Excellence Rejected

by James Delingpole (June 2019)



French Theatre, Honoré Daumier, 1857



 
Does it matter that in the recent movie biopic Mary Queen of Scots (set, of course, in 16th century England and Scotland) Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to the Scottish court, Lord Thomas Randolph is black?
 
How irritated should we be that in the BBC's latest adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables—set in 1830s France—the character of Inspector Javert is played by an actor of Nigerian heritage, David Oyelowo?
 
Can there be any rational explanation for the decision by the BBC Two documentary 1066: A Year to Conquer England, to have William of Normandy's envoy to King Harold played by a black actor?
 
Before I attempt to give my answers to these vexed, contentious and potentially incriminating questions—(spoiler alert: they're "Yes," "Very," and "None whatsoever")—I'd like to go back to first principles and ask a more fundamental question.
 
How can we tell the difference between bad art and good art?
 
It's a question I've been pondering all my adult life, first as a university undergraduate studying English Literature, subsequently as a critic of books, films, theatre, television and rock music.
 
Though the genres and media may seem wildly different—Dark Side of the Moon; Pride and Prejudice; La Grande Belezza; The Sopranos; etc—the answer is always the same.
 
If I had to put it in a word, it would be something like "authenticity," "congruence," "integrity" or, simply, "truth.
 
That is, a great work of art is rigorously and fearlessly true to itself—and, by extension, to its audience. It feels right to us because it is right. It's not phony, it doesn't pull its punches, it succeeds in doing what it set out to do—which is to be as good as it can possibly be, without compromise.
 
We know that The Iliad is a masterpiece because it tells us so much that is true about the horror and pity and glory of war.
 
We know that Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a masterpiece because, even half a millennium later, it has the power to make us laugh and appreciate the comedy (and underlying tragedy) of the human condition.
 
We know that Led Zeppelin IV is a masterpiece because it rocks, perhaps harder than any other rock album before or since.
 
There is nothing "elitist" about these value judgements. That is, you really don't  need to have been to college to discern artistic merit. The Canon is sometimes ridiculed these days as the hegemonical construct of a bunch of mostly dead, white, European male professors. But there's a reason why, say, Jane Austen has stood the test of time—endlessly remade for television costume dramas, continuously reinvented from Clueless (the revised version of Emma, starring Alicia Silverstone) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It's because she speaks to us—not just English Literature academics, but all (or most—there's no accounting for taste) of us who read her. She tells us something about life, the world, relationships, and human nature that we find appealing, insightful, meaningful, clever, funny, true.
 
I keep coming back to that word "true" because I think it's the essence of pure artistic expression.
 
Homer Simpson says of comedy he likes that "It's funny because it's true." And he's right. So much of the pleasure we derive from comedy comes from seeing the human experience reflected in it, whether it's through the satirical exaggeration of Swift, Pope, and Beavis & Butthead or the sweet but excruciating "there but for the grace of God go I" experience of watching Larry David's weekly humiliations in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
 
Much of the best comedy is, as the kids say today, "relatable." [A barbaric neologism which we oldsters properly loathe because relate is an intransitive verb and therefore correctly requires an accompanying "to"] And the very fact that the kids both understand this concept and use it as a term of approval tells us something important: even now, despite the post-modernist double-think in which so many of them have been inculcated at school and university, the newer generations are just as capable as their forebears of appreciating how good art functions.
 
The "truth" rule applies across the genres. Critics raved about the opening ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan because it captured, more viscerally than any film before, both the experience of combat generally and, specifically, the horrors of landing as an infantryman on Omaha Beach on D-Day. They raved about Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy because it seemed to accord so perfectly with JRR Tolkien's vision of hobbits, Mordor, Sauron, orcs, and the Shire. They rave about Gomorrah because of its utterly unsentimental, excruciatingly plausible depiction of the nasty, brutish and short life with the Neapolitan Camorra mob.
 
So yes most of us know good art when we see it. And while not all of us will be familiar with "verisimilitude" we perfectly well understand the concept. When we describe a film is "utterly implausible" or "a bit unrealistic" these are not terms of approbation.
 
