Hell hath no fury like a self-involved, virtue-signalling, pig ignorant artist forcibly separated from his beloved European identity
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be in close proximity to a young child having a screaming meltdown in a supermarket, church or (worst of all) on a long aeroplane journey will immediately recognise the tenor and tone of the Guardian’s latest offering in their ongoing “But The Evil Tor-ees Took My European Identity From Me” series.
And this week’s whinnying public tantrum comes courtesy of writer Tom McCarthy, who can’t wait to tell us how he spurned the opportunity to attend a festival of British arts because daring to celebrate British artistic creativity post-Brexit is clearly akin to having attended the Nuremberg Rallies in 1930s Germany.
McCarthy pompously declares:
In our society, the artist may have no executive power whatsoever, but their ace-card lies in the fact that they command a means – perhaps the primal one – of putting value in the world: a means of making meaning. They can use this status to subvert, or to shore up, power – sometimes both at the same time – and they can do this well, badly or indifferently; but one thing they can never do is be politically neutral.
A few weeks ago I received an invitation to a special reception to be held at the Royal Academy for “British artists” to celebrate “British creativity”. In normal times such a gesture might have seemed a little jingoistic, but essentially innocuous. But these are not normal times. Given the extraordinary far-right takeover the country seems to be undergoing, current talk of “British” X or Y or Z (“values” or “decency” or “culture”) usually marks one end of a chain, at the other end of which someone is being shunned in a playground, spat at in a supermarket, or worse. The invitation mentioned designers and businesses who “shape our culture”, and outlined the security procedures that would surround the event. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines: while Martin Roth at the V&A had made it clear his institution would have no truck with such nonsense, the RA was helping to assemble a roll-call of figures from the arts to pose arm-in-arm with ministers, royalty and innovators of the James Dyson variety, for a soft-power, post-Brexit rebrand of “British” culture.
How terribly brave of McCarthy to make such a principled stand, which will have cost him absolutely nothing and cemented his status as a hero among other pig-ignorant europhiles in the cultural scene. No, really. How terribly subversive, taking a public action which panders to the existing groupthink and prejudices of the political and cultural elite, nearly all of whom remain horrified by Brexit. The idea that Tom McCarthy is in any way being countercultural or subversive is as hilarious as it is pitiful.
The fact is, I’m not an example of “British creativity”. Like all English-language writers, I’m thoroughly European. To read Shakespeare is to read a rich remix of Ovid, Petrarch and Lucretius; to read Joyce (a British passport-holder) is to read Mallarmé, Laforgue, Goethe. The wellspring of our shared archive is Greek – and since the Hellenic world was in fact spread all around the Mediterranean basin, this means that to be European is already to be African and Asian.
Millennia of trade and empire, of diaspora and endlessly crisscrossing migration, have produced a culture that is and always will be cross-pollinated. If London and other British cities have become cultural hubs, this is because they stand at intersections within larger, international flows and networks. To credit an intersection with creating (“innovating”) the currents from which it merely feeds, though, is like calling a lightbulb a generator.
The number of idiotic sentences about Brexit and democracy uttered by self-proclaimed artists probably now registers in the tens of millions, but still McCarthy’s claim that all English-speaking writers are “thoroughly European” is particularly fatuous.
If “all English-language writers” are European, why do we not hail F. Scott Fitzgerald as a great European author? And even if we did consider Fitzgerald to be European, using McCarthy’s tortured logic, isn’t this yet more damning evidence that one does not need to be part of a supranational political union to derive a sense of regional or continental identity? Fitzgerald’s European-ness is innate and inalienable, according to McCarthy, and utterly uncontingent on belonging to a power-hungry, relentlessly integrating Cold War-era club like the EU. So what exactly in the problem with Brexit?
Is Switzerland, outside the European Union, not “European”? Is Norway somehow severed from the continent, its artists unable to “cross-pollinate” ideas with their French or Spanish peers? And if the likes of John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald are great European writers despite both of whom having perished before the sainted European Union came into being, isn’t this proof that sharing an undemocratic set of supranational institutions is entirely unnecessary in forging a common heritage and identity?
Weepy British artists still in floods of tears at the thought of Britain leaving the EU should in fact take heart from Tom McCarthy’s rant. Since “all English-language writers” are “thoroughly European”, even those who lived their entire lives on a different continent decades before the institutions of the European Union even came into existence, why get so upset simply because Britain will shortly cease to send MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg?
The culmination of McCarthy’s virtue-signalling extravaganza:
About the same time, I received another invitation, this time to read from my work at an anti-Brexit art festival in Hackney’s gallery-filled Vyner Street. Beneath bunting designed by Fiona Banner, Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger played a gig, Katrin Plavcak and Ulrika Segerberg did an electronic sewing machine-enhanced performance, Lucy Reynolds conducted a “choir” who chanted in 20 languages at once, and a large crowd who could trace their heritage to every corner of the Earth ate, drank and generally had fun celebrating internationalism and renouncing tribalist bigotry, while children darted round their legs.
It’s quite possible that several of the Vyner Street participants, being high-profile culture-shaping innovators, were invited to the RA too. I doubt they’ll go, though, any more than I will.
And there it is. That’s what this is really all about. Tom McCarthy hasn’t had his European identity ripped away from him, as by his own admission his sense of European-ness transcends any one political institution and seemingly includes African and Asian culture, too (perhaps someone needs to have a quiet word with him about his imperialist, oppressive cultural appropriation).
No, this is members of the British artistic and cultural scene, left-wing almost to the last man, doing what they do best: spurning patriotism at every turn (embracing “all centuries but this and every country but their own”, as W.S. Gilbert might have put it), revealing their exquisite discomfort with anything British and promoting a rootless form of virtue-signalling internationalism instead. It is self-evident that Tom McCarthy would have no qualms about attending a celebration of French or Italian culture, were he invited to one. No, it is only his own culture which he detests and sees fit to associate with the “far right”.
“Look at me, look at me! I’m a citizen of the world! I’m not beholden to your base, quasi-fascistic preoccupations with national identity and community”, screams Tom McCarthy’s insufferable hissy fit in the Guardian. Well, good for him. Thankfully, a majority of Britons (even those cowed by Project Fear into voting Remain) disagree with this toxic notion.
Castigating the inventor James Dyson for having “[thrown] his lot in with Nigel Farage” in supporting Brexit, McCarthy declares “I don’t even dry my hands in public toilets” any more following the EU referendum, a riveting declaration that this brave, Super Virtuous Man will have absolutely nothing to do with those who dared to defy the pro-EU orthodoxy.
If Tom McCarthy chooses to forego washing his hands after using the lavatory as part of some pinch-faced middle class anti-Brexit rebellion, that is his own business. This blog would be quite content if he simply took pity on the rest of us and ceased to sculpt prissy, virtue-signalling little articles in the Guardian out of his own faeces.
Top Image: Pixabay
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