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Opinion

Until the middle class let their talentless offspring fail, the arts in Britain are doomed to tedious and monotonous mediocrity

The cultural industries in the UK continue to be dominated by the inadequate scions of the privileged, who do all they can to keep the doors closed to genuinely talented working-class creatives. It has to stop.

A report outlining the sorry state of the UK creative industries regarding the lack of working-class representation was released last month by the Policy and Evidence Centre. The report was clear, when it comes to the arts – music production, architecture, film, tv and media, publishing, journalism, design and the fashion industry etc. – these occupations and careers are overwhelmingly inhabited by people from high socio-economic backgrounds.

According to the report, more than 250,000 working-class voices have been left out of the cultural sphere, a deficit almost equal to the growth of the industries in the last five years. It noted that the privileged dominated every creative sector, accounting for approximately six in 10 jobs in advertising and marketing (63% privileged); music, performing and visual arts (60%) and publishing (59%).

Though it is easy to dismiss the creative industries, this report is significant in understanding how power uses culture to maintain class inequality and the status quo. Too often we only acknowledge power working through the hard-nosed economic pursuits of business and finance, when in fact arts and culture play an enormous role in privileging the middle class and diminishing the position, thoughts, experiences, skills and talent of the working class.

The cultural industries in the UK are the gatekeepers of class. They tell us whose stories are important and worth telling, they dictate what is acceptable in matters of style, manners, accents and behaviour. The British creative industries are at the forefront of class reproduction, which is why working-class people have difficulties being included in what we think of as British culture in any positive way that they self-determine.

Instead, working-class people are depicted, portrayed, imagined and disappeared by middle-class actors, authors and directors. There is nothing new or surprising here, as a working-class child growing up in the 60s and 70s and reading children’s literature, it was obvious that authors had no clue who the working class were.  I wrote in the front of one of my books at seven years old, “when I grow up, I want to be an author,” but even at seven I knew it was unlikely so underneath I wrote a list of alternatives to be on the safe side.

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More sinister than our invisibility in the creative industries is our misrepresentation and demonisation. Enid Blyton’s depicted working-class people in her children’s books as rough and villainous, or soppy and stupid. Contemporary visions of the working class are pretty much the same. Take ‘Little Britain’, the awful early 2000’s sketch show where ‘Vicky Pollard’ was introduced to us by posh boy Matt Lucas imagining who was the most inarticulate person in Britain. Vicky was a perpetually pregnant teenage working-class girl from a Bristol council estate who did hilarious things like give birth at the age of 13 and swap the baby for a Westlife CD and say “yeah, but, no, but” a lot. I very much doubt Matt Lucas, or his equally privileged co-creator David Walliams, had ever been in contact with a working-class teen, and obviously neither had anyone in the production team which eventually granted them a prime time slot on the BBC for what seemed like an eternity.

And things still haven’t changed, though Lucas has hung up his chav-drag persona and now has a career making pastry-based double entendres on the painfully middle-class ‘Great British Bake Off’, Walliams is now children’s mega author flogging millions of copies of children’s books riddled with ugly working class stereotypes. For example, a single mum who lives in a tower block and cleans toilets for a living is one of Walliams’ characters in a book titled ‘World’s Worst Parents’.

It is not that working-class people’s lives and experiences should not be reflected in society – my argument is that they absolutely should – but as the report shows, working-class voices and their lens on life is being disappeared and their stories are being told through the inaccurate prism of the privileged, who have a material interest in gatekeeping the industry to prevent working-class people having a go.

When a report states there are more than 250,000 working-class people missing from an industry – we have to question why? Is it that working-class people are not creative, talented or skilled enough to be part of shaping the creative industries of Britain, or is it that there is an insidious middle-class gatekeeping, class prejudice and purposeful class reproduction happening in those industries?

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The creative industries offer lucrative positions of power, influence and status – but the lack of working-class voices within those industries is telling by the lack of imagination and creativity in their output. When British culture is being run and controlled by people from similar backgrounds, schools and social circles, the field becomes extremely narrow. British television seems to be endless remakes or contemporary takes on ‘Terry and June’ but with murder. The mediocre middle-class life is everywhere but amongst a backdrop of different contexts.

There are exceptions, ‘This Country’ and ‘Alma’s Not Normal’, but it is telling and obvious as a working-class woman that both of these shows are written and acted by working-class people. Although the stories are difficult to watch, working-class life in Britain is not easy, they are full of empathy and comedy. I have said it many times and will continue to say it – until the middle class allow their stupid and talentless children to fail we will continue to be a mediocre country full of nasty (yet very civilised) inequalities, prejudices and snobbery.

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