Philip Roth and the Jaffa Cake eater

Philip_rothFor Philip Roth fans, I strongly recommend listening to Christopher Lydon's Memorial Day interview with the American writer broadcast on the excellent Open Source podcast show. Roth reads from Everyman, his new novel about a man obsessed with dying. And he described the seductive skills of his father, Herman, a man obsessed with life rather than death.

Lydon caught Roth is in sparkling form, both as an unabashed defender of high culture and as a literary highbrow. While Lydon didn't get Roth to polemicize about the digital revolution, he did tempt the old curmudgeon into railing against the contemporary "infantilisation" of American culture. To make his case, Roth described recently attending a poorly attended Emerson Quartet concert of Shostakovich works at Avery Fisher Hall. If people won't pay to hear the Emerson Quartet play late Shostakovich, Roth suggested, then the American Republic must really be in bad shape.

I couldn't help thinking of Roth and that half empty Avery Hall today while reading Leo Benedictus' Guardian Unlimited piece, about the meteoric popularity of YouTube. According to Benedictus, six million people watch 40 million videos each day on this new video sharing site. I wondered how Roth would make sense of these six million daily Internet viewers in the context of the Emerson's failure to sell out a small concert hall. And I wondered what Roth, that quintessential conservative modernist, would make of YouTube's radically postmodern "Broadcast Yourself" mantra.

Entitled "I told America how to eat Jaffa Cakes," Benedictus' article introduces us to some of the leading content makers on YouTube. There is Furches, the pastor from Witchita, who authors videos about wrestling. He tells us about John Elias from Miami who makes fetishistic videos about men's feet. Then there is Stephanie, the Malaysian dancer, who films herself in short skirts dancing to Ricky Martin and Britney Spears. Most memorably, Benedictus introduces us to Slayerette, the seventeen year old English woman who authored a popular video demonstrating to the world how to eat an English chocolate and marmalade sponge cookie called a Jaffa Cake.

Jaffa_cakes Slayerette's "JaffaCakes" video has been viewed 2,173 times on YouTube. I'm guessing that's a larger audience than attended the Emerson performance of the Shostakovich quartets at Avery Fisher Hall. There may well be a marketing lesson here for the Emerson Quartet. Perhaps they should post a video of themselves on YouTube playing Shostakovich while eating Jaffa Cakes. This will enable the Emersons to compete with Slayerette to win the attention of an online audience hungry for truly original content.