What we also well understand is the concept of excellence. We are drawn to movies that have been given five-star reviews and generally shun—unless we're stuck on a plane—those with one star. We prefer to buy books that have been recommended by lots of other people, trusting in the wisdom of crowds to prevent us wasting money on a bad reading experience. At art galleries we make a beeline for the greats—the Mona Lisa, the Fighting Temeraire, the various Sunflowers—trusting in the cumulative verdict of critics past that such works are among the apogee of artistic achievement.
 
When we use the phrase "it's a bit shit" to describe a book or an album or a TV series it's not intended as a come-on. When we use the phrase "guilty pleasure," we reveal our consciousness that there is a universally accepted hierarchy of value—and that the thing we are recommending falls short of those standards.
 
And finally—I'm sorry if I seem to be labouring the cripplingly obvious but all will become clear in a moment—we understand that greatness is worth striving for. We envy people with natural talent; we admire those with the application and endurance to wring out the very best of that talent; we feel disappointed for those who squander their talent; we look up to those who are touched with genius; we recognise that there is a hierarchy that goes from good to better to best, and that artistic endeavours of whatever variety which do not meet that standard at least at the "good" level are more or less of a waste of our time.
 
We know this. Artists know this. One of my recent pleasurable discoveries—the result of a hypochondriacal fit where I became convinced I had early onset Alzheimer's—has been the joy of learning poetry by heart. Obviously I've been picking on the better known ones—Keats's "To Autumn;" Coleridge's "Kubla Khan;" Philip Larkin's "An Arundel Tomb." During the slow, painstaking process of committing each poem to memory, you experience something of what the poet went through during the act of composition. Often, as you misremember, obvious words or clumsy words or clichéd words or inelegant words present themselves in your head—till you recall the much better one eventually chosen by the poet. The mot juste.
 
Poetry, like all art, is a process of honing, refinement. Thomas Gray was the most admired and best-selling poet of his day not because he splurged out his emotions with cavalier abandon, but because he was a perfectionist who wrote very little—and what little he did write was matchless. His Elegy, Written in a Country Churchyard will endure as the Elgin Marbles or Michaelangelo's David or Shakespeare's Hamlet endures—and as the 1981 comedy romp The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, and Farrah Fawcett will probably not.
 
Again though, why am I telling you this obvious stuff? I'll tell you. Because to the current arbiters of the global artistic rule book it isn't obvious at all.
 
Those odd casting decisions I mentioned at the beginning are just a particular manifestation of a much wider phenomenon: the rejection of excellence—or, if you prefer, truth—as the ultimate goal of artistic achievement in favour of a political agenda which, of necessity, involves a diminution in aesthetic quality.
 
Let's take that Javert example from the beginning and ask, again: why would you cast a black actor to play a police inspector in 1830s France?
 
I can think of a few possible reasons, some more creditable than others. One would be if you could make the case that you are simply honouring the spirit of the original text. Javert, Victor Hugo tells us, was born in prison, his mother a fortune teller and his father a galley prisoner. It's therefore not totally beyond the realms of possibility that he could have been of West African heritage. But it would be a stretch, I think, to argue that this is what Hugo had in mind when he created his remorseless inspector. We know, indeed, that Hugo's main model for the character was one Eugène François Vidocq—a criminal turned detective who founded France's Sûreté Nationale. Vidocq, like the vast majority of the population in France at that time, was white. By the standards of that time it would have been remarkably unusual for a black man to rise to the rank of police inspector. Even assuming it were possible, it would surely have been the subject of endless comment. So I think we can probably rule out that theory.
 
