The British artistic and cultural community’s almost reflexive support for the European Union and disdain for reclaiming our democracy should be a source of great shame
Like this blog, the Telegraph’s Allison Pearson is surprised that a conclave of the nation’s most successful creative types seem to prefer the dull conformity and supranational managerialism of the European Union to the democracy and freedom which could potentially flourish outside the EU.
What they really love, then, is a platonic ideal of Europe, of solidarity between friendly nations with each other’s best interests at heart. Marvellous idea, darlings, until you look at Greece. Punished, fearful and running out of medicine, the Greek people had to be sacrificed for the greater European ideal. Orwell was right. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
Why do all these senior cultural figures support the rotten EU status quo when they should be leading the revolt against it? Munira Munzi, who was in charge of cultural policy in London under Boris Johnson, claims that many arts people agree with Brexit, but “they are worried about their careers and what people might think of them. They assume that everyone who wants to leave the EU must be anti-immigration”.
Still, not all creative types are too mushily politically correct to understand what’s at stake on June 23. Take the actor who said: “There’s so much in the 21st century that’s stymied by bureaucracy and mediocrity and committee.” His name was Benedict Cumberbatch.
The “platonic ideal of Europe” – that’s exactly it. Not the reality.
There are two factors at work here. First is the immense groupthink and social pressure within the cultural elite to hold right-on, progressive political opinions, and the potential ostracisation (or worse) which could befall particularly young artists and actors trying to make professional connections, build a network and establish their careers if they associate themselves with a movement lazily assumed to be all about xenophobia and nationalism.
Many of the key people and institutions are rabidly pro-EU beyond all reason. Classical Music magazine spent most of Friday pumping out endless “Save the EU Youth Orchestra” propaganda on Twitter, regardless of the sentiments of their readers about the coming referendum, and utterly oblivious to the fact that moments like these are precisely why the EU funds orchestras and the like in the first place – so that they have a guaranteed praise chorus ready to spring into action as soon as the hand which feeds finds itself threatened, in this case by Brexit.
(The EUYO is under threat because of a recent withdrawal of funding from Brussels, and not specifically because of Brexit).
Say you are a young orchestral musician and a supporter of democracy. Knowing that a majority of your colleagues, the trade publications and the key influencers with the ability to help your career are all passionate defenders of the EU, are you more likely to say “the hell with it!” and publicly campaign for Brexit anyway, or quietly swallow your political feelings and go with the crowd? And who could blame such a person from choosing the latter, quieter path?
The second factor leading to the infamous Britain Stronger in Europe letter is good old fashioned woolly thinking – the idea that the warm, platonic ideal of Europe in the minds of the EU’s supporters in any way actually resembles the snarling, antidemocratic beast which exists in reality.
This referendum is serious business. So can Remainers please stop projecting whatever they desperately wish the EU to be onto an organisation which has never really been about friendly trade and cooperation, but is actually all about slowly and inexorably becoming a supranational government of Europe. And which is not going to abandon that long-held goal just because the British are now expressing a few doubts.
Right now, too many of our cultural leaders and elites are letting short term financial greed and/or wishful thinking about the EU’s true nature get in the way of their responsibility to think and act as engaged citizens.
Sure, if one buries one’s head in the sand and ignores the stated intentions of the EU’s founding fathers, the trajectory of integration since the 1957 and the imperative for further integration if the euro is to survive, one might successfully convince oneself that the EU is just a harmless gathering of countries who come together to trade, tell jokes, save the Earth and advance human rights. It takes near Olympian levels of denialism or apathy to maintain this self delusion, but clearly a great number of our most prominent actors, directors, producers and musicians are willing to do what it takes.
Pretending that the EU is a benign club with no pretensions or aspirations to statehood is ridiculous, and increasingly untenable. But even more unforgivable than that is being willing to overlook this reality in the grubby pursuit of grants and funding from EU bodies, or out of a desperate desire to appear forward-thinking and progressive.
And the unedifying sight of so many “household name” artists lining up to sing the praises of an explicitly political construct which falsely attempts to take credit for the cultural achievements of an entire continent is, frankly, sickening.
Though repression can occasionally produce its own kind of tortured beauty (see Shostakovich), generally speaking the extent to which an artist is not free and is required to make their work conform to certain external directives, requirements or purposes is the same extent to which their output falls short of greatness.
Real artists care about freedom, and cannot function without it. Unlike Benedict Cumberbatch and Sir Patrick Stewart, they don’t actively collude in suppressing freedom in order to protect the integrity of their EU begging bowl.
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