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#oneaday11:Facebook vs The King

It’s 3.33am on Tuesday morning, 18th January 2010. It’s been bugging me, I am awake. I am thinking about films, but I am also thinking about the here, the now and the future.

In the early hours of Monday morning (GMT that is)  The Golden Globes were awarded and in 4 hours time, The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) will annoucne their nominations. In a few weeks The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will issue their Academy Awards nominations (ie The Oscars) and we are very much into the awards season. For most it  is a tale of two films this year. The very British ‘The King’s Speech’ and the very American ‘The Social Network’.

In many ways it is a tale of two cultures. One buried in tradition, history a class structure fascinated by a reverence for past times, the there and then if you like. The other is rooted in the new, the brave ,the here, the now and the future. A tale of social division geared by class and age versus one of social inclusion, built in a class by the young. An age of austerity versus an age of excitement. A fading Empire and a growing, vibrant, democratic empire. In short one difference between  British and American culture.

Both films centre on a key protagonist, a battle for power and the importance of communication.  ‘The King’s Speech’  tells the story of a young, socially inept man thrust into the spotlight by circumstance and betrayl and his battle to overcome his own shortcomings in order to make his own mark in a world on the brink of social meltdown. He has a speech impediment and he needs to get over it. He can speak, but commuication is very, very difficult for him and the people on the receiving end.  The ‘new ‘medium of radio gives him the power to connect to ‘his subjects’ all over the world, he just has to figure out how to do that. ”The Social Network’ tells the story of a young, socially inept man thrust into the spotlight by circumstance and betrayl and his battle to overcome his own shortcomings in order to make his own mark in a world on the brink of social union. He can speak, but he finds communication very, very difficult.  The ‘new’ medium of the internet gives him the power to connect everyone up around the world from the bottom up. He  just has to figure out how to do that. Technology plays a key role in both films. Something the British used to be good at, and something that the Americans are now very, very good at.

And therein lies the rub. For all its magnificence, its splendour, its craft and its sheer class, ‘The King’s Speech’ is simply not as relevant or indeed as important as ‘The Social Network’ today. Right here, right now. History is a brilliant way of looking at the past and seeing what, if any lessons one can draw for the future. But it is only relevant if you are awake. Even if you look at the way these films have been made, you can see key differences in both our cultures but also in our relevance. ‘The King’s Speech’ would not get made in Hollywood, it just would not get past the focus testing. It was in fact supported by The Film Council and the National Lottery, which given the quality of the result is probably a good thing, thank god not every decision is down to money . However,  ‘The Social Network’ may not have got made at Pinewood, or if it did, it would be a pale version of the Sorkin/Fincher masterpiece.

But one thing in the real  world seems absolutely certain and that is that the real social network, Facebook, would never get made in Britain, not in a thousand years and not whilst the culture of conservatism, tradition,  coupled with lack of vision and innovation pervades our creative industries. We ‘do’ history awfully well, we do future a little in the past tense over here. Faded glory of the British technological genius versus the innovative disruption of the technological force that resides in America.

Culturally the clue is in our Academies, the ones that exist to foster and then recognise the creative talents both of our wonderful countries have. The British one has ‘Arts’ in the title, the American one has ‘Arts’ andSciences’. That tells you a lot and may go some way to explaining why we lag behind the Americans in the technology business.

Don’t get me on the subject of interactive entertainment and video games just yet. That comes in future blogs. I attended a high level meeting at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) yesterday where we discussed, amongst other things, how the investment community does not ‘get’ the content creation community here in the UK. The appetite for investment into technological driven content is insatiable in California and laregly bereft in London.  So, in my humble opinion if Britain is to continue to make a living in the creative arts, an industry that does produce some of the very best content in the world, then Britain as a society needs to recognise the part that science plays alongside arts in our creative economic future.

The Coalition Government who have stated that they want to effect real change and fast, should start by decoupling ‘sport’ from the DCMS and adding in ‘science’ – Department for Culture, Media and Science. No need to change the signs, just change the key word and then change the culture. Simple really.

PS – a prediction – best film at the BAFTAs?  ‘The King’s Speech’. Best film at the Oscars? ‘The Social Network’. Both films ‘of the year’ in my view – one is history and the other is about making history. I loved both, for very different reasons, that’s the great thing about culture.

