The Curmudgeon


Friday, July 29, 2016

Discreetly Refined

In a country where private profit constitutes the sole legitimate purpose of public services, it is hardly surprising that the sole legitimate purpose of public culture should be to serve as an advertising billboard for corporate vandals. British Petroleum, whose performance art in the Gulf of Mexico was one of the situationist highlights of 2010, has co-opted the British Museum, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery, all of which will have the privilege of sharing in some seven and a half million pounds over five years. BP is also ending its advertising contract with Tate Britain, which has been remarkably discreet about the precise extent of the corporation's generosity: so discreet, in fact, that campaigners have had to go through the courts to induce Tate Britain to release the figures. A year and a half ago Tate was ordered not to spare BP's blushes regarding sponsorship between 1990 and 2006, which amounted to something under four million over seventeen years; now a tribunal has ruled that the figures from 2007 to 2011 must also be made public, despite their no doubt similar munificence. The lack of respect for BP's spinsterish sense of privacy has elicited squeals of righteous anger on the corporation's behalf from its employees in the public-relations industry. "What would you want companies to do with their profits?” demanded a former director of the BP Museum. “Do you want them to spend them in a way that benefits the public or not?" Clearly, as long as companies claim to be spending their profits for the benefit of the public, there should be no vulgar questions from the public about the extent of that benefit, let alone about what is being extracted in return.


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