Margaret Hodge said this:
“Just as culture pushes boundaries it can make some people feel proud to belong, it can make others feel isolated and deeply offended.”
This is half right, half wrong.
Culture does push boundaries. The definition of culture is such: “the development of the mind.” Culture can also make people proud to belong. If I acquire a particular interest in early renaissance art, I am bound to meet others who share my interest, and it is one that we are likely to be proud of.
I disagree with Hodge on this point though: That culture can make others feel isolated and offended. This is wrong. Pure cultural expression doesn’t make anyone feel isolated. People usually get over the fact that they may not share the common interest of another group. An unfamiliar culture might make people feel interested or ambivalent, challenged or unchallenged, but not isolated.
Hodge moves on to praise ‘icons of common culture’ like Coronation Street over divisive forms such as Jerry Springer the Opera. But the opera proves my point, not Hodge’s. It was an interpretation that some found challenging, entertaining and even right or wrong. But no one felt isolated. True, it didn’t bind a great part of society together like Coronation Street does, but it didn’t isolate either, and it certainly shouldn’t offend anyone, no more than the gutter morality of Eastenders should.
Hodge also refers to the last night of the Proms as an isolationist, offensive cultural form. However, unlike with her first example, she’d be right. The last night of the Proms is a politically conceived night of pomp, flag waving and fat ladies singing. It is this manipulation that makes the last night of the Proms isolationist and offensive, which organic and untouched culture is not.
Hodge’s use of the example also has a wonderful irony. Her demand for a common cultural identity is precisely the same demand that resulted in the last night of the proms. In the case of the last night, centuries of classical music is purposefully bent towards British patriotism or even Jingoism. Oh, and it does nothing for classical music.
Common cultural identity is arguably a good thing, but the determined manipulation of cultural expression contaminates culture. The same contamination saw Edward Elgar demoted from the pantheon of great composers on to the back of a twenty pound note. It takes away from the richness of culture and its capacity to expand minds. For Margaret Hodge to suggest otherwise is cretinous, dangerous even, but probably not surprising.