The Curse of Modern Living (Part 4) – Status Anxiety and the Jo Whiley Syndrome

by Charlie_East_West on May 21, 2013


It’s what British writer Alain de Botton termed as “status anxiety” and it stems from dissatisfaction at where we stand, or may fall, in the social and economic pecking order, or how we construct a lifestyle just to impress others. It is a futile existence where largely middle class people are constantly striving against, or to impress their contemporaries.

We have produced status anxiety on all fronts: work, family, and the rest of life – and this is particularly relevant in our taste in music.

For me, music is one of life’s great forms of individual expression. Musical taste should always be in the eye of the beholder. But, there is no accounting for taste. I have to admit that over the past 15 years or so, I have slowly morphed into a music snob, to the point that I now judge a person by their choice of music at a dinner party (another fertile ground for status anxiety influenced behaviour). I admire the person that has an eclectic mix of music and genres, and I absolutely love it when I hear a new and wonderful piece of music recommended by a friend.

I also have no problem with those brave souls who listen to meat and two veg music – you know the type – Take That, Robbie Williams (who remains my guilty pleasure), Michael Bublé and Status Quo. It is naff music, and for a person to be so openly courageous as to publicly endorse this type of music is a credit to them. It shows that they are comfortable in their own skin, and do not give a jot about what people think of them. I do draw the line with anyone liking Olly Piss-Face Murs though.

However, I do have a massive problem with those timid, status anxiety led, uncomfortable in their own skin types who like music that is simply just masquerading as pretend want-to-be alternative rock music. This type of music has infiltrated our ears at every level from music festivals like Glastonbury, to radio stations such as Absolute and even Radio 6. The baddies include Ben Howard, Goyte, Mumford & Sons, Emeli Sandé, Florence and the Machine, Lily Allen and also now sadly, Elbow, and potentially Daft Punk.

It is exactly this type of middle of the road music that status anxiety led (early middle aged) individuals will plonk on at dinner parties to pretend they know about music. I have decided to call it Jo Whiley Syndrome. Symptoms include – pretending to be youthful and cool, glamping it up at a corporate music festival by arriving in a gigantic 4×4 or helicopter, sleeping in a fucking yurt, wearing pink Hunter wellies, deck shoes, and generalised boho-chic attire, and seeking out the performances from Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Snow Patrol and Ellie Goulding, and finishing the weekend off by going to a refreshing spa resort. The type of person who only buys two albums a year – normally some rustled up faux-folk music guff from Mumford & Sons – who, as Jake Bugg once said, “look like a bunch of posh farmers playing banjo.”

It is just a great big marketing swizz. It is people trying to show off that they are cool and individual, but unfortunately it has the opposite effect. It reminds me of those awful middle aged men in lycra (the curse of the MAMIL) who took up cycling to get fit and ‘do their bit for the environment’. Yet, they are pretending to be Bradley Wiggins whilst cycling in a King of the Mountains polka dot jersey for only 5 miles on a scenic road, after having arrived in a Chelsea tractor with the bike on top of the vehicle. It is hypocritical. It is all the gear, and no idea. It is utterly false. It is tragically ironic. It is status anxiety on two wheels. And, there are thousands of people all doing the same thing.

I am all for getting fit or listening to music, but not the low level bragging that often goes with it despite the actions of choice making the individual look like a bit of a cock. I had one such crushingly boring example of a Mamil father standing next to me at a kids sporting club recently, and without introduction, he launched himself into a story about how he was preparing for a local triathlon. I had to feign interest in his ascent towards mediocrity in lycra. If he came back conquering Everest, The South Pole, or with an Olympic medal hanging round his neck – I will be all ears. I bet the fucker is a big Mumford & Sons fan. I bet he even fancies Jo Whiley.

To try and bundle up this blog up into something coherent, rather than just a rant, I suggest that we are living in times of extremely beige behaviour. Individualism is dead. Long live the mainstream. It is the bland leading the bland. Just look at this year’s Brit Awards – it was just a corporate shindig for middle of the road, safe-as-houses bland-rock. And yes, Emeli Sandé and Mumford & Sons were the main winners.

But yes, I admit that if we all look deep within, during a long dark night of the soul – we are all probably guilty of misplaced status anxiety in some shape or form. For instance, I like The Killers. I have slept in a yurt. I am guilty as charged of hypocrisy.

But, going to a music festival to specifically see Mumford & Sons whilst drinking prosecco in a yurt? really? Jesus Pole-Vaulting Christ – has it really come to this? It is in times like these I really begin to worry about the future of the human race.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:31 am

Top 10 most common status anxiety dinner party albums (some of these albums have merit, but they reflect what you say)?

