Letter from the Arts Editor: Why the term 'bonus' galls

  • @davidlister1


It’s tempting to wonder if banks giving bonuses to senior staff (see page 40) while making losses and axeing the jobs of more junior employees really are unaware of the hostility this will arouse in the public, or if, like the child in the poem, they only do it to annoy.

Ah, they say in supposed justification, they need to pay bonuses to attract the best people in a globally competitive market. Fine, then pay them good, even extremely good, salaries. It is not, in my view, the sum of money these people earn that provokes such visceral feelings of irritation (and injustice), but the word bonus. Why pay anyone an extra sum on top of their salary for doing a good job? Isn’t that what they are meant to do?

And don’t assume it is just bankers who get bonuses. Even in the more rarefied area of the arts, bonuses are becoming more common, if just as puzzling. It was recently revealed that some of our top art gallery directors receive bonuses (rarely publicly acknowledged, mind) for fund-raising. Here again, fund-raising is part of the job. Why an extra reward for fulfilling the job description?

If, in the banks and beyond, they realised that it is not a high salary but the word “bonus” that annoys, they would be on the road to gaining public tolerance and support.

* * * * *

The weekend papers have been full of articles about the era of the “selfie”. Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscars selfie ( so popular it caused  Twitter to crash), now followed by Nick Clegg’s at the Lib Dems’ conference (unlikely to cause Twitter to crash), have had pundits pondering the ubiquity of the selfie.

Happily, I can plead not guilty to selfie narcissism. Never keen on seeing myself, I have yet to take a single selfie. And yet I’m conscious of a clear contradiction. What is a newspaper column (with a photo at the top as well) other than a verbal selfie? Perhaps we all have an inner narcissism.