Everybody hates spoilers. If a TV reviewer tells us what happens in our favourite show, or a columnist gives away the outcome of a mystery storyline, they are deluged with letters of complaint.
The other day, I experienced for the first time a programme giving a spoiler about itself.
I enjoy radio plays – trashy crime radio plays in particular. The BBC Radio iPlayer app is an endless source of re-runs, and I pick something at random whenever I’m on the train or doing the washing up. So it was that I found myself listening to ‘The Secret Parts’, a murder mystery set in Birmingham City Council.
We all know how murder mysteries go – a horrible crime is committed, a cast of variously suspicious (or suspiciously innocent-looking) characters are all plausibly implicated, then our detective makes an ingenious leap of logic and dramatically points the finger at the butler/disinherited son disguised as a tramp/bed-ridden patient who can actually walk or whomsoever it is wot dunnit.
Not so this time. Mere minutes after our heroine, wry, Guardian-reading Labour Councillor Helena Kerr discovers the bloodied corpse of the gay committee Clerk, onto the scene steps her Tory opposite number, haughtily sneering his way around the crime scene. You didn’t need to be Poirot to work out what was going to happen – our lefty Holmes would inevitably discover that this Thatcherite Moriarty was a) wealthy, b) corrupt, c) homophobic, d) secretly gay and e) the killer.
And that’s exactly how it went. The only bit I failed to guess at was that his loyal wife would turn out to be intimidated and cowed by him, only capable of being set free by, you guessed it, Cllr Helena Kerr. It’s another odd example of the peculiar sexism held all too often by those who pride themselves on their political correctness – as with Helen Goodman MP’s Twitter outburst about female ministers, it seems it’s ok to put down women as long as they wear a blue rosette.
The whole experience – all 90 minutes of it, spent waiting for a twist of some sort (would the Lib Dems be to blame instead?) – was remarkably frustrating. Like anyone politically minded, I don’t enjoy being the victim of BBC bias, and I’ve sent the odd complaint email in my time as, I would guess, have many readers. A Today Programme ‘debate’ with only one side, or the casual use of “conservative” to describe hard-line Communists in North Korea or Islamist revolutionaries in the Middle East, will see me shout at the radio or TV.
Worse than the news
But compared to the cultural sphere, BBC News is a paragon of balance (and, in fairness, they’ve improved on issues like the EU or Israel/Palestine in recent years). Whoever commissioned The Secret Parts to be made into a radio play apparently never paused to realise that the whole work was one great collage of politicised stereotypes.
Perhaps I was being over-sensitive, though. So I set to thinking of an equivalent in which the party roles are reversed. Is there a drama with a Tory hero, and a Labour villain who organises union stich-ups, destroys jobs by attacking private business and funnels taxpayers’ money to their friends?
I couldn’t find one – if such a piece exists, do let me know.
This is a far wider issue than the BBC, of course – and far more damaging than biased news. Cultural output – drama, novels, music, cinema – sets our social norms. If greedy, homophobic Tories are the only type we ever hear about in comedy or see on our screens, the political implications are obvious. This is one reason why Generation Y’s increasingly individualist, self-reliant and anti-statist values are yet to carry across into electoral politics.
It’s also a self-reinforcing trend. If you are on the centre right and in the arts, how likely are you to confess your leanings? If you do, will it harm your prospects?
One of the few out members of the centre right in the cultural sphere is folk-punk singer Frank Turner, who was lambasted when it emerged he was a eurosceptic libertarian. The left’s attitude seemed to be one of bafflement: how could a singer, a singer of folk and punk at that, a fashionable singer, not be a socialist?
The idea must have seemed so far-fetched that even listening to his loving songs about England, or about liberty and Magna Carta, it never dawned on them. (Do buy his albums, by the way – they’re not only good, but you have the added reassurance that your money isn’t going to buy champagne for someone who supports higher taxes or restrictions on the press.)
Turner, happily, has continued to prosper since – but only after weathering a barrage of abuse. Would a less established artist, or someone with less guts, repeat his decision to be honest about his views? I doubt it – and if they did, they’d risk being made to pay a price by a left-wing establishment which believes its own prejudices to be simple truth.
Fight and win
The right is good at winning economic battles, but rarely even realises there is a cultural battle to be fought. Small wonder the left dominate a sphere in which we often don’t seek to compete.
That must change - not in the way that our opponents would do it, through censorship and bullying, but by a new effort to compete. We must find and encourage the centre right voices of the future in culture and the arts.
If we do not, we may well find ourselves fatally outflanked – and then all the political arguments and economic evidence in the world will not be able to save us from a culture which believes that the right is just plain wrong.