You're Not Beautiful
January 19, 2015 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Labour's Shadow Culture Minister Chris Bryant has said the art world must address lack of diversity “I am delighted that Eddie Redmayne won [a Golden Globe for best actor], but we can’t just have a culture dominated by Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt and their ilk,” James Blunt has replied. Bryant has replied in turn. The dog from Downtown barks up.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm pretty sure whatever secret lab or magic cauldron the BBC uses to create scads of eerily similar hollow cheeked pale wunderkinds will continue to churn them out.
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


One way British media/the BBC could address their lack of diversity would be to stop being so damned obsessed with WW2.
posted by Sara C. at 9:30 AM on January 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


*consults posh-to-English dictionary to look up "wazzock"*
posted by Kitteh at 9:31 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


James Blunt is a ding dong.
posted by josher71 at 9:31 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Popular culture has always been 90% posh kids slumming it.
And James Blunt remains cockney rhyming slang.
posted by fullerine at 9:33 AM on January 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


I had to read this four times to confirm that they didn't erroneously mean, like, Emily Blunt or James Anyone More Relevant.
posted by threeants at 9:35 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


*consults posh-to-English dictionary to look up "wazzock"*

Tha be wantin' t' Narthen t' English dictionary or Tony Capstick
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:35 AM on January 19, 2015


I hope the word "classist" now becomes more common in England. Because it doesn't serve Blunt and his ilk to give folk ideas like that.
posted by Thing at 9:36 AM on January 19, 2015


In the forthright message to Bryant, Blunt accused him of being a “prejudiced wazzock” teaching the politics of jealousy, rather than celebrating success like in America, where the singer got his first big break.

I really wish fools like this didn't have America to point to when they want an example of people being slaves to wealth worship.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:37 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bryant is (whatever his motives) fairly spot on here - our art school had 1300 students and 5 of them were from the poorest background. A brief look at creative scotland reveals they made very few grants to artists living in areas on the multiple deprivation index, I would imagine that arts council england are fairly similar.
The Art school I was at had a secret quota of middle class students that they would take on, presumably because they're less bolshy than working class ones.
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:37 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Chris Bryant is totally right, and James Blunt is enough of an asshole here that it makes me feel better about my previously unjustified dislike.

Oh wait. That's right. Misogynist. Big stinking misogynist.

Sorry, I meant "it further justifies my already completely justified dislike."
posted by Myca at 9:38 AM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


"I’m delighted you've done well for yourself. But it is really tough forging a career in the arts if you can’t afford the enormous fees for drama school, if you don’t know anybody who can give you a leg up, if your parents can’t subsidise you for a few years whilst you make your name and if you can’t afford to take on an unpaid internship."

PREACH!

And I love my insanely talented, Ancient Greek-spouting poshos like Tom Hiddleston, too, but there's folks as talented as Hiddleston in every group of people. It can't be only the stories of the middle class and up being told and disseminated.
posted by droplet at 9:39 AM on January 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


Perhaps what you’ve failed to realise is that the only head-start my school gave me in the music business,..., is to tell me that I should aim high.

Um, that's 90% of what class privilege is, though. Our at least not having aiming high beaten out of you.
posted by ambrosen at 9:43 AM on January 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


One way British media/the BBC could address their lack of diversity would be to stop being so damned obsessed with WW2.

Why give up the fertile ground of WW2 shows? Almost a million Indian and Pakistani soldiers fought for the UK in WW2.
posted by teponaztli at 9:47 AM on January 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


I genuinely like that James Blunt can totally make fun of himself when his detractors come at him on Twitter, but oh me, this is not very flattering a position to take in the least.
posted by Kitteh at 9:49 AM on January 19, 2015


teaching the politics of jealousy, rather than celebrating success like in America

The "Brits hate success" trope gets trotted out regularly, usually by pillocks like Blunt and Ricky Gervais whose careers have peaked and then stalled but have sufficient funds to pay to be fawned over in LA. It's also been heard - hilariously - from Prince Edward, a man who even by the standards of the root-vegetable-noggined Royal family is a dimwit, and who has been an utter utter failure in his every venture. (The "Career" section of his Wikipedia page is worth a giggle over.)
posted by sobarel at 9:52 AM on January 19, 2015 [17 favorites]




Blunt: you stupid git, calling someone a gimp shows you own your privilege. Every fucking 20-yr-old white guy can reply " my life was hard, too; I've had challenges, so therefore I don't have privilege. "

They are wrong, and so are you, you ignorant fuck. Pretending that your ability to work your way up through adversity in a culture that celebrate white dudes working their way through adversity is special is offensive.