1. Buena Vista Social Club
2. Air – Moon Safari
3. Tricky – Maxinquaye
4. Lana del Rey -Born To Die
5. Portishead – Dummy
6. Mumford and Sons – Sign No More
7. Bob Marley – Legend
8. Coldplay – Parachutes
9. Radiohead – OK Computer
10. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid


Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

Daft Punk will be on this list very soon. Mark my words.
Also – Adele ’21’ should be on this list.


George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:35 am

Amy Winehouse – Back To Black


Ray_ North May 21, 2013 at 10:36 am

I appear to own quite few of the albums on the list of shame!


George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

The albums aren’t necessarily bad (in fact a lot of them are very good) but they do reflect the point that Charlie makes. And be honest how may of them do you hear at dinner parties/birthday parties etc. There are about 20 albums which everyone seems to own because they think they should.


Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 10:43 am

Who is James?


George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:45 am

Fair point – who is James?


George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:46 am

Weren’t they a late 80s indie band favoured by Morrissey before becoming a deeply tedious 90s anthemic festival act – prone to causing whole audiences to sit down.

Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 10:46 am

My nickname used to be James.


George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

Ah – it’s all beginning to make sense, now.

Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

Now here is a question… Which artists or bands started out as pretty decent and slowly transformed into mainstream dirge?
I think the list would be quite long…

George_East May 21, 2013 at 10:51 am

‘Didn’t you used to be good’ would make a good STLAS theme week. I shall refer it to the Committee.


Alec May 21, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I may be taking snobbery to a new level here, but what about Reggae (more than Just Bob, wonderful malian music (Toumani Diabate / Rokia Traore) Bhangra, Jazz, Afrobeat, etc, etc, etc. There’s plenty of wonderful music beyond the very limited stuff here – Widen your horizons!


Ray_ North May 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Well said Alec.


George_East May 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I don’t understand Alec – I thought the whole point of the post, was identifying the extremely predictable music that gets played at dinner parties. Predictability was the point. Original music you hear at dinner parties may have to await another day.


Charlie East-West May 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Exactly, George.
My point was to highlight the insipidness of it all.


Alec May 21, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Folk too…

Perhaps my experience of dinner parties is different. Rural hippy types like all kinds of stuff.

My experience of this type of status anxiety is via a facebook top 100 most influential albums quiz type thing. I think I had about 20. I paused when posting thinking it was not very good. I had some comments saying how poor my score was – and yes I did feel the status anxiety. Having thought about it more I decided that the quiz was a load of guff and that I have owned the bands more obscure albums and seen them live….and if I really wanted them I could have downloaded the lot.

This has more to do with a misspent youth and early adulthood spent in smoke filled rooms and consequently my status anxiety tends to be more about home ownership…

Its a bit hippy but, there is a Buddhist saying – be humble and you will remain whole.

I hope this kind of fits it with your argument


Alec May 21, 2013 at 6:35 pm

And…Our next door neighbour has a yurt and she meditates in it most nights…comes with renting off Buddhists ‘spose


Charlie East-West May 21, 2013 at 6:47 pm

And that is what a yurt should be used for….


Bobby West May 21, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Interesting piece Charlie but I have to admit I have a bigger grumble, which is people who ‘go off’ particularly bands/music just because it has become popular. Sure i have been guilty of that in the past. I think that is all about misplaced expressions of individualism. It’s just music after all. And I think it is absurd when the same people often like ‘classic’ ie often really popular music, from the past. That people liked it in the past is ok but I’m not sharing my music taste with the masses now….


Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Bobby – is that you? Different email address?


Bobby West May 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Yep, I don’t know my own email for ATL so can only log in on one computer that has it stored!

Ask me question to prove my ID if you like!?


Ray_ North May 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Bobby, what was the name of the landlord of the Lord Cecil?


Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I think you might be a different Bobby. Bobby West – our Bobby West is one of the founding fathers of this website. Go to the ‘who’ section for more details…


Bobby West May 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Honestly I can’t remember Ray! But I know that we had to take cans of beer to the pub to repay him, why you taking beer to the pub…

Happy(ish) days!

Ray, do you have my log in email/password, if so can you send them to my aol address to avoid this situation in the future!


Ray_North May 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I don’t remember his name either – was it Les or Len? I’ll get the administrator to send you your password.


Charlie_East_West May 21, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Now we know it is the real Bobby West rather than the imposter Bobby West – I would like to say that I agree with your points.


Jackie South May 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Bizarrely, I can only remember the landlord’s surname: Clark.

But recalling the words “That’ll be four pints of John Smiths, lads?” In an Irish accent as we walked through the pub door always takes me to a happy place!


Jackie South May 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm

OK, another test: what was the name of the Fifties covers band that payed in the Cecil on Friday nights?


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