Why Arts and Culture Matter in a Recession

As we teeter on the edge of a triple-dip recession in a manner akin to Russell Crowe’s suicidal Javert on his Parisian pont, you could be forgiven for entertaining the thought that such ostentatious cultural outpourings ought to be deemed irrelevant due to our economic ‘issues’. 2012, having been the year in which we all sacrificed decent levels of free health care for our firstborn children/elderly parents in order to gain international recognition for Jess Eniss’ abs; and to gift our ageing monarch with prolonged exposure to driving rain in recognition of her sixty years of pretending to care about community worthies and corporate openings, should probably only serve to compound this feeling.
But before falling over yourselves to cancel your subscription to Empire and unfollow Will Gompertz on Twitter, stop for a second. Finger hovering above mouse (or, more likely, touch pad) consider how we’d cope without the stream of rhetoric which guides us to our socially acceptable cultural opinions. We’re currently experiencing the annual cinema hand-holding experience known to all as awards season. Accordingly coffee shop chit-chat and those ‘deep’ conversations we all enjoy after a bottle of wine will, for a few weeks at least, be peppered with lines such as “Le Mis translated remarkably well, having seen the show I’d always considered it unfilmable” to be responded to with “True, but I think Lincoln might come out on top this year. It’s a bold statement but I’d say Daniel Day Lewis is the best character actor there’s been.” Cue gasps from fellow caffeine addicts who happen to be within earshot. However, come the end of February we’ll all go back to discussing the weather and waiting for Avengers 2 to come out. That’s alright though because we have had our dose of ‘proper cinema’ for 2013, right?
This level of cultural prescription of dull opinions is by no means isolated to cinema though. Art, TV and literature are all equally culpable. For example in the wake of last year’s Man Booker we all agreed the gender inequality was no longer an issue due to Hillary Mantel’s second win. If a woman can win a prize that literally has ‘man’ in the name not only once, but twice, what can’t she do? Sexism must be a thing of the past, surely? Of course, once Booker fever died down somewhat we were likely to revert to conversations about Fifty Shades of Grey as if to completely exemplify why the first conversation had been fundamentally flawed anyway.
Examples of such banality are found across all forms of cultural discussion, I’m certainly guilty of them (apart from waxing lyrical about Fifty Shades of Grey, which  I think must be some kind of verbal masochism in itself). We indulge ourselves in this manner on a daily basis because it allows us to feel informed with minimal initial effort. The recession therefore, where the threat of budget cuts for arts and culture across both public and private sectors looms large, poses an unprecedented threat. We might just have to think for ourselves. On the other hand of course, the time spent doing this would distract us from our impending economic irrelevance, while also offering us a chance to stop pretending that we really understand the recession. Who needs The Wealth of Nations when you can show your depth of understanding by retweeting Robert Peston?

By John Briggs

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