THE Brits have been more comfortable discussion notions of social/ economic class than we are here in this classless paradise. (Was it Rick Santorum who called “middle class” a Marxist term?) In any case, a new report from the British press asks, “is the music industry becoming a hobby for the upper classes?” The article, in I-D, is about a dust-up between a Labour culture minister and the “posh” musician James Blunt, and more broadly, the fact that “a disproportionate number of leading musicians come from the 7% of the population who are lucky enough to receive a private education.”
The apologists, of course, will say, Music and culture has always been easier for people with wealthy families. Well, sure, everything is easier if you are rich (it reminds me of what James Baldwin said about how expensive it is to be poor.) But there’s still a disturbing change over time. From the story:
For musicians, the means to pursue the thing that you love for longer without pay, can be make or break, the difference between success and failure. And for Labour’s shadow culture secretary to point out that exceptions to this rule have become few and far between is hardly the politics of envy, it’s just stating what we know to be true: that music has become increasingly dominated by those free from the pressure of having to work for a living.
And this isn’t just affecting music. A report carried out on unpaid internships by Lindsey Macmillan of the Institute of Education found that in 1990, journalists came from families only 6% richer than average. Today, they are from families 42% better off. By excluding those whose parents cannot afford to rent them a house in London as they go from unpaid internship to unpaid internship, we are airbrushing an entire voice out of our media and, with that, dictating the types of stories that are written.
This reminds me of what a fellow scribe said about Columbia journalism school: It was now so expensive, in relation to the ensuing salaries, that those who attended needed to either do something else (“crisis PR”!) or must have a trust fund and thus live a great distance from the people and issues they need to cover.
As a middle-class kid still paying off his journalism degree and my years of unpaid internships, this is an issue that hits me and those I know very directly.