Friday, June 17, 2011

Festivals? Arf Arf!

At last, the nation is calming down again in the aftermath of Willy Wales’ marriage to Kate Middleclass. So, did you have a street party - or was it a festival? Because these days, if it ain’t a festival, it ain’t nothing to celebrate at all. Come summertime, nightmares about leaving the house without a pair of flowery wellies, a packet of Wet Wipes and a fair-trade cotton tote bag bearing the faded logo of WOMAD 1999 replace classic anxiety dreams about shopping in Asda naked. Talking of which: right now, a TesMorrBurys TV ad is suggesting that you ‘have a food festival at home this summer’: cue soft-focus scenes of mythological happy families chowing down on cut-price burgers to a Snow Patrol-inspired anthem while daddy dude strums a battered guitar and yummy mummy gazes fondly at a corn-fed tween wearing an over-sized t-shirt bearing the faded logo of the (I presume fictional) Festival Daze 1999 shebang.

Back in the good old days, ‘festival’ was a cover-all term for a not-for-profit, free-for-all, often spontaneous get-together organised by culturally/politically subversive types to celebrate all-things-non-corporate (and therefore good) in the world; today, the F-word represents an event as mundane, sanitised and corporate as that bloody awful TV advert, sponsored by global conglomerates, promoted by a barrage of robotic PRs - and fully endorsed by the ‘rents. In a recent posting on the Guardian’s online Family Forum, a worried mother bemoaned the fact that her son balked at the idea of being given a ticket to the Glastonbury Festival for his 18th birthday “even though it’s just been announced that U2 are headlining!”. Rather than running a “Teenager proves he has a Mind of his Own” news item in the newspaper the next day, the forum published advice from concerned parents ranging from ponderings regarding depression to a suggestion that the boy might be showing signs of autism - all because he has the audacity to not want to waste three days of his youth (and wads of his parents hard-earned cash) bored out of his mind and scoffing really bad, over-priced food in totally unacceptable discomfort while waiting for Bono to deliver yet another lecture on how great the world would be if he was president (or something).

Meanwhile, the non-music based festivals are equally pernicious money spinners, designed to snatch cash from well-heeled middle class folk who need to be seen being cultured - in other words, the mummies and daddies with the good grace to realise that their days of being stoned off their faces in a muddy field are long gone, but want to prove they can still pa-a-a-a-rty (with, erm, Kazuo Ishiguro and Robert Winston; good luck with that one!). But please, ageing parents: don’t foist your frustrations on your kids. Even though Brian (the scientist who looks like he could have been the bass player in Blur, appearing in this year’s Cheltenham Science Festival) Cox’s TV superstar status may temporarily encourage Generation Text to consider the universe around them, it’s going to take a lot more than a live appearance by a man with floppy hair, a toothy grin and puppy dog enthusiasm for Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to get most under-23’s to consider not squandering their student loans on an event that doesn’t involve cheap lager, counterfeit E and the possibility of a muddy fumble in a stranger’s damp tent.

Festival Fever is putting us all in danger of forgetting that it’s still possible to enjoy music, books, family life, food, local traders, politics, scientific theories, country villages, town centres and even bloody Jane Austen without being obliged to spend a fortune publicly proving your allegiance by mingling with a herd of self-conscious lemmings in a location that really doesn’t cope well with crowds. Meanwhile, if a contemporary festival totally free of a dictatorial/egocentric/profiteering motive exists today, then ma-a-a-a-n, I’ll eat a TesMorrBurys Festive Falafel-flavoured kebab.