Andrew Tettenborn: Are you a minority? Allow the Left to patronise you

What should people do if they find a successful UK industry with rather good results? Easy: complain about class and diversity, and demand greatly increased bullying by government and its quangos. Witness last Thursday’s glossy Labour Party report (entitled "Acting Up") on the UK performing arts, fronted by ex-model Gloria de Piero and one-time Coronation Street worthy Tracy Brabin, both now semi-celebrity northern Labour MPs. It’s a tedious document, complete with references to left-wing academic journal articles talking about well-known phenomena such as “recycling familiar stereotypes which are embedded in racialised and classed systems of value and oppression”, not to mention “how the practices and structures of cultural production inform and direct how difference is represented and thus consumed and understood by audiences and ‘publics’” (you couldn’t make it up). The whole thing is well-adapted to make our television and theatre sink gently into a bubbling slough of PC, box-ticking boringness.

Performing arts participants must, we learn, “look like the country”. This means – you got it – a representative congeries of workers’ children, blacks, northerners, the disabled and those of all sexualities and gender identities. You see, if people from working class backgrounds, people with disabilities, or LGBT people can’t see themselves on screen or stage, they won’t aspire to be there. Really? Some TCW readers might naively think a good performer embraced his character, rather than signalling to the audience that he personally was gay, gender-fluid, or working-class, so that someone similar in the audience could see this, note it down, and promptly become stage-struck. But the personalities who wrote this report clearly know better.

Drama schools get it in the neck. Students are admitted, someone complains, on subjective perceptions of artistic talent (I’m not sure how else you should admit them, but I bow to superior knowledge). Once in, they are – horror! – sometimes asked to play stereotyped parts, or, even worse, to suppress regional accents. It’s not clear what we should make of this. Unless Labour thinks all stereotyped dramatic characters must be suppressed in some Corbynite purge, somebody has to play them: and if there’s a part for a cheerful Cockney barmaid, what’s wrong with asking a cheerful Cockney, who probably moonlights in a bar anyway, to take it? As for regional accents, suppression of your natural modes of speech is a necessary trick of the trade. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather not have a 1930s upper-class Londoner played by someone sounding like a hairdresser from Bootle (or, for that matter, vice versa).

The solution? It’s vague on the details, but it seems to be regulation (as with Ofcom and the BBC – see here), with targets for diversity front and back stage. Drama school staff need training in unconscious bias avoidance. It should be illegal to discriminate directly or indirectly on the basis of socio-economic backgrounds. We need compulsory data collection by all drama schools, public and private on race, age, sexuality, etc. And of course, I forgot: we need more diversity in all drama school staff – presumably on the usual patronising basis that black or LGBT staff are more likely to admit black or LBGT students, and that the latter are so stupid that they’ll accept a comment from the former which they wouldn’t take from an upper-class white.

What about the audience? We don’t hear much about them or their wants, even though they’re the people who have to be persuaded to watch the output of the performing arts industry and pay whatever the State can’t be persuaded to cough up by way of subsidy to keep the whole thing going. But there is a bit. Reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht’s quip “Wouldn't it be simpler if the government dissolved the people and elected another?” there is a suggestion that theatre audiences are too middle-class and must be made more representative:“standing tickets at the Globe and the tables in music halls,” we are told, “were packed with people from ordinary backgrounds.”

Whether these proposals will reproduce this populism of old is unknown. Lots of stuff about ordinary working-class folk in Midlands housing estates might bring workers in Midlands housing estates flocking. On the other hand they might actually prefer the enjoyable escapism of Emmerdale or Downton Abbey, or the thoroughly demotic amusement of TV game-shows: something less attractive to these representatives of precious leftish luvviedom.

In any case there’s another optimistic suggestion about audience power. Remember #OscarsSoWhite in the Twittersphere? Once information on diversity in entertainment is public, New Model Audiences will, it is earnestly suggested, rise up and spontaneously demand representative, diversity-equipped theatre, TV and film. Now there’s an idea for an Islington conversation. “We’re giving King Lear at the RSC a miss: we looked up the RSC figure for LGBT+ actors and it’s awful. We’re just off to this fantastic new celebration of Venezuelan gender-fluid urban culture in Peckham Rye. Share a taxi, darling?”

(Image: Julian Stallabrass)

Andrew Tettenborn

  • paul parmenter

    Clearly audiences must also contain plenty of people who don’t like watching performing arts. It’s the only way to make them “authentic”.

    • Labour_is_bunk

      Then if the audience gets a bit miffed and starts the rotten-tomato routine, I suppose they’ll be arrested and “re-educated”.

  • Uusikaupunki

    We are already seeing the results as in: Margaret of Anjou and a Norman “advisor” both cast as black. I expect there would be howls of outrage should a white actor nowadays dare to play “Othello” though….

