When I started what I consider to be my first grown-up job over six years ago, the company’s Managing Director gave his new recruits some advice: learn about the clients, read The Telegraph and be prepared to talk about anything. I chose to ignore the second piece of advice, but took the rest to heart. The third tip has proven to be the most useful, and this has been the case in every role I’ve undertaken since.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not always well-informed regarding current affairs – case in point being when I got stopped by ABC News when in DC and, when asked for my thoughts on Syria, replied with, “uhhh…” – but that doesn’t mean I can’t smile and nod along with a conversation. Many people take a dim view when I explain that my method of informing myself about current events is reality TV or popular shows, but I stand by my opinion, and am proven right on an almost-daily basis.
It’s no cliché that certain shows or TV events are the most talked about issues both in person and online these days. There are still those who believe that this is largely manufactured hype by broadcasters, and that may be true, but whether the chicken or the egg came first, this is what a large majority of people wish to discuss.
At the time of writing Strictly Come Dancing (that’s Dancing With The Stars to the rest of the world) is still in the early stages of competition, and fairly-new-kid-on-the-block and definitely still in the column marked “surprise hit” (because, on paper, a show about watching cakes rise should be about as interesting as one involving watching paint dry) the Great British Bake Off is about to conclude, but both are easily the biggest topics of conversation amongst the customers who enter the shop I work in.
Due mainly to being out of the country for the first few weeks of the series, I didn’t get as heavily involved with Bake Off as I have previously, but thanks also to social media, I was able to keep up sufficiently (unable to form my own opinion, I was happy to go along with the common mantra of “Ruby: bad; everyone else: okay”). In a case of fortuitous timing which I have since been mocked for, my arrival in the UK was a little over 24 hours prior to the first real episode of Strictly, so I was able to participate fully in the excitement (read: sofa commentating) of the competition. For future reference, my opinions are as follows: Rachel has cast herself as the typically neurotic young and pretty woman in the competition who will fail to win voters over as a result; Abbey will also fail to win voters over; the final three will probably be Ashley, Susanna and Natalie; the final three should be Dave, Mark and Susanna.
It is perhaps a little sad that people choose to inform themselves more about televised entertainment than political issues – myself included – and the statistics regarding the percentage of the population who vote for X Factor contestants versus those who vote in elections to decide who runs our country (particularly given that voting for the X Factor involves paying, whereas voting in an election is free and something which people in countries with fewer rights than ours still die for the right to do) are mildly disturbing. But when celebrity reality TV is packaged in glitter, glamour, sparkle and fake tan (or, as it will be when Ant and Dec soon take us back to the jungle: consumption of genitals, mosquitoes, cold outdoor showers and hunger pangs) compared to the lies and broken promises of politics, who can blame us for escaping into our televisions? I’ve also found that, although my opinion on reality TV can still be as controversial as an opinion on hot political issues, the repercussions rarely go beyond a friendly debate over a three-course meal.
Which conversation topics have helped you through life when faced with strangers and awkward silences?