to my hypocrisy. (But God do I hate Dick Smith, Gerry Harvey and Richard bloody Branson).
Two. I too have a guilty pop culture secret. One so warped and disturbing that I needed to come out to my parents about it over the weekend.
I’ll gladly confess to Neil Diamond on my iPod, to porn consumption, to having read bucket loads of James Patterson and even paying to see Jack and Jill. And yet there’s some pop culture sins far too shameful to divulge so flippantly.
Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Mrs Brown’s Boys is not such a show.
I’ve only watched a couple of episodes - deliberately so, because I simply can’t become That Person - but throughout each viewing I’ve laughed and simultaneously berated myself.
So why do I care?
I live by myself. I can watch whatever I like. I write about popular culture, hell, I can justify whatever I watch.
So why the shame?
What makes Mrs Brown’s Boys so much the dirty secret?
Why does this show seem more egregious to laugh at than any other sitcom?
Bad drag. Swearing. Sexism. Racism. Puns a'plenty. Cheapness. Eerily - if not anachronistically - reminiscent of all those horrible British sitcoms that seemed to run on a loop at my grandparents’ house.
Nostalgia? Perhaps. Masochism? Indeed I do like my pleasure mixed with a little somethin’ somethin’.
And then again, maybe there’s just something spectacularly - and enduringly - beseeching about a man dressed like my grandma.
I did, afterall, quite like Mrs Doubtfire.