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Being clever: It’s a young mans game

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but there’s a lot of cleverness about these days. Quiz shows are packed to the rafters with smart young folk sparking away in exchange for applause and future bookings. And why not? We could all do with a break and these bristling snappy shows provide quips a plenty in easy to eat packages.

But what happens when the clever snap, crackle and pop isn’t enough?

The witty young contestants in these shows are paid to show off, illustrating their verbal dexterity in displays which lazy critics call witty. It is in effect a play with surfaces that draws attention to the speaker but nothing beyond. Thus we feast on the empty calories of their wit with nothing more satisfying on offer. We rustle the packet to find there is nothing inside.

The legendary melancholy of the clown descends upon him when the sound of applause has died away and he has only the unsmiling figure in the mirror to amuse. It’s in this moment that he feels the emptiness of mere entertainment.

This is sounding grim and I don’t’ mean to. I’m not about to launch a campaign to imprison Stephen Fry and ban Frankie Boyle from the airwaves. All I want to do here is suggest that the verbal displays fizzling away in the box are as much a symbol of our brittle shallow times as Hello Kitty handbags and Gold i-phones. The big words and fancy packaging are only the slightly more dignified trappings of a culture that avoids depth and celebrates performance.

Standing aside is tricky when everyone else is dancing. But why not try?