View From the Festival of Ideas

Audrey Sebatindira 9 November 2015

Upon comparing the financial pressures of the BBC and it’s responsibility to the British public to the plotline of the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, in a sweeping statement made to his audience, made the assumption that all those attending the Festival of Ideas event were in fact, over the age of thirty. Sat on the third row with my friend Tasha, a fellow member of the 16-25 railcard carrying youth, I proceeded to cringe as the be-sweatered and spectacle-sporting gentleman to my left (writing notes on security threats with what appeared to be a quiz sheet inviting you to ‘match the flag to the country’ poking out beneath his pile of books on NHS funding) proceeded to whisper into my ear that I “shouldn’t worry because all the men who work for the BBC are gay”.

I suppose this was a step up from being hit on by my eight year old neighbour who once asked me if I was thirty five, but it made me slide down my seat with awkward-turtleness nonetheless. (Note to stranger: me not wanting to be mistaken for existing in the ranks of the Yentob-loving-thirty-somethings does not mean I was attending the event with the intention of coercing him into an evening of ‘netflix and chill’. Nor does the generalisation of the sexual preferences of BBC male employees cause me to worry about being invisible, but rather the comments made by a strange man in a red jumper with the intention of making me giggle makes me want to be invisible, not nearly because of the breaching of the pre-established boundaries of my personal space that was going on there. What a weirdo.

Anyway, in addition to this vastly misinformed though jovial comment, the evening took a further turn for the proverbial worse as a member of the public accused the discussion panel of being part of an organisation that promotes ‘socialist propaganda’ and ‘why should he have to pay the license fee when all I see on the telly is that Margaret Thatcher was bad, that the Conservatives are bad’ and that the BBC doesn’t show ‘a very impartial picture of the news’. Not to draw too many parallels between this evening and my GCSE coursework on the demonization of Weimar Republic’s Cultural Renaissance by the Nazis, but with all the talk of the BBC as an organisation of gay socialist men who, as some of the other questioners revealed, apparently hates old people and just really likes health care, the two began to sound just a little bit too similar for my liking.

After a member of the discussion panel gracefully shut down the comments made by the angry man to subsequently receive a roomful of applause, the next minutes of grumbling ensued with Tasha and I passing notes to each other saying that this was all getting ‘a bit awks’, and the two of us promptly leaving as soon as the doors were opened. It was, ultimately, an interesting and insightful evening, one that got me thinking about the tension between what we want as a society versus who we choose to speak for us. While the two aforementioned men criticised and poked fun at the BBC, it was the rest of the room who clapped and supported its defence. Likewise, while the viewing and listening figures profess a profound and sustained love for the various shows, stars, and stations churned out by the BBC, it just so happens that it is the minority of haters that wield the power to dismantle it.