This isn’t something that I like admitting to, because I know full well that it’s bad and wrong, but here goes anyway: I have a tendency to judge people by their jobs. If they’re an accountant, I’ll think one thing (no, you didn’t actually hear me say boring). If they’re a lawyer, I’ll think something else (no, I did not say money-hungry). But the one thing I never considered in all my time pre-judging people by their jobs is how other people would pre-judge me by my job. Which just serves me right, because over the past eight months I have learned how people view arts journalists. In a word, I will summarise it thus: slothful.
For the past eight months, I have become what I like to think of as sporty. I have bought a bicycle, taken up jogging (okay, okay, advanced walking) and last week, for the first time in five years, I even played a game of badminton. I couldn’t walk for two days afterwards, but this is totally besides the point. These days, I wield racquets. I sweat. Runners are my friends. Tournament halls rule ok. I am even developing thigh muscles. I am sporty. Seriously.
I’d like to think that my newfound declaration of sportiness has been accepted and embraced by friends and family as a happy return to the sports-mad teenager I used to be. (Yes, I once wore basketball boots with socks pulled over the ends of my tracksuit bottoms, travelled the length and breadth of the country to compete in volleyball and basketball tournaments and spent weekends watching Michael Jordan on Eurosport.)
But not a bit of it. The reaction to my newly acquired sportiness has been bizarre, to say the least. “You?” is the most common response, followed by guffaws of laughter, as though the person facing them most resembles a parked Boeing 747. If truth be told, over the past few months, I have been beginning to get slightly offended.
‘What is it about me that makes everyone so sure that I’m incapable of wielding so much as a table-tennis bat?’ I would wonder, as I walked away from yet another astonished face. ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ It was as though my friends and family thought I spent my days reclining on a chaise longue, smoking cigarettes through a holder, eating chocolates pastries and perusing the latest edition of Joyce. When the truth is I do that only occasionally. And mostly on weekends.
But then I realised: this is exactly what my friends and family think. Because, of course, I’m an arts journalist, and, as my housemate Terry recently observed, “your whole job consists of having other people try to entertain you.”
While that’s not 100 per cent true (maybe just 60 per cent), it’s certainly a compelling notion to which a vast number of people seem happy to subscribe.
Arts journalism is viewed, sometimes even by other journalists, with a certain amount of scepticism. I mean, it’s really not easy to persuade someone that reviewing the new Simpsons movie qualifies as a hard day on the job. (Even if you hate the Simpsons and would like nothing more than to see their omnipresent yellow heads flushed down the nearest
available toilet.) Never mind that there’s an article about the Simpsons to be written afterwards, there’s something about the whole enterprise that simply screams slothfulness.
By the same measure, it’s even less easy to conjure up the image of flocks of arts journalists watching the new Simpsons movie in the morning and then energetically playing badminton or going jogging come evening time. I can admit that, and I’m now one of the people that does both.
So, it’s no wonder, really, that, if arts journalists have to have a stereotype, slothful is the adjective of choice. If regular
journalists have to be pegged as cynical, environmentalists as floaty and accountants as dull, then I suppose it makes a kind of sense to deem us pesky arts journalists as lazy types, more familiar with the cushions of our sitting-room sofas than anything resembling honest endeavour. But it’s safe to say that over the past few months I have begun to hugely dislike the stereotypes that come with arts journalism. And I wish people wouldn’t persist in thinking that way.
To conclude, I suppose there’s a moral in all this for me somewhere. Because if I’m going to think of accountants as boring, then they’re fairly well entitled to call me a chaise longue-loving, cigarette holder-using, pastry-munching, James Joyce-reading layabout. And given that I will shortly be heading out myself to purchase myself some seriously unflattering sports gear, I think this would be deeply unfair indeed.
So, to anyone (but particularly lawyers and accountants) who bristled at the start of this article, please consider this my apology. You’re not whatever I thought you were and I’m not whatever you thought I was. Okay? Cool.