Why Trump shouldn’t cut art funding if he wants to lessen social inequality

By Sofia Geraghty

When we consider the scenes of the last few days, that is the onslaught of predominantly educated middle-class women protesting against Trump whilst Trump informs a crowd of predominantly white working-class Americans that he is moving power to them, it is little surprise that billionaire Trump has gained the unlikely title of ‘man of the people’.  A view perpetuated by Hollywood failing to see the irony of protesting against the ‘horror’ of Trump and the injustice of his policies, whilst they are dressed in outfits that probably cost more than a house in some parts of America (it is clear that the character continuity people do not work the Golden Globes).

With such images being blared from our screens it is little surprise that so many working-class Americans voted for Trump – if there is one thing worse than a possible tyrant, it is a champagne socialist. However, the sad truth is that recent reports that he is set to cut national art funding and reopen factories suggest that, if he truly does want to minimize social inequality, he may be going about it the wrong way.

When I expressed more outrage at this rather than any other of Trump’s policies, most people were surprised – after all art isn’t important anymore is it? In today’s modern society art is the remit of the ‘airy fairy’ sort, led by their hearts who cry at movies and write poetry. Art isn’t anywhere as important as ‘serious’ issues like economics. This is the common assumption regarding art, however the truth is that art is more powerful than ever before. At their core, the movies we pay to watch at the cinema, the series we watch on Netflix, the posters we see, the adverts that drive us to buy, the articles we read, the Instagram photos we like and the songs we listen to, are all forms of art. Or require artistic skill, to say the least. The difference is that they are now the product of billion-dollar pound industries, as opposed to the product of the lonely nutters comparing themselves to clouds and sawing their ears off. Art is hence inexplicably linked with our economy. If you don’t believe me, just consider that the spending on lipstick has gone up £50m in the UK following the release of Kylie Jenner’s heavily-Instagramdlipstick range. Similarly, whole businesses have been set up around Cara Delevigne’s brows and Kim K’s bum. Of course pointing out that promoting products increases sales is not mind-blowing stuff, however mass media communication and ecommerce has made selling an artistic endeavor rather than one that requires verbal communication skills.

Given the link between artistic material, the beliefs and impulses that influence us to buy, and our economy, the absence of positive working-class role models in the media becomes all the more worrying. Take acting for example, a tiny 10% of actors are now working class. It is little wonder that Julie Walters has labelled them a dying breed. It is also true that if you are from another cultural background, you are less likely to be encouraged to go into an arts career – perhaps a result of parents fearing the poverty that may have prompted them to move in the first place. Perfecting your perfect Hamlet recital isn’t going to be top of your list when you have to, you know, buy food to make sure you don’t die of starvation.

Cutting arts funding will mean that media will be even less representative of the population who consume it. Life mirrors art, just as art mirrors life, and if the only places that regional or working class accents can be heard are on the sofas of Jerry Springer (or Jeremy Kyle over here), then those with poorer, or culturally different backgrounds, will have an even harder time being taken seriously and landing those high-power and high-paid jobs. If media can change our perceptions of ourselves enough to make us fill our lips with purple, our eyebrows with black and our behinds with silicon (not something I’ve done), then it can certainly impact our perception of others.

By all means Trump should re-open the doors to the factories: more business and more jobs are always a good thing. However, by simultaneously opening the doors to the factories and closing the doors to the screens and galleries for working-class Americans, he risks reinforcing existing social prejudices, increasing social inequality and magnifying the very problems that he has promised to eradicate. Change must come from the top as well as the bottom if it is to truly work.


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