As I might have mentioned, I’m currently working in a Government Office. Principally, what we do here is have meetings, discuss the issues raised in the meetings, drink coffee, mend the photocopier, organise more meetings, discuss wheelie bins, rearrange meetings which have had to be moved because of other meetings, and formulate plans for special meetings in which we will have time to deal with the things there wasn’t enough time to deal with in the meetings.
But we also occasionally deal with Government Grants, specifically for companies who have had a clever idea that they need money to develop. Things along the lines of a new type of fast-running tap, or a computer mouse which holds a pen so you don’t lose it, or a new type of toothbrush packaging. The general feeling at the moment (as far as I’ve been able to gather from the various meetings I’ve attended) is that the projects coming in are not really of the quality that they used to be; however, we have to give out all the money we’re allowed to give away, or the Government will reduce the amount of money we have next year.
How about a little bit of that money for the arts? Oh, but of course, the arts aren’t really useful, are they? (i.e. not really profitable.)
Yesterday the decision was taken to give money to a man developing an anti-ageing skin cream and I lost my rag. I won’t say it’s the first time I’ve had a mildly outraged rant in the office (see previous notes about bomb scares), but this was a particularly vitriolic and sustained rant, which I performed in front of our Regional Director. But really – isn’t it about time people grew up and realised that one of the things that happens when you get older is that you look older? I used to have beautiful smooth skin, now I don’t. That is because I used to be six, I’m now twenty-four. Sorry, but “anti-ageing” is a nonsensical term, skin gets older, people look older, however many preservatives you slap on you can’t change that and why’s it such a bad thing anyway?
Even if people are too immature or insecure to accept the fundamental nature of being a living creature, and too stupid to see that they’re going to spend the rest of their life shelling out for tubs of these anti-ageing ointments and it still won’t stop them getting old, why the bloody hell is the Government funding this useless, delusional, exploitative industry for? “But it fits all the criteria,” I’m told – of course it does, it’ll make a packet, which makes everyone in the Government happy. How ironic that they should want to fund a product which is by its very definition superficial – let’s face it, the smooth-skinned smile Blair’s Government wants for the nation is exactly the same as the one Thatcher was after.
The arts don’t even come into it – rather than funding society’s vanity, what about showing a little bit more interest in real life? Or should we give out tubs of anti-ageing cream to homeless people, to victims of abuse and discrimination, to criminals who keep re-offending because the best solution society can think of is to lock them away for a few days? We could send our anti-ageing cream to the people of Iraq, perhaps, while we wait for anything else to happen to sort out the complete balls-up we’ve made of that situation. Or to the thousands of people dying of AIDS in Africa, the thousands of abused children in Uganda, the millions of people who living poverty in third world countries because they are oppressed not only by their own leaders but by the debt they owe us.
Because frankly as a nation we’re far more interested in anti-ageing cream than any of these problems, just as long as we can occasionally purge our guilt with day of crappy TV and a few meagre pledges in return for watching some minor celebrities take baths in spaghetti hoops. And it must be a comfort to so many people that, whatever else is wrong in the world, at least we won’t have wrinkles.