Open your eyes, child.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:52 AM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


"The dog from Downtown" sounds like an awesome 1970s funk artist. ("Downton"?)
posted by c'mon sea legs at 9:53 AM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am perfectly comfortable declaring all artistic pursuits off limits for rich white bros.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:55 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm sure "classist" will be as successful in addressing inequality as "class war" and "race war" are in American politics (that is, as in this case, used by the winners to cast aspersions on the other side for even fighting back).
posted by idiopath at 9:55 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like to decide complex issues based on the first sentences of essays and rants. So much faster! So:

You classist gimp.

Hmm. Weak, offensive to many people that aren't even involved, and petulant.

Stop being so blooming precious.

Always good advice, a perfect deflation, and note perfect.

I guess I know where I stand on this issue, whatever it is!
posted by freebird at 10:00 AM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


A number of successful actors have raised the problems of the lack of opportunity for UK actors from less privileged backgrounds: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen and David Morrissey, amongst others have all highlighted the problem. It is one that also extends to black British actors, with numerous criticisms of the need to decamp to Hollywood to access roles with any level of complexity in the UK from actors now better known to US audiences than those in their home country, as with David Harewood of Homeland and David Oyelowo of Selma.

One way British media/the BBC could address their lack of diversity would be to stop being so damned obsessed with WW2.

The country wasn't saved by battalions of poshos, if anything the working class probably accounted for a larger fraction of the UK population then than it does now. As teponazil notes, there were men and women from all across the globe making sacrifices too.
posted by biffa at 10:01 AM on January 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


OMG the dog is perfect.
posted by freebird at 10:01 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


He argues that it is Bryant’s “populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas which make our country crap, far more than me and my shit songs, and my plummy accent”.

I have no love for James Blunt's music but he seems like a pretty cool person. At the very least, he has the self-deprecating thing down cold.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:03 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Popular culture has always been 90% posh kids slumming it.

Not entirely; in the UK, for a while, the post-WW2 settlement made it easy for working-class kids to educate themselves, broaden their horizons and (if they had the talent and inclination) and make art. Some went to state-subsidised art schools (which didn't deter the non-middle-class with the promise of huge debts upon graduation), and others went straight into the popular end of pop culture. This gave us people like Brian Eno (the son of a postman), David Bowie (of solid south London working-class background), the Beatles and more. When punk/post-punk DIY came about, the dole acted as an unofficial arts grant for a lot of artists. In the waning days of this settlement, Thatcher's Small Business allowance ironically helped fund a lot of indie labels, from Warp to Sarah Records.

Nowadays, though, the drawbridge has long since been pulled up, and pop-cultural performers are made in expensive finishing schools like the Brit School. With the possible exception of the handful of grime/hip-hop artists who cross over from deprived backgrounds to mainstream pop success.
posted by acb at 10:04 AM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


We can’t just have Downton programming ad infinitum and think that just because we’ve got some people in the servants’ hall, somehow or other we’ve done our duty by gritty drama.

This is really the nub of the interview. If only he'd had the balls to call out Baron Fellowes of West Stafford by name instead of someone who isn't actually culturally relevant nowadays. It feels like quite a long time since I saw a British drama that was actually dealing with a socially diverse cast (Eastenders and Coronation Street excepted).
posted by ambrosen at 10:05 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]




I'm not questioning non-white people and poor people's existence during WW2, it's just that it just seems so much easier for British media to pretend that was the case as long as you keep the subjects of your stories outside of living memory.

(Also isn't it part of the UK narrative about immigration/racial diversity that non-white people mostly started immigrating after WW2? Sure, that's a drastic oversimplification, but I bet it's also one of the drivers for the sheer amount of period rich white people dramas the BBC produces.)
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 AM on January 19, 2015


When I got to Blunt's comment "the politics of jealousy", I let out an audible "oh, fuck you, " and Mitt Romney's face flashed in my mind. Fuck Mitt, too.
posted by sutt at 10:38 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not questioning non-white people and poor people's existence during WW2, it's just that it just seems so much easier for British media to pretend that was the case as long as you keep the subjects of your stories outside of living memory.

