Why give the young such a bad rap?

A short video explaining WW1 by the BBC suggests that the cultural establishment doesn't quite understand young people
  • @davidlister1

Well, in the mass of material about the First World War, this is at least different. The BBC has commissioned a five-minute film presenting the causes of the war as a rap battle acted out by the main players in Europe at the time.

Take a look on YouTube and you will see such incidents as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (below), with the gun-toting assassin smirking as he says: “Yo, your fatty Franz Ferdinand... popped a cap in his ass.”

It might not have been quite what Lord Reith had in mind in his mission to educate, inform and entertain, but it has made an impression on the Government. Arts minister Ed Vaizey cited it in his weekly email about the arts, calling it “an effort to educate younger audiences about the causes of WWI”.

Yes, and it’s mildly funny, though in a borderline distasteful way, considering the conflict that followed. Inevitably, as when older people try to mimic the style of the young, the BBC comes up with an unlikely blend of rap lyrics, getting in the required “shit” and “bitch” but also rapping somewhat high-handedly about “your collective demise”. Equally inevitably, the writers couldn’t resist the oldest joke in the world: “I’ll kick you in the Balkans.”

But the serious aspect of the BBC’s attempt to get down with the kids is that it is yet another example of an increasingly common trend – the cultural establishment underestimating the young. Does the BBC really think that, because young music fans like rap, they are not able to appreciate a serious take on history, and that history will only work for teenagers in rap format? Aren’t those in senior management at the BBC able to remember when they could both love pop music and be keen to learn about history? As multi-tasking goes, it’s not the most difficult example.

The other day I was on a radio programme with the brilliant theatre director Jamie Lloyd. But even he, discussing his graphic splattering of some of the audience with blood in his new production of Richard III, said that young people would like it because “they go to theme parks and play video games”. They do indeed, but they also take A-levels and read English at university.

Young people. Why is it that these two words seem to send the cultural establishment into paroxysms of fear? It has a fear that it might be aiming above their heads, a fear that it is not putting art on a level with other youthful, recreational pastimes. But, these are needless fears. And it does the young a disservice to underestimate their cultural tastes. It’s actually a seamless move from listening to rap to studying serious history.

The Bristol Old Vic knows how to make theatre relevant to contemporary events. It has been staging the play World Cup Final 1966, while the 2014 tournament has been on in Brazil.

The play looks at some of the quirky and human stories of the tournament 48 years ago, including the pain of the star striker who was dropped well before the final. On the ball? Showing that theatre knows more about sport than is often reckoned? Well, almost. Memo to Bristol Old Vic. The globally famous England star striker dropped during the 1966 World Cup was Jimmy Greaves, not, as your programme informs audiences, Jimmy Grieves.

The biggest Arts Council funding loser

There were winners and losers in the annual round of Arts Council grants announced last week, but something particularly odd about one of the biggest losers, the English National Opera.

The ENO, a company actually on top form in my opinion, had its grant cut by a whopping 29 per cent. The odd thing is that the Arts Council statement said the company “has struggled to reach box office targets and to achieve long-term stability”. That statement was approved by the Arts Council chairman Peter Bazalgette. It must make painful reading for the man who chaired the ENO in recent years when it apparently failed so dismally to achieve box-office targets and financial stability. That man too was Peter Bazalgette. I hope Mr Bazalgette has given himself a jolly good talking to.