Thursday 27 June 2013

An offence to the senses

Tutto Bene, Mamma? The Print Room, London

Pitch darkness that isn’t very dark. Smells that are hard to place and mildly annoying. An immersive soundtrack that seems to be playing on loop from just one speaker. A level of volume control that is frankly absurd. And a kid who will not stop whining.

Tutto Bene, Mamma? - written by Argentinian-born Gloria Mina and adapted by April De Angelis – isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. It is also an offence to the senses. The show is set entirely in the dark and is meant to engage with our senses. But there’s just one hitch: Ewan Marshall’s sloppy production shows a blatant disregard for the senses. 

The play is set in the dark for some relatively good reasons. It’s based on a real-life story, in which an American boy was so scared of being sent into foster care that he stayed at home with his mother’s corpse for a month. It is a gruesome tale, which could play havoc on the mind if staged in pitch black. The impact of this child’s sudden isolation could also hit particularly hard in the darkness.

All good in theory. Terrible in practice. First off, the darkness isn’t that dark. Not I at The Royal Court – now that was darkness. This is more like being nestled in bed with the hall light still on. Instead of releasing our other senses, this half darkness actually makes us strain harder to see the actors on stage. The only time the darkness frightens is in the opening scenes, when Paul Wright’s Man circles threateningly. Otherwise, the pseudo pitch black state simply frustrates. 

The sound work is just as shoddy. Sound designer Benny Nilsen spent some time recording the streets in Naples, where Mina has relocated this story. But while the sounds are authentic, the employment and execution of these sounds is terrible. It feels like the street sounds are being played on repeat and piped through just one speaker. To make matters worse, the scene changes are marked with really loud scraping noises. Sound is repeatedly used to structure the production rather than augment the script. Very odd.

The circular soundtrack and overblown sound effects mingle oddly with the real-life sounds on-stage.  So, while the sound of a door being slammed might be miked up, the sound of footsteps is real. There is no consistency and we jolt awkwardly between a surreal and real landscape. That is to say nothing of the flies that are so loud they sound like aeroplanes and the birds so booming they could be dinosaurs.

And then there are the smells, which consistently undermine the action. Laura Donnelly, as the worn out mother, mentions a burnt birthday cake. The smell of burnt toast duly wafts through the venue. Later, a vaguely horrible stench drifts through the theatre. I think they might have been going for rotting flesh – but what it actually smells like is a very long day at the perfume counter in John Lewis.

Finally, the script. It’s not brilliant and the translation, by April De Angelis, is clunky. De Angelis is a funny and tidy writer but she doesn’t strike me as a deeply theatrical one. The themes of smell and sight are weaved mechanically into the script. Georgia Groome – playing Kevin from Home Alone on a very very bad day – is repeatedly required to state ‘his’ actions: ‘I’m opening the window now.’

Theatre in the dark is not a gimmick. It is a brilliant device which, if used well (I’m thinking of Fuels’ blindingly good show The Ring) can augment the power of theatre to an extraordinary degree. But, done badly, and all you’re left with is a number of actors fumbling in the dark and a really bad smell in the air.


Theatre

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A closer look at surrogacy

Is commercial surrogacy, or 'fertility tourism', necessarily exploitative?

In the 21st century, technology has helped us broaden the traditional boundaries we typically put around the notion of the family. One of the latest trends in reproduction is surrogacy, where a couple (or single person) who, for whatever reason, cannot have children, hire a woman who can to carry their offspring. Often, the childless couple is a wealthy, Western one that, driven by high prices and heavy restrictions in their home country, opts to travel to developing countries, where the costs are lower and the legal environment more welcoming. For this reason, this type of surrogacy is known as ‘outsourced pregnancy’ or ‘fertility tourism’, and it is a booming industry. In India especially, clinics have popped up all over the country and many impoverished women, knowing the pay they receive will be enough to totally change their circumstances, are all too happy to sign up to be surrogates.

Though there are certainly moral questions that have rightly been raised, the global surrogacy industry should be recognised for the overwhelmingly positive impact it has had on people all over the world. Not only does it bring the miracle of life; it injects much-needed cash into impoverished areas. Nevertheless, there are many who are opposed - Westerners especially. They make the comparison between this benign industry, where all involved participate freely, and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian reimagining of a society in which a women and their reproductive capabilities are controlled outright by men. The comparison is a terrible one, one which completely misunderstands what is really going on. Rather than oppressing women, surrogacy gives women opportunities they can choose to act on or not, and those who oppose it would rob participants of their right to self-determination.

Dissenters argue that surrogates in developing countries, many of whom are uneducated, cannot give their informed consent because they cannot understand what is really expected of them. This argument is pure condescension. Just because a person is uneducated does not mean they are incapable of rational thought. Most surrogacy clinics in India require that surrogates have already had multiple children of their own, ensuring they will be fully aware of the physical and emotional toll pregnancy will take. Furthermore, many surrogate mothers are anxious to be surrogates two or three times, suggesting that the experience can be as beneficial to surrogates as it is to the people who commission the child.

Another point of contention is the health risks involved in surrogacy. To be sure, this is one area that needs to be studied further, and potential surrogates need to be informed of the risks they are taking before they get involved. As far as we know now, though, the health risks are fairly low, and manageable; surrogates face only slightly greater risks than an average woman would normally face during pregnancy. Some surrogates react negatively to the fertility drugs used to increase the chances of successful fertilisation, and in rare instances, severe ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome can occur. In general, however, surrogate mothers receive excellent healthcare, as it is in the clinic’s best interest to ensure the health of their surrogates.

There are, of course, instances where a woman’s health is negatively impacted by surrogacy, but these are the exception, not the rule. We should remember that there are health risks associated with many kinds of occupations, such as with mechanics or construction workers, but we do not argue that cars should not be fixed or homes not built because of the risk to the workers. Firemen and construction workers are adults who know the dangers and are capable of making their own decisions, as are surrogate mothers. The emphasis needs to be on ensuring that women are properly informed and taken care of, rather than condemning surrogacy altogether.

The most commonly used argument against fertility tourism, however, is that it is exploitative: it takes advantage of poverty-stricken women and pays them far less than a surrogate would usually be paid in a developed country, which is true. Though estimates vary, surrogacy in the West can cost tens of thousands of dollars more than in India, where, depending on which clinic you choose, the total fees could be as little as $12,000. Of this, the surrogate will usually receive around $6,000. The difference is how much that $6,000 is worth. In India, that is enough to buy a house, or start a business, or send one’s children to school. It can make an incredible impact on a woman’s life, breaking the cycle of poverty for her and her family.

Moreover, attempting to discredit surrogacy because of the money involved is simply unrealistic. By this line of reasoning, anyone who does anything for pay is being exploited. There are various unpleasant aspects to pregnancy, and human beings rarely do unpleasant things without being rewarded. Obviously few women would agree to be surrogates if they were not being paid, but payment does not delegitimate the practice.

What this all really comes down to is an inability to comprehend why surrogates behave in ways that contradict traditional ideas of motherhood and womanhood in general. In ‘Oh Baby Baby: The Problem of Surrogacy’, for instance, Matthew Tieu argues that there are certain unbreakable bonds which naturally develop between a mother and the unborn child she carries during pregnancy. Surrogate mothers, says Tieu, will inevitably face great psychological trauma when forced to give up the baby. Those who do not are simply repressing their true, deeply-seated feelings. This suggests that all women possess the same maternal instincts (and emotions they have no control over), and those that do not are unnatural, or somehow emotionally incomplete. In reality, there is little empirical evidence to prove that there is really a ‘special tie’ between birth mother and fetus, and even if there is, most clinics counsel surrogates to prepare them to give up the baby. They are not damaged, but they are not unnatural either.

Before I conclude, I would like to make one last point that I realise people are not homogenous, and their motives and experiences with surrogacy will of course vary. Not all people who seek surrogates do so because they are infertile; some might be motivated by a fear of pregnancy, or something else. Likewise, surely not all surrogates volunteer to be so out of an altruistic desire to provide for their families; it is entirely possible that they may simply want to buy a shiny new car. Whatever the motivation or rationalisation, though, it just doesn’t matter. Adult men and women have a right to make their own decisions and do what they want with their bodies, and until their actions do harm to another person, their moral status is really not our business.

All of this is not to say that those who oppose surrogacy are entirely wrong to be wary of the practice. For centuries, the weight of the world has been pressed down upon female bodies and their reproductive organs, and we should certainly be suspicious of anything that seems as though it may be taking advantage of women. But when we look closer at surrogacy and abandon our preconceived ideas of motherhood, we can see that it should be seen as a source of empowerment, not oppression, for women. Far from a come-to-life Handmaid’s Tale, surrogacy is a business where the providers, clients, and many of the entrepreneurs who run the industry are all women. As technology continues to revolutionise reproduction, we should not only accept but welcome the new opportunities that redefine motherhood and the family, and give us the power to control nature.


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Wednesday 26 June 2013

A heart so exposed you can practically see it beating

The Night Alive, Donmar Warehouse, London

You know the story about the butterfly wings and the earthquake? That’s a Conor McPherson play. His characters are not extraordinary people. In fact, they’ve often led apologetic lives in half-lit rooms. His dialogue is not declamatory. Instead, it’s deceptively off hand, with McPherson rarely letting his extraordinary lyricism roam free. His plots are relatively self-contained. But there is always this delicate fluttering at the heart of his plays which eventually sets off an almighty bang.

The Night Alive begins on a typically low-key note. There is just a whiff of danger to the opening scene; a slash of red against a grey horizon. Slick haired and sloppy bellied Tommy (Ciarán Hinds) arrives home with whisp of a girl, Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne). Aimee has blood on her face and a hunted look in her eyes.  Whenever Tommy is kind to her – as he encourages her to seek solace from her attacker in his grimy Dublin flat – Aimee winces. A gentle manner is as foreign to Aimee as a punch in the face is to more fortunate souls.

Tommy turns on the light and we wish he hadn’t. This is the type of room – designed with typical expansive precision by Soutra Gilmour – that looks much better with the lights off. It is the type of room where the toilet might well double up as the kitchen sink. The next day, when Aimee returns from a shower wrapped up in a towel, she looks like a white vision hovering atop a rubbish tip.

