Coronavirus and the Culture Industry

These are difficult times for everyone. For some, the worry is that they will get sick and perhaps die of this new plague. For others, it is that they may lose their livelihoods. As stores, restaurants, and bars close around the world, the people working in those businesses may have no protection, no sick pay; or if they do have sick pay, it’s not enough to live on. Here in the UK, “statutory sick pay” is £94 a week.

This is especially tough for creative professionals: musicians, actors, and anyone involved in the production of live performances. By their very nature, these performances are now hazardous, and countries have started cancelling them. In New York, Broadway is shut down; in the UK, individual theaters are starting to close, and it won’t be long before they are all shuttered. (It actually seems irresponsible now that they haven’t all closed.) The performers and staff will have no work, and in general, these performers, eking out a precarious existence even in the best of times, will have little or no support from their governments. When I was living in New York City, I knew some actors who worked in restaurants in between acting gigs, but even that possibility is disappearing. As for musicians who make their living on the road, they’ll have to take a long hiatus. (Obviously, A-list performers will be fine; but it’s the other 99$% who face difficulty.)

But even when this plague winds down – as I hope it eventually will – it may take some time for people to go back to the theaters, the bars, and the concert halls. Unless we can be certain that we have immunity from the disease, it won’t be safe to be in enclosed spaces. I go to the theater in my neighboring Stratford-Upon-Avon regularly, and the average age of the audience aligns with those most at risk from the coronavirus. I can’t imagine them rushing to go back to the theater. Even at the best of times, there are plenty of people coughing in the theater, and you always here this at classical concerts when people try to hold back their coughing until between movements. Sitting there for a couple of hours, listening to that, would be stressful now, and even after things cool off.

So the only thing we can do, if we can afford it, is try to help support these creative professionals. For musicians, you can buy their music, if possible directly from artists. It’s a lot harder to support actors and musicians who are members of an orchestra. I have no solution for this, but we need to ensure that when we get through this crisis, our culture still exists.

Stay safe.