“Well weapon, yeah?”
The majority of DVDs that I own are British comedy series purchased on Amazon UK, but there’s really not much that was made after 2005 sitting on my shelf. 2005 was the magic year that international television shows could easily be acquired via this new thing called Bittorrent. And barring that, most programs were turning up on the even newer thing called YouTube. It seems like YouTube has been around forever, right? Nope. It launched on Valentine’s Day of 2005, just the blink of an eye ago.
So the other day I was looking at my DVDs and I pulled out Nathan Barley, the 2005 comedy created by Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker. I haven’t seen it in nearly a decade and as I was rewatching the first episode, I was struck not just by how well it’s dated (which is to say not at all) but by how eerily prophetic it was. Nathan Barley, which predicts today’s frivolous world of cat videos, prank videos and all manner of time-wasting websites (JUST LIKE THE ONE YOU ARE READING RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE) debuted on Feb 11, 2005 on Britain’s Channel 4, four days earlier, you’ll note, than the birth of YouTube.
In the context of 2005, Nathan Barley was (correctly) seen as a vicious satire of a certain type of parent-supported Hoxton hipster, specifically one who might work at VICE or Dazed & Confused magazine, be a DJ, vlogger, web designer, fashion victim, or all of the above. Nicholas Burns, as the obnoxiously oblivious titular character (a “self-facilitating media node” or “meaningless strutting cadaver-in-waiting” as Brooker has called him) pulls off one of the most memorably hilarious star turns in TV comedy history—in Britain, if you call someone “a Nathan Barley,” everyone would know what you meant, probably even the Queen. He’s a legend around my house, as is Julian Barratt (of The Mighty Boosh fame, who I actually saw first here) who plays his quasi-nemesis in the series, would-be serious journalist Dan Ashcroft. Ashcroft is the author of what he believes to be a scathing denunciation of the emerging self-absorbed idiotic pop culture landscape—of which Nathan is the exemplar par excellence—an essay published in Sugar Ape magazine, “The Rise of the Idiots”:
The idiots are self-regarding consumer slaves, oblivious to the paradox of their uniform individuality. They sculpt their hair to casual perfection. They wear their waistbands below their balls. They babble into handheld twit machines about that cool email of the woman being bummed by a wolf. Their cool friend made it. He’s an idiot too. Welcome to the age of stupidity. Hail The Rise of the Idiots.
“Shut up, fat arms.”
Dan’s problem is that the idiots he’s attacking—like Nathan—think he’s cool, and have no idea that he’s writing about them. Dan’s other problem, as he comes to realize throughout the course of the series, is that he’s a fucking idiot himself.
Continues after the jump…