**Update popup has now been pulled due to general consensus that it really was very tasteless.**
I watched Nathan Barley in my first year at university, 2005. It was funny, but abstract back then, watching from my uni bedsit.
Dripping in dark humour, the series satirised hipster culture: the battle between Nathan Barley, BMX-riding ‘idiot’, and Dan Ashcroft, disillusioned print journalist who plays an embittered voice of reason.
“The rise of the idiots” says Nathan Barley at the start of episode one, reading aloud one of Dan Ashcroft’s articles without an ounce of self-awareness. “Once the idiots were just the fools gawping in through the windows. Now they’ve entered the building…the idiot doesn’t think about what it is saying. Thinking is rubbish, and rubbish isn’t cool. Stuff and shit is cool.”
It’s nine years since the episode first aired. But watching Nathan Barley in 2014 makes the series seem more like a terrifyingly-accurate premonition, rather than a piss-take. Ironically, the hipster culture, which lurches from fad to fad (facial hair, fixie bikes, flannel shirts, fedoras, Fjällräven) has proven to be anything but a fad itself. Now deeply entrenched in mainstream culture, there is nowhere that it’s more rife than the East London food scene. Often a good thing (great coffee, great beer, great bread, picklebacks). Sometimes a bad thing, particularly when it comes to a mindless strand of pushing-the-boundaries marketing.
Today a Hoxton pop-up hit the headlines: Death Row Dinners. Located at ‘The Penitentiary’, the pop-up uses images of Death Row inmates to advertise its £50 dinner. “For a short time only in beautiful Hoxton you can enjoy the idea of the last meal, without the nasty execution bit” the website says, amidst photographs of real-life people who sadly didn’t miss out on ‘the nasty execution bit’. The organisers attempt to show that a lot of thought had gone into this supposedly educational (not at all grossly tasteless) concept by promising “culinary twists on some of death row’s most interesting and popular last dinners.”
The chronic misjudgement is symptomatic of shock marketing tactics which are becoming more and more ubiquitous. And more and more mindless. Just earlier this month, Helen Graves wrote a great article: ‘Fries with your misogyny, Madam?‘ about the ladies’ loos at Leeds burger joint, Almost Famous. Some bright sparks there had decided it was a good idea to ‘decorate’ the walls with lists of women’s insecurities: “My hair is frizzy. I really need a nose job. My boobs are too small. I wish I wasn’t pear shaped. Laxatives are definitely the answer.” What the hell?!
“Surely this piss poor excuse for interior design wasn’t dreamt up and sanctioned by a single person? A committee of people must have sat around a table and agreed this was a great idea.” Graves writes. The same goes for their decision to label one of their condiments ‘slut sauce’. And the description of their bacon burger: “You’ll feel like you’re kissing a filthy sexy slutty bacon pig“. And their vomit-inducing marketing video. The inference is that juxtaposing masturbation and mince is pretty deep, thought-provoking stuff. About as deep-thinking as a GCSE drama project.
There’s talk of ‘food porn’ and ‘slut burgers’ permeating the dirty food movement. I don’t mean to be a prude. But the go-to marketing strategy needn’t be flat-out offensive or mindlessly controversial. Patty and Bun’s ‘Lambshank Redemption’ and Lucky Chip’s ‘Kevin Bacon’ burger raise a smile without referencing death row prisoners or accusing diners of being a ‘burger whore’.
I guess all I’m asking, is that while Nathan Barley strives for “well fucking futile“, let’s all make sure that it stays well and truly in the realms of satire.