Culture war, what is it good for?

Happy Pogues day everyone!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that annual event when people, usually spurred on by click-bait media organisations, lose their minds over whether Fairytale of New York should be censored. Previously it may have been known as the day when radio stations started playing Christmas songs (a month & a bit prior to the date) and we’d all ruminate over whether it was ‘too early’, but now we have a real argument to get our teeth into.

In some senses it’s a more orderly and less divisive re-run of the Christmas vs Winter Festival or ‘war on Christmas’ debate favoured by the ‘red tops’ and right-wing shock jocks which blighted the start of festivities for many years. At least we can sing-a-long to this one.

The decision over whether to clip or obscure some lyrics which can be construed as homophobic and misogynistic is one of changing and challenging cultural norms. What may have been acceptable once upon a time is not always going to be the case and all media outlets have to be sensitive to the times and opinions of their audience.

fairytale of new york censorshipCulture wars demand that we pick a side and defend it but there are instances, and this may be one, where it is possible to see both sides. When this argument bubbled up again last year, I was minded to reflect that you must always consider the context, particularly in a work of art. The questionable lyrics are exchanged in the setting of an argument, one conducted by characters in a different time and place. This being the case, a fixed mindset benefits no-one and there are rarely any good reasons to willingly cause offence. I might defend your right to express an opinion but choose not to share it with others, and certainly not broadcast it.

This time around the BBC are executing their right to straddle both sides of the fence as befitting an impartial broadcaster.  The decision - playing different versions dependent on the choice of station - seems rational in many senses, in that it changes the use relevant to the market the station is serving and their respective attitudes. It also allows the debate to fester, which in turn promotes the fact that the Christmas songs have started up again. It’s a win-win in a situation that rarely produces a positive outcome.

That Christmas is often known as a time for consternation and celebration, of tradition and turbulence possibly reward the song’s legendary status: it reflects the mood of the times, it is universal, and it is loved. If we remember nothing else each year it should be that The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl created the definitive Christmas anthem and caused almost everyone else to give up trying. Happy Christmas your arse.


Testing Times

Covid 19 and the live events industry

In the popular events industry, we’ve rarely benefitted from Government intervention; we prefer to advise them than the other way around. We get on with things ourselves and work with local licensing bodies and authorities for the best outcomes. Governments just get in the way, with their infinite bureaucracy and leaden-footed methodology. Those in concert and event production are proudly autonomous but that same independence is punishing many of us who have slipped through the treasury’s ‘safety net’.  The question is not whether we trust the authorities to get things sorted quickly enough (we don’t), rather is there something we can do to speed up the process?

How to re-start concerts and events

Next year the most important pass you’ll get won’t be the ‘crew’ laminate or ‘AAA’, it’ll be your Covid passport, the certification that you’re coronavirus free. It will inevitably come to this, those who are allowed to work & travel and those who are not. You may legitimately argue that if you’re allowed on a flying tube of metal with as little vigilance as a simple temperature check then we should be able to do the same with mass gatherings. Sadly, it’s unlikely to be that simple and we all know that socially distanced shows aren’t going to work - not only do the numbers not add up but you’re still at the mercy of locally enforced lockdowns as experienced by SSD and their socially distanced arena. No one can or will insure you against those risks which means that the solution is testing. All event attendees are going to have to arrive pre-tested and clear, with evidence to prove it – or you’ll have to provide testing on site.

Photo of people partying at a festival
photo by Adam Whitlock from Unsplash

Right now this sounds daft.  Government is struggling to get results for people within 48 hours, lab capacity is non-existent, but we are not Government and our industry is too important for us to wait around for them to get their act together. If nothing else, we’ll need to have next year’s festival shows on-sale in the next two to three months and we’ll need a way to reassure ticket buyers that the shows will go on.

In 2020 we won’t just be in the business of shows, we will also be in the testing business.

Testing, testing…..Lamp Testing?

It’s no secret that the UK Government has failed to make test and trace work. We can do better. We already create mini cities with their own eco systems to stage big shows. In 2021 this will become greatly expanded to give more space to testing. Naturally the process will have to give instantaneous results, but we are very nearly there. I was alerted by friends in the movie industry to the possibility of a Covid test result within 30 minutes.

It hasn’t been widely reported but the methods  and the costs seem promising. Perhaps at scale it’ll become even cheaper and faster, more efficient. Of course, we’ll need people to take and process the tests, but those services are being discussed, it’s a conversation we can already have – drop us an email when you’re ready.

Perhaps the only realistic way of starting events again is to put the onus on the attendee. Either they turn up with a clear Covid result or evidence of immunity and failing that they have to pay for a test to ensure they can get in. Correctly communicated to meet statutory conditions or event safety restrictions it should overcome any significant issues. We should not underestimate people’s desire to resume normality and start having fun – the quantity of ‘pop-up raves’ proves that.

Just as there are no omelettes made without broken eggs and no festivals staged without sore heads, there are significant logistical challenges, but it has to be better than another year without gigs and festivals. With our industry on its knees, that is just unthinkable.

 

Note (Oct 2020): The Events Industry Forum, Association for Independent Festivals and Association of Festival Organisers have published a draft document to assist festival promoters and organisers during the pandemic. It is sensible and comprehensive. They anticipate further updates as the situation evolves.

Boots (UK pharmacy) has also introduced a nasal swab test producing results in 12 minutes at a cost of £120. This is potentially a vital step forward for event organisers. The test uses technology developed by LumiraDx.

The UK Govt's 'moonshot' programme which is partly operational in Liverpool uses a version of the Lamp Testing referenced above.


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