Nick Ahad: Sneering at populism perpetuates a dangerous cultural snobbery

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I can scarcely believe I am about to admit this to you. I mean, I’m a former arts editor of one of the country’s leading regional newspapers for goodness sake.

Okay, I’m going to screw my courage to the sticking place. Here it is: I have read – and thoroughly enjoyed – the novels of Terry Pratchett. Wow.

It feels strange to have written such an admission. Although my cheeks are burning red with embarrassment and I can scarcely believe I’ve admitted it in public, I feel strangely liberated at having confessed such a shameful secret. Okay, I’ll stop being so facetious.

In my defence, facile parody seems to be the only way to respond to the column published in one national newspaper recently in which the writer pilloried the mediocrity of one of Britain’s most popular authors. Terry Pratchett is someone the writer never plans to read, because ‘Life’s too short’.

Those of us who do enjoy Pratchett have been seduced by ‘ordinary prose’ and are clearly ‘middlebrow’, according to this columnist.

The column was written by someone whose only reason 
for writing the column was for people to get angry about it and share it on social media (which is why I won’t name him or the news organisation he wrote it for here). Seriously though, the notion of clickbait is doing real damage to good writing and decent journalism.

The column by the unnamed writer for the news organisation’s website didn’t just display staggering levels of snobbery, but snobbery based on total ignorance. I’m about to relate some of what he wrote. Really take this in.

“I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.”

Now, obviously, I can see why the column was published: the way the media works these days means that the folk in charge are desperate for people to click on a web page, but doing it by publishing this kind of utter nonsense, written purely to get a reaction, is at best bottom feeding.

But is internet trolling for a reaction to increase page clicks harmless?

Nope. This kind of attitude adds to a society where the privileged believe they have a monopoly on culture. This troll sneering down his nose at people who enjoy populist work keeps the door shut on people who are not the ‘right sort’ to enjoy culture.

Those of us who don’t read the right books, like the right sort of music. It’s a microcosm of a system that perpetuates a dangerous snobbery that permeates our society.

Nonsense, sure, but it’s far from harmless.

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