No one could have directed this piece better than Conor McPherson. He holds back way more than anyone else would dare. This is acting that doesn’t feel like acting, a play that doesn’t feel put on. Michael McElhatton turns in one of the most muted yet moving performances I’ve ever seen, as Tommy’s slow but devoted friend Doc. His heart is so exposed you can practically see it beating.  As Aimee moves in on his territory, Doc all but pisses around his bed in fear and frustration.

McPherson expresses Doc’s worries with scenes so slight they could be considered throwaway, were they not so brilliant. Shortly after Aimee’s arrival, Doc scrambles through Tommy’s door in the middle of the night, brandishing chips. These chips aren’t just chips. They are plea not to be forgotten, bound up in vinegar! All three stay up and eat and listen to Marvin Gaye on the radio. And then they dance, big smiles on their faces and glowing with happiness. This is life worth living – if only for a moment.

And then the temperature shifts. Shifty Kenneth (Brian Gleeson) arrives on the scene, looking for Aimee and busting for a fight. Just as his characters and audience are most exposed, McPherson releases the danger and poetry in his play. Kenneth talks of the evil nestling inside his soul, the black oil that swarms in front of his eyes. All this while, Kenneth holds a hammer in his hand. Doc, alone in the room, says little. The fear is unbelievably tight and real. McPherson opens us up and then cuts right through us with the cleanest of blows.

The heart soars and drops, calms and roars. Life is not big speeches and epic moments. It is little tremors of joy and jolts of sorrow. With his understated genius, McPherson is more like a safe breaker than a playwright. He presses his ear up against the dial, twisting first this way and then that. The tiniest shifts have massive potential – until, finally, McPherson cracks open the safe and reveals the secrets inside.


Till 27 July 2013


Theatre

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Saturday 22 June 2013

A rare kind of friendship

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam (Hutchinson 2012)

There seems to be a mini-genre developing, of authors who take a current news story and offer us a literary retelling of the phenomenon: take Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin; or Emma Donoghue, Room. And now, very topically, Bonnie Nadzam with Lamb.

The morbid focus of Lamb is child abduction; it’s constantly thrust upon us in the news, and here is the commentary of a highly credible perpetrator, spelled out to us in all its compelling detail. We are inside David Lamb’s head, hearing how it all makes sense to him; he persuades himself, he thinks he’s persuading us, that it’s all for the 11-year-old victim’s good: he’s rescuing her from a dire reality in a tenement block, he’s removing her from a potentially abusive stepfather, he’s taking her up into the clear mountain air, he’s showing her a better world. And theirs is a rare kind of friendship, isn’t it? A sympathy that transcends the generations, and which the outside world will never understand.

What this narration achieves is to bridge the gap between the ghastly facts we read in the news and the internal mind of the perpetrator. The author has brilliantly imagined all the steps of self-justification; after all, how could anyone steel themselves to do such things? But here it all is, persuasive step after persuasive step, justifying his motives to himself, justifying them to the gap-toothed child, justifying them to his rapt reading audience. Then just a few times the author cleverly steps outside the flow to remind us we’re only watching from the wings; she refers to ‘our man’ as from the observers’ benches, which affords us welcome relief, to know we’re still safely outside this dreaded rollercoaster, still observing, not yet implicated in what is surely the inevitable denouement.

But does the final pounce ever happen? We’re waiting for it, it’s kind of happening every step of the way, surely now, oh no it must happen on the next page. It doesn’t need to happen, because we know in reality it would, so we invent the detail of it for ourselves…

The English edition of this Chicago psychological thriller was selected for the longlist of 2013’s Women’s Prize for Fiction; deservedly so, as once you’ve picked it up you won’t put it down till you’ve completed the horrifyingly readable roundtrip. 


Fiction

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Beneath his skin

Race, Hampstead Theatre, London

Hit something for long enough and it will eventually break. In his 2009 play, Race, Mamet - with his customary battering ram of words - bashes away at the gentle veneer of racial harmony and smashes it to smithereens. The characters’ prejudices and doubts are left exposed and the audience is left shattered.

The setting is a huge mahogany cave of an office, designed with bold grandeur by Tim Shortall. This boastful space is home to two law-firm partners, Jack Lawson and Henry Brown. One of these partners is white (Jasper Britton) and the other is black (Clarke Peters). Outside shimmers the New York skyline, cold and bleached. It feels like we’re watching a film, frozen in time. Everything is a bit too shiny to be considered authentic.

That surreal shine permeates Race - in the tidy plot, sharply angled characters and ice-pick edgy dialogue. But the dialogue is so fierce and the emotions generated so intense that these exposed machinations do not matter. This is a top notch New York law firm, after all. If you can’t get a bit of grand-standing theatrics in this place, then you might as well head to the blooming theatre.

Into this legal theatre walks Charles Strickland (Charles Daish), a rich white man accused of raping a black chambermaid. And who should he encounter first when he enters the law firm? Black intern Susan (Nina Toussaint-White), who just so happened to write her thesis on the persistent framework of racism that still props up New York today.

Ugly fault-lines begin to appear in Jack and Henry’s pristine office. Susan’s nose for injustice sniffs out one hell of a stink when she discovers she has been subjected to an unusually thorough background check. But is Susan finding tension or creating it - and whose side is she really on? How can one work on an even playing field when the terrain is still so rough?

Carefully hidden emotions are released in accidental explosions, timed with patient precision by director Terry Johnson. Jasper Britton mesmerises as adrenalin junky lawyer Jack Lawson. He is a heart-attack waiting to happen and the ease at which he accesses rage - especially when directed towards black intern Susan - is frightening.

Clarke Peters fascinates as black partner Henry Brown, who - despite climbing to the top - works for his white partner and not with him. His measured self possession is far more shocking than Mamet’s torrential swear words and scalding hate. This is a man who cannot be undone – a man who has learnt to accept the unspoken or subconscious prejudices that swirl about him. This is a man who has found a way to work with prejudice and hate, not against it. He represents progress, but it is a progress that is eating away at his soul. He has beaten the system - but only by keeping his real self locked deep beneath his skin.


Till 29 June 2013


Theatre

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Friday 14 June 2013

When America ran out of West

Mission Drift, Shed Theatre, London

Mission Drift will make your head hurt and your heart pound. This devised musical, from American company TEAM, is about what happens when capitalism stops working. It marks the moment when America’s drive to build and expand became a destructive force rather than a constructive one. It is about what happened when America ran out of West.

This show is also about anger. A passionate outrage fuels Mission Drift, tingling in the toes and reaching right up to the rafters. During the fiercest songs, it feels like one is sitting in the midst of a raging fire. It is scorching stuff.

We start at the beginning and on the East coast: two Dutch immigrants arrive in Manhattan and resolve to make their millions. We will stick with this couple for centuries, as Catalina (Libby King) and husband Joris (Brian Hastert) surge West and gradually develop a solitary shack into a ‘string of resorts you can see from space’. They are heading towards their future and their demise. The end point is Las Vegas, the present, the economic crash, recently fired waitress Joan (Amber Gray) and her cowboy boyfriend Chris (Ian Lassiter). Joan marks the end of immigrants’ journey and the end of the line for American expansion.

It is so useful to see America’s history boiled down to this simple journey with a tangible end point. It renders the complex bleedingly obvious. Of course America was going to hit a dead end – it’s written down in the map of the world! America’s arrested development was never a question of if – only when.

Perhaps that’s why there’s a jagged irony running through this piece, spearheaded by sultry narrator Miss Atomic (Heather Christian – a mirage of seduction). The songs, with their brilliantly sparse lyrics, are underscored with a relentless and manic pulse. Even the early numbers, pumped up with promise of prosperity, are laced with regret. The words might be hopeful but the beat beneath them is fierce and ominous: ‘Fight it foot forward forward forward’.

The sound and lighting has also been calibrated with brilliant precision. The gentle boom of a man chopping wood permeates the show. At first, this confident beat sounds positive, even comforting. It is the sound of development and growth and moving forward. But later – and I don’t know if this is because the actual sound changed or the production made the sound feel different – this dull chopping becomes dangerous. It doesn’t sound like the start of something any more. It sounds like the beginning of the end.


Till 28 June 2013


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Saturday 8 June 2013

The last throw of the dice?

Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s, by Graham Stewart (Atlantic Books, 2013)

One of publishing’s recent heavy hitters, in every sense, has been the history of post-war Britain. A succession of chunky volumes has come along to dissect the various eras which comprise it, and this book is the latest addition to the field. What does it say about an era which has been despised on several fronts - political, economic, cultural – but whose sneer-by date has now been passed and which is ripe for re-evaluation?

Stewart — a senior research fellow of the Humanities Research Institute at Buckingham University -takes us through familiar themes: the economic problems of the 19705 with their attendant strikes, Northern Ireland, the Falklands’ War, privatisation, and the poll tax, with Mrs Thatcher taking centre stage. In the midst of these well-trodden territories he unearths some vantage points which provide different perspectives from the standard ones given of Britain’s painful adaption to the free market, and the response of the Labour Party to policies, including defence ones, which sought to give Britain a firmer world image. For instance, he mentions a 1982 survey which found that the magazines stocked by a newsagent in unemployment-hit Wigan showed little local taste for left-wing journalism (and, by extension, ideologies). There were monthly sales of seven copies of Tribune, 12 of Labour Weekly, 13 of the New Statesman, 22 of the Investors Chronicle and 36 of The Lady. And peace-loving Labour Party supporters might have been shocked and disillusioned by Neil Kinnock’s boasts about leaving ‘blood and vomit’ on a lavatory floor when he successfully defended himself against attack from a supporter of Tony Benn during a particularly vicious leadership contest.

