Think of Culture. What to you think of?
Opera? Art Galleries? Fine Wines? Theatre? Poetry? Classical Music? Foreign Literature? Architecture?… yep, when we think of culture, we tend to think of Culture with a Capital C – high Culture.
But what do these things represent? They say nothing about a city like Portsmouth, for one. For the most part, they represent what Culture is for a very small part of the population. Usually, the very top 5%, perhaps, of people in society. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of ordinary working people – and I’m thinking about past ages, not just the present – simply aren’t bothered about listening to people warbling in Latin, or abstract art. I cannot imagine your average Dockyard worker being too worried about reading the latest book by Emile Zola, but rather popping to the Pub, or how Pompey will get on on Saturday. If they had a painting on the wall, it might have been of a nice local view.
So how is, considering so few people are interested in high culture, and it says so little about society, that it overshadows all other forms of culture? There’s something very undemocratic about high Culture. Something snobby, almost like ‘we know most people dont like it, but what would you know?’. How is it, in a supposedly consensus society where we elect Governments by unversal suffrage, that a small select part of society dictate what we should like? As if its something that the rest of us should aspire to, like a kind of social Premier League?
Not only is it about choices, but also money. Look at the funding that is given to institutions such as the Royal Opera House – yet how many ordinary people, who have indirectly paid for it, can actually afford to go there? And even if you can, is it welcoming to all walks of people? Somehow I think not. And how many high-brow Museums and Galleries are full of exhibitions designed for curators and high-brow aficianados, rather than the general public? For some reason, Culture is one of those areas that is still the preserve of the well-adjusted, a hangover from a different age.
Personally, I think that culture is not about lumps of pottery, or random smatterings of paint on canvas. Its about ways of life, ways of thinking, unique words or food or drink that you wont find anywhere else, the spirit that you find in a city that makes it what it is. With the best will in the world, Portsmouth is not a Cultural City with a Capital C. But in terms of broader culture, spirit and way of life, it has that in spades.
So what makes Portsmouth culture? Heres a few thoughts of my own… The view from Portsdown Hill… The Fratton End… Mother Kellys… Still and West… Guildhall Walk… Southsea Common… The Pompey Chimes… The Pompey Sailor… Pompey Royal…
Any more ideas?