Thursday 12 March 2015

Culture Crash by Scott Timberg: Review part one

First off: I bought a paper copy of this book in a specialist book shop because I was browsing through the Philosophy section and it jumped out at me. Yes, yet another great thing about living in   The Hague   is that there are quality bookshops which stock a wide range of new work in English.

The Killing of the Creative Class is the subtitle to this fascinating book. I have only read the first five chapters but the author has already made a big impression.

Scott Timberg   is one of the many victims of the first years of this millennium: you could say he was careless enough to be born at the wrong time. He explains how he was brought up to believe that hard work plus talent equals a middle class life style. In a few short years he found himself without a job and losing his home and at risk of living without medical insurance.

Quite apart from his professional  disappointments, he is angry at the way his bank foreclosed on his mortgage instead of working out an alternative solution. Yet his anger is dignified and contained. There are many  around who, by good fortune, were not so cruelly affected by the crash of 2008 but who share the despair of people like Scott Timberg and who are waiting for individual citizens who were responsible for bad decisions to be brought to justice: wrong things were done and the wrong doers should be held to account. Sadly, governments around the world, in the USA and in Europe, have failed, and failed miserably, they have failed the citizens who elect them and they have failed to live up to the standards that can rightfully be expected of the holders of high office.

Scott Timberg sets out his plan in the Introduction: that new technology, globalization and deregulation have changed the game in a few short years, with tragic consequences for a  whole swathe of people, including the citizens he calls the Creative Class. He includes in the creative class workers in recorded music and book stores, and I was struck this week by news of the closing of a renowned shop selling printed music in New York. After 80 years in business,   the shop   is closing down this month. Free downloads of often inferior quality prints have killed this supplier of high quality music scores.

One of the many things I like about Mr Timberg´s book is that he does not get stuck in distinguishing between art for art´s sake and commercial use of the arts: to him, the arts and creative artists are all one, whether they be clerks in a book store or musicians on the road.

Mr Timberg writes about how remuneration for creative work has been driven down over a decade. This strikes a chord. I know of musicians in Spain who in 1992 were paid 40,000 pesetas for a performance and who, in 2010 were offered 100 euros for the same type of gig. That sounds fine until you do the conversion: 40,000 pesetas is equivalent to 240 euros.  So a job that was paid 240 euros has been driven down to 100. This is one of many examples that bear out Mr Timberg´s  thesis.

I look forward to reading the rest of this interesting book over the weekend. Of course, not all of the creative class are penniless and homeless. Mr Timberg points out that the heavy hitters of the entertainment industry can still pocket huge amounts of money, but he rightly points out that  they are the exceptions. Recent  reports  of the court case brought by the family of Marvin Gaye claiming their share of the success of a recent hit tune by Pharrell Williams talk of receipts of 17 million dollars in sales of a single song. Clearly  the majority of the workers in the creative class will never come anywhere close to this kind of money.

To be continued … 

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