The Middle Of The Middle Of The Road

Great Britain

Are out tastes becoming blander? Are we getting less adventurous?

I happened to glance at the London Times’ arts section and found their weekly full-page ads for concerts. The breadth of imagination on display would fit through the eye of a needle. A grisly lineup of ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, fireworks, waltzes, very popular classics and ballroom dancing. Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance, doing what I’m not sure. It’s a wonder they haven’t squeezed Sherlock Holmes in there somewhere. It feels like a lineup assembled in some alternative-timeline novel wherein the Germans won the war.

This is Great Britain roaring into a new future in the early part of the 21st century, listening to jobbing orchestras knocking out the theme music to ‘Star Wars’.

Meanwhile, the BBC has added a new annual event to their roster, the John Le Carré adaptation. Locations will be glamorous and European, the dialogue leaden, the pace stately. Ideas are not welcome. Any males auditioning for the lead will be expected to expose chests or bottoms, the way women used to be exploited in the seventies.

But of course the BBC is still in the seventies. So is the Le Carré novel. So is the BBC’s audience. We are imprisoned by the middle of the middle of the road. Most plays in London are around 50 years old. Most English films are set in an imperial past. The population is ageing. The young are abandoning recklessness to get on with their careers. Clubbing is dead. Experimental creativity is dead. We are like Time Out’s Dubai magazine, which only lists restaurants and retail opportunities. The world is becoming one great big Coldplay album.

Why is this happening? Demographics, largely – the population is ageing. Economic uncertainty, definitely. In the depression years nonsensical musicals ruled cinema. At least we have Marvel movies – except that their plot lines are from the 1960s. The Black Panther first appeared in 1966.

Will we break out of it? After 2030, by some predictions. Meanwhile, let’s all enjoy pop-up street food and more reruns of ‘Dad’s Army’.

12 comments on “The Middle Of The Middle Of The Road”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Having a bad day, Mr. Wowler?
    A very loudly speaking photograph is taken from back up the walk in Kensington Gardens with the Albert Hall bracketing the Albert Memorial. There are eras and places that are powerful just because they *were*. Because they created something that still *is*, because they’re connected to powerful minds or imaginations like the names and titles you mentioned from the ads.
    Add to that the expense involved in going to the theatre, especially for people who don’t go often and want to be sure of enjoying themselves. Enjoyment doesn’t mean being heavily challenged and does mean seeing something they recognise. They don’t know about cheaper options, like smaller productions, or midweek performances, and if they did they’d tell you they want to be in *that* venue and Friday or Sat. night is when they can go to something that has them out til after 11pm. That time slot, by the way, fitted me all my life. My mother told me when I was in my teens that just because the announcer said good night after the ten o’clock news it didn’t mean I had to go to bed then.
    That’s one side of it, but I’m sure people can give you some other explanations.

  2. SteveB says:

    I think Chris is pretty much right, except I don’t think the aging demographic is the reason.

  3. Denise Treadwell says:

    I have discovered The I T Crowd ; bought the 5 seasons on DVD ; too much fun; I have never laughed so much! ‘ Have you plugged it in? ‘I am neither interested in the Marvel comics nor the subsequent films .

  4. DC says:

    You can’t really have social revolution these days. We are all tied into big multi-media corporations like Google, Facebook, Twitter etc who love conformity.

    Mass market, lowest common denominator stuff sells bigger than ever, so you get Fast and Furious 6, Star Wars 9 and Vivaldi Four Seasons in innumerable concerts.

    It is easy gor the consumer to digest and vastly profitable.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    I agree that we seem to lack creativity, appreciation of the importance of creativity and much ambition beyond making a fast buck. On the other hand, we may well enjoy old stuff and reinterpret it simply because it’s very good. In that, I’d count Holmes, Dad’s Army and even a Viennese waltz. The best plays that I’ve seen in recent years: Jeeves and Wooster, Yes Prime Minister and the Ladykillers. Not very challenging, but wonderful entertainment, and excellent re-works of excellent old ideas. It would be great if some more original work compared, but, until it does, I’ll stay with these and Eric Clapton and Mark Knoppfler.

