Peter Whittle: The Left have won the culture wars and it's time to fight back
Peter Whittle writes regularly for the Sunday Times, and has also contributed to the Spectator, The Times and the Los Angeles Times. He formed the New Culture Forum in June this year.
During an interview earlier this year, the National Theatre’s director Nicholas Hytner said that one thing he would really like to see there in the future would be a ‘good, mischievous, right-wing play.’
The underlying implication in Hytner’s statement - that such a production would be an unusual occurrence, a naughty aberration, a guilty pleasure - would certainly have confirmed those of us on the political right in our conviction that the cultural establishment in general stands firmly behind enemy lines.
But where are the alternative voices? Do not conservatives - or indeed those others opposed to the increasingly stifling liberal/ left orthodoxy - do these kinds of things? There is the rather complacent view, still cleaved to in the cultural establishment, that broadly speaking the right conserves, and the left creates, and that the most enduring art tends to be subversive. However where that leaves such giant figures as Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward, Graham Green or Edward Elgar, to name a few from this country alone, becomes a matter for debate.
It’s undeniable that if there are right-of-centre artists or writers out there now, they’re certainly keeping a low profile. It isn’t hard to see why. The Right may well have decisively won the economic battles, but in the Culture Wars in Britain, the Left has been victorious. In the past decade, the triumph of political correctness and cultural relativism in the arts, academia and large sections of the serious print and broadcasting media has meant that this orthodoxy has become even more entrenched. It sets the terms of debate, and has a massively disproportionate influence on what might be called the narrative of our times.
You don’t just have to pick on the BBC. You will look in vain through the listings pages for a film about an African dictator who uses Western aid to fund his lavish lifestyle, or a drama set in the Thatcher era which doesn’t portray it as one long orgy of moral corruption and greed. The recent series The Line of Beauty depicted a world, after all, which would not be recognisable to most people, certainly to those who bought their own council houses and started up businesses. Stephen Frears’s film Dirty Pretty Things highlighted the plight of immigrant workers and was rightly praised, yet it is inconceivable that we would ever see a movie or TV drama which looked at the loss of social moorings of a sympathetically portrayed white couple in an area of mass immigration.
Other than specifically genre writers such as Frederick Forsyth and George McDonald Fraser, you’ll have difficulty finding a voguish ‘serious’ novelist who, like Houellebecq in France, gives his characters speeches which are blisteringly critical of Islamic fundamentalism. And although much visual art has become so concerned with self-expression as to be irrelevant in terms of a wider political debate, public art, which has undergone something of a renaissance in the past decade, has been co-opted for social uses, often to make a point, along liberal lines, about social inclusion and prejudice, the most famous example perhaps being Alison Lapper Pregnant in Trafalgar Square.
More and more of us, and not just those who work in the arts and media, are exasperated by the way in which this deadening hand has been cast over debate. It is essential that we challenge the left/liberal stranglehold. When we started up The New Culture Forum this year with this as one of our main aims, it was also in the belief that in protecting it’s belief system and in refusing to face up to the possibility of increasing censorship from ‘offended’ groups, the cultural and media establishment risked fragmenting society further by essentially closing the door on the discourse which is vital to the health of any democratic society. The Rushdie affair was a pivotal moment here, but more recently we’ve seen echoes of it in the forced closure of the play Beshti, and the caving-in, by the makings of the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, to protests by those who pronounce themselves ‘insulted.’
It’s ironic that those in the arts and media who profess to value creative freedom, and the right to question, tend to go remarkably silent when it comes to defending these things. At The New Culture Forum, we hope to provide a forum for anybody who cares about these issues, and who is interested in real debate which is not restricted by the requirements of political correctness.