The next possible justification might be that there was simply no better actor qualified for the job than David Oyelowo. Hmm. Did you see his performance? I'm not saying it was dreadful and, to be fair, Javert is not an easy or sympathetic part to play, largely consisting of tortured humourlessness and implacable, obsessive relentlessness. (Also, on a personal note, I found it a lot more persuasive than Russell Crowe's dismal interpretation of the same role in the film version of Les Misérables the musical—which was so toe-curlingly awful I actually walked out of the cinema, leaving my wife and kids to endure the rest while I went to the supermarket to pick up some groceries). But I do think it would be overgenerous to try to pretend that there weren't several dozen actors out there who could have made a better fist of the part than Oyelowo did. Period costume drama is something that Britain does very well. We have a superabundance of talent nurtured at places like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Watch any of the BBC's endless Dickens adaptations: the cast of characters is huge and there's never a duff performance anywhere. So no, I'm not persuaded, that it was pure talent that landed Oyelowo the role.
 
Now let's come to the third and most likely reason why Oyelowo was cast as Javert—and why a number of other black or mixed-race characters appeared in various scenes they probably wouldn't have been in if this really had been 1830s France. There's not much need to speculate here because the BBC is perfectly frank about its policy on "diversity and inclusion." In keeping with its statement that "we are challenging ourselves to ensure that Diversity and Inclusion is hardwired into everything the BBC does," the BBC now operates a casting quota system, with ever more stringent targets to be attained by 2020. By that year, its goal is to have women occupying 50 percent of all lead roles on screen; "disability" to be featured in 8 percent of roles (some of them lead); black, Asian and ethnic minorities to be "on screen, on air and in lead roles" 15 percent of the time; and LGBT actors to be on screen and in some lead roles 8 percent of the time.
 
Casting, in my view, should be a process guided by one main criterion: finding the best person for the job. The fact that the BBC has muddied the process by bringing politics into what should be a question of aesthetics and talent (plus maybe availability and affordability) is bad enough. But what's even worse is that—typically of a large, creaky, politically correct bureaucracy—the BBC has carried out its box-ticking with such clod-hopping zeal. It could, with a bit of sensible guidance from above, have decided: "We'll exempt period dramas and historical documentaries from this rule." Instead it has applied the rule across the board, meaning that the high-end, arthouse drama for which it has long been justly admired now has to endure the same identity-politics-driven dumbing down as its low-brow entertainment.
 
"Ah but come now," I hear the more progressive among you say. "Is it really such a bad thing when a publicly-funded broadcaster does its bit to redress centuries of injustice by giving oppressed minorities a chance to overcome the hurdle of white male privilege?"
 
Well I haven't the time, space or indeed the level of interest here to discuss the rights and wrongs of identity politics, box ticking and "positive discrimination." Instead, I want to keep it simple and focus on the aesthetic and moral price that we are paying for this kind of politically correct gesture casting. We are creating and promoting and fostering bad art—and in doing so, we are impoverishing our culture, cheating ourselves as consumers, encouraging failure, rewarding the second rate and, quite likely, hastening the decline of our civilisation.
 
Now, perhaps, you'll better understand why I went to all those lengths at the beginning to demonstrate why good art matters; and how it isn't merely the narrow preoccupation of an elite of luvvies and academics. Whether we studied somewhere fancy like Yale or Cambridge, or whether we had no "education" at all, we're all instinctively drawn and culturally attuned to preferring the good to the bad, the best to the better. The reason I'm stressing this is I really don't intend to give some angry woke college kid or leftie columnist the space to accuse me of being a "far-right" reactionary who sits in front of his TV, shaking his fist whenever an ethnic minority appears. I want to make it absolutely clear that it's not the blameless minority actors I'm objecting to here, but rather, the cultural loss we all suffer when our creative industries decide to privilege (lovely lefty word, that) identity politics over artistic excellence.
 
Allow me to give you a few examples of the kind of cultural loss I mean. Let's start with that black ambassador in the court of Queen Elizabeth and that black envoy from the 11th century court of William of Normandy: here what we're experiencing is the dissemination of ignorance in the form of second-rate history. Anyone watching who doesn't know their stuff—probably quite a few people, given the decline of our education system—will be given a completely false impression of the period being portrayed. They will think those eras were more multi-ethnic than they actually were; that they were more tolerant of racial difference than they actually were. Had William of Normandy really had a black envoy the courts of England and Normandy would have talked of little else, so unusual would such a personage have been. But the historical record shows: he didn't.
 
