As I write this, Christmas is coming. That means annual Christmas advertisements. I could spend the whole article discussing the commercialisation of a religious festival and the uneasy position of a sacred feast in a secular, multi-faith country. However, these issues has been covered many times before and I have little original to add. Moreover, they are intractable problems that afflict Western states as a whole.

So, what is it about Christmas in modern Great Britain that catches my eye and provokes my ire?

Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, il. by John Leech
from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1st ed. 1843

Tradition subverted

Sainsbury’s is one of the Great Britain’s largest supermarket chains and produces its own seasonal products as well as selling other foods, confectionary and miscellaneous items, mostly related to food and drink. The new advert for Sainsbury’s Christmas products is called “Once Upon a Pud” – a condensed parody of a fairy tale, set around the traditional Christmas plum pudding, a staple of British Christmas dinner.

In a fantasy land, a series of chefs approach a queen with traditional Christmas foods. A nervous chef presents his Christmas pudding and the queen scornfully dismisses it and demands he produce something better, announcing “I’ve never really liked Christmas pudding”. The fate that awaits the chef if he fails is execution. At a subsequent banquet, the chef offers her a Christmas pudding containing caramelised biscuit – a very irregular ingredient for such a dish. The queen tastes it and declares, “That’s a bit of me!” (roughly, “That’s the sort of thing I like”). The guests erupt into applause and the relieved chef basks in his newly won esteem.

Well, so far, so banal. However, when you start reading the symbolism – the semiology of the text, as our professors would put it – a more startling and assertive message is being sent.

The castle, clothing and traditions are British or European. The majority of the courtiers and servants (including the main chef) are ethnically white. The queen is a large black woman, who speaks with a strong Birmingham accent, one that in Britain is typically considered homely, lower class, informal, uncultivated and uneducated. The person playing the queen is Alison Hammond. She is a chat-show host who rose to prominence as a reality-television “star”. (I had to go online to find out this information, not having watched mainstream television for twenty years.) In the UK, we used to have the word “starlet” to denote a very minor celebrity of little note or talent, which punctured the vanity of the subject and applied a liberal dose of sexist patronisation. Sadly, the word seems to have fallen out of use, although it might be due a revival.

So, the directly-speaking, déclassé woman, whose work involves her being outspoken and earthy, is queen. It is that carnival inversion, when (for a single designated day) the commoner becomes lord and the lord becomes his servant. It is funny but it was a lot funnier when it was a truer inversion and more of a surprise. How often do we see the dignified, cultivated, noble ruler portrayed? Our television and movie screens are filled with scheming, swearing, boorish, inept, ignoble leaders; our heroes are all reluctant, our saints are debunked for entertainment and everywhere national icons are revealed to be deeply flawed. Morale is deliberately undermined by those schooled in Marxist class analysis which refutes not only the Great Man theory of history but dismisses that very idea of a great man. The Great Man theory – most prominently advanced by traditionalist historian Thomas Carlyle – states that men of exceptional will and talent change their nations and the fate of history through conscious action. Kings (and their chancellors and generals) transform the course of events because they are great. The Marxist and Neo-Marxist state that no man is exceptional in ability, only exceptional in opportunity or resources; all men are essentially the same in capability but are advanced or constrained by circumstances; therefore, the idea of a great statesman or national hero is the cynical promotion of an individual for purposes of the illusion of religious or national exceptionality when it is actually achievements of the working population and the struggle for economic control of limited resources that shape history and society.

So, in popular entertainment and national culture, few of us now believe that a great man could change anything because we are conditioned to be materialistic, secular pragmatists, who view with scepticism the very idea of nobility. The paragon of nobility is an expression of divine virtues; it is made possible by acknowledging and obeying a hierarchy of noble and humble birth and observing the stations of life; it involves risk, sacrifice and death of the paragon. In our atheistic, supposedly meritocratic, risk-curbing, egalitarian, democratic societies such thinking has been expunged. When the best one can hope for is to be a glamorous actress, a rich musician or a noteworthy television presenter, one turns away from heroic action, which might involve defiance, resistance, violence and death. Trained to be a docile, feminised mass (individuated through cultivating itself in the form of atomised consumers) rather than active, masculine individuals (serving their family and brethren), today’s man cannot even remember what the purpose of a king is. Why defend one’s country when “all cultures are beautiful”? Why defend one’s borders when “no human is illegal”? Why take action to remove foreigners when “we have always been a nation of immigrants”?

