You should never meet your heroes, unless one of your heroes is the director John Waters, in which case, I can vouch for a pleasing lack of disappointment. I interviewed Waters a few years ago, to talk about the restoration of his 1970 film Multiple Maniacs, in which a marauding gang of attention-seekers causes widespread havoc. I thought of Waters again when I heard the news that the reality television show Keeping Up With the Kardashians was due to come to an end after 14 years, though for another reason.
I remembered Waters saying that he did not watch television, not because he thought it would be bad but because he loves to read and, he said, you can’t do both. I think about this all the time. Like many people, I have an attention span that is fractured into a thousand different fragments as I attempt to watch and read as much as I can so I can keep up with the cultural conversation. In all the years that Keeping Up With the Kardashians has been on air, I have sidestepped it. The Kardashians are the thing I have had to give up on, for the benefit of something else.
As the number of seasons grew at an astonishing rate, as their fame became so massive that it almost demanded a new word, as they became billionaires and then maybe bigger billionaires or maybe not, as they had babies and divorced and got married and did it all on television, it all blew past me like a light wind.
It is odd to miss out on a genuine cultural phenomenon when you are a person who is fascinated by exactly that, but with all the binge-watching will in the world, there is just not enough time to keep up, even with the big stuff. Choices and sacrifices have to be made. For me, it was scripted reality and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. However, the brand is so strong that I am always aware of it. It is like McDonald’s – I catch a whiff of the golden arches and I crave it, even though I know it will leave me hungry and unfulfilled.
I did try a couple of episodes, once. I could sense their power, how addictive they could be. There was a mountain to climb and I turned away. My friend says I am missing out. “It’s basic family stuff. They explain their scandals. You follow their rise, I guess?” he offered. Now, at least, I don’t have to pretend that there is time to get involved or try to keep up.
Reed Hastings: Mr Netflix knows why it’s good to talk
When Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings was asked by the Wall Street Journal if he had seen any benefits from his staff working at home, he was emphatic in his reply. “No. I don’t see any positives,” he said. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.” Debating ideas is harder now, he said. He acknowledged the “sacrifices” his workforce had made, but predicted a return to the office en masse just as soon as a Covid-19 vaccine is available.
These literal office politics are deeply complicated. Excluding the many workers who have no choice in the matter, I know parents who cannot wait to go back to their offices and I know others who see the whole British back-to-work propaganda machine as solely beneficial to a greedy, exploitative economic system. The latter may not have been teaching five-year-olds how to spell since March.
As someone who has been working from home for years, I know that Hastings has, in his frankness, tapped into the one and only thing I miss about an office: talking to people. Ideas are rarely a one-way street. They come from conversations, discussions, being presented with alternative points of view in an environment where those views can at least be considered. The internet is not known for fostering any of those things. On Zoom, we talk work, then we leave. On Twitter, we shout. In real life, small talk can be as valuable as big. I miss that kind of conversation. Still, I am sure most mega corporations will survive a year of employees not putting themselves at risk.
Lewis Capaldi achieves quiz greatness
It is around this time of year that I start watching an obscene amount of quiz shows, a period that lasts roughly until March. I have often wondered what it must feel like when you achieve what must be one of life’s ultimate honours: becoming the answer to a question on a quiz show and the contestant has no clue who you are. On Pointless, it’s a sure bet that a politician or an artist will be a low scorer; on University Challenge, a picture of an accomplished woman can be a bigger problem for a team than the darker reaches of the periodic table.
On a gripping week of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and I stand by that statement, Lewis Capaldi was given that singular honour. One contestant had to say who had released the No 1, million-selling album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent. She was so stumped that she used up all of her lifelines on it, then had a lucky guess. “I don’t even know who Lewis Capaldi is,” she shrugged. Capaldi responded by changing his name to “I don’t even know who Lewis Capaldi is” on Twitter and promised that “merch” bearing the legend would be coming soon.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist