David Lister: We've looked back in nostalgia: now the arts can look forward in anger
The week in arts
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Saturday 09 June 2012
Two sides of British culture, and two slices of British life, were at play this week. While the cream of British pop – and refreshingly some British classical – appeared before the Queen, and radiated happiness, a mile or two away at the theatre there were some searching questions being asked about getting on with the business of living and making a living in Britain today.
At the Royal Court, the excellent Love Love Love looks at the tension between the baby boomers and their offspring. In the West End Posh looks at a privileged generation, running amok at Oxbridge and, it mischievously implies, now running the country. And, at the Soho theatre, the 27-year-old playwright Ella Hickson's new play Boys tackles the generation of university students with few employment prospects. Ms Hickson has said: "Our working lives will be longer than our parents'. Our pensions will be smaller. We will never afford the houses we grew up in. We've lived the best years of our lives."
I dispute the assertion currently being made on the British stage that all those under 30 are lost and without prospects, while the baby boomers live a life of selfish abandon, an unending round of holidays, second homes, massive pensions, and never a mortgage in sight. It's not quite that simple. There are successes and casualties on both sides of the age divide. But the generation growing up or coming out of college with diminishing prospects, and in some cases resentment of their elders, is proper fodder to be explored by artists, and I salute the new generation of playwrights for rising to that challenge.
Art is often at its best when dealing with anger. This week was quite rightly celebratory: it quite rightly showcased the top British performers, whose job for the Jubilee was to make us proud and cheerful. But now that the celebrations are over, it is just as valid to look to art to express anger, and to explore the anger of a generation that feels itself short-changed. And it needs to go beyond the stage. Film, TV and music also need to engage with the frustrations of the moment. Why is there such a paucity of protest in rock music, why such a failure by young rock musicians to engage with and reflect the anxieties of their own generation?
Now that a rather splendid party is over, and now that the world has acknowledged, once again, the greatness of Britain's best-known performers, the generation below, or maybe the one below that, can bring politics back into art forms that seem to have forgotten politics.
Why is TV so scared of exposing itself?
I wondered on this page the other week why TV loves fly-on-the-wall documentaries about arts institutions, but shies away from fly-on-the-wall documentaries about TV. Just a peek inside an arts programming meeting at BBC or Channel 4 would be illuminating. I couldn't think what the TV executives were afraid of. Surely they're not embarrassed about discussing in public questions like salaries or the lack of plays on the box.
Anyway, I'm grateful to Phil Grabsky, the top TV arts documentary-maker, with films on Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, who informs me that he tried on several occasions to make just such a "behind the scenes at TV" documentary.
He says: "I was once asked by the then head of Factual at Channel 4 what I'd like to do next: 'make a film inside C4,' I replied. 'Not a chance in hell', he replied. A few years later, the same conversation happened with three different controllers of BBC2. I always replied 'I'd like to make a film series inside the BBC,' and they always laughed me off and said, in essence, no chance! I actually think it is beyond funny; I think it's outrageous – what are they so scared of?" Precisely. Perhaps they will tell us.
Great gig, shame there weren't any surprises
One thing bothered me about the Diamond Jubilee pop concert, even more than the uniformly poor jokes by the comedian presenters, even more than Peter Kay managing to give Paul McCartney John Lennon's middle name when he introduced him. I was more concerned that the various acts all seem to have revealed several days beforehand what they would be singing, and the list of songs was duly reported in the papers before the actual event.
To me this is tantamount to revealing the plot of a play before it is staged. One of the pleasures of a rock gig is the surprise of an unexpected favourite song being played. One only has to hear the roar at a gig when this happens to know how exciting it can be. Why spoil it all in advance? A good gig should have its own drama. Leave the reporting of the numbers played until after the event, and let the audience enjoy the surprises.
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