It feels ignorant to ignore this mornings news. Facetious even, to write about anything else and ignore what has happened in the US election. So with fear of adding unqualified irreverence to the situation, here’s how I think Victor Meldrew is worth reflecting on.
If you don’t know, Victor Meldrew was the main character of 90s comedy series One Foot In The Grave (being a fiction about a fictional man, I’m going to forgive myself for quoting so wholly from Wikipedia here):
The character epitomised the archetypal grumpy old man. Meldrew is a foil for the bothersome aspects of children, cars, animals, power cuts and next-door neighbours
In the first episode, the cantankerous Meldrew, aged 60, is forced into retirement as a security guard (which he describes as “being replaced by a box”). The series follows Meldrew as he tries to fill his new-found leisure with odd jobs and unusual idiosyncrasies, or to get a new job. However, he regularly finds himself mistreated, misunderstood or simply the victim of bad luck, which leads to his complaining heartily
The pensioner is most famous for his catchphrase, “I don’t believe it!!”… Other frequently used expressions of exasperation are “Unbe-lieeeve-able!”, “What in the name of bloody hell?!” and “In the name of sanity!” Victor is something of a hypochondriac, keeping a medical book with him to look up every ailment he believes has befallen him.
Victor Meldrew has become a euphemism for a bitter and complaining elderly man. However, both Renwick [the creator of the show] and Wilson [the actor playing Victor] himself have disagreed that Victor is an example of this stereotype; Wilson himself once said in an interview that he was a “normal man in a world full of idiots”
Although he is seen as misanthropic by the many victims of his wrath and misfortune, Victor is often depicted as an honest, likeable and sympathetic character. Ultimately, many felt that the things that he railed against, e.g. yobbish behaviour, lack of consideration for others, shoddy service, and bureaucratic indifference, were things that he had every right to get angry about. In fact, if anything, most admired him for having the guts to stand up and be counted, as the bizarre misfortunes that befell Meldrew would be enough to exasperate anyone.
He’s an archetypal grumpy person, made to feel redundant by progress and modernity and the things in life that he feels are unfairly out of his control, all the while living in a safe and practically sterile environment with more privilege than the majority of the worlds population. Irrespective of that fortune, he continues to feel unfortunate and mistreated by an apparently conspiring world, however, in many ways he’s actually the incarnation of optimism and hope.
"I don’t believe it!”. “Unbe-lieeeve-able!”. “What in the name of bloody hell?!”. “In the name of sanity!”. Such expressions of disbelief are not the expressions of a pessimist. They are mantras of someone who is frequently expecting more. Constantly believing that life will get better for him, when by now you would expect him to believe and expect any misfortune.
If we add acceptance of the Dunning Kruger effect to the idea that he’s a “normal man in a world full of idiots”, we arrive at the realisation that Victor is himself an idiot. One of the masses, that with illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing his abilities (and beliefs and needs) as more relevant and more important than those of others.
Victor really is normal. Narrow-minded to his own existence, frustrated with the injustice he sees in life, and holding a relentless belief that things can be better. Greater. Gather such normal people together in a social media echo-chamber, each desperate for things in their perception to get better, and they will cherry pick whatever they need from someone offering an alternative to the status quo which to date they feel has treaded them unfairly.
The desperation of their disbelief will enable them to ignore information that they dislike, and cling instead to the things they have long hoped to be true. The things that they believe. It’s not a matter of factual truth anymore. People are hopeful and clinging to anything that they believe might result in their selfish needs being met.
Egotistic optimism. Personal truth. Whatever it is. I don’t believe that all those voters are endorsing all the truly evil and psychopathic qualities of the man. Remember that their slogan has been to ‘make America great again’. That’s what they want. It’s just that their optimism is nearly exhausted and he’s provided an outlet for potions of their optimism, while modern media provides the petri dish-like environment to foster only that which appeals.
In this respect, I think I blame the internet for the perfect shit storm of selfishness optimism that we’ve seen in 2016, and those of us involved in the industries that fuel it. The iterative and algorithmic quest for clicks is indulging our optimism, encouraging lowest common denominator fears, and turning us into navel-gazing automatons. To that respect, imagine if they wrote One Foot In The Grave today. Victor, the beloved character that he was, would surly have become a troll and spent all his time stirring conspiracy theories on forums and Facebook, or literally at idontbeleiveit.com.
Update: 9 November: Some edits to the above and the self realisation that I got way more ranty than planned! A fun exercise though, prior to spending the day reading the news and more considered reactions of others inside my own echo-chamber.