Five Shades of Smarminess


Yesterday I saw Steven Soderbergh’s film ‘Behind the Candelabra’. It generated a lot of good reviews, and I reckon many thought that it made Liberace more interesting than he was… and it didn’t… quite the opposite. It was Hollywood surface superficial goo as opposed to Hollywood deep-down-profound mega-vulgar. Liberace’s inspired influence in terms of 20th and 21st Century pop is gigantic – without him there would be no Elton John, no Freddy Mercury, no Madonna, no Lady Gaga. Liberace openly said that Elvis copied him. He made flamboyance an intrinsic part of pop performance, so probably far more people than those listed, including punk and grunge bands owe a lot to him. ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is one dimensional, and if you want to know more about this totally amazing man there is a stunning BBC documentary that says a lot more.

images-1The intriguing thing about Liberace was the nature of his smarminess. He was one of the first people on the box to master the art of charm in a very excessive way, so that one could feel that one knew him. Maybe the persona he put over on TV was the one he wanted to be. He was certainly committed to his music, however you rate it. It’s one thing to project a character you would like to be, and another to project a character that you most certainly are not, in any way.

Reading TV smarm is quite an art. Liberace always seemed OK to me, but in contrast I strongly disliked the smarminess of Jimmy Savile, who seemed completely hypocritical, profoundly sinister and wreathed in a kind of artifice that was quite frightening. And it wasn’t just me that felt this way…many of my friends found him repugnant for the same reason. So how did the BBC get it so wrong?  Let’s not go there.

Another expert in the art of smarm is Nigella Lawson. I used to enjoy reading her writing. When she progressed to TV it seemed OK, but gradually I have watched her TV persona change alarmingly as her fame and success factor have increased tenfold. Thus, over a period of time, she has been transformed into a facile, empty, patronising stereotype, a kind of hollow person. Maybe she is great, loveable, kind and generous, but the person on the box seems completely and totally empty. Not at home. Thereby hangs another shade of smarminess.

Yet another shade of smarminess was that of Lady Thatcher, she of the blue rinse and the venomous disposition… Who will forget that eager, bonkers expression that went with the phrase “We have become a grandmother!”

And the fifth shade of smarm… well, who do you want to drum up today, as we near the silly season? I give you a list – Richard and Judy? Davina McCall? Noel Edmonds? Bruce Forsyth? Jonathan Ross? Ant and Dec? Jeremy Clarkson? These names, I would have you know, come from a list of the most annoying UK TV presenters on netmums. The winner was Jeremy Kyle, who might just be greatly improved by a touch of smarminess, methinks.

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