    • guestwho2

      There are corresponding howls of outrage now that James Bond (as in white/male/Cambridge-educated as his author explicitly specified) is not now a female, an ethnic minority or other non-canonical sort.

  • Labour_is_bunk

    Excellent article.
    The Sovietisation of our media continues apace.
    I don’t mean to be rude, but I would wager Ms Brabin doesn’t understand most of the document content – the key word here is “fronted”. Then again, neither do most of us if the sample quotes are anything to go by.
    I’ll at least give her a crumb of credit for putting her money where her mouth is as an MP, even if we disagree with her. That’s a step up from carping from the sidelines like that Peake woman and Charlie Church indulge in.

  • Colkitto03

    Actually the UK performing arts does have a massive problem. Its called nepotism, and its rife.
    This is on stage and off. In front of the camera and behind it.
    It also has a complete lack of ideological diversity. Drawing its community from the liberal left.
    The sector also abuses internships and pays minimal wages (if any sometimes) This ensures that the sons and daughters of the wealthly upper and middle classes get preference.

    Remember also that of the 90 top paid stars on the BBC wage list, half of them went to public school. Only a few years ago we saw Eton-educated Eddie Redmayne (a classmate of Prince William) and Harrow-educated Benedict Cumberbatch, both in the running for the best actor Oscar in the same year

    • Coniston

      And most of the Guardian’s columnists seem to have gone to private schools. See: https://order-order.com/2017/08/07/ellie-maes-private-school-quota-would-sack-her-own-newsroom/
      I think the BBC is the same. Perhaps we should ban all private schools?

      • Hayekian

        why not just ban the Guardian and the BBC?

        • nanumaga

          Not likely, nor would this be a good move in a democracy. However, The Guardian is doing a good job of bankrupting itself and the BBC will, eventually, lose its poll tax revenue. As Woodrow Wilson said ‘Never murder a man when he’s busy committing suicide.’.

          • Hayekian

            My comment was in jest… I’m no totalitarian … that’s why I don’t like the BBC or the Guardian (though I hope you are right about both).

          • nanumaga

            Fully understood. I suspect that the core support for the BBC’s Licence Fee is weakening and that, given its inability to reform itself being on a par with the NHS to do the same, there will be a point within the next 10 years when rational proposals for both may be considered and adopted.

      • Colkitto03

        You know, there may be something in that.

  • richardofkent

    The arts will be colour blind the moment that Martin Luther King is played by a white man. Until then it seems that the only culture that is not accurately represented is the western white one !

    • Little Black Censored

      Olivier was brilliant as Othello (am I allowed to say that?)

      • R.Celica

        No.

      • Muttley

        No. It was cultural appropriation at its worst (or best – not sure which)!

  • Owen_Morgan

    I heard a story once, said to be about the late Sir John Gielgud. After hearing a “method actor” describe how he would jump through hoops to get himself ready for a role, Sir John, bewildered, asked, “Dear boy, why don’t you act?”

    As for the people attending the Globe and Victorian music halls, they attended what attracted them and what they could afford. Regarding the former, in Jacobean times, a visitor to Southwark could choose between a couple of theatres and the bear-baiting. All three would have been beyond the reach of a lot of Londoners. They had to pay for access to the theatre, or the animal ring, but they also had to pay to get across the Thames in the first place and then to get back again.

    Although Victorian poverty would still seem extraordinary to our eyes, there were far more people able to find the pennies necessary to visit one of the music halls. All the same, the folks who attended the music halls weren’t, in all probability, attending all that many complete productions of Shakespeare and Sheridan, because those would have been too expensive. If anything, the actual theatres had grown more exclusive between the time of James VI/I and Victoria.

    Theatre attendance is far more affordable today, although some seat prices are outrageous. If people don’t go to the theatre now, it’s because they do have other options for entertainment, not available to our ancestors, and probably because the dead hand of the teaching profession has killed any interest in the theatre they may once have had.

    And actors needing to be more “lgbt” – really?

    • guestwho2

      Slight correction: the story in the first paragraph is allegedly about Olivier and ‘Marathon Man’ co-star Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman stayed awake for two days, ran, sweated and generally worked himself into a right old state to match that of his character in the scene.

      When Hoffman informed Olivier of his figurative and literal method of preparation, Olivier hit him with the classic zinger.

      • Owen_Morgan

        I did wonder if it was actually Olivier. Thanks.

  • Labour_is_bunk

    I understand many drama schools have “quotas” in place already in respect of male/female admissions.
    Given the gender-fluid world we’re seemingly moving towards, I wonder how they’ll cope with that?

    • martianonlooker

      I wonder also how thy will cope with demographics. If the arts etc are to “look like the country” then in 10 or 15 years time it is likely to be Muslim African. I wonder if those voicing their equality concerns will be as enthusiastic in a few years hence?

