In early 2005 a show emerged on Channel 4, from the minds of writers Charlie Brooker & Chris Morris. Nathan Barley was a swipe at a culture that at that time was only starting to raise its head into the public eye, the rise of the hipster.
Nathan is an idiot, a “self-facilitating media node” who travels the streets of Shoreditch on a small child’s BMX loudly proclaiming what is cool & massively insecure that people may think he isn’t. An avid reader of ‘Sugar Ape’ magazine (a brilliant mickey take of VICE), and fan boy of one of its writers Dan Ashcroft. Ashcroft is a writer so embittered & disgusted with the world he sees rising around him, a world he is unwittingly help create by churning out ridiculous and increasingly demeaning articles for his possibly sociopathic boss Jonatton Yeah? in turn earning him the praise of Nathan & his friends as the “Preacher man” a kind of messiah for dickheads. A pre-bond Ben Whishaw plays Nathan’s long suffering stooge Pingu, tortured and humiliated in increasingly horrible ways for Nathan’s own amusement which only magnifies the dislike you feel toward Nathan, point in fact Charlie Brooker originally came up with the Character of Nathan for his TVgohome website as the star of a documentary simply called C**t, says it all really.
It is quite startling watching now just how many people played a role in this show, Julien Barrett, Richard Ayoade, Noel Fielding, Ben Whishaw, Kevin Eldon, Julia Davis, Benedict Cumberbatch, it is quite an impressive role call for a 6 episode Channel 4 comedy.
The show still feels as fresh now as when it was originally aired, mainly down to the fact, as Dan Ashcroft would put it, The idiots won. It is not completely uncommon to see a Nathan-a-like in any town or city, the VICE website putting out story’s that would not look out of place in an issue of Sugar Ape. It is almost as if Brooker & Morris saw all of this coming, the preoccupation of being perceived as cool or liking something before anyone else, no matter how ridiculous, just to stay one foot ahead of the zeitgeist.
Morris had already enjoyed a large amount of success before Nathan Barley even arrived with radio show ‘On the hour’, it’s TV spinoff ‘The Day Today’, courting controversy with ‘Brass Eye’ and then weirding us out with ‘Jam’.
Brooker has become much more of a prominent figure now in popular culture in the decade or more since Nathan Barley first aired, he had a regular column in the Guardian, TV show ‘Newswipe’ and his increasingly popular forays into writing with Big Brother baiting zombie drama ‘Dead Set’ & the brilliant anthology series ‘Black Mirror’ which In of itself showed a degree of topical semi-clairvoyance with the 2011 episode ‘The National Anthem’ which saw a fictional British Prime Minister engaging in an illicit act with a pig.
In hindsight, whether he intended it or not, it isn’t hard to draw parallels with Brooker and his creation, Ashcroft. Both writers who’s output makes one think they have a seemingly low view of the world around them but a world they saw coming or unwittingly helped create? Misanthropic seer or “Preacher man”? You decide.