The obsession with 'The War' dates back to a time when many people could remember it. It is, or was, a form of nostalgia. But thus mostly focussed on the experiences of people from the UK--or even in the UK, as the homefront has been a wildly popular setting.

Also isn't it part of the UK narrative about immigration/racial diversity that non-white people mostly started immigrating after WW2? Sure, that's a drastic oversimplification, but I bet it's also one of the drivers for the sheer amount of period rich white people dramas the BBC produces.

That's not a "narrative", it's substantially true with regards to people not of European descent. The number of non-white people in the UK before and after 1945 (well, in the decades after) is an order of magnitude in difference. I should think that one of the drivers behind commissioning pre-1945 dramas is social and political rather than racial.
posted by Thing at 10:38 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


state-subsidised art schools

These unique provincial institutions pretty much single-handedly created British rock music. The kids who were too clever to be put into manual work but clearly couldn't give a f*ck enough to become doctors or lawyers were dumped into these institutions to get rid of them.

To add to acb's list, you have Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Ray Davies, John Lennon, Syd Barrett, Freddy Mercury, Bryan Ferry, and Mick Jones, who even said he only went to art school to get into a band.

expensive finishing schools like the Brit School


That is a bit unfair because the Brit school is actually the only non fee-paying arts school in the country. You get in there on merit alone and the stars that come out of there like Adele and Amy Winehouse definitely do not count as 'poshos'.

There is though a 'finishing school' for rock stars in Switzerland where the appalling Strokes were formed, and Sean Lennon (ironically) attended. It's the world's most expensive private school.
posted by colie at 10:43 AM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


OK, this post has it all: dogs and rich people getting all het up and defensive about the fact that being rich gave them much more of a leg up in life than they want to admit. LOVE IT.

As someone who equates "middle class" to "is not actively starving, homeless, or living on the dole," I could read rich people whining all the live long day. It's just so fucking delightful. They're so willfully blind to the errant depths of their own good fortune, I want to pinch their spoiled little cheeks until they can comprehend the fact that most of the privileges they've experienced in life have remained completely invisible to them, and that whoa, hey, that's actually pretty much the whole deal with privilege. I mean, these are the first two sentences of Blunt's letter after the 'classist gimp' quip: "I happened to go to a boarding school. No one helped me at boarding school to get into the music business." Whoa, mic drop alert! He thinks he's making a really good point!

The only way you could get him to admit that spending his adolescent years ensconced in an insanely expensive prep school -- admission costs £34,590 per annum, or ~$52,000/year -- could have possibly given him a leg up when it came to achieving success in the outside world is if a music executive had approached him during his studies there and given him a contract that contained the sentence, "The only reason you're getting this recording deal is because you went to Harrow."

As with so many rich white dudes, absolutely no acknowledgment is made of the countless doors that are opened, introductions that are made, or wheels that are greased simply by virtue of being alive when you're a rich white dude. I think the most common misconception held by rich white dudes is that they are generally treated as an equal rather than as a superior, a manufactured widget rather than the blueprint. They think the way they're treated is the way everyone is -- and that it's not the way everyone should be treated, but the way they already are, so if anyone complains about any inequities they experience, they're either jealous or not working hard enough. But if you put my generationally poor, double-negative-speaking, high school dropout ass in a group of job applicants (or college applicants... or would-be musicians) alongside someone with James Blunt's pedigree, who's gonna get the nod? Spoiler alert: It probably won't be the person who spent her adolescence dumpster-diving for comestibles instead of receiving instruction in the finer points of classical languages.

In conclusion, dogs are a land of contrasts.
posted by divined by radio at 10:50 AM on January 19, 2015 [16 favorites]


Wasting British talent in the arts? What a strange statement.
I liked Blunt's letter. Few people on either end of the money register, end up doing what they really want to do, as far as following a passion. The arts are tied up on the high money buys higher /better education end. OK, but going after a passion for the arts is difficult under any neighborhod's aegis.

