Punk's seedy date before the beak
I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here, ITV1
Bug Attack!, Channel 4
It was the day the music died; the moment punk confronted the mainstream and, realising it couldn’t hope to compete with its feathered machinations, allowed itself to be pecked to pieces. As sacrificial offerings go it couldn’t match Wayne Sleep’s Rat Trap Dignity Challenge but, still, the moment that John Lydon clambered into an ostrich pen in I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! precipitated the year’s most enduringly melancholic image.
The birds looked at Johnny. And Johnny, being a reciprocal sort, looked at the birds. In this avis versus agent provocateur showdown, there could be but one winner. Snap went the beaks. Twang went Lydon’s protective goggles, a motion that sent the last vestiges of the sneering Londoner’s pride ricocheting into the Australian undergrowth like so much thwarted millet.
There’s been much speculative brouhaha over the reason for Lydon’s participation in IACGMOOH. The bulk of the sulking has centred on whether his appearance qualifies as "punk rock" or is, in fact, the ultimate example of "sell-out" desperation. "Mainstream rubbish" is how the ex-Sex Pistol described the show but, still, there he is, sharing his yam mash with Kerry McFadden and assuring the rest of his yellow-bellied camp-mates that, really, it’s a lovely day tomorrow.
Are these kind-uncle displays merely cunningly disguised acts of situationist subversion? Will order eventually collapse and anarchy prevail? Thus far, Lydon’s biggest nod to insurrection has been his constant gurning and his wheezing Muttley chuckle, both of which are merely a front for what is, I suspect, a deep well of shyness and social apprehension. Yet where Lydon has excelled is in the realms of pragmatism - a trait that has seen the former firebrand successfully placate frazzled celebrity nerves.
Can punk be practical? Can it hope to hold its own on a show in which everyone involved agrees that celebrities should be punished for their desire for publicity? Can it contain its carrion sneer when surrounded not merely by establishment figureheads (Jennie Bond, Lord Brocket) but by the doyen/nes of braying mainstream plasticity (everyone else, bar Mike Read, of course, who’s really lovely and actually dead good looking for his age, honest)?
The answer is, of course, who cares? Just because Lydon’s probably only doing it for the money doesn’t make his lucre filthier than anyone else’s. Why he is castigated for wanting to earn 40,000 for lying on a khaki camp-bed for a couple of weeks when cash-laden toff Jennie Bond’s motives remain unquestioned says more about our slippery grasp on the nature of celebrity than it does about his modus operandi. The truth is, we don’t want Lydon to exist outside the confines of our imaginations. We want him to remain an icon in aspic; a snarling reminder of bolder times and an acne-pitted epitome of punk - a genre that was, at best, a bold experiment negated by commercialism and, at worst, a misanthrope’s fantasy with no tunes.
Frankly, Lydon - the bookies’ current favourite - deserves to win. Not because he’s a great bloke or because he’s been partly responsible for some of the greatest records of all time (though he undoubtedly has), but because he’s a well of oddness in a barren tundra of mundanity; a daft, ageing, frequently embarrassing though thoroughly decent sort who’s there for no particular reason other than he thought it might be, y’know, fun. Besides, he could use the winnings on some new leg-wear. Punk may have championed the shabby and the ridiculous but frankly, Mr Lydon, those fluorescent safari shorts are a bridge too far.
Bug Attack’s Phil de Vries is American and he hates insects. How do we know that Bug Attack’s Phil de Vries is American and he hates insects? Because the moustachioed "bug expert" invited us to join him in the "oltimate assignment" - a search for "the scariest bugs on Earth" that saw a volley of hapless invertebrates stretched, tugged, squished, goaded, mocked, demonised and dissected in the name of pop science and, oltimately, deeply exploitative television. Would it be too cruel to suggest that De Vries face the oltimate challenge and bury himself naked in a case containing venomous jungle spiders while a blind-folded John Lydon attempts to remove a star from his crotch? No.
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