    • guestwho2

      The leftist goalposts have always had caster wheels affixed to them for easier and quicker movement.

  • PJM

    The permissions of identity politics will destroy creativity in the arts and entertainment, two things this country has always excelled at. The purpose of art is not to have your own narrow life experience reflected back at you by someone you are told is just like you. What now for vicarious imagination as opposed to fantasy gratification?

  • Paul W

    I avoid the politically correct guff that is pushed out disguised as entertainment.

    To the extent I don’t pay for a license – no point as there is perfectly good entertainment on-line from the independent channels and of course Netflix – cheaper and better value than the license.

    Of course, now the BBC has closed non license access to iPlayer. Oh dear, what a shame – but never mind.

    I only ever watched the Daily Politics and you can pick that up a few hours later on You Tube free service.

  • The Duke of Umberland, England

    Sir

    At the shortlisting and interviewing stage, how does one identify a proto-LGBT actor?

    For example, do they wear particular badges? Is it behaviour?

    • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      Third-Reich Germany made it SO much easier with those pink triangles, didn’t they? 😉

      • The Duke of Umberland, England

        Clever!

      • lucysdad01

        And in the Labour Party’s view yellow ones superimposed as well.

  • SteadyOn

    Great article – and necessary.

    The tragedy is that I think the he people who produce this stuff actually believe what they’re writing/fronting. At what point did anyone sit down and think ‘don’t all actors act? Isn’t that sort of the job?’.

    I remember having a Marxist critic as a supervisor at university. The man was a dangerous idiot. He didn’t really give a fig about literature, it was simply his particular sub branch of politics. All frameworks are potentially useful when considering a text or a performance, however, all of them are useless if applied ideologically. Who knows, perhaps one of the reasons so many great actors are privately educated is simply that they grow up in a less ideologically determinist environment. Perhaps they are able to act precisely because they do not have a monolithic world view.

    Because of Marxist thought and criticism too many people (unconsciously) treat the arts as if they were a government tract on community relations. Clearly, this is insane. And very, very dangerous.

  • nanumaga

    Trying to keep up with social/sexual trends and the media – and life in general, I’ve recently come across a new group which identifies with radio and gardening: LBGQTBBC – Let’s Belong to Gardeners’ Question Time on the BBC. I’m not yet sure that this minority group is subject to any form of persecution, discrimination or the slightest of slights but I shall remain vigilant nevertheless. One cannot be too careful about the need to protect all our minorities especially if the majority is coughing up to foot the bill.

    • Simon Platt

      And then there’s QTBGL.

  • donbob

    Thank goodness for Talking Pictures TV channel ! No enforced diversity (apart from ads). It’s true that half of the programmes might be bloody awful, but it’s our rubbish and we love it.

    • hedgemagnet

      I’m looking at Channel 81 now and there’s a COLOUR film made in 1980 on – If they’re going to show modern rubbish like that, then that’s the end of Talking Pictures TV as far as I’m concerned. 😉

  • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    When actors DO play someone with a regional accent, one which those actors do not in real life speak with, then there is someone out there to moan and groan that “That’s not a Scouser/Yorkshire/Black Country/[whatever] dialect, and if you’re going to show such people, do it RIGHT!”, forgetting of course that such accents run on a continuum of close-enough-to-RP-for-government-work to damn-near-incomprehensible, if one were to go by, oh, I don’t know, listening to actual people FROM those regions? Why should someone who doesn’t quite speak “authentic Brum” be left out of a programme/film set in Birmingham? Does everyone there speak it? Why shouldn’t those who don’t be depicted? I thought we were supposed to be “inclusive”!

  • Derek

    This is identity politics at work. Identity politics means is that performance is drastically less important than identity when it comes to selection for a job or any other role.
    One example of identity politics is where children of business owners are given top positions in the company because of their identity rather than their performance. They are unlikely to be the best performers so company performance degrades.

    The growth of identity politics is a guarantee for degrading performance in industry, politics etc simply because top performers are automatically excluded by not having the correct identity. Performance depends on ability not identity.

    The percentage who can benefit from identity politics has to be quite small small for it to work and in any case few are likely to have to correct identity otherwise there is no point.

    The 90%++ that are excluded will not favour identity politics. They will prefer a meritocracy so they can be selected on performance.

    In political terms identity politics is a dead end because it can only benefit the few and will disgust the rest. I can see the vast number of moderate voters backing any party that backs identity politics as It cannot pass the “what’s in it for me” test.

    • c50

      The sort of identity politics the White Supremacists in Charlotville indulge in to the point of murder.

      • Carbonari1848

        Yes the left would never murder, would they? It’s a completely safe ideology, not like the Nazis.

