Why ARE the custodians of our culture so ashamed of it? CHRISTOPHER HART examines the consequences of a woke Nutcracker, Winston Churchill under fire at the War Museum, and a deranged interpretation of a Hogarth at Tate Britain
As we emerge from the shackles of the pandemic, museums, theatres and live shows are finally returning with a plethora of exhibitions and performances.
But the revival of our cultural gems is being tarnished by the relentless March of Woke.
Great works of music are being changed so as not to upset certain minorities; art exhibitions are littered with notices warning viewers of potentially offensive content; and classic works of literature are being ‘edited’, censored or changed.
Here, a despairing CHRISTOPHER HART reports on some of the most egregious examples from the Great Age of Cultural Vandalism…
‘CANCELLING’ ONE OF OUR GREATEST ARTISTS
Hogarth And Europe: Tate Britain (until March 20)
One of the greatest satirists in British art, William Hogarth’s works savagely mocked and lambasted the follies and vices of the Georgian world around him. He has been described as arguably Britain’s most influential visual artist.
Some of our most lauded contemporary artists, including David Hockney, Paula Rego and Grayson Perry, have paid homage to his work.
Yet a new exhibition at Tate Britain, which showcases some of Hogarth’s greatest work alongside that of his continental contemporaries, stands accused of ‘cancelling’ him with notices warning the viewer about his paintings.
A self-portrait by English painter and engraver William Hogarth. The work shows him sitting on a wooden chair
One of the labels, alongside a self-portrait showing Hogarth sitting on a wooden chair, insists the painting should be seen in the context of slavery.
‘The chair is made from timbers shipped from the colonies, via routes which also enslaved people. Could the chair also stand in for all those unnamed black and brown people enabling the society that supports his vigorous creativity?’
In another label, a Chinese-American academic tells us a painting offers us a veritable ‘picture of White degeneracy’. Thankfully, art critics turned on this nonsense. One described it as ‘wokeish drivel’, saying the 18th-century artist had been ‘yanked into today’s culture wars’.
Another stated that the curators, with their ‘extreme anxiety towards social attitudes in this period’, treated Hogarth’s work as ‘bombs waiting to explode’.
The artist was fiercely patriotic, enthusiastic about going to war against foreigners, and entirely untroubled by the existence of traditional gender roles.
He probably sang Rule Britannia in the bath, and definitely thought the French were so weak and spindly because they didn’t have the great good fortune to dine on the Roast Beef of Old England. (See his hilarious painting of that name.)
He was, in woke terms, utterly toxic. Which explains why the commissars at Tate Britain appear, in the words of yet another critic, to be gripped by ‘paroxysms of embarrassment about the art they have elected to show’.
OBJECTIVE SCIENCE IS ‘NON-INCLUSIVE’
Permanent collection: Science Museum
Surely the cool, logical and objective world of science would be free from all this juvenile hysteria?
Alas, no. If you go down to the Science Museum today, you will find no escape. In a truly spectacular display of institutional wokery, the museum has recently given in to pressure from the ever-vocal transgender lobby, and agreed to thoroughly rejig its gallery about human biology in order to ‘update the non-inclusive narrative’.
The gallery had been using such formerly widespread but wicked terms as ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’, but will now use fewer gender-specific terms to cover non-binary people.
The Science Museum also consults with the Museum of Transology in Brighton, which works to ‘halt the erasure of transcestry’ and to ‘reclaim the power to write QTIBIPOC (Queer, Trans and Intersex, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) history’ via its own challenging collection of precious artefacts, which include a Hello Kitty plush toy and a pair of M&S boxer shorts in a plastic bag.
SHAMING OF SLAVE TRADERS AT THE BANK
Slavery exhibition: Bank of England Museum (spring 2022)
Even the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street isn’t safe. The Bank of England recently announced that it will proudly re-open its museum, which has been shut because of Covid, with a positive and uplifting exhibition about…how several of its former governors and directors had links with the slave trade.
The portraits of these shameful offenders have currently been removed altogether, but will be put back on display for the exhibition, their crimes listed, and since they have been dead and buried for two or three centuries now, they will, of course, have no chance to defend themselves
Perhaps visitors should be encouraged to throw rotten tomatoes at them?
The Bank of England recently announced that it will proudly re-open its museum, which has been shut because of Covid
One might think that the Central Bank of the United Kingdom, instead of indulging in these feigned displays of shock and disapproval that not everyone in the past had strictly 21st-century values, might be better engaged addressing the current rate of inflation, approaching 5 per cent.
Still, the Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, denies that they have gone ‘woke, whatever that word actually means’.
Really? An institution whose own website on several occasions name-checks an American victim of police violence, poor George Floyd? Why? Was anyone from the Bank of England involved?
An institution whose recent report Court Review Of Ethnic Diversity And Inclusion argues in purest PC gobbledegook about the bank’s need ‘to identify, surface and address micro-aggressions, alongside understanding the power of micro-affirmations’.
Yes, but what about the economy?
WAGING WAR ON HERO CHURCHILL
Permanent collection: Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum, with several branches in London, Manchester and RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire, is in its own words ‘the world’s leading museum of war and conflict’.
Its Second World War Galleries and its Holocaust Galleries are hugely admired, while its Churchill War Rooms remains one of the most dramatic and evocative destinations for any visitor to London.
