That subtle sensation of dissatisfaction. A compulsion to remonstrate against an unacceptable slight on your expectations.
The consideration of how best to articulate your displeasure. The selection of the right ‘big word’ to firmly assert your authority.
The millisecond-pause for hesitation before unleashing righteous hell. The resulting verbal or, depending on circumstance, physical sparring.
The spoils of victory. Or the agonising misery of defeat. Or, worse still, the laborious cycle of increasingly narky correspondence.
Yes, complaining really is a thrill-ride of emotion, well worthy of its place as one of the nation’s favourite pastimes (just behind ‘talking incessantly about the weather’ and ‘blaming poor people for all of society’s ills’).
UK media is fond of all these national pursuits, but it is complaint culture coverage that’s beginning to take centre-stage in our newspapers. Expect 2011 to be The Year of the Official Whinge.
In the space of the last two months, our media has been caught up in a vortex of complaints.
The usual procedure goes like this:
Something appears on TV. Four people in Cheltenham disapprove. A newspaper picks up on this ‘offence’, then flagrantly exaggerates the scale of the offence caused.
The melodramatic news coverage incites easily incensed readers to join the list of original complainants, regardless of whether they’d witnessed the offensive material firsthand. Increased complaints lead to further fascinating news insight into how many people had been offended.
This silly tsunami of offensive material is rarely that offensive. What’s changed, in recent times, is how easy it is to complain about such material.
In years gone by, if Eric Morecambe had sworn at Angela Rippon, or Dixon of Dock Green had grittily tackled the child trafficking of gingers, the process of registering your displeasure with such atrocities was painstaking.
Finding a pen? And paper? At least you didn’t have to get an envelope t…oh my God, you DID need an envelope? COULD THIS BE ANY MORE PRIMITIVE?
All that, even before you found the precursor to Ofcom in Ye Olde Yellow Pages.
These days, it’s a cinch. Check your wi-fi, click on your Ofcom ‘Kneejerk Reaction’ bookmark, type a short missive about the mortal agony your television has put you through, hit ‘send’ – hey presto, you’ve moaned 21st Century-style before the credits have had time to roll.
Advancements in communication means there’s no thinking time any more, no ‘cooling-off’ period.
Even if you do take a rational approach to what’s on screen or in print, our ever-histrionic media will remind you that you’re deeply misguided and inadvertently contributing to the erosion of foundations holding firm everything that has ever mattered.
The more susceptible members of our nation, who probably still think Al-Jazeera is a terrorist cell, get sucked in by the fulminating newsprint and add their names obligingly to the burgeoning lists.
Last month, Frankie Boyle’s Channel Four programme Tramadol Nights fell victim to this phenomenon – recently it’s been Eastenders with its cot-death/baby swap story.
My favourite example involved The X-Factor final, the most watched TV show of 2010. As you’d expect, the big guns were pulled out for the end-of-season-spectacular.