It’s no secret that for many of us the announcement of a national lockdown could only mean one thing: we would be glued to our screens for the foreseeable months ahead (that is, more than usual anyway). Netflix watchlists, YouTube binges and BBC iPlayer wormholes suddenly became a part of an ever-dwindling list of things to look forward to whilst clinging onto any last dregs of sanity. Looking back now, for a vast majority of us across the country each stage of lockdown can now be fondly attributed with various phases of quarantine entertainment.
Who could forget Tiger King and Joe Exotic’s alarming mullet being a defining era of COVID’s early days? Since then all sorts of TV shows, films, documentaries and albums have plastered our screens and cemented into memory, ensuring that some in particular will always be long remembered as major players in this bonkers era in human history. Across those seemingly never-ending weeks we all fell head over heels in love with Connell and Marianne in Hulu’s Normal People, held our breaths at Taylor Swift’s surprise album ‘folklore’ and developed a frankly unforgivable obsession with Netflix’s Selling Sunset.
Likewise, it’s safe to say we pretty much all emerged from lockdown with a new favourite true-crime podcast, an embarrassing newfound ability to recite every Hamilton lyric (thanks, Disney+), and an abundant assortment of various other guilty pleasures (mine being ITV’s FLAWLESS spinoff of The Chase, Beat the Chasers).
However, jokes aside, we can all agree that without our collection of streaming services and apps, the initial months of the Coronavirus lockdown would have looked drastically different; they didn’t exactly have Amazon Prime Originals during the Spanish Flu to take their minds off things. In fact, it would not be a push to declare that the arts saved us these last six months. But what do we do now that the arts need saving too?
Recent weeks (and throughout furlough and the gradual reopening of industries) have made it very clear that entertainment and creative industries have been utterly left behind by our government and whilst many of us have enjoyed the comfort of being able to work from home, for the likes of actors, musicians and those self-employed generally, there has been little relief.
Whilst we as consumers have enjoyed all that entertainment industries have to offer throughout this year, those employed in the arts have been shamefully neglected and, for many, their futures are now filled with uncertainty. In a time when thousands of jobs are already in limbo, those in our communities that gave so much to ensure our own joy have been cruelly tossed aside by those in power.
Whilst Rishi Sunak’s ‘you should simply retrain’ bravado was proven to be thoroughly misinterpreted, the sentiment arguably still seems to be very much present in the UK government. With a cabinet made up of ministers (of whom 50% attended Oxford or Cambridge and predominantly studied PPE, Law and Social Sciences) it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to conclude that this bunch just might not see the arts as a viable career option and this is very much evident through the distribution of financial aid during the Coronavirus.
Because despite a select 53 British companies having received a total of £1.8bn between them (with easyJet bargaining £600m alone), almost 2,500 cultural organisations across the United Kingdom must scrabble for a crumb of their own pie; a bailout of £1.57 billion doled out by the Culture Recovery Fund. Despite being an industry priceless in cultural worth, at the very heart of the government it has been made quite clear by whose pockets were filled that there is a professional hierarchy of which jobs matter. As furlough came to a close in October, more than 250,000 people in creative arts sector are expected to lose their jobs as few theatres and studios are able reopen as normal.
The crushing blow of realising you may have to give up on your dream career is a devastating prospect for those that fill our everyday lives with colour and vibrancy. So many of us will have fond memories of piling round the TV, hooked on meticulously considered series finales or of precious outings to the theatre surrounded by our families. Behind each of these unforgettable evenings and brilliant days-out there are actors and actresses, musicians and technicians, script writers and stage managers that work tirelessly together to bring an hour of pure escapist joy to our days; a matter of pure necessity in the months when we all so desperately needed distractions from the terrifying realities outside.
In a country with such a rich history of artistic culture and literature, the government is foolish to underestimate just how crucial the arts are to a successful, empathetic and happy society and just how many lives have been saved in the terrible time through stories and laughter.