Thursday, 24 July 2014

Les Encroyables

Radio Four is a minor miracle of the civilised world and one of the few benefits to a weary homeward commute is getting to listen to Eddie Mair presenting the news cornucopia that is PM. As well as hearing about the whole world turning to shit and who has taken what bribe from Putin, how many ‘Jarabs’ have pegged it in the Gaza bonanza and the miserable fact that public spending is on the rise again – oh yes it is – we also get some lighter-hearted pieces of reportage to brighten up the gloom, now that those nights are starting to draw in.

Today it was hearing about how the French socialist dream is at least as unaffordable as our own ill-fated attempts to ignore the simple economic facts of life. When you’re starving, bread and water will do. When a car costs too much to run, get on your bike, son. And if you have no money to spend on theatre tickets, you just have to make your own entertainment. But not, by all accounts, in France. While a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker has to work all year round to scratch a precarious living from the meagre soil of overstuffed competitive markets, French people working in the performing arts have their very own special welfare system.

In return for a minimum of 507 hours of work in a ten-month period (That’s less than 64, 8-hour days, or 13 weeks; a quarter of a year of ‘normal’ employment) arts workers – from clowns to choreographers, to camera operators – can enjoy a higher level of welfare benefits to tide them over the hard times while they are ‘resting’. Apparently, it saves them from the indignity of waiting at tables or sweeping the roads when they are not acting the goat in homage to Dionysus. (Or, should that be ‘Le’ Dionysus?)

But, of course, there’s a flaw in the logic, isn’t there? The world over, arts and theatrical entertainment flourish wherever there is an appetite for them and the lack of funding never seems to deter those who would make a spectacle of themselves. In fact the French form of favouritism is known as the intermittents du spectacle system, reflecting the fact that they often do sweet FA for three-quarters of the year. Hilariously – some of them are clowns, after all – they are protesting their ‘rights’ by disrupting the performances of others who are, presumably, currently ‘between rests’.

Les intermittents
Not dead' just resting - 'protresting'

You need a particular form of deep-rooted entitlement culture to create a system like this. This isn’t directs arts funding, as practised by much of the western world to preserve those forms which suffer from a low level of patronage; this is idleness funding. It’s a bit like Child Benefit; some people will have kids regardless of the fact they can’t afford to keep them so what’s the point of incentivising them for doing what comes naturally? Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the arts and I’d love for there to be more funding, but there's only so much money to around. We're all equal, but it seems that in the land of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité some people have more égalité than others. What a liberté!

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