Feature

Come on you cynics, look on the bright side

We live in the golden age of the smart aleck, said Henry Porter in the London Observer. Our popular culture

Henry PorterThe Observer

We live in the golden age of the smart aleck, said Henry Porter in the London Observer. Our popular culture—as reflected in journalism, advertising, comedy, or TV panel shows such as Mock the Week—is infected with a world-weary cynicism and scorn. It has become “a habit we can’t shake off for fear of seeming hopelessly naïve.” In contrast to Pangloss, the fool in Candide who found reasons to be cheerful even in the face of enslavement and imminent execution, we are beset with “Panglooms”—people who, despite living in a time of unprecedented plenty and ease, “believe with a vigorous but untested faith that we are all doomed and that nothing can be done.” This “knowing and fearful cool” gives a rather jaded feel to many contemporary comedy shows, stifling “real wit and invention.” And it has a similarly baleful influence on society at large, breeding apathy and a reflex distrust of politicians. “But it still seems to me that if we expected more of our leaders and the political process—and more from each other—we may get somewhere.”

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