Prompted by The English Surgeon, subject of the last post . . . I remember watching – late, late – a passage in a documentary in which an Arab man was sitting at a table with a boy, who was eating a boiled egg, and the Arab man was steadily becoming uncontrollably angry while the boy ignored him, concentrating entirely on his egg. And one of what was apparently a series about the treatment of immigrants: Christmas carols being sung in a detention centre. Aeons ago, a documentary about the Sweetwater Canal in Egypt (I think John Arden was involved in the making of this), with British ex-servicemen reminiscing to camera about the 1950s: how they got a prize in the mess if their dogs savaged an Egyptian, how they picked up a 14-year-old girl by the roadside and gang-raped her in the truck. (Any occupying army: this is what happens.) A scene in a Dennis Potter play where a boy gets locked in the Harrods toy department overnight. A film, Italian I think (please, somebody, tell me the title), in which the girlfriend of a boy who has died comes to the house of his parents, they feed her, then give her a lift towards where she’s going, drop her off at the border, wander at dawn on a beach.
The film doesn’t count, but the rest of the above could be cue for a sermon about dumbing down. And I’m the right age to do it (57: Heinz varieties). Bring in films, books. But no, it’s the wrong argument. (Please, please don’t give me Melvyn Bragg interviewing Harold Pinter or Seamus Heaney.) Because, (1), the phrase ‘dumbing down’ implies a hierarchy and it’s the old highbrow/lowbrow, private-school/state-school, middle-class/working-class thing, a model that never worked from the start when applied to culture and certainly doesn’t now, so junk it; (2), 95 per cent of ‘culture’ has always been crap; that’s how it works: a hundred seeds, one or two may flower (and automatic deference to anyone claiming to be an artist helps no one; nor of course does automatic ridicule); and (3), there was no Golden Age. The difference between then and now is scale: more acres of newsprint, more channels and airtime to be filled, more levels of management and bureaucracy and therefore more built-in conservatism and conformity. Money and celebrity link in, reinforcing. But the essential 5 per cent – though it may be harder to be find, and yours is undoubtedly different from mine – is still there.