The architectural and cultural features of the time are also examined by Stewart. With architecture, Stewart gives a positive name-check to Dr David Watkin’s book Morality and Architecture which, arguably, spearheaded the attack on some of Modernism’s intellectual pretensions to being a vehicle for social improvement. While the architectural establishment hated Prince CharIes’s jeremiads against its works, he spoke for a substantial proportion of the public at large. Stewart reminds us that there was a rejection of Modernism, not only by the public, who’d never been keen on it anyway, but also by local authorities which adopted the playful externals of Post-Modernism as a cheap way of prettying-up decaying council estates. Despite complaints within the arts’ establishment about the effects of government funding cuts, Stewart shows that diverse sections of the arts flourished with the aid of the private sector: the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was able to expand when it moved into an abandoned private school. Combined private sector sponsorship plus public funding from bodies such as the Arts Council helped expand the arts in London. There were other successes. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra achieved international recognition while the Sadler’ s Wells Royal Ballet eventually took up residence at the Birmingham Hippodrome: the Birmingham Royal Ballet was the result.

Stewart doesn’t neglect popular culture. Discussing humour, he points-out that true comedic anarchy was to be found, not among the purveyors of ‘right-on’ left-wing comedy such as Ben Elton, but between the pages of the comic magazine Viz, with its cast of characters including feminist campaigner Millie Tant and hedonistic girls The Fat Slags. He says, correctly, that the phenomenon of style-tribes — such as mods, rockers and punks — whose members dressed like the bands they followed, was still strong in the eighties but died-out in the following decades. However, there are connections which could be made here but which aren’t. He’s generally kind about those long-standing villains of Pop culture, the New Romantics who, although simply continuing the good work of seventies’ glam rockers Bowie, Ferry and Bolan, had the misfortune to be seen as the enemies of the punks, whose general bad behaviour had given them a heroic status among left-wing music journalists, (although punk antics arguably had more to do with teenage fun than politics and, indeed, the movement’ s original leaders went on to found the New Romantic scene).

But Stewart is critical of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman (SAW) ‘hit factory’ which produced catchy pop music by the likes of Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley: yet the whole SAW phenomenon can be seen as a logical outcome of the New Romantics bringing a sense of tuneful, glamorous pleasure back into music after its politicisation in the late seventies by bands like the Clash, and the Rock Against Racism movement. He rightly points out that illegal open-air raves, the source of much moral panic in the late eighties, were a cause of genuine concern on health and safety grounds rather than because of a killjoy spirit on the part of the authorities, as well as being hotbeds of DIY capitalism (as had been the New Romantic scene). But he could have suggested that their financial side was a harbinger of the whole ‘Cool Britannia’ scenario which New Labour would skilfully exploit in its appeal to people who had done well financially out of the eighties but who wished to appear cool rather than money-grabbing.

And it’s in not making connections like these that Stewart fails to do himself full justice. At the outset, he outlines the challenges which he faces in his work of examination: the ramifications of clashing ideologies; the dangers of judgement being clouded by personal memories of the period (Stewart was a Scottish teenager for most of the eighties); the dangers of possibly unreliable memories from the movers and shakers of the era. In one way these caveats strengthen his approach, so that he treads with careful confidence through material the ramifications of which we cannot begin to fully evaluate, at least, as far as politics and economics are concerned, for some decades. However, it is difficult not to feel that some hypotheses, however tentative, might have been suggested here. For instance, after the Liverpool riots of 1981, Mrs Thatcher let Michael Heseltine carry-out job-creation initiatives involving combined public-private input which showed that neither the state nor the private sector could, by themselves, provide solutions to unemployment.

Stewart also points out that, while Mrs Thatcher was committed to the free market, she was shocked at the size of bankers’ pay. He doesn’t seem to consider whether these unreconciled points indicate that she hadn’t fully thought-out her economic ideas and lacked a coherent philosophy. He mentions how the Conservative Philosophy Group, involving Cambridge academics such as Roger Scruton, John Casey, Maurice Cowling and Edward Norman, helped to build a bridge between High Tories and classical liberal economists. But there is no discussion about why the conservatives as a whole failed even to try to change the intellectual as well as the economic culture of Britain, or indeed, if they saw any need for a hearts-and-minds campaign on this front. As Stewart reminds us, Thatcher thought that economics would bring about a change the nation’s character, but this didn’t happen, and she failed to change the majority attitude about the value of public services over private endeavour.

Meanwhile, a combination of tax-and-spend economics and political correctness would hold sway in the civil and public services and other mainstream public bodies such as the churches and larger charities. The ideological blood of political correctness and state spending was thicker than the languid water of low taxes and scepticism about theoretical political panaceas which seemed to be the high-water mark of conventional conservative thought. A final point which could have been made was the way conservative politicians’ fears over the effects of Mrs Thatcher‘ s policies, in particular the poll-tax — and which led to her fall — mirrored the same lack of resolution which Tories had displayed about Edward Heath’s anti-union stand and which, ultimately, can be said to have contributed to his downfall. (Many commentators concentrate on the differences between Heath and Thatcher, but few on their similarities as ambitious grammar school outsiders with a background in trade, battling through class and sexual prejudice and against national torpor.) Stewart considers that the end of Mrs Thatcher’s final term of office marked the end of the eighties. is he entirely correct here? Certainly, cultural decades don’t fit symmetrically with calendar ones and it can be said that - in the field of youth culture —the eighties effectively ended in 1987 with the coming of the rave scene and the end of New Romanticism’s hierarchical hedonism. But — politically and economically — is he correct in his estimation?

It could be said that the nineties were simply a continuation of the eighties, but with a veneer of caring capitalism and political correctness. Indeed, a question arises: were the two decades, combined, perhaps the last throw of the dice of post-war optimism which, arguably, ended between the fall of the Berlin Wall (unleashing religious and political hatreds thought to have been extinguished under Soviet rule) and - via 9/11 - the financial collapse of 2008?

While it’s too early to make any final judgement on the Thatcher legacy, Stewart gives two future markers for it. He points out that, as a result of her policies, Britain was the trendsetter for globalisation whilst her Victorian values of thrift, self-help and saving were ‘mocked to scorn in the age of leverage.’ Only when we see how the global economy — and Britain’s place within it — shapes-up in the long term may we start to have an effective evaluation. In the meantime, this book gives us plenty of pathways to explore for guidance, even if they lead us in directions not fully expected by its author.


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The Ascendancy of the Ass-Backwards Masses … and How We Can Still Turn It Around


by Alexander Zubatov
When, on a recent occasion, I logged out of the Hotmail account I use for commercial email, I was taken — as I always am — to the msn.com homepage, which contained on this occasion — as it always does — an assortment of linked headlines spanning the categories of news, health, sports and a liberal dose of celebrity gossip.  One headline falling squarely into that last category stood out:  ‘Aguilera loves her new booty.’  If you don’t know who Christina Aguilera is, first, please let me know if your bunker has room for one more, but second, for my purposes, all you need to know is that she is a celebrity and, as such, is accustomed to being celebrated and apparently feels that she is also entitled, by virtue of her celebrity status, to celebrate herself — and I don’t mean that in anything like the ‘Song of Myself’ sense of the phrase.  Now, many of us — or at least some of those of us who are not blithely but blindly at work hastening the demise — probably see signs of the end of civilisation all around.  And yet certain hallmarks stand out among others.  Christina Aguilera’s public declaration of love for her larger ass and the fact that this makes for a headline we’d care to click on should, in my view, rank rather high up there on the list.   

As Matthew Arnold lamented in his oft-quoted, seldom-read jeremiad, Culture and Anarchy (1869), our society is increasingly giving way to Philistinism, the valorisation, to the exclusion of any higher values, of wealth and its concomitant comforts and respect for those who have acquired these by whatsoever means.  Arnold deplored the abdication of judgment, discernment, the critical eye.  He argued that high culture provides the antidote for such axiological anarchy, for it offers us the lofty vantage point we need to look down on the Philistine, as we rightly should:  ‘Culture says:  “Consider these people, then, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voice; look at them attentively; observe the literature they read, the things which give them pleasure, the words which come forth out of their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become just like these people by having it?“‘ Without culture — and here comes the oft-quoted quote — the ‘pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world,’ we are left incapable of making distinctions of quality, and so instead are left to judge our fellow citizens solely by the size of their pocketbooks, portfolios, houses and asses. 

Though there may never have been a time when the Many simply went around thinking and saying ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world,’ there were surely times when many ordinary people at least understood there was something important they were missing, somewhat akin, in a religious context, to a sinner who knows he has sinned, or one only vaguely familiar with scripture who nonetheless believes there is an entire mystical world to which he may one day awaken.  If, in other words, we, en masse, may never have personally scaled the heights of our civilisation’s bounty, we may still, at one point in our collective history, have understood that those heights lay upward and have admired those Hephaestian heroes who forged that manmade mountain range or those intrepid mountaineers who have seen its highest peaks.  By the 1860s, when Arnold was writing, however, this hierarchy of values was beginning to fall apart.

The situation was significantly more dire by 1930, when the Spanish journalist and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset published what is today a sadly neglected manifesto, The Revolt of the Masses.  With the traditional social order collapsing all around and mass movements in the form of Communism and fascism on the rise, Ortega y Gasset sounded a clarion call that should, by all rights, ring out still more plangently today, when our steady march toward the abolition of all non-theological standards of value has taken us far nearer to the nadir.  Ortega y Gasset begins with a simple point:  ‘The most important fact in the public life of the West in modern times, for good or ill, is the appearance of the masses in the seat of highest social power.  Since the masses, by definition, neither can nor should direct their own existence, let alone that of society as a whole, this new development means that we are now undergoing the most profound crisis which can afflict peoples, nations, or cultures.’ 

To our ears, this proclamation may sound stodgy, elitist, reactionary, a rearguard relic of a period when the hereditary aristocracy of Old Europe could still discern the fading taste of political power on its palate.  But Ortega y Gasset does not speak on behalf of any such aristocracy, nor of any established social class.  Rather, he distinguishes two types of individuals:  ‘those who demand much of themselves and assign themselves great tasks and duties, and those who demand nothing in particular of themselves, for whom living is to be at all times what they already are, without any effort at perfection — buoys floating on the waves.’  For him, nobility was not a matter of birth or breeding, but rather, was ‘synonymous with the life of effort ever set on excelling itself, intent always on going beyond what one is, to becoming what one proposes to be, as one’s duty and obligation.’  ‘Thus,’ he goes on, ‘the noble life stands in contrast to common, inert life, which in a static way falls back upon itself, condemned to perpetual immobility, unless compelling circumstances, force majeure, make it come out of itself.  Hence we use the term mass-man for that way of being man:  not so much because this way is myriad, but because he is inert.’ 