        Except for the 100 million plus killed by Mao and Stalin – easily twice as much as the Nazis ever managed.

        Google these topics (you should feel right at home and in a safe space, now Google have shown what they do to dissenters)

        Liquidation of the Kulaks (25 millions dead)
        Collectivization of the Farms Famine (30 millions dead)
        Great Leap Forward Famine (30 millions dead)

        “To live now and not to know this work is to be a kind of historical fool, missing a crucial part of the consciousness of the age” W.L Webb, Guardian.

  • lucysdad01

    Why haven’t both Corbyn and Abbott in particular not been called out over another CSA case in a Labour stronghold or don’t vulnerable white young females count in their eyes. Are they considered ‘trash’ as the Pakistani?bangladeshi gang tapists said they were in both Corbyn’s and Abbott eyes. Champion the MP for Rotherham spoke out only to be attacked by the Shah MP for Bradford for saying anything.

    Suppose you can’t affect or attack your voter base.

  • Carbonari1848

    I don’t see de Peiro or Brabin being too worried about the continual “recycling” of the “familiar stereotype” of men being evil and stupid in so many TV dramas, adverts etc.

  • Landphil

    Always like watching the ‘cockney’ black guy in a wheelchair on the Travel Show – he ticks boxes that don’t even exist.

  • artwest

    “…there is a suggestion that theatre audiences are too middle-class and
    must be made more representative:“standing tickets at the Globe and the
    tables in music halls,” we are told, “were packed with people from
    ordinary backgrounds.”…”

    Curiously they were mostly packing theatres to see stories about toffs, adventurers, generals and people from all sorts of exotic lands. They saw few plays based on the daily life around them. It’s called Escapism and it’s still just as popular with the working class and pretty much everyone. Who are the relatively few people who pay to see the Ken Loach or Mike Leigh films set on housing estates? It’s not the people who actually live on one,

    The working class packed theatres at a time when there was no alternative for escapist dramatic entertainment. Then came a cheaper alternative, the cinema, and picture houses were packed full of working class people. Then came TV and living rooms are packed with working class people watching TV.

    I also suspect that actors and other theatre workers wouldn’t fancy the equivalent wages, conditions and budgets of their Elizabethan forbears if theatre tickets were sold at equivalent prices and without subsidy..

    • David Barlow

      ”Twas also in such places that toffs sort out ladies of ill repute. Oops! Sorry non unionised sex workers.

  • c50

    I find this article very patronising towards everyone really.

  • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

    I am Jewish therefore safe from the patronisation of the new Marxist Labour Party. I am more than happy to accommodate them for their hatred of me and us.

    They are always wrong about everything and always lose their battles . The mystery is why don’t they ever notice?

    Is it `one last big push and we’re there’?

    They all hate and deride that Rees-Mogg chappie too, so I’m off to the Chipping Norton betting shop tomorrow.

    In today’s poll, the Tories are ahead again.

    Joy!

    • RPM

      The definition of “Jewish Foreplay ” three hours of pleading and begging, in my case I got it down to two hours. Enjoy the steak. L’chaim.

      • Sheik Rhat el Anrhol

        My wife even laughed.

  • “You see, if people from working class backgrounds, people with disabilities, or LGBT people can’t see themselves on screen or stage, they won’t aspire to be there.”

    Ivor Novello, Noel Coward, the “Naughty Set” — “My dear, the people we should have been seen dead with!” I could tell these whining snowflakes a thing or two about British culture!

  • Pennypennypenny

    Watched WatchDog the other evening. The presenter was awful. She had a fixed smile and a grating voice. She was in a wheelchair and I felt slightly guilty for saying it. She wasn’t very good. In fact there must be loads better at the job. We’re the BBC box ticking again ?

  • MorganCourtenay

    Another yawn-worthy screed from the Left. I got fed up of being patronised as the special black woman they needed to “represent” (a.k.a stick anywhere to make them feel good about themselves) and left. Feels good to be free-minded. Coincidentally, I watch many English shows that are not “diverse enough”, but I enjoy them. I tend to find the more PC the show, the less enjoyable.

  • Dominic Stockford

    “Students are admitted, someone complains, on subjective perceptions of artistic talent…”

    Not only is this appalling, it explains the woeful state of the BBC perfectly.

  • Nockian

    The modern left are tribalists, in other words they are exactly what they claim is the problem with other people. They are the racists, sexists, hetrophobes, matriarchal supporters. They are then in a position to lead the vanguard of any tribal group claiming to be the staunchest advocate in the hope of achieving political power. In a nutshell, one person, or a small group of dishonest liars who can’t make anything of themselves as a producer in the market place elevates themselves to a position of authority which commands a nice income and all the perks whilst feeding off the victim hood they have created in their anointed followers.