    I guess I’m saying don’t blame the consumer?

  6. John Griffin says:

    A while back I posted on my FB a 10 album thread in response to friends’ posts; one of mine was Daphne Oram’s remix ‘Sound Houses’ ( and the response was WTF? What did dawn on me was that the stuff that was safe in 1980 (or whatever year) is reproduced and magnified and marketed as a commodity for numbing the senses (cultural Soma) or appropriated for adverts (aka trashed); that which challenges and continues to do so is marginalised and remains a shock to those on Soma. Soundbites become profound philosophy, BS becomes policy, the trite becomes celebrated (Oasis anyone?). Many items and performers do remain great entertainment, even after death (Howling Wolf!), but does that dull our senses? Perhaps that’s why I prefer the short story to the novel, even the ‘CleverDick’ ones, more likely to challenge.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    Amongst the many things that I learned from the IT Crowd are that if a visiting Japanese dignitary gives you a beautiful Samurai sword, a huge pair of Doctor Martens boots are a perfectly respectable reciprocal gift; You can store unwanted Goths in an unused room for years; ‘Hot Ear’ is a thing; Broken ECT underpants make you shout obscenities at visitors to your department, despite them being assured that you’re lovely guys; Pretending to be disabled to use the disabled toilet will always end up badly; and, The Internet is housed in a little box with a light on top, as ane fule kno.

  8. Ken Mann says:

    Having attended one of the Albert Hall’s “Sci-Fi Spectaculars” I can report that while the performance is more than competent (as one expects from jobbing classical musicians and why film soundtracks are still recorded in London) the repertoire was a little unimaginative given that they have the entirety of getting on for 90 years of sound cinema to choose from. I wonder if this is unavailability of scores, licensing costs, or just laziness?

  9. Eliz Amber says:

    Certainly, the huge Boomer generation is part of it, and older generations have the money. But, I also think it’s a matter of comfort in uncertain times. Whether you’re on the Brexit/Trump side and seeing the loss of good-paying union jobs (to automation, mostly, but that’s not what gets the blame) or on the sober and sane side and seeing global warming and, well, Brexit and Trump, we’re retreating to a time that seemed more stable.

    There are some signs of life, nonetheless – many of the old tropes are being reimagined. ‘Hamilton’ is an obvious example; I recently saw ‘The Tempest’ with Prospera as the principal character (and it worked better than Shakespear’s original). But that’s the theatre; I doubt the BBC would dare to reinvent Le Carré. (From what I can tell, Mr Le Carré might not have a problem with it – he’s no fan of Trump.) The old guard has fits with attempts to diversify the classics, and that’s the audience most likely to watch.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    It seems to be coming back to provide what people want. Isn’t that the market economy? If for whatever reason people are looking for comfort food then that is what they’ll buy and there’s no point in putting on magnificent challenging performances to empty houses.

  11. Peter Tromans says:

    Helen, finding some sort of finance (I’ll include publishers under that umbrella for writers like Mr C) is as big a factor in the market economy as finding customers. Though somewhere up above I said blame the consumer, I’m about to go back on that. It’s also blame the ones who provide the spondulicks. You don’t need much money to be creative. A lack of it can even motivate. But most often you need a load of it to make your good idea into some sort of realisation.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, Peter, and it’s really necessary if you want more than your immediate circle to share your creation. “There’s a big old barn; we could use to put on a play!” is fine if you don’t need more than your families, two dogs, and a cow for an audience, but if your play is going to change the world it needs a fair bit of dosh to get it in front of the nation. The same with books. You can self publish and I have two of these written by friends, one of them a former commenter here, but will they become well known? Not unless a publisher sees and likes them and puts money behind them.

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