Friday, March 04, 2011

Prof Brian Cox: A TV evangelist for the nation's telescope strokers

The monumentally smug Brian Cox has released another fashion book on astronomy. The Wonders of the Universe is a blissful repainting of the universe, a cosmic dye job to make galactic smudges seem coherent, constellations appear pretty. Photogenic diagrams reconstruct astronomical systems for lovers of Lego and Meccano: the universe is nothing but an awesome Cartesian building site that's 93 billion light years wide!

Recycling his old university notes for his fabulously successful series The Wonders of the Solar System (oh, and for the Sun, on which, along with Mystic Meg, he's a regular) has turned him into quite the TV star. It's hard to know whether all this fame has gone to his head because one suspects he's always had the air of a know-all. A hard-geeing northerner geek, with a super trouper centre parting - which by a happy accident is suddenly catwalk fashionable again - Professor Cox disarms us with a smile that rarely leaves his face. When it does, when he's thinking of astrology, for instance, a rather bitter and sulky countenance is glimpsed. Then he looks like a cry baby.

I suspect he has never quite come to terms with the fact that other people are not Professor Brian Cox.

The cover of The Wonders of the Universe is itself a wonder. Thanks to some studio Caravaggio, Brian (or Brain, as we should call him) appears to be the personification of the universe itself: colours have been retouched for a harmonious blending of man and cosmos, as if he were the Crab Nebula come to life. For once he is not smiling, but pensive, if not posing. Is he perhaps absorbed in planning yet another space show for his propagandist mouthpiece, the BBC?

It's a quasi-religious cover. Which is unfortunate given that his adventures in particle physics have left him an atheist; or, a 21st century cliche. If you transplanted the artwork minus the words onto some god-loving pamphlet, you might imagine yet another messiah is among us. In a sense you might imagine right.

As one of his telescope stroking followers writes on Amazon, of the iconic centre parting: 'I'm throwing out my hair gel and getting a nice tortoiseshell comb. God bless you Brian.'

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