The Guardian view on Unboxed: So much for the “Brexit festival” | Editorial


JThe House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has decided it doesn’t like Unboxed – initially seen as a Brexit fest – which kicked off without too much attention this this month. His government management report major cultural and sporting events concludes that the aims of Britain’s year-long national celebration of creativity were ‘vague and ripe for misinterpretation’ from the start; thus the £120 million investment was, he said, “an irresponsible use of public money”.

Unboxed is a series of 10 artistic, scientific and technological projects with ambitious (if sometimes amorphous) goals such as sending music to the moon and back, transporting an oil rig from the North Sea to the beach at Weston-super-Mare and turning it into a media center , and asking the people of Wales to imagine what life might be like in 2052. These are all undoubtedly admirable, inclusive and empowering, but it’s fair to say that they are somewhat removed from the Festival of Britain type idea that Theresa May announced at the Conservative Party Conference in 2018 and which Brexit supporters imagined involved flags, firecrackers and mash, and replays of Churchill’s speeches. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at how their assumptions were turned upside down.

The original idea was that the festival, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham would come together in a glorious revamp of a newly confident nation. Some hope – with war in Ukraine, Covid still rampant, inflation on the rise and Brexit divisions far from healed. Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of the DCMS committee, complains that the three-pronged opportunity has been missed: “There is no golden thread that ties them all together. But a country’s elite cannot impose a national narrative. Politicians like to cling to the kind of unifying ‘national traditions’ that Eric Hobsbawm and others have exposed as false, and invest in major projects such as the Millennium Dome. Such top-down impositions are doomed to failure. TS Eliot alluded to it with his own banal list of what does a culture mean: “a cup final, dog racing, the bowling table, the dart board, wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into chunks, pickled beets, 19th century gothic churches, the music of Elgar “.

the Brittany Day in 1951 worked because it was a day of rest, an antidote to austerity. It captured a moment, but it didn’t encapsulate a culture. Danny Boyle had a blast telling our ‘national story’ in his much-admired Olympic opening ceremony in 2012 (symbol of a happier age), but even his pastoral-radical narrative was partial. What about the English Civil War, the relationship with Ireland, the empire, slavery and post-war decline? Identity is a contested mess that does not lend itself to being contained; it must be suggestive, tangled, unresolved.

Unboxed faces lingering suspicion about its origins on the one hand and skepticism about its results on the other. Its program suggests it will be admirably true to itself – and almost universally hated or ignored by those who yearn for simple stories, linear narratives, easy resolutions. It will depend on its ability to engage and excite the general public.

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