An interesting no, scrap that, a thoroughly annoying phenomenon of recent years has been the ascent of the rent-a-gob. You know the sort. They turn up in your paper and on your television and radio with a regularity that is as irritating as it is monotonous.
But many of the rent-a-gobs are canny practitioners. In fact they’re so good at parading their knowledge (or what they think passes for knowledge) not to mention their quite considerable egos that you really do begin to wonder if they’re the only person able to speak on a given subject.
The gobs fall into two categories. The first has a semblance of knowledge about a particular subject but seems effortlessly able to extend that to encompass expertise on everything from the European sovereign debt crisis to aircraft safety and obesity in pet pooches to crop growing in Tajikistan.
The second knows no more about the weird and wonderful workings of this world than you or I but has a quite staggering capacity to convince producers and editors that they know everything about everything when in fact they know dangerously little about not very much.
In the red corner you have the likes of the pompous and combative historian and constitutional “expert” David Starkey, and the Liberty director Shami Chakrabrati, a woman so media omnipresent the word ubiquitous doesn’t even begin to cut it. I’m quite sure I’ll find Shami in my kitchen cupboard one morning telling me how my human rights will be infringed if I have to choose between Weetabix and Coco Pops.
I don’t have a particular problem with these two and their like. I find Starkey mildly entertaining when he’s telling me about some dastardly Tudor plot to frame Anne Boleyn for shagging her brother. And Shakrabarti occasionally has important points to convey about civil liberties.
The problem with them (and there are numerous other examples) is that they are – or maybe it just feels like they are – on the media all the time talking about things of which they have no more knowledge than any of the rest of us and spouting opinions I couldn’t give a damn about. Surely there must be a wider trough of gobs to choose from – and at least inject a few fresh gobs into the black hole that is 24-hour rolling news.
In the blue corner is by far the worst bunch. I have absolutely no idea why the majority of those in this category have reached such hallowed heights of gobdom, or why editors and producers should think any of us would be interested in their ramblings.
Here you have the likes of Daily Mail uber-gob Amanda Platell, a woman who seems to spend half her life slagging off other women in tones ranging from bitchy to down right nasty (perverse for a newspaper so targeted to and beloved of female readers). From the same parish – and the same cut – is Jan Moir, she who prompted such scorn when writing in sleazy tones shortly after the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gateley.
Another prize example of the gob is the Mail’s Peter Hitchens who is in a permanent state of “grumpy old man” but without any semblance of humour. And there is Polly Toynbee who has opinions on things about which I’m not even sure she has an opinion.
But it’s not just the Mail. It seems each of our national papers has their own pet gob (or gobs). Seldom will you see or read these people saying anything positive, constructive or nurturing. No, their stock in trade is generally that of the nasty, the unpleasant and the destructive.
Now, I don’t have a problem with many of these (okay, I have a serious problem with a few I won’t name) and some are obviously gifted journalists and amusing raconteurs.
But gobdom has got seriously out of control. That bloke who writes Downton Abbey turned up on the Question Time panel the other night; some third-rate actress who used to be on the most unmitigatingly miserable of all the soaps seems to have turned into a chef/agony aunt/fashion expert with, I suspect, sod all knowledge and expertise in any of the above, and William Roache, aka Corrie’s Ken Barlow, was seen on television earlier this year judging a literary competition – admittedly it was Daybreak and viewers were being asked to submit their version of 50 shades of soft porn.
The issue I have is with the lazy and completely unimaginative way our media has elevated these people to a point where they and their views – and on occasion their political agendas – are rammed down our throats. All they do is add to the unstoppable blah, blah, blah that makes up so much of today’s supposed news agenda, although the term “breaking news” has been so devalued I’m not sure I’d even notice if the bomb were to drop.
We live in a world in which we can feel preached to by a seemingly endless parade of these people who often masquerade as experts and who really have no more a clue how to sort out the woes of the world any better than you or me. In fact, I’d bet your average man or woman in the street would be more interesting, insightful and entertaining. I always find it sobering to be reminded that over history economists have more often than not got it wrong.
I suggest we’d all be better off ignoring the majority of these gobs and that most of them would do well consigned to some other place more in keeping with their own view of their talent and importance – like a dinner party full of other boring, willy-waggling egotists.
And isn’t it interesting as well that those who have a real and informed view of the world and a proven track record of demonstrable experience and achievement (John Simpson, David Attenborough, the late Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Jon Snow and David Dimbleby to name just a few) are the very ones who stick to what they do best – and often brilliantly – and who obviously don’t have the sort of ego that compels them to want to lecture on things of which they know no more than the rest of us.