Ortega y Gasset is, in effect, invoking the more literal, physical sense of ‘mass’ (never, in actuality, that distant from its figurative meaning), a big, shapeless, static hunk of matter, a word also used to describe pernicious growths characterized by pure, unproductive accretion, like a tumor, or perhaps, a perpetually waxing ass.  The sad fact that Ortega y Gasset describes as ’[t]he characteristic note of our time’ — even more so of our time — ‘is the dire truth that the mediocre soul, the commonplace mind knowing itself to be mediocre, has the gall to assert its right to mediocrity, and goes on to impose itself wherever it can.’  Expressing a truth that resonates with the phenomenon the sociologist Herbert Marcuse later cleverly termed ‘repressive desublimation,’ Ortega y Gasset bewails the coming reality of a world surrounding us that ‘scarcely impels [us] to limit [ourselves] in any fashion; it offers neither argument nor veto; on the contrary, it whets [our] appetites, which, in principle, can grow without measure.’  No surprise, then, that this new ‘mass-man’ ‘is possessed of an inborn and deep-seated belief that life should be easy, plentiful, without tragic limitations’ so that ‘the average individual is animated by a sense of power and success which leads him to affirm himself just as he is, and to consider himself complete in his moral and intellectual being.  This self-satisfaction leads him to deny any exterior authority, to refuse to listen, to evade submitting his opinions to judgment, and to avoid considering the views of others.’

In this description, we should recognise the central social dogma of our time, the mantra of universal tolerance, whereby, as an absolute sine qua non of good citizenship, we are called upon to suspend critique and judgment, to accept people (starting with ourselves) precisely as they are, with the expectation of any form of betterment reflecting a kind of antiquated paternalism or, worse, a cultural insensitivity arbitrarily privileging our own set of cultural values over others that are equally valid.  Lest we fail to recognise ourselves in this description, I adduce a few excerpts from among the immortal words of a kind of present-day manifesto (conveniently doubling as a hit single), the, um, philosopher-poet Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this Way’: 

It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up ‘cause you were born this way, baby

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars

‘There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are,’
She said, ’‘cause he made you perfect, babe’
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
Oh there ain’t no other way
Baby I was born this way

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, Chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to survive

I’m not sure there’s anything more I need to add, though, on the premise that disgust
is an emotion very useful in cultivating the craving for change, I really recommend you subject yourself to the whole song-and-dance, if you’ve never seen it before. 

Whom we admire speaks volumes.  In Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961), his tour de force of literary and cultural criticism, the Stanford University French literature professor René Girard argued that all our desires are, in fact, mimetic.  In contrast to a Romantic notion of unmediated desire per which we want what we want because we just really want it, ie, because it satisfies our deep longings, Girard argued that we borrow our desires by imitating the desires of others whom we, for one reason or another, hold in high account.  Moreover, with time, the distance between the desiring subject and the mediator he imitates decreases, so that if, at one point, we may have aspired to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the ostensible son of God, the models from whom we have borrowed our desires have, with the passing years, become ever more indistinguishable from ourselves.  As Girard puts it, ‘in tomorrow’s world, men will be gods for each other.’  So, first, we came down to earth and adopted a model of chivalric virtue; Don Quixote sought to imitate Amadis of Gaul. 

Later, when ‘both senses of the word ‘noble’ [still] coincided, at least theoretically,’ we sought to model ourselves after those we saw as our social betters, aristocrats or the like.  By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the descent was a fait accompli.  Our models became men and women not all that different from ourselves.  At this point, what Girard calls ‘double mediation’ becomes possible.  We imitate their desires, while they imitate ours in a kind of contagion where we ‘will be tempted to copy the copy of [our] own desire[s],’ with such desire ‘circulat[ing] between the two rivals more and more quickly, and with every cycle … increas[ing] in intensity.’  Unsurprisingly, such ’[d]ouble mediation gradually devours and digests ideas, beliefs, and values.’  Only the outer shell of desire remains. 

Reality TV and our current culture wherein ‘celebrities’ are often largely indistinguishable from us, merely ourselves celebrated in all our trashy, vulgar, materialistic and debased glory, is precisely what Girard is talking about.  To the extent any distinction remains between us and those we seek to imitate, the distinction is one purely of wealth and the material comforts that come with it — and even this much is true only of those reality stars that are either already wealthy (and, apparently, interesting to us for that reason) or of the ones who manage to parlay their 15 minutes of fame into filthy lucre.  With the exception of our sports heroes whom we still see as somehow superhuman, however, we do not, as a rule, believe there to be any radical difference in talent or other abilities between ourselves and those who have ‘made it.’  They are certainly not more ‘noble’ than we are in either sense of the word.  They simply got lucky in one way or another, and so might we if a winning lottery ticket — whether literal or in the form of reality TV fame — happens to land in our hands.  We want to be like them and act like them, even as they behave like no more than moneyed-up versions of us.  Or, in Ortega y Gasset’s words (which make a fitting epitaph for our civilisation), ‘There are no longer protagonists as such:  there is only the chorus.’

And so we get to Christina Aguilera professing admiration for her own ass. It is a far cry, certainly, from admiring the best which has been thought and said, isn’t it?  Instead of a model of virtue who looks upward and outward toward some unattainable distant peak, what we’ve come to is something of a ready-made allegory, the celebrity whom we look to and hope to imitate looking downward and backward at her own behind, the increasing magnitude of which she lauds and cherishes because it makes her more desirable to all of us who admire bigger butts simply because this is what we increasingly see all around us, with all the sources that are supposed to be educating and enlightening us (schools and universities, mass media, etc.) having completely abdicated that role in favor of providing no more than a massive echo chamber in which we may find our own ready-made dispositions and predilections infinitely redoubled and amplified — the trash getting trashier, the dumb getting dumber and the ideal ass growing ever bigger — with ‘just love yourself, and you’re set’ offered to us as the chorus in between verses. 

Nor has either of the major American political parties offered us hope of better days to come.  Both pander to their electorates, echoing those electorates’ worst tendencies.  Democrats, to generalise, appear content to degenerate, fully on board as they are with the ‘love yourself, and you’re set’ philosophy of life.  They offer no vantage point whatsoever from which to critique our mass descent into complacent barbarism.  Republicans — despite a greater visceral sensitivity to the fact that unchecked vulgarity and uninhibited sexuality in the public sphere are signs of decline — draw their alternate system of values not from culture but from religion and, moreover, from Evangelical Protestant strains that have a long history of making of every common man a self-assured theologist who feels just as capable as any alleged expert of knowing the true path to salvation, even if such self-made authorities are schooled in no more than a boneheaded Biblical literalism that is the direct consequence of having their experience of reading and interpretation limited to (a collection of quotes and passages from) a single serious book. 

Thus, Republican politicians largely indulge and cultivate the very anti-elitist impulses that are turning us all into self-satisfied idiots.  Supplementing this shaky foundation is the crudest species of capitalist, populist fundamentalism embodied in the creed that all which cannot pay its way does not deserve to survive.  Thus, the irony is that Republicans unwittingly undermine the very kinds of cultural forces that, by inculcating taste and refinement and nourishing a rich spiritual life to serve as a counterweight to our empty materialism, would otherwise operate to curb the rampant vulgarity and unrestrained public sexuality that the conservative sensibility finds so abhorrent.  If we don’t embrace Culture with a capital ‘C’ — not this or that culture but high Culture — we will continue to have more celebrities making public statements in the same vein as Ms. Aguilera’s (‘Actually, the challenge I’ve always had is being too thin, so I love that now I have a booty, and obviously I love showing my cleavage….  Hey, if you can work it and you can own it, that confidence is going to shine through’), and we will continue to have a public that tolerates and even welcomes hearing such trash.  (Again, to generate disgust, I advise you to read the entire interview, taking particular note of the ‘journalist’s’ sycophantic tone of unapologetic adulation in speaking of and to the subject of her piece.

The observation has been made, most recently by the film critic Karina Longworth, writing in Slate, that there is no more counterculture as such, that ‘in 2012 the very notion of countering culture has lost its political potency through omnipresence.’ Longworth writes, ‘Any form of desire imaginable, consumer or carnal or otherwise, has an affinity group online.’  Here is Marcuse’s notion of repressive desublimation again.  By furnishing free and easy indulgence for every conceivable desire, our society robs us of all our will to turn frustration born of privation into a cogent, unifying doctrine, much less actual political action.  If counterculture was once animated by the impulse to counter the perceived inaccessibility or stultification of Culture with something new and vibrant rooted in a populist sensibility, then that populist sensibility has now entirely taken over.  A thousand flowers can bloom, so long as they can make a buck, financial survival being the only arbiter of taste remaining. 

Yes, as Longworth writes, every form of desire has an affinity group online.  But most of these affinity groups are invisible and irrelevant to a larger audience and will persist, if they do at all, only on the outermost margins, on the fringes of our civilisation.  They will do enough only to drown out in an undifferentiated tumult of sound the strident, unifying voice that a true counterculture could channel.  What is lost in the process is Culture itself.  Real Culture, high Culture, is dying a slow death.  The masses, finding everywhere no more than reinforcement for their ignorance, can no longer be roused to muster the sustained attention required to meet the demand that the great works of our civilisation require.  They are not even aware they are missing anything, as schools and universities, scared off by the politicization and perceived perfect uselessness of the Great Books and everything and anything else that smacks of greatness, have become no more than institutions the general public sees as investments promising to confer degrees as certificates of future remuneration. 

Culture itself is now our counterculture … or it can be and must be if we still entertain any hope of combating the boorishness and buffoonery eating away at our life, public and private alike.  It is time for a groundswell.  We need a new protest movement centred around the notion that we must demand more of ourselves and each other, that we cannot be satisfied or complacent in the face of the culture of trash besieging us on all fronts.  We can revive, reinvigorate and re-embrace the notion of nobility, a new kind of nobility, not an ossified class or title conferred by birth or a mere matter of superficial affectations, but rather, a democratic ideal open to all who choose to pursue it simply by committing themselves in thought and action to ‘the life of effort ever set on excelling itself, intent always on going beyond what one is, to becoming what one proposes to be, as one’s duty and obligation’ and to do so precisely by the study of ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world.’  No one is born noble, no one ever fully becomes noble, and no one is ever foreclosed from the pursuit.  Instead, there are two kinds of people in the world:  those who are already working toward the ideal of nobility and those who have yet to embark on that journey.   

