The kitsching of the prevalent

The Pedant in the Kitchen

Cookery columns are cool. Just ask Alex Kapranos of art-indie band Franz Ferdinand, who wrote a number of articles for the Guardian about what he ate while touring. Fellow reluctant Guardian foodie (and much more besides) Julian Barnes wrote a series of similar pieces, with the theme of how the reluctant, easily confused newcomer deals with existing books on cookery, the specifics of ingredients and utensils, and the general hilarity which a fool and a pan can invoke. The resulting collection, novella-length, is gently and rather casually written, like the writings of James Fenton (another Guardianista) who Barnes cites. There are quasi-subversive references to the Big Mac and the Martha Stewart, and the now obligatory debunking of the myth of Mrs Beeton. Generally, though, Barnes' confusion and wide-eyed amateurish fear is almost entirely sympathetic, and really quite funny. The book has a warm humour and an unthreatening charm that makes you wonder just how far Barnes has moved from the axis of Amis and Swift he once happily and edgily sat upon.

An illuminating if unexpected companion piece to The Pedant would probably be one of Jeremy Clarkson's recent bound diatribes. Both authors have a unique tone and a recalcitrant fanbase who are more than happy to read anything written in the genre. Both authors write as prisoners of powerful, ubiquitous systems, the political views of which are anathema to the writers themselves: Clarkson sees wet liberals everywhere in society, restricting the freedoms of honest white male car-owning well-off folk; Barnes' kitchen library is full of passive-aggressive authoritarian Tories, keen to maintain a Victorian culinary status quo and refusing to provide him with information precise enough to liberate him from the bondage of novicehood. Both then proceed to rail against these systems: Clarkson in his witless, anti-intellectual "common-sense" bombast, Barnes in an overanalytical, weedy, self-undermining whine.

And both, ultimately, are unwilling to resort to any action that might bring about the revolutions for which they seem to be longing. Both are happy to complain, berate, hold up for mockery and generally work themselves into emotional froths, so long as it gains them the audiences they crave. Their personal bêtes noires are also their vaches de cash, and to actually slay them would be financial and---if you like---artistic folly. Instead, they happily perpetuate the systems with which they have vitriolic, dysfunctional but ultimately lucrative relationships. Still, that's life. Or, more pedantically, that's entertainment.