John Higgs's Octannual Manual #36
Welcome To The Cheap Seats
THE TWENTY-THIRD DOCTOR AND THE FIFTH BEATLE
Brace yourselves - I have written an unofficial Doctor Who audio called The Twenty-Third Doctor and the Fifth Beatle. It stars Kermit Leveridge of Black Grape and the Ruthless Rap Assassins as the Doctor. It will be online free on Thursday 23rd June in time for the 55th anniversary of Our World, the first live globally broadcast television show, during which the Beatles performed All You Need Is Love to the world.
This all probably needs some explanation. About five years ago Kermit asked if I would turn him into Doctor Who. He was eager to be the Doctor, he explained, and wanted me to sort it out. I did not have the power to do this alas, or any idea of how to go about it, so naturally I promptly did nothing.
Last year, however, this subject was raised again by that most persuasive of individuals, Tommy Calderbank of the Liverpool Arts Lab. He and his heroic team had been producing some very impressive Discordian-themed Doctor Who audios under the banner of The Lost Doctor. Would I write a script for Kermit, he asked, and then they would do all the actual work of casting and recording and editing and whatnot? Then he did that thing with his hand that Jedi do. Obviously I said yes.
All this was when I was deep into writing the Bondles book, so given the state of my head at the time it had to be a Beatles-themed Doctor Who episode - can you believe that they still haven’t done one of those yet? It’s a standalone thing, about 35 mins long, which I hope will get you in the mood for Macca at Glastonbury on Saturday.
But what’s it like, and how is Kermit as the Doctor? I have no idea - I’ve not heard it yet. But there are plans for a listening party when it drops on Thursday evening which I’m very much looking forward to. For details of this, keep an eye on the Lost Doctor twitter. The episode will appear on their Soundcloud at some point on Thursday.
And who knows where the 23rd Doctor will go after that…
At some point in the 1980s, we stopped being thought of as ‘workers’ and became ‘consumers’. We still worked, of course, but our primary value was said to be our ability to buy things, not what we did to earn that money. And as it happens, I do think we are less defined by our work now than we used to be. The nature of modern jobs being what it is, there are many people whose friends and family have no real idea about what it is they do every day.
I’m not sure that the word ‘consumers’ really defines us that well anymore, however. There are many reasons for this, beyond boarded-up high street shops and the trend for minimalism. The financial horror of our housing market means that we are less likely to have space to store unwanted stuff, and less likely to have to have the money to buy it in the first place. Increasingly we value experiences and connections more than things. A big part of this is ecological, in that we are now more aware of the consequences of buying and hoarding endless crap. When people are no longer impressed that you own excess things, there is less reason to have them.
But if ‘consumers’ doesn’t define us any more, what does? I’ve started to wonder if we have become ‘audiences’. It is no longer our labour or our spending that that the system seems most desperate for, but our attention. There is so much good stuff streaming now that we can’t hope to keep on top of it all. We have cheap-as-chips access to unimaginable quantities of TV, films, music, comedy, books, theatre, magazines, news, podcasts, art, sport and video games – and that’s before you factor in the temptations of the pricier corners of the entertainment world or the ever-present time-suck of social media.
Just keeping track of what’s coming out can feel like an effort - as if it was homework. This may just be a strange quirk of the post-pandemic present, with the streaming companies spending unsustainable billions on content in a quest for market share. These things are supposed to be enlightening, pleasurable or just simple escapism, but there are times they feel exhausting. I wonder what Guy Debord would make of it all?
To be honest, I much prefer being an audience member to being a consumer. But there’s still something a bit troubling about this – something passive, or perhaps controlling. I hope one day there’ll be a new word to describe what we will become which is similar to ‘gardener’, except that it refers to gardening all of life rather than just your back yard. Alas I don’t think we have that word yet.
Perhaps being an audience is a temporary step on the way to a wonderful involving metaverse, although now that uninspired corporations like Meta have staked their claim on that territory, I’m considerably less optimistic. Back in the 1990s Timothy Leary used to caution that the more time we spent with our heads ‘through the Alice Window’ - his term for when your mind is in the virtual world - the more we needed to balance that with awareness of the physical world. This still seems like a valid argument.
But for now, it’s worth remembering that your attention is exactly that – it’s yours. And it is profoundly valuable, for what else are you if not the sum total of your attention? Storytellers, marketing folk and other assorted wizards will use the full range of neurological hacks to tempt you to give them that attention. What they offer in return is not always a fair deal.
I hear many wise-sounding voices saying that, as a writer, I need to continually create more content – send newsletters every week, record my own podcast, write opinionated threads on social media, start a Patreon and so on. I’m unsure about all this because what it asks of other people is not nothing.
Essentially, I want people to buy and read my new book every eighteen months or so. This is a bit of an ask in terms of people’s attention as it is. I consider those books a good use of people’s attention, of course, but to push it further seems unwise in the long run. Perhaps I am wrong here – I tend to see my readers as individuals who are in it for the long haul, rather than an ever-shifting sea of people coming and going. So, I’ll keep mulling this over. But for now, remember your attention is valuable. Spend it wisely.
And speaking of wise ways to spend it…
The MOST EXCITING news is that Andrew O’Neill’s sitcom Damned Andrew starts TODAY on Radio 4 of all places, at 6:30pm. Andrew is on fire at the moment - their Patreon is highly recommended, and you’ll see them in Good Omens 2 later in the year. They have been trying to get this off the ground for ten years, so this is a cause for some celebration. Alan Moore is the narrator, and the fact that this is on Radio 4 just boggles the mind. Drowning in content we may be, but more of this sort of thing please!
In other news - I’m in conversation with Prof Jason Whittaker on the subject of Why Blake Matters Today, at the Bradford Literary Festival on Sunday 3rd July. I think this will be my last public Blake-related appearance, so it’s a delight to end this run talking to Jason. Be great if you can make it!
There has also been a fair bit of online Blake stuff, such as Lapham’s Quarterly running an excerpt from my book. I also enjoyed talking to Jennifer Dasal of Art Curious, as well as the History of Literature pod, about Blake. And finally, here’s a quick interview I did about writing on AdviceToWriters.com.
Until next time!