Next—and related to the first—is the problem of verisimilitude. Take Jed Mercurio's BBC drama series The Bodyguard (which you can now see on Netflix). It wasn't my cup of tea, particularly, but you can see why it was popular: Keeley Hawes played a UK Home Secretary who had a naughty fling with her hunky bodyguard, the relationship spiraling into chaos involving terrorist bombs and all manner of complicated conspiracies involving the secret services. What really put me off, though, was the United Colours of Benetton approach to casting: the police snipers were black and female, the head of the SWAT team was of Indian or Pakistani heritage, the bomb disposal expert was of oriental extraction—none of which they would be, even now, in early 21st century Britain. Despite copious efforts by the police to recruit more widely, all the above roles are still performed overwhelmingly by white men. Now you might find that fact problematic but it's a fact all the same. So what the casting is doing by pretending otherwise is subtly—or not so subtly—detracting from the plausibility of the drama. God knows, Jed Mercurio thrillers are convoluted enough. The last thing you need when you're trying to follow his threads and guess who really is behind the evil masterplan is to find yourself going: "Another powerful woman/black or Asian person/disabled person doing a job they'd be unlikely to have in real life. Really? Can't the BBC just trust me not to be sexist and racist without turning even its potboiler dramas into homilies on the vital importance of diversity??"
 
And there's my next objection: these woke casting choices are a needless, passive aggressive assault on the viewer's moral integrity. This is what spoiled for me what would otherwise have been one of last year's most perfect dramas—the BBC's adaptation, directed by Stephen Frears of John Preston's A Very English Scandal. It recounted the improbable true story of Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal party leader (once touted as a future prime minister) who tried (unsuccessfully) to get a hit-man to bump off a youthful gay lover who'd been blackmailing him. Much effort had clearly been expended on getting everything just right, from Hugh Grant's impersonation of the charming, devious, funny, clubbable, imperturbable, sublimely entitled Old Etonian Jeremy Thorpe to the recreations of brown-suited, smoky, seedy Britain in the Sixties and Seventies. There was one scene, though, that stuck out like a sore thumb. I wrote about it in the Spectator:
 
"Are we altogether sure they had black officials in prominent security positions in Westminster in the late 1960s? I’m happy to be corrected, but it seems to me that if you’re going to go to all the trouble this production has of getting the details exactly right—the cars, the narrow bed in the grisly Dublin hotel, the badgers wandering round the Earl of Arran’s home—then it seems a jolly shame to have the whole thing undermined by the BBC’s clunky diversity casting quotas. It makes you feel uncomfortable noticing it—but notice it you do. The BBC is not being sensitive here, but belligerently rude to its viewers."
 
It's possible, I suppose, that this is an age thing; that the newer generations of viewers, brainwashed from childhood into correct thought by programmes like the new Doctor Who where every major character fits the right diversity tick box, won't notice this problem at all. They'll be sitting down to watch, say, the fifth BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and won't mind in the slightest that Elizabeth Bennett is played by a hot young Bollywood transgender actress with one leg and that Mr Darcy is played by Idris Elba. They won't mind because they'll have been rendered so completely diversity-compliant that they won't even notice.
 
But I think you can only make that theory work by yoking together two heterogeneous notions—one true, one almost certainly false. The true one is: yes, as a culture we've all grown a lot less racist—to the point where we're barely, if at all, concerned with people's colour differences in the course of our daily lives. The false one is that the same rules apply when we're watching films and TV.
 
I don't think this will ever be the case because verisimilitude is the essence of film and TV. With theatre it's different; with opera even more so. No audience, anywhere, not even in the Naziest enclave of Austria or Germany (if there are such enclaves!) is going to object if the soprano role is taken by Jessye Norman. On the contrary, no matter how white the character she may be playing, you're going to be delighted not disappointed because Jessye is one of the greats, and with opera, what matters ultimately, is the voice and the expression not the skin colour. Equally, no one sits through an opera judging it on how realistic it is, not least because opera plots are often incredibly unrealistic, and in any case, it's all happening quite obviously in a proscenium in front of an audience with a stage set and make up and with costumes, all of which require suspension of disbelief. This applies equally, of course, to stage musicals. In the stage version of Les Misérables, it really doesn't matter if the character of Javert is played by a black singer a) because you may well infer that he was the best singing talent available and b) because, hey, it's a stage musical—which might suggest, with the help of some good set design, the impression of 1830s France but which certainly isn't going to pretend you've stepped into a time machine and that 1830s France is where you are right then...
 