Being on the high, white collar government, job dole in Britain? Boarding schoolers only, need apply.
posted by Oyéah at 10:53 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is the BBC that obsessed with WW2 these days? The only recent drama I can think of was the German TV series Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter which was on BBC2 last year as Generation War. Maybe it's just been pushed out by the centenary of the start of WW1, but I'd rather been suspecting that the genuine fixation on "The War" that existed during the 1960s/70s had been fading away for some time.

When I got to Blunt's comment "the politics of jealousy", I let out an audible "oh, fuck you, "

It was the "remove-the-‘G’-from-‘GB’" bit that was my for-fuck's-sake moment. It's the sort of thing Alan Partridge would say.
posted by sobarel at 10:54 AM on January 19, 2015


'Classist' is pathetic, but recently I actually had the misfortune to encounter the term 'wealthist'. Privileged right-wing people always insist they're actually the ones under attack in society.
posted by colie at 11:10 AM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wasting British talent in the arts? What a strange statement.

I think he means, "wasting British artistic talent", rather than, "British talent is wasted on the arts".
posted by Thing at 11:11 AM on January 19, 2015


No one at school had ANY knowledge or contacts in the music business, and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker.
world's tiniest violin.

Petition to start calling this kind of clueless "how can you say I'm privileged when I didn't have this one very specific advantage" whining "rolling a Blunt"
posted by kagredon at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


The British state school version of Blunt's education would be "No one at school had ANY knowledge or contacts in the music business, and no one expected me to do, or be, anything in life, ever."
posted by colie at 11:18 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


(also is "gimp" like "cunt" in that it carries significantly less offensive load in British vs. American English, because if not, wtf.)

[never mind, answered my own question: yes.]
posted by kagredon at 11:27 AM on January 19, 2015


I would say 'gimp' is not very offensive when used in British English; I think you might hear it in BBC's Top Gear, for example. It's cheeky but not harsh. We got it from Tarantino in a scene that was comic. The 'C-Word' is still in number one spot for offensiveness over here tho.
posted by colie at 11:35 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well there you go, I had no idea 'gimp' was used that way about people with disabilities at all.
posted by colie at 11:39 AM on January 19, 2015


> t' Narthen

Please. We're not all from bloody Hull.
posted by vbfg at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


(thank fook)
posted by vbfg at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2015


Is the BBC that obsessed with WW2 these days?

I'm not sure if it's particularly true in 2014-2015 specifically -- and my experience might be colored by what British TV we get in the states -- but in my experience watching a lot of British TV over the last decade or so, WW2 and the immediate postwar period are much more popular settings than they are in American TV. You've got Foyle's War, Land Girls, The Bletchley Circle, to an extent Call The Midwife (though as the show progresses it gets further away from The War as a major theme), and entire story arcs of Doctor Who. And wasn't As Time Goes By about long-lost lovers from WW2, reunited in middle age?

It just seems omnipresent in British TV in a way that isn't the case in the US at all. Then again, period stuff seems much more popular on British TV than it ever has been here.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think you're reacting to what British TV gets exported to the US, Sara C., not necessarily what is broadcast on British TV.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:53 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


I only read the dog link. But I can't tell you how happy I am to realize that though the character is dead, the actor is alive and well. I don't know why they don't put trigger warnings on media where dogs die.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:03 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know why they don't put trigger warnings on media where dogs die.

Dude! Right there with you. So here is a link to an FPP designed for our kind.
posted by divined by radio at 2:10 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker.

I know nothing about James Blunt, except the one fact that he was a soldier before becoming a music star. I heard this somewhere at the time of that first big hit. It is that last thing that would make me think of him as posh. I often think of soldiers as lower-class kids recruited into the service because they have few other options. Does Britian maintain its tradition of upper-class twits marching up and down the square and sending others out to die?

It does seem class-baiting if the Labour minister is cherrypicking a couple names known to come from the boarding schools. North America does have those Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Anderson Cooper sorts who come from old monied families, and otherwise acting especially often seems to be a family business crossing generations, but people from other backgrounds do sneak in all the time. Stardom is a fluke. Of course people with more money and access to networks have more opportunities, but the public still needs to embrace them. Can probably find on IMDB plenty of people from privileged backgrounds whose careers stalled after a few bit parts.
posted by TimTypeZed at 3:29 PM on January 19, 2015


From Wikipedia: A keen skier, Blunt captained the Household Cavalry alpine ski team in Verbier, Switzerland, eventually becoming champion skier of the entire Royal Armoured Corps.

