Monday, May 03, 2010

Happy Birthday Ben Elton

The main problem with being 'alternative' - as Ben Elton can surely attest - is that such a stance often comes out of the black-and-white idealism of youth; later, when shades of grey begin to creep into both the hair and world-view, it becomes very easy for those who have yet to experience the phenomenon to bandy about judgementalisms like 'sell-out'. Besides which, given the way the world works one year's outrageous is the next year's mainstream anyway...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1959, Elton came to prominence first as an 'alternative' stand up comedian, whose high-octane performances were perfectly suited to the style of The Young Ones, and whose verbal verve and pop cultural sensibilities were tailor-made for the romp through history that is Blackadder - the final three series of which he co-wrote with Richard Curtis.

Despite the huge success of his high profile TV appearances - and thanks in part to friendships with such bold-faced names as Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Adrian Edmondson, and Robbie Coltrane - Elton chose to break out of insular world of British television comedy and into the wide-open meritocracy* of the literary world, publishing 13 novels since 1989. A particular favourite around the Pop Culture Institute is his 1991 novel Gridlock.

It was his work with MOR dreck-monger Andrew Lloyd Webber, though, that really got the UK punditocracy - who act like a pack of wild dogs on their best behaviour - all up in arms. Anne Robinson, Mark Steel, and Stewart Lee have all criticized Elton for seemingly having turned his back on his alternative roots in exchange for a comfortable seat among the Establishment; yet who's to say that in doing so he hasn't merely found a way to bring the alternative sensibility that made him famous to society's highest echelons? Or that the reason he's lost his edge is that he stopped using cocaine? Or that the only reason he's elicited any criticism at all around this matter is that his critics all fear the same thing happening to them?  Or that they might be jealous of his resounding success in numerous fields of endeavour?

*In the interest of full disclosure, this is sarcasm; the only field narrower than television is publishing, which could more rightly be called a clique than an industry.

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