The Huge Decline of the Working Class in the Arts Reflects the Downfall of Broader Society | Culture

The proportion of working-class actors, musicians and writers has halved since the 1970s, according to new research.

Analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics found that 16.4% of creative workers born between 1953 and 1962 were from a working-class background, but that figure fell to just 7.9% for those born four decades later.

This mirrors a similar drop in the number of people from working-class backgrounds, the journal article says. Sociology by researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and Sheffield. People whose parents were in working-class jobs made up about 37% of the workforce in 1981, but by 2011 that proportion had fallen to about 21%.

The finding raises questions about why years of attempts to make the arts more open and diverse haven’t had more of an impact – people who grew up in professional families were four times more likely than those whose parents are from the working class to be in creative work, according to the study. found.

And with fewer directors, writers, or songwriters to describe the experience of growing up in a working-class home, some creatives fear their stories will be pushed out of the mainstream or confined to “poverty porn.” .

“These class imbalances have been around for a long time,” said Dave O’Brien, professor of cultural and creative industries at the University of Sheffield and one of the paper’s authors.

“It suggests we need to do something more than just create access courses. It suggests that this is a big social problem, not just something the BBC or the Arts Council or those kinds of organizations should be addressing.

Actors such as Michael Sheen, Christopher Eccleston, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Julie Walters have said time and again over the past few years that finding a career in the creative industries has become much more difficult for people from traditionally working-class backgrounds.

Gary Oldman in Slow Horses.
Gary Oldman in Slow Horses. Photo: Jack English/Apple TV+

The reality, says O’Brien, is more complex. “The backdrop is this massive change in British society where there are fewer coal miners or manual workers to have these kind of working class sons and daughters so there are fewer working class people workers passing by. And so the chances of people succeeding remain the same, even if the industry experience is really different.

But the drop in numbers has other effects that people should be worried about, O’Brien said. “We know there’s clearly a relationship between who makes the decisions, especially in ordering, and the types of stories that are made,” he said. Television curators and editors come from a “fairly cohesive, narrow and elitist social background” and may have a narrower view of what is interesting. He cited the BBC’s lack of appeal to people who are younger and from less privileged backgrounds.

This creates access issues even for hit stories like Gary Oldman, son of a South London sailor, Oscar winner and star of the current Apple TV hit. slow horses.

He made a movie Nile by mouthwho has won several awards including two Baftas in 1997.

“People tell me ‘Why haven’t you realized yet?’ and it’s not for lack of trying,” he told the BFI in October. “They don’t want another one of these [Nil by Mouth]. This is the problem. They want Four weddings and a funeral.”

Natasha Carthew, author of nine books including All the rivers flow freelyfounded The Working Class Writers festival last year to address the issue.

“A lot of [working-class] writers think people are going to be prejudiced right off the bat, but that’s not the case,” she said. “People want authentic voices. What makes it harder for them is later, when you don’t have the buddies who are going to publicize your book.

But publishers should remember that books about working-class life are not “poverty porn”, she added. “There are very different stories, about resilience, beauty, humor and hard work.”

Lack of the ability to take risks is another barrier, Carthew said, such as having two jobs or having no money to go out for drinks to network or pay for a hotel in London while doing an internship.

“Publishers try more to get a broad church of people,” Carthew said.

“But they were slow, like everywhere.

“There are a lot of schemes and then the money runs out – they ticked that box and then they move on and put their money elsewhere. I saw that with my festival. That’s why the momentum keeps changing. They want something new.

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