F.R. Leavis said, “Show me what you value and I’ll tell you what you’re worth.” One glance at the most popular shows on TV, or at the sort of “music” most listen to, must make us conclude that the worth of the British public at large is not very much.
Most of the productions of what is now called “arts” and “culture” are just not worth looking at: the Oscars, the BAFTAS, the daubs and installations that pollute our galleries and the glossy tat of the West End theatre can be ignored without conspicuous loss of aesthetic enjoyment.
Why anyone should spend a minute on all this rubbish has always been a mystery to me – because it’s not that we haven’t been offered countless treasures and endless riches in those things that can actually give us pleasure and, by the by, make life worth living: The Odyssey, The Iliad, Dante, Shakespeare; Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, James Macmillan; Giotto, Rembrandt, Turner and Van Gogh… I mention just a few eminences at random when I could have filled the whole page, filled many books, with the names of those without whom our lives would be empty; without whom the words “civilisation” and “culture” would be meaningless.
We don’t need to go within a mile of the rubbish. Unfortunately, we don’t have to – for the rubbish is everywhere
This is not a matter of being highbrow or elitist but of simply preferring the things that can nourish us. Or what man is there of you whom, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? (Matthew 7:9)
Another word for the rubbish that engulfs us like a sea of plastic is “trivia.” You can die of it.
There are many kinds of trivia in the productions of words, music, and pictures. And there is also political and social trivia. We were given an illustration of this last category only this week when we observed Mrs May – the very embodiment of trivia and fuss – poking her nose into the sordid affair of the President’s Club.
Now I don’t mind particularly if Theresa May, as Theresa May in her private life – and even politicians have the right to a private life – wants to posture and roll around in trivia and fuss. But it is shocking to see her involving the office of the prime minister in such mush
It is not the duty of the prime minister to involve herself in the minutiae of administration and the daily agenda of the newspapers. It is the duty of the prime minister to secure the integrity of her government – as it is the duty of the Queen to secure the integrity of the nation.
The good prime ministers – even the passably decent prime ministers – understand this. It’s only once in a long while that a buffoon such as John Major comes along and makes it his personal responsibility to arrange the supply of motorway cones.
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“Show me what you value and I’ll tell you what you’re worth.” What does that show us about the worth of a prime minister who leaves off the more serious matters of state to meddle in the seedy mores of clubland?