I left University in June 1979, one month after Thatcher won her first election and later that summer I started my career in what would later become known as ‘the Creative Industries’.
At that time in the ‘Creative Industries’ the term ‘the Suits’ was an insult that referred to the back-room bureaucrats who did the accounts and played at being ‘big-shots’. No one wanted to be a ‘Suit’ because to be one of them was to have the respect of no one and none of the joys of creativity.
This defiant attitude to ‘the men in grey’ was a hang-over from the Sixties and had its most sneering in-yer-face apogee in 1976 when punk rock spat it’s way into popular culture. This was the culmination of the ‘rock & roll’ idea of anti-authority and anti-hierarchical creative ‘authenticity’. The idea that in the Creative Industries it is ‘the creatives’ who matter and that the job of corporate bureaucrats and technocrats is to facilitate the work of the ‘creatives’.
Back then the ‘suit’ was the symbol of an obedient, dull and deeply untrustworthy man, who would always chose to serve the interests of ‘the corporation’ rather than ‘do the right thing’. Even Steve Jobs at Apple recognised this when he introduced a more relaxed ‘dress code’ for the ‘dynamic’ Apple staff. Jobs recognised that to wear a suit and a tie was to demonstrate by your clothing that you would obey orders and that you accepted the hierarchical rules of the game. Bosses normally regard this as a very good thing, but Jobs recognised it is the absolute antithesis of ‘creativity’, which requires playfulness, confidence, lack of fear and above all autonomy.
The ‘suit as a symbol’ of obedience and lack of imagination is of course still true today and is a significant reason why Cameron hates Corbyn so much – because by dressing the way he does Corbyn is clearly stating ‘I don’t accept the rules of this game.’ What has changed though is that despite the efforts of Jobs and companies like Google, generally speaking playfulness, confidence, lack of fear and autonomy, have all become extremely rare in the work-place, and especially in the Creative Industries.
We didn’t know at the time but May 1979 marked the end of all that and the men-in-suits were about to take back control of the world. And by Christ have they! Today it is almost impossible for any ‘creative’ in the ‘creative industries’ to even earn a living, let alone gain social status or anything remotely approaching creative autonomy.
There are ‘Stars’ of course, and they have almost unlimited power and status; enough in Jimmy Savile’s case to allow him to systematically abuse children for 40 years on BBC property without being challenged. And the unbelievably luxurious lifestyle of ‘Stars’ is also absolutely crucial to perpetuating the ‘It Could Be You’ rhetoric of neoliberal capitalism. As John Steinbeck once famously said, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” This is now true in most of the world and our tabloid ‘Celebrity Culture’ is crucial in creating that mind-set because by constantly repeating the supposed ‘rags-to-riches’ story of ‘ordinary people’ becoming ‘Stars’, it constantly reasserts the myth that ‘It Could Be You.’
But for everyone other than ‘Stars’ any hope of earning a living in the Creative Industries is all over. Fourty years ago the post-entry-closed-shop and the strength of the trade unions, maintained a living wage even for actors and it was possible for a ‘jobbing actor’ like me to earn a nice, lower middle class income without being a ‘Star’. For example, in the ’80’s I ‘guested’ in two episodes of Casualty. I was paid approaching £3k each time. Today I’d get £800 for the same gig. To earn a living as a jobbing actor today I’d need to be ‘guesting’ in an episode of prime-time drama every two weeks! The same with music. In the ’70’s, ‘pub rock’ bands, (like Dire Straits were before Sultans Of Swing), could earn a living play pubs and clubs as ‘pro’s’ or ‘semi-pro’s’… amazingly people would play in bands in the evenings to boost their earnings! Ha! Not anymore. These days we have the appalling phenomenon of ‘pay-to-play’ gigs, where acts have to guarantee a certain audience or will have to buy the tickets themselves to make up the shortfall.
And this is true everywhere – Graphic Designers, Novelists, Journalists, Directors, Screenwriters, Playwrights, Set Designers, Singers, Musicians, Stage Managers, Production Managers… The list goes on and on. The only people ‘earning a living’ in the Creative Industries today are ‘the Suits’.
If you look at advertised arts and media jobs in say The Guardian or on a website like Arts Professional, they are ALL jobs for bureaucrats. You will hardly ever see an acting, writing, directing or musicians job advertised – because these ‘jobs’ don’t exist.
Today in the ‘Creative Industries’ it is ONLY ‘the Suits’ who have long-term contracts with paid holidays, work-place protection from bullying etc. And the so-called ‘Executives’ in charge of these bureaucratic institutions (and I’m talking the RSC, National, Regional Reps, BBC, ITV, Sony etc), are paid six-figure salaries for never taking a risk of any kind in their sorry lives, while all the ‘creatives’ who provide a living for these be-suited jerks, live precarious, breadline lives, ‘begging’ for the scraps falling from the bureaucrats expense-account-lunch table.
Today ‘the Suit’ is just as much a symbol of obedience and membership of a class, as it ever was but this is now regarded as ‘a good thing’. Amongst the wealthy ‘the suit’ and its accessories are coded symbols of power, status and wealth, and ‘suits’ off-the-rack, (rather than the £3K tailored and fitted extravaganza’s of a man-of-the-people like Cameron), are sneered at and ridiculed. The shop assistants £50 ‘Mr Byrite’ suit and even the average MP’s £200 M&S suit, work as symbols of compliance and obedience but to the wealthy elite like Cameron they gain the wearer no social status, indeed they merely confirm the wearers lowly place in the hierarchy.
In the Creative Industries, from the Arts Council to the corporate record labels the men-in-suits are back in charge and are determined to get revenge on the ‘creatives’ for even daring to think they could escape from the stultifying power of corporate bureaucracy.
But this isn’t limited to the Creative Industries it’s everywhere; the NHS, Schools, Universities, Social Services, Libraries,.. everwhere. The people who actually ‘do’ anything have systematically seen their status and earnings eroded, while the managerial, bureaucrats have taken all the status, power and money unto themselves.
So to David Cameron and the rest of the be-suited jerks who think so highly of themselves in Parliament and everywhere else because they wear a suit to work, I say… FUCK YOU! You are now, and always will be, a grey twat in a suit who will never have an imaginative idea of your own, ever in your life, and in your heart you know it, and it’s that which makes you hate all of us who can’t help having ideas, whose brains are constantly bombarded with ideas, and who have the courage to share those ideas with everyone else!