Monday, September 10, 2012

"Good bad" books and styling

click photo to enlarge
In his "Tribune" essay of 1945, "Good Bad Books", George Orwell argued for the existence of a type of book "that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished." He borrowed the idea and title from G. K. Chesterton and applied it to authors that today are all but forgotten, people such as Leonard Merrick, Ernest Raymond and May Sinclair, but also to some who are still read and more widely recognised: E. Nesbit, Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and others. His essential point was that "good bad books" are works that don't aim high but do score in terms of entertainment, effective and affective writing, and incidental insight. Moreover, he opined, they would be read long after the likes of Wyndham Lewis were forgotten, and cites in support of his case the enduring appeal of the less serious Anthony Trollope, over the more weighty but unreadable Thomas Carlyle.

The notion that something "bad" can be "good" has been applied in areas beyond books. For example, early British Pop Art practitioners such as Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake drew inspiration from the vigour and vitality of commercial graphics, posters, the circus and other "low" art, seeing in them qualities that they admired. In mainstream popular music there are a small number of artistes who rise above their medium and are liked, within their limitations, by people who generally wouldn't give the genre the time of day. I wouldn't dare to suggest examples!

I've often felt that manufacturers sometimes produce examples of car styling that have this "good bad" quality. In 2006 I posted a photograph of a Cadillac's fin and tail light cluster saying, "It's the sort of styling that you think should never have happened, but part of you is glad that it did." Today's photograph shows the front of the bonnet of a 1936 Ford V8 Coupe. The radiator mascot is a greyhound in the act of leaping over an 8 nestled in a V. This chromed device must be some kind of bonnet release. When I first saw it I immediately thought of what the protrusion might do to a pedestrian unfortunate enough to be struck by it. As I considered it further the ludicrousness of this piece of bad sculpture sitting on the bonnet like a canine parody of a Cellini salt-cellar struck me. And yet, all that notwithstanding, I felt a touch of admiration for the person who had crafted his (or her) artistic vision and persuaded Ford that it should adorn hundreds of thousands of their cars. Perhaps it was the way the chrome and the black bonnet were picking up the tinted late afternoon light that filtered through the clouds. Maybe I was just feeling more charitably inclined than usual towards what I consider bad design. Whatever the reason, I took the photograph and I'm glad that I did.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On