TV UK, 28 August

Cinderella, thesps and socialists: the unreality of the Edinburgh Festival.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

I mentioned before going that the Edinburgh Festival is where the youth of the West (or more specifically the middle-class youth) try to imagine other worlds. Inevitably, then, a sense of unreality creeps in after a while.

This year, there was more to it than late nights and thespian excess. The programme was dominated by shows that explicitly deal with fantasy and the supernatural. Maybe it’s the Harry Potter Effect, though surprisingly there were no shows actually set at Hogwarts. There were countless shows testing the lines between fantasy and reality, with Peter Pan, Alice and Cinderella all making appearances. And then there were the psychics and the mentalists….

The unworldliness of the Fringe Festival was trumped only by the so-called People’s Festival, which wasn’t really a festival at all, so much as an ill-judged swipe at the Fringe from the Scottish left. Every year we are told that both the International and Fringe Festivals are elitist and inaccessible. The organisers of the People’s Festival want the festival to go out to Edinburgh’s ‘schemes’, since they apparently believe that ‘schemies’ are incapable of finding the city centre, which does after all attract visitors from all over the world.

One Scottish Socialist Party councillor demanded unicycles in Wester Hailes, underlining a general sense of uncertainty about the content of a People’s Festival. Are we talking about the Ring Cycle here, or just some jugglers and crappy comedians in a deserted community centre? When politicians and activists set their sights on elitist culture, it tells us less about that culture that about their own lack of political imagination.

Everybody needs the arts in one form or another, but even the best art is no substitute for political vision. As the playwright Henry Adam put it at an Institute of Ideas event bang in the centre of Edinburgh, ‘The last thing people in Niddrie need is a fucking play’. And if they decide they do want a decent play, as opposed to some awful social inclusion project, all they have to do is get on a fucking bus.

Having spent a month in the surreal and English-accented twilight world of central Edinburgh, however, it was a delight to come home last night, and join my fellow Scots to watch Rangers’ historic win over Copenhagen on TV in a London pub. Scotch pies, ‘Ulster folk songs’ and a collective determination not to piss in the sink because that’s what Tims do. It’s good to be back in Kansas.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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Topics Culture


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