To set out on your journey, here, then, is what you need to do:
• Turn off your TV … or get rid of it entirely.  The television set is, perhaps, the principal source through which trash culture enters your home, infiltrates your life and the lives of your loved ones, corrupts kids and nurses the elderly into an early dotage.  I’ve been living without a television set for over a year now, and I’m much happier.  I’d essentially stopped watching long before, anyway:  the last thing I saw on TV — other than bits and pieces at the gym or at other people’s homes — is the 2008 presidential debates.  I don’t miss it at all.  I haven’t had so much as a single thought about going back.  Suddenly, there was all this time I was no longer wasting.  That feeling of nausea I had when I’d spent a little bit too long in front of that thing was gone for good.

You may already have noticed at some point that it’s very hard to go from an activity that gives you a lot of passive stimulation to one that requires a lot of active input on your part.  This is why kids have a hard time focusing on anything demanding after they’ve been watching TV for a while.  It’s why you yourself probably don’t feel much like picking up a book after you’ve just spent hours in front of your set.  But when you get rid of (or severely limit your exposure to) your TV, books suddenly feel a whole lot more rewarding.  You crave them.  They’re now your entertainment, your diversion from obligations, your means of relaxation, your reprieve from the mundane.  And you’ll find — if you don’t already realise this — that, unlike TV, which only leads you to stagnate, the Great Books can transform you. 

Now, I understand that not everyone can take the radical step of getting rid of the television entirely, but if you must hold onto it, use it with discipline.  Commit to watching only those programs that are truly worth it for you, your one or two favourite, high-quality HBO series, perhaps, or one football game per week, or some PBS series wherein you actually learn something, or whatever else it may be that does it for you, but please, no soap operas, no daytime talk shows and nothing with a laugh-track or any music channels or anything with trashy people doing trashy things.  I found it helped to force myself to jog in place whenever I had the TV on.  Not only does it counteract the weight gain you’d otherwise experience from doing nothing (be warned:  your ass may lose its appeal to the connoisseurs of mere magnitude) and get your blood flowing to keep your mind active, but it also pretty much forces you to limit your viewing time, which is a good thing.

• Experience the arts and sciences:  start reading, listening, viewing and learning.  Commit to spending time each and every day learning something.  ‘Learning’ does not mean you have to read a ‘how-to’ book or a nonfiction book filled with facts, although there are many great nonfiction books, of course.  You learn when you read great literature, when you experience great visual art or great music.  You grow.  You are changed as a human being. 

It is important to remember, however, that you need to be patient. You’re not going to start reading a book and experience a ‘eureka’ moment on every page.  You may not experience such a moment the whole way through, in fact, though you shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that you’ll still be subtly transformed, or even achieve a more direct revelation sometime later, in retrospect.  Each person finds the most resonance with particular great works, and less with some others that might also be great, though each, properly approached, has something to offer, and the works that you click with most might surprise you and will certainly change as you change over time.  But the key is that you must meet the work at least halfway; don’t expect it to reach out to you all by itself.  This is the mistake made in so many of those misguided all-about-me majors and courses students select (which responsible administrators would not allow them to select) on the superficial premise that they will be spoken to most immediately by whatever is already part of their own background and heritage, so that the African-American student studies African-American literature, the gay student studies gay literature and the not-very-bright student studies … well, he doesn’t is the point, but if he did, maybe he’d find himself getting a whole lot brighter.  Art created by dead white males isn’t just for dead white males, you see, just as art created by great female writers or great writers of any non-Caucasian race is not meant exclusively for that gender or other subgroup; if it were so limited, it wouldn’t be worth studying in the first place, as it would lack the kind of universality great art necessarily attains. 

But to ‘get it,’ you really must experience and re-experience and learn to interpret, which will come with practice.  This also means that if you’re just getting into serious literature, for instance, don’t start with Gravity’s Rainbow or Finnegans Wake (those are two of the harder ones).  Unless you’re a very unusual type of person, you could easily get discouraged and give up, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth.  Read The Great Gatsby, The Sun also Rises, Catcher in the Rye.  Read Crime and Punishment.  Find a good high school or college freshman syllabus for a literature class at the right level of difficulty.  Then create a syllabus and a realistic schedule for yourself, adjusting it periodically as you get a better sense of your time or when unforeseen contingencies interfere with your plans; but don’t stop just because you keep missing your own deadlines.  Instead, figure out why you keep falling behind and see what you can do about it.  ‘Better late than never,’ in any event, is part of the whole point I’m making here.  And if you start reading, viewing, listening and thinking and still find you’re feeling too often that you’re just missing something fundamental, by all means read some secondary literature.  See the movie version after you’ve read the book, if that helps.  Do an online course.  Or, better yet, turn this into a group project you undertake with your friends so that you can meet to discuss; this approach has the added benefit of encouraging all of you together to stay on schedule and away from the trash.  Keep at it, in any event.  It will pay off in time in all kinds of unexpected ways.

• Take a stand against trash culture.  This one is hard because it requires a kind of fortitude that not all of us are willing to exhibit.  It is also hard because it often runs directly counter to that mantra of universal tolerance that I noted above.  For instance, we —  especially those of us who came of age in the 1980s, 90s or later — have been brainwashed to regard so many of the pernicious speech patterns, mores, behaviours and lifestyle choices all-too-prevalent within African-American culture at the present time as no more than vibrant exemplars of cultural diversity, with a negative comment thereupon being indicative of cultural insensitivity or plain, old racism.  The impulse is commendable, an understandable overreaction to centuries of bigotry and worse, but an overreaction is precisely what it is — and it has outlived any usefulness it might have had.  It is not racist to believe that a given culture of any particular racially marked group — though I’m primarily speaking of African-American culture here, not of the culture of all people we’d describe as ‘black’ — is, at a given historical moment, possessed of certain unfortunate tendencies.  What is racist is to believe (and I don’t, and you shouldn’t) that such tendencies are somehow inevitable or unchangeable.  And what is also racist is not to expect better.  There may not be a whole lot George W Bush got right, but his notion of ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ is one worth keeping in mind. 

The fact is that, for a complex array of reasons far beyond the scope of this piece, African-American culture in its current manifestation partakes way too much of vulgarity, crassness, bumptious behavior, unrepentant materialism and unrefined sexuality.  This is present in spades in cultural productions such as hip-hop (its frequent catchiness and cleverness aside) and the styles of dancing associated with it.  It is present in the kind of over-the-top showboating typical among too many African-American athletes.  It appears in foul language — even if we bought the notion that lack of standard English subject-verb agreement is simply a different dialect rather than a speech pattern characteristic of poorly educated people of all races, we would not be compelled to believe that phenomena such as the use of the word ‘shit’ as a stand-in for virtually any and every common noun (eg, ‘Where you get that shit at?’) is no more than an alternate dialect as well.  And it is there as well in the crass flaunting of wealth in whatever form.  Moreover, because of our tendency — particularly common among younger people — to gravitate toward the outré and to see such behaviours as liberating in their defiance of restrictive social norms, what was once largely limited to the African-American community has become far more mainstream.  Culture and education are the antibiotics we need, but we are afraid to prescribe these because we have allowed ourselves to be shamed and bullied into silence.  It’s high time to resist the intimidation and stand on principle. 

Please note:  I am giving but one example (useful precisely because it represents something of a political hot potato) and in no way suggesting that all or even most trash culture emanates from this source.  Not African-American culture but opportunistic and amoral Corporate America, catering to the lowest common denominator in pursuit of profit, is responsible for the mass propagation of filth in the form of awful reality TV, vapid sitcoms, dumbed-down top-40 hits and much more.  And if many African-Americans who partake of the deleterious cultural predilections I’ve described at least have the excuse of a history of slavery, poverty, bigotry and lack of education, there is no excuse for those members of our professional classes and other financial elites who spend all their free time wining, dining, clubbing, golfing, skiing and shopping, without so much as a thought that there might be something far more fundamental lacking in their lives and their Philistine milieu.  If this is how our ‘elite’ classes conduct themselves, why should anyone be appalled when the housewives of the ghetto aspire to become no more than the housewives of Orange County, even as the housewives of Orange County become less and less distinguishable from the housewives of the ghetto in anything other than the amount of trash they can afford to consume?

My point is that regardless of the form in which such trash culture impinges upon us, we need not tolerate it, even if taking a stand against it would require us to violate unquestioned social taboos.  Be vigilant of such culture, refuse to partake of it or imitate it, and do not be afraid to express and patiently explain your views to others.  When one person says something, it emboldens another and then another, and before long, we’ve succeeded in exposing the problem to public scrutiny, the first step in bringing it to an end.

• And stop wasting time!  A lot of opportunities to learn and grow are missed simply because we waste our time on nonsense.  It boggles my mind to see people in public transportation routinely either doing absolutely nothing or fiddling with their smartphones, playing video games or futzing around with Facebook or other social media.  If you commute to work by public transportation, this is a daily learning opportunity, a few moments when you’re blissfully free from all the demands others might make upon your time; take advantage of those moments.  If you drive, you can listen to great music or audiobooks (nonfiction is best consumed this way because with great fiction, you really want to be able to focus on the individual words, which it’s hard to do while you’re driving).  Turn off your phone … or, if you can, ignore all the notifications advising you of the mindless miscellany you’re constantly receiving.  You can set aside a window of time to check this stuff and respond to it, if need be.  Uninstall those video games.  You don’t need them.  (The withdrawal symptoms will subside after a few days.)  Don’t buy those glossy tabloid magazines of the sort that interview Christina Aguilera about her ass, and don’t even page through them in waiting rooms.  Ask yourself whether you really care about the cheap-thrill infotainment they offer.  What difference will it make in your life?  How will it make you happier, wiser?  Don’t let those pablum peddlers who put these things out succeed in commandeering your attention, in distracting you from the pursuit of worthier goals.  I’m sure there are many ways in which each of us fails to maximise free time.  Give some thought to where you go wrong and why.  Then take action.  Seize these moments.  Take them back from all those people and forces that would, if you let them, anaesthetise you into complacency and silence.