In TV and film, on the other hand, that is very much the aim. The hairstyles, the fashions, the make up, the social codes, the interior design, the modes of transport and so on are all carefully researched and then recreated with a view to capturing as closely as possible the essence of the period. Of course, there are limits. You couldn't have your characters at the Battle of Hastings speaking old French and Anglo Saxon because it would be incomprehensible. But you'd do your best nonetheless: making sure that everyone wore the right sort of chainmail, with the correct helmets, and the correct hairstyles (long, combed, anointed hair and beards for the Anglo-Saxons; short, almost monastic crops for the clean shaven Normans).
 
Equally, if you were doing a version of Les Misérables for the English market with English speaking actors, it would clearly make no sense to have everyone speaking in French. But that certainly wouldn't be an argument for getting all the other stuff wrong—for allowing say, parking ticket machines or TV aerials to intrude on your lovingly recreated cobbled street scenes, or wind turbines lurking in the background of your rural scenes. Sure, viewers might be prepared to overlook infelicities and anachronisms which exist for their benefit (eg the language, as detailed above). But there's no reason to expect them to be so tolerant towards period inaccuracies which are the result of sloppiness or ignorance or, maybe worst of all, woke politicking.
 
Because hey, why should they? Most people—normal people at any rate—when they sit in front of a movie or a drama series do so because they want to be entertained and/or informed not because they want to expand the boundaries of social justice. They also do it for the purposes of escapism. And how are you going to escape the finger-wagging tedium of this increasingly politically correct world we all inhabit, if not even escapist TV drama series set nearly 200 years ago can resist the urge to remind you that a black actor now has every much a right to star in a Victor Hugo adaptation as a white actor because of reasons you simply don't care about?
 
And let's be clear, they're not being racist for noticing these details. With film and TV, noticing detail is the whole point. If it's a thriller, you're scrutinising everything anyone says or does for clues. If it's sci fi, you're assessing the look, the gadgets, the technologies to answer your own question: "Do I buy this vision of the future?" If it's Downton Abbey, you're wondering every few seconds—"Was that word really in usage as early as 1920?" "Could the chauffeur really have been so familiar with the daughter of an Earl?" —and so on. The idea that these critical faculties are suddenly going to be suspended when a black character—or a woman or whoever—gets shoehorned into a role they could never have conceivably had in the era being depicted is the kind of fatuous delusion only an empty-headed Social Justice Warrior could seriously nurture.
 
When I've touched on these issues in my TV reviews I have, of course, been told by all the people you'd expect—college kids in their snowflake bubble, Twitter SJWs, academics, luvvies, etc—that I am a vile, far right, reactionary, racist Nazi who is completely out of touch with the modern age. Which, I'm sure, is why so few critics mention it: it's just not worth the hassle—or the potential career damage. In fact about the only other critic I can think of who has done so is an old friend and former colleague of mine, the theatre reviewer Quentin Letts.
 
Letts was actually even braver—or more career-suicidal, if you prefer—than I've been here. He addressed the most unmentionable of all the unmentionable issues to do with 'colour-blind' casting: the almost inevitable reduction in performance quality. I say 'almost inevitable' not because—as Letts himself was at pains to point out—there are not many fine non-white actors out there; but just because the talent pool is smaller. According to the last census in 2011, over 80 percent of the UK population is white. While it's likely that that proportion has fallen in the eight years since, it still means that there are several tens of millions more white people in the UK than there are black, Asian, minority and ethnic (BAME) people. Therefore, all other things being equal, it follows that there are going to be proportionately fewer top level BAME actors available for casting than there are top level white ones.
 