So, there is no true inversion when a commoner becomes monarch, because we no longer remember what kingly or queenly virtues are, because we no longer expect the portrayal of a noble to be noble. The fairy tale and the carnival no longer have power because Neo-Marxist materialism has effectively inverted every social value – the nobility are to be mocked; the poor are inspiring martyrs because they are victims of socio-economic exploitation. For a country to be ruled by the crude, uncultured, loudmouthed commoners who won (or in Ms Hammond’s case, lost) a popularity contest, is not a shock to us. It is our lives; it is modern liberal democracy.

Colour-blind casting

What is the symbolism of a black queen ruling a kingdom people with white subjects? In a time when both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom have both been ruled by non-white descendants of recent immigrants, people are noticing these things in a more pointed way. In recent years, the British governmental cabinet contained a large number of ethnically South-Asian and African ministers in senior positions, despite official figures of these groups forming less than 15% of the British population. Not coincidentally, The Guardian and the BBC could not stop discussing and celebrating the rise of Indian-descended Rishi Sunak to the head of government. The left-wing mass media reflexively support diversity, even if they dislike the supposed politics of the Conservative Party.

In the majority of Christmas advertisements this year, one can find black characters, especially as part of mixed families. Such messaging, about not just racial diversity nationally but within families, is massive and relentless in Britain, and is continually present all year. Racially-mixed couples are to be expected in television advertisements now. Now, you might say that this is just firms trying to reach as wide a demographic base as possible. The more “representation”, the better. If they can appeal to white, black, Asian and Arab audiences then they sell more. Additionally, they present the brand as inclusive.

Yet inclusive as also unrealistic. Mixed-race couples are uncommon, yet going by the advertisements, a foreigner might assume the majority of the population of the UK is non-white or in mixed relationships. (I have yet to see a Muslim in a hijab in a British Christmas advertisement, but I shall keep an eye open.)

Christmas dinner is (like Easter but unlike Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve) almost entirely a family-based affair. We simply do not invite neighbours over for the day. We do not exchange gifts normally with work colleagues, friends or neighbours. The most we do is send a card or greeting and make polite inquiries about their experiences of the holiday. So, the events portrayed in Christmas advertisements – with local communities gathering in their homes – is false. One trend does seem to be true. That is of single women getting together with female friends in lieu of attending family gatherings. The tidal wave of white career women putting off marriage and children until their late 30s – and completely foregoing or being unable to achieve such accomplishments by that late age – is reflected in the adverts for chemist’s Boots, which sells cosmetics. What better way to promote your beauty products than through scenes of childless women getting drunk and comparing make-up tips? The grim reality of modern life as dedicated to self-affirmation and self-gratification seems never more plangent than when it comes to these advertisements of singleton consumers anaethetising themselves.

Origins of colour-blind casting

The origins of colour-blind casting in the Britain came from the fact that the post-1945 wave of non-white immigrants from the colonies caused there to be non-white actors and actresses in the British drama industry. As Britain was essentially mono-racial before 1945, these actors could not perform in any historical dramas and Shakespeare plays set in Great Britain with any degree of realism. In view of the fact that these actors were restricted to contemporary and science-fiction dramas, colleagues of the non-white actors developed a justification for including non-white actors to appear in historical pieces, regardless of anachronism. This was called “colour-blind casting”. Essentially, it required that characters within a drama and the audience would overlook racial incongruities and anachronisms among the cast. This would allow the actors best suited for the roles to perform and thereby raise the standard of drama and permit individuals to fulfil their latent potential.

While colour-blind casting has laudable aspects, it gives rise to serious ramifications. Firstly, it gives a distorted perception of history to current audiences. It suggests that Britain was a multi-racial country before 1945, something that is untrue. Consider the case of a recent television drama that cast a black actress to play an English queen. In the controversial 2021 mini-series, Anne Boleyn (wife of Henry VIII) was cast as black and implied to be bisexual, neither of which is historically accurate. This was seen as historical drama as a reflection of modern life. On the other hand, white actors “blacking up” is considered too insulting to show students and Asian characters being played by white actors is viewed as disrespectful “whitewashing”. We see here the clear dynamic of the powerful elite using its influence and control to dilute an accurate depiction of the history of a white nation and to retrospectively castigate casting decisions that disfavour minorities.

