An Extract from David Mitchell's Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy
Puncturing pomposity with withering wit and spotlighting the absurdity of the modern world, David Mitchell's latest hilarious collection, Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy, is available now. Below is an extract from the book that showcases all of Mitchell's superlative comedic skill and blistering acute observation.
When I heard that the Advertising Standards Authority is proposing to crack down on gender stereotyping in adverts, I found my reaction interesting. I’m hoping you can do the same. But I must admit that I am pretty easily entertained. I’ve been known to watch golf if the remote’s out of reach.
It was quite a negative reaction – I won’t deny it. There’s no point in being ashamed – it was involuntary. It’s like someone shouting “Heil Hitler!” in their sleep. It turns out that’s just who they are.
But I was displeased by my displeasure. “Why am I having a negative reaction to that?” I thought. “Do I like gender stereotyping? Deep down, do I want boys to be ridiculed for wearing pink by bullying aftershave or power-bike brands? And generations of Bisto mums to be manacled to their granule-strewn stoves instead of building sheds or having affairs? And the global lager and lipstick corporations to herd our schoolchildren into two sets of preordained career paths like public loos? All so that advertising creatives can continue using the same domestic scenarios as their 1970s predecessors, thus freeing up time to take more cocaine?
“And do I want it to be OK to imply that people who work in advertising all take cocaine, even though I have no direct evidence of it?” I thought. “Is that what I really want?!”
I was revealed to myself as an under-evolved form of life, out of place in an ocean where all the other fish have a more up-to-date sort of gill. Like those people who say they “don’t mind gay people living together, but why do they have to get married?” And I always want to ask, “Are you 100% sure you don’t mind? Or is it just that you don’t reckon you’d get away with saying you do? If you travelled back in time to 1950, would you genuinely be saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we let gay people live together and have sex and stop making it illegal? I really don’t mind. By the way, if they start saying they want to get married, that’s a step too far’?”
I’m being unfair. We’re all a product of our times, aren’t we? I suppose that’s the point of the ASA plan. To improve the times so as to improve the product. (Of the times, that is – not the ones being advertised.) Deep down, no one’s really responsible for a single thing about themselves, I sometimes think. Genuinely. It’s all just preconditioned responses, knee-jerk reactions and involuntary spasms – our whole civilisation nothing more than a pile of rotting corpses whose gaseous emissions give the false impression of farting a recognisable tune.
So I didn’t get the Visit England gig. Apparently, they were looking for a more upbeat approach.
The thing is, I don’t want to be just a product of my times – which I expect is very Generation X of me. I want to feel there’s some timeless, rational identity that makes me who I am, not merely the fact of being born male, middle-class and British in 1974, and so, at an instinctive level, not very, but a little bit, sexist. Riddled with the flaws of when I was made, like a Leyland-era Jaguar’s propensity to rust.
I don’t want to accept that, having in all statistical likelihood passed the midpoint of my life, I’m getting bitter and anti-progressive and crotchety because I’ve twigged that one day I’ll die. I don’t want to become automatically contemptuous of all attempts to make things better. Or not yet, anyway. At some point, that might be fun.
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