If Blunt became an officer because he comes from a family of officers, and if what officers in the British Army do is go skiing in Switzerland, this should be more disturbing to citizens of England than his getting lucky and becoming a star because the ladies took a liking to his high-pitched voice for music to dance to at weddings.
posted by TimTypeZed at 3:48 PM on January 19, 2015


drivers for the sheer amount of period rich white people dramas the BBC produces

I think you're reacting to what British TV gets exported to the US

Indeed -- I was already going to point out that at least since, oh, Upstairs, Downstairs, what will sell in America has been a factor in production decisions. I have no idea what it contributed to the bottom line thirty years ago, but certainly since cable and now streaming have gotten big, not to mention the existence of BBC America, there's been a continued trend toward serving the US market.

I did note last fall that Doctor Who, oddly enough*, seems to have fully embraced black characters (with at least one semi-regular in nearly all of NuWho, i.e. Mickey, Martha, and Danny), but there are relatively few Asian (in this context meaning South Asian, or for USians, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian) characters, especially recently under Moffatt's showrunning. This is even fewer Asian Britons than I routinely see in most non-period UK television. In Happy Valley, for example, a police district commander was played by Ramon Tikaram, who is ethnically South Asian, without comment; the other "northern" drama with which I'm most familiar, Blue Murder, set in Manchester, had a number of Asian minor characters and one episode set entirely on a case within the local Asian community.

Still, Happy Valley, which was a setting intended to stand in for a lot of British "crap towns", it was still notable how few Asians were present in the story. In the other series with Sarah Lancashire and created by Sally Wainwright, even though there is a South Asian^* in the main cast, Last Tango in Halifax is set mainly in that town and in Harrogate, a town that's a good hour's drive away and crucially on the other side of either Bradford or Leeds. It may be a disinterest in urban storylines (LTiH is actually very chewable if the capsule summary of a late-life romance between two star-crossed lovers of their youth has kept you away), but I hope it isn't deliberate that the show never seems to mention or venture into those two cities, which coincidentally are chock full of South Asians, one of the biggest concentrations in modern Britain.

So even in award-winning cutting-edge drama there seem to be some racial diversity issues that I can spot from the other side of the world.

* One footnote for two references: Sacha Dharwan plays Waris Hussein in An Adventure in Space and Time because in 1963 there was a South Asian director at the BBC and that South Asian was the first Doctor Who director.
posted by dhartung at 4:02 PM on January 19, 2015


"cunt" [...] carries significantly less offensive load in British vs. American English

Only in a very few dialects of British English. In the rest, it's the most offensive thing that you can call a man, and, well, I was in my 30s before I heard a man call a woman by that word, and I was really, really shocked.

So yes, there are some British cultures where what you say is true, but it's for in-group communication unless the speaker has very poor boundaries. Which basically boils down to: if you, as an American, hear that word addressed to you by a British person, all you need to know is that you're under exactly as much threat as you would be if you were being addressed that way by an American.

Note, for example that I'm too coy to type the word myself, and normally I don't give that much of a fuck about that kind of thing. Anyhow, here ends the digression.
posted by ambrosen at 4:13 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


If Blunt became an officer because he comes from a family of officers, and if what officers in the British Army do

is make some pretty brave decisions under pretty high pressure, then we're doing OK. To be fair, it looks like Blunt wasn't as pivotal in that situation as The Independent makes out, but he comes out of the situation with his head held high.
posted by ambrosen at 4:19 PM on January 19, 2015


I was just reading something elsewhere and it struck me just how corrosive the predominance of privilege is upon notions of success. I am constantly saddened when reading about a successful English person to find that they're background is far from average. It's almost a game where you can find that somebody went to Oxford or Cambridge, a private school, or had a parent or relative in their career of choice. It really diminishes the whole idea of success if the majority of competitors never even had a chance, or at least appears that way.

There will always be a question mark over successful English people so long as the question of privilege is untackled: are you really deserving of success? No doubt they will complain about "pulling people down", but that is little more than shooting the messenger.
posted by Thing at 1:35 PM on January 20, 2015




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