The global message I’m trying to convey, if it isn’t obvious by now, is never to be satisfied with being what you already are … because you can always be more.  Don’t think of yourself as static, as this kind of person or that kind of person (eg, ‘I’m just not a reader’), because all of these things can change if you put in the initial effort to develop new habits and new cravings to replace the maladaptive and unproductive old ones afflicting us all; it’s really like anything else you have to have to work at (getting into the habit of exercising routinely being a good example):  it’s hardest at the beginning, but once you get going, you’ll be surprised how essential and rewarding it will start to feel. 

I’m not ultimately suggesting that Culture will improve you in some conventional goody-two-shoes-type way, though widening your horizons and broadening your mind certainly can’t hurt even in this respect.  Still, I won’t promise Culture will make you better.  But it will do something far more important:  it will make you — and, one by one, all of us — greater.


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Friday 7 June 2013

Single, but not alone

Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, by Michael Cobb (New York University Press, 2012)

During a wedding reception this Easter, a distant cousin asked me whether I have a girlfriend. I replied that I do not. “So do you have boyfriend?” Saying no, rather than “not any more”, failed to stop her questioning: “Don’t you have anyone?” Her persistence was not an attempt to out me to an extended family I rarely see, but instead a verbalized struggle with the idea that I’m twenty-something, an earner, a homeowner, and yet: I’m uncoupled.

I may be single but – pun intended – I’m not alone. Today, many of us have transient or unbound relationships. According to the 2011 census, 34.6% of over 16s in England and Wales have never been legally married or partnered; just under 4% more than in 2001 (despite the subsequent introduction of civil partnerships). More and more of us, too, will return to being single throughout our lives as separation and divorce rates increase. Thus, Single is a timely and lively book in favour of the uncoupled, underpinned by a common personal story and entertaining puns. A ‘singular’ response to the dying wish of the author’s grandma: that he would finally settle down with The One.

‘Couplism’, as Michael Cobb calls it, is one societal prejudice that remains acceptable: picking our pockets through the tax or probate systems, and constructing a glass ceiling to career progression. It is inconceivable that the US would permit sole occupancy of the White House (though the UK did elect a bachelor, Ted Heath, to Downing Street). When people hear that we’re single, they will usually still enquire ‘why’ instead of exclaiming ‘why not!’ Worse, we tend to interrogate ourselves. As Cobb points out, ‘the problem of the single is not the actual, lived experience of people who find themselves alone as much as the feelings that deliberately foreclose our understanding of singleness because singles are thought to be lonely – and loneliness, as we’re frequently reminded, has terrible consequences’ (15). Cobb attempts to counter this condition with his academic revelation. His provocative argument is as poignant as it is preposterous.

Affixing S for Singles to the ever-expanding intialism for sexual minorities – LGBTQ(S) – Cobb aligns his ‘camp polemic’ (p33) with Queer Theory in an especially controversial way. In contemporary sexuality and gender studies, the subject is so often (and often rightly) conceived in relation to the Other. We have become suspicious of ‘inflated individualisms’ which frequently oppress ideas of collectivity, community, and deny minorities a voice (p25). But now, Cobb worries that our wariness about singular beings when examining social subjugation ‘might actually help some conservative forces’ (ibid). He therefore rehabilitates an autonomous figure much like the flâneur – a positively-coded loan-ranger – in reading various cultural ‘texts’ of different media, from Beyoncé to Baudelaire. 

The first chapter contends that the couple is fatally doomed from its consummation as such. The second turns to the after-effects of couples, once they pass away – the legal situation upon death, and beliefs about eternal togetherness in an American state that’s paradigmatic for mainstream and multiple marriages: Utah. (Cobb focuses in particular on Mormonism and the polygamy debate). His third chapter rescues the single from being a scapegoat, proclaiming him or her as saviour, through discussion of two prose works: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) and Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivner (1853). Finally, Cobb returns to Utah to present the single as a democratic character: the position is open to everybody, its possibilities are boundless.

There is first-person narration of the author’s hike through the desert, where he amusingly resisted the devilish thoughts of ‘couplism’, and through which he portrays Morrissey as well as, ironically, himself as prophets of singleness and Singles Studies. Cobb wants to show that “there is something theological, or, to be more precise, rhetorically theological, that happens when we encounter our vistas by ourselves” (p174). His playful wit is fun, and his descriptions in this final chapter are, in part, genuinely moving.

But for all its personal confessions and theoretical manoeuvres, a fundamental problem throughout the book is that it is not really concerned with definitions. Nor – more problematically – does it address interpersonal ethics, despite the project allegedly being ‘ethics driven’ (p25). After two chapters against the hegemonic idea of coupledom, we are told that even the partnered can be single without leaving each other. We can become single ‘for a few moments out of a busy day of being a spouse’ (p106). This tallies with Cobb’s desire not to vilify ‘those who make meaningful, often monogamous, commitments to a Significant Other’ (p8). So what, we wonder, would constitute the momentary single who remains faithful and sensitive to their other half? I, for one, am unsure. It must surely go beyond the ordinary points in every partner’s day in which a thought or action is not directly related to, but also does not explicitly deviate from the status of their relationship. Cobb is vague: either he is inattentive to detail, or he does not actually care for the other person.

‘An ominous word of caution, a prophecy: these theoretical waters are treacherous. To be single in a world that won’t permit you to be single makes being single an impossible thing to know with any precision. To try and know the single requires that we navigate something larger than what we’re comfortable knowing. But there’s greatness on the horizon: something epic. Remember, the point of Odysseus’s adventures was not merely the return to his faithful Penelope, who was busy resisting all the other couples she could become. The point was the delay, the adventures that made Odysseus heroic – his striving to be immortal’ (p106).

 

If we agree with Cobb that being single permits freedom – and that being a coupled single such as Odysseus, say, allows for fleeting freedom – then this excitement comes at a cost to the likes of Penelope. Note that she would cry herself to sleep if she was not consoled in her dreams by Athena. Perhaps we should just toughen up, be less melodramatic and give our loved ones their space for grandeur. But Cobb does not at all admit the existence of a line between retaining individuality and becoming selfish. In this he is not only disingenuous. He turns a wilful blind eye to what makes us humane. For him, the single is ‘not self-centred but self-horizoned’ (p191); I am wary of giving such immense scope to our own, monoperspectival worldview. I fear what our preoccupation with it might do to others – or AN Other, specifically, should I continue to find (and lose) him in the sort of search for romance that Cobb would probably argue displaces and annihilates my selfhood.

Cobb’s concept of ‘couplism’ is less comical than it sounds. Indeed, his coinage is politically serious. However, while I laughed with the author at the rest of this enjoyable book, I was ultimately unconvinced about being single in his sense. Because along with offering ‘aesthetic arrest’ (p170), I worry that in disregarding others, if only for a moment, the Single agenda disables our capacity to also look out for someone else, or to keep them in sight – and thereby to be kind. At present, I’m by myself and happy, but I do not wish to be a Cobbian singleton. Any good-looking, available gay man with a sense of humour who agrees with me here: do get in touch.


Books

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Tuesday 21 May 2013

Alone in an unbearable world

Wozzeck, ENO, Coliseum, London

After the last notes of the orchestra ended and the curtain had fallen, the first night audience sat in silence for a full ten seconds. It’s one of the most intense evenings of opera I have experienced.

In some ways, it’s almost uncannily timely. Wozzeck, returned from war, is plagued by visions, terrors, delusions. Director Carrie Cracknell sets it here and now: the military parade is of Union-Jack-draped coffins and desert fatigues, a dark twist when the admiring women sing of how handsome the soldiers are. Small, Afghan-looking children haunt the multi-storey set.

But there are always wars from which soldiers come home. The opera was written during and after the First World War, when Berg spent some time in the German army. Büchner’s play, on which it is based, was written only a few years after the death of the historical Woyzeck in 1824, as war and revolution swept to and fro across Europe.

What sharpens this story for twenty-first century Britain is the way Wozzeck’s existential agony is treated by those around him. The Doctor is interested in Wozzeck only as an experimental subject whose case history could make the researcher immortal. Even as Wozzeck is in emotional agony, learning of his lover Marie’s infidelity, the doctor studies his racing pulse and notes his symptoms. This too draws on history: the real Woyzeck tried to plead insanity, but the examining doctor decided he was sane and responsible for his actions.

But despite the very contemporary issues around mental illness, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and ex-military men who turn to violence, more universal themes underpin the opera’s enduring power. Is it nature that makes Wozzeck lash out, or the crushing social system that has humiliated him and left him powerless? Is he a victim of madness, or is his bloody end a horrifying final rebellion against a life of victimhood?

Berg’s work retains the spare poetry of Büchner’s play. The sung exchanges and soliloquies are philosophical, evocative, not expositional. ‘How the Moon rises red…’ Between the sung sections, the orchestra creates spaces full of emotion, which Cracknell populates not just with storyline, but with resonant images: Light shining through yellow smoke; a dead woman trailing long, wet hair.

The score ranges across Mahlerian harmonies, lyrical lullabies, expressionistic discords and jagged, tearing atonality. Sometimes it seems to reflect the growing chaos inside Wozzeck’s mind, at others it uses orchestration, texture and style to draw us along an emotional path or even to share a witty joke with the audience. No wonder it influenced both Shostakovitch and Britten.

Leigh Melrose as Wozzeck, Tom Randle as the Captain – tattooed and bursting with unpredictable energy – and Sara Jakubiak as Marie are outstanding, but there are no weak performances. Music, acting and visual elements work together in such rich layers that one evening feels inadequate to take everything in.

It would be very easy indeed to leave the theatre thinking about the plight of soldiers and their families, or the particular evils of specific wars, or the inadequacies of psychiatry. And to provoke such real-life thoughts is one thing the arts can do. But Berg’s Wozzeck asks us to refrain from treating this human tragedy as a case study, as an example of what they are capable of when social circumstances cage them like the lizards of the Doctor’s experiments.

