According to Maev Kennedy at The Guardian, new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today "reassured those in the arts community who feared disproportionate cuts" with his promise: "Culture will not be singled out as a soft target."
That's reassuring indeed: but the fact that culture could even be associated with the word "soft", surely more suited to toilet tissue than an energising, powerful medium and expression of human existence, is disappointing. It's exactly the deployment of phrase that comes with the depreciation and criticism of subjects like English, or History. In times like these, surely it's the historians we look to for useful comparisons with past fiscal/governmental/societal solutions, and the literature that we love for reassurance and inspiration. (And let's not forget the excessive Media Studies-bashing. It's like hunting used to be, a condoned bloodsport. I pity the poor sixth-formers who take it, just because it interests them, only to have their future job prospects and all hope of credibility battered before they've even reached their AS Level mocks. )
The notion that the arts are "soft" should be challenged as loudly and forcefully as possible. If there's one thing that would do us good as a nation, it would be disspelling this fallacy forever. Surely Billy Elliot's balletic antics have long since provided refutation of this ignorant criticism of culture. Why reduce to squishy pulp, with one four letter word, something that provides millions (let's say, over 60 million?) in the country with creativity and stimulation every year, every month, every day?
And the idea is completely, moronically wrong, anyway. You'd have to be as dense as a tin of baked beans to see the arts as "soft", when you look at the rock-hard political and social power of writing from playwrights like Harold Pinter; poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson; novelists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman; artists like Picasso (Guernica pictured above). Why on earth was art and literature targeted by the Communist governments of China (see the fall-out after the Hundred Flowers Campaign) and Soviet Russia throughout the twentieth century? Because of the steely threat it had the potential to pose. In apartheid-throttled South Africa, literature was pinpointed for censorship, because of its power to challenge, one reason why writers like Nobel Prize-winning Nadine Gordimer were so important in the anti-apartheid struggle.
So where does that leave the arts in the face of a funding crisis, the "tough" times looming, like a suspicious Reuben Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm, as The Stage readers have been informed today?
Hopefully not in the fire and brimstone fury predicted by preacher Amos in Stella Gibbon's novel; or relegation to an attic bedroom, doomed to mutter about what we saw in the "woodshed" for the next five years.
So please, Jeremy Hunt, do us a favour, either find a better speechwriter, or go buy a thesaurus. We don't want any more of this "soft" nonsense...
You big softie.