If anyone can create a fine blend of social commentary and comedy it’s David Mitchell. Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse: And Other Lessons from Modern Life will, indeed, get you thinking but it won’t necessarily make it worse. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:
It turns out that it’s not morality or otherwise of our foreign policy that predominantly affects the national mood, it’s money. We might not have thought we were money-obsessed, but then we probably don’t think we’re oxygen-obsessed. But you certainly get to thinking about it when someone takes it away.
Saying that things could be worse, and that they have been worse for the overwhelming majority of humans throughout the overwhelming majority of history, is not the same as being complacent. It is stating an undeniable fact. It is retaining a sane sense of proportion. It should be reassuring, but at the moment many people hate to hear it.
We don’t want rows, we want a quiet life. We feel inadequate because we don’t protest and argue more - we don’t stand up for ourselves. And, in feeling that, we forget that the sort of people who do stand up for themselves are cut from the same cloth as the sort of person you have to stand up to.
We have to balance our fears of the indefinable, nebulous worlds of crime and terrorism with the fact that, if we put Tasers in our public servants’ hands, at some point they’ll use them on us.
These days, a television series is the must-have recruitment tool for any self-respecting professional: chefs, choirs, models, footballers, entrepreneurs, opera singers, pop stars, restaurateurs, and novelty acts all get picked on TV.
Our level of expectation is crucial to our enjoyment of food, wine, holidays, plays, films and TV shows. We flatter ourselves that we’re objective but our judgements are clouded by our hopes, by whether something was better or worse than we’d anticipated… To make matters worse, we’re living in an era when the media constantly try to manage those expectations with trailers, adverts and reviews.
Men and fathers are so favoured in our society, the world is weighted so much to their advantage, that comedy writers can safely make them the perpetual butt of jokes… Comedy is a mis(e)re bid - to be the biggest loser is to win. If a time comes when incompetent or hapless women are humorously depicted as often as their male equivalents, then the distorting fairground mirror of comedy might at last be reflecting a just world.
We men should be afraid. The forces of retail are ranged against us. The yoke of skimpy clothes that look sexy but leave your kidneys cold, expensive make-up, agonising shoes and youth-prolonging surgical roulette under which women labour is something we have avoided up to now, and that’s a situation we would do well to prolong.
Most companies persist in trying to persuade us that they’re nice and care about charitable causes, the obesity epidemic, equipment for schools or the environment. But these are publicly traded corporate entities, so they’re incapable of caring - they’re merely trying to make money for their shareholders and believe that this affectation of human feelings will help them do so.
The private sector is usually better at making money but, as that’s its sole aim, it would be tragic if it weren’t. The aims of public bodies are more complex, varied and, usually, worthwhile.
WHSmith is a newsagents’ chain a has no responsibility for public health. Its management answers to shareholders who are unlikely to view a reduction in national fatness as mitigation for a collapse in confectionery sales. That’s what happens with a free market.
One of the many truths that politicians will never utter is that their mediocrity is, ultimately, a reflection of our own - or failure to understand, scrutinise and care, which is then exacerbated by the disappointing people that that failure allows to come to prominence.
Our elected representatives are there to decide how much money the government should collect, where it should collect it from, and how it should be spent.