A taxing business
posted on May 30th, 2011
I guess when Tracey Emin ramped up her “poor little rich girl” anti-tax whining routine a few years ago, some folks were probably quite pleased because they already hated her work, so being able to tag her a greedy right-winger was an added bonus. 

Not me though, I was gutted.

Shows how naive I can still be – I’ve always loved Emin’s art, so I made fat old assumptions about her empathy with other people and felt surprised and betrayed to discover her ideology sucks.

Emin’s new exhibition Love Is What You Want at London’s Hayward Gallery is as compelling, blackly comic and angry as ever, by the way.

If there’s a problem with her work in 2011 it’s simply that tapping veins of self and displaying them in public is passe now, normalised by millions of people – especially kids – who over-share like mad every day online.

Last week superstar pop diva Adele had a rant in an interview along similar ideological lines – moaning about the £4m tax she has to pay because of the 50 per cent top rate and at the same time confusedly slagging off the transport network and the NHS.

Adele came through Britain’s “state art-school”, the Brit School, funded at least partially by British taxpayers.

The Brit School provides not only world-class training but also – arguably far more important for its music graduates – direct face-to-face access to upper echelons of British music management and A&R, which is why so many of its music alumni have become our biggest pop stars.

This year, still in her very early twenties, Adele is the most successful British act in the world, with her second album a US number one and at the top of the British charts for weeks.

However joyously feisty and earthy her reputation, it seems exceptionally venal, ungrateful and mean to be sniping about taxation.

Again, I love – really love – her music.

Adele is a class act with an incendiary, beautiful voice, powerful songs and, thank God, she is someone who, perhaps largely because she’s large, hasn’t allowed herself to be marketed as a hyper-commodified sex object for imagined possession by men.

Her comments therefore feel even more like a punch in the face, especially in such straightened times for the very people who elevate her to stardom.

It’s not worth just attacking, though many have.

We need to learn, to understand what she thinks she means specifically.

Where is the “lack” that causes such ludicrous resentment?

Adele has the world at her feet, able to pick and choose performances like almost no other artist – for example, dismaying the entire British mainstream live music industry by deciding to turn down all festival offers this summer, which was a decision I admired.

So, what on earth is it that she is not going to possess, to own, that makes those missing few millions grate, to the point of being publicly resentful?

For me this is the core battle beneath all the high-profile surface ideological struggles about state spending and the welfare system.

Adele’s comments represent the dangerous political normality emerging from the collapse of old-school left and right, with the inner need to accrue wealth as an ugly representation of success.

Probably nobody will even ask her the right questions as we’ve fallen so far from where a pop artist might have to defend what they say in a serious, thoughtful way.

We have no media left to probe and discuss properly the trickle-down implications of bullshit comments.

Those like me who want to ask are those with no access.

But imagine if Adele had come out the other way.

Imagine if she’d got animated in an interview about how she’s become so disproportionately wealthy, so fast, in a time of recession, for doing what she loves.

Imagine if she’d told the millions of young people who hold her in high regard that she’s proud to pay her taxes and will happily put more back into the pot from which she drew to kick-start her career.

Imagine if she went public about how much happiness has sod all to do with wealth.

I wonder if that perspective would even have been allowed to reach us, or if the powerful media distraction techniques would’ve then kicked in. Still, it would’ve been a good day.

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© Chris T-T 2008–2013
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