Though Wozzeck is a nobody, playing out his sorry story in a sordid world, he is as human as Oedipus or Othello. To those around him he is insignificant, pathetic, stupid, a failure as a man. To Berg, to Cracknell and to us, he is a man, alone in an unbearable world, whose tragedy deserves – and gets – everything that opera can use to express it.


Till 25 May 2013.


MusicOpera

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Monday 29 April 2013

From bragging boys to haggard men

The Weir, Donmar Warehouse, London

An Irishman, an Irishman and an Irishman walked into an (Irish) bar and told some ghost stories. A woman joined them and shared one hell of a horror story of her own. They all got the shivers and they all laughed. In turn, each of the Irish men whispered, ‘I am lonely’. These frightened confessions were by far the scariest stories of the night. 

It might not take long to summarise Conor McPherson’s play, but this is still a beast of a show. What gentle, funny, moving theatre! The dialogue is exquisite. It hums, swells, soars, crackles and whispers. The characters are ordinary – yet somehow dazzling in their ordinariness. And the structure is sublime. McPherson writes plays that feel simple but are tied together with such skill, the themes as delicate as silk, lightly binding everything together but never squeezing too tight.

The characters develop as deftly as the atmosphere, which is initially light-hearted and bolshy but ultimately quiet, honest and raw. Barman Brendan (Peter McDonald) and Jack (Brian Cox) kick things off with deceptive ease. They play out their tired yet entertaining routine, deliberating over drinks they know they will have, gossiping about locals they rarely see and dismissing a life of domestic bliss they will never know.

Local handyman Jim (Ardal O’Hanlon) joins them and he too is living a life of blank pages, holed away with his ill mother who point blank refuses to die. Their easy conversation – which still has thorns thanks to Jack’s spiky outbursts – is ruptured by the arrival of local businessman, Finbar (Risteard Cooper). He has brought along Valerie (Dervla Kirwan), new to the town and its idiosyncrasies. The pub morphs with Valerie’s arrival. The space seems to contract as the men jostle about for position, unsure of where to sit or stand.

And then the horror stories begin. Perhaps there could’ve been a touch more malice to them; director Josie Rourke teases out some bruising banter but the stories and the storytellers never truly threaten. We feel a touch too safe in their company and there’s a whiff of the boy scouts to the ghost stories they tell. For all the shocks and suspense there is comfort in the whole process - not unlike the flickering camp-fire that warms us, as we spin our spooky tales.

Despite the slightly soft-edge to these ghost-stories, they still fill the space beautifully. The whole theatre shrinks and we are drawn closer and closer, drinking and laughing and gasping with the characters on-stage. Dervla Kirwan is an intriguing, baffling presence as newcomer Valerie. She exists on a different emotional plain from everyone else. She examines the men with such a sad intensity, looking for answers in their faces. When the time comes for Valerie to tell her own, deeply personal horror story, it is as she has absorbed all the men’s fear and is releasing it in one almighty exhalation.

It is quite something to see the men’s appearance change with Valerie’s haunting confession. They transform from bragging boys to haggard men, their faces etched with sadness and shame. Brian Cox’s transformation is particularly striking. His Jack is initially pumped full of bravado; he moves and speaks with the type of insistent swagger, which stinks of self-doubt. But after Valerie’s revelation, Jack drops his performance. His final speech, in which he recalls losing the love of his life, cuts deep. Simple phrases hang heavy with meaning; ‘I just…left her out.’ A lost love, McPherson whispers, can make ghosts of us all.


Till 8 June 2013


Theatre

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Sunday 28 April 2013

Gleeful, distilled creativity

Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre, London

The Battersea Arts Centre doesn’t half like a Greek myth. I recently saw Paper Cinema’s brilliant version of The Odyssey here and now Little Bulb’s Orpheus. The grandeur of these Greek tales matches up nicely with the vast and creeky BAC. These stories, much like the BAC, also inspire exceptional playfulness in performers. The huge scope of both the Greek myths and the BAC presents the artist with an awful lot of space to wriggle around in and really get creative.

The Grand Hall could not be better suited to this show. There’s an organ, for a start. There is also a massive red velvet curtain (and what a lot of dignified swooshing goes on!), ceilings that climb up forever and a general aura of nostalgic decay. It is the perfect environment in which to pour Little Bulb’s talents, which always combine music and magic, childishness and sophistication, myth making and myth breaking.

Little Bulb have chosen a typically topsy turvy approach in their retelling of Orpheus’s quest to save his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Here, the myth is retold through the framing context of a 1930s French cabaret bar. Guitar maestro Django Reinhardt (Dominic Conway) is our Orpheus for the night and Yvette Pepin (Eugenie Pastor) – who is a bit like Edith Piaf’s batty aunt – is our host and Orpheus’ doomed wife, Eurydice.

What follows is a musical mash up that has the air of a children’s school concert, yet is also a mature and slick production. The show pulses with the kind of knowing naivete that is now Little Bulb’s trademark. Everything – even the hugely sophisticated and high-end stuff – is performed with a great big twinkle in the eye.

Dominic Conway, as Reinhardt as Orpheus, is the heart of this show. He performs a number of numbers inspired by Reinhardt, which have all the twang and guts and soul of a gypsy and jazz performer rolled into one. There’s a bit of Chaplin in there too, as Conway suggestively wriggles his eyes at the audience, teasing giggles from us just as our heart-strings are being wrenched by his yearning, passionate playing. 

There is opera, ballet, cabaret and slapstick, all directed with confident panache by Alexander Scott. The efficient yet expressive approach of this company is encapsulated in the tidily effective design from Mary Drummond. A few simple sketches scrawled across draped sheets is all that is required to suggest a wood, Paris or a ghostly underworld.

There are of course shortcomings here. There always will be with a company this giddy. But it is brilliant to see Orpheus coming of age, yet still holding onto that gleeful, distilled creativity that sets them apart from the pack. This is a sophisticated production but it still radiates a rare and innocent energy that, for a few happy hours, makes kids of us all.


Till 11 May


Theatre

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Friday 19 April 2013

The Batman of Pop Art

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, Tate Modern, London

Screaming fighter planes! Square-jawed heroes! Corny cartoon captions! Yes, hepcats and kittens, it’s Roy Lichtenstein, the Batman of Pop Art. We know his work so well — or think we do. For this exhibition - the most comprehensive one ever devoted to him and the first major retrospective of his work to be staged for over 20 years - has a few surprises in store. What are they?

Born in 1923, Lichtenstein taught art in New York and New Jersey before he leapt to fame as part of the Pop Art boom of the early 1960s (more of that in a moment). Let’s jump straight into action with some of the classic examples we see here of Lichtenstein’s Pop productions. There is ‘Step-On Can with Leg’ (1961) showing two pictures of an elegant, high-heeled female ankle activating the pedal of a waste-bin, a neat combination of style, technological efficiency and cleanliness. ‘Whaam!’(1963) shows an American fighter plane destroying an enemy aircraft in a dogfight, whilst ‘Oh, Jeff… I Love You, Too…But…,’(1964) shows a young girl having an agonized phone conversation with a boyfriend who, one suspects, has come to the end of his romantic shelf life. ‘Portable Radio’ (1962) is a black/grey face-on celebration of this icon of instant, convenient access to popular entertainment. ‘Desk Diary’ (1962) with its scribbled page notes is — with its reference to ‘Chamber of Comm’ — a celebration of business and its mainstay, the networking entrepreneur. ‘Masterpiece’ (1962) shows a girl, with a facial expression appearing to combine love and ambition, telling her male artist friend that fame is imminent. (‘Why, Brad darling, this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you’ll have all of New York clamouring for your work!’) ‘George Washington’ (1962) shows the first president almost guffawing with pleasure.

But we also see things we might not expect from Lichtenstein, showing quieter forms of work far removed from the slam-dunk exuberant certainties of Pop. ‘Seascape’ (c.1965) shows water reflecting streaky light whilst ‘Sunrise’ (1965) gives us a small red sun radiating sharp yellow rays. There is ‘Brushstroke with Spatter’ (1966) where the spattered paint - which lies between two yellow and black lines — seems to be the result of an artistic accident rather than a repudiation of slickness in favour of an experimental, free splashing of paint in the Abstract Impressionist style of Jackson Pollock. There are pieces of sculpture that have an Art Deco look, such as ‘Modern Sculpture’ (1967) featuring curved metal bars and a mirror (and which have the effect, intentional or otherwise, of bringing to mind upmarket bathroom furniture crying out to be festooned with fluffy towels).

Lichtenstein’s painting ‘Mirror # 1’ (1969) shows it as grey and murky instead of reflecting - as we might have expected it to from his earlier works - some paragon of cheesecake charm or beefcake beauty. ‘Artist’s Studio: The Dance’ (1974) gives us flowing figures reminiscent of Matisse’s picture ‘The Dance’ of 1910: the dancers prance as if they are performing some Dionysian tribal rite. ‘Blue Nude’ (1995) shows a female nude -turning to look at her reflection in a mirror - whose body is partially covered in pointillist-style dots (a technique used by the Neo-Impressionists to give a stronger sense of colour and clarity to the subject of their work), and who seems uncomfortable in her skin. Meanwhile, entering the Classical world, we have ‘Laco3n’ (1988) showing the post-Homeric Trojan prince and priest of Apollo, whose story is told by Virgil in the Aeneid, engaged in frantic, futile combat against entangling serpents.

As well as this calm, reflective - almost brooding— work, Lichtenstein also experimented with what he called Perfect/ Imperfect paintings. These consisted of bright geometric shapes which threatened to - or in some cases did — reach beyond the edge of the canvas. His ‘Imperfect Painting’ (1994) makes us feel the jagged yellow and blue forms almost being physically restrained to prevent their escape. During his military service in the Second World War Lichtenstein, whilst stationed in London prior to embarkation for the North-West European front, bought a book on Chinese painting and African masks, and his series of Chinese-style paintings could have been a late fruit of that purchase. (If so, it raises a question: should the clichéd, composite image of American serviceman in wartime Britain as being ‘over paid, over sexed and over here‘, dispensing candy and nylons to the ration- bound British, be modified to include those who used their time in Britain to absorb the culture available in its concert halls and galleries?) From that series we see ‘Landscape in Fog‘ (1996), showings shrouded grey jagged mountains.

