So Where Does Actual Culture Belong, These Days?

So, erm, BBC 6Music seems to be closing, does it?  Well, firstly, let’s be clear on the fact that this is yet to be confirmed – in a rather strange turn of events even the BBC couldn’t find anyone from the BBC willing to comment.  Maybe it’s boycotting itself, in the Alex Ferguson style.

Anyhow, these reports originate from The Times, who are part of Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp media dinosaur who are themselves splashing about rather desperately in the ocean of free content, harried by internetters on one hand and the Beeb on the other.  So until this is actually confirmed by a credible source, I’d hold back on the histrionics a little – which is why I have yet to cover this month-old rumour until now as it is.

Still, it worries me because it’s part of a wider trend which I find rather scary at the moment: entertainment holding increasing sway over culture.

Of course, any fan of painting, sculpture, poetry, classical music or anything like that will tell you that this is just the same as it ever was and that basically it’s just our turn now for a change, and that they’ve had this problem for years.  If anything is killing the music industry, for example, it’s the fucking vacant populism of the X-Factor, it ain’t the internet.

Anyhow, late last year the Metro closed their regional arts offices, basically swinging the axe on some of the best local arts coverage in the UK.  Culture, simply, isn’t all that commercially viable.  But the Beeb themselves seem to have little idea what they are there for to begin with.  Why the fuck did they start trying to compete with reality TV?  Why the fuck did they foist the likes of George Lamb on 6Music and basically date-rape the daytime schedule?  Well the answer to the latter question is that apparently Lesley Douglas thinks that women are fucking idiots, but the whole thing speaks of general confusion as to what the BBC is actually supposed to do.

Tax is there to pay for things which commercial concerns will not cover, and to provide accountability to the public which commercial practises do not.  The Beeb is pretty clearly covered by the first, but it has slowly but surely been forgetting its remit and trying to compete with commercial channels on their terms.  6Music only costs £7m a year to run (just over a third of Wossy’s wages), and if they wanted to cut costs they could simply fire their fucking dreadful daytime celebrity presenters and return the station to the specialists for whom it was originally intended.  This mission creep has left it falling between two stools to a considerable degree

Mrs. Toad said to me once that you used to become famous by being on the radio, but nowadays the only way you got on the radio was by being famous to begin with.  This is patently not the Beeb’s job – they are there to ensure that all are represented, not just the most famous.  There is a sizeable audience for alternative music outside the Brits and Q fodder who represent the dismal indie mainstream, but the routes to success for small bands are continually being cut off by commercial pressures.

The problem with this is that in craving larger audiences the Beeb destroys the USP of the station, and risks turning it into XFM.  The trick is not to neuter your individuality by craving the mainstream, it is to accept what you are and budget accordingly.  If (and it is still an if, remember) 6Music goes then the BBC are essentially abandoning all pretense of supporting the development of alternative music culture in the UK.  Radio One is too populist, Radio Two too cautious, and therefore that will be pretty much the end of one of the most important points of access to their audience which existed for emerging musicians in Britain.

Or, to put it another way, how the fuck are any of us going to get our music out there now?  The States has already seen this happen, as print media failed completely and Clearchannel hoovered up and then euthanised all commercial radio, until all that was left was the blogs.  And inasmuch as I like blogs, I feel I need to stress the point that this is not a good thing.

However, there is a note or two of optimism to be struck.  As the major record labels have discovered, scrambling towards the lowest common denominator with such desperation leaves a void behind you which can eventually reach such critical mass that it swallows you up.  If the Beeb is abandoning the alternative to this extent, all it does it leave that space open for amateurs like us, and eventually they run the risk of making themselves so culturally irrelevant that they will lose their right to participate altogether and will have effectively ceded everything which makes them special to the rest of us.

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