Index on Censorship at the Battle of Ideas

When: Saturday and Sunday, 13-14 October
Where: Barbican Centre
Tickets: From £10 as part of the Battle of Ideas

Join Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg at this year's Battle of Ideas. She'll be participating in two sessions exploring the cultural legacy of 1968 and the trivialisation of legislation.

Creating new crimes: The trivialisation of legislation? | When: Saturday, 13 October, 2:00-3:30pm | Where: Barbican Centre, Cinema 3

Despite the sclerosis that Brexit has allegedly created in getting on with the job of government, there seems to be no slowdown in the creation of new laws to tackle perceived social ills. For example, there are proposed new laws to ban or regulate smacking, nuisance calls, corrosive substances, drones and laser pointers. Michael Gove has been particularly prolific at Defra, with the latest legislative innovations being crackdowns on electric-shock training collars for dogs and ‘cruel’ puppy farms.Another example is the review which is to take place into whether misogynistic conduct should be treated as a hate crime, following Labour MP Stella Creasy’s call to change the law. The review was itself announced during a debate on the Voyeurism Bill, which proposed to criminalise ‘upskirting’ – the taking of unsolicited pictures under someone’s clothing. Nor it it just in Westminster that this expansion of legal controls is taking place. Councils’ use of public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) is making previously legal, if sometimes anti-social, behaviour subject to criminal proceedings, like rough sleeping, busking and dog-walking in parks.Yet this proliferation of new offences sits alongside recent figures showing that more traditional crimes are being policed less than ever. Police forces are closing investigations without identifying a suspect in 80 per cent of household burglaries, 75 per cent of reported vehicle thefts and more than 50 per cent of shoplifting cases. The Guardian reports that the Metropolitan Police are more frequently dropping investigations into serious crimes such as sexual offences, violent attacks and arson within hours of them being reported. The UK’s largest force ‘screened out’ 34,164 crimes on the day they were reported in 2017, compared to 13,019 the year before, blaming increased demand and reduced officer numbers.But the failure of the authorities to investigate serious crimes properly – like the activities of rape gangs in the north of England – while devoting resources to scouring Twitter for offensive words, leafleting about ‘hate crimes’ and dispersing and arresting the homeless, suggests that law enforcement has become politicised. As the old refrain goes, shouldn’t the police be out there catching real criminals? Is the law being misused?Tellingly, Ms Creasy praised the government’s misogyny law review as sending a hugely positive signal: ‘We have just sent a message to every young woman in this country that we are on their side.’ But is ‘sending a message’ really the proper role for legislation? And what are the consequences? For example, in England and Wales, 71 per cent of prison inmates are serving time for non-violent offences, with 47 per cent of prisoners serving sentences of less than six months. Will new laws mean even more people being incarcerated for relatively trivial crimes?

What is the proper role of the law today? Are we creating too many new laws? With limited police resources, are such laws even enforceable? Are we devoting too many resources to politically fashionable laws at the expense of tackling traditional crime – and traditional freedoms?

Susan Edwards
Susan Edwards
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship
Luke Gittos
Luke Gittos
Annabel Mullin
Annabel Mullin
Rupert Reid
Rupert Reid

Chair

Adam Rawcliffe
Adam Rawcliffe

The cultural legacy of 1968 | When: Sunday, 14 October 4-5:15pm | Where: Barbican Centre, Cinema 3

‘Pouvoir à l’Imagination’ – ‘Power to the Imagination’ – declared graffiti daubed on walls in Paris in May 1968. And while students and workers occupied universities and factories, and protesters hurled pavés at police, street art and impromptu theatrical performances became just as much a part of the political moment. In the UK and US, too, art and music helped pull protest into mainstream consciousness, with anti-war protests and demands for civil rights or sexual freedom accompanied by a bourgeoning musical soundtrack. Even Daniel ‘Danny the Red’ Cohn-Bendit, a central figure of the Paris Spring, claims that the 1960s revolt ‘was spurred by the idea of a counterculture, which was mainly carried via rock music’. As protests gathered pace from Rio to Washington to Berlin to Tokyo, conceptual art, films, poetry and plays were used to explore and disseminate new ideas. Jean-Luc Godard, then a Maoist, wanted his films to change the world. Why did culture play such a prominent role in the political turmoil of the late 1960s? And 50 years on, can art and music still forge social and political change?

Recently we’ve seen the mainstream popularity of ‘real time’ political theatre, artist-led drives to challenge Brexit, and campaigns such as #Grime4Corbyn. The 2018 Turner Prize shortlist was described as the most political to date, tackling human rights abuses, identity politics, colonialism and stop-and-search policies. Does this mean the radical cultural legacy of the 1960s is as alive as ever? Or has it simply become institutionalised, even neutered? After all, the Turner Prize is brought to us by those pillars of the establishment, Tate and BBC, and the fiftieth anniversary of Paris 1968 was marked by Christian Dior and Gucci launching celebratory collections and a ’68-themed ad campaign.

For some critics, brands and big money sponsorship are creating a generation of artists that play it safe rather than challenging conventional political worldviews and making us think. Others, such as writer Sohrab Ahmari, say a growing politicisation in art, especially around identity politics, is detracting from aesthetic concerns and values. At the Cannes Film Festival 2018, as actresses protested against gender-based discrimination in the industry, Godard remarked controversially that today ‘filming is boring, actors are too involved in politics’.

Godard’s generation used new techniques and technologies to circumvent traditional cultural custodians and gatekeepers. Is it too easy for artists today to claim the mantle of radicalism while conforming to well-established political and aesthetic expectations? Should we worry more that genuine dissent is increasingly locked out of the arts? Or was political art always a bit of a pose, concealing a lack of aesthetic substance?

Neil Davenport, head of faculty of social sciences, JFS Sixth Form Centre
Neil Davenport, head of faculty of social sciences, JFS Sixth Form Centre
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship
Dr Greg Scorzo, director and editor, Culture on the Offensive; host, 'The Art of Thinking'
Dr Greg Scorzo, director and editor, Culture on the Offensive; host, 'The Art of Thinking'
Chris Sharp, contemporary music programmer, Barbican Centre
Chris Sharp, contemporary music programmer, Barbican Centre

Chair

Joel Mills, senior music programme manager, British Council
Joel Mills, senior music programme manager, British Council

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