Bill Hartley discovers bias in the unlikeliest of places
Most towns and cities have access to a listings magazine and in the North East of England there is one called The Crack. Packed within its pages are details of just about every arts activity you can think of. The magazine (which is free) paints a picture of a vibrant scene, everything from the mainstream, Newcastle Theatre Royal to humbler events taking place upstairs in a pub. Additionally there are film, book and music reviews introducing the reader to bands and performers that might not otherwise be encountered. All told the magazine is an invaluable guide to what’s going on in a part of the country which covers everywhere from large conurbations to rural outposts in deepest Northumberland. Strangely though there seems to be an assumption on the part of those who produce it that readers share their political opinions. You might suppose that a listings magazine would be above taking an overtly political stance and simply showcase what is available in the region. However the current edition is fairly typical.
First there is a leading article alarmingly entitled ‘Is God Dead?’ sub headed: what’s the point of living? Just in case you believed that a philosophical essay had crept into the pages of a mere listings magazine, then reading a few sentences would make everything clear. Hoping but not entirely convinced that the writer is being ironic, these gloomy headlines were prompted by the editor contemplating the sight of David Cameron standing outside Number 10. Yes folks in the editorial office of this magazine they are still in a state of shock over the result of the general election. Life may go on as usual for the rest of us but at The Crack they appear to be in a state of deep depression, which may be something of a distraction for a reader wishing to see what’s on at the local art gallery. Further along in this piece the editor gives us his views on George Osborne and what appears to be a go at macroeconomics. Surprisingly the point being made is that in comparison Gordon Brown as chancellor was a model of parsimony. Fortunately for the purposes of research I troubled to read the whole thing, otherwise Brown as heir to Stafford Cripps would have passed me by.
In fairness The Crack reflects a certain attitude to be found in the North East. Once you’ve crossed the Tees it’s another country; resentful of The South (any government spending south of the river is ‘evidence of where the government’s true priorities lie’). Here I’m quoting Emma Lewell Buck the South Shields Labour MP, on a local television show last month.
Anyway back to The Crack and still in only as far as page six. Here there is an article illustrated by a line drawing of someone done up to resemble Che Guevara: beard, beret and red star cap badge. Again I’m not sure this is entirely ironic. There is no indication why what follows has a place in an arts listings magazine. Essentially the writer is attempting to analyse the causes of Labour’s defeat at the last general election but the dust settled on that a while back so it has the immediacy of the Suez Crisis. I wouldn’t have minded this further bit of self indulgence save for a sense that it seems to have been written on the basis that readers automatically share the dismay at Labour’s defeat.
Happily once over these hurdles then the magazine adopts an air of normality and concentrates on what it is meant to be doing: covering the arts. Unfortunately it doesn’t last because by page 14 another reviewer starts banging on about socialist values (inference: you can’t really appreciate the arts in the North East unless you share these). The warning signal is when the writer drags out that old cliché ‘community spirit’: the two terms being it seems interchangeable. No mention of the fact that in the North East Labour run councils have had a good go at destroying communities. Unfortunately even some of the artistes and promoters feel that this attitude is necessary in order to fit in.
For example how about an evening at The Stand Comedy Club? Who’s appearing? It doesn’t matter: the gig is called ‘Sod the Tories’.
All of this makes the magazine seem at times like something from an episode of The Young Ones edited by the late Rick Mayall as the voice of youth using ‘Thatcher’ and ‘Fascist’ interchangeably and yes, you can find an anti Thatcher T shirt for sale in The Crack.
Another performer publishes two opposing quotes: ‘more skilful and playful than ever’ and ‘is not funny and has nothing to say’. A brave thing to do you might suppose, however the first is from The Guardian and the second from The Daily Telegraph. Inference: relax folks we know who to believe here don’t we? It’s certainly not the critic writing in a ‘right wing newspaper’. All of this just tends to sustain the view of a part of the country where nothing much has happened since the miner’s strike.
When you thought it couldn’t get any worse the critic for Lesbian/Gay theatre gets in on it too. In The Crack sexuality as well as politics shapes the critical faculty where art of a certain kind is being discussed and you need to be appropriately qualified to comment. Before getting down to business the critic first shares her shock and dismay at…. you’ve guessed it, the Tories winning a majority.
It is a pity that the producers of this magazine choose to infuse it with Citizen Smith style politics. This adds absolutely nothing of value and reveals a crude bias that makes one wonder how objective they might be about work which does not subscribe to their world view. The Crack is a very good listings magazine that needs to escape the North East culture of victim hood and grow up a bit.
Bill Hartley writes from Yorkshire