Quality. Excellence. High calibre. Call me politically incorrect, but I see all the above as positive attributes.
I think it’s important to strive to rise above mediocrity; to try to be better at whatever I decide to do. More: I think it’s not just important but right and necessary to applaud and reward people who achieve these things, and even to point out, gently of course, where others fall short; how else are they ever going to get better themselves?
What’s more, if I’m in a position to choose between offering the best of something and offering something which will appeal to the most people and incidentally make more money, I want to be regarded at the kind of person who will go for the first option.
So why do I feel as if I’m in a very small minority? What, exactly, is wrong with wanting the best, both for and of myself and anyone else?
I’ve headed this post, or rant if you prefer, Never mind the quality; feel the width as a kind of tribute to a TV sitcom from decades ago, which kind of summed up my feelings. The sitcom made it funny, but there was an underlying serious message: quality counts, and maintaining it pays dividends in the long term.
Maybe it’s different over there in the US of A. I don’t know; I spend most of my life in the UK, and my evidence comes from looking around me.
I’m not going to mention names, because people get sued that way, but if, for instance, I want to eat out, there are half a dozen high street staples I know to avoid – yet there always have queues coming out of the door. I read a lot of books, and don’t read a whole lot more, because twenty or thirty pages tells me all I need to know – yet I see many of those in the bestseller lists. I see a lot of theatre, and increasingly wish I’d stayed home and watched TV, often when the show is practically a sell-out. And the more TV channels I can access, the less there seems to be that I actually want to watch.
When I use the dreaded q-word, I’m not talking about big names and high profile. As anyone who works in what I’ll loosely call the creative field knows, fame and quality don’t necessarily go hand in hand, and likewise, not being famous doesn’t mean you lack ability. Fortunately some top-notch writers, actors, whatever, do get their just deserts; I can still smile at some of the names in the bestseller lists, and I’ve recently bought tickets for more than one play simply because of the cast.
Sadly, though, those are in the minority. These days I’m more likely to go for a novel by someone less well-known, or a play with no famous names, but recommended by someone I trust.
It pays off. The best novel I’ve read in years, decades even, remains The Selected Works of T S Spivet. You may yet hear of it if the movie they’ve just made turns into one of those surprise summer hits, but the author is hardly a household name.
Last week I read a novel by Imogen Robertson. All I can say is find her, read her; I’ve read two now, which happen to be her most recent, and if her earlier work has half the wow factor, I want to touch the hem of her garment.
Earlier this week I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time: not exactly on stage, but close; the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have a brilliant scheme which allows occasional performances to be broadcast live in cinemas, and, inevitably I suppose, they’ve extended it into recordings so more people can get the benefit, and yes, OK, so they can make more money. The book was pretty special, but I quite didn’t believe it could be turned into a play. I was wrong. And how. It takes a lot to blow me away in the theatre, but days later I’m still reeling. It opens on Broadway in September. See it. Just – see it.
So why is excellence a dirty word? I can’t be the only person who will go back to an author time after time for as long as the quality is maintained, but will ignore others, however expensively marketed, high-profile and million-selling, if my first experience disappoints.
We’re bombarded with books, movies, plays, TV shows and a whole lot of electronic stuff; the sheer volume is sometimes overwhelming. And OK, we need choice; different things appeal to different people. But what’s wrong with a little less, and a little (or preferably a lot) better?