Saturday, 7 June 2014

Sajid Javid's Big Statement

Sajid Javid MP has made his first public statement since becoming Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports. Even before he started, Javid was attacked in terms that bordered on racist. No  party has a monopoly on virtue. In any case, traditional political stereotypes have been toast for forty years. So it's important to read what Javid actually says, as opposed to what others think he says. The most detailed verbatim report is HERE.  Perhaps it says much about the level of arts coverage in this country that the best analysis comes from a political correspondent, not an arts luvvie. Better a Minister for Culture who is honest than one who pretends to be artsy.

"For a bus driver's son, the idea of popping along to the Donmar Warehouse – or even the Bristol Old Vic – to take in a cutting-edge new production was simply not on the agenda. It wasn't what people like me, people from my background did," said Javid, who has elaborated on his thinking in an interview with Mark Lawson for the Guardian. "As a youngster, the closest I ever came to the creative industries was when the careers adviser at Downend comprehensive told me I should work in television – repairing them at Radio Rentals." 

"And while 14% of the UK's population is non-white, BME applicants were awarded just 5.5% of Grants for the Arts awards last year. Why is this? Are BME people simply less artistic, less talented? Of course not." Javid said this mattered because culture was more than a privilege: "If you are not engaged with our cultural life, you're not engaged with our national life. Too many Britons are culturally disenfranchised."

It would be wrong, I think, to cut funding from classical music to fund, say, grime or hiphop, just to be politically correct. Some genres thrive because they're alternative, and free of government interference.  Similarly, it's a mistake to dumb down classical music to make it somehow more accessible. Dumbing down implies that the audiences being targetted are inferior, incapable of being civilized.  Read my article "End the Missionary Position in Classical Music"

The root of the problem lies in society, not in the arts. In countries like China, South Korea and Japan the arts are honoured because they are intangible assets.. In ancient China, peasants might not be able to read, but they knew that the pursuit of knowledge was worthwhile. The arts cannot be valued in simple terms of mass appeal. They represent the ideals and dreams that drive civilization. Of course terrible things happen, even in civilized societies. A society that derides culture descends into barbarism. Goebbels (who invented modern mass media) supposedly said, "When I hear the word Kultur, I reach for my gun".

Unfortunately we do live in a world where people are judged by the colour of their skin and by how much money they have to spend. It's hard enough to break past barriers like that without having to deal with white middle class assumptions of superiority. All people have the potential to make something of their lives whichever way they want to. There's no reason why ethnic minorities or people without money (not necessarily the same thing) shouldn't listen to classical music. But neither should they "have" to.  Everyone in Britain is part of a wider artistic culture, since the western classical music tradition reaches the world over. In hard-headed business terms. supporting that tradition is good for Britain, and for Britons whoever they are.

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