Monday, 23 May 2016

Culture and the EU

From the BBC

Jude Law, Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch are among stars who have signed a letter saying Brexit would "damage" the creative industry.
Almost 300 actors, musicians, writers and artists are backing calls for the UK to stay in the EU.
They say "vital EU funding" and work across borders has been key to projects from galleries to blockbusters.

OK, for starters, if there's something here that is funded with "EU money" and we should fund it, then it's very simple. Some passing it to the EU to pass back to us and just fund it ourselves.

As it happens, I don't see why the EU (or us) should fund very much art at all, particularly not blockbusters or galleries. I happen to rather like big superhero movies, but I don't see why anyone but me should pay for them, and I mostly don't care for galleries and don't see why I should pay for them (I really like sculpture, but I can look at a painting on my PC at home).

The letter, organised by the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, says: "Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away."

So, like when Shakespeare pinched Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet from Europe 300+ years before the EU was founded? Or how about that Emeric Pressburger came here from Hungary 50 years before the EU. We don't have an "EU" with America, but somehow, Stanley Kubrick came here to work. Alfonso Cuaron has been here for over a decade, despite there being no superstate including Mexico and the United Kingdom.

As for "our global creative success", utter rubbish. That's down to a number of things: being an advanced nation, being fairly liberal. speaking English and in the case of the film industry, making it tax beneficial to make films here (and that we have huge amounts of technical skills in making blockbusters which goes back to at least the 1970s when we were in the EEC and less connected).

Even before the EU you were far more likely to see a British film on American screens or to hear British pop simply because of language.


DBC Reed said...

Another one must bite the dust: this time its public art galleries.Lola or somebody had a go at public libraries recently. All as part of a generalised attack on the BBC because it is not saturated with adverts for the things that really matter in life.
Be clear: if the State doesn't tax the money the private rent-seekers

Bayard said...

DBCR, I very much doubt that it is public art galleries that the luvvies are referring to, they already have an income from central or local government. It is more likely private galleries getting EU money.

Anyhow all this is bollocks for another reason: we have no idea to what extent central and local government funding has been scaled back precisely because there is money available from the EU. I am sure that if the Tories thought they could get away with closing public art galleries or public libraries, they would already have done so. I used to live in the right-wing banana republic that was Wandsworth Borough. They kept the libraries open and free, much to my surprise at the time.

The problem with the funding of the Beeb is the way the money is collected and the perceived unfairness of that. I know it's slightly fairer than funding it out of general taxation, but people don't see it that way. The licence fee combines the disadvantages of funding by subscription (a high fixed cost to the poor) with the disadvantages of funding by taxation (you pay whether you use it or not). It should be one or the other.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Broadly agreed, although I do like public museums and libraries. It's a question of fact and degree how many you need.

The Stigler said...


And there's the problem. Libraries have been in decline for decades. Even before the Internet came along. You reduce the price of buying a book, people are more likely to choose to buy than borrow a book. Maybe they don't want to wait for a library copy to come back in.

It's reached the point for me where it's generally cheaper to buy a book at £3 a time (which seems to be about my average price) than to either park or take a bus to the library.

I do think there's rather a lot of people liking the idea of libraries, museums and galleries than actually liking them. It's a much more socially comfortable existence to say that you think they're awesome and shouldn't be closed down than to suggest that maybe there's too much of it.

They reduced the hours of the Swindon Art Gallery. It's rather good and I recommend people pay it a visit. Early 20th century industrial art, mostly. And someone from the parks and museums that I know was outraged. Tory cuts etc. But honestly, I've been in there a dozen times and never seen more than 3 or 4 people at a time. I've only seen more when they bring someone in to teach crafts to kids, when you then have 20 or more kids.

The Stigler said...


"I know it's slightly fairer than funding it out of general taxation, but people don't see it that way."

No, it isn't. It's a regressive tax on the poor, and for something that people overwhelmingly choose to have. It's not like slapping a tax on say, yachts, that few people on, and mostly rich people. Almost everyone has a TV, to the point you can describe it as universal.

The thing with the BBC is that it only really made sense in its current form when broadcasting had limited bandwidth and high barriers to entry. You only had a small number of channels - you want to ensure that a wide variety of products, everything from game shows to history and science and arts gets broadcast. This worked better than say, the USA, which took the perspective of commercial TV and had little diversity in its broadcasting.

But when there's pretty much unlimited choice on YouTube, why do you need the BBC? I regularly watch the Red Letter Media movie show on YouTube. It's better than Film 2016. Why should I pay for Film 2016? That doesn't mean that you don't need a BBC. I think kids getting CBeebies is a good thing. I'm open to arguments that some aspects of the BBC, particularly the enlightening and educational stuff, is worth having. The Brian Cox stuff was pretty good. But if that's "a good thing", should we force poor people to pay for it? Shouldn't we be wanting to make sure that kids in council estates don't have to choose between that and something else, that we, the richer people subsidise it in the same way that we fund schools?

Lola said...

It's about coercion again. I object to that. I really do not see the need for state funded art galleries or libraries (the latter especially now with cheap books on amazon and google.). There in fact a private reading room aka library in my town. Which is a de facto library. It suffers from unfair completion from the County Library.

What I do think that there is a public need for is a local records library which is available to all at public expense. That would help with open government.

Bayard said...

L, good point: "public libraries" are actually two types of library, a lending library, with space for people to go and read in it and a reference library. Whilst a lot of what's in the latter can be found on the internet, there is likely also to be much that isn't, especially local history and records.

The problem with libraries, like many public services, is that, with declining usage, at what point do you stop providing that service and disadvantage the few remaining users?

Art galleries are different. There really is no substitute for seeing a work of art "in the flesh". Whether you want to or think that the experience should be available free of charge to the public is another matter.

Bayard said...

TS, it is fairer than general taxation. Not much, but it is fairer. If you don't have a TV, you don't pay the tax, like cars and road tax, but unlike education if you have no children or health if you never go to hospital.

The Stigler said...


"If you don't have a TV, you don't pay the tax"

But that's not the point of public service broadcasting. It's a general service to the population. In the same way that we treat poor kids with cancer and look after the disabled, there are TV services we should provide to people, regardless of wealth. The prime example is TV for under-5s. Broadcasting for disabled audiences. Broadcasting of parliament. We might even expand that to the sort of things Brian Cox does, or Horrible Histories. We want poor kids on council estates to learn about the cosmos or history in a way that draws them in, maybe?

It does mean that the BBC would shrink hugely. Maybe a couple of channels of TV, couple of radio channels. Most of BBC1 would be eradicated - hospital dramas, property porn, antique porn, chat shows. Most of BBC2 too: cookery shows, game shows, historical drama, cop shows, music shows. Depending on where you drew the line, BBC4 might keep a lot of its content.