Even Churchill isn’t safe from enraged activists, with ignorant, pampered millennials not so long ago spray-painting his statue in Parliament Square with their favourite term of abuse: Racist. But surely the Imperial War Museum is safe from this sort of fatuous ‘activism’?
Winston Churchill in 1949, pictured smoking a cigar as he leaves the plane that brought him back from a continental holiday
It still beggars belief, but late last year, to mark Remembrance Day on November 11, the IWM in Southwark hosted a performance by a local rap band which was essentially, according to one horrified member of the public, ‘a vile attack on Winston Churchill and a rant about race’. Many visitors walked out in disgust.
The performance was supported by the Arts Council, which in turn is funded by us taxpayers. Thus we are helping fund the vilification of one of the greatest heroes of our history.
Addressing the museum directly, one furious visitor wrote on Twitter: ‘Your job is to preserve, not destroy & shame our historical past.’
HAVING A CRACK AT THE NUTCRACKER
The Nutcracker: The Royal Ballet (finished January 8)
Tchaikovsky’s classic 1892 work is a delightful fairy tale of a ballet, and a perennial favourite at Christmas time — as it was at Covent Garden.
But not even ballet is safe. According to one modern-day Scrooge, i.e. Left-wing critic of all things enjoyable, The Nutcracker is riddled with ‘unbelievably offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes’.
And so the ballet is increasingly twisted and tortured by various modern ballet companies to fit their joyless agenda — including, alas, the Royal Ballet.
Shevele Dynott, Desiree Ballantyne, Tamarin Stott, Jennie Harrington and Sarah Kundi performing the Arabian Dance at a dress rehearsal for the ‘The Nutcracker’ at the London Coliseum
Take the lovely Arabian dance, which typically features a male dancer and three female dancers.
In the Royal Ballet’s new version, the scene was altered to feature just one male and one female because of the original arrangements having ‘harem’ overtones. So fewer roles for female ballet dancers then. A great blow for the Sisterhood!
But perhaps we should be grateful. Another recent production changed the Arabian Dance into a pole dance, as this was somehow deemed less offensive.
The Scottish Ballet has also fiddled with its Nutcracker: ‘To ensure it remains relevant today and for the future, we continue to make subtle, but important changes to some of the characters, costumes and choreography.’
This included having the ballet’s character Drosselmeyer, godfather to the heroine Clara, played as female.
APOLOGIES FOR WHITE STATUES
Permanent collection: Cambridge University Museum
You might have thought that this most rarefied and scholarly of museums was safe from the Curse of Woke — but think again.
The Museum of Classical Archaeology, full of noble portrait busts in white marble or plaster from ancient Greece and Rome, now carries a public apology for these busts’ ‘appalling’ whiteness.
This might give ‘a misleading impression’, explains the museum, of an ‘absence of diversity’ in the ancient world.
Statues at the Cambridge University Museum. Its collection features busts in white marble or plaster from ancient Greece and Rome
Although as at least one academic who still inhabits the real world has pointed out, since the museum’s 600 plaster casts of Roman and Greek statues are largely depictions of Romans and Greeks, the opportunities to highlight their diversity are somewhat limited.
This new Whiteness Alert is part of a wider action plan within the Cambridge Classics department for ‘public acknowledgement of the problems of racism within Classics and the need for active anti-racist work within our discipline’.
Apparently, ‘engagement with the problematic past and present of Classics has been insufficient, in particular its relationship to imperialism, colourism and entrenched racism’.
‘Colourism’ here denotes the anxiety that the museum’s plaster casts are too white — although a more balanced observer, or perhaps someone from the Cambridge chemistry department, might explain that this is hardly surprising, as they’re made of plaster of Paris – which is white.
Another Classics don, who had to remain anonymous, called the new plan ‘unhinged,’ and ‘as terrifying as it is comical’.
FRETTING ABOUT OUR COLONIAL PAST
The Past Is Now: Former exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Meanwhile in the Midlands, not even bicycles are safe.
You might go along to Birmingham’s museum and art gallery to view the fabulous Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, or its wonderful collection of 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite paintings, such as Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, or Ford Madox Brown’s The Last Of England (how apposite).
But be warned — the activists have wormed in here too. A recent ‘hard-hitting’ exhibition, The Past Is Now, ‘used artwork and objects from its collection to interrogate Birmingham’s role in the British empire and challenge the venue’s colonial past’.
George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 (pictured) is being re-written. Sandra Newman will tell the story from the point of view of Julia, the lover of the novel’s original protagonist, Winston
The exhibition even featured a bicycle, a lovely old sit-up-and-beg Made In Birmingham bicycle, while the viewer was instructed to worry about ‘the everyday human and environmental impact of the things we own and their links to the British Imperial project’.
PS Finally, in an irony almost beyond satire, George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, warning against creeping totalitarianism and the re-writing of history, is being re-written.
Sandra Newman will tell the story from the point of view of Julia, the lover of the novel’s original protagonist, Winston.
Perhaps woke millennials will only read this new feminist version, not bothering with the original. After all, 1984 was written by a white male who went to Eton.
So maybe they’ll never ponder on Orwell’s terrifying vision of a society in which: ‘Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute.’
Bizarrely, it seems as if the over-mighty controllers of our culture have taken Orwell’s words not as a dire warning, but as a laudable aim — and they are determined to implement it.