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The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
My Beef
by Robin Greer
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'Calm down Robin: it's only a third rate drag act.'
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Really I should not be giving the May McFettridge character a second thought, life's too short, but the thought of it makes me want to raze the Grand Opera House to the ground. You see this third rate drag act is now staring in Northern Ireland's premier venue twice a year. We have to accept that this is now what passes as Northern Ireland's national culture! The health of a society is reflected in its art and culture. What then does May McFettridge say about our society? The McFettridge character is all about sneering at accomplishment, success or even aspiration: it is a celebration of failure and vulgarity and is about thirty years behind the times. As such McFettridge is the perfect mirror of much of Northern Ireland. Most societies rush to promote their achievements and hype up their forward looking self confident agenda; they seek to improve themselves through their own efforts and draw attention away from their failures. In Northern Ireland the reverse is the standard; here communities compete to talk up their failure and alleged deprivation and seek to look more pathetic and pitiful than their neighbours while pushing a begging bowl at the taxpayers of Europe and America. Government Statistics are not the most entertaining of reads but the latest UK Family Expenditure Survey is interesting, up to a point. Burried away in the numbers was that statistic that Northern Ireland has the lowest spending per household on culture and recreation in the UK. Already I can hear the massed ranks of the poverty industry wailing pitifully that this is because of all the deprivation, but I would like to hear them explain away how it is that Northern Ireland has the highest spending per head on alcohol and tobacco in the UK. So it's official: Northern Ireland is a cultural backwater where booze culture is predominant. However if the choice is May McFettridge then it is understandable that people should instead wish to go and get pissed. You have to wonder how we got to this situation when we have two government departments charged with promoting culture, the NI Department of Culture Arts and Leisure and the well-staffed Arts Council. The answer could well be in the politicisation of the arts sector and the insidious process by which arts have found themselves turned into administrators who need to see their role as social engineers rather than promoting excellence and innovation. Every major cultural initiative now comes with the obligatory line about 'the vulnerable and socially excluded' high in the accompanying blurb. The available arts funding goes to keeping an expanding and self-serving social engineering elite in jobs and airline tickets to international conferences. The likes of the Grand Opera House and the Belfast Festival at Queens are no longer able to take risks and are reduced to filling their programmes with lowest common denominator crap in order to keep the cash flowing in. Here's the thing though, the language of failure may be still be valuable currency here but, like our homegrown banknotes, nobody else is interested. No one east of Portavogie cares any more. They laughed at Imagine Belfast, they turned off when the Derry Playhouse went on the Begging Idol show. Northern Ireland is now reversing away from anything that would resemble the expected cultural standards of a 21st century Western European region.   It does not have to be this way. A half hour hop on a low cost airline will show you how a modern society and its culture can function. A million or so visitors will descend on Scotland this month for the Edinburgh Festival. The city will gain further massive international kudos, every student who wants one will have an interesting summer job, the local economy will prosper, 18,000 performers from all corners of the globe will be taking part, the better connected tourists will think about building their shiny new factories nearby once they have gone home to their boardrooms, the seriously minded will have an audience to express their opinions too, the locals will get a goodly dose of creativity, and be inspired to make their city a better and more interesting place for everyone. The Belfast Alternative? Our summer highlight is May McFettridge in A Happy Medium at the Grand Opera House Thursday August 26 to Saturday September 24.
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