In the last few weeks, Nish Kumar has been on something of a self-pity tour after his BBC show, The Mash Report, was cancelled. He seems to view himself as the victim of ideological warfare at the Corporation, and has privately asked it if the show’s political “affiliation” led to it being taken off air. The New York Times’ piece in which this fact was revealed claims that “the show, and more specifically Kumar, have become lightning rods in the very public grappling with British values known as the country’s culture war.”
Lightning rods? This flatters Kumar too much and a damp squib of a show. One suspects it’s not so much “cancel culture” but “ratings culture” that saw off The Mash Report. What was so funny, after all, about the joke that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s middle name is “William Compassion Caecilius Alfred F*** the Poor Frankincense Rees-Mogg III”? Or that the Government “has contempt for Labour, liberals, lefties, commuters, people with disabilities”, as another joke began. And what about the sketches involving people in supermarkets? No doubt they were all deplorable Brexit voters (ha, ha, ha!).
But enough about Kumar. A point that occurred to me, while we were all supposed to be feeling sorry for him, is that there are other artists who have much more to complain about; who would never get a television show, never mind a NYT spread, if they revealed their true opinions to the world. Across the creative industries, a groupthink has taken hold and cemented. Dare to question the “woke” party line – that privilege and patriarchy rule the world – and you know what happens next.
Don’t just take my word for it. Last month Winston Marshall, a banjoist from Mumford & Sons, dared to post that he liked a book by Andy Ngo. Ngo, if you haven’t heard of him, is the political equivalent of Marmite: “progressives” view him as a heretic for writing about the behaviour of Antifa in America. Others praise him for highlighting some of its aggressive tactics, which he has done in his recent book Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy.
Whatever you think of Ngo, however, it is surely not too much to ask in a liberal democracy that people can read, enjoy and even review a book? But how naive! Marshall was to soon find out that is no longer the reality in Global Britain.
He tweeted “Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man” to Ngo, only to soon find himself trending on Twitter, the social media equivalent of the pillory, and there was the usual pattern – the Twitter mob, unflattering newspaper coverage and a self-flagellation. Marshall said that he had “come to better understand the pain caused by the book [he] endorsed”, even to his own bandmates. He announced he was “taking time away from the band to examine my blindspots.” What are these blindspots? Has the devil been found within thee?
Almost every artist watching these events gets the message. Thou shalt not think outside the liberal-ordained groupthink! It’s been this case for a while. A few years ago, for example, I went on a Tinder date (the best sort of sociological experiment) with a rock musician. We had a lot in common. He told me he liked Jordan Peterson, voted Brexit, believed women and men aren’t wired the same way, and didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn. But shush, don’t tell anyone! That’s what his management had told him, wary that his commercial prospects would be at risk if he revealed “wrongthink”.
Soonafter I put out some feelers on Twitter to see if other artists were hiding their political views. I got one message from a Brexiteer artist telling me “it would be career suicide for me to be public about my opinions”, and one woman told me her membership at a university Conservative association had ruined her acting career. Other messages recounted similar sorts of experiences. But shush, don’t tell anyone!
It’s pretty obvious what the “right” views are meant to be in British politics. In successive elections/ referendums, huge numbers of celebrities have been public about their love for Labour and Remain. But how many Tories and Brexiteers can you count? It’s no wonder why they’re keeping quiet. In 2019, Rod Stewart congratulated Boris Johnson on his general election victory only to receive huge backlash on social media. Wrongthink, Rod, wrongthink!
Some people will answer that some “non-woke” artists are public about their views. Geoff Norcott, for instance, is right-leaning and was an important part of The Mash Report. But it feels as though these people are wheeled on as an alien species, even when they often reflect mainstream sentiment. Then there’s Laurence Fox, who was dropped by his acting agent for his views. You can’t have your cake and eat it, seems to be the message around mixing politics and the arts (oh, unless you’re a Corbynista).
The current state of play is not just boring – who wants to listen to celebrities who all say the same thing – but cowardly. The problem doesn’t go away by “wrongthink” artists burying their heads in the sand, or pretending not to have an opinion – because if someone finds out that they think biological sex is real they’ll lose their record deal. Conformity is never cool. Artists, of all people, should know that.