So the content of this exhibition is not only impressively wide-ranging, much more than we might expect from an exponent of Pop Art and its exuberant spirit. It suggests — rightly or wrongly - that there were two main phases to Lichtenstein’s artistic career. If this was the case, why should that have been? The answer may lie in the origins of Pop Art itself. For Pop Art celebrated, well, the art of what was popular from the 1950s (even though, in America, it would only come to fruition in the following decade) — comic strips, advertising imagery, a time when America was still mindful of its military successes against Nazi Germany and Japan and which were regularly celebrated by Hollywood, as well as experiencing a boom in prosperity after the hardships of the Depression. Few people shared the concerns of President Eisenhower over the influence of what he referred-to as the country’s military-industrial complex: most prosperous Americans were more interested in obtaining the latest white goods or fin-tailed cars (just the thing for the drive-in movies). Whilst some theorists attempted to explain Pop Art as a form of abstract art involving the signifiers of commercialism — thus sanctifying Pop and removing from it any taint of popular taste — its success, arguably, lay in the fact that its content was recognizable. It appealed to ordinary people and — once they’d been given a theory to hold about it in order to avoid the dread charge of liking popular taste - critics alike. With the work of Lichtenstein, Warhol and other Pop artists, it was a relief for all concerned to have something with clear subject- matter after the splashings of lack the Dripper and his fellow Abstract Impressionists.

But the optimism which lay behind Pop Art would soon take a battering. The assassination in 1963 of JFK can be seen as precursor to the end of that optimism. The military humiliations of Vietnam and the economic hardships of the early seventies completed the process. Whilst Lichtenstein may have laid aside his Pop style in order to experiment with other forms of painting, was he also, subconsciously, influenced by these major dents in American confidence? Did he feel that Pop was no longer an appropriate medium for artistic expression, representing a sort of optimistic spirit whose time had passed? Despite the surface resurrection of American morale during the Reagan years — think of glitzy television shows like Dallas and Dynasty or films like An Oficer and a Gentleman — Lichtenstein’s work retained this spirit of restraint (which he combined, for the most part, with the bright colours of his earlier work) until his death in 1997.

Whatever interpretation we place on Lichtenstein’s approach to his work, it is chiefly the early Pop material for which he remains famous and it makes the major visual impact in this exhibition. It leaves us with contradictory emotions. On the one hand, it seems dated —the colourful art showing an abundance of plenty which seemed shiny and new in the 1950s is now something we take for granted: ever-more sophisticated technology ensures that our visual experience is saturated with it, and we can imagine what a joyful time Lichtenstein and, even more, Warhol, would have had with disseminating their work at the click of a mouse. At the same time, it is a simple, touchingly naive elegy for an era whose optimism seems eclipsed by the unsettling economic and political realities and challenges of today’s world.


Till 27 May


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Tuesday 16 April 2013

Every twitch, moan and flicker of the eyes

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Apollo Theatre, London

If you live among theatre doubters, take them to this show. Marianne Elliott’s sumptuous production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a brilliant example of just how expressive the stage can be. If only more directors and writers asked this much of the theatre; the West End would be a much richer place.

Writer Simon Stephens and director Elliott have recognised that it isn’t the story itself but the way in which the story is told that defines Mark Haddon’s original novel. The plot is solid but it’s nothing special. Instead, the master-stroke of Haddon’s novel was his first-person narrative and the way in which it allowed us access into the mind of Christopher, a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. It is a curious example of style proving more substantial than substance - a trick which is repeated, to great success, in this restlessly inventive production.

The stage is configured according to Christopher’s priorities and thought processes. Finely lined graph paper covers the stage walls and floor. Streams of numbers are projected against the walls at significant moments and, when Christopher is touched (something he hates), the stage explodes with dangerous white light. Every space is delineated with clean straight lines and every object is square, as if the world was one giant game of Tetris.

All the props are abstract, accented only with the elements that Christopher might appreciate. So whilst many of the ‘grown up’ objects - microwaves or TVs – are represented by blocks, these squares are coloured and lit from within. It is the colour that Christopher cares about, so it is the colour that is emphasised on stage.

Even more revealing, there are no tangible divisions or barriers in Christopher’s world. When he walks about the streets, trying to track down the murderer of the neighbour’s dog, the houses have no walls. Christopher’s world is a without boundaries – or, at least, without divisions that he can easily recognise or understand. No wonder he hides in small spaces. No wonder he gets frightened when people cross those invisible boundaries and touch him.

There is not a jot of Luke Treadaway in Luke Treadaway’s performance. It is one of the most consuming performances I have ever seen. Every twitch, moan and flicker of the eyes adds to his interpretation. The stage might help us understand Christopher’s mindset but it’d mean nothing without Treadaway’s perfectly calibrated performance.

There is an extraordinary moment when Christopher, for all his love of order and systems and equations, opens up about his passion for astrology. Suddenly the stage, which has been so carefully divided up into linear spaces, explodes into chaotic life. The stars that fascinate Christopher are projected onto the stage and out into the audience. His imagination crashes through all those invisible boundaries and connects Christopher with us, the audience, and a world without limits.


Till 4 January 2014


Theatre

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Sunday 7 April 2013

Bloody exposing

The Trial, Shoreditch Town Hall and beyond, London

Can a show convince you that you’re going to die within the next half hour or so? Of course it bleeding can’t. It seems an utterly bonkers position in which to put a theatre-goer. The brain just doesn’t bend that way. Yet much of Retz’ immersive take on Kafka’s The Trial hinges on us believing in our imminent death. We don’t.

It’s deeply frustrating because this company clearly knows a thing or two about immersive theatre. Some moments wrap right around one and there’s a cleverly choreographed vagueness to this promenade piece that is classic Kafka. Having been ejected from Shoreditch Town Hall, we’re spat out onto the street and accosted by an officer. He seems to think we’ve done something wrong, although he’s not sure what. It’s bloody exposing, standing in the street, being questioned by a man in uniform as everyone else streams past you. Guilt starts to creep in and it’s surprisingly hard to shake off. 

This vague feeling of unease lingers for much of this excellent opening segment. As one walks through the open streets, in search of a distant lawyer, it feels like the world is watching. The best bits in this show are when we’re nudged ever so slightly and then left to our own devices, alone and increasingly paranoid.

But the show grows ever more explicit and much less scary. It starts to feel like we’re being bullied rather than our senses teased. This feeling intensifies in the Part 2, when we are placed on trial. Again, there are a few brilliant moments in here, which plunge us head first, spluttering, into Kafka’s swirling world. As we await our trial, a diaphanous man prepares us for our fate. He doesn’t say anything but his cool, close gaze whispers unspeakable horrors.

But for much of the time, we’re simply badgered and bullied by a number of aggressive types, the threat of execution held – ridiculously – over our heads. It feels silly. It also feels completely out of synch with Kafka’s novel, which doesn’t look death in the eye until the very final moment. The clawing fear in Kafka’s novel isn’t the fear of death – it’s a fear of entrapment, in which all doors lead further inwards and never out. The only thing achieved by this promise of death is the comforting knowledge that the show will soon be over and we will be released - ALIVE OBVIOUSLY – soon enough.


Till 27 April 2013


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critical network
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WRITING FROM LIVE ART
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Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

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Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

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Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

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New Left Review, international Leftist journal

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Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

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And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical

Contemporary Writers
New writers, new works, databased by the British Council

Pen Pusher
London-based free literary magazine

Story
Celebrate the short story!

Orange Prize
Only the fairer sex need apply

Man Booker Prize
Literary Prize of the Finest Quality

Granta
The up and coming speak

The Bookseller
Infused with news from the world of books

International Pen
Writers around the world campaign for freedom of expression

Serpent’s Tail
Independent publisher for experimental voices

Random House
Fiction from the biggest publisher around

Edinburgh Book Festival
Books books and discussing books galore

Jewish Book Week
Celebrating, discussing and critiquing Jewish Lit


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Contemporary Writers
New writers, new works, databased by the British Council

Pen Pusher
London-based free literary magazine

Story
Celebrate the short story!

Orange Prize
Only the fairer sex need apply

Man Booker Prize
Literary Prize of the Finest Quality

Granta
The up and coming speak

The Bookseller
Infused with news from the world of books

International Pen
Writers around the world campaign for freedom of expression

Serpent’s Tail
Independent publisher for experimental voices

Random House
Fiction from the biggest publisher around

Edinburgh Book Festival
Books books and discussing books galore

Jewish Book Week
Celebrating, discussing and critiquing Jewish Lit


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Contemporary Writers
New writers, new works, databased by the British Council

Pen Pusher
London-based free literary magazine

Story
Celebrate the short story!

Orange Prize
Only the fairer sex need apply

Man Booker Prize
Literary Prize of the Finest Quality

Granta
The up and coming speak

The Bookseller
Infused with news from the world of books

International Pen
Writers around the world campaign for freedom of expression

Serpent’s Tail
Independent publisher for experimental voices

Random House
Fiction from the biggest publisher around

Edinburgh Book Festival
Books books and discussing books galore

Jewish Book Week
Celebrating, discussing and critiquing Jewish Lit


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Battle of Ideas

Institute of Contemporary Arts

Intelligence Squared

Gresham College

LSE Public Lectures

Fabian Society Events

Exhibitions and Talks at the British Library



Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for this year’s Battle of Ideas festival.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Internet Movie Database
IMDB - does exactly what it says on the tin

BFI
British Film Institute’s Finest

BFI’s Sight and Sound
World cinema eating its heart out

They shoot pictures, don’t they?
Dedicated to the art of directing

Barbican Film
Some of the most innovative films in town

ICA Film
Independent, political and art-house gorge-fest

National Media Museum
Not nearly as bad as it sounds

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


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Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Internet Movie Database
IMDB - does exactly what it says on the tin

BFI
British Film Institute’s Finest

BFI’s Sight and Sound
World cinema eating its heart out

They shoot pictures, don’t they?
Dedicated to the art of directing

Barbican Film
Some of the most innovative films in town

ICA Film
Independent, political and art-house gorge-fest

National Media Museum
Not nearly as bad as it sounds

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.