IAIN ROBERTSON

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It is not simply a case of settling for the averagely best, states Iain Robertson, as he pores over how mediocre we have become, how we praise mean attitudes and how we are prepared to accept banality, rather too willingly.

 

From simpering fashion models, to far from funny comedians, taking into account middle-ground politicians, abysmal education standards, poor customer service attitudes, an incompliant media and a non-complaining stance about eateries, banks and value-for-money, it seems that the human race has simply ceased trying to escalate itself above the murky mire of the lowest common denominator. It has been happening to us, because we have allowed it to and it is so deeply entrenched that ‘aspiration’ now carries negative implications.

 

In attempting to formulate a time-line, to establish the point at which the rot set-in, it is my opinion that the ‘last great era’ existed, when Mrs Thatcher was the British Prime Minister and a sometime movie star, Ronald Reagan, was the US President, while Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Russian states. Thatcher was supplanted by a ’grey suit’, while the Americans tolerated a war-mongering Texan and an alcoholic took over the Kremlin. In other words, the turning point appears to have been in the early-1990s.

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It is notable that, since then, a ’bully-boy’ hectoring attitude was adopted by politicians around the world, supported by a monetarily sponsored few, who would grow their wealth immeasurably, in league with legislative denigration. The value of ‘political correctness’ grew simultaneously, largely as a protective measure to politicians and their ‘friends’.

 

While I was hardly a fan of right-wing politics, I could see many of the public benefits that arose from them. Yet, there were serious downsides. The ‘loadsamoney’ culture that was an inevitable by-product of it really did very little to enhance the overall balance but the desire to become rich also developed into a cruel and often divisive greed. The motor industry, often regarded by politicians as the ideal barometer of the economic climate, went into an acquisitive frenzy in the early-1990s, as corporate arrogance grew beyond belief. The financial sector, which had enjoyed unfettered growth through the 1980s, ceased its overt bare-chesting behaviour and, in the process, closed its doors to unwelcome observers.

 

Fast food, easy credit and a marked lack of individual discipline, indicated that rapidly declinng education standards was a causal issue. The trough that had always existed between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, promoted by the oft-decried class system, was starting to grow into a gulf, even though the ‘haves’ were now becoming regarded as the arena into which the vast majority wanted to aspire, often without the associated competences. The dreaded ‘middle class’ was growing and also disseminating into lower, central and upper segments.

 

Yet, for the vast majority, wealth was a transient thing, based on how much of a credit line could be achieved. The realities of a world economic collapse in the late-2000s should have provided the necessary signpost to the fragility of what had become the all-important middle ground, built on a platform that possessed as little integrity as the proverbial house of cards. However, no politician keen to avoid devolution of growing personal power would accept that the status quo was one of severe depression, aided and abetted by the same financial power bases that insisted on ‘recession’, which was a comprehensive and wrongful misnomer of circumstances.

 

I am not blaming the bankers. They were only encouraged by their chums in the various administrations. After all, where does a retired politician go, when a political career is terminated? If not employed in a super-executive role by a ‘respected’ financial institution, those same bodies would sponsor their post-political world tour, during which the former politicians would extol the questionable ethics of their supporting factions. While most of that collective would not give us either time of day, or the dirt off their very grubby footwear, they escalate their personal reputations in that stratospheric environment, having divested themselves of all personal and political responsibilities on the way.

 

As highlighted earlier, education, or a diminished variation of the principle, lies at the root of our modern day problems. While a great many politicians, bankers, lawyers and business barons can lay claim to the advantages of privilege, there is no earthly way by which they can accept that ‘the average man’ might climb the slippery pole to become a power-broker. By turning children into poorly educated clones, they become more malleable, easier to control and less capable of forging ahead by making decisions and reaching conclusions of their own.

 

Yes. The media is to blame. Once a strident voice, it manoeuvred itself into an averagely awkward corner, where it would only survive by complying with political and financial will and not imparting balanced arguments. It is intriguing to note the growth of the ‘nonsense press’ during the 1990s. To become a member of the ‘Hello’, or ‘OK’, set became the publicity-hunter’s primary aim, as a raft of footballing, modelling and performing minions assumed their new roles in life. The growth of social media was their means to fan the flames, where language that had once been perceived as a barrier to progress no longer barred the way. Grammatical correctness disappeared down the same sinkhole as educational adroitness.

 

Simultaneously, the value of the professional was denigrated to an all-time low, unless that professionalism emerged from the once narrow field of information technology. Perceived as the ‘only way forwards’, the advances in technology have been myriad and manifold. Yet, they are based on little more than a binary system, which only serves to highlight a reduced need for education to support much more than an ability to count from zero to one.

