Last night I sat through possibly the worst thing I’ve seen on a London stage – Rock of Ages.
Of course I’ve been to things before that just don’t work – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg eek! On these occasions the audience is usually polite enough to clap at the appropriate places before filing out, exchanging expressions of mutual pain with anyone who makes eye contact.
Not so this time!
The audience loved every tawdry, cringe making moment of it. Instead of a slow shuffle to the exit there was a standing ovation and a rush to the merchandise stand (T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Hooray for Boobies’ – I kid you not).
Honest to God, I could swear that evolution is going backwards not forwards.
The plot features sex, love and rock ‘n’ roll. Boy meets girl in the bar of a music venue. He sweeps the floor, while she waits tables, but they both have aspirations. (I have a dream!!) He wants to be a Rock God. She wants to be an Actress. (Sorry Martin Luther we’ve sunk to new lows since you’ve been gone). Ooh cue for a song.
Because He doesn’t jump her bones on their first date, She interprets this as the absence of love, so feels compelled to have sex with the singer of a rock band – in the toilet.
The singer immediately dumps her, after which she loses her job and is forced to become a stripper. Eventually the Madame of the lap-dancing club brings the couple back together for the grand finale in which they relinquish their dreams, get pregnant and have a baby. (Sorry Martin – the bar just doesn’t get any higher). The singer gets his come-uppance when he is arrested for having sex with an underage school girl… Gary Glitter lives! Rock on.
The main aim of the plot seems to be an excuse for the female members of the cast to remain in their underwear pretty much all the time. You can just imagine the pre-production meeting. “We don’t have a script! The choreography is appalling! Some of the songs are only B list hits! How on earth are we going to pull in the punters?”
Pause for inspiration.
“Basques and suspenders!”
“And endless opportunities for simulated fellatio”.
“Job done! Let’s go to the pub”.
Of course if we criticise, we’re told to “Lighten up” “It’s just a bit of fun” “It’s rock ‘n’ roll man”. The producers acknowledge and celebrate its awfulness with the strapline “London’s guilty pleasure”.
I hate what’s happened to sex. I feel the same way about sex as Jamie Oliver feels about food – after they turned it into Turkey Twizzlers. Jamie Oliver doesn’t want to ban food, any more than I want to censor sex – he’s just passionate about real food and thinks it’s tragic when kids grow up on McDonalds.
“Well it’s fast and it fills a hole”.
It’s not just the content that concerns him, it’s the empty experience. Food is more than just a function of survival, it’s a shared ritual of connection.
Sex can be a sacred ritual. But in the popular media it’s become a parody, a power play, a grotesque distortion. Music videos are as cliché ridden as porn films, but what’s most sad is that they are targeted to children at an age when kids are attempting to define their own sexuality.
13 year old girls now think that sucking in their cheeks and pushing out their chest while attempting to lick a lollypop in a suggestive manner is flirting. 13 year old boys presume girls are “gagging for it”. They’ve never read Jane Austen, they take their cues from the Pussycat Dolls and Snoop Dogg.
So back to Rock of Ages. We know the sex serves to get bums on seats, but what’s the excuse for the puerile script? In the same way we’ve reduced food and sex to their lowest common denominator, we’ve got pretty lazy with our vocabulary!
Take the word “awesome”. I don’t think I could be more irritated by the word awesome if I tried. Like a strange virus, it has seeped into everything from blogs to self-help manuals.
Let’s look at the real meaning of awesome – “an overwhelming feeling of reverence produced by something sublime or extremely powerful… a connection with the universe beyond the narrow band of our consciousness”.
Hmmm. As usual, we’ve kept the concept and lost the reverence. Now we use the word to describe everything from computer games to cake.
The latest version of the word “awesome” is “rock star”. This expression is now popping up everywhere. As in a description of a product “It’s rock star great” or a compliment to a helpful colleague “He/she is such a rock star”. This means he/she is supremely awesome!
If you want to see classy, sophisticated women in suspenders (without the tedious simulated fellatio) go to Chicago – where they’ll throw in some great music and killer choreography.
But Rock of Ages… well I guess it’s Rock Star Awesome.
And it takes popular culture to a new all time low