Archive for March 2015

A tale of two divas

March 25, 2015

Mariah Carey is a diva. She’s famous for her outrageous pre-performance demands: 20 white kittens, 100 doves, white roses. I’ve joked before that the “no stairs!” thing might be a sign she’s part-Dalek.

Why do you know about her demands? Because they’re public, part of the public narrative about Mariah Carey. And, as I’ve written before, maintaining a “diva” narrative means you kind of have to ask for a load of weird stuff, even if maybe you don’t want or need it.

I suspect Mariah Carey would be happy with a comfy chair, a good wi-fi connection and a tube of Pringles. But it’s a basical behavioural economics trick: demand rare, expensive stuff and maybe you’ll be seen as rare and expensive too. The rider demands are are way of anchoring her perceived value, which means she can keep charging huge sums for her performances.

And when your behavioural economics “nudge” also feeds into a misogynistic narrative about how women are unreasonable and fragile and high-maintenance…you’re on to a winner, because the story fits together so perfectly.

Jeremy Clarkson is officially very much not a diva. His image is based on him being an ordinary bloke who doesn’t stand for any nonsense, a bloke who takes life as it comes. Clarkson tells it like it is, and never mind the forces of political correctness trying to silence him!

Who had the diva fit? Who completely lost their temper because the catering was not up to the required standard? Yup. Clarkson.

The thing is: maintaining the narrative of “ordinary bloke” actually takes rather a lot of work, especially when you’re a multi-millionaire telly personality. It’s just that in Clarkson’s case that work is outsourced. He’s pampered, subsidised and managed almost every moment of every day, just so he can keep up the highly lucrative everyman facade.

It amuses me that so many people are urging the BBC not to overreact over the incident. I wonder if Clarkson has ever, in his entire life, been told not to overreact. I wonder if he’s ever been told to calm down and get some perspective. I would bet money that never in his life has Clarkson been (explicitly or implicitly) given the job of smoothing things over, taking shit in order to keep the peace, managing other people’s feelings. That’s women’s work, amirite?

It takes an over-the-top incident like throwing a punch because the food wasn’t to his liking for the veneer to crack. And even now, people are managing, smoothing, defending. He’s never had to do that work. I don’t think he even understands that it is work. But as divas go, he’s a much higher-maintenance one than Mariah Carey. It’s just that a lot of the maintenance work was done before either of them were born.

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How was your night?

March 17, 2015

P G Wodehouse says that the first thing house guests ask each other the morning after a party is: “How was your night?” That was probably true up until about 2007. Now it’s: “What’s the wi-fi password?

I miss the slowly-starting mornings where you’d wake up on someone’s floor and talk about the dreams people had last night, or maybe the crazy things people got up to last night. It felt like dead time, waiting for a hangover to subside or the bathroom to be free or breakfast to happen. You’d swig tea or coffee and interesting conversations would start up. I always felt it was a time when you weren’t obliged to be sparkling or interesting, and that meant people could get to know each other better.

Now every guest has brought their phone and probably slept with it within reach. When they wake up, the first thing they’ll do is grab that phone. Because it’s “dead time”, so there’s no obligation to be properly social. But of course, focusing on your phone means it’s no longer really “dead time”.

I guess the phone has replaced the cigarette as a fix for someone who’s just woken up and wants to feel better before they put in any social effort. But sometimes I miss that first-thing-in-the-morning quietness of just hanging out.