I sit here 24 hours into a post Brexit world. Like many of us I feel pretty depressed, I also find myself in the odd and slightly disconcerting position of agreeing with Jeremy Clarkson who said to his twitter followers:
“Right. We should have 24 hours of despair and moaning, and then we will all have to roll up our sleeves and make this shit shower work.”
Wise words, especially when you consider they come from a man who confuses racist innuendo with wit, but if just this once we are going to listen to him then our 24hours of despair are up. Why the arts?
Normally at times like this, when there has been a national tragedy, or political upheaval I question what I am doing working in the arts, what are we all doing in the arts? I look around at the bright, sensitive, determined people I work with all the time and I think ‘wouldn’t we be more useful doing something else, being doctors or teachers or god forbid, even politicians. Couldn’t we make the world a much better place that way?’ Today is not one of those days. Today I know why we do it, why we are important, why we are needed now more than ever. This referendum has driven a wedge between the people of this country. We feel more divided now than at any point in my living memory. Old vs Young, Rich vs Poor, Educated vs Uneducated. The campaign deliberately and maliciously set out to make us afraid of the other, afraid of the outside, us vs some terrifying foreign them. People have been lied to, been manipulated, they have also been patronised and ignored. The results of this we saw on Friday morning and we saw them the Thursday before in the brutal murder of Jo Cox.
Against this backdrop it is easy to turn our back on the country, to say ‘you voted for it not me, I’m off to Canada/Australia/Country of choice.’ I get that. It was my first response too, (for your information I was off to Iceland,) but we know that is not the answer.
Of course I am angry. I am fucking livid that we have been reduced to this. That our great tolerant country has been laid so low, but anger is their weapon not ours. We must be cleverer and kinder to weather this storm. That is why I know the arts has a duty to play a vital role. I am not asking you all to go out and make massive pieces of art praising the merits of Jean Claude Junker, (though if you are let me know…I do a mean Luxembourg accent,) all I am asking is you redouble your efforts to tell those important human stories that I know you already do. If, as looks increasingly likely we are about to be taken over by the most right wing government of modern times then the UK is going to be severely lacking in humanity and it is our job to provide it. We must stop the dehumanisation that has been so rampant in recent times, we must provide the nuance, the empathy to combat the simple stories that we are being force fed by the media. We must do this for both sides, as well as showing that migrants do not come in ‘swarms’ we must also show that people are not born racist. We must also challenge ourselves, we must push ourselves to tell these stories to the people that need to hear them. It is not enough to sit in our safe little theatres preaching to the converted. We have to go out and force a dialogue between those who need to start talking. I am not saying that is easy. I know full well that getting new people to watch theatre is an uphill battle but too often people use that as an excuse to not even try.
I know it all feels shit right now, I cried on a bus yesterday, but we can not give up. Britain is suffering from the most horrific of diseases but we must do all we can to provide our part of the antidote. Britain genuinely needs us now, let’s not abandon her.