What really separates the sheep from the goats, in my experience, is Shakespearean verse. Some actors—a very few—have the gift of being able to honour its rhythms, while yet speaking it so clearly, naturally and sympathetically that even an audience unversed in Shakespeare can yet understand almost every word. Others, perhaps the majority, either mangle it or sound, at best, like they're doing it for a school play.
 
For forty years now, I've been going to see Shakespeare at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon, and I've noticed a definite fall off in the quality of the productions—especially with regards to verse-speaking. There are various factors at play here, I'm sure: the death of the great Cicely Berry, who was voice coach at the RSC from 1969 to 2014; the decline of repertory theatre; changing values at drama schools. But I'm afraid that too often when you come across an actor who can't "speaka da verse" (as an old girlfriend of mine, formerly an RSC actress, used to say), the awkward suspicion arises that the person in question was cast not because he or she was the best talent for the job but in order to push the RSC's "diversity" and "colour-blind" casting agendas.
 
Is this a problem? Not, I suppose, if you think that the primary job of the RSC—superseding all artistic goals—is to foment social justice, inclusion and diversity. Definitely a problem, though, if like me you'd hoped that the overriding purpose of an institution called the Royal Shakespeare Company would be to do Shakespeare better than anyone else in the world.
 
There's a paying customer issue here too. Sure the RSC receives over £15 million a year annually in taxpayer grants—scrap the lot, I say, then it would have less justification for all this "accessibility" nonsense it's trying to impose on us—but that's still only just over one fifth of its funding. The rest mostly comes from box office, interval drinks sales, merchandising and so on. From the pockets, in other words, of all those mostly white, middle class, middle-age-to-elderly customers you see milling around the bars and queuing up to use the loos during the interval; the people on whom the RSC very much depends for its income and its patronage, but people who yet the RSC appears to find something of an embarrassment.
 
Letts chose to stick his neck out while reviewing a Restoration comedy called The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich. He asked whether one of the players, whose performance had left him unimpressed, had been cast "because he is black" and said "If so, the RSC's clunking approach to politically correct casting has again weakened its stage product." (That use of the word 'again' hints that this was a frustration which had been building for quite some time.) True it may have been, but it was brave of Letts to say it and brave of the Daily Mail (his employer at the time) to run it—as the inevitable reaction from the progressive Establishment demonstrated.
 
As Letts recalled in the Spectator: "The RSC called me an ‘ugly’ racist. There was an El Alamein barrage from socialist actors such as Sam West and Robert Lindsay. Danny Lee Wynter thought I should be banned from theatres. An anti-Brexit paper said I did ‘not belong in theatre’ and the Sunday Times (once home to that brave critic A.A. Gill) tried to make trouble for me. Out, out, out!"
 
All very predictable—and depressing. Here is the cultural establishment effectively admitting that it has given up the pursuit of great art because, it has decided, other goals are more important. And this isn't just my inference: they're now completely up front about it. When Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the RSC, was given space in the Daily Mail to argue his case he barely even tried to defend the actor's casting on artistic grounds. Instead he accused Letts of being an "old dinosaur raising his head from the primordial swamp and blinking in disbelief that the world is no longer as he expected it to be."
 
Doran went on " [...] Theatre has always, and must now, reflect the society in which we are living. If you are part of the rising number of the UK population who identify as people of colour (roughly 40 per cent in London) and you do not see yourself reflected on our stages (or in our media) then why should you engage? Why should you consider theatre—or in our case particularly, classical theatre—as relevant to your life? The RSC has always been at the forefront of challenging assumptions, of representing the entirety of our community, of championing equality, diversity and inclusion on our stages."
 
This is where we are in 2019. The artistic director of arguably the world's most distinguished classical theatre company now no longer feels he need even pretend that he wants to put on the best possible productions. Rather, he wants to put on the wokest possible productions—apparently in the belief (good luck with that one, Greg!) that it will lure in a more diverse audience of vibrant theatregoers who hitherto felt alienated by the RSC's oppressive whiteness.
 
