David Mitchell is one of the funniest people in Britain today – and very smart with it. His TV projects (Peep Show, Mitchell and Webb) and his now-established role as default panellist for radio and TV panel games (HIGNFY, News Quiz, Would I Lie to You?) have helped to build a comic persona very English in its essentials: self-concious and awkward, but possessing a logic of argument that never fails to reveal the absurdity of whatever he’s dealing with.
Generally, Mitchell’s Observer column is just funny: occasionally it contains some much deeper insights. This week, his column describes why his records collection contains just two titles (Phil Collins But Seriously… and Susan Boyle‘s new album), and he posits a piercing summation of why we buy things:
These purchases… aren’t about taste, they’re about identity. We flatter ourselves that we buy things based on our judgment of quality and price, but that’s a secondary factor. Fundamentally we buy the sort of things that feel appropriate, based on the class we come from, the groups we aspire to be part of, or the opinions we find attractive.
Our purchases are tribal, neo-religious signifiers.
And, for those who haven’t seen it, possibly the best Mitchell and Webb sketch, ever, which deals with tribal signifiers in its own way. (Warning: contains Nazis):