The advertisement pictured a ballerina alongside the caption: “Fatima’s Next Job Could be in Cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”. The campaign, released by government programme CyberFirst, was criticised for undermining the Arts. The advertisement came to light only days after Chancellor Rishi Sunak implied in an ITV interview that those with careers in the Arts might be better off retraining in a different field. Sunak seemed to echo the depressing advert which advised Fatima to “Re-think. Re-skill and Re-boot”. He rebuked the claim that he was talking specifically about creatives. Sunak was, apparently, talking about all people, everywhere.
Does that make it any better?
In his words, “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis.” Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced via social media platform Twitter that he agreed the Fatima campaign was “crass” but that it was intended to encourage people from “all walks of life” to think about a career in cyber security (we’ll have a guess at what exactly that is momentarily). It’s true that other adverts – featuring a barista and a retailer also unknowingly destined for careers in cyber – were released alongside Fatima’s.
Whether intended to undermine the Arts or not, the campaign reveals a governmental or societal disregard not only for artists but for anyone who doesn’t work in the sectors that provide necessities or keep us “safe”: the NHS, police, government, delivery drivers, cyber-security etc. The people who enhance the time-on-earth experience (musicians, dancers, directors, actors, restaurant-owners, baristas, retailers etc.) seem to be quite redundant and increasingly excluded from any status in the so-called “new normal”. So, the campaign was for all of us, from all our different walks of life. Whatever unstable and unhelpful occupation we have chosen, we should all re-think, re-skill, re-boot … And rebirth into a Brave New World with a sensible job in cyber security, whatever that may involve.
[T]he campaign reveals a governmental or societal disregard not only for artists but for anyone who doesn’t work in the sectors that provide necessities or keep us “safe”.
After a long, confusing scroll through google, it seems mostly to involve protecting computer networks and maybe a bit of spying. I’m sure it’s a useful thing to do and if I remain unemployed for much longer, I should probably consider it. That all said, if this attitude towards “non-essential” workers gains much more clout, we can anticipate quite a drab future. We seem already to have reached the point where a ballerina, at the peak of her youth and skill, is considered more valuable working as an undifferentiated, passionless cog in a cyber-security machine than as someone who has trained her entire life to contribute something beautiful and heartfelt to the world.
Of course the life-savers and money-counters are important, but how much do we all want our lives to be saved or our money protected if every joyful diversion we can spend our time and money on is slowly eroded away?
There is an implicit notion – thanks perhaps to everyone’s school days when the children would choose to study Drama instead of Maths – that the non-creatives could easily pick up acting, opera or pottery, were they not busy saving lives, counting money and knowing how computers work. “Everyone has a book in them,” they say to one and other blithely. Generally, they forget the second half of the truism: “… and inside is exactly where it should in most cases remain.”
Of course the life-savers and money-counters are important, but how much do we all want our lives to be saved or our money protected if every joyful thing on which we could spend our time and money is slowly eroded away? Perhaps this is the problem with the Coronavirus dictum in general. Our presumed priority is survival and safety but when will we remember that without all the things that make life worth living – freedom, fun, art, purpose – what does it matter if we are safe, surviving, and our cyber is secure?
The politicians don’t seem to understand this. They are, after all, busier and feeling more important than ever. Right now, they certainly have purpose so it’s hard for them to imagine the boredom, stagnation and hopelessness plaguing not just those in the Arts, but all people who have had their raison d’être withheld indefinitely. CyberFirst may put security before art, creativity, passion and adventure but it seems not everyone is on the same page. At least, let’s hope they aren’t.
Panda La Terriere is a freelance writer from London.
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