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#oneaday 5: A party political broadcast from the 1950’s

There’s something very speciaal about the New Year. I love the feeling of ‘‘out with the old, in with the new’. It’s been a great Christmas and New Year time, but I am looking forward to getting rid of the Christmas decorations and doing a bit of a spring clean. I like the fresh new diary with all of the promise it holds for the year ahead, the determination to do better this year than last, the New Year’s resolutions. Parliament and politics feel refreshed and ready to go – with all kinds of plans and initiatives  ready to go.

I held a very successful ‘Student Surgery ’ in XXX on Tuesday – a large group of enthusiastic school students overbrimming with questions, some criticisms. Probing for the great truths and the things which will affect their futures – from the economy, student loans and university fees; education, employment. I never took the viiew that my ‘schooldays were the best days of my life’,
but how we older people must envy the optimistic looking to the future which our teenagers can enjoy. The world is truly their oyster. And I am very much looking forward to the Annual Speech
Evening in XXX School tomorrow night, when I know that the same positive spirit will be much in evidence.

That’s what politics should be about. Not about tomorrow’s headlines; not even about winning the next election (central as that is to a heaalthy democracy); not about being popular, slaves to the
polls. Nor should it be about the petty issues and arguments of Westminster, nor the plottting and personalities which so often diminish politics. Those of us who are privileged enough to have
been elected to office should be ready to throw personal and party interests to the winds; to rise above short term populism; and in everything we do and say try to project ourselves forward to a
distant future – quite possibly long after we ourselves have quit this planet – and make plans and take steps which will be of benefit not only to our generation, but to our children and our
children’s children.

Too much of what we do nowadays will not last a decade, far less a century. Buildings are constructed with an in-built obsolescence. How many of our public buildings, for example will stand the test of time of our town halls, the Foreign Office and Treasury, or indeed Parliament itself. Which will last longer –– Westminster or Holyrood? Too many initiatives and ideas last barely longer than the launch ceremony before they are forgotten or outdated. Everything we do and say must be for the long term. ‘What will it be like in 20 or 100 years’ time?’ should be our question. ‘What will our grandchildren think about it?’

As the Coalition faces the new Parliamentary year, some of these thoughts should be uppermost in our minds. What do we have to do to right the wrongs in our country, save our ruined economy; recue our reputation in the world as a force for good?? So let us cast away our short termism, our eye to the main chance, our fixation with personalities and politicking. And let us seek to do what all great statementm(sic) in our history have done – build a nation, institutions, buildings and businesses which will be a force for goood for the century which lies ahead. There may be tough times ahead in the coming year, but I so much hope that all we have to do will in the long-run be seen to have been for the good of everyone in this great Nation of ours for generations to come.

Ok, so this is my blog and these should be my words, except they aren’t. They are the words from a serving MP from 2010 who sent this to their constituents recently in a newsletter and was printed in the local paper. The spelling and grammar are exactly as they were written,  indeed the call for us to always question ‘what will our grandchildren think about it?’ could actually be seen as a tad ironic. 

However, this feels like the  language of a different age, a sort of post war, rose tinted spectacled eulogy wistfully yearning for the days when England was England, or Great Britain, or indeed the United Kingdom (more on that national identity crisis later in this series), but always a force for good.

I am not particularly bothered by the political sentiment in the surface DNA of this piece. Rather I am a little  puzzled that our national interest can be put into such halycon and simplistic terms. Surely, our society is a little more complex than this? Noblesse Oblige is a wonderfully British thing, all be it a French principle, but a lust for great public buildings just feels a little bit light, or is it lite, I can never remember?

Britain ‘being a force for good’ is a very noble and admirable position. No one should disagree with that should they? I sincerely hope that we can have a country that ensures all their citizens have equal chances in life and one which sits fairness at the core of its constitution. Hard work, endeavour and entrepreneurialism should be rewarded, as should taking responsibility. This Coalition preaches fairness at their core  and I for one support them. I am sure everyone else who lives here would do the same. I will be hoping for all our good, that this principle is kept true and at all times, no matter the cost. The right thing is the right thing after all. Indeed one of my good friends who devotes his whole time to those worse off than him has a little note posted above his desk, a quote from EF Schumacher. It says rather beautifully, “We must do what we conceive to be the right thing and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we’re going to be successful. Because if we don’t do the right thing, we’ll be doing the wrong thing, and we’ll just be part of the disease and not a part of the cure.”

Let’s hope our leaders keep things fair and do the right things so that our grandchildren think well of us all.

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