Secondly, colour-blind casting in historical settings suggests that nothing has changed. It implies that the ethnic make up of our country is essentially unchanged and has always been as it is now, which again is misleading. In recent decades, Britain has experienced unprecedented levels of immigration, especially from outside of Europe, which has dramatically changed the demographic profile of British subjects and non-national residents. This tends to align with the thinking of a group I call “national cosmopolitans”, who believe that multi-culturalism, multi-ethnicity, multi-faith societies are an ideal and are (in fact) normal. So, any changes that can be made to advance towards this ideal target are laudable. Furthermore, when they see art of the past that is wholly racially white, they see this as a distortion of the truth. A book was published on black people in Tudor England, on the basis that the existent absence of such discussion must be the result of suppression. In truth, apart from a few African servants, diplomats and sailors, there were no blacks in Tudor England, as the author conceded.

National cosmopolitanism is the outlook of the elite caste that controls all of Britain’s political parties, civil service, mass media, public arts, universities, schools, judiciary and policing. As they control both immigration policy and the arts, it is no surprise to find that these allied individuals both work to promote mass migration and to normalise its effects, including retrospectively normalising it by presenting a falsely racially mixed past in the arts.

Thirdly, we find the exercise of raw power. If a neutral person of goodwill concedes, “Well, yes, merit should be the measure of participation and that means non-white people should be seen on stage and screen,” he inevitably grants what follows. What follows is a cursory analysis (surveyed by lobbyists and taken up uncritically by academics, social media and mass media) that the arts are overwhelmingly racially white; this is assumed to be the result of racial bias; the corollary is that this must be corrected. Arts organisations are encouraged to “diversify”; with “diversity” meaning non-majority and “diversify” meaning anti-majority action. When these do not return sufficient equalisation, unofficial quotas (then mandated quotas) are imposed. So, in 2020 the British Academy of Film and Television Awards organisation announced it would be considering nominations specifically to promote diversity. Notice the subtle, unspoken shift from merit to representation. While colour-blind casting was accepted as an argument in favour of merit, it has now been turned into a means by which diversity is forced upon producers and audiences on the basis of representation. So, once the initial step is granted under the guise of merit, those in power – the national cosmopolitans in the arts industry, arts charities, civil service and media, plus assorted lobbying and pressure groups – change conditions and force their will via quotas, prizes, grants and even mandated employment to benefit their client groups: ethnic, religious and sexual minorities and women. Favouritism replaces the merit argument.

So, in short, might makes right. The elite will advance their values regardless of the rules and arguments that they cloak their actions in. Discrimination is fine, as long as the beneficiaries (and losers) are the “right” groups, according to the client-patron relationships of the elite. The elite national cosmopolitans get to rewrite history because this lying is in the service of justice. Opposition to colour-blind casting will be portrayed as an expression of racism, the greatest sin and most damaging slur in a liberal Western state.

It seems colour-blind casting, while seemingly a magnanimous approach to dealing with the presence of non-white actors in a formerly mono-racial country, is actually a device used to humiliate and deceive the majority population and a means by which the elite can cement its hegemony through racial patronage of creatives, back-stage staff and even administrators in both public and private sectors.

Alexander Adams is a British artist, critic and poet. His art criticism has appeared in Apollo, British Art Journal, Burlington Magazine, The Critic and The Jackdaw. His art has been exhibited worldwide and his books of poems and drawings have been published in the UK, the USA and Malta. His book Artivism: The Battle for Museums in the Era of Postmodernism was published in 2022 by Imprint Academic.

Alexander Adams

Alexander Adams jest brytyjskim artystą, krytykiem i poetą. Swoje teksty krytyczne publikował w Apollo, British Art Journal, Burlington Magazine, The Critic i The Jackdaw. Jego prace były wystawiane na całym świecie, a tomy wierszy i rysunków wydano w Wielkiej Brytanii, w Stanach Zjednoczonych i na Malcie. W 2022 roku, nakładem wydawnictwa Imprint Academic, ukazała się jego książka zatytułowana Artivism: The Battle for Museums in the Era of Postmodernism.
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