Let Harry Styles be the people's philosopher

 

Share

If the attractive, accessible and engaging former pop star Brian Cox can persuade millions who have never studied science to watch television series about physics, then could One Direction's ultra-cute Harry Styles, work the same magic for Greek philosophy? Surely there's no such thing as "high" and "low" culture, just good and poor ideas waiting to be discovered. The problem with a lot of publicly funded culture in this country is that it's preaching to the converted, Hampstead talking to Barnes, leaving out the masses. Alain de Botton is a professional egg-head whose books and television programmes use classical thinking to tackle everything from pornography to atheism to architecture to airports. Depending on whether you're a fan, the results can seem pretentiously banal or enlightening and profound. Whatever, they don't generally appeal to the Towie fans.

This unlikely couple ran into each other at a party recently – neither had heard of each other – and got on like a house on fire. Alain told reporters that if Harry went on television and enthused about Proust and Hegel, he would have more impact than anything funded by the Arts Council. The result of this bizarre encounter has led to a world first – a page in The Sun demystifying Greek philosophy for readers. According to Alain, it's not hard to explain Aristotle and Plato to the mass market, it just needs the right messengers. Brian Cox proves he's right. People watch bonkers Boris talking about Latin and the Romans for the same reason. Co-incidentally, Peter Bazalgette, the man who brought a milestone in popular culture to the UK – Big Brother – has just started running Arts Council England.

Every time I go to the National Theatre, I am surrounded by middle-class, middle-aged, mostly white people, enough to get me taking MDMA just to liven things up. The loudest sound is the rustling of the chocolate boxes. When you get a play like Lucy Prebble's The Effect – about drug testing – a subject which would have 100 per cent appeal to young people, it plays to a generation who never take drugs.

Alain noted that Harry "was highly intelligent": a group doesn't sell 14 million singles and make £100m in two years unless the musicians are smart. Harnessing this intelligence and energy to speak to an illiterate and undereducated generation (who read less than they did seven years ago and prefer watching television, according to a survey by the National Literacy Trust) about smart ideas and challenging thinkers is the big challenge Peter Bazalgette needs to tackle.

New research reveals that four out of 10 kids have never been to an art gallery, one in five hasn't visited a museum and one in four hasn't been to the theatre. Bazalgette's predecessor, Liz Forgan, moaned that government ministers were afraid to say they enjoyed the arts because they didn't want to be seen as posh. Sadly, a great deal of the stuff she helped fund is seen as posh by ordinary people – and that's where Alain has hit the nail on the head.

Kraftworship

Entering the turbine hall at Tate Modern for one of the sold-out Kraftwerk performances last week was a bit like attending a mass Moonie wedding or a political rally in North Korea. Rows and rows of worshippers stood motionless, wearing cardboard glasses, facing a distant stage on which four elderly men in tight geometric tops stood expressionless behind identical keyboards. I've never been to an event where the faithful were so muted, so in awe of their gods. Three-quarters of the acolytes were shaven-headed and male, of a certain age. As performance artists, Kraftwerk are magic for about 60 minutes. Some of their films are astonishing, especially "The Robots" and "Autobahn", but others seemed threadbare and dated – dare I say repetitive – to a generation used to fast-cutting visuals. Gradually you lose interest, even though the sound is fantastic.

I'm glad that I went, even though the vocals on this version of "Pocket Calculator" lacked the jolliness and guts of the original. Perhaps the Tate could be a bit braver and put on the other brilliant German showmen, Rammstein, next. Their pyrotechnics would be ace in this space.

Tax leaks

First Starbucks, then Yorkshire Water and a whole gang of our water companies have set up complicated schemes to minimise the tax they pay in the UK. Pressure group Corporate Watch discovered that six UK water companies took huge loans from subsidiaries based overseas on which they paid a high interest rate. The interest payments on these loans set up through the Channel Islands stock exchange were set against profits in the UK and were tax-free. It's legal but mean-spirited when water rates are set to rise again.

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation says that just 1 per cent of the workforce in the UK earns 10 per cent of the total income, creating a small band of super-rich citizens. The growing gap between rich and poor will not be solved by the dumb proposal from Ed Miliband for an annual "mansion tax" on property valued at over £2m. First of all, to implement this tax would require new valuations, which would cost a fortune to administrate. Secondly, why penalise pensioners and the elderly on low or fixed incomes who have seen their homes increase in value as rich foreigners seek bases in London?

The Government should focus on tax avoidance by huge companies, not individuals. We already pay a higher proportion of our salaries in tax than the bosses of the FTSE 100 companies.

Miliband has just shot himself in the foot.

Sorry, Alan

Restaurateur Keith McNally wrote a hilarious piece for Vogue a while back, detailing the ducking and diving he was doing to persuade Richard Caring to fund the London version of his successful New York brasserie Balthazar. This bloke should front a television reality show, he's so entertaining. His baby finally opened this week in Covent Garden, on the old site of the theatre museum.

Keith, ashen-faced and looking like a tramp, greeted customers at the door – and told me he so hated the press release that Caring's people had carefully crafted, he wrote his own version, mentioning his previous establishments like Nell's (where he gave Rose Gray from the River Café a job), as well as his disastrous foray into film-making which ended in divorce. According to Keith, his successful chain of New York restaurants just made his shrink a millionaire – and Richard Caring has been involved on condition that they don't speak.

I was thrilled to be greeted by Alan Bennett on my way to the ladies', which made my evening. But as I left, Keith revealed Alan had immediately complained to him – apparently I wrote something negative about his play People at the National Theatre. But he was polite enough to say hello. Sorry, love.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Upper KS2 Primary Teacher in Bradford

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...

KS1 Float Teacher

£90 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay : Randstad Education Southampton: ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor