Friday, 24 July 2015

Five Reasons Why The Edinburgh Fringe Needs Banned

Most people are under the impression that the Edinburgh Fringe is a lovely chance for the undiscovered genius to be discovered, a festival in which a thousand flowers of aesthetic excellence may bloom. It is, however, as pointed out by the mighty Ian Smith, a venal pit of depravity, which increases the chances that the actors, comedians, burlesque performers and their ilk might hook up, get laid and preserve their genetic stupidity into the next generation.

It's one of the best things about Stephen Fry: whenever I need a symbol of contemporary culture's slide into mediocrity, I just have to conjure up a photograph of him. If his appalling dress sense isn't enough (I swear he picked that tie thinking that it would match his trinket), Fry's status as the closest thing left to a British public intellectual is a reminder that the nation which once produced Bertrand Russell and Oscar Wilde is now churning out smug-faced Oxbridge graduates who swapped their early promise for the magic of game shows with a veneer of intellectualism.

Anyway, the Fringe needs to be stopped because it is full of actors, and stupid grows exponentially when they gather together in one place. Further evidence will be provided, but the dramaturgy database offers a start.

I've sent the questions to around 600 acts at The Fringe, and most of them have not replied. This means that they are either assuming that my previews are not worth their time, or that the use of the word 'dramaturgy', which sounds like it belongs in school, frightens them.

If it is the first, they are stupid because they have not recognised  the nature of the Fringe: the chance to sell your show on a public platform is pretty rare. As for the second - well, being scared of long words isn't exactly a sign of smarts.

Unlike Boris Johnson, the clown mayor of London, who uses dramaturgy to hide his morally vicious Conservatism behind the mask of a clumsy funster, performers frequently mistake their statements for expressions of deep inner truth. Trawl through the over-stuffed Fringe brochure, and count the number of productions that claim to be saying something really important about contemporary society.

Now contrast these boasts with the concrete consequences of the Edinburgh Fringe. 

Environmental concern: that'll explain  the thousands of flyers littering the Royal Mile. And don't think recycling them makes it better. If the flyers had not been printed, the paper might still be a tree, or made into something useful like pornography or toilet paper.

Austerity: has anyone looked at the prices for a month's stay in Edinburgh? It's easy to blame the landlords exploiting an opportunity, but they are not the ones simultaneously rehearsing a new play that takes a serious look at poverty. The ridiculous prices for rental are a consequence of those performers bringing their knee-jerk Marxist complaints to an already persuaded audience.

Relationship turmoil: there are plenty of shows that reveal the secret heart-ache behind true love, or the perils of internet dating or whatever. Apart from stand up comics and their antediluvian gender politics, the Fringe is awash with apologists for male privilege, feminist paranoia and championing the idiosyncratic individual. 

Get them off the stage, and they herd themselves to whichever bar is fashionable this year, in the hope of getting a cheeky winch which 'stays in Edinburgh' and doesn't get back to their wife and four children stuck in the home counties.

Because of the long runs and heavy competition, The Fringe is the only time that reviews can actually help a production get an audience. Consequently, after a fortnight, every other poster is covered in star ratings - luckily Broadway Baby will give most shows four or five of them - and the whole thing becomes a pissing contest between companies (audiences quickly learn not to trust the ratings).

Criticism ought to be put out of its misery. Critics take their own opinion and spray it about the media as if it is The Absolute Truth, despite being more interested in getting people to read their half-baked blog posts than contribute to a healthy conversation about the arts. When they are not making vapid generalisations about Truisms, they are destroying the dreams of young people, because they are reviewing student shows with the same 'objective' poison pen they use for the RSC. 

Critics also get a massive hard-on for hierarchy. The Fringe Friends - or whatever that organisation is that pretends to run things - have this whole process of accreditation. This means that some publications are 'accredited', regardless of the quality of writing, while others are shoved in the corner. Critics love being made to feel important - a weakness that most companies recognise when they have special 'press nights' so all the critics can come at the same time and not talk about it to each other afterwards.

Whether it's a drunk local moaning about how hard it is to get from Leith to Tollcross in time to catch the five pound lap-dances at The Western Bar, because tourists, or the Oxbridge Improv troop doing a zany on The Meadows, the Fringe attracts behaviour that threatens the stability of civil society. The fantasy that the BBC might finally discover your precious talent is replaced, by about day three, by the realisation that you are, in fact, seven grand in the hole and the only people paying attention are those people who have had their dreams crushed in exactly the same way.

Back in the old days, a festival was a bit dodgy: a bunch of hippies camping out, getting high and leaving polystyrene chip boxes over sites of natural or historical importance. Since the BBC decided to send the clean-cut DJs off to Glasto for a lark, festivals have become fun for all the family. 

A festival, once upon a time, was a chance for a spot of the carnivalesque, a step outside of normative values, an inversion of the hegemonies of mundane life.

Sadly, like everything else from God to Goldfish, the carnivalesque is now a commodity: where once it was the spirit of subversion, it's a bunch of set moves, choreographed by corporations. The Fringe, which features the likes of Berkoff and that one who thinks everything is Dickensian (he's a national treasure, isn't he?), is an alternative to nothing, but a celebration of commercial pull. 

If it isn't, why the PR companies, why the flyers, why the star ratings? 

So get ready for attention seeking cynical shouting.  

How would you like a cup of coffee in the morning? The sweet aroma of toasted beans wafting you awake like a chorus of olfactory angels... the first bitter taste on the tongue, summoning you from sweet rest into dynamic desire... the warmth as it spreads through your body, bringing power and focus back into your previously stubbornly apathetic mind.

Well, fuck that noise: you're getting a too sweet cup of freeze dried powdered milk and half a roll up you found crushed on your pillow. 

It could be said that the time pressure placed on performance in the Fringe is a good thing: anything over an hour outstays its welcome, especially weird choreography from the EU. But the rush and bustle of the Fringe prevents performers from developing anything that has depth, forcing them to go for the immediate. Just like Nescafe tip sugar into their special sachets to hide the taste of crap granules. 

In any case, theatre is a poor substitute for real life. Plato said it, St Augustine noticed it: spend your time crying over some mythical jilted lover, and you'll miss the chaos that your own relationships have become. Usually, going to see a play at the end of a day of real life is an escape: the Fringe allows the escapist to spend all day in a fantasy world, where the theoretical suffering of a King who accidentally pumped his mum charts higher than the increasing terror inflicting on most of the population by the Conservative party's energy approach to government.

There is an argument that Metal - loud and brash - produces calm fans. This is because the noise of daily life is attacked by the volume of Metal. Metal fans don't feel like they are silenced by the rush of traffic and the bellowing of the media: they have a song that they can shout along to against that frustration.

Theatre audiences, on the other hand, are told to sit quiet and pay attention to their betters (the stars on the stage). It breeds passivity, acceptance of authority and the privileging of pretend over the real.


1 comment :

  1. Excellently put!

    As a great Scotsman once said...

    Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)

    Every age has its peculiar folly: Some scheme, project, or fantasy into which it plunges, spurred on by the love of gain, the necessity of excitement, or the force of imitation.

    Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.