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

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Prime Minister David Cameron says his party must not ‘remain neutral’ in the EU membership referendum  

Greece might just have gifted David Cameron with EU referendum success

John Mullin
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most