You can’t blame people for lapping up whatever culture they’re given in such arid times, and the success of Line of Duty has at least proven that we need entertainment. But as we escape from the cultural darkness, we must not lose sight of what makes good art. The “make do and mend” approach has understandably predominated over the past year, resulting in hit shows such as Grayson’s Art Club, on Channel 4, in which the potter and his psychotherapist wife, Philippa, asked viewers to submit their works on a weekly theme. The majority were terrible, and while I couldn’t do any better, that isn’t the point: there’s danger in us championing the mediocre because we feel we’re obliged to be supportive. The need to criticise constructively has been lost, and must resume for the sake of the industry.
Another problem, following from this, is that many in the cultural sector have failed to make productive use of their energies. Too many debates have been hijacked by those content, instead, to look inward and hustle for their own agendas. The devil makes work for idle hands, and over the past year there has been a lot of navel-gazing and posturing about who the arts should be for, who should be “cancelled” and what cultural criteria should be met. A number of subsidised organisations, terrified that they might lose the grants dished out by Arts Council England, have not – as they once would have – ignored the braying of a minority on social media. Rather, they’ve embraced them, or at least paid lip-service for fear of attracting bad publicity.
One of the last things I saw before the theatres were closed last year was the Royal Court’s wonderful Poet in Da Corner, a super-tolerant play by Debris Stevenson; an autobiographical piece, it showed how grime (and specifically Dizzee Rascal) proved the salvation of an Essex teenager, cast adrift by her dyslexia and her sexuality. It remains the most sensible take I’ve seen on the culture wars, and I wish we could turn the clock back to that.
This summer, once we’ve got over the initial excitement of the live experience, I hope that we can return to the reasoned judgment offered by Stevenson and the Royal Court, and above all, that we in Britain’s auditoria, galleries and living-rooms will judge things on their own individual merit once more.