Friday, 23 January 2015

Class and Media

From the BBC

Singer James Blunt has clashed with Labour politician Chris Bryant about diversity in the arts after the MP said the singer was part of a public school educated elite "dominating" culture.

The singer, who was educated at Harrow, said the politician was a narrow-minded "classist gimp" who was motivated by the "politics of jealousy".

Politicians, he said, should celebrate success wherever it came from.

First of all, I think Chris Bryant is talking nonsense when he says that a public school educated elite is "dominating" culture. Even looking narrowly at the top of the charts, 8 of the top 10 albums were made by people who went to comprehensive schools (Coldplay and Pink Floyd are the exceptions). Citing Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne as Oscar nominees ignores the fact that the Oscars only pick British films featuring posh people and that neither film bothered the Top 20 grossing films last year, which starred people like Martin Freeman (comp), the Inbetweeners (mostly comp), Gary Oldman (comp), Hugh Bonneville (private), James McAvoy (comp), Sir Ian McKellen (comp), Sir Patrick Stewart (comp) and Andrew Garfield (private).

Outside of that, there's so much else that people can choose to see. In terms of music, TV and film, we have enormous choice. I watched an Indonesian martial arts film at my local multiplex that was the 136th highest grossing film last year. It's not like there's a tiny number of choices for me (and honestly, historical biopics rarely appeal, posh boys or otherwise).

There is clearly a bias towards private school educated. But I've not seen much evidence of doors being opened for people due to those connections (unlike say, politics).

It may just be that the posh kids can stick it out for longer before getting a real job. Acting isn't really a very sensible career path to follow. It might look rich on the surface, but that's only because we see the winners and not the losers. In most cases, people trying to be successful are burning through money and most never make it. So, posh people doing more of it is a good thing. Maybe they get lucky and get a role and we get some entertainment. But if they don't get the role, they destroy the family fortune, which is also fine.

9 comments:

Rich Tee said...

That's a nice list of comp educated people there. Whenever I look I can't find any.

You have to be careful with older people because their biographies may show that they went to a comprehensive but it may have been a grammar school when they went to it and converted later. But Patrick Stewart does genuinely seem to have been to a secondary modern.

On the other side, Miranda Hart is the daughter of a naval captain and was privately educated. Also privately educated: Olivia Coleman, Richard Ayoade, Al Murray, Eddie Izzard...

Mark Wadsworth said...

As far as the narrow fields of pop music and film and TV acting go, there's no reason to assume that they are all born 'posh'. Mostly middle class, I'd assume, because you need a few quid for amplifiers or acting lessons and parents to drive you around or subsidise you.

So this statement by Chris Bryant is true

""But it is a statement of the blindingly obvious that that is far tougher if you come from a poor family where you have to hand over your holiday earnings to help pay the family bills."

But that is far from saying that public school kids have an advantage over kids with working parents from a comprehensive.

And whoever is right, that is entirely irrelevant. It's not pop music and film or TV acting which matter, is it? They don't run the country (into the ground).

Mark Wadsworth said...

NB, "middle class" in the US-American sense as in "families with two parents and one or both parents in steady jobs".

Bayard said...

"but it may have been a grammar school when they went to it and converted later."

So what? Grammar schools were still state education.

"But if they don't get the role, they destroy the family fortune, which is also fine."

So what's the alternative, Chris, give "poor" talentless wannabes public money so that they can waste it not even making it into the small time?

Rich Tee said...

"So what? Grammar schools were still state education."

Because it is deceptive. As Peter Hitchens constantly points out, Home Secretary Theresa May tells people she went to a comprehensive, but it was a grammar when she attended it.

Grammar schools are selective and therefore elitist, although they select by academic ability rather than ability to pay.

(I am a supporter of grammar schools and I wish I had been to one myself.)

The Stigler said...

Rich Tee,

Apologies - by "comp" I meant any sort of state education. As that's what we're arguing over, not flavours of that.

"On the other side, Miranda Hart is the daughter of a naval captain and was privately educated. Also privately educated: Olivia Coleman, Richard Ayoade, Al Murray, Eddie Izzard..."

I deliberately didn't include comedy, theatre and TV because Bryant didn't address those, and because the state has a great deal of influence in them. You get access to TV via arts centre comedy and footlights (and most British comedy today sucks as a result).

The Stigler said...

Mark,

He's right that they have an advantage in that they can stay in the field longer, but when the industry you're in is, on average, a money loser to participants, don't we want the rich kids to be doing that?

There's always been a myth about people coming from poverty into the arts. A few people have (like UB40 and Dizzee Rascal), but Jagger was middle class, Lennon was middle class, Robert Plant was middle class. Queen, Genesis and Pink Floyd were mostly upper class.

Jim said...

The fact private education produces musical talent like James Blunt, may be taken a lot of ways.
But its hardly an advertisement for private education.

Bayard said...

"Grammar schools are selective and therefore elitist, although they select by academic ability rather than ability to pay."

Yes, but the James Blunt/Chris Bryant spat was over public versus private, not exclusive versus inclusive. Theresa May's economy with the truth may be reprehensible (but hardly unexpected in a politician), but doesn't really touch on this particular argument.

The main thing is that CB is trying to imply it is all about class with his reference to a "public school educated elite "dominating" culture" when actually it's all about money. If your would-be actor's aristocratic father has squandered all the family money, he's actually in a worse position than a working class would-be actor with the same lack of family resources.