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Pious Guff

April 24, 2013

I miss pious guff.  Particularly from government ministers responsible for “Art” or “Culture”.  In my youth, the typical “Arts” minister would be someone like the cartoonishly effete Lord Gowrie, who could be relied upon to spout pious guff as and when required.  Of course, he was part of Thatcher’s cabinet, and his job was to obscure the fact that governments spend far more on killing people than they ever do on imaginatively enriching people’s lives… but he presented at least a cartoonish echo of the idea that something other than utilitarian economics was needed to sustain meaningful human life.

Maria Miller, the current UK Culture secretary is evolved way past any such twentieth century foolishness.  Her recent speech reads like selected extracts from an undergraduate essay on Theodor Adorno (Grade C+, borderline C), with its plodding references to culture and commodification.  Except that commodification is, for Miller, an unproblematically good thing, or rather the unquestionable telos of any form of human activity or work. 

Now culture is of course a hopeless term – whether teased, prodded, warped or dissected by Theodor Adorno, William Empson or Raymond Williams.  For generations, it’s been touted as a kind of national compensation, a flag of distraction, or (at worst) a racist chant.  Claims that ‘culture’ enriches all our lives have nearly always been self-serving and politically dubious.

And yet, and yet… there was something about pious guff about culture that could at least be reclaimed, could at least be appropriated by people who thought that life might offer something slightly brighter and more unexpected than the production and selling of marketable commodities.  Maria Miller reminds us that these days, money never sleeps and that capitalism does not  take holidays.  It’s not that she sneers or refutes concepts such as the sublime or the beautiful, it’s that she has no idea that such feelings exist, either personally or for anyone else. 

Those of us who believe that human beings life fuller more exciting lives when imagining things ‘outside the box’ or commercial utility will one day be preserved in glass jars.  And sold.

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  1. Culture is Ordinary | GeoFoodie

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