Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Artistic freedom is a good thing - but not on weekdays, or at weekends

I haven't yet seen Jimmy McGovern's drama Accused about military life in Afghanistan, although hopefully I'll catch up with it on the BBC iplayer at some point.  But I don't actually need to have seen it to spot the slight flaw in this argument from Con Coughlin in the Telegraph -

"I’m as much in favour of artistic licence as the next man, even if I violently disagree with the views expressed.
But what makes the broadcast of “Accused” so offensive is the fact that the BBC thinks it is a good idea to air this material at a time when we have 10,000 of our service men and women daily risking their lives in Afghanistan."

Well, British troops have now been in Afghanistan for nine years (more than twice as long as the entire span of the First World War), so perhaps we can rest assured that Coughlin isn't necessarily in favour of suppressing artistic freedom for any more than a decade at a time.  Or can we?  After all, does anyone seriously imagine that if the troops were no longer in Afghanistan, but were instead in harm's way somewhere else, he wouldn't still be denouncing the broadcast?  Before Afghanistan, British troops were risking their lives in the Balkans.  Before that, they were being routinely murdered by the IRA.  Just when was this golden window of opportunity during which it was permissible for writers to paint anything other than the officially-sanctioned rosy picture of army life?


  1. Agreed.

    I doubt if there is any time in the last 50 years when troops for this country haven't been involved somewhere doing something and putting their lives at risk in the process. It’s what happens when your country thinks it still has a job to do running the world.

    Appalled by war as I am, and über appalled by one which was, from day one, unwinnable and pointless, I still respect the individuals who show incredible bravery in doing what they do under orders from their government, no matter how mad that government may be.

    I don’t see why, however, we should be unable to see a play which (apparently) depicts some of the rotten apples in the barrel. The bullies. I know from personally received accounts that bullying happens, or did until only a short time ago. I would be utterly amazed if it didn’t still happen, as it does everywhere else in society.

    Not even the stupidest in the audience will imagine that it happens all the time, or to everyone. But happen, it does.

    I do not understand why there should be any areas of public life, or of “the establishment” that cannot be the subject of a play, a book, a poem which shows some of the warts which are simply bound to exist: Royal Family, Government, Church, Civil Service, Armed Forces. They are not stuffed with angels and it is high time we admitted it.

    To hear Richard Dannett sputtering like a disgusted Mainwaring from Tonbridge Wells this morning on the Today Programme really did the Army no favours at all.

  2. Absolutely. What makes the reaction even more stupid is that it should be blindingly obvious from the structure of the series that the army wasn't being singled out - it's a series of films on a common theme, but each set in a different walk of life.