Newsflash! I am not cool. Never have been and probably never will be.
At varying stages of my life I have tried very hard to be what is considered cool but have always fallen a little short - never quite carried it off - and have simultaneously been terrified that some ACTUAL cool person will recognise my fake coolness and call me out as a fraud, an imposter, in turn cementing my inherent UN-coolness.
So if I'm not cool, what am I? Well, recently I read an article that resonated very much with me. It was by a very clever (and lovely) writer friend of mine, Rebecca Sparrow. If you haven't read her book The Girl Most Likely, get yourself a copy now. It's one of my favourites. Bec also writes for Mamamia and in this particular article talks about an 'insult' that gets thrown around a lot, usually by people who think they are smarter, cooler, more intellectual or 'better' than the person they are directing the following insult to.
"You're so mainstream." (original article)
Bec outed herself as being mainstream and today I am going to stand beside her, sisters in solidarity, and say, yes, I too am about as mainstream as they come. It's true, I am so UN-hipster it's not funny. If I wear a cardigan over a floral dress, I look like I'm going to a fancy-dress party as my Nan and the only time I ever ride a bicycle is in Spin class.
But before we get too excited, let's break this down for a moment. This belittling insult is basically saying - 'If you like anything mainstream/commercial/popular/mass culture, you are clearly a dumb ass and a loser.' Right?
Bullshit. Let's get it out there once and for all. My 'mainstream' choices in books, movies, art etc do not make me dumb and to imply otherwise is absurd, arrogant and elitist (not to mention inaccurate). M'KAY?
When did being mainstream become so demonised anyway, with 'The Masses' seen simply as a hungry horde of mindless mass-culture consuming zombies? (I admit, this paragraph was partly written simply so I could use this meme...)
Seriously, what's so wrong with being mainstream? Aren't there bigger issues in the world to worry about other than whether what you like is better than what I like?
How does my choice of reading material/TV show/music affect your life? Newsflash - it doesn't. And where does it stop? Are there levels of mainstream? Am I supposed to look down on and judge people that like the really trashy stuff? No. It's not my place. Although, if your only source of cultural enrichment is The Geordie Shore, I do worry about you.
Being mainstream doesn't make me a bad person. Belonging to the aforementioned masses doesn't make me a bad person. I give to charity. I bake cookies. I like puppies. I also like Bridget Jones' Diary and Friends reruns. So sue me (I don't really bake cookies, I mean who really has time for that).
Where this argument really gets me though is when it is targeted towards artists. For the record, being mainstream doesn't make me a bad writer. Yes, I write romantic comedies (among other things). I intentionally write things with commercial appeal. Why? Because I would like to make a living. Funny that. (OMG I can't possibly be an artist if I like money, right?) But being commercial doesn't make my work any less valid.
This is something I struggled with for a long time. I used to feel the need to justify my work to my seemingly more 'literary' or 'artistic' peers. I worried that my ordinary-ness would offend, that in order to be considered a quality writer I needed a painful past, a bohemian present and an uncertain future, STAT!
It's not that I can't write literary fiction. Being awarded the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize in 2011 proved I can. But I remember, at the Ulrick awards ceremony, being asked by a talented and unarguably literary contemporary of mine (who was to be fair a little drunk at the time), "If you can write that beautifully, why do you bother with that other shit you write?"
My answer was this...
"Because I like it.
(Oh, and by the way, fuck you and your giraffe)."
And there it is. Because I like it. And my readers like it. I don't need to explain or justify any further than that. Good writing is good writing and there is a place for everything. There is a place for politics, there is a place for the literary or the high-brow, there is a place for intellectualism, for the serious - but there is also absolutely a place for humour, for romance, for mystery, the erotic. A place for horror, for thrills. A place for blockbusters and popcorn films. There is a place for fun, for the silly. A place for the light-hearted.
