Tom Sutcliffe: A statue to Jade isn't a bad idea

The Week In Culture
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When the knee had subsided, though, I found that it didn't seem such a bad idea after all. I won't be subscribing money myself, but as I tried to rationalise what was an essentially snobbish impulse I found my arguments falling apart in my hands. Take the question of recognition, for example, a word that shimmers a little oddly when used in this context. A statue is a form of public recognition, its true, and with that comes the sense that something recognisable has to have been achieved – whether it's a military victory or the discovery of some medical cure. But, in reality, the vast majority of those we recognise in bronze are unrecognisable to nearly everyone. For every Charlie Chaplin or Nelson Mandela there are 10 honorees who are simply strangers on podiums. And if that isn't true when on the day they're unveiled it becomes true with remarkable speed. I doubt that one in a 1,000 of us could put a name to the statues that line Whitehall, say, without the help of the inscriptions beneath. So, although Jade Goody was an undistinguished celebrity, rather than a distinguished nonentity, it'll all be one in 50 years. And for the moment at least recognition wouldn't be a problem at all. Unless the sculpture was particularly terrible (and atrocities have been committed) it would need no introduction.

The second issue is what such a statue would be in a 100 years, rather than tomorrow. What part it might play, in other words, in that odd, mostly ignored population of bronze and stone people which with we share the streets? By then, I take it, nobody will have a clue who Jade is and this object will have become one of the city's curiosities. But what an intriguing and curious one it will be. Instead of yet another politician or general, instead of yet another man, there will be this girl – not exceptionally beautiful, and, as the inscription or guide-book may make clear, not exceptionally anything else either. But acknowledgement, all the same, that there is life outside of signal achievement (which is, let's face it, where most of us have to spend our lives). It might be a statue of Jade Goody for the next 10 years, and possibly the 10 after that, but eventually it would be a statue of the Unknown Civilian. And it would – far more vividly than most statues do – tell posterity something about us in general and what stirred our emotions. I'm not sure a social history of the last 10 years would wholly tell the truth about Britain without Jade Goody getting a good few pages, so a statue doesn't really seem improper. And after that people can start lobbying for the entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

You're having a laugh

I went to see Athol Fugard's Dimetos the other day, an intriguing attempt at grow-your-own classical tragedy that begins with one of contemporary theatre's trickier staging problems – a scene in which a young girl helps to winch a horse out of a well-shaft. Douglas Hodge did it rather brilliantly but then, unfortunately, the script requires the girl to laugh joyously and uninhibitedly on making it back to the surface – in a way that I take it is supposed to be a jubilant celebration of the success of the operation – but which actually simply makes you grit your teeth miserably until it's over. Is there anything more excruciating than stage laughter or any element of human behaviour that is more difficult to simulate convincingly? Tears are an absolute doddle by comparison, since the right kind of introspection can often generate the real thing in an actor (I really loved that cat), and audiences (for some reason) then catch the mood as well. But stage laughter is nearly always transparently fake (unless the actors are corpsing and thus out of character) and results only in embarrassment. I've laughed helplessly in the theatre when the characters on stage have all had straight faces, but I can't think of a single occasion when laughter on stage has provoked a genuine echo in the auditorium, rather than squirming embarrassment.

A nice surprise for fans of the US avant-garde on Wednesday with the news that iTunes were offering the first movement of John Cage's celebrated 4' 33" as their free Discovery Download. It was sadly, only available through the US website, and the remaining two movements had to be paid for. Clearly Apple had an eye on the calendar in making this announcement, but it's slightly surprising to discover that British fans can download Cage's ne plus ultra of conceptual minimalism, which consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence, broken up into three distinct movements. It'll cost you £1.99 for the entire album, though mysteriously if you add up the track timings on iTunes two seconds appear to have gone astray somewhere. I don't think trade has been brisk: "We have not received enough ratings to display an average for this album" the entry said when I visited it, a lamentable indifference to one of the 20th century's more bold compositions.