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David Thompson


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July 14, 2009



"On June 5th, 1952, during the test explosion of a 14 kiloton device in the Nevada Desert, Taylor used a parabolic mirror to focus the bomb's glare and light his cigarette."

Coolest. Dude. Ever.


Taylor was apparently fond of magic tricks. His cigarette stunt is mentioned in “Project Orion” by George Dyson, who notes how Taylor added to “his already considerable reputation by holding up a small parabolic mirror and lighting a cigarette with an atomic bomb. The fireball was twelve miles away.”

So far as I know, he was the only person to light a cigarette that way. I believe it was a Pall Mall.


I hope he had a drink with his smoke. The two complement each other.


My brother has a keen interest in painting, so much so that he went to an arts school.

There he made the intriguing discovery that the arts establishment doesn't actually have much interest in art. To them, art is more akin to the emperors' new clothes, 'concealing' the fact that they've largely given up on artistry and greatly prefer left wing politics.

So he's there trying to furfill his interest in the techniques and history of painting, while his teachers are trying to furfill their interest in barely concealed politics and projecting race/class/gender/sexuality analysis babble into everything, instead of mere trivialities like composition and technique. He left sometime after they assigned the class to discuss and create responses to climate change in the medium of painting.

And thus the stultifying arts establishment maintains its artless orthodoxy.

The world of theatre seems largely the same. It's no wonder the arts establishment is so uncapable of creating art people are interested in, and it's no wonder that they demand and recieve such generous subsidy from left wing governments. And yet they'd be the first to pretend they're all about dissent. Hah.


“And yet they’d be the first to pretend they’re all about dissent.”

As I said in the piece, “One might wonder whether publicly subsidised art and theatre will tend to favour a political outlook in which the subsidy on which it depends is most vigorously endorsed, thus leading to uniformity, inhibition and a political comfort zone. Which raises the question of what ‘dissent’ actually means when the status quo in London’s dramatic circles is, as we’ve seen, overwhelmingly leftwing.” Arts institutions and funding bodies very often have loaded “diversity” and “social relevance” criteria. It’s therefore difficult to imagine a piece of work that, for instance, challenges such things (or questions the implicit politics) getting commissioned or supported.

There are of course exceptions and accidents do happen, despite the preferences commonly in play. But if you don’t share those preferences the environment can be unpleasant and frustrating. Years ago, my other half and I ran a small record label. For reasons that escape me, we were approached by the council to put together a live performance featuring a number of the artists. Things soon ground to a halt when it became apparent we had little interest in being attached to a specific “cause” or any particular political attitude. The fact we weren’t eager to evangelise an expected line seemed to work against us, quite dramatically, and interest (and funding) promptly evaporated.

I’ve no idea how representative that experience is, but I’ve heard a number of similar stories. And the remarkable presumption of the figures quoted in the piece suggests their preconceptions don’t get challenged very often, if at all.

Karen M

"But then if I want some political edge to my entertainment, I'm more likely to turn to, say, South Park than the woolly blatherings of DBC Pierre or the plays of David Hare. No doubt that makes me a hater of culture."

Funny how so many lefties use "hate" to describe anything that gets in their way.



“Funny how so many lefties use ‘hate’ to describe anything that gets in their way.”

It’s a standard evasion - and broadly analogous to how any number of legitimate, if unflattering, criticisms can now be denounced as “hate speech.” It presupposes that dissent is inherently wicked and can thus be ignored – or punished. Likewise, if you object to coercive panhandling for mediocre artists, you must therefore be vulgar, uncultured or simply mean.

The Guardian has used this “haters” line for years – decades now – and is still using it, as shown in the piece linked above. Hanif Kureishi and Michael Billington are mouthing the same inanities as their predecessors. Back in the 1980s Lord Goodman rattled on in the Observer about “haters of the arts” – meaning those who found coercive public subsidy objectionable and dared to complain. Then as now, any suggestion of a reduction in such unfairness and coercion was depicted as philistinism or - perversely – an act of malice. “If you don’t continue being chiselled against your will for plays you don’t want to see, the sky will fall – Britain will be reduced to an aesthetic wasteland! How evil you must be!”

There’s little acknowledgment of the thievery and coercion involved in this redistribution process, and I don’t see many Guardian articles registering the immorality of screwing taxpayers to subsidise theatre and art that flatters the prejudices of Guardian readers. Nor is there much interest in the effect that state subsidy has on art in terms of political conformity. The Jay Rayner article I quoted here some months ago* was an aberration among left-leaning papers – albeit a gentle one – and you could practically hear the gasps of indignation.


And when institutional blowhards like Billington, Toynbee and Kureishi can get away with such feeble, smug and dishonest arguments, then the institution they defend is due for a radical overhaul.

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