The difference between good and bad

UK culture researcher Jim McGuigan is here to weigh in on the state's role in supporting the fine arts.

Jim McGuigan 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jim McGuigan 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Normally, people don't associate "culture" with "policy." One is artistic and free-spirited, the other detail-oriented and dry. But currently, the Israel Lottery Council for the Arts is holding a conference dealing with relationship between culture and the state, the second of its kind. It is taking place at the Jerusalem Theater from May 26 to 27, within the framework of the Israel Festival. The conference is to formulate a working document which will serve as a basic tool for local decision makers. Culture Minister Limor Livnat, heads of Israeli culture institutions, local artists and researchers will all participate in the conference. And as a special guest, Jim McGuigan, professor of cultural analysis at Loughborough University, will appear at the conference. While he now teaches social theory, cultural studies and television, before entering academics, McGuigan worked for the UK's Arts Council and BBC TV. One of the most noted specialists in the field of cultural policy, McGuigan has written several books, including Cultural Populism (1992), Culture and the Public Sphere (1996), Cultural Methodologies (1997), Modernity and Postmodern Culture (1999) and
Rethinking Cultural Policy
(2004). He has also been published in a wide range of journals and books, and his work has been translated into a number of languages, including Chinese. In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post ahead of his first visit to Israel, McGuigan accentuates that he is an independent researcher who does not serve any particular interests. "It is very important to maintain the independence and integrity of universities; it gives you more chances to be more objective in your analysis. I am a critical sociologist, so I ask questions that sometimes government does not want to be asked." Still, he was not sure "how much my ideas could be applied in Israel." But he stays "connected worldwide" by visiting important international conferences on cultural policies. "My big criticism about dominant views on cultural policies today is that they tend to be reduced to economics." So how does he imagine the ideal state-culture relationship? "I do believe in the role of state in promoting culture. Culture has become extremely commercially dominated. The value of the arts is undermined by the assumption that modern mass popular media are just as good as specialized arts. After the WWII, there was a kind of belief that certain kinds of arts and culture need to be supported by the public, which makes the art immediately commercially viable. "I believe in a fairly traditional view of cultural policy, that the state needs to intervene to offer something different from popular commercial culture. It is also important in formulating national identity. Take the example of cinema - we know that Hollywood, which is dominant on the world film market, has doubled its share since the 1990s. Other countries that produce films representing their national identity are faced with great difficulties when they are to compete with the enormous power and popularity of Hollywood throughout the world. And this is a very good reason for the state to intervene and support certain cultural practice." That said, McGuigan does not dismiss popular culture. "I don't regard myself as a total elitist. I am very positive about that (and I wrote about it in my successful book Cultural Populism). I simply think it has gone too far. We are in a situation [where you are] no longer allowed to distinguish between good and bad culture. I wrote a book criticizing this widespread tendency. A great many very well-educated people have gone along with that, and I just think we have to be saying: 'No, hang on a minute, there really is some better culture and some worse culture.' And we have to give some positive help for the development of the better culture."