The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter and Wayne Rooney's metatarsal are conspicuous in their absence from this site. Except for this.

wordle image for If You Liked The Da Vinci CodeWhy in the Internet era when we have so much trumpeted choice, do people choose to be obsessed by the same few things? Is it because they prefer thinking as usual to thinking as unusual, in other words, re-thinking?

The other day I found coverage of that film simultaneously on three out of the five major channels; J K Rowling makes more than the GDP of a mid-sized African nation (actually I made that one up, but I suspect I've under-estimated). And is Rooney sponsored by the National College of Physiotherapists to educate us subliminally in parts of the physiology we couldn't name? Next it may be Gerard's fibula, Lampard's humorous, and Davina McCall's fascia lata.

A charitable interpretation of this narrowing of topics of shared interest is that the media and the internet are creating a worldwide community with something in common to talk about. For the English, a substitute for the communal touchstone of weather talk (although I heard a Canadian radio show the other night which driveled on at much greater length about the elements. Perhaps with more justification).

As a fully paid up member of the Contrarian Society, my house is one of the nation's few Harry Potter-free zones. I have to admit that 40% - oh, all right, about 70% - of this is based on sheer churlishness and envy. Especially when I read that the author's last book launch was held in the restored splendour of the Royal Albert Hall, a hallowed venue where I had worshipped such greats as Roy Harper, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. (Er… and Buffy St Marie, but that's probably best forgotten.)

But on this subject I'm not at home to Mr Charity.

Most writers are hoping they can get a deal on the back room at their local British Legion for their book launch and provide their guests with cheap Chablis or even 'canapes'. This exemplifies why 'catering' is one of the most feared words in the English language. I experienced this while attending a recent conference at an Oxford College. If I were a more responsible citizen, I'd have phoned for the Health and Safety Inspectors immediately. This was the place where they filmed - dammit - Harry bloody Potter! All roads lead to...

The other 30% of my gripe is that I hate that bright assertion that 'at least it's got kids reading again'. Has it? Or has it just got them reading more Harry Potter? Or with adults more Dan Browns, as well as the companion to "The Da Vinci Code, the companion to the companion and…

It's a trend in books, film, and music to reference everything in terms of something familiar. So most current novels are hyped as:

  • 'better than The Da Vinci Code'
  • 'The Da Vinci Code on speed'
  • 'The Da Vinci Code for grown-ups'

Similarly with music:

'sounds like REM meets the Arctic Monkeys while paying its dues to the authentic sound of Embrace'

Ditto with movies:

  • George Clooney stars with Kate Winslett (Titanic, Titanic and ... er ... Titanic) in a compelling story that combines the suspense of A Perfect Storm
  • with the psychological insight of The Talented Mr Ripley
  • and the all star cast of Titanic

So what happens if it's your first film? Is it: Doris Troy (Penge Amateur Dramatic Society, waitressing in a Beverly Hills Diner until spotted by Martin Scorcese). How do you get on this ladder to the heights when you only exist in the reflected glow of other hits and luminous stars we've learned to love? Or been told we love.

More insidious is the underlying notion that 'if you liked that, you're bound to like this." Why?? I liked fried egg and waffles for breakfast yesterday, but as a re-thinker I assert my right to enjoy natural yogurt and kippers today.

But perhaps I'm fighting a losing battle in wanting to sample something new. I call this 'doing a John Peel' - the famous DJ said he would always listen to something new than something he'd already heard. In short, he was a great re-thinker. How many of us can say we do the same in our musical, literary, or dining choices?

If I'm to join those I can't beat, at least I should make it a profitable re-think. Some years ago the English comedian and wit Alan Coren wrote a book of humorous pieces called Golfing For Cats. On the cover was a picture of a cat in plus fours swinging a golf club, while the flags were decorated with swastikas. On opening the book you discover that he's convinced the British only buy books about three subjects - cats, golf, and the Second World War. The content of the book is nothing to do with any of this.

To update this idea I plan to add to future editions of Re-think the following blurb:

  • "Re-think is completely unlike and connected in no way whatsoever to The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, Big Brother, or Wayne Rooney's metatarsal. If you like them, you will probably hate this."

It's interesting that the man who coined the expression 'blurb', Frank Gelett Burgess, once remarked, "If in the last few years you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead."

So this week take your pulse and try something new. That's re-thinking.

Originally published: Wed 21 Jun 2006


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