The arts is currently largely defined not by people who want to work in it, but by people who do not want to work anywhere else.
A lot of people who would be far happier working in the economic sphere, in the world of business, have displaced into the arts. Why? Because they find the world of business too boring, too uninspiring, too harsh? Because of the stress of working in industry and commerce? Because of the sheer romance and excitement of the artistic realm in comparison to the predictable, mechanised world of business?
However, this has not stopped them bringing their natural tendencies towards ruthlessness and competition into the artistic and cultural realm. In Edinburgh, they have created a Fringe, which is a playground of Darwinism. My own show, “Win, Win, Win!” which was a critique of the harsh competitiveness of the business world, the world of cutting throats and backstabbing, of winning and losing through survival of the fittest, was, partly unsuccessful at Edinburgh because its satire failed. The festival it found itself in was simply too much of a genuine example of what the show was trying to satirise.
The Fringe made use of every supposedly outrageous technique the show tried to criticise. BATTAP – being all things to all people – was practised everywhere – the Law of Regression Progression, where the aim is to get ahead by making others go backwards was followed and supported by the resource model (as usual, you pay for everything, even a smile), by the reviewers some of whom obviously feel better and ‘higher’ for being really nasty and sarcastic about human endeavour and striving (I got good reviews in the nationals so I don’t have a personal axe to grind here – but I saw it done to others, with relish and usually very little genuine wit), by performers as they jostled for position on the Royal Mile. It was really hard to see the genuine co-operation and sense of community attempting to express itself (which is natural to the artistic realm).
There was a positive undercurrent, a strong collective will to realise creative vision. But how many people will return from Edinburgh feeling that something was sucked out of them, that their zest for life has been somewhat lessened by the experience (as well as lessened by several thousands of pounds. This money hasn’t disappeared into the ether, a necessary artistic sacrifice – this money has gone into the pockets of other people).
Except the winners of course who will hoard their newly gained energy. Behind the sheen of niceness of organisers and venue managers, artistic directors, agents and reviewers, the tills are ringing and the survival of the fittest egos are inflating. I saw those at the top of the pile, the media and art moguls looking, sounding and behaving every bit like their Private Eye caricatures. In one place you were invited to stand up in front of the crowd and to sell your show or slag off someone else’s in sixty seconds. Nice.
All that I can take. It’s when you look into the eyes of what you thought were colleagues and friends and see them economically weighing up what to say to you, how much to listen to you, how much (as if it were pounds and pence) of their attention of warmth to waste on you, or invest in you. How to manage their exit from the conversation, how to leave you liking them, that I really begin to feel sad.
What I came to Edinburgh for were some decent quotes to cull from my reviews. I have got them. I also got some bad ones. They of course, will be ejected and will never make it back to Brighton. But I think I came here searching for a community of artists.
There is an industry up here that Margaret Thatcher would have been, and I am sure Tony Blair is, proud of. There are warm smiles and genuinely helpful and giving people. It is inspiring to see the sheer amount and intensity of endeavour and yearning, of hope and effort. But the entire community is boundaried and defined within what Alan Winner would call ‘limited worlds’. Our smiles are part of our daily budget of goodness. We direct our warmth towards predefined aims. We want bums on seats ahead of gifts of warmth.
I’m feeling sad at the line we have drawn between each other. It is such a shame we have created an awkward cliché of the idea that we might flourish better together. "I want your show to work really well because I feel that if we all did some of that wanting for each other, something imperceptible but real would kick in, and the total amount of energy available to all of us would increase." Not such a hot idea in a fundamentalist-materialistic world. The critics certainly hated it.
We have spawned a generation who are annoyed at morality. Without a spiritual or religious foundation, morality is confusing, irritating, annoying. Morality has no right to exist except as a subjective choice born of subjective feeling. Morality is an inconvenience, a way to impress another person. A chat up line. A quaint Margaret-Rutherfordesque quirk of character.
People are not interested in what other people think. It annoys them. This style of writing is annoying. For no one has the right to make assertions of any kind. Well, they have the right, but it just isn’t good etiquette. Permission is the new etiquette. The idea that it is OK to ignore people’s pain is just as valid as the idea that we should help others. The only difference is that a majority takes the subjective and wholly unconnected personal decision to do the latter. When badness or happens in a group, its just one almighty coincidence. Do not suggest that something transcendent is at play. Not if you want to piss off the Beavis and Butthead, clever-clever-kickthegranny generation.
Your closet friend would stab you in the back. Or not. Either choice is equally ok.
At the Edinburgh Festival. The best those who were succeeding gave their ‘friends’ was indifference and ignorance. And a corridor-passing, measured smile of regal niceness. How is your show doing – please don’t answer that. Please die in your own space. Do not infect us with too much of your pain. The lack of eye contact was shocking.
People who once ‘reclaimed the streets’ supped their Nescafe and longed for a Perrier, made use of Gate’s Windows 2000, and enjoyed the thrill of competition, of beating others – a good word for it is a kind of psychic version of physical beating. This land is mine! Get off it! If you must stay close, then stay away from me – and my friends. Occupy the ditches (known as afternoon studio theatres).
I speak as someone who walked away from Edinburgh with some good feedback and two good reviews. I do not have a personal axe to grind. I have a successful growing business and what I would call a loving family and good friends.
There will be a need to attack this. Clever words and buzz phrases will be brought out, in the true spirit of Alan Winner. Alan is a true mirror. We often characterise people’s genuine struggle as whingeing and whining. We love to summarise people’s complexity is one word, often loaded with a sharp knife. The aim is to rubbish anyone who claims knowledge or experience of anything beyond their own personal boundaries. We love to preserve and visit our old castles because of their walls. We love the way they are built to keep people out. We love the castle keep at the centre behind so much protection. Yet the keep is always a disappointment. Small, dark and damp and usually, empty.
But, of course, as long as there is a castle, there will always be a ‘zappy’ production company to hire a burger stall (genetically modified meat) and an admission price of £9.50, all, of course, in the name of culture.
I have returned from Edinburgh with a tattoo on my arm. It says “I was there”. But currently, I wear it under my sleeve.