WHEN despot Kim Jong-il popped his tyrannical clogs the entire people of North Korea melted into a quivering mass of hysterical bawling.
Considering Kim’s contempt for his citizens was surpassed only by his thirst for liquor and pornography, it seemed odd that his passing was lamented.
You don’t normally thank someone who steals your food and DVDs, leaving you to starve in boredom. People appeared to mourn because someone off camera was once again yanking the reins of oppression.
As I sat at home having a pleasantly uneventful New Year’s Eve with a few friends and relatives, I thought: “There’ll be lots of people out tonight and they will be forced to have ‘fun’.”
They won’t be sent to forced labour camps in the North Korean mountains for failing to put on a convincing smile, but many will be bored, tired, and irritated. And having spent copious amounts of money some will feel an obligation to ‘enjoy’ themselves. Others will wish they’d stayed at home.
The mood of enforced fun on such occasions as New Year’s Eve bears an uncanny similarity to the forced atmosphere of mourning when one of the world’s most evil men died.
There is a type of ‘fun’, which must be achieved at all costs, including actual enjoyment, and New Year’s Eves (NYEs) are usually the epitome of this enforced fun.
I’ve had a handful of NYEs which were moderately enjoyable, but just as many were averagely rubbish or spirit-crushingly pants.
One of my worst NYEs straddled 1997 and 1998. I’d paid £25 to go to a dance music festival at Granada Studios, in Manchester. Half of my school year was going and that should have been a warning.
I wasn’t keen on half of my fellow pupils and some I positively detested. But most of my best friends were going and the only other option was staying at home and crying.
As it soon transpired, one of my chums would spend the entire night unsociably reclining on his soon-to-be girlfriend’s lap. Another mate would have yet another domestic with his sociopathic girlfriend.
Despite trying to convince myself otherwise, I hated dance music. I still do. It’s pretty sad when a genre of music is best appreciated amidst a vortex of speed, ecstasy and cocaine. I wasn’t on any of those and so I spent the night wandering around like a lost – and sober – dog.
I’m pretty convinced that people drink or drug themselves into oblivion on New Year’s Eve to avoid pondering on how disappointed they are with the party, and sometimes, their own lives. Sometimes I think enforced fun acts as safety device to stop unsatisfied souls from tottering into a nervous breakdown.
Anyway... at about 2am having had a spectacularly miserable time thus far, I declared to a friend: “I’ve come here to enjoy myself and that’s what I’m going to do.”
What a pile of optimistic, self-delusional cobblers that was. It may have fooled my pal, but it left a hollow feeling inside me. It reminds me of people who take far too many photos of themselves and their pals to post on Facebook the next day. The grimaces of apparent enjoyment are held just long enough for the camera shutter to close.
The idea is to show other people what a great time they’ve had as if it’s some form of competitive enjoyment. Occasionally someone’s face slips on camera betraying the dire time they’re really having and you feel a perverse sense of satisfaction.
North Korea has a huge army and secret police force to coerce its people into whatever mood suits the generals that week.
NYE and office parties have their own fun enforcers – a kind of mood police who cast scorn or maniacal enthusiasm over anyone who appears to be party pooping.
I mean what couldn’t be fun about middle-aged men and women dressed as schoolchildren? That’s not at all creepy. What’s not to like about hearing Timmy Mallett’s novelty pop hits blasting from a cheap, tinny stereo? How could that possibly be irritating? No, it’s FUN and you WILL enjoy yourselves or you’ll face severe punishment, like being sent to the kitchen to reload the cake tray.
All this happened (well, most of it) on a ‘back to school fun day’ while I was working in the soul sapping confines of a bank’s admin department.
Then there’s nationally enforced fun. BBC Comic Relief is without doubt a great cause but as laughs go, Remembrance Sunday has more (i.e. none). Sorry, but I demand more from my comedy than newsreaders wearing silly clothes.
So you can call me a misery-guts, a killjoy, and a stick-in-the-mud if you like. But I know how to enjoy myself because I don’t let anyone dictate my entertainment agenda – and I don’t live in North Korea.