Forget high art, forget quality, forget innovation and groundbreaking feats of creativity – these are all well and good for the cognoscenti and the metropolitan elite, who devour the latest in Bolivian dubstep while they scour the pages of Hipster Monthly with their felafel-stained fingers; there are some times when we just crave the hackneyed, the gauche, the old-fashioned, ill-conceived and over the top – in other words, we desire that particular quality known as Ham.
In other ways too we sometimes look for quality – we eschew the Tesco 'no frills' beer and go instead for real ale; we scoff at the £4 Bulgarian red and go instead for something more sophisticated; we want the low-fat designer gourmet cake and not the tub of bargain biscuits. This is all well and good. But again, sometimes we go with our (beer) gut instinct and just go for the Ham.
What is Ham? A Ham in the singular is the histrionic, old-fashioned actor with no subtlety - all exaggerated emotion and lack of guile. But as a quality it represents something ersatz, olde-tyme, flat-footed, kitsch, camp, serious but undercooked and endearingly ridiculous. And in the alternative music scenes it is represented with several motifs – Satan, vampires, coffins, crosses, windswept moors, monsters, demons, witches, and mansions, all delivered with a theatrical pseudo-sincerity (darling).
Some examples? Well, Black Sabbath's 'Headless Cross' is the Citizen Kane of Ham – songs about devils, spiritual planes, 'witches and kings & demons with wings' and assorted cod-horror claptrap all served up in the hard rock equivalent of a full English breakfast. The Vincent Price-narrated intro to Iron Maiden's 'Number of the Beast' is a great example too. Anything by King Diamond, Ozzy Osborne or Screaming Lord Sutch is pure Ham. The Damned have a thick strain of Ham in their DNA. Candlemass have the greatest depository of Ham in the known world. Plus, of course, the video for 'Witchfinder General' by Cathedral is the visual zenith of Ham.
In other spheres, the whole genre of 20th century horror up until the post-modern era is Ham. 'Dracula'? Ham. 'The Devil Rides Out'? Ham. 'The Masque of the Red Death'? Ham. 'Day of the Dead'? Ah, that's too clever to be Ham. But even attempts to make a clever modern version of Ham, such as 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' or the Blade movies, are still simply Ham in extremis.
Every vampire-themed piece of tat bought from Whitby or Romania is a pure piece of Ham. Novelty household goods of a horror theme that were made in the 70s that you find at car boot sales are the equivalent of archeological findings of Ham. And everything on the Horror Channel is Ham.
Why is Ham important? Well, if we are to put aside all notions of cultural progress, historical advance, ideology and other forms of controlling narratives then all culture becomes just a large finger-buffet of ideas – a mix & match world of old and new and the infinite number of juxtapositions between. Sometimes we want the gourmet gateaux or the well-crafted blend of herbs – which is fine, of course. But other times we want the cultural equivalent of cheese on a stick, or a ham & pickle sandwich. That, dear readers, is the (Tesco) value of Ham.
So the next you go out for cultural nourishment, don't go to the art gallery – go to a B-movie showing, or your nearest horror-themed eatery. Surrender to the Ham. I have seen the future, and it is of the purest Ham!