Straight, No Chaser: Are the barbarians at the gate – or already inside?

DR, the Danish state broadcaster, recently confirmed how many redundancies it will be making in the wake of the austerity measures agreed by Parliament. The cuts will reduce the organisation’s state grant by 20 percent up until 2023.

In human terms, 205 employees have been given notice, 64 have agreed to leave voluntarily and 87 posts have been freed up internally.

You may be thinking: “Who cares? I never watch DR anyway”, but the assault on DR is part of a worrying wider attack on so-called ‘elitist culture’.

Wrong kind of minimalism
Ever since Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s ”From social state to minimal state” battle-cry in 1993, right-wing politicians and economic liberals have been itching to do away with ‘experts’ in all fields. In the liberal pantheon the man in the street is king, and his view is as valid as that of any expert.

The flaw in that argument is that the expert has spent a considerable number of years in the academic study of a subject and hopefully has the latest research and figures at his fingertips, which Joe Bloggs does not.

But never mind. This reasoning enables people who ought to know better to impugn the integrity and research of scientists who, for example, promote the idea that climate change is man-made and has to be acted upon immediately. Their attackers are often serving vested interests such as heavy industry, agriculture or the fossil fuel industry (step forward Donald Trump).

Truly enlightened
Art and culture are equally vulnerable to this kind of attack. Art has always provoked controversy – that’s one of its major strengths. It allows space for free thinking and confronting society, morals, values etc head on. It can entertain, enlighten and – a dirty word here – educate.

Being creative people, artists tend to be in the ‘avant-garde’, leading the way rather than just reflecting current tastes. And maybe that’s why rulers, clergy and political movements have come down like a ton of bricks on art they didn’t approve of or couldn’t control.

Denmark is one of the most enlightened countries in the world when it comes to taxpayer-funded culture. As well as the state broadcaster, theatres, libraries, music schools and museums etc, a number of artists and writers are granted pensions or legacies to follow where their muses take them. This is surely the mark of a civilized society.

Drama or dross?
But increasingly, publicly-funded art is being used as a weapon in the political debate. Dansk Folkeparti in particular has been extremely critical about a number of TV series it feels are promoting a false or misleading view of Danish history.

Referring to DR’s ‘1864’, a dramatisation of the events that surrounded the Danish defeat to Prussia in that year, DF’s Søren Espersen told Politiken: “We will not accept that 100 million kroner has been spent on a drama series that is a vendetta against DF.” The fact that the series was not a documentary cut little ice with Espersen.

Espersen also took umbrage at DR’s 2017 documentary ‘History of Denmark’. After accusing the broadcaster of peddling left-wing propaganda he told BT: “I don’t quite know how one ought to react to DR, but a good place to start would be the negotiations on the new media agreement due to start after New Year.” A threat or what?

Safety in painting cats
Last week, Politiken carried an extensive interview with DF’s culture spokesperson, Alex Ahrendtsen. He stated that “if the electorate is to continue to give money to culture in future, then they must also be able to see a good reason for it.”

When asked what ought not to be funded, he added: “That I can easily tell you. It’s when some Nørrebro artist or thereabouts, whose work the public don’t understand, gets a large amount of money from the arts council.”

So budding artists be warned: if DF gets its way, you’ll need to drop all that abstract conceptual nonsense and get back to painting pictures of cats and crying infants if you want to be sure of a state top-up. And those hapless TV viewers without streaming or program packages will be doomed to watch endless reruns of ‘Midsomer Murders’ thanks to the new austerity regime. Barbarism indeed.