It's not a version of reality I recognise. Indeed, I can scarcely think of a more patronising notion than that BAME theatregoers are so unsophisticated, so obsessed with race politics, so artistically undiscerning that the only way to draw them to a Shakespeare production is to bung a few brown faces onto the cast list. Has Gregory Doran ever met a cultured BAME person, I wonder? I know quite a few. And what I would say is that to a man—or woman—they would be insulted beyond measure at the notion that an RSC production for which they'd forked out upwards of £50 a ticket had been rendered slightly more crap than it needed to be out of deference to their ethnicity. God knows theatre can be a bit of a trial unless the production is exceptionally good. So who in their right mind - black, white, yellow, or brown, gay or straight, able bodied or disabled—barring perhaps a tiny minority of SJW radicals, would choose to have their pleasure jeopardised and their money wasted just to satisfy some woke agenda they had no part in choosing?
 
Where will this end? Well I'll tell you where it has ended for me: I no longer watch the BBC except when required to do so for my job. I've also stopped bothering to go and see plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company. As a consumer—and a paying one, at that—I resent the idea that my custom is being taken for granted. It's like this: if my favourite coffee chain suddenly started using sub-standard coffee beans on the grounds that they were "fair trade" and I found the taste noticeably poorer then I would take my custom elsewhere. Exactly the same rules apply to the arts. If the RSC or the BBC or whoever wishes to inflict on me second-rate produce in pursuit of a political agenda with which I do not agree, why on earth should I give them my money? I know I'm not alone in feeling this way because the phrase for it is already established in the lexicon: get woke, go broke. In the last five years, more than 3.5 million British citizens have stopped paying their TV licences and I really don't blame them. Why would you spend £150 a year to fund relentless political propaganda made by people who despise you? Sure, rivals like Netflix are no doubt stuffed with progressives too. But Netflix doesn't yet insult its audience's intelligence in the way that the BBC or the RSC does. I remember thinking this as I watched a Netflix original film called The Highwaymen, about the Texas Rangers who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde. In the Netflix version, the Rangers were played by white actors Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. Had the BBC made this film, I dread to think what casting decisions might have been foisted on it in the name of those BAME quota targets . . .
 
 

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James Delingpole is an writer, journalist, and columnist who has written for a number of publications, including the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and Spectator. He is executive editor for Breitbart London. He has published several novels and political books and is an incredibly groovy guy.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast
Comments
30 May 2019
Send an emailAdam Selene
Well said James. I too was annoyed by the anachronism of casting Jevert in the BBC's recent Les Miserables as a black man. Ditto the Ambassador in Mary Queen of Scotts. Totally agree with your excellent line that, "these woke casting choices are a needless, passive aggressive assault on the viewer's moral integrity."

30 May 2019
Bill Corden
As I used to hear quite often when I lived back in Liverpool " Hey mate.. get in the queue!" And there is a queue snaking around the globe to write this sort of opinion If the world was a rational and fair place the media would be overflowing with honest reviews about the fall off in quality of just about every production. But we've come to the point where anyone who points out that this fall off is due to over- accommodation of minority groups, (no matter what the minority's talent level is), well they are destined to a job with the local free newspaper. I've actually stopped watching the dramas from the UK because the political messages always overwhelm the plot. You can't have a show these days without some black dude cop screwing his female white boss or without a sub plot of a gay or lesbian affair. If that doesn't fill your cup then there's usually a fully emasculated male to round out the story. Most statistical analyses point to about two or three percent of the population being gay or lesbian (statistic wise, an even smaller percentage are transgender) but there isn't a single drama without major representation by this population. It's just as bad, if not worse, in the States These aren't subliminal messages either, they are in your face with the intent of making you uncomfortable with your outdated (or read... wrong!) view of society. So I have to defer my expectation of excellence to the accommodation of lesser talented intruders. Not all of them are lesser talented, I must impress In the days past, when I worked for the Government we had an employment equity officer who sat in on all hiring processes. That equity officer would bring to our attention that a certain minority was not well represented in the organisation. So we were ordered to run processes that were sometimes exclusively set up to hire a member of a particular minority. It didn't really matter if they didn't meet the qualification standards because, as the process proceeded, they could be lowered to accommodate the applicant. Invariably (and I was there for over 20 years) the hireling turned out to be a dud who couldn't do the job without help. But did they ever get fired ? Not a chance, because they'd already satisfied the quota requirements. And so we see this going on through every corner of society with the subsequent measurable abasement of quality ... and nobody seems to be able to put a stop to it.

