Work / Miscellaneous

Opinion: The rampant rise of the “must-see” culture is not healthy

In the second of our new Opinion pieces, editor Rob Alderson looks at the increasing must-see culture and as ever we want your comments as well, you can join the debate under the text…

100 minutes – that was how long it it took for all 135,000 tickets for Glastonbury (£205 a throw) to sell out yesterday morning. Social media was abuzz with crowing winners and frustrated losers in this bizarre online lottery as strategies were compared and rumours about potential performers swirled. Oh yeah, because that’s the other thing – nobody knows which acts are playing at next year’s festival as nothing about the line-up has been released.

It’s symptomatic of a mad cultural phenomenon, the increasing rule of the must-sees – in music, art, food, comedy and more. The only truly must-see in somewhere like London is a bus when you’re crossing the road. But in cities with such fertile cultural scenes, is it any wonder that journalists and consumers fall back on hyper-curated lists of must-see, must-do, must visit etc?

Glastonbury is only one example of this rampant new way of looking at leisure time. Blockbuster art exhibitions like Leonardo at The National Gallery or Hockney at The Royal Academy (where the RA Twitter feed updated its followers almost hourly on the length of the queue) have established a two-tier system for cultural events in this country.

And while nobody would deny either the quality of the examples given – nor the commercial sense which allows cultural institutions to bankroll lesser-known creatives based on one or two big-hitting shows – there is something concerning about the unthinking cultural outlook this system can engender.

To put it another way, how many of the hundreds of thousands baying for Glastonbury tickets felt some kind of obligation to go, with Glastonbury now secured as a kind of middle-class rite of passage? How many art lovers pack into the big-name shows just to say they were there? And what if anything can be done to help promote those events and shows which have something interesting to say even if they lack the crowd-pleasing pizazz of some of their competitors?