You know why? Because (here's a novel concept) we're all different. WHOA!!!! Really? Yes, really. We are all unique individuals with completely different tastes and appetites. And that's okay. Here's an idea... how about we stop judging people based on what they read, write, listen to, wear, eat or watch and just get on with enjoying what we ourselves enjoy. Hmmm?
So, I'm not going to apologise for my choices or my tastes any more. I came to terms with the fact that I am never going to be effortlessly cool a long time ago. I am never going to be that subversive writer huddled in the back of a dingy bar, nursing a glass of red and scribbling my brilliantly observant literary novel on the back of a napkin. I'll be the one at home, in my Wonder Woman pyjamas and pink fluffy socks, drinking instant coffee while my cat tries to sit on my keyboard. I don't need to be a tortured artist or be scarred and intellectually brooding to be a good writer. The only scar I have worth mentioning is the one on my wrist from being savaged by a sausage dog called Water Rat, when I was seven. And I only mention that because it's hilarious.
I write to tell my stories. To connect with people. To make them laugh. To make them cry. To make them feel. And sure, if my books make people think then that's most excellent! It's a mistake to think that just because something is funny, or light-hearted, or commercial or romantic, that there isn't also something to learn from it. There is.
I am engaged with politics, life, society, with the world around me. I have opinions. I am informed, well-educated and can hold an intelligent conversation on many topics and this in turn informs my writing. But personally, I love to laugh, I love LOVE, I adore a happy ending, I love a good cry. I really like shoes. And wine. And chocolate. I've been reading romance since I was eleven (I was a Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams addict!) and watching romantic comedies since oh I don't know, FOREVER.
It's what I know.
So, inspired by Bec, I too am outing myself completely as unashamedly mainstream.
I read celebrity gossip magazines. I devour that shit like a fitness model devours pasta on cheat day. I know half of it's made up, but I can't help it. It's like crack.
I watch The Vampire Diaries. And Supernatural. And Downton Abbey. And Younger. I've watched Neighbours since Scott Robinson was played by Darius Perkins, Home and Away since the first Pippa. I could name pretty much every Australian Idol contestant across every series. I love The Voice, SYTYCD, AGT, ATM, in fact there can't be enough acronyms talent shows on TV for me. I would LOVE to be a contestant on Big Brother!
I listen to Elton John and Phil Collins. John Farnham. Celine Dion. Mariah. I've been known to sing Whitney at karaoke. I screamed at A-ha and Bros in the 80s. I even own a New Kids on the Block record. My favourite song in the last few years was Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. I danced so hard to that song at my wedding that my veil fell out. It was fun!
"If it's pop, Kitty will eat it."
My favourite films include The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, Serendipity and Under The Tuscan Sun. I've seen Titanic TWENTY-SEVEN times. And I still cry. I bought the 12 DVD Rom Com collection from Target, the one that came in the bright pink beauty case and had BOTH Bridget Jones movies, The Holiday, Love Actually and Notting Hill.
I am partial to the cheesy toast at Sizzler.
Like Bec, I would like to say I will one day go to Glastonbury or Coachella. But I won't. I have no interest in dancing in the mud in gumboots and listening to obscure bands with names like Machine Monkey or The Serene Cat Flaps.
I have tried the cayenne pepper/maple syrup/lemon water diet. It didn't work.
I learned aerial silks because Pink made it look cool.
I do read widely and voraciously across many genres, from literary all the way to pulp. My Dickens shares a shelf with Dan Brown. Jack Kerouac with Jackie Collins. Murakami resides with Maggie Alderson. Fifty Shades (as yet unfinished - even I have standards) sits next to Tolstoy, next to Ginger Spice's autobiography, which backs onto Mandela's. I love them all.
Judge me if you like. If my mainstream-ness gives you the skeeves and we can't be friends anymore, it's your choice. If you want to miss out on an awesome person just because they can name all of Angelina's children in adoption/birth order, it's your loss.
But the fact is this - the great thing about us all being different and there being so many choices in this world is that you get to like what you like and I get to like what I like.
No apologies (except for the NKOTB record, there's really no excuse for that).
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