We're all diplomats now...
by Samuel Jones
The pamphlet argues that cultural understanding is vital to the way that we relate to each other in the world today. By this, we mean not only an understanding of other cultures, but also an understanding of the growing significance that cultural interaction has. As well as providing a medium through which we can relate to one another, culture is emerging a space in which those relations can be conducted.
Happily, the pamphlet seems to have got people talking. In the Guardian, Martin Kettle wrote 'In Praise of ... cultural diplomacy'. Others write that we 'need history lessons' - perhaps of the kind that George W Bush skipped when he failed to visit the Taj Mahal, ignoring the praise accorded to Bill Clinton on his visit, raising eyebrows as he did so?
Well, as today's debate proved and as the pamphlet argues, there's a real need to update our opinions of not just how culture relates to international relations, but also what we mean and understand by culture. Culture isn't just what we see on stage at the theatre or music hall, nor is it simply what we see in cabinets in our museums. Instead, it is what these cultural forms represent. As a result, it's also about how other people respond to them.
The record execs who promoted the Back Street Boys, for instance, couldn't for a moment have imagined that, a decade on, they'd be spoofed by two Chinese students who would reach an audience more global than the US originals.
As Kirsten pointed out in her article, in the past, foreigners saw the UK as it was projected through largely official lenses, 'increasingly they can learn about it through direct encounters with Brits abroad, or through virtual encounters on websites like MySpace and YouTube. We are all diplomats now.'
The different coloured maps of political geography are no longer so comprehensively descriptive of political reality as they once were. There is a new playing field - culture. But it doesn't exist as some sort of rarefied sphere above and beyond everyday life and the messy business of politics. To claim that it should be detached from those realities fails to do justice to culture's importance and its relevance to our everyday lives. The role of cultural professionals and institutions is to help us to make the most of this importance.