Thomas doesn’t share the literary world’s dismissal of popular culture. She understands that you can learn something from everything. A Gok Wan style makeover show is the basic rags to riches tale. Other reality shows follow a benign version of the ‘stranger comes to town’ mythos – Supernanny or the Secret Millionaire walk into dysfunctional communities, sort out everyone’s problems and leave everything happy and resolved. Human beings are natural storytellers – pans narrans – and consciously or not, we create narratives wherever we go. The Ancient Greek philosophies that founded Western civilisation were written as fictions, Voltaire’s Candide is written in novel form and most of our religious texts can be read as fictions. We look for stories everywhere. As Thomas points out, ‘bus driver wins the Booker’ will get more attention than ‘UEA graduate wins the Booker’, even though the latter scenario is far more likely. Endemol producers imposed central storylines upon the Big Brother house probably not for ratings purposes, but because it’s what human beings are wired up to do.
Max Dunbar reviews Scarlett Thomas‘ Monkeys With Typewriters.