The dead end of “culturally appropriate” art

openingaddress_bwf16_imagebydanielseed

Standpoint October 2016

Can there be a culturally appropriate art? There is no shortage of activists arguing for one, and they are arguing for something new and sinister, in free societies at least.

Let me be clear about the stakes. Artists reflect the ideas of their times, and nearly all Western novels and dramas now treat, say, gays and lesbians sympathetically. They are a world away from the thrillers of the 1970s in which the lisping homosexual was invariably the villain. Such stereotypes are not the issue today. Nor is the argument about whether a male novelist can create convincing female characters or vice versa or a white novelist create a convincing black character or vice versa. Readers have always been able to complain that a novelist has produced inauthentic work. Rather than an argument about what is said, we have an argument about what right artists have to speak at all.

As Lionel Shriver put it in a speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival, “Ethnicities, nationalities, races, sexual and gender categories, classes of economic underprivilege and disability are now encouraged to be possessive of their experience and to regard other peoples’ attempts to participate in their lives and traditions, either actively or imaginatively, as a form of theft.”
Continue reading

If liberals want to stop losing, they must change

3211

The Observer 12 November 2016

When respectable commentators tell us the crisis will blow over, they are usually right. Most of the time, the shock passes and the status quo reasserts itself. Most of the time, men of the world can lie back in their comfortable chairs and guffaw at the Chicken Lickens who thought the sky was falling down.

But most of the time is not all of the time. And it most certainly is not our time. In the revolutionary years of 1914, 1917, 1929, 1933, 1939, 1979, 1989 and 2008, those who said we would soon be back to normal were history’s fools. This year is a revolutionary year for the radical right. It is at once predictable and extraordinary that authoritative voices are telling us to keep calm and carry on.
Continue reading

The Daily Mail might have compiled the far left’s hitlist of Labour MPs.

2988The Observer 1 October 2016

The Daily Mail might have compiled the far left’s hitlist of Labour MPs. Seven of its apparent deselection targets are women: Angela Eagle, Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy, Louise Ellman, Anna Turley, Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth. Of these, Angela Eagle is an out lesbian and Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth and Luciana Berger are Jewish. Most are young by the standards of politicians and nasty old men have always enjoyed humiliating young women with ideas of their own.

The Corbyn gun club does not only have women at the end of its firing range. A list of MPs Jeremy Corbyn claimed had been abusive towards him included many men. But when Labour activists talk of the men most likely to be deselected the list narrows to three: Neil Coyle, Wes Streeting and Peter Kyle. Wes Streeting and Peter Kyle are, since you mention it, gay.
Continue reading

Climate change means our idea of natural beauty must change

5523The Observer 3 September 2016

Apart from crags and pockets of ancient woodland, the British uplands are manmade. Three thousand years before Christ, neolithic farmers felled the trees and gave us a landscape stripped to grassland by grazing sheep we take as “natural” today. Two thousand years after Christ, new forces are moulding the British uplands. They will bring back at least a part of what stone age men destroyed.
Continue reading