Pay now or pay later, there's no escape

Bad economic news will be par for the course for the West from now on. A good thing we can rely on artists and writers for diversion

Share
Related Topics

It's a mark of the peculiar times we inhabit that what, 10 years ago, would have passed for unequivocally "bad" economic news can now be regarded in a much more ambivalent light.

Take, for example, last week's three major economic stories. The first was the revelation that, with the nation's network of power stations continuing to diminish, we face an "energy dark age" of gas imports and rising prices. The second is that European car manufacturing is in sharp decline, with an 8.7 per cent drop in volume sales in the past year.

To this, in the wake of the food- labelling scandal, can be added widespread warnings that the diner who wants to eat proper food, without peril to his health or his sensitivities, would be better obtaining it from a more transparent supply chain and, inevitably, paying more money for it. To the kind of uber-consumer who believes that the freedom to drive a car, switch on the central heating whenever you feel like it and snack off cut-price beef-burgers at eight to the £1 packet is a fundamental human right, all this is a well-nigh apocalyptic reversal of the assumptions on which most post-war Western life has been based.

Leaving aside the economic consequences for a moment, in favour of some of the environmental and even moral implications, surely this is a good thing? There are already too many cars in the world and not enough petrol: what could be better than a world in which fewer vehicles emerge on to the highways each year? Gas is a finite resource and eventually we are going to have to use less of it and pay more for the privilege. Why not start now? As for "cheap food", if everyone paid a decent price for it – a price that would also adequately remunerate some of the people who produce it, many of them in the developing world – then perhaps they wouldn't throw so much of it away?

The difficulty with this puritanical line, of course, is that it would make the lives of the poor and elderly, for whom beef- or horseburgers at £1 a packet are a necessity, even less sustainable. But Mr and Mrs Bourgeois having to think twice before turning on the radiators on a mild spring afternoon would be progress of a sort.

...

It is always amusing to watch the tidal wave of advance publicity that precedes the release of a film by Lars von Trier, and Nymphomaniac has been no exception. The darling work has yet to preview at the forthcoming Cannes film festival, yet already we have been treated to a blizzard of press coverage. The female lead, Stacy Martin, has spoken cheerfully of her "porn double" and the various hard- and softcore formats in which the film is to appear, while the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard has expressed the opinion that, although sexually explicit, it will be "a very bad wanking movie".

All this is very funny, but the question remains: why does Von Trier persist with this kind of thing? One of the answers, you suspect, is that, like many an avant-garde cineaste before him, he is still exercised by the need to épater les bourgeois. And yet one of the great aesthetic developments of the past decade or so, all the evidence insists, is the resolute unshockability of the middle-class audience. One notices this even in the world of light literature. I was once present at a literary festival when the novelist Paul Bailey, no doubt bent on mischief, read an incendiary passage in which plunging male members rorted all over the bedclothes. Two elderly ladies fell asleep, while a third remarked, in tones that she would have used to upbraid an ingrate grandchild, "Why does he always have to go on about willies?"

It was G H Lewes, a century and a half ago, who pointed out that anything which strains for effect can never be truly effective. To suggest that innovative art nearly always works by taking a conventional setting and twisting it slightly out of kilter would perhaps be overstating the case. On the other hand, if Von Trier decided to make a drawing-room comedy, it would probably be rather interesting.

...

If one good thing emerged out of the row involving Hilary Mantel's comments on the Duchess of Cambridge, it was the reminder of quite how low standards of public debate have sunk, particularly standards of debate about the Royal Family. Given that he was abroad and had probably had only a garbled account of Mantel's lecture, the Prime Minister's response was understandable, but Ed Miliband's simulated outrage will have made anyone who read the text printed in the London Review of Books cringe.

Depressing as these reactions undoubtedly are, there is also a hint that we have moved on just slightly from the atmosphere of the late 1950s, in which the mildest expression of anti-monarchical sentiment inspired a punitive frenzy. After all, Malcolm Muggeridge was banned from the BBC in 1957 on the strength of a two-year-old New Statesman article, while Lord Altrincham, who had ventured some critical remarks about the monarchy being hidebound and complacent, was slapped in the face by an enraged League of Empire Loyalist. As far as we know, Hilary Mantel still stalks the promenades of Budleigh Salterton unmolested.

React Now

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

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No menu! Dining doesn't get posher than this

Dom Joly
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
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
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution