Thursday, October 09, 2008

Some like it quiet

Not too long ago I shocked a student when I suggested that the whole New Labour-Cool Britannia affair of the 1990s has had a pernicious effect on English culture, leading, among other things to the country's overall infantilisation and relentless slide into the low-brow.

I know, I'm an intellectual snob. That's what my PhD supervisor said to me a million years ago when I voiced my amazement that in a class of over thirty students only three knew of and/or had seen Hitchcock's The Birds. That's how snobby I am.

But these days, my snobbism is all I have to shore against the ruins of a professional world that has changed beyond recognition. For academia, too, has contributed to the propagation of the low-brow, ditching "traditional" programmes, culling the canon and pursuing more poppy kind of interests: MAs in "Chick-lit", for instance, research programmes on Nick Hornby's record collection, or conferences on the cross-cultural and transhistorical significance of genital piercing.

Out goes William Shakespeare, in comes (the) Prince Albert.

Such intellectual self-destruction plays in the hands of public philistines such as the Secretary of State for Culture [sic!] Andy Burnham, who today suggested that we need to rethink the "traditional" concept of the library. For the library as we know it is far too stuffy a place. For one thing, it's full of bloody books. Second, you're not meant to eat and drink in there. Above all, however, the library is typically frequented by antisocial beings, known as readers, who sort of like it quiet (at least as long as they are trying to focus on the act of reading).

As The Independent writes, Mr Burnham "suggested that the traditional 'silence' in libraries be reviewed and opening hours extended".
Extending opening hours - fair enough.

But reviewing "traditional silence"? In a library? I'm sorry to have to tell you Mr Burnham - in case you have never seen a library on the inside - that these places do not compare with your average McDonald's or HMV.

And while I'm at it, may I suggest that you help reduce noise pollution (to which I - as a reader - am extremely sensitive) by keeping your mouth shut on matters beyond your experience and understanding?

Thank you, Mr Burnham. Now I can finish reading my book.

[UPDATE] Ophelia at B&W agrees with me. And the rest of you, I guess.


KB Player said...

The last culture minister didn’t like the Proms. Not inclusive enough, all that classical music.

The next one will no doubt encourage kids to come into the National Gallery and spray graffiti on the stuffy old paintings there.

The Wife said...

The Proms - not inclusive enough? You must be kidding!

A colleague on an inclusiveness rampage recently suggested the likes of us - literary scholars, that is - ought to study happy slapping videos and Wag-culture.

Your guess as to why we should do so is as good mine.

mikevonswinton said...

KB Player. The name you are looking for is Banksy, is it not. Public schoolboy I believe.

And face it, classical music is generally wack. And happy slapping videos have to be better than flaming Jane Austen