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Home > Media

Are you thinking...?

26 April 2005

The Daily Telegraph had a good old guffaw at the modern world gone mad again on Monday, poking sneers at one Pat Kane, and his appointment this week as the city of Bristol's official 'Thinker in Residence'. Kane's post will run throughout May and has been created to coincide with the Bristol Festival of Ideas, which kicks off in three weeks' time. Now it is very easy to mock concepts such as 'ideas' and 'thinkers' - they're just so damned abstract. And it's a piece of cake to snort with derision and shake one's head in cynical bewilderment at the very thought of someone being paid to think. But!

The Festival of Ideas is, in theory at least, an excellent... um, idea. There is after all, most of us can agree, something very wrong with Modern Life. While it may not be complete rubbish, it is a bit of a brainless mess. Cudgeled by bad telly and pointless work, lowest denomination culture and pre-packaged microwavable bite-sized food and politics, most of our lives are lived in a cerebral coma. We are permanently hooked up to a garbage drip-feed, designed not to nourish or inspire, but merely to keep us ticking over and working and buying and buying and buying. Under these circumstances then, it would seem a little churlish to shake a stick at a week set aside to give serious thought to how we might improve our collective lot.

But then, on the other hand, couldn't the Festival of Ideas merely be a rather clever and cynical ploy to plough a wad of that lovely lottery cash to a bunch of arse-numbingly tedious academics? Well, yes. Clearly, that is also a possibility. It rather depends then, on the quality of the ideas that are tossed up.

Amongst the topics discussed and debated throughout the week will be: The State We're In and The State We Could Be In, Why Most Things Fail, The Edifice Complex (examining the relationship between architecture and power), Evolution and Creationism, The Importance of Ideas, and, perhaps inevitably, funding for the arts. Amongst the well-known thinkers speaking their brains will be businessman Paul Ormerod, political philosopher John Gray, environmentalist Colin Tudge and lisping bantamweight bore Terry pissing Pratchett. Be still your beating hearts. Apart from the massive male bias - only two women featured in the listings - there is a danger that the Festival of Ideas could easily be perceived as more of a Festival of Dullards. But again, as the Telegraph illustrated amply on Monday, that kind of knee-jerk anti-intellectualism is just too easy. Still, Terry Pratchett? What on earth are they thinking?

So where does the Thinker in Residence fit into all this? Well, it is Pat Kane's job to preside over the week's proceedings and act as some kind of critical chorus - or, as he puts it himself, rather more thoughtfully, a 'contrarian catalyst'. Hopefully however, he'll leave that kind of nonsense at home and will concentrate on heckling the non-resident thinkers when they begin to disappear inside their own anuses. We like to imagine him as a kind of amalgamation of the cantankerous muppets Statler and Waldorf, spitting out vicious pensive venom when the academics start to grate. But we may have got it wrong.

Pat Kane incidentally, used to be one half of Hue and Cry. But we can forgive that, surely. If we can make a new Pope from an old Nazi, we can surely forgive a little youthful boy bandism. More recently, he was described as a social activist, a futurist and a consultant. Oooh. Also, he has written a book called The Play Ethic: Manifesto for a New Way of Living in which the central argument is that, 'Play will be to the 21st century what work has been to the last 300 years of industrial society, our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value.' You see that? That's thought in action. That's why Pat Kane is being paid a gorgeous amount of money to kick up a think for Bristol. And that's kind of radical approach that might allow him to transform the Festival of Ideas into more than a mere intellectual back-slapping party.

Oh, you can also catch him tomorrow night on ITV's Hit Me Baby One More Time.


Damn it, looks like the Telegraph were right after all. Now that really doesn't bear thinking about.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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