Magazine article The Spectator

We Are All Guilty

Magazine article The Spectator

We Are All Guilty

Article excerpt

This magazine is guilty. The crime is condescension to the British people. We have no excuse. Just before the Millennium Dome was opened, we were told that the marquee de Sad was to be full of amazing gizmos, and video games, and gigantic androgynous life forms, and all manner of piffle and bunkum. We at The Spectator now hang our collective head to recall that we made two predictions, on the basis of these reports. We said that the contents of the Dome - which Tony Blair had already hailed as the `first line of the next Labour election manifesto' - would be a monument to pointless and vacuous modernity.

We also said, and here we blush to remember the puffed-up priggish pomposity with which we ventured the thought, that the New Millennium Experience would nonetheless prove immensely popular. The crowds would be vast, we groaned; it would make pots of money, we forecast (and so did many other commentators), and the whole operation would prove the adage that no one ever went bust by underestimating the taste of the public. What fools we were. How little we understood the intelligence and discernment of the people. We have been proved right in the first prediction, but ludicrously wrong in the second.

Stuffed though the Dome is with mindless ephemeral babble, and video games of all kinds, the crowds have not come, or not in anything like the numbers predicted. True, the Dome had one bumper day recently, when the place was crammed, North Korean-style, with trade unionists. But poor Monsieur Pierre-Yves Gerbeau has been forced to go back to the government for more money, and no one now seriously believes that it will reach its break-even target of ten million visitors. Yes, Blair condescended to the public in thinking they would just lurve the Dome, and we made the mistake of thinking he must be right. In its wisdom, its love of history, its basic prejudice that a millennial celebration of Britain's achievement ought to contain something about the country's past, the public has proved us all wrong.

We lacerate ourselves when a gorgeous television presenter does not know in which play Toby Belch appears, and we succumb to orgies of self-recrimination when a few yobs are allowed to give Sir Winston Churchill a Mohican haircut made of turf. What we perhaps ignore, in the mist of fury, is what that indignation itself implies. What is truly amazing, and inspiring, is how many people do know that Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night, and that Winston Churchill was the man who did much to win the second world war. …

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