 

Of course, the ‘wonderful world of celebrity’ has become the precedent for the New Millennium, supported by a raft of largely vacuous and wool-pulling television programmes that are inexpensive to make, yet are given immense viability thanks to commercial reinforcement. Whether searching for a new pop star, or providing a televisual vehicle for a seemingly endless array of ‘ordinary folks’ from Essex, to Chelsea, to Newcastle, the reality-TV phenomenon is as mindless as the rest of the population has become and these ‘feasts’ are available on TV screens located everywhere from the UK, Europe, the Far East, the USA and even Mother Russia. The Warholian idyll of fifteen minutes of infamy has its solution for all to see.

 

While on the subject of television, one of the great joys is watching great comedy, after all, there is no harm in enjoying a laugh, even if the laugh is mostly on us. Yet, just as most jokes, or japes, have a solitary origin, with innumerable spin-off variations on a theme, the best comedy has been watered down to a lowest common denominator. When I was a child, I was informed that swearing demonstrated a defined lack of vocabulary, yet scarcely a ‘funny moment’ occurs on the TV, unaccompanied by a plethora of crude and base words. We have swearing ‘celebrity chefs’, ‘swearing celebrities’ and even professional broadcasters, many of whom might be journalists, who let slip, frequently with bilious intention. The notional nine-o’clock watershed is not even a barrier to their inanity, as might have been witnessed by the anatomical slang references made on the BBC’s infamous ‘Top Gear’ entertainment show, in its heyday. There was a time, when ‘shock-jocks’ grabbed the headlines, now the ailment is commonplace.

 

While celebrity dines out on a questionable past, dining out is now a hotbed of mediocrity, with chemically enhanced burgers masquerading as real meat and insubstantial vegetables being prepared as rare treats. When a duff pie is served up for a king’s ransom, the vast majority of consumers elect to forgive it as an ‘off day’. We have ceased comprehensively to complain, which was once our inalienable right. Yet, good service is and always should be an expectation that comes as standard from that industry and should not be enhanced by a prissy donation to a low-paid employee‘s back pocket (or, worse, to be shared out at the end of play).

 

This lack of service is ignored effectively by countless experience-enhancing Customer Satisfaction Programmes and their framed trophies that appear in waiting-rooms, seating areas and the vestibules of consumer outlets around the world. They only serve as an excuse for poor quality, the purveyors preferring to regard them as a measure of their competence over rivals, while their receipt is little more than deceit and set decoration. As any visit to a medical practitioner’s premises will highlight, its walls covered liberally in a host of ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’, which absolve effectively the receptionist from actually having to relate with the patient whatsoever, we live in a world of information overload. This situation has never been proven to have less merit than when a number of Dutch urban areas removed all of their street furniture and, in the process, reduced road traffic accidents, while increasing motorist-pedestrian empathy.

 

It is endemic within industry and commerce. As a result, middle management (how appropriate!) has become both protector of the seniors and immensely ineffective at managing the enterprise, when they are not hiding behind the parapets dodging either consumer, or directorial, artillery. The real victim, in those instances, is job satisfaction and, all too often, you will hear from friends and even colleagues about how much they are looking forwards to their next planned holiday, not to recuperate, or recharge, their batteries but just to get away from the at-work malaise.

 

However, the ‘at fault’ situation still lies with poor educational standards, once again. Children leave school unprepared for the rigours of making a living. Lower standards equates to less knowledge in manufacturing, commerce and the service industries. The advent of social media and mobile telephony also meant a distinct inability for humans to communicate with each other. We no longer talk, or discuss things, any more and there are countless, well-intentioned, progressively less well-paid freelance writers out there, who wonder about who actually cares what they create. The old adage ‘pillars of creativity’ have been bashed about so severely that they scarcely exist outside the minds of the provocative minority.

 

Middle-ground, medium sector, middle management, meeting the average expectations are all causal issues that need to be addressed more judiciously, before the slide into terminal status takes a truer hold on the population. Do I despair? Yes. You had better believe it! The most recent British General Election provided the most assured evidence that fighting over the middle-ground was little more than a massive turn-off to the voter, who was confused and bruised by an endless array of average similitude. The best thing that can happen in British politics is that a defined left and right of the House will allow a vanquished centre party to reconstitute itself. Proper choice will be the answer for all.

 

Yet, we are all so self-conscious that the fetid pursuit of readily dispensable snob values has made an Audi appear to be a better motoring proposition than a Ford, the sometime, archetypal, medium sector popular choice. ‘Premium’ brands have taken over, in terms of enhanced perception, from what used to be medium sector, only to become a nouveau medium sector. It is so febrile and applies to most aspects of modern consumerism of the past quarter of a century.

 

In truth and in general, I believe that various, if not all nationalities have ceased to care. It is easy to be parochial and practice the art of NIMBYism but the immense power displayed by governments, the top-end media and the untouchable financial businesses seems to underscore the various themes extolled by the James Bond 007 movie franchise. Is it a case of art presaging reality? It might be so but the genuine strength still lies within the individual and a recognition of the fact will help to make a difference, while being average is simply never going to be good enough, however high the bar might appear to be set.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).