31 May 2019
Send an emailCraig
While Hugo was writing Les Miserable one of his contemporaries was writing a book called The Count of Monte Cristo. I've seen editions of the novel ranging in length from 250 pages to well over a thousand. It's been made into a movie at least three times. The lead character, Edmund Dantes, was portrayed in 1934 by a British actor from Manchester, Robert Donat, in 1975 by an American actor, Richard Chamberlain, better known for roles as Dr. Kildare and Shogun, and in 2002 by Jim Caviezel, an actor from Western Washington on the American west coast, best known as the star of the television series Person of Interest, and several movies, including Thin Red Line where he played a soldier/Christ figure with the same name as a character who did not appear to survive Pearl Harbor in the first installment, From Here To Eternity, of what became a trilogy. He was so convincing as Pruett/Christ at the Battle of Alligator Creek in the Solomon Islands that Mel Gibson cast him as Christ in The Passion of the Christ. What intrigues me is that Edmund Dantes has never been cast as a black man when by all rights it appears he should have been. The novel was written by Alexandre Dumas, who was one fourth African, and much of the novel involves incidents from the life of the author's father, also Alexandre Dumas, who took his surname from his mother, an African slave in the French colony of Haiti. Dumas Pere was the son of a French aristocrat, born in Haiti and brought as a slave by his father to France shortly after the American Revolution. He was raised from his early teens in Paris and trained at a military school where he learned swordsmanship from another black American/Haitian reputed to be the greatest swordsman in all of France. His opportunities were quite limited until the Haitians, following the American example, declared independence, after which he rose swiftly through the ranks to become a major general and commander of the cavalry that accompanied Napoleon to Egypt. On returning from Egypt to France his ship was diverted and he was delivered to an island prison closely resembling that in which the fictional Dantes was detained and from which he escaped under similar circumstances. The prison experience impacted his health severely, leading to an early demise, and the revenges exacted in the novel were largely the creation of the younger Dumas in the process of reconstructing what had become of the broken father he had only encountered as a small child. I understand movie rights to a biography of Dumas Pere published in 2012 by Tom Reiss called Black Count have been purchased. How many American West Pointers in 1860 had not read The Count of Monte Cristo?

2 Jun 2019
Kay Anon
Whenever I watch a British or American detective series or procedural, I know the black or Muslim character will never be the culprit. If one becomes a suspect, it's ALWAYS done to throw us off the trail. Ironically, it does just the opposite at this point. Black or Muslim? Not guilty, ever. You'd think, if you watch the BBC, ITV, or any number of networks, black people and Muslims never ever commit crimes.

7 Jun 2019
Send an emailJeremy Zeid
If I may also add my pet hate. When actors take the audience hostage and proceed to harangue them with their political views and diatribes. A prime example is that "woke" intellectual genius Benedict Cumberbatch. Personally I hate the theatre and apart from seeing Jackie Mason, find the experience leaves me cold, especially musicals. I don't pay good money to be lectured, ranted at or have some know-nothing's political hang ups rammed down my throat. Rather than put up with it I and I'd hope others would walk out, go straight to the manager and demand a full refund.

24 Jun 2019
Send an emailG. Murphy Donovan
Indeed James, skin color is one of the cardinal virtues, reality be damned. The race card is supplemented by the "plus" size hustle as if over weight (nee fat) is a role model. The Hollywood and Madison Avenue human ideal now seems to be a poorly educated, liberal, sexually ambiguous, melanin blessed, heifer, with attention deficit disorder.

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