Brexit in popular culture
Brexit is the commonly used term for the United Kingdom's intended withdrawal from the European Union, which resulted from a referendum on 23 June 2016. This article details the mostly critical response to this decision in the visual art, novels, theatre, and film.
The British government led by David Cameron held a referendum on the issue in 2016; a majority voted to leave the European Union. On 29 March 2017, Theresa May's administration invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union in a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The UK was set to leave on 29 March 2019, unless the Brexit Withdrawal agreement was adopted by the House of Commons, in which case the UK would have left in May 2019. With the failure to ratify the withdrawal agreement by the British Parliament, the Prime Minister negotiated a further extension until 31 October 2019.
Artists' sentiments toward BrexitEdit
The response of artists and writers to Brexit has tended to be negative, reflecting a reported overwhelming percentage of people involved in Britain's creative industries voting against leaving the European Union. The claim by one, the visual artist Bob and Roberta Smith, writing in The Guardian newspaper typifies this response:
Post-Brexit, we face a dissolution of our museums and galleries comparable in its devastation to that visited on England in the 1530s, as philistine politicians slash budgets. Art schools and the arts in schools will be further diminished in a wave of manufactured disdain for so-called elitists.
Brexit in the visual artsEdit
Responses by visual artists to Brexit include a mural, painted in May 2017, by the secretive graffiti artist Banksy near the ferry port at Dover in southern England. It shows a workman using a chisel to chip off one of the stars on the European Union Flag.
In his 2017 art exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, the artist Grayson Perry showed a series of ceramic, tapestry and other works of art dealing with the divisions in Britain during the Brexit campaign and in its aftermath. This included two large ceramic pots, Perry called his Brexit Vases, standing on plinths ten feet apart, on the first of which were scenes involving pro-European British citizens, and on the second scenes involving anti-European British citizens. These were derived from what Perry called his 'Brexit tour of Britain.'
Brexit in novelsEdit
The day after the referendum, gay niche erotica author Chuck Tingle self-published the 4000-word book Pounded by the Pound: Turned Gay by the Socioeconomic Implications of Britain Leaving the European Union, in which a large coin from the future comes to see the main character Alex to explain him the danger of Brexit, and together they go back to the past to sway voters against voting to leave the European Union, proving that all you need is love.
One of the first novels to engage with a post-Brexit Britain was Rabbitman by Michael Paraskos (published 9 March 2017). Rabbitman is a dark comic fantasy in which the events that lead to the election of a right-wing populist American president, and Britain's vote to leave the European Union, were the result of a series of Faustian pacts with the Devil. As a result, Rabbitman is set partly in a post-Brexit Britain in which society has collapsed and people are dependent on European Union food aid.
Mark Billingham's Love Like Blood (published 1 June 2017) is a crime thriller in which Brexit sees a rise in xenophobic hate crime. In the novel The Remains of the Way (published 6 June 2017), David Boyle imagines Brexit was a conspiracy led by a forgotten government quango, still working away in Whitehall, originally set up by Thomas Cromwell in the 16th century during the reign of King Henry VIII, and now dedicated to a Protestant Brexit.
Post-Brexit Britain is also the setting for Amanda Craig's The Lie of the Land (published 13 June 2017), a satirical novel set ten years after the vote to leave the European Union, in which an impoverished middle class couple from Islington in north London are forced to move from the heart of the pro-European Union capital to the heart of the pro-Brexit countryside in Devon.
Brexit is also the baseline for Douglas Board's comic political thriller Time of Lies (published 23 June 2017). In this novel, the first post-Brexit general election in 2020 is won by a violent right-wing former football hooligan called Bob Grant. Board charts the response to this of the hitherto pro-European Union metropolitan political elite.
Stanley Johnson's Kompromat (published 23 July 2017) is a political thriller that suggests the vote to leave the European Union was a result of Russian influence on the referendum, although Johnson has insisted his book is not intended to point the finger at Russia's secret services, but is 'just meant to be fun.'
Jonathan Coe's Middle England (published 8 November 2018) is a state-of-the-nation novel which re-introduces some of the author's earlier characters from The Rotters' Club (2001) and The Closed Circle (2004), and moves from the election of the coalition government in 2010, through the riots of 2011, the 2012 Olympics, the 2016 referendum and its aftermath, ending in 2018.
Brexit in theatreEdit
In theatre, in June 2017 the National Theatre in London presented a play by Carol Ann Duffy, entitled, My Country; a work in progress. An allegorical work, the play uses the device of a convention called by the goddess Britannia who is concerned about the future of the British people. The play differs from some artistic responses in that Duffy and the National Theatre-based the attitudes of the characters on stage in part on the responses to interviews, conducted by the regional offices of the UK Arts Councils, with ordinary people, but excluding responses from London and the south-east of England, where most people voted not to leave the European Union. As a result, according to Dominic Cavendish, writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, 'the bias is towards the Leave camp.'
Brexit in filmEdit
In 2016, the television director Martin Durkin wrote and directed an 81-minute long documentary film titled Brexit: The Movie, which advocated with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The film was produced by the production company Wag TV with a budget of £300,000. The production costs were sourced primarily through crowdfunding via Kickstarter alongside a £50,000 contribution from the hedge fund Spitfire Capital. In May 2016 the film premiered in Leicester Square, with notable figures such as Nigel Farage and David Davis (who later became Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union) in attendance.
A documentary film was released in 2018, called Postcards from the 48%, which is described on the film's website as: "A documentary film made by and featuring those who voted Remain, the 48%, to show the other 27 EU Member States that it was far from a landslide victory and just why we are fighting to stay part of the EU." A review on Shadows on the Wall wrote: "This is a comprehensive, factual exploration of the issue, grappling with the referendum, its ramifications and the way the split vote has fractured British society."
A two-hour television drama film written by James Graham and directed by Toby Haynes, named Brexit: The Uncivil War (simply Brexit in the US), was released in January 2019. It depicts the lead-up to the 2016 referendum through the activities of the strategists behind the Vote Leave campaign, that prompted the United Kingdom to exit the European Union. It aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 7 January, and aired on HBO in the United States on 19 January. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dominic Cummings, the Campaign Director of the official designated Brexit-supporting group, Vote Leave.
Brexit in video gamesEdit
In the football management simulation Football Manager 2017 and its successor Football Manager 2018 Brexit is an event within the game. There are multiple possible outcomes decided by chance reflecting both a soft Brexit and a hard Brexit. Consequences of a hard Brexit are, among others, EU football players needing working visa to play in English teams.
Not Tonight is a role-playing game set in an alternate timeline shortly after Brexit. The player takes the role of a European-born immigrant who must survive under a far-right British government to avoid deportation.
Arguably, nowhere exhibited a greater display of opinion surrounding Brexit than online social media platforms. Social media had a significant short-term influence on the referendum result and supports the argument that Brexit was not inevitable but was in fact a response to a multitude of influences and events in the build-up. See 'The role of the media'. For example, there are numerous sources that claim that 400 fake Twitter accounts were created in Russia which